The Battle for the Falklands

The Falklands War occupies a unique place in the political and military history. During the relatively short period of crisis (74 days), the opposing sides waged a bitter struggle in the remote areas of the Atlantic Ocean with the most modern weapons and a large number of troops and equipment. There were 60 thousand military personnel, more than 180 ships, 350 combat aircraft and helicopters involved from the both sides. Moreover, the warring parties had to adapt to the conditions of the war literally "on the fly". For example Argentina has never been seriously preparing for a possible war over the Malvinas. The same situation was with the UK forces. However, a miracle did not happen. As a result, "this disgusting little war," was really a bloody and hard battle (Ethell & Price 1983, p.8).

In 1982, Argentina claimed its rights to the Falkland Islands, one of the few remaining British colonies, landed its military contingent. The consequence of this step was the only military conflict with the use of modern technology in comparable amounts that happened in the last decade.

The Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, which are situated in the South Atlantic, consist of two main islands and about 200 smaller ones. There are South Georgia and several other islands further in the ocean. However they are not a part of the archipelago Falklands. They are under their jurisdiction.

During the 18 century, Spain, France and Britain disputed about the ownership of the Falkland Islands. At the beginning of the 19 century, Argentina won its independence from Spain and claimed its rights to these Islands. Originally this territory was occupied by British settlers. Therefore, they were consistently ruled by Britain since 1833. However, Argentina insisted on its sovereign rights to the Islands. Britain indicated that islanders – mostly of British origin – wanted to keep in touch with the UK. Argentina insisted on the fact that it was vestiges of colonialism, therefore, the principle of self-determination was unacceptable in that case. Furthermore, Argentina argued that the composition of the British population remained artificially, as Argentines were not allowed to settle on the islands. Since 1965 negotiations were held and compromises were considered. Negotiations were still conducted in 1982 and their leisurely pace clearly reflected the opinion (at least of the British side) that small islands were not a problem. From time to time, Argentines were heating up and threatened to invade the Falklands. However every time when their head faded, negotiations began again. The British government was planning to save money on military expenditures and to withdraw the last frigate patrolling waters of the Falklands Islands. In March 1982, Argentines landed on South Georgia to pick out metal, raised the flag of Argentina and were deported. Perhaps, that incident prompted the military junta of Argentina to the invasion, but it is much more that it just speeded up the decision that was made earlier (Gibran 2008, pp. 13-14).

In April 2, 1982, a large contingent of Argentine troops landed in the Falklands. Garrison composed of 79 Royal Marines resisted and struck Argentines first loss. Governor Rex Hunt ordered marines to surrender. The next day, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands were seized by Argentine troops. The operation “Rosario" passed without a hitch. Despite the English-speaking population, Spanish was declared the official language. The Argentine junta thought to solve their problems and unite people with an aggressive foreign policy. For a time, this tactic worked, and the annexation was met with an unprecedented enthusiasm. The junta assumed that the British Government was more likely to make a protest and negotiations than to fight. This was a mistake. The British government under the guidance of Margaret Thatcher took a firm stand – to reply with force. Because of the economic crisis, the British government was very unpopular and could only benefit from a surge of patriotism. Although the Thatcher government expressed the surprise by actions of Argentina, it sent the nuclear submarine to South Atlantic. Britain demanded the withdrawal of Argentine troops and gained the support of the UN. British Minister of Defence announced the preparation of a military expedition. However none of the sides declared the war and the conflict remained local. Britain's intentions became clear after the declaration on the establishment of a 200-mile military zone around the islands. This meant that any ship in the area would be attacked (Middlebrook 2001, pp. 73-75).

Expeditionary force sailed from Portsmouth, consisted of 107 warships and six submarines; it also included the ocean liner "Queen Elizabeth II” and "Canberra" employed to transport 6,000 Marines.

A small fleet of Argentina had no chance to stop the armada. However, the country had significant Air Force in a war zone, and about 12,000 soldiers on the island seemed to be able to repel the British landing (Brown 1987, p. 98).

The transportation of troops in South Atlantic was held; the UN and the United States attempted to mediate in the negotiations. Though, none of the parties had expressed readiness to concede. April 25, Britain was accompanied on the first success - its commandos seized South Georgia. By the end of the month, the British ships approached the Falklands. May 1, they fired from an artillery position of Argentines and bombers attacked the runways at Port Stanley and Goose Green.

Operation that was held on the first of May persuaded the junta that Britain was serious and that the military superiority of the British dictated the need to avoid the open war. At the initiative of the Peruvian president, during telephone conversations, the peace plan was hastily drafted and the general agreement was reached. However, May2, a dated Argentine cruiser "General Belgrano" was torpedoed and sunk by the British nuclear submarine "Conqueror". 386 Argentines were killed.

May 4, Argentina hit back - missiles "Exocet", issued from the bomber, and sank the destroyer "Sheffield". This case opened a new page – the capabilities of missiles, which could fire from a distance of 40 km from the aircraft, were demonstrated; they flew so low that they could not be captured by the radar.

May 21, British troops landed on amphibians in the Port of San Carlos, on the East Falkland. The British infantries began moving to the south. In contrast to the high-tech, often predetermines the result of actions at sea and in the air, on land, everything was more traditional; machines, bayonets, and of course, the skills and stamina of soldiers decided the outcome of the battle. A small but professional British troop had the advantage over the numerous Argentine units, largely consisted of poorly trained conscripts.

The turning point came in the short campaign on 29 May. 450 British paratroopers, during the 12-hour battle at Goose Green, in the south of the island, defeated 1450 Argentines. Freeing Goose Green and Port Darwin, British forces turned east and turned fan surrounded Stanley. Argentines fiercely resisted in the mountainous areas around the capital but were knocked out from there. 14 June, the commander of the Argentine army, Major General Menendez, ordered to surrender. The regime was demoralized. In December, British administration was restored on the Falkland Islands, and hostilities ceased (although, ‘de iure’ it was only in 1989) (Hastings & Jenkins 2012, pp. 108-113).

The main reasons of the defeat of Argentina in the armed conflict were unpreparedness for the war, lack of training of soldiers at all levels and  political and military failures of leadership. The balance of power was in favor of Argentina. However, this advantage was not used. Total losses of Argentines amounted: two warships (the cruiser "General Belgrano" and the submarine "Santa Fe"), a patrol boat and two auxiliary vessels, about 35 combat aircraft and ten helicopters, and 648 people were killed. The defeat of Argentina in the Falklands War was caused by a superior of the enemy at sea as well as a higher level of training of British paratroopers.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Navy in the Falklands War. It cannot be considered the main strike force of fighting parties. However, the fleet was the backbone, without which there would be no war. This is mainly applied to the British TS-317. Striving to create an overwhelming superiority in manpower and equipment, the British sent to the South Atlantic half of combat-ready ships of the total number of the navy. The Argentine Navy played a very limited role in the war. Though, it was able to influence the course of the struggle. There were only 25 warships in the war. It was less than 30% of the combat strength of the Navy of Argentina. British task force exceeded the Argentine Navy in the number of anti-ship missile launchers in 1.5 times, and the number of launchers of anti-aircraft missiles in 7 times. The ratio of the main classes of ships was 1:1.

The American fleet played some involvement in the supply of British forces. American tankers delivered more than 60 tons of aviation fuel. They were going to supply the British anti-aircraft missiles, mobile radars, and ammunition (Brown 1987, pp. 113-115).

350 combat aircrafts and helicopters were used in the Falklands War. At the beginning of the war Argentines had about two hundred military aircrafts. Creating aviation group, the British gained control of the air prior to the amphibious assault and held it until the capture of the Falkland Islands. British pilots won due to technical excellence and high professional qualities. Argentina's air force was the sole force that allowed Argentina to make war. Up to a certain point, the outcome of the struggle for the island was far from obvious. But the courage and high combat qualities of Argentine pilots could not make up for not fighting capacity of the Argentine Armed Forces.

British aviation losses were 34 aircraft and helicopters, 9 of which were killed by anti-aircraft fire ground and others were the result of the Argentine air strikes, accidents and disasters (Ethell & Price 1983, pp. 252).

Skilful use of aircraft ensured British troops the superior over Argentines and ultimately, victory. According to various estimates, during the war Argentines lost from 80 to 86 combat aircraft.

Helicopters made up three-quarters of air group of the British Expeditionary Force in the conflict zone, composed of 40 planes (short or vertical take-off and landing) Sea Harrier FRS.1 and Harrier GR.3 and over 130 different helicopters. Because of the helicopters Britain and Argentine were leading two different wars: the first - a war of manoeuvre, with the widespread use of "vertical coverage," and the second - a positional war, much like the World War I. We can say that the saturation of the combat formations of helicopters and their skilful use provided qualitative superiority over Argentines and, ultimately, decisive victory.

It is clear that an important part of the overall success of Britain in the Falklands War was widespread and effective use of helicopters. A component of the success of helicopter pilots is considered to be excellent training, dedication and team spirit, coupled with highly reliable, fully modern military equipment, which was in their possession. The fact that in extreme climatic and operating conditions almost all types of helicopters were tested was of great importance for Britain. And, finally, Britain got their own helicopters, and that is why, valuable experience of large-scale airborne operations, equalling to that of the U.S (Ethell & Price 1983, pp. 252-253).

British victory in the Falklands War was caused by the clear definition of strategic goals, dedication and the will of the state, and setting the nation to win the war.

Anglo-Argentine armed conflict ended without addressing the main reasons for these countries to launch an undeclared war. Today, position of the warring parties has not changed, despite some normalization of relations.

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