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Argentine soldiers with FN FAL rifles, Falklands War.

May 1982


S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011

It’s important when looking at the Falklands War to begin by putting oneself into the mindset of the warring parties at that time. 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. in which Argentine commandos were to sabotage a Royal Navy warship harbored in Gibraltar. Indeed. just north of the 60 degree Antarctic Circle. 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. for those fighting on and around the windswept islands deep in the South Atlantic. continued on page 10 » Jorge Anaya in 1976. Anaya commanded Operation Algeciras. In early 1982 they were in diametrically opposed positions. S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 7 . During the 1982 war. 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. For observers outside the conflict. Revisions in tactical and operational methods were real outcomes for many services aside from those of the participants. There were also wider implications for non-involved militaries. the plan was thwarted at the last minute when communications were intercepted. provided a platform from which to demonstrate its capability as a regional power. 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. the question was instantly raised as to the intrinsic value of fighting over a cluster of islands located 400 miles off southern Argentina. 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. it provided a test of military competence to a degree neither side’s participants had ever dealt with before. and the takeover of its government by a military junta in 1981. though. At the same time.Falklands Showdown: A Strategic Analysis of the Anglo-Argentine War. and even as far south as the South Sandwich Islands. the chaotic nature of that nation’s politics. Its implications arguably changed the mindset of governments and militaries across the globe and.

Thirty-three of the British Army’s dead came from the Welsh Guards. 21 from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. which was the largest number from any one occupational branch within the Royal Navy. 3 from Royal Signals. and 8 from each of the Scots Guards and Royal Engineers. 907 military personnel were killed during 74 days of the war. 40 NCOs & 76 privates) Royal Air Force — 1 (officer) Falkland Islands Civilians — 3 (women killed by friendly fire) Of the 86 Royal Navy personnel. Fourteen naval cooks were among the dead. 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. 18 & 1 on HMS Coventr. 18 from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. 19 from the Special Air Service (SAS). 19 & 1 on HMS Sheffield. Argentina — 649 Ejército Argentino (Army) — 194 (16 officers.  ◆ 8 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . 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. 35 NCOs and 143 privates) Armada de la República Argentina (Navy) — 375 (including 321 on Belgrano.Killed in Action Summary In total. 22 were lost on HMS Ardent.

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The British Army British military doctrine in the early 1980s was being influenced both by factors at home and abroad. 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. as well as its combat doctrines. For instance. aggressiveness. though. defeated the Argentines by bringing to bear better preparation. In the end the British were the victors. at least from a strategic capability standpoint. For the Army. key units such as the Royal Marines were soon going to be entirely without landing ships. that sug- gested to the Argentines. Significant emotional sentiment erupted on both sides as the tactical blow-by-blow occurred. That physical capability of the recruits was further enhanced by 10 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . in the future. little of the experience from Northern Ireland proved applicable in the Falklands. reconnaissance. The creed that every soldier must contribute and must be able to step up following the incapacitation of his leader was paramount. There are other specific examples of such cuts. Each force also had behind it a national populace that was culturally and politically supportive of their militaries. except for some techniques for helicopter operations. In the larger circumstances of early 1982. as was the economic pressure to “retrench” being put on the armed forces at that time. with an emphasis on physical fitness. the British armed forces still maintained a high degree of professionalism within all its branches. Both had consequences on how the military was to be configured. deployment of assets. each force possessed conventional hardware drawn from among the world’s most valuable and deadly at that 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. Obviously the issue of Northern Ireland was important. That foundational concept of mental determination and physical toughness was to prove itself on a daily basis in the Falklands. The Army was professional. Emphasis in the training process was also put on personal initiative and leadership at every level. though. essentially. They won every strategic and operational aspect of the fighting and. Training was multi-phased. leadership. with its positions filled through selective recruitment. At the same time. in combat.» 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. except for a small number of tactical exceptions. thus educating recruits into the notion that going beyond normal levels of exertion was possible and expected. and a deeper will to win down to the man-to-man level.

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

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

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

whether each such favor was active or passive. Weapons of the Falklands Conflict. Bryan. and general intelligence concerning the overall Argentine military situation came in from Chile. to a lesser extent. Dorset: Blandford Press. 1983.  ❖ Sources Adkin. by the Soviet Union with the Argentines. S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 15 . it was easier for the United Kingdom than it was for the Argentines to call in favors from many sources and. allocating resources in responses that ultimately did nothing for their real-world war effort. follow an overall plan. 1992.000 miles from home. the UK’s military contacts led to their forces’ immediate provisioning with AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles. then. and successfully carry out. All of that came together to give British commanders a situational awareness from which they could make timely and correct decisions. the Argentines struggled simply to supply the bare logistical needs of forces just 400 miles from their homeland. collectively they worked to remove obstacles and help enable ultimate British success. For both sides the indirect involvement.” They ran a disinformation campaign that indicated the Royal Air Force was basing aircraft in Chile. the local tactical intelligence available to the British on-scene was of lower quality than that available simultaneously at their highest command levels. That vital locale provided a safe area where equipment could be cross-decked. New York: Harper & Row Pubs. by the United States with the British and. work as a combined-arms at the time. and have leadership — at all levels — who demand no less than victory. Falklands: The Air War. Outside Influences An often overlooked aspect of the war was the various gyrations by both sides that came from their collection of intelligence. The British also had current copies of Jane’s military manuals. There’s no doubt the US and several other Western countries gave the British support at all levels of military. France provided data on the Exocet as well as tactical tips on how Sea Harriers could best defeat Mirages. It worked throughout the war as an ideal and necessary link in the logistical chain for the preparation of combat operations. 3rd ed. 1986. while their leadership applied itself only sporadically and only from the top down. and what therefore mattered above all else was their logistical chain. via signals intelligence (Sigint) sharing. Several countries provided intelligence: battlefield satellite images came from the US. 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. and that numerous atomic missile submarines were moving into the South Atlantic. It all worked well enough that. London: Arms & Armour Press. the rapid sending of replacement parts directly from manufacturers. Rodney. New Zealand even offered to arrange an on-station reinforcement of a frigate. caused them to take into account each other’s intentions. Perrett. London: Guernsey Press. 1982. et al. Burden. call in favors as necessary. For the British the overarching fact was they were 8. 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. Simply put. that special forces units were preparing to operate on the Argentine mainland. repacked. War in the Falklands — The Full Story. government and public arenas. airfield support at Ascension Island. The effect was the Argentines prepared to counter those false threats. tested and/or stored. Mark. Goose Green: A Battle is Fought to be Won. The goggles worked to give the British a further operational edge. The British also managed to affect the Argentines by the use of the “unknown. 2nd ed. In the early 1980s the Soviet Union certainly wasn’t an ally of Argentina. Conclusion The central question of 1982 for the British was: how do you prepare for. and the latter had actually expected its friendship with the US to cause the larger course of the crisis to turn in its favor. in some cases. In comparison. as well as the supply of the latest special forces weapons from sources that still remain covert. which entered the theater via Ascension Island (a UK territory) in the Atlantic and remained effective in all aspects of military supply. Sunday Times of London. and they provided a wealth of open-source documentation concerning the Argentine force composition. More materially. At the operational level. enabling support to ground units that made attacks at night.