On 2 April 1982, after an incident between British Royal Marines Commandos and Argentine scrap-metal workers and protecting Special Forces on South Georgia, Argentina invaded the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, a remote British colony in the South Atlantic. The Argentinian amphibious operation, Operación Rosario, led to a brief, but bitter war.
Argentina's military junta under Lieutenant-General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri hoped to restore its support at a time of economic crisis and world wide condemnation because of the Dirty War and the mass disappearances of left-wing radicals, by reclaiming sovereignty of the islands. Argentina claimed to have had inherited the "Islas Malvinas" from Spain in 1810 and they were close to the Argentinian continental shelf.
The British garrison under Major Mike Norman (Naval Party 8901/NP8901) and the supporting local militia (Falklands Islands Defence Force/FIDF) under Major Phil Sommers resisted, however, the Argentinian 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion had captured the capital at Port Stanley. The next day, Argentine Marines from the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion also landed on South Georgia and quickly secured the island.
The British authorities, which had ruled the islands for 150 years, chose to fight. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the 1,800 Falklanders were "of British tradition and stock". A naval task force was sent to reclaim the islands, 8,000 miles away.
In the 74 days of fighting that followed, 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen lost their lives, as did three Falkland Islanders.
The Chilean Military Government of Augusto Pinochet gave support to the United Kingdom since Argentina was planing an invasion of Chile at the time. Margaret Thatcher thanked Pinochet later on in 1999.
British Task Force
After organizing sanctions against Argentina, Prime Minister Thatcher ordered the assembly of a naval task force and several elite infantry battalions to retake the islands. After the House of Commons voted to approve Thatcher's actions on 3 April, she formed a War Cabinet which first met three days later. Commanded by Admiral John Fieldhouse, the task force consisted of several groups, the largest of which was centered on the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. Led by Rear-Admiral John Woodward, this group contained the Sea Harrier fighters from 800, 801 and 899 Squadrons that would provide air cover for the fleet. In mid-April, Fieldhouse began moving south, with a large fleet of tankers and cargo ships to supply the fleet while it operated more than 8,000 miles from home. All told, 127 ships served in the task force including 43 warships, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, and 62 merchant vessels.
As the Royal Navy sailed south to its staging area at Ascension Island, it was shadowed by Boeing 707s from the Argentinian Air Force. On 25 April, British helicopters sank the submarine ARA Santa Fe near South Georgia shortly before Royal Marine Commandos under Major Guy Sheridan from 42 Commando captured the island. Five days later, British air attacks against the Argentinian air bases began with the "Black Buck" raids by Royal Air Force (RAF) Vulcan bombers flying from Ascension. These saw the British Sea Harriers also strike the airbase at Port Stanley, Goose Green and defending anti-aircraft artillery batteries. That same day Argentinian fighter-bombers attacked various targets, losing four aircraft shot down. As the British fighter pilots had been armed with the latest Sidewinder missiles, the Argentinian Canberra bombers were forced to fly from the mainland under the cover of darkness, which limited their effectiveness throughout the conflict
While cruising west of the Falklands on 2 May, the submarine HMS Conqueror spotted the cruiser ARA General Belgrano. Conqueror fired three torpedoes, hitting hitting the Belgrano twice and sinking it. This attack led to the Argentinian Navy, including the aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, returning to port for the rest of the war. Two days later, Admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya had his revenge when an Exocet anti-ship missile, launched from an Argentinian Fleet Air Arm Super Étendard fighter-bomber, struck HMS Sheffield setting it ablaze, killing 20 and wounding 63 British sailors in the process.Having been ordered forward to serve as a radar picket, the British destroyer was hit amidships and the resulting explosion severed its high-pressure fire main. After attempts to stop the fire failed, the ship was abandoned.
British Landings at San Carlos
On the night of 20/21 May, the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp moved into Falkland Sound and began landing Brigadier Julian Thompson's 3rd Commando Brigade at San Carlos Water on the northwest coast of East Falkland. The landings had been preceded by a Special Air Service (SAS) raid on Pebble Island's airfield and Darwin Hill. When the landings had finished, approximately 5,000 Paratroopers and Royal Marine Commandos had been put ashore. Over the next week, the ships supporting the British landings were hit hard by low-flying Argentine fighter-bombers. The sound was soon dubbed "Bomb Alley" as HMS Ardent (21 May), HMS Antelope (23 May), and HMS Coventry (25 May) all sustained hits and were sunk, as was MV Atlantic Conveyor (25 May) with a cargo of Wessex transport helicopters and BV-202 all-terrain vehicles.
Goose Green, Mount Kent & Tragedy at Fitzroy
Brigadier Julian Thompson began pushing his men south, planning to secure the western side of the island before moving east to Port Stanley. On 28 May, 600 British Paratroopers from Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Jones's 2nd Parachute Battalion attacked over 1,000 Argentinians from Lieutenant-Colonel Ítalo Ángel Piaggi's Task Force Mercedes dug in around Darwin and Goose Green, ultimately forcing them to surrender. Leading a platoon charge, Jones was killed on Darwin Hill and later received the Victoria Cross posthumously. A few days later, British Special Forces defeated Argentine Special Forces on Mount Kent. In early June, an additional 5,000 British troops under Brigadier Tony Wilson arrived and command shifted to Major-General Jeremy Moore. While the Scots Guards and Welsh Guards were establishing their beachhead at Bluff Cove and Fitzroy, two troopships, Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad, were attacked killing 56 and wounding 200.
Fall of Port Stanley
After consolidating his position, Moore began the assault on Port Stanley. British troops launched simultaneous assaults on the high ground surrounding the town on the night of 11 June. The Argentinians were in prepared positions with heavy machine guns and night vision devices. Attacks were conducted with fixed bayonets and the British infantry routed the Argentinian conscripts from their positions.
The attacks continued two nights later, and British units took the town's last natural lines of defense at Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown.
Under the cover of darkness, 5th Infantry Brigade started their attack on Mount Tumbledown and Mount William with the Scots Guards and Gurkhas. They met an entrenched Marine company in bunkers dug under the huge boulders that surrounded the area. The enemy was supported with mortars and heavy machine guns. At the same time the Scots were fighting bunker to bunker, 2 PARA attacked Wireless Ridge. With the help of artillery and naval gunfire fire they attacked and defeated the 7th Mechanized Infantry Regiment. To the south, the Welsh Guards supported by Royal Marines advanced on Sapper Hill. After heavy fighting, British troops succeeded in capturing their objectives.
Encircled on land and blockaded at sea, the Argentine commander, Brigadier-General Mario Benjamin Menéndez, realized his situation was hopeless and surrendered his 10,000 men on 14 June, effectively ending the conflict.
In Argentina, the defeat led to the removal of Galtieri three days after the fall of Port Stanley. His downfall spelled the end for the military junta that had been ruling the country and paved the way for the restoration of democracy. For Britain, the victory provided a much needed boost to its national confidence, reaffirmed its international position, and assured victory for the Thatcher Government in the 1983 elections.
The settlement that ended the conflict called for a return to status quo ante bellum. Despite its defeat, Argentina still claims the Falklands and South Georgia. During the war, Britain suffered 258 killed and 777 wounded. In addition, 2 destroyers, 2 frigates, 2 auxiliary vessels and 1 super tanker were sunk. For Argentina, the Falklands War cost 649 killed, 1,068 wounded, and 11,313 captured. In addition, the Argentinian Navy lost a submarine, a cruiser, and 75 fixed-wing aircraft.
- Thatcher visits her old friend Pinochet. The Guardian (March 26, 1999).
- "The missile struck fuel tanks amidships, killing 20 members of crew and wounding another 63." Task Force, Jon Parker, Hachette, 2013
- "Just as we were setting the two LSL (Sir Galahad and Sir Tristan) were attacked by Skyhawks and set on fire; both vessels were abandoned and resulted in tragic loss of life on Sir Galahad ... and over 200 injured - mostly from the Welsh Guards)." The Falklands Conflict Twenty Years On, Stephen Badsey, Robin Paul Whittick Havers, Mark J. Grove, p. 121, Psychology Press, 2005