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Argentine soldiers with FN FAL rifles, Falklands War.

May 1982


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During the 1982 war. though. the question was instantly raised as to the intrinsic value of fighting over a cluster of islands located 400 miles off southern Argentina. and the takeover of its government by a military junta in 1981. just north of the 60 degree Antarctic Circle. S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 7 . the war can also be taken as having been the first fought within Antarctica — as encounters occurred on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. it provided a test of military competence to a degree neither side’s participants had ever dealt with before. for those fighting on and around the windswept islands deep in the South Atlantic. There were also wider implications for non-involved militaries. 1982 by Adam Coleman Context T he 74-day Falklands War provided the world with a new perspective on military conflict and intelligence gathering in the early 1980s. Revisions in tactical and operational methods were real outcomes for many services aside from those of the participants. in which Argentine commandos were to sabotage a Royal Navy warship harbored in Gibraltar. Its implications arguably changed the mindset of governments and militaries across the globe and. Indeed. At the same time. It’s important when looking at the Falklands War to begin by putting oneself into the mindset of the warring parties at that time. the chaotic nature of that nation’s politics. provided a platform from which to demonstrate its capability as a regional power. and even as far south as the South Sandwich Islands. In early 1982 they were in diametrically opposed positions. the plan was thwarted at the last minute when communications were intercepted. For the United Kingdom — as an active member of NATO with major responsibilities within that organization — it was viewed as unlikely any major commitment to a war beyond Europe’s borders would ever again occur. continued on page 10 » Jorge Anaya in 1976. it was also an old fashioned fight in that it could also fairly be called a colonial war (perhaps the last of them). For Argentina. Anaya commanded Operation Algeciras. For observers outside the conflict. It was a unique sequence of events that brought new terms into the public vocabulary while revealing the capabilities and highlighting the shortfalls of two different military systems.Falklands Showdown: A Strategic Analysis of the Anglo-Argentine War.

18 from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. Argentina — 649 Ejército Argentino (Army) — 194 (16 officers. 19 from the Special Air Service (SAS).  ◆ 8 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . 19 & 1 on HMS Sheffield. 40 NCOs & 76 privates) Royal Air Force — 1 (officer) Falkland Islands Civilians — 3 (women killed by friendly fire) Of the 86 Royal Navy personnel. 21 from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. 3 from Royal Signals. 4 naval aviators and 34 marines) Fuerza Aérea Argentina (Air Force) — 55 (including 31 pilots and 14 ground crew) Gendarmería Nacional Argentina (Border Guard) — 7 Prefectura Naval Argentina (Coast Guard) — 2 Civilian Sailors — 16 United Kingdom — 258 Royal Navy — 86 & 2 Hong Kong laundrymen (see below) Royal Marines — 27 (2 officers. and 8 from each of the Scots Guards and Royal Engineers. Thirty-three of the British Army’s dead came from the Welsh Guards. 14 NCOs and 11 marines) Royal Fleet Auxiliary — 4 & 4 Hong Kong laundrymen Merchant Navy — 6 & 2 Hong Kong sailors British Army — 123 (7 officers. 13 on HMS Glamorgan. Fourteen naval cooks were among the dead. 22 were lost on HMS Ardent. 18 & 1 on HMS Coventr. which was the largest number from any one occupational branch within the Royal Navy. 907 military personnel were killed during 74 days of the war.Killed in Action Summary In total. 35 NCOs and 143 privates) Armada de la República Argentina (Navy) — 375 (including 321 on Belgrano.

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reconnaissance. in combat. The Army was professional. little of the experience from Northern Ireland proved applicable in the Falklands. key units such as the Royal Marines were soon going to be entirely without landing ships.» continued from page 7 Though neither Britain nor Argentina fought a “total war. thus educating recruits into the notion that going beyond normal levels of exertion was possible and expected. There are other specific examples of such cuts. For instance. Each force also had behind it a national populace that was culturally and politically supportive of their militaries. with an emphasis on physical fitness. Both had consequences on how the military was to be configured. except for some techniques for helicopter operations. except for a small number of tactical exceptions. with its positions filled through selective recruitment. defeated the Argentines by bringing to bear better preparation. and a deeper will to win down to the man-to-man level. though. That physical capability of the recruits was further enhanced by 10 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . In the end the British were the victors. The creed that every soldier must contribute and must be able to step up following the incapacitation of his leader was paramount. They won every strategic and operational aspect of the fighting and. essentially. In the larger circumstances of early 1982. as well as its combat doctrines. At the same time. the end of British power in the South Atlantic was at hand and the islands that had for so long been a national quest would soon be open for the taking. That foundational concept of mental determination and physical toughness was to prove itself on a daily basis in the Falklands. deployment of assets. Training was multi-phased. as was the economic pressure to “retrench” being put on the armed forces at that time. leadership. While there were numerical differences. The Royal Navy was then already seen as a service in decline due to the strictures of the 1981 Defence Naval Review. if a military asset didn’t have use in the North Atlantic or Europe it was seen as non-essential. that sug- gested to the Argentines. at least from a strategic capability standpoint. each force possessed conventional hardware drawn from among the world’s most valuable and deadly at that time. Obviously the issue of Northern Ireland was important. though. the British armed forces still maintained a high degree of professionalism within all its branches.” they did commit key resources in terms of their most professional units and equipment. Emphasis in the training process was also put on personal initiative and leadership at every level. Significant emotional sentiment erupted on both sides as the tactical blow-by-blow occurred. The British Army British military doctrine in the early 1980s was being influenced both by factors at home and abroad. aggressiveness. For the Army. in the future.

This is Tom’s work. the Falkland Islands weren’t a good place to deploy an unevenly S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 11 . even in small groups. For a ground force centered on such units. The Argentine Army possessed both regular and conscript components. who’d raced to the head of the advance as his company tried to find its way through a hail of fire at the height of the Battle of Goose Green: “You wait here. who at times were able to motivate their subordinates. the distinction emphasized was the one between officers and enlisted. as those men also belonged to the same elite tactical grouping. That emphasis enabled average British soldiers to function in varied tactical environments with minimal adaptation time needed — something the Argentines proved unable to do. Even so. The insularity of elite units can create an environment in which those in them see themselves in a competitive relationship with other members of their own army. and it created what was. the Parachute Regiment and the Blues and Royals armored units –approached the fighting with tremendous esprit d’corps. been a relatively big spender immediately prior to 1982. with any available weapons. even while lacking the overall situational awareness and larger competencies that would’ve been necessary in order to overwhelm their opponent’s desire to persevere. The interspersing of Regular Army cadre within those units also contributed some capable NCOs and junior officers. and the model of discipline presented to the common soldiers was primarily geared toward making them obediently accept their low place in the military hierarchy. regarding another small group of islands south of Tierra del Fuego. the conscripts in the Falklands were equipped as well as their Regular Army counterparts. begs the question as to why they couldn’t perform at the level needed for victory. That. The soldiers of the British Army in the Falklands. to a lesser extent. That answer is rooted in their deeper military traditions as well as their approach to the situation in 1982. the Royal Air Force or Royal Navy. positions were prepared. Almost every land battle in the Falklands proved to be an effort revolving around one key unit. and had thereby amassed hardware as capable as that of their opponent when used appropriately. It hardly provided a basis from which to confront a core member of NATO. each displayed efforts that made them capable adversaries. Phillip Neame. We don’t want to risk you on this. coupled with an inculcated orientation to operate aggressively. when looked at singularly. In the weeks prior to the British stepping foot back on the islands. That was true in all aspects of military life. Yet. were willing and motivated to perform to the highest level. The Argentine military had. Rather than being cultivated as valuable individual members of their units. no matter what numbers they were committed against. Aside from their younger average age and poor training. For example. when applied to combat. of course. Their weapons and clothing were the same. an untenable position from which soldiers would be willing to act so as to achieve victory. In short. however. Modern Argentine military experience in the time prior to 1982 consisted only of some small counterinsurgency operations in the northern part of their own country and an episode of brinkmanship with the Chileans in 1980. Much has been made regarding the minimal training of the latter group’s young soldiers during their mandatory oneyear service. They were well led and held their officers in esteem. however. minefields were laid and basic field-craft was practiced. with support from the Royal Artillery and. As was said by one junior NCO to Maj. but a consistent weakness on the battlefield came from its inability to utilize the available firepower to best effect. Within the units of the British Army there was an organizational pride that showed itself in many instances during the war. Their Army was the beneficiary of much of those purchases. at Goose Green the forward Argentine positions were set up so as to have interlocking and mutually supportive positions. they were able to fight but never to win. fields of fire were established.” The Argentine Army The three arms of the Argentine military — the Army (Ejercito). They were trained and led according to the proverbial book. That manifested itself in a willingness to add an even sharper edge to combat operations. That was due to the fact the Argentine Army of 1982 was a force trapped in a time capsule of earlier military thinking. Navy (Armada – ARA) and Air Force (Fuerza Aerea Argentina – FAA) — all held diverse and ultimately incompatible approaches to warfare. sir. and specific units — among them most notably the Royal emphasis on hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat. success is often magnetic. and the efforts attained by each unit actually increase along with the hours and tempo of battle.

The growing lack of respect for the officers culminated in several incidents of violence against them after the surrender. and all of that was what their soldiers expected. little was done by their officers to resolve the situation. when soldiers were clearly going hungry. while old. Photographs from just after the war reveal much. which occurred at Port Howard on West Falkland. and they’re in stark contrast to their weather-beaten and fatigue-uniformed British counterparts. logistics was another erratic and sad aspect of the war. Snow then fell many times in an already wet and bleak environment.” The Argentines were commanded by a socially separate and privileged officer class. Its withdrawal from surface combat was made after only two hostile contacts: the sinking of the Guppy-class submarine Santa Fe at South Georgia. then. 12 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 .trained and less than fully motivated ground force. but included several modern diesel submarines. always gave the clear impression they were in command. Ultimately. Discussions by this author with several Argentine soldiers who were in the Falklands revealed their initial disbelief British officers carried a load like everyone else. Faced with such a challenge. was equipped with A-4 Skyhawks as well as modern helicopters with anti-submarine capabilities. the Armada certainly possessed everything it needed to accomplish some crucial degree of devastation. even before shots were fired. however. April was the middle of autumn. The rigid distinctions between officers and enlisted proved a weakness for both groups. yet. In one classic example. Their one aircraft carrier. Being an Argentine soldier in the Falklands wasn’t a pleasant experience. and several UK-built Type 42 destroyers. Argentine training did little to ensure initiative was ever taken. Basically. Therefore. ate the same food in the field. Argentine officers are generally immaculate and usually appear in dress or service uniforms. a force without leadership will always fall. and their overall fleet was bolstered by the recent acquisition of a handful of (then) ultra-modern Dassault Super Etendards. Opposing Navies & Air Forces The Argentine Navy was equipped with a mix of old and new ships. Those planes. the Argentines were able to fight and hinder the British. In combat. Given their military culture. Exocet surface-to-surface missilecarrying vessels. with their AM. despite their near-identical appearance with the enlisted around them. at times when the British were clearly off balance tactically. the Argentines failed to take action that could’ve restored the situation for them. but they were never able to defeat the will of their attackers to press forward. and by the time of the first ground fighting in May the winter was setting (in the Southern Hemisphere). the farther a unit was from the main base at Port Stanley the smaller was the logistical support it got. Finally for the Argentines. were the weapon system the Argentines used to devastating effect in their efforts against the Royal Navy. soldiers found to be eating pilfered chicken scraps were staked out on the freezing ground as punishment for what was termed “unsoldierly conduct. that service proved the first to retreat from the fighting. which added yet another dimension to the declining morale.39 Exocet missiles. Given the fact the French themselves had provided the Argentines with the training needed to efficiently utilize those weapons.

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their encounters with that weaponry had less of an inhibiting effect than did their pilots’ general unwillingness to push hard in their attacks. It appears they weren’t aware of that Royal Navy shortfall. The Falklands War was also the first time night vision goggles were used by the Royal Navy. Traditional older weapons. Depending on circumstances those Sea Darts.5-inch anti-aircraft gun. generating much complementary structural damage. Driven by two rocket motors when launched from a suitably configured Etendard. At the time. it’s fair to say it was more good luck than good management the fleet’s lack of a satisfactory airborne early warning (AEW) system wasn’t better exploited by the Argentines. In that sequence of events. data transfers to the missile proved to be prone to error. though. the missiles and their implication captured the front pages of the world press. make a low run toward the British fleet. The Argentine naval air arm had one weapon that worked its infamous way into modern military history: the air launched Exocet. As mentioned above. the Oerlikon. Much has also been written about the Argentine error of incorrectly timing their bomb fuses. the Royal Navy couldn’t count on that threat being gone totally. hence the Fairey Gannet. and so it still maintained active surface screening until the end of hostilities. They scored two successes — the hit leading to the sinking of HMS Sheffield (a Type 42 destroyer). which resulted in many bombs that hit ships failing to explode. So missions that might encounter a good chance of being hit by anti-aircraft fire were passed up in favor of launches being made at the missiles’ range limit. coupled with their use of iron gravity bombs in a traditional “toss bombing” method. Rapiers and Sea Slugs were effective at times and useless at others. and if the homing head on the missile failed to receive accurate data it couldn’t locate its intended target. the less than maximal effort put forth by the Argentines in the first days after the British landings continued to decline as more and more pilots failed to return to their airfields. something that was an untested state of the art 14 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . had as much success. In fact. The missile then exploded inside its target. The Argentines launched three Etendard/Exocet attacks. the Exocet didn’t prove decisive for several reasons. In fact. and they certainly could’ve been expected to have pressed harder their offshore attacks to exploit it had they known of it. the initial set up of the air-launched missile and subsequent data transfer required it to be attached only by a Super Etendard. In a typical mission profile. It’s important to note that in neither case were the final victims of those Exocets their actual initial targets.and the destruction of the former World War II Brooklyn-class cruiser General Belgrano. any loss would’ve been immediately critical. Argentine jets would leave the mainland. so their losses mounted even as their commitment to combat fell. the Exocet invariably caused great damage when it hit and penetrated a ship’s hull at a 90degree angle. the angle of strike into the target was critical. Without proper AEW. all the while risking attack by Sea Harriers. Argentina possessed five of those missiles at the time of the war’s start. though. a common theme of much reporting during the war concerned the effect of the Exocet missile — both in its air. they caused tremendous concern to the Royal Navy. one of the missiles was shot down mid-flight by a gun round from HMS Avenger. and with only five “Sues” on hand.and sea-launched configurations.) The Royal Navy also carried a variety of then-modern surface-to-air (SAM) missiles on its frigates and destroyers. Finally. with the intention of destroying the crucial HMS Invincible and Hermes. they had to run a gauntlet of Royal Navy fire. Though dangerous. toss all their bombs in a single pass. No Etendard therefore meant no air-launched missile. only arriving in-theater several weeks after the end of hostilities. which thereby removed its helicopter cargo from potential service. Nevertheless. its efficiency decreased rapidly as the angle became oblique. and another that led to an internal fire on a cargo ship (Atlantic Conveyer). While far from being the “wonder weapon” that’s sometimes portrayed. Thus the Exocets certainly occupied British thinking. Second. The Royal Navy displayed several tactical weaknesses during its time in the operational area of the South Atlantic. Even so. but their effect was destructive and not decisive. the last purpose-designed British plane for use in that role. and tried to add to that count as hostilities evolved. Irrespective of any purported deeper postures speculated about since the end of the war. For the Argentine Air Force. but without success. and it remains among the key military artifacts and human memories of the entire war. the fact remains the Argentine fleet simply disappeared from the tactical map. and even infantry machineguns strapped to ship railings. First. such as the 4. drop their auxiliary tanks and then return home. had been retired several years prior to 1982. it took the loss of several ships before the conversion of a radar carried by Sea King helicopters was adapted. (In NATO operations the AEW function was carried out by UK allies.

to a lesser extent. 3rd ed. At the operational level. The British also managed to affect the Argentines by the use of the “unknown. It worked throughout the war as an ideal and necessary link in the logistical chain for the preparation of combat operations. the Argentines struggled simply to supply the bare logistical needs of forces just 400 miles from their homeland. In comparison. Perrett. and what therefore mattered above all else was their logistical chain. For the British the overarching fact was they were 8. 1983. France provided data on the Exocet as well as tactical tips on how Sea Harriers could best defeat Mirages. whether each such favor was active or passive. In the early 1980s the Soviet Union certainly wasn’t an ally of Argentina. collectively they worked to remove obstacles and help enable ultimate British success. that special forces units were preparing to operate on the Argentine mainland. call in favors as necessary. Dorset: Blandford Press. Weapons of the Falklands Conflict. New York: Harper & Row Pubs. in some cases. and that numerous atomic missile submarines were moving into the South Atlantic. Goose Green: A Battle is Fought to be Won. The British also had current copies of Jane’s military manuals. allocating resources in responses that ultimately did nothing for their real-world war effort. 2nd ed. the rapid sending of replacement parts directly from manufacturers. work as a combined-arms team. London: Guernsey Press. It all worked well enough that. which entered the theater via Ascension Island (a UK territory) in the Atlantic and remained effective in all aspects of military supply. New Zealand even offered to arrange an on-station reinforcement of a frigate. Mark. while their leadership applied itself only sporadically and only from the top down. and the latter had actually expected its friendship with the US to cause the larger course of the crisis to turn in its favor. 1986. 1992. Simply put. et al. 1982. S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 15 . War in the Falklands — The Full Story. Falklands: The Air War. a war of a type and in a location you thought you would never have to fight? The answer was that you have a proven core force with a willingness to persevere through setbacks. via signals intelligence (Sigint) sharing.  ❖ Sources Adkin. Rodney. and have leadership — at all levels — who demand no less than victory. government and public arenas. it was easier for the United Kingdom than it was for the Argentines to call in favors from many sources and. by the United States with the British and. by the Soviet Union with the Argentines.000 miles from home. tested and/or at the time. There’s no doubt the US and several other Western countries gave the British support at all levels of military. enabling support to ground units that made attacks at night. The effect was the Argentines prepared to counter those false threats.” They ran a disinformation campaign that indicated the Royal Air Force was basing aircraft in Chile. All of that came together to give British commanders a situational awareness from which they could make timely and correct decisions. the local tactical intelligence available to the British on-scene was of lower quality than that available simultaneously at their highest command levels. airfield support at Ascension Island. then. Several countries provided intelligence: battlefield satellite images came from the US. the UK’s military contacts led to their forces’ immediate provisioning with AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles. follow an overall plan. London: Arms & Armour Press. Bryan. caused them to take into account each other’s intentions. the Soviet assistance to the Argentines wasn’t enough to enable them to crack any British cipher system or interfere with the transmission of information they weren’t intended to hear. That vital locale provided a safe area where equipment could be cross-decked. More materially. Outside Influences An often overlooked aspect of the war was the various gyrations by both sides that came from their collection of intelligence. as well as the supply of the latest special forces weapons from sources that still remain covert. Conclusion The central question of 1982 for the British was: how do you prepare for. The goggles worked to give the British a further operational edge. and successfully carry out. Sunday Times of London. and they provided a wealth of open-source documentation concerning the Argentine force composition. repacked. For both sides the indirect involvement. and general intelligence concerning the overall Argentine military situation came in from Chile. Burden.