Battle for the Falklands (1) Land Forces
'I remember just before the battle of Antietam thinking . . .that it would be easy after a comfortable breakfast to comedown the steps of one's house pulling on one's gloves and smoking a cigar, to get on to a horse and charge a battery up Beacon Street, while the ladies wave handkerchiefs from abalcony. But the reality was to pass a night on the ground inthe rain, with your bowels out of order, and then, after no particular breakfast, to wade a stream and attack the enemy'.
(Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, recallinghis service in the American Civil War)With the lethal tidying-up of the Falklandsbattlefield still in progress and claiming lives andlimbs, millions of words have already been writtenand spoken about Operation 'Corporate', thecombined service operations that liberated theislanders from Argentine occupation. Inevitably,much remains to be revealed; this book can only bea summary of what is known at the time of writing.Perhaps more important is its other purpose. Theview of war from a Press desk, radio station ortelevision studio is often a cosily sanitised version of what is in reality a grinding mixture of fatigue,confusion and ignorance at all levels; of moments of great fear, and others of intense exhilaration; and of a tough humour that welds close-knit groups closerstill under pressure. I hope that this brief accountwill convey something of this reality, so eloquentlyrecalled by Oliver Wendell Holmes when he lookedback on his own war.There is no space here for more than the briefestnote on the background to the war. The FalklandIslands and their dependency of South Georgia area group of rocky, barren islands in the south-westcorner of the South Atlantic Ocean. They have apopulation of about 1,800 souls, 1,000 of themliving in the little 'capital' of Stanley and theremainder scattered around the heavily indentedcoasts in isolated, more or less self-sufficient sheepfarming settlements.The islands have never been settled by theArgentine, although for a brief period during theconfused years which saw her war of independencefrom Spain she did plant a minute garrison onthem. This was removed, bloodlessly, by Britain in1833; since when settlement by civilians has slowlyincreased, the inhabitants being entirely of Britishstock. Argentina's notional claim is based uponproximity, and a supposed sovereignty whichultimately rests upon the Papal declaration of 1493which sought arbitrarily to divide the unoccupieddiscoveries in the New World between Spain andPortugal—a pronouncement which failed toimpress the rest of the world even then. Resting her
(Cont. on p.
2 April: a LARC-5 vehicle of the Argentine Marines' 1stAmphibious Vehicle Bn. approaches as Royal Marines of NP8901 are searched by Argentine Marine Commandos. Thisis one of a series of photographs which had a considerableeffect on British public opinion. (MoD)