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The Falklands War

Falklands War

Map show location of Falkland Island
Map showing location of the Falkland Islands


Union Jack - the UK flag
United Kingdom

Argentina Flaf


Sir John Fieldhouse
Sir John Woodward
Margaret Thatcher

Leopoldo Galtieri
Mario Menéndez
Ernesto Crespo


258 killed
777 wounded
59 taken prisoner

649 killed
1,068 wounded
11,313 taken prisoner

The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas) was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Falkland Islands consist of two large and many small islands in the South Atlantic Ocean east of Argentina, whose ownership had long been disputed.

The war was triggered by the occupation of South Georgia by Argentina on 19 March 1982 followed by the occupation of the Falklands, and ended with Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982. War was not actually declared by either side. The initial invasion was considered by Argentina as reoccupation of its own territory, and by Britain as an invasion of a British dependency. It is the most recent invasion of British territory by a foreign power.

In the period leading up to the war, Argentina was in the midst of a devastating economic crisis and large-scale civil unrest against the repressive military junta that was governing the country. The Argentine military government, headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, decided to play off long-standing feelings of nationalism by invading the islands, although they never thought that the United Kingdom would respond.  The ongoing tension between the two countries over the islands increased on 19 March when 50 Argentines landed on the British dependency of South Georgia and raised their flag, an act that is seen as the first offensive action in the war. On 2 April, Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands, triggering the Falklands War.

Britain was initially taken by surprise by the Argentine attack on the South Atlantic islands, but launched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault. After combat resulting in 258 British and 649 Argentine deaths, the British eventually prevailed and the islands remained under British control. However, as of 2007, Argentina shows no sign of relinquishing its claim to the Falkland Islands (the claim is included in the National Constitution).

The political effects of the war were strong in both countries. A wave of patriotic sentiment swept through both: the Argentine loss prompted even larger protests against the military government, which hastened its downfall; in the United Kingdom, the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was bolstered. It helped Thatcher's government to victory in the 1983 general election, which prior to the war was seen as by no means certain. The war has played an important role in the culture of both countries, and has been the subject of several books, films, and songs. However, it is not seen as a truly major event of either military or 20th century history because of the low number of casualties on both sides and the small size and limited economic importance of the disputed areas. The cultural and political weight of the conflict has had less effect on the British public than on that of Argentina, where the war is still a topic of discussion. Militarily, it remains the only notable naval and amphibious operation between modern forces conducted since the Korean War.

Lead-up to the conflict War Recapture of South Georgia and attack on the Santa Fe Black Buck raids Escalation of the
air war
Sinking of Belgrano Sinking of HMS Sheffield SAS operations Landing at San Carlos — Bomb Alley Battle of Goose Green
Special forces on Mount Kent Bluff Cove and Fitzroy The fall of Port Stanley
Military Weapon export controls Medical Pope John Paul II visits Allegations of nuclear deployment
MI6 activity Falklands veterans' afflictions Cultural impact Name See also

Lead-up to the conflict


By mid-April, the Royal Air Force had set up an airbase at Wideawake on the mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, including a sizable force of Avro Vulcan B Mk 2 bombers, Handley Page Victor K Mk 2 refuelling aircraft, and McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR Mk 2 fighters to protect them. Meanwhile the main British naval task force arrived at Ascension to prepare for war. A small force had already been sent south to re-capture South Georgia.

Encounters began in April; the British Task Force was shadowed by Boeing 707 aircraft of the Argentine Air Force during their travel to the south. One of these flights was intercepted outside the British self-imposed exclusion zone, by a Sea Harrier; the unarmed 707 was not attacked because diplomatic moves were still in progress and the UK had not yet decided to commit itself to war.

Recapture of South Georgia and the attack on the Santa Fe

The South Georgia force, Operation Paraquat, under the command of Major Guy Sheridan RM, consisted of Marines from 42 Commando, a troop of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) troops who were intended to land as reconnaissance forces for an invasion by the Royal Marines. All were embarked on Tidespring. First to arrive was the Churchill-class submarine HMS Conqueror on 19 April, and the island was over-flown by a radar-mapping Handley Page Victor on 20 April. The first landings of SAS troops took place on 21 April, but — with the southern hemisphere autumn setting in — the weather was so bad that their landings and others made the next day were all withdrawn after several helicopters crashed in fog on Fortuna Glacier.

On 23 April, a submarine alert was sounded and operations were halted, with the Tidespring being withdrawn to deeper water to avoid interception. On 24 April, the British forces regrouped and headed in to attack the submarine. On 25 April the ARA Santa Fe was spotted by a Westland Wessex HAS Mk 3 helicopter from HMS Antrim, which attacked the Argentine submarine with depth charges. HMS Plymouth launched a Westland Wasp HAS.Mk.1 helicopter, and HMS Brilliant launched a Westland Lynx HAS Mk 2. The Lynx launched a torpedo, and strafed it with its pintle GPMG; the Wessex also fired on the Santa Fe with its GPMG. The Wasp from HMS Plymouth as well as two other Wasps launched from HMS Endurance fired AS-12 ASM antiship missiles at the submarine, scoring hits. Santa Fe was damaged badly enough to prevent her from submerging. The crew abandoned the submarine at the jetty at King Edward Point on South Georgia.

With the Tidespring now far out to sea and the Argentine forces augmented by the submarine's crew, Major Sheridan decided to gather the 76 men he had and make a direct assault that day. After a short forced march by the British force, the Argentine forces surrendered without resistance. Prime Minister Thatcher broke the news to the media, telling them to "Just rejoice at that news!"

Black Buck raids

An Avro Vulcan, as used for the Black Buck raids
An Avro Vulcan, as used for the Black Buck raids

The Black Buck raids were a series of five attacks on the Islands by RAF Avro Vulcan bombers of 44 Squadron, staged from Wideawake airbase on Ascension Island, close to the equator.

On 1 May operations against the Falklands opened with the "Black Buck 1" attack on the airfield at Stanley. The Vulcan had originally been designed for medium-range stand-off nuclear missions in Europe and did not have the range to fly to the Falklands, requiring several in-flight refuellings. The RAF's tanker planes were mostly converted Handley Page Victors with similar range, so they too had to be refuelled in the air. Thus, a total of 11 tankers were required for only two Vulcans, a massive logistical effort, given that both the tankers and bombers had to use the same strip. The attack yielded only a single hit on the runway.

The raids, at almost 8,000 nautical miles (13 000 km) and 16 hours for the return journey, were the longest-ranged bombing raids in history at that time (surpassed in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 by USAF Boeing B-52G Stratofortresses flying from the continental United States but using forward-positioned tankers). They are often credited with the strategic success of causing the Argentine Air Force ("Fuerza Aerea Argentina") to withdraw all their Mirage IIIEA aircraft to protect against the possibility of similar bombing raids on the Argentinian homeland. However, according the FAA version, Group 8 Mirages were deployed to Comodoro Rivadavia and Rio Gallegos in April (before the raids) where they remained until June to protect against any Chilean threat and as reserve for the strike units. Their lack of aerial refuel capability and a smaller internal fuel capacity, as compared to the IAI Daggers, prevented them from being used effectively over the islands, as was shown by their only engagement of the war on May 1st, so they were relegated to mainland duties. Concerned about the possibility of Chilean strikes or SAS raids, the FAA was forced to disperse its aircraft in the areas surrounding their southern airfields. For example, several parts of the national route #3 were used for this purpose.

Only minutes after the RAF's Black Buck 1, nine Fleet Air Arm BAE Sea Harrier FRS Mk 1s from HMS Hermes followed up the raid by dropping BL755 cluster bombs on Stanley and the smaller grass airstrip at Goose Green. The Harriers destroyed one FMA IA 58 Pucará at Goose Green and caused minor damage to Stanley airfield infrastructure. The remaining runways were fully operational through the rest of the conflict. Other Sea Harriers had taken off from the deck of HMS Invincible for combat air patrols, and although attached BBC reporter Brian Hanrahan was forbidden to divulge the number of planes involved, he came up with the memorable phrase "I counted them all out and I counted them all back."

Of the five Black Buck raids, three were against Stanley Airfield, with the other two anti-radar missions using Shrike air-to-surface antiradiation missiles.

Escalation of the air war

Fleet Air Arm Sea Harrier FRS Mk 2
Fleet Air Arm Sea Harrier FRS Mk 2 .
These aircraft's predecessor, the FRS1, performed admirably during the conflict.

The Falklands had only three airfields. The longest runway, and the only paved runway, was at the capital, Port Stanley. Stanley's runway was too short to support fast jets, so the Argentine Air Force (FAA) had to launch its major strikes from the mainland. This severely hampered Argentine efforts at forward staging, combat air patrols and close air support over the islands. The effective loiter time of incoming Argentine aircraft was low, and they were later compelled to overfly British forces in any attempt to attack the islands.

The first major strike force comprised 36 aircraft (McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, Israel Aircraft Industries Daggers, English Electric B Mk 62 Canberras and Dassault Mirage III escorts), and was sent on 1 May, in the belief that the British invasion was imminent or landings had already taken place. Only a section of Grupo 6 (flying IAI Dagger aircraft) found ships, which were firing at Argentine defences near the islands. The Daggers managed to attack the ships and return safely. This was a great morale-boost for the Argentine pilots, who now knew they could survive an attack against modern warships, protected by radar ground clutter from the Islands and by using a late pop-up profile.

Meanwhile, other Argentine aircraft were intercepted by Sea Harriers operating from HMS Invincible. A Dagger and a Canberra were shot down.

Combat broke out between Sea Harrier FRS Mk 1 fighters of No. 801 Naval Air Squadron and Mirage III fighters of Grupo 8. Both sides refused to fight at the other's best altitude, until two Mirages finally descended to engage. One was shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder AAM (Air-to-Air Missile), while the other escaped but without enough fuel to return to its mainland airfield. The plane made for Stanley, where it fell victim to friendly fire from the Argentine defenders.

Argentine Air Force Mirage IIIEA

Argentine Air Force Mirage IIIEA.
Their lack of aerial refuel capability, prevented them from being used effectively over the islands in the air-air role.

As a result of this experience, Argentine Air Force staff decided to employ A-4 Skyhawks and Daggers only as strike units, the Canberras only during the night, and Mirage IIIs (without air refuelling capability or any capable AAM (Air-to-Air Missiles)) as decoys to lure away the British Sea Harriers. The decoying would be later extended with the formation of the Escuadron Fenix, a squadron of civilian jets flying 24 hours-a-day simulating strike aircraft preparing to attack the fleet. On one of these flights, an Air Force Learjet was shot down, killing the squadron commander, Vice Commodore Rodolfo De La Colina, who was the highest-ranking Argentine officer to die in the War.

Stanley was used as an Argentine strongpoint throughout the conflict. Despite the Black Buck and Harrier raids on Stanley airfield (no fast jets were stationed there for air defence) and overnight shelling by detached ships, it was never out of action entirely. Stanley was defended by a mixture of SAM systems (such as the Franco-German Roland) and Swiss-built 35 mm twin anti-aircraft cannons. Lockheed Hercules transport night flights brought supplies, weapons, vehicles, and fuel, and airlifted out the wounded right until the end of the conflict. The few RN Sea Harriers were considered too valuable by day to risk in night-time blockade operations, and their Blue Fox radar was not an effective look-down over land radar. The only Argentine Air Force Hercules shot down by the British was lost on 1 June when TC-63 was intercepted by a Sea Harrier in daylight when it was searching for the British fleet north-east of the islands after the Argentine Navy retired its last of SP-2H Neptune due to airframe attrition.


Sinking of Belgrano

ARA General Belgrano listing on the port side shortly before sinking.

ARA General Belgrano listing on the port side shortly before sinking.

The Sun's "Gotcha" headline
The Sun's "Gotcha" headline

Two separate British naval task forces (surface vessels and submarines) and the Argentine fleet were operating in the neighbourhood of the Falklands, and soon came into conflict. The first naval loss was the World War II vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano — formerly the USS Phoenix, a survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror, captained by Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, sank Belgrano on May 2 using Mk 8 Mod 4 torpedoes of WWII-vintage design; these were chosen as they carried a larger warhead and contact fuses and there were worries surrounding the reliability of the newer Mk 24 torpedo stock. Three hundred and twenty-three members of Belgrano's crew died in the incident. Over 700 men were rescued from the open ocean despite cold seas and stormy weather. Losses from Belgrano totalled just over half of Argentine deaths in the Falklands conflict, and the Belgrano remains the only ship ever sunk by a nuclear submarine in combat.

In a separate incident later that night, British forces engaged an Argentine patrol gunboat, the ARA Alferez Sobral. At the time, the Alferez Sobral was searching for the crew of the Argentine Air Force English Electric Canberra light bomber shot down on May 1. Two Sea Lynxes fired four Sea Skua missiles against her. Badly damaged and with eight crew dead, the Sobral managed to return to Puerto Deseado two days later, but the Canberra's crew were never found.

Initial reports conflated the two incidents, contributing to confusion about the number of casualties and the identity of the vessel that sank. The Rupert Murdoch-owned British tabloid newspaper The Sun greeted the initial reports of the attack with the headline "GOTCHA". This first edition was published before news was known that the Belgrano had actually sunk (reporting instead, erroneously, that the gunboat had sunk) and carried no reports of actual Argentine deaths. The headline was replaced in later editions by the more tempered "Did 1,200 Argies drown?".

The loss of ARA General Belgrano hardened the stance of the Argentine government and also became a cause célèbre for anti-war campaigners (such as Labour MP Tam Dalyell), who declared that the ship had been sailing away from the Falklands at the time. The vessel was outside the exclusion zone, and sailing away from the area of conflict. However, during war, under international law, the heading of a belligerent naval vessel has no bearing on its status. In addition, the captain of the Belgrano, Hector Bonzo, has testified that the attack was legitimate. In later years it has been claimed that the information on the position of the ARA General Belgrano came from a Soviet spy satellite which was tapped by the Norwegian intelligence service station at Fauske, Norway, and then handed over to the British. However, Conqueror had been shadowing the Belgrano for some days, so this extra information would have been unnecessary.

The sinking occurred 14 hours after Constitutional President of the Republic of Peru Fernando Belaúnde Terry had proposed a comprehensive peace plan and called for regional unity. With the failure of diplomacy and the closing winter, which would all but prohibit task force operations, this plan was not entertained by the UK.

Regardless of controversies over the sinking, it had an important strategic effect. After her loss, the entire Argentine fleet returned to port and did not leave again for the duration of hostilities. The two escorting destroyers and the battle group centred on the aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo both withdrew from the area, ending the direct threat to the British fleet that their pincer movement had represented. The attack on Belgrano was the second submarine kill since the end of the Second World War, the first having been made by PNS Hangor on INS Khukri during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. It is, however, the only one for a nuclear powered submarine.

British historian Sir Lawrence Freedman stated in the second volume of his Official History of the Falklands that intelligence about the Belgrano did not reach senior British commanders and politicians until the order to sink her was passed. Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, commanding officer of HMS Conqueror, informed the Admiralty four hours before his attack that the Argentine cruiser had changed course, but this information was not passed to the Ministry of Defence or Rear-Admiral John “Sandy” Woodward (commander of the RN carrier group).


Sinking of HMS Sheffield

Argentine Navy 's french-built Super Etendard.
Argentine Navy 's french-built Super Etendard.
Armed with Exocets became famous worldwide after some successful attacks

Two days after the sinking of Belgrano, on May 2, the British lost the Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield to fire following an Exocet missile strike. Sheffield had been ordered forward with two other Type 42s in order to provide a long-range radar and medium-high altitude missile "picket" far from the British carriers. After the ships were detected by an Argentine Navy P-2 Neptune patrol aircraft, two Dassault Super Étendards (serial no. 202 and 203) were launched from their base at Río Grande, each armed with a single Exocet missile. Refuelled by an Air Force KC-130H Hercules after launch, they went in at low altitude, popped up for a radar check at 50 miles (80 km) and released the missiles from 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 km) away.

Glasgow, Sheffield’s sister ship and the northernmost of the three-destroyer picket, had detected the two Étendards on their first pop-up, and warned the fleet-wide anti-air warfare coordinator in Invincible. Invincible dismissed the report as one of the many false alarms already that morning. Glasgow continued to monitor that bearing and detected the second pop-up, and this time the tell-tale Exocet seeker radar via the ship's ESM equipment. Again Invincible ruled the detection as spurious, but Glasgow continued to broadcast handbrake, the codeword for Exocet radar detected.

The first missile missed HMS Yarmouth, due to her deployment of chaff in response to the warning, whilst Glasgow repeatedly tried, without success, to engage the other with Sea Dart missiles. Still Invincible ruled that this was a false alarm.

Sheffield was unable to directly detect the seeker radar as, in a case of bad timing, the SCOT satellite communications terminal was in use which deafened the onboard electronic warfare support measures (ESM) equipment. It is not known why she did not detect the missile on radar, or why she did not respond to Glasgow's warnings, but no chaff were fired and a shipwide warning of attack went out only seconds before impact when a watchkeeper identified rocket trails visually.

Sheffield was struck amidships, with devastating effect. Whether the warhead actually exploded is debated, but raging fires started to spread, ultimately killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. Whilst alongside rendering assistance, Yarmouth repeatedly broke off to fire anti-submarine weaponry in response to SONAR reports of torpedoes in the water (later believed to have been a misdiagnosis of the outboard motor of the small inflatables helping with firefighting).

Sheffield was abandoned several hours later, gutted and deformed by the fires that continued to burn for six more days. She finally sank outside the Maritime Exclusion Zone on May 10, whilst under tow from Yarmouth, becoming an official war grave. In one sense Sheffield served her purpose as a part of the missile picket line — she bore the missile instead of the aircraft carriers.

The tempo of operations increased throughout the second half of May as United Nations attempts to mediate a peace were rejected by the British, who felt that any delay would make a campaign impractical in the South Atlantic storms. The destruction of Sheffield had a profound impact on the British public, bringing home the fact that the "Falklands Crisis", as the BBC News put it, was now an actual 'shooting war'.


SAS operations

FMA IA 58 Pucará
FMA IA 58 Pucará

Given the threat to the British fleet posed by the Etendard / Exocet combination, plans were made to use Special Air Service troops to attack the home base of the five Etendards at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego. The aim was to destroy the missiles and the aircraft that carried them, and to kill the pilots in their quarters. Two plans were drafted and underwent preliminary rehearsal: a landing by approximately fifty-five SAS in two C-130 Hercules aircraft directly on the runway at Rio Grande; and infiltration of twenty-four SAS by inflatable boats brought within a few miles of the coast by submarine. Neither plan was implemented; the earlier airborne assault plan attracted considerable hostility from some members of the SAS, who considered the proposed raid a suicide mission. Ironically, the Rio Grande area would be defended by the Amphibious Marine Brigade of the Argentine Navy, some of whose officers were trained in UK by the SBS years earlier. After the war, Argentine marine commanders admitted that they were waiting for some kind of landing by SAS forces but never expected a Hercules to land directly on their runways, although they would have prosecuted British forces even into Chilean territory if they were attacked.

An SAS reconnaissance team was despatched to carry out preparations for a seaborne infiltration. A Westland Sea King helicopter carrying the assigned team took off from HMS Invincible on the night of May 17, but bad weather forced it to land 50 miles (80 km) from its target, and the mission was aborted.  The pilot flew to Chile and dropped off the SAS team, before setting fire to his helicopter and surrendering to the Chilean authorities. The discovery of the burnt-out helicopter attracted considerable international attention at the time.

On May 14, SAS carried out the raid on Pebble Island at the Falklands, where the Argentine Navy had mounted a grass airfield for FMA IA 58 Pucarás and T-34 Mentors.

Landing at San Carlos — Bomb Alley

During the night on May 21, the British made an amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water, on the northern coast of East Falkland.

The bay, known as Bomb Alley by British forces, was the scene of repeated air attacks by low-flying Argentinean jets.

The 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade, including the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment (2 and 3 Para), were put ashore from the amphibious ships and the liner Canberra as follows:

2 Para and 40 Commando were landed at San Carlos Beach, 45 Commando at Ajax Bay, and 3 Para at Port San Carlos. By dawn the next day, they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations.

From there Brigadier Thompson's plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Stanley.
San Carlos landing sites

San Carlos landing sites

The 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade, including the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment (2 and 3 Para), were put ashore from the amphibious ships and the liner Canberra as follows: 2 Para and 40 Commando were landed at San Carlos Beach, 45 Commando at Ajax Bay, and 3 Para at Port San Carlos. By dawn the next day, they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations. From there Brigadier Thompson's plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Stanley.

Now, with the British troops on the ground, the Argentine Air Force began the night bombing campaign against them using Canberras until the last day of the war (June 14).

At sea, the paucity of the British ships' anti-aircraft defences was demonstrated in the sinking of HMS Ardent on May 21, HMS Antelope on May 21, and MV Atlantic Conveyor, with a vital cargo of helicopters, runway-building equipment and tents on May 25. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor was a severe blow from a logistics perspective. Also lost on this day was HMS Coventry, a sister to HMS Sheffield, whilst in company with HMS Broadsword. HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were badly damaged. However, many British ships escaped terminal damage because of the Argentine pilots' bombing tactics. In order to avoid the high concentration of British air defences, Argentine pilots were forced to attack at very low altitude.

Historical photo of an Argentine Air Force A-4C Skyhawk flying to the islands. Notice the 1000 lb bomb

Historical photo of an Argentine Air Force A-4C Skyhawk flying to the islands. Notice the 1000 lb bomb

While the attacks were undoubtedly brave, the low release of the unretarded bombs (some of which, ironically, were sold to the Argentine FAA by the British years earlier) meant that many never exploded as there was insufficient time in the air for them to arm themselves. Simple free-fall bombs will, at low altitude, impact almost directly below the dropping aircraft, therefore there is a minimum safe altitude for release. The pilots would doubtless have been aware of this, but in the heat of bomb alley, many failed to climb to the necessary release point. The problem was solved by the improvised fitting of retarding devices, allowing low-level bombing attacks as employed on June 8.

In his autobiographical account of the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward blames the BBC World Service for these changes to the bombs. The World Service reported the lack of detonations after receiving a briefing on the matter from an MOD official. He describes the BBC as being more concerned with being "fearless seekers after truth" than with the lives of British servicemen. Colonel H. Jones levelled similar accusations against the BBC after they disclosed the impending British attack on Goose Green by 2 Para. Jones had threatened to lead the prosecution of senior BBC officials for treason but was unable to do so since he was himself killed in action around Goose Green.

Thirteen unexploded bombs hit British ships without detonating. Lord Craig, the former Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: “Six better fuses and we would have lost” although Ardent and Antelope were both lost despite the failure of bombs to explode. The fuses were functioning correctly, and the bombs were simply released from too low an altitude.

The Argentines lost nearly twenty aircraft in these attacks.

Battle of Goose Green

From early on 27 May until 28 May, 2 Para (approximately 500 men) approached and attacked Darwin and Goose Green, which was held by the Argentine 12th Inf Regt. After a tough struggle, which lasted all night and into the next day, 17 British and 55 Argentine soldiers had been killed, and 1,050 Argentine troops taken prisoner. Due to a gaffe by the BBC, the taking of Goose Green was announced on the BBC World Service before it had actually happened. It was during this attack that Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones, the commanding officer of 2 Para was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

East Falkland showing San Carlos bridgehead, Teal Inlet, Mt Kent and Mt Challenger

East Falkland showing San Carlos bridgehead, Teal Inlet, Mt Kent and Mt Challenger

With the sizeable Argentine force at Goose Green out of the way, British forces were now able to break out of the San Carlos bridgehead. On 27 May, men of 45 Cdo and 3 Para started walking across East Falkland towards the coastal settlement of Teal Inlet.

Special forces on Mount Kent

Meanwhile, 42 Commando prepared to move by helicopter to Mount Kent. Unknown to senior British officers, the Argentine generals were determined to tie down the British troops in the Mount Kent area, and on 27 May and 28 May they sent transport aircraft loaded with commandos (602nd Commando Company and 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron) to Port Stanley. This operation was known as Operation AUTOIMPUESTA (Self-Determination-Initiative). For the next week, the Special Air Service (SAS) and Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre of 3 Commando Brigade waged intense patrol battles with patrols of the 602nd Commando Company. Throughout 30 May, Royal Air Force Harriers were active over Mount Kent. One of them — Harrier XZ 963 flown by Squadron-Leader Jerry Pook — in responding to a call for help from D Squadron, attacked Mount Kent's eastern lower slopes, and that led to its loss through small-arms fire.

On the 31 May, the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre defeated Argentine Special Forces at the Battle of Top Malo House. A 17-strong Argentine Army Commando detachment (Captain Jose Vercesi's 1st Assault Section, 602nd Commando Company) found itself trapped in a small shepherd's house at Top Malo. The Argentine Commandos fired from windows and doorways and then took refuge in a stream bed 150 metres from the burning house. Completely surrounded, they fought 19 Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC) marines under Captain Rod Boswell for forty-five minutes until, with their ammunition almost exhausted, they elected to surrender. Three Cadre members were badly wounded. On the Argentine side there were five dead including Lieutenant Ernesto Espinoza and Sergeant Mateo Sbert (who were decorated for their bravery). Only five Argentines were left unscathed. As the British mopped up Top Malo House, down from Malo Hill came Lieutenant Fraser Haddow's M&AWC patrol, brandishing a large Union Flag. One wounded Argentinian soldier, Lieutenant Horacio Losito, commented that their escape route would have taken them through Haddow's position.

It is estimated that 40 Argentine Commandos were involved in a battle with the SAS and the Cadre at Top Malo House and Mount Kent. A body count revealed eleven Argentine Army and National Gendarmerie Commandos dead. Seven members of the British Special Forces were wounded during these actions. One Special Boat Service (SBS) sergeant was killed as the Mount Kent ranges were secured for the arrival of the British battalions. The Argentine operation also saw the extensive use of helicopter support to position and extract patrols; the Argentinian 601st Combat Aviation Battalion also suffered casualties. At about 11.00 a.m. on 30 May, an Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma helicopter was brought down by a shoulder-launched Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS in the vicinity of Mount Kent. Six National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight more wounded in the crash.

As Brigadier Julian Thompson commented, "It was fortunate that I had ignored the views expressed by Northwood that reconnaissance of Mount Kent before insertion of 42 Commando was superfluous. Had D Squadron not been there, the Argentine Special Forces would have caught the Commando before deplaning and, in the darkness and confusion on a strange landing zone, inflicted heavy casualties on men and helicopters."

Bluff Cove and Fitzroy

The abandoned hulk of RFA Sir Tristram in Fitzroy
The abandoned hulk of RFA Sir Tristram in Fitzroy

By June 1, with the arrival of a further 5,000 British troops of the 5th Infantry Brigade, the new British divisional commander, Major General Jeremy Moore RM, had sufficient force to start planning an offensive against Stanley.

During this build-up, the Argentine air assaults on the British naval forces continued, killing 56. 32 of the dead were from the Welsh Guards on RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram on June 8. Many others suffered serious burns, including, famously, Simon Weston.

The Guards were sent to support a dashing advance along the southern approach to Stanley. On 2 June, a small advance party of 2 Para moved to Swan Inlet house in a number of Army Westland Scout helicopters. Telephoning ahead to Fitzroy, they discovered the area clear of Argentines and, (exceeding their authority), commandeered the one remaining RAF Chinook helicopter to frantically ferry another contingent of 2 Para ahead to Fitzroy (a settlement on Port Pleasant) and Bluff Cove (a settlement confusingly, and perhaps ultimately fatally, on Port Fitzroy).

This uncoordinated advance caused planning nightmares for the commanders of the combined operation, as they now found themselves with a 30-mile (48 km) string of undefendable positions on their southern flank. Support could not be sent by air as the single remaining Chinook was already heavily oversubscribed. The soldiers could march, but their equipment and heavy supplies would need to be ferried by sea. Plans were drawn up for half the Welsh Guards to march light on the night of 2 June, whilst the Scots Guards and the second half of the Welsh Guards were to be ferried from San Carlos Water in the amphibious assault ship Sir Tristram and the landing platform dock (LPD) Intrepid on the night of 5 June. Intrepid was planned to stay one day and unload itself and as much of Sir Tristram as possible, leaving the next evening for the relative safety of San Carlos. Escorts would be provided for this day, after which Sir Tristram would be left to unload using an inflatable platform known as a Mexeflote for as long as it took to finish.

Political pressure from above to not risk the LPD forced Mike Clapp (Commander, Amphibious Forces) to alter this plan. Two lower-value LSLs would be sent, but without suitable beaches on which to land, Intrepid's landing craft would need to accompany them to unload. A complicated operation across several nights with Intrepid and Fearless (her sister ship) sailing half-way to dispatch their craft was devised. The attempted overland march by half the Welsh Guards had failed, possibly as they refused to march light and attempted to carry their equipment. They returned to San Carlos and were landed direct to Bluff Cove when Fearless dispatched her landing craft. Sir Tristram sailed on the night of June 6 and was joined by Sir Galahad at dawn on June 7.

Anchored 1200 feet (370 m) apart in Port Pleasant, the landing ships were near Fitzroy, the designated landing point. The landing craft should have been able to unload the ships to that point relatively quickly, but confusion over the ordered disembarcation point (the first half of the Guards going direct to Bluff Cove) resulted in the senior Welsh Guards infantry officer aboard insisting his troops be ferried the far longer distance direct to Port Fitzroy/Bluff Cove. The intention was for the infantrymen to march via the recently repaired Bluff Cove bridge (destroyed by retreating Argentinian combat engineers) to their destination, a journey of around seven miles (11 km).

The longer journey time of the landing craft taking the troops directly to Bluff Cove and the squabbling over how the landing was to be performed caused enormous delay in unloading. This had disastrous consequences. Without escorts, having not yet established their air defence and still almost fully laden, the two LSLs in Port Pleasant were sitting targets for two waves of Argentinian-FAA A-4 Skyhawks.

The disaster at Port Pleasant (although often known as Bluff Cove) would provide the world with some of the most sobering images of the war as TV news video footage showed Navy helicopters hovering in thick smoke to winch survivors from the burning landing ships.

The fall of Port Stanley

On the night of June 11, after several days of painstaking reconnaissance and logistic build-up, British forces launched a brigade-sized night attack against the heavily defended ring of high ground surrounding Stanley. Units of 3 Commando Brigade, supported by naval gunfire from several Royal Navy ships, simultaneously assaulted in the Battle of Mount Harriet, Battle of Two Sisters, and Battle of Mount Longdon. During this battle, 13 were killed when HMS Glamorgan, straying too close to shore while returning from the gun line, was struck by an improvised truck-based Exocet launcher taken from a ship. On this day, Sgt Ian McKay of 4 Platoon, B Company, 3 Para died in a grenade attack on an Argentine bunker which was to earn him a posthumous Victoria Cross. After a night of fierce fighting, all objectives were secured.

The night of June 13 saw the start of the second phase of attacks, in which the momentum of the initial assault was maintained. 2 Para captured Wireless Ridge at the Battle of Wireless Ridge, and the 2nd battalion, Scots Guards captured Mount Tumbledown at the Battle of Mount Tumbledown.

With the last natural defence line at Mount Tumbledown breached, the Argentine town defences of Port Stanley began to falter. In the morning gloom, one company commander got lost and his junior officers became despondent. Private Santiago Carrizo of the 3rd Regiment described how a platoon commander ordered them to take up positions in the houses and "if a Kelper resists, shoot him", but the entire company did nothing of the kind.

On June 14, the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Mario Menéndez, surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore. 9,800 Argentine troops were made prisoners of war and some 4,167 were repatriated to Argentina on the ocean liner Canberra alone.

For the surrender document see Falklands War Argentine surrender.

On June 20, the British retook the South Sandwich Islands, (which involved accepting the surrender of the Southern Thule Garrison at the Corbeta Uruguay base) and declared hostilities to be over. Corbeta Uruguay was established in 1976, but the Argentine base was ignored by the UK until 1982.

The war lasted 74 days, with 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and three civilian Falklanders killed.

The British Government decreed that all classified information would be available to the public in the year 2082.


HMS Conqueror returning victorious from the war
HMS Conqueror returning victorious from the war

The Argentine loss of the war led to ever-larger protests against the military regime and is credited with giving the final push to drive out the military government that had overthrown Isabel Perón in 1976 and participated in the crimes of the Dirty War. Galtieri was forced to resign and elections were held on 30 October 1983 and Raúl Alfonsín, the Radical Civic Union (UCR) party candidate, took office on 10 December 1983. Alfonsín defeated Italo Luder, the candidate for the Justicialist Party (Peronist movement).

For the UK, the war cost 255 men, six ships (ten others suffered varying degrees of battle damage), 34 aircraft and more than £1.6 billion, but the campaign was considered a great victory for the United Kingdom. The war provided a substantial boost to the popularity of Margaret Thatcher and doubtless played a role in ensuring her re-election in 1983. Several members of her government resigned, however, including the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, the last time that a UK government minister resigned openly in response to a failure of his department (in not anticipating the war).

Criticism was levelled at Ted Rowlands, a former junior foreign minister in the preceding government, who disclosed in Parliament in April 1982 that the British had broken the Argentine diplomatic codes. Because the same code machines were used by the Argentine military, this disclosure immediately served to deny British access to valuable intelligence. This, and other responses to parliamentary questions, and leaks of information to the BBC has been alleged by historian Hugh Bicheno to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the Thatcher government on the part of a variety of individuals who had a vested interest in its fall.

Ultimately, the successful conclusion of the war gave a noticeable fillip to British patriotic feeling. Since the failure of the 1956 Suez campaign, the end of Empire and the economic decline of the 1970s which cumulated in the Winter of Discontent, Britain had been beset by uncertainty and anxiety about its international role, status and capability. With the war successfully concluded, Thatcher was returned to power with an increased Parliamentary majority and felt empowered to press ahead with the painful economic readjustments of Thatcherism. A second major effect was a reaffirmation of the special relationship between the US and UK to arguably its closest level ever. Both Reagan and Weinberger (his Secretary of Defence) received honorary knighthoods for their help in the campaign, but the more obvious result was the common alignment of Britain and the USA in a more confrontational foreign policy against the Soviet bloc, sometimes known as the Second Cold War.


The Falklands conflict was one of the few major naval campaigns to have occurred since the end of the Second World War. As such, the conflict illustrated the vulnerability of surface ships to anti-ship missiles and reaffirmed the effectiveness of aircraft in naval warfare. Stealth (in the form of submarines) again proved its usefulness, much as it did during the Second World War and the Cold War.

Neither side achieved total air supremacy; nonetheless, air power proved to be of critical importance during the conflict, due to the isolated, rough landscape of the Falklands in which the mobility of land forces was restricted. Air strikes were staged against ground, sea and air targets on both sides, and often with clear results. All of the UK losses at sea were caused by aircraft or missile strikes (by both the Argentine Air Force and Naval Aviation). The French Exocet missile proved its lethality in air-to-surface operations, leading to retrofitting of most major ships with Close-in weapon system (CIWS).

The air war in the Falklands vindicated the UK decision to develop the STOVL Harrier aircraft, which showed its capability of operating from forward bases with no runways. The domination of air power in major naval engagements was demonstrated, along with the usefulness of carriers and it proved the small but manoeuvrable Sea Harrier as a true fighter. Sea Harriers shot down 23 fast jets with no air-to-air losses themselves. Six Sea Harriers were lost to ground fire and accidents.

It should be noted that the disparity in figures, with the Argentine fighters failing to shoot down a single Sea Harrier, can be partly explained by several factors. The Argentine planes were operating at the limit of their range with little fuel available for dogfighting; the air combat training of the British pilots was indisputably superior; and limited fighter control was provided by British warships in San Carlos Water. These factors together with the use by the British of the latest Sidewinder missiles, the then almost unparalleled Blue Fox radar, and the extreme manoeuvrability of the Sea Harrier went some way to countering the speed advantage of the Argentinian aircraft.

The logistic capability of the UK armed forces was stretched to the absolute limit in order to mount an amphibious operation so far from a home-base, onto mountainous islands with few roads. After the war, much work was done to improve both the logistic and amphibious capability of the Royal Navy.

Task force commander Sandy Woodward refers to the conflict as "a lot closer run than many would care to believe", reflecting the naval and military belief that few people understood — or understand — the extent to which the logistical dimension made the war a difficult operation for the UK.  The ships of the task force could only remain on station for so long in the worsening southern hemisphere winter. With such a high proportion of the Royal Navy's surface fleet actively engaged, or lost in combat, there were precious few units available for northbound traffic. At the core of the fleet, Invincible could possibly have been replaced by the hastily-worked up Illustrious, but there was no replacement available for Hermes, the larger of the two British carriers. Woodward's strategy, therefore, required the land war to be won before Hermes, in particular, succumbed to the harsh environment. This, as it turned out, was "a damned close run thing".

The usefulness of special forces units was reaffirmed. British special forces destroyed many Argentine aircraft (notably in the SAS raid on Pebble Island) and carried out highly informative intelligence gathering operations.

The usefulness of helicopters in combat, logistic, and casevac operations was confirmed.

Nylon was shown to be a poor choice for fabric in uniforms, as it is more flammable than cotton and also melts with heat. Burning nylon adheres to the skin, causing avoidable casualties.

The importance of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) was shown. The Royal Navy had effectively no over-the-horizon radar capability. This was to be hastily rectified after the war as Sea King helicopters were fitted with retractable radomes containing a variant of the Nimrod ASW aircraft's Searchwater radar. These first travelled south after the war on the brand new HMS Illustrious, sister ship to Invincible.

Weapon export controls
The Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) failed to anticipate a conflict between Argentina and the UK when approving weapon exports to Argentina.


During the operations, several wounded British soldiers had to spend hours in the cold before receiving medical aid—yet no British soldier died who was evacuated to a medical aid station. Many recovered better than medical opinion of the time considered possible, and subsequent theories have suggested that this was due to the extreme cold. Britain also had medical staff familiar with high velocity gunshot wounds, due to their experiences in the Northern Ireland conflict with the IRA.

The trials of one British patient, Robert Lawrence, MC, were chronicled in a book co-authored by him entitled When The Fighting is Over which was later adapted into a television film. Lawrence was shot at close range by an FN rifle and lost a large percentage of brain matter, but recovered to a degree not thought possible.  After the war he became an outspoken critic of the British Army's treatment of Falklands veterans. He remains partially paralysed in the left side of his body.

Pope John Paul II visits

In May 1982, Pope John Paul II carried out a long-scheduled visit to the United Kingdom. In view of the crisis it was decided that this should be balanced with an unscheduled trip to Argentina in June. It is contended that his presence and words spiritually prepared Argentines for a possible defeat, contrary to the propaganda issued by the Junta. He would return to Argentina in 1987 after democratisation.

Allegations of nuclear deployment

It has been asserted, although not corroborated, that the French President François Mitterrand claimed that Margaret Thatcher threatened to carry out a nuclear strike against Córdoba unless the UK Government were provided with destruction codes for the Exocet missile. It has been reported that two years after the war, Labour MPs demanded an inquiry  into reports that a Resolution class submarine armed with the Polaris SLBMs had deployed to Ascension Island during the operation, ostensibly to prepare for a nuclear strike. The Ministry of Defence is reported to have denied the allegations, and Freedman's Official History does the same.

British warships were routinely armed with the type WE.177 nuclear depth bomb, an antisubmarine weapon. The Official History describes the contorted logistical arrangements that led to the removal of the nuclear depth bombs from the frigates, following political alarm in Whitehall. Eventually at least some of the depth bombs were brought back to the UK by an RFA vessel. In December 2003, Argentine President Néstor Kirchner demanded an apology from the British Government for this "regrettable and monstrous" act.

MI6 activity

In his 2002 memoirs Sir John Nott made the following disclosure:
“ I authorised our agents to pose as bona fide purchasers of equipment on the international market, ensuring that we outbid the Argentinians, and other agents identified Exocet missiles in markets and rendered them inoperable. ”

Falklands veterans' afflictions

The South Atlantic Medal, a British military decoration for veterans of the war.The South Atlantic Medal, a British military decoration for veterans of the war.

The British Ministry of Defence was accused several times of a systematic failure to prepare service personnel for the horrors of war and to provide adequate care for them afterwards.

There are allegations that the Ministry of Defence has tried to ignore the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which left many sufferers emotionally scarred and unable to work, immersed in social dislocation, alcoholism, and depression. Veterans have suffered prolonged personality disorders, flashbacks, and anxiety levels, sometimes reaching pathological levels.

It was revealed that more veterans have committed suicide since the Falklands War ended than the number of servicemen killed in action The South Atlantic Medal Association (SAMA82), which represents and helps Falklands veterans, believes that some 264 veterans had taken their own lives by 2002, a number exceeding the 255 who died in active service.

A similar situation afflicts the veterans on the Argentine side, many of whom have similarly suffered from psychiatric disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and social turmoil. The current Argentine suicide toll is 454, according to an Argentine film (Iluminados por el fuego by Tristán Bauer, 2006) about the suicide of a Falklands veteran.

On April 1, 2007 the British government expressed regrets over the deaths on both sides in the war.

Cultural impact

There were wide-ranging influences on popular culture in both the UK and Argentina, from the immediate postwar period to the present. The words yomp and Exocet entered the British vernacular as a result of the war. The Falklands War also provided material for theatre, film and TV drama and influenced the output of musicians including (among others) English Post-Punk Band Gang of Four, Pink Floyd, Joe Jackson, Crass, New Model Army, Steve Dahl and Elvis Costello, whose song "Shipbuilding", sung by Robert Wyatt, reached the British top 40.


This war is also occasionally written as The Falklands/Malvinas War, recognising the international split over the Islands' name. Other constructs such as Falklands Conflict and Falklands Crisis have also been used. Malvinas War is occasionally used by radical left-wing activists.

See also
Labour finally 'effed' the Empire