Argentine soldiers with FN FAL rifles, Falklands War.

May 1982


S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011

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

21 from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.  ◆ 8 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . which was the largest number from any one occupational branch within the Royal Navy. 19 & 1 on HMS Sheffield. 18 from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. Argentina — 649 Ejército Argentino (Army) — 194 (16 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. 13 on HMS Glamorgan. 35 NCOs and 143 privates) Armada de la República Argentina (Navy) — 375 (including 321 on Belgrano. 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. 19 from the Special Air Service (SAS).Killed in Action Summary In total. 3 from Royal Signals. 18 & 1 on HMS Coventr. 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. Thirty-three of the British Army’s dead came from the Welsh Guards. 907 military personnel were killed during 74 days of the war. Fourteen naval cooks were among the dead. 22 were lost on HMS Ardent.

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

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

and several UK-built Type 42 destroyers. Opposing Navies & Air Forces The Argentine Navy was equipped with a mix of old and new ships. The rigid distinctions between officers and enlisted proved a weakness for both groups. April was the middle of autumn. and they’re in stark contrast to their weather-beaten and fatigue-uniformed British counterparts. despite their near-identical appearance with the enlisted around them. In one classic example. little was done by their officers to resolve the situation. Their one aircraft carrier. which added yet another dimension to the declining morale. at times when the British were clearly off balance tactically. 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. a force without leadership will always fall. yet. then. and all of that was what their soldiers expected. Finally for the Argentines. and by the time of the first ground fighting in May the winter was setting (in the Southern Hemisphere). soldiers found to be eating pilfered chicken scraps were staked out on the freezing ground as punishment for what was termed “unsoldierly conduct. Argentine officers are generally immaculate and usually appear in dress or service uniforms. Being an Argentine soldier in the Falklands wasn’t a pleasant experience. Those planes. 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.trained and less than fully motivated ground force. Exocet surface-to-surface missilecarrying vessels. which occurred at Port Howard on West Falkland. while old. was equipped with A-4 Skyhawks as well as modern helicopters with anti-submarine capabilities.” The Argentines were commanded by a socially separate and privileged officer class. 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. ate the same food in the field. but included several modern diesel submarines.39 Exocet missiles. when soldiers were clearly going hungry. The growing lack of respect for the officers culminated in several incidents of violence against them after the surrender. 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. even before shots were fired. Faced with such a challenge. that service proved the first to retreat from the fighting. Ultimately. the Argentines were able to fight and hinder the British. always gave the clear impression they were in command. with their AM. In combat. Argentine training did little to ensure initiative was ever taken. Photographs from just after the war reveal much. logistics was another erratic and sad aspect of the war. Therefore. but they were never able to defeat the will of their attackers to press forward. however. Given their military culture. Basically. 12 S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 . the farther a unit was from the main base at Port Stanley the smaller was the logistical support it got.

S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 13 .

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

the Argentines struggled simply to supply the bare logistical needs of forces just 400 miles from their homeland. and the latter had actually expected its friendship with the US to cause the larger course of the crisis to turn in its favor. London: Arms & Armour Press.  ❖ Sources Adkin. New Zealand even offered to arrange an on-station reinforcement of a frigate. S&T 269 | JUL–AUG 2011 15 . 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. via signals intelligence (Sigint) sharing. At the operational level. More materially. For the British the overarching fact was they were 8. There’s no doubt the US and several other Western countries gave the British support at all levels of military. call in favors as necessary. and they provided a wealth of open-source documentation concerning the Argentine force composition. then.000 miles from home. Conclusion The central question of 1982 for the British was: how do you prepare for. caused them to take into account each other’s intentions. allocating resources in responses that ultimately did nothing for their real-world war effort. Simply put. repacked. Weapons of the Falklands Conflict. The goggles worked to give the British a further operational edge. 1992. the UK’s military contacts led to their forces’ immediate provisioning with AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles. For both sides the indirect involvement. 1982. by the Soviet Union with the Argentines. Outside Influences An often overlooked aspect of the war was the various gyrations by both sides that came from their collection of intelligence. and that numerous atomic missile submarines were moving into the South Atlantic. Dorset: Blandford Press. The British also managed to affect the Argentines by the use of the “unknown. Falklands: The Air War. airfield support at Ascension Island. and successfully carry out. The British also had current copies of Jane’s military manuals. 2nd ed. government and public arenas. Several countries provided intelligence: battlefield satellite images came from the US. Mark. New York: Harper & Row Pubs. enabling support to ground units that made attacks at night. and have leadership — at all levels — who demand no less than victory. War in the Falklands — The Full Story. Burden. follow an overall plan. Goose Green: A Battle is Fought to be Won. collectively they worked to remove obstacles and help enable ultimate British success. that special forces units were preparing to operate on the Argentine mainland. Bryan. et al. 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. All of that came together to give British commanders a situational awareness from which they could make timely and correct decisions. the rapid sending of replacement parts directly from manufacturers. That vital locale provided a safe area where equipment could be cross-decked. The effect was the Argentines prepared to counter those false threats. 1986. In comparison. while their leadership applied itself only sporadically and only from the top down. 3rd ed. it was easier for the United Kingdom than it was for the Argentines to call in favors from many sources and. Rodney. tested and/or stored. Sunday Times of London. 1983. whether each such favor was active or passive.” They ran a disinformation campaign that indicated the Royal Air Force was basing aircraft in Chile. Perrett. and what therefore mattered above all else was their logistical chain. to a lesser extent. It worked throughout the war as an ideal and necessary link in the logistical chain for the preparation of combat operations. France provided data on the Exocet as well as tactical tips on how Sea Harriers could best defeat Mirages. by the United States with the British at the time. the local tactical intelligence available to the British on-scene was of lower quality than that available simultaneously at their highest command levels. and general intelligence concerning the overall Argentine military situation came in from Chile. It all worked well enough that. London: Guernsey Press. In the early 1980s the Soviet Union certainly wasn’t an ally of Argentina. which entered the theater via Ascension Island (a UK territory) in the Atlantic and remained effective in all aspects of military supply. as well as the supply of the latest special forces weapons from sources that still remain covert. in some cases. work as a combined-arms team.

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