You are on page 1of 10

Argentine soldiers with FN FAL rifles, Falklands War.

May 1982

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

Falklands Showdown: A Strategic Analysis of the Anglo-Argentine War, 1982


by Adam Coleman

Context

he 74-day Falklands War provided the world with a new perspective on military conflict and intelligence gathering in the early 1980s. 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. At the same time, it was also an old fashioned fight in that it could also fairly be called a colonial war (perhaps the last of them). Its implications arguably changed the mindset of governments and militaries across the globe and, for those fighting on and around the windswept islands deep in the South Atlantic, it provided a test of military competence to a degree neither sides participants had ever dealt with before. Its important when looking at the Falklands War to begin by putting oneself into the mindset of the warring parties at that time. In early 1982 they were in diametrically opposed positions. For the United Kingdomas an active member of NATO with major responsibilities within that organizationit was viewed as unlikely any major commitment to a war beyond Europes borders would ever again occur. For Argentina, though, the

chaotic nature of that nations politics, and the takeover of its government by a military junta in 1981, provided a platform from which to demonstrate its capability as a regional power. For observers outside the conflict, the question was instantly raised as to the intrinsic value of fighting over a cluster of islands located 400 miles off southern Argentina, just north of the 60 degree Antarctic Circle. Indeed, the war

can also be taken as having been the first fought within Antarcticaas encounters occurred on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, and even as far south as the South Sandwich Islands. There were also wider implications for non-involved militaries. Revisions in tactical and operational methods were real outcomes for many services aside from those of the participants. continued on page 10

Jorge Anaya in 1976. During the 1982 war, Anaya commanded Operation Algeciras, in which Argentine commandos were to sabotage a Royal Navy warship harbored in Gibraltar; the plan was thwarted at the last minute when communications were intercepted.
S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011 7

Killed in Action Summary


In total, 907 military personnel were killed during 74 days of the war.

Argentina 649
Ejrcito Argentino (Army) 194 (16 officers, 35 NCOs and 143 privates) Armada de la Repblica Argentina (Navy) 375 (including 321 on Belgrano, 4 naval aviators and 34 marines) Fuerza Area Argentina (Air Force) 55 (including 31 pilots and 14 ground crew) Gendarmera 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, 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, 40 NCOs & 76 privates) Royal Air Force 1 (officer) Falkland Islands Civilians 3 (women killed by friendly fire) Of the 86 Royal Navy personnel, 22 were lost on HMS Ardent; 19 & 1 on HMS Sheffield; 18 & 1 on HMS Coventr; 13 on HMS Glamorgan. Fourteen naval cooks were among the dead, which was the largest number from any one occupational branch within the Royal Navy. Thirty-three of the British Armys dead came from the Welsh Guards, 21 from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, 18 from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, 19 from the Special Air Service (SAS), 3 from Royal Signals, and 8 from each of the Scots Guards and Royal Engineers.

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

continued from page 7 Though neither Britain nor Argentina fought a total war, they did commit key resources in terms of their most professional units and equipment. While there were numerical differences, each force possessed conventional hardware drawn from among the worlds most valuable and deadly at that time. Each force also had behind it a national populace that was culturally and politically supportive of their militaries. Significant emotional sentiment erupted on both sides as the tactical blow-by-blow occurred. In the end the British were the victors. They won every strategic and operational aspect of the fighting and, except for a small number of tactical exceptions, defeated the Argentines by bringing to bear better preparation, leadership, reconnaissance, aggressiveness, deployment of assets, and a deeper will to win down to the man-to-man level, in combat.

The British Army


British military doctrine in the early 1980s was being influenced both by factors at home and abroad. Obviously the issue of Northern Ireland was important, as was the economic pressure to retrench being put on the armed forces at that time. Both had consequences on how the military was to be configured, as well as its combat doctrines, in the future. For the Army, little of the experience from Northern Ireland proved applicable in the Falklands, except for some techniques for helicopter operations. The Royal Navy was then already seen as a service in decline due to the strictures of the 1981 Defence Naval Review. For instance, key units such as the Royal Marines were soon going to be entirely without landing ships. There are other specific examples of such cuts; essentially, though, if a military asset didnt have use in the North Atlantic or Europe it was seen as non-essential. In the larger circumstances of early 1982, that sug-

gested to the Argentines, at least from a strategic capability standpoint, 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. At the same time, though, the British armed forces still maintained a high degree of professionalism within all its branches. The Army was professional, with its positions filled through selective recruitment. Training was multi-phased, with an emphasis on physical fitness, thus educating recruits into the notion that going beyond normal levels of exertion was possible and expected. That foundational concept of mental determination and physical toughness was to prove itself on a daily basis in the Falklands. Emphasis in the training process was also put on personal initiative and leadership at every level. The creed that every soldier must contribute and must be able to step up following the incapacitation of his leader was paramount. That physical capability of the recruits was further enhanced by

10

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

an emphasis on hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat, coupled with an inculcated orientation to operate aggressively, even in small groups, with any available weapons. That emphasis enabled average British soldiers to function in varied tactical environments with minimal adaptation time neededsomething the Argentines proved unable to do. Within the units of the British Army there was an organizational pride that showed itself in many instances during the war. 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. That manifested itself in a willingness to add an even sharper edge to combat operations, and specific unitsamong them most notably the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment and the Blues and Royals armored units approached the fighting with tremendous esprit dcorps. Almost every land battle in the Falklands proved to be an effort revolving around one key unit, with support from the Royal Artillery and, to a lesser extent, the Royal Air Force or Royal Navy. For a ground force centered on such units, success is often magnetic, and the efforts attained by each unit actually increase along with the hours and tempo of battle. The soldiers of the British Army in the Falklands, no matter what numbers they were committed against, were willing and motivated to perform to the highest level. They were well led and held their officers in esteem, as those men also belonged to the same elite tactical grouping. As was said by one junior NCO to Maj. Phillip Neame, whod 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, sir. We dont want to risk you on this. This is Toms work.

The Argentine Army


The three arms of the Argentine militarythe Army (Ejercito), Navy (ArmadaARA) and Air Force (Fuerza Aerea ArgentinaFAA)all held diverse and ultimately incompatible approaches to warfare. Yet, when looked at singularly, each displayed efforts that made them capable adversaries, even while lacking the overall situational awareness and larger competencies that wouldve been necessary in order to overwhelm their opponents desire to persevere. In short, they were able to fight but never to win. That, of course, begs the question as to why they couldnt perform at the level needed for victory. That answer is rooted in their deeper military traditions as well as their approach to the situation in 1982. 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, regarding another small group of islands south of Tierra del Fuego. It hardly provided a basis from which to confront a core member of NATO. The Argentine military had, however, been a relatively big spender immediately prior to 1982, and had thereby amassed hardware as capable as that of their opponent when used appropriately. Their Army was the beneficiary of much of those purchases, but a consistent weakness on the battlefield came from its inability to utilize

the available firepower to best effect. That was due to the fact the Argentine Army of 1982 was a force trapped in a time capsule of earlier military thinking. They were trained and led according to the proverbial book, 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. Rather than being cultivated as valuable individual members of their units, the distinction emphasized was the one between officers and enlisted. That was true in all aspects of military life, and it created what was, when applied to combat, an untenable position from which soldiers would be willing to act so as to achieve victory. The Argentine Army possessed both regular and conscript components. Much has been made regarding the minimal training of the latter groups young soldiers during their mandatory oneyear service. Aside from their younger average age and poor training, however, the conscripts in the Falklands were equipped as well as their Regular Army counterparts. Their weapons and clothing were the same. The interspersing of Regular Army cadre within those units also contributed some capable NCOs and junior officers, who at times were able to motivate their subordinates. In the weeks prior to the British stepping foot back on the islands, positions were prepared, fields of fire were established, minefields were laid and basic field-craft was practiced. For example, at Goose Green the forward Argentine positions were set up so as to have interlocking and mutually supportive positions. Even so, the Falkland Islands werent a good place to deploy an unevenly

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

11

trained and less than fully motivated ground force. Being an Argentine soldier in the Falklands wasnt a pleasant experience, even before shots were fired. April was the middle of autumn, and by the time of the first ground fighting in May the winter was setting (in the Southern Hemisphere). Snow then fell many times in an already wet and bleak environment, which added yet another dimension to the declining morale. Finally for the Argentines, logistics was another erratic and sad aspect of the war. Basically, the farther a unit was from the main base at Port Stanley the smaller was the logistical support it got. Faced with such a challenge, when soldiers were clearly going hungry, little was done by their officers to resolve the situation. In one classic example, which occurred at Port Howard on West Falkland, soldiers found to be eating pilfered chicken scraps were staked out on the freezing ground as punishment for what was termed unsoldierly conduct. The Argentines were commanded by a socially separate and privileged officer class. The rigid distinctions between officers and enlisted proved a weakness for both groups. The growing lack of

respect for the officers culminated in several incidents of violence against them after the surrender. Photographs from just after the war reveal much. Argentine officers are generally immaculate and usually appear in dress or service uniforms, and theyre in stark contrast to their weather-beaten and fatigue-uniformed British counterparts. 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, ate the same food in the field, yet, despite their near-identical appearance with the enlisted around them, always gave the clear impression they were in command, and all of that was what their soldiers expected. In combat, a force without leadership will always fall. Given their military culture, then, the Argentines were able to fight and hinder the British, but they were never able to defeat the will of their attackers to press forward. Argentine training did little to ensure initiative was ever taken. Therefore, at times when the British were clearly off balance tactically, the Argentines failed to take action that couldve restored the situation for them.

Opposing Navies & Air Forces


The Argentine Navy was equipped with a mix of old and new ships, but included several modern diesel submarines, Exocet surface-to-surface missilecarrying vessels, and several UK-built Type 42 destroyers. Their one aircraft carrier, while old, was equipped with A-4 Skyhawks as well as modern helicopters with anti-submarine capabilities, and their overall fleet was bolstered by the recent acquisition of a handful of (then) ultra-modern Dassault Super Etendards. Those planes, with their AM.39 Exocet missiles, were the weapon system the Argentines used to devastating effect in their efforts against the Royal Navy. Given the fact the French themselves had provided the Argentines with the training needed to efficiently utilize those weapons, the Armada certainly possessed everything it needed to accomplish some crucial degree of devastation. Ultimately, however, that service proved the first to retreat from the fighting. Its withdrawal from surface combat was made after only two hostile contacts: the sinking of the Guppy-class submarine Santa Fe at South Georgia,

12

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

13

and the destruction of the former World War II Brooklyn-class cruiser General Belgrano. Irrespective of any purported deeper postures speculated about since the end of the war, the fact remains the Argentine fleet simply disappeared from the tactical map. At the time, though, the Royal Navy couldnt count on that threat being gone totally, and so it still maintained active surface screening until the end of hostilities. The Argentine naval air arm had one weapon that worked its infamous way into modern military history: the air launched Exocet. Argentina possessed five of those missiles at the time of the wars start, and tried to add to that count as hostilities evolved, but without success. Driven by two rocket motors when launched from a suitably configured Etendard, they caused tremendous concern to the Royal Navy. While far from being the wonder weapon thats sometimes portrayed, the Exocet invariably caused great damage when it hit and penetrated a ships hull at a 90degree angle. The missile then exploded inside its target, generating much complementary structural damage. The Argentines launched three Etendard/Exocet attacks, with the intention of destroying the crucial HMS Invincible and Hermes. They scored two successesthe hit leading to the sinking of HMS Sheffield (a Type 42 destroyer), and another that led to an internal fire on a cargo ship (Atlantic Conveyer), which thereby removed its helicopter cargo from potential service. Its important to note that in neither case were the final victims of those Exocets their actual initial targets. Nevertheless, the missiles and their implication captured the front pages of the world press, and it remains among the key military artifacts and human memories of the entire war.

The Royal Navy displayed several tactical weaknesses during its time in the operational area of the South Atlantic. In fact, its fair to say it was more good luck than good management the fleets lack of a satisfactory airborne early warning (AEW) system wasnt better exploited by the Argentines. It appears they werent aware of that Royal Navy shortfall, and they certainly couldve been expected to have pressed harder their offshore attacks to exploit it had they known of it. (In NATO operations the AEW function was carried out by UK allies, hence the Fairey Gannet, the last purpose-designed British plane for use in that role, had been retired several years prior to 1982. Without proper AEW, it took the loss of several ships before the conversion of a radar carried by Sea King helicopters was adapted, only arriving in-theater several weeks after the end of hostilities.) The Royal Navy also carried a variety of then-modern surface-to-air (SAM) missiles on its frigates and destroyers. Depending on circumstances those Sea Darts, Rapiers and Sea Slugs were effective at times and useless at others. Traditional older weapons, such as the 4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun, the Oerlikon, and even infantry machineguns strapped to ship railings, had as much success. For the Argentine Air Force, their encounters with that weaponry had less of an inhibiting effect than did their pilots general unwillingness to push hard in their attacks, coupled with their use of iron gravity bombs in a traditional toss bombing method. Much has also been written about the Argentine error of incorrectly timing their bomb fuses, which resulted in many bombs that hit ships failing to explode. Even so, 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. In a typical mission profile, Argentine jets would leave the mainland, make a low run toward the British fleet, toss all their bombs in a single pass, drop their auxiliary tanks and then return home. In that sequence of events, though, they had to run a gauntlet of Royal Navy fire, all the while risking attack by Sea Harriers; so their losses mounted even as their commitment to combat fell. As mentioned above, a common theme of much reporting during the war concerned the effect of the Exocet missileboth in its air- and sea-launched configurations. Though dangerous, the Exocet didnt prove decisive for several reasons. First, the initial set up of the air-launched missile and subsequent data transfer required it to be attached only by a Super Etendard. No Etendard therefore meant no air-launched missile, and with only five Sues on hand, any loss wouldve been immediately critical. 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. Second, data transfers to the missile proved to be prone to error, and if the homing head on the missile failed to receive accurate data it couldnt locate its intended target. Finally, the angle of strike into the target was critical; its efficiency decreased rapidly as the angle became oblique. Thus the Exocets certainly occupied British thinking, but their effect was destructive and not decisive. In fact, one of the missiles was shot down mid-flight by a gun round from HMS Avenger. The Falklands War was also the first time night vision goggles were used by the Royal Navy, something that was an untested state of the art

14

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

technology at the time. The goggles worked to give the British a further operational edge, enabling support to ground units that made attacks at night.

Outside Influences
An often overlooked aspect of the war was the various gyrations by both sides that came from their collection of intelligence. For both sides the indirect involvement, via signals intelligence (Sigint) sharing, by the United States with the British and, to a lesser extent, by the Soviet Union with the Argentines, caused them to take into account each others intentions. In the early 1980s the Soviet Union certainly wasnt an ally of Argentina, and the latter had actually expected its friendship with the US to cause the larger course of the crisis to turn in its favor. At the operational level, then, the Soviet assistance to the Argentines wasnt enough to enable them to crack any British cipher system or interfere with the transmission of information they werent intended to hear. Theres no doubt the US and several other Western countries gave the British support at all levels of military, government and public arenas. Simply put, it was easier for the United Kingdom than it was for the Argentines to call in favors from many sources and, whether each such favor was active or passive, collectively they worked to remove obstacles and help enable ultimate British success. Several countries provided intelligence: battlefield satellite images came from the US; France provided data on the Exocet as well as tactical tips on how Sea Harriers could best defeat Mirages; and general intelligence concerning the overall Argentine military situation came in from Chile. All of that came together to give British commanders a situational awareness from which they could make timely and correct decisions. It all worked well enough that, in some cases, the local tactical intelligence available to the British on-scene was of lower quality than

that available simultaneously at their highest command levels. The British also had current copies of Janes military manuals, and they provided a wealth of open-source documentation concerning the Argentine force composition. More materially, the UKs military contacts led to their forces immediate provisioning with AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles, airfield support at Ascension Island, the rapid sending of replacement parts directly from manufacturers, as well as the supply of the latest special forces weapons from sources that still remain covert. New Zealand even offered to arrange an on-station reinforcement of a frigate. The British also managed to affect the Argentines by the use of the unknown. They ran a disinformation campaign that indicated the Royal Air Force was basing aircraft in Chile, that special forces units were preparing to operate on the Argentine mainland, and that numerous atomic missile submarines were moving into the South Atlantic. The effect was the Argentines prepared to counter those false threats, allocating resources in responses that ultimately did nothing for their real-world war effort. For the British the overarching fact was they were 8,000 miles from home, and what therefore mattered above all else was their logistical chain, which entered the theater via Ascension Island (a UK territory) in the Atlantic and remained effective in all aspects of military supply. That vital locale provided a safe area where equipment could be cross-decked, repacked, tested and/or stored. It worked throughout the war as an ideal and necessary link in the logistical chain for the preparation of combat operations.

Conclusion
The central question of 1982 for the British was: how do you prepare for, and successfully carry out, 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, work as a combined-arms team, follow an overall plan, call in favors as necessary, and have leadershipat all levelswho demand no less than victory. In comparison, the Argentines struggled simply to supply the bare logistical needs of forces just 400 miles from their homeland, while their leadership applied itself only sporadically and only from the top down.
Sources Adkin, Mark. Goose Green: A Battle is Fought to be Won. London: Guernsey Press, 1992. Burden, Rodney, et al. Falklands: The Air War, 3rd ed. London: Arms & Armour Press, 1986. Perrett, Bryan. Weapons of the Falklands Conflict, 2nd ed. Dorset: Blandford Press, 1983. Sunday Times of London. War in the FalklandsThe Full Story. New York: Harper & Row Pubs. 1982.

S&T 269 | JULAUG 2011

15