Falkland: a forgotten conflict

14/06/21

Almost 40 years ago, in 1982, for a little over ten weeks, the world's newspapers focused on a conflict that broke out on the other side of the world, over the possession of a series of sparsely populated islands hundreds of miles to the east. of the southern end of the southern cone of South America. Historically it was placed in one of the last breaths of a "British Empire" now in dissolution and weakened internally by a profound economic crisis.

In that complex period a conflict began on the other side of the world, a war, never actually declared, which lasted 74 days; at the time I was in the United States, in contact with officers from many countries: from Southeast Asia to Europe. I remember that what struck everyone was the crescendo of the situation, which may seem rather insignificant today, and the position of the United States, historical allies of the United Kingdom, which under President Reagan, remained neutral for a long time, refusing to support Argentina. or the UK in dispute. Reagan called Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher late in the evening and told her “The best chance for peace was before complete Argentine humiliation. As the UK now has the upper hand militarily it should strike a deal now. "

Everyone was curiously waiting for what England would do in the face of that unlikely challenge on the other side of the world. A military intervention that the Argentine government itself considered unlikely, considering the 8.000 miles of distance that geographically divided the two adversaries.

On the other hand it was a group of remote islands, inhabited by a community of just 1.800 people, mostly of British origin, mostly sheep farmers, who although they had expressed the desire to remain under the British crown, worked for local companies.

For Argentina, the risk of a conflict was therefore a remote hypothesis and not cost effective for Great Britain. On the other hand, the head of government Margaret Thatcher was a conservative, certainly not very malleable and with an unhappy relationship with Queen Elizabeth II.

After the breakdown of diplomatic relations, the tension escalated until March 19, when 40 workers working in the recovery of Argentine metal waste disembarked from an Argentine navy logistics vessel, the ARA. Bahia Buen Suceso in South Georgia and planted the Argentine flag. This act provoked immediate protests from the British government.

A few days later, on April 2, General Leopoldo Galtieri, head of the Argentine military junta, ordered the Operation rosary which included a series of escalating actions to acquire Argentine sovereignty and full control over the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The operation was successful with minimal bloodshed: there was in fact only one victim and five injured. The Malvinas were conquered in just over 11 hours.

International diplomacy was divided between those who believed Argentina had the right to regain control of the islands from a former colonial power, the United Kingdom, which sought to maintain a distant colony by taking it away from a local power, and others who supported the right. of the United Kingdom to defend itself from an aggression carried out by a military dictatorship.

The UN will reiterate until the end the request for a peaceful solution with resolution 505 of May 26, 1982. But it was not followed up. The Iron Lady, despite everything, convinced Parliament with an iron fist to undertake a mission overseas, sending a task force ship consisting of aircraft and warships Operation was about to begin Corporate.

His sentence "We will win ... whatever will cost" went down in history.

Interestingly, in 1981 the Strategic Defense Review Thatcher government had predicted a significant reduction in the Royal Navy's military capabilities. For example, the now obsolete aircraft carrier HMS Hermes should have been expelled in 1982, but the need to intervene in the Falklands, changed the plans for the divestment of naval units and kept it in service, even beyond the need, until it was sold to India in 1987 (INS Viraat).

A Fleet sent to the other side of the world
La task force it was centered on the HMS aircraft carriers Hermes and HMS Invincible commanded by Admiral John "Sandy" Woodward, supported by numerous offshore ships, which included several Type 12, Type 21 and Type 22 frigates, and Type 42 destroyers.

The amphibious component, necessary for the landing on the islands, included, in addition to the HMS ships Fearless and HMS Intrepid, the merchant Atlantic Conveyor with a load of helicopters and material for makeshift landing strips. In addition, the RFA landing ships Sir galahad and the RFA Sir Tristram, which was later severely damaged by the Argentine bombs.

Overall we are talking about 127 major units, of which 43 of the Royal Navy (including, in addition to the 2 aircraft carriers, 5 nuclear-powered submarines, a conventional submarine, 8 destroyers and 15 frigates), 22 of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (10 of which oil tankers / squad refuelers), and 62 militarized merchant ships (including two cruise ships, eight Ro.Ro ferries, four large container ships, seven merchant ships, then tankers).

The land forces embarked included the 3rd brigade Commando of the Royal Marines reinforced by two paratrooper battalions of the parachute regiment and the 5th infantry brigade made up of departments of the Welsh Guard, Scots Guard e Cucumber.

It should be noted that, to keep neutral shipping out of the zone during the war, the UK declared a "total exclusion area" within a radius of 200 nautical miles around the Falklands, even before starting the operation.

Among the most sensational and controversial facts of the Falklands campaign, there was the sinking of the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano, torpedoed by the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror; the death of 323 crew members made the accident the largest loss of life of the war. The HMS Conqueror, launched three Mk. 8 (antiquated WWII torpedoes but still lethal); two exploded at 16:01 on 2 May against the Belgrano, flooding two boiler rooms and blowing up an ammunition depot in the prow of Tower I; the third torpedo hit the escort fighter ARA Hipolito Bouchard, however, causing only some damage to the hull.

This event struck the heart of the Argentine Navy which, given the poor antisubmarine capacity and effectiveness of its ships, did not participate in any operation for the rest of the conflict, while its air units continued the attacks from land bases. The only one in operation, the ARA submarine Santa Fe, during the British reconquest of Southern Georgia, it was detected and immediately attacked with depth charges and AS missiles. 12 from two Westland Wasp helicopters taken off from HMS Endurance. Severely struck, due to the serious damage reported, it was brought ashore by the crew on the King Edward tip of South Georgia Island. 

Two days after the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano, the Argentine Navy Air Force in turn sank the destroyer HMS Sheffield, of the Type 42 class, with two aircraft Super Étendard armed with missiles Exocet AM39.

The HMS Sheffield it was positioned in the forward position, together with the HMS Glasgow and another Type 42, the HMS Coventry. The following investigation, conducted by the Royal Navy, identified the inadequacy of the anti-aircraft defense system, the breakdown of the system Damage Control and the underestimation of fire risks, also linked to the materials on board that had generated dense fumes, hindering the safety operations of the fire fighting teams.

Another important event was the attack on the HMS Glasgow. there Glasgow it was in advance (as a radar picket ship) together with the frigate HMS Brilliant, when he was attacked by four A-4s Skyhawk armed with 500 kg bombs; the system Sea dart of the Glasgow jammed during the launch of a salvo of missiles (due to the encrustations due to the action of sea water); of the 4 Skyhawk two were shot down during the approach and a third crashed into the sea to avoid the missiles Sea Wolf of the frigate, while the fourth flew low over the Glasgow and dropped the bomb (which, however, missed its target by passing over the masts of the ship for about ten meters). Immediately a second wave of four other A-4s was detected which aimed at the two ships, among other things without knowing that the system Sea dart of Glasgow it was still out of order.

During these various phases, the aerial confrontation became increasingly close, but essentially one-sided, given that i Sea Harrier English, nicknamed by the Argentines the muerte negra, due to their dark paint, they proved superior in dealing with Argentine aircraft.

On May 23, 1982, while the HMS Antelope was at the mouth of the bay of San Carlos on an anti-aircraft protection mission of a bridgehead landed two days earlier, was attacked by Skyhawk of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina. Two 500 kg bombs, dropped by Argentine pilots, hit the British ship but did not explode. It was moved to safer waters, and bomb squads got on board to try to defuse the two bombs but, during these maneuvers, one of the bombs detonated.

The ship was ripped from the waterline to the funnel and the explosion set off fires that quickly spread from the engine rooms to the rest of the ship. The ship was abandoned and shortly thereafter the ammunition depots began to explode. After a long agony, the HMS Antelope it broke in two and sank.

Eventually the British commandos made an amphibious landing on the San Carlos Islands and Goose Green, and then the final assault on Port Stanley. After a few weeks of heavy fighting and further casualties, the Argentines surrendered on June 14 1982.

In total, 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 British soldiers and three Falkland islanders died during this war of the last century. never declared.

Conclusions

In summary, although the Falklands War began at a time of profound economic difficulties, the success achieved, almost a final blow to a declining Empire, restored the popularity of the Thatcher government.

The invasion of the territories by the Argentines allowed the British government to shift attention towards foreign policy, calling the nation to a sense of patriotism. Despite the difficulties of the Royal Navy, one task force it was assembled with remarkable speed and efficiency and sent to operate 13.000 km away. The resumption of control of the islands was undoubtedly a personal triumph of the "iron lady", transforming the general feeling of profound political failure of her government (with which the crisis had begun) into a resounding and overwhelming success that overshadowed, for the first time in history, the figure of the queen.

In a nutshell, the Falklands "war" was above all a great political success, which restored the government's popularity, despite the fact that the internal economic situation had not improved at all. In particular, unemployment in Great Britain did not decrease even after the war, reaching 3 million in the following five years, but the victory seemed to make us forget the profound internal crisis. The United Kingdom was soon on the way to concluding that irreversible decolonization process that began after the Second World War.

In 1983, the British Nationality Act 1981 renamed the few remaining Crown colonies as British Dependent Territories, and, in 2002, they were renamed British overseas territory. Britain today retains sovereignty over 14 territories outside the British Isles and, among them, we have the Falklands which, in the 2013 referendum, again expressed their preference to remain under the Crown. 

Andrea Mucedola

Special thanks to Professor Giorgio Bendoni, Senior Lecturer Economy & Finance at the University of Portsmouth

References
The Falklands War, Paul Eddy, Magnus Linklater, Peter Gillman, Andre Deutsch, 1982 
The 75 days of the Falklands, Carlo De Risio, excerpts from Milan, Mursia, 1983
The Media and the Falklands Campaign, Valerie Adams, London, Macmillan Press, 1986
Argentine Airpower in the Falklands War: An Operational View, James Corum, in Air and Space Power Journal, Federal Information and News Dispatch, Inc., 20 August 2002.
The Falklands War, Duncan Anderson, RBA Italia / Osprey Publishing, 2010, ISSN 2039-1161 
From Lissa to the Falklands. History and politics of the contemporary age, Alberto Santoni, excerpts from Milan, 1987
The Falklands War, Alfredo Brauzzi, 1982 www.centrostudimilitari.it
Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands (telegraph.co.uk)
wikipedia

Photo: web