British Prosecution Of The 1982 Falklands War History Essay

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In seeking to analyse at the operational level the British prosecution of the 1982 Falklands War it is necessary to identify the enduring lessons that were learnt for furthering the development of the contemporary military environment to the advantage of individual states in looking to further their interests. With this in mind, it is to be appreciated that there is a need for this essay to first look to provide an outline of the background to the discussion that has been undertaken herein. To this effect there is a need to evaluate how the Falkland War arose between the countries before then looking to more specifically focus upon an operational analysis of the British involvement in the war in terms of the recognition of the importance of planning, their capabilities and the jointery that was involved at this time. It will then be necessary to consider what has been learnt for the way in which military affairs have worked out in the contemporary environment with regard to whether they were the right lessons learnt and whether they are still relevant today in view of the need to guard against inappropriate uses of military force along with the preservation of territorial integrity and the principle of state sovereignty. With this in mind, finally, this essay will look to conclude with a summary of the key points that have been recognised as being derived from this discussion in relation to what has been recognised at the operational level the British prosecution emanating from the events of the 1982 Falklands War by identifying what are considered to be the enduring lessons for the contemporary military environment.

Introduction - Background to this study

The Falklands War was fought in 1982 between Britain and Argentina as a result of there being a territorial dispute with regard to the Falkland Islands that consist of two large and many small islands in the South Atlantic Ocean that lies east of Argentina along with the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia because both their names and sovereignty have long been disputed. [1] On this occasion the war begun on 2nd April 1982 with the islands invasion and occupation by Argentine forces that then saw Britain launched a naval strike to take on and combat Argentinian forces and retake the islands. As a result, the conflict was finally resolved with the surrender of the Argentinian forces on 14th June 1982 so that the islands remained under the control of British forces although at the cost of of some 257 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors, and airmen's lives (along with three Falkland Islanders). [2] In addition, there is also a need to appreciate that the Falklands War is the most recent external conflict fought by British forces without the assistance from any allies. The Falklands War had arisen from out of there having been a diplomatic confrontation for some considerable period of time in relation to the islands sovereignty and it is also interesting to note the fact that neither Britain or Argentina looked to officially declare ware whilst the fighting itself was practically limited largely to the disputed territories. [3] 

The invasion was characterised initially by Argentina looking to achieve the re-occupation of its own territory and with British forces looking to invade British dependent territory. But the issue is still to be effectively resolved to the satisfaction of the two respective independent nations. As it has from the nineteenth century onward, the Argentinian government has no desire to relinquish its claim even in the wake of its reformation in 1994. [4] However, it was not only in Argentina that the political effects of the Falklands War were found to be particularly significant. In Britain, as well as Argentina, it is to be appreciated that a significant level of patriotic sentiment developed in both countries. [5] To this effect the loss that the Argentinian forces experience led to even more protests being perpetrated against what was still a ruling military government, whilst in Britain Margaret Thatcher's government was bolstered with success in the general election of 1983. There is also a need to appreciate that the war has played a significant role in relation to the development of the culture in both countries - although both culturally and politically the conflict has had much less effect upon the British public than the Argentinian and relations between the countries were restored in 1989 under the 'umbrella formula' so the islands' sovereignty dispute would remain aside. [6] 

Operational Analysis

It is to be appreciated that the process involved with the Falkland Islands being retaken proved complex to say the least largely because of the significant constraints brought about by the apparent disparity in available air cover that was considered to be deployable. By way of illustration, whilst British forces had only 34 Harriers under their control, this was set against around 120 serviceable jet fighters under Argentinian control. [7] On this basis, the US Navy for one then went so far as to deem the possibility of a successful British counter-invasion to be a complete 'military impossibility'. [8] Nevertheless, by the middle of April 1981, a Royal Air Force airbase was out in place at Wideawake on Ascension Island where the main naval task force also arrived to prepare for active service. At the same time, however, significant efforts were still being made at achieving diplomacy. By way of illustration, the US government looked to initially bring about the achievement of mediation between the British and Argentinian governments with a view to resolving the conflict. [9] But, when the Argentinian government failed to accept the US' attempts at fostering peace, the then Secretary of State Alexander Haig made the announcement the US would look to prevent the sale of arms to Argentina whilst also providing for the able support materially of operations carried out by the British. [10] In addition, the US provided political support voting for UN Resolution 502 requesting the departure of Argentine troops from the islands under dispute and also discreetly provided British forces with the latest military equipment. [11] Political support was also forthcoming at this time from the French government who also voted in favour of UN Resolution 502 and also provided aircraft training against French aircraft used by Argentina. [12] The French intelligence service then also looked to work with with the British in an effort to stop the Argentinians from being able to get more powerful weaponry internationally. [13] 

It is interesting to note that the initial skirmishes in the war were undertaken by the SAS on the 21st April 1981 - although they had to be aborted by the 23rd April due to adverse weather conditions. It was not until the 24th April that British forces had successfully achieved their regrouping and attacked on 25th April. Events began with an attack on the submarine ARA Santa Fe that was spotted after resupplying Argentinian forces by a helicopter from HMS Antrim that, along with HMS Plymouth and HMS Brilliant, damaged the ARA Santa Fe so badly it could not submerge. [14] In the aftermath British forces were able to make their claim for South Georgia and sent the message home that they were "pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God Save the Queen". [15] It was at this point that British forces began their operations in the Falklands itself on 1st May with the first in a series of five 'Black Buck' attacks on Stanley airfield as a Vulcan bomber flying out of Ascension made an 8,000-nautical-mile round trip bombing the runway. [16] However, the significance of this attack has been called into question since it did minimal damage that was largely quickly repaired and aside from that it is also to be appreciated that the airfield at Stanley was only one of three airfields on the Falklands and even that was too short to support sufficient air defences. [17] But, whilst the Argentinians seemingly thought that they had no option but to look to instigate their retaliation from the mainland, Stanley was still considered to be a significant Argentinian holding during the war. [18] 

Two separate British naval task forces and the Argentinian fleet also soon came into contact in the region with the first loss being the vintage World War II Argentinian light cruiser ARA General Belgrano that was sunk by HMS Conqueror on 2nd May. [19] Over three hundred crew members perished as a result and this interestingly made up a little over half of all the deaths on the Argentinian side during the war whilst also having a crucial strategic effect for the British with the Argentinian naval threat effectively eliminated since, aside from the submarine ARA San Luis, the remainder of the fleet returned home for the remainder of the hostilities. [20] However, that did not mean that the British navy did not still have to deal with threats to its ongoing role in the conflict. Only two days after the Argentinians loss of the ARA General Belgrano, the British also lost the HMS Sheffield as a result of an Exocet missile strike after it was ordered forward to provide a long-range radar and medium-high altitude missile 'picket' and finally sunk on 10th May. [21] 

The British navy continued to suffer problems due to their being a lack of effective anti-aircraft defences demonstrated not only by the sinking of HMS Sheffield but also that of HMS Ardent on 21st May, HMS Antelope on 24th May and MV Atlantic Conveyor and HMS Coventry (whilst HMS Brilliant and HMS Argonaut were badly damaged) on 25 May along with their cargo. [22] Despite the many losses suffered by British forces, however, many British ships still escaped terminal damage due to the Argentinians bombing tactics because, to avoid most of the air defences, the Argentinian pilots released ordnance from very low altitude so their weaponry did not have time to arm to explode and was only resolved late on in the war by the improvised fitting of retarding devices making them much more effective. [23] In his account of the war, Admiral Woodward blamed the BBC World Service for these changes having reported the lack of detonations after a briefing from the Ministry of Defence to the cost of the lives of British servicemen. [24] 

Nevertheless, despite the problems experienced by the navy, British operations tempo then increased during the second half of May as the United Nations attempted to mediate peace that the British rejected as HMS Sheffield's destruction had had a significant impact on the British public as they now recognised events in the Falklands were a 'shooting war'. [25] As a result, due to the threat posed to the British fleet illustrated by the sinking of HMS Sheffield from the Etendard-Exocet combination, plans were made to use the SAS to attack the Etendards home base at Rio Grande as part of operation 'Mikado' with the aim being to destroy both the aircraft and missiles that carried them. [26] Two distinct plans were put into place with a view to fulfilling this objective - a landing of around fifty SAS trips by aircraft on the Rio Grande runway and infiltration of around twenty SAS via inflatable boats set near the coast by submarine. However, neither of the two plans were actually put in practice because they were considered by many members of the SAS to be a suicide mission because, as Argentinian marine commanders recognised after the war, the Argentinians were waiting for some kind of SAS assault. [27] Instead, an SAS reconnaissance team was dispatched to carry out preparations for a seaborne infiltration but bad weather forced the mission to be aborted. [28] Nevertheless, on 14th May the SAS undertook a raid on Pebble Island where the Argentine Navy had taken over a grass airstrip map destroying the aircraft there. [29] This event was then soon followed a week later when the British Amphibious Task Group undertook 'Operation Sutton' landing on beaches around San Carlos Water. [30] The bay became known by British forces as 'Bomb Alley' since it soon became the scene of repeated Argentinian air attacks until the last day of the war on 14th June. [31] The reason for this is that the area was clearly a key strategic point so, thanks to the careful deployment of personnel, by the dawn of 22nd May British forces had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct further offensive operations with plans to capture Goose Green and Darwin before turning towards Port Stanley. [32] 

Then, between the 27th and 28th May, British forces attacked Goose Green and Darwin that had long been held by the Argentine 12th Infantry Regiment leading to the deaths of 17 British and 47 Argentine soldiers. [33] As a result of defeating the sizeable Argentinian presence in these areas, British forces could break out of the San Carlos bridgehead and began to march to the coastal settlement of Teal Inlet. At the same time a number of commandos were prepared to move by helicopter to Mount Kent even though the Argentinians were already aware of this and were planning on holding British forces and sent transport aircraft loaded with surface-to-air missiles and commandos to Stanley in 'Operation AUTOIMPUESTA'. [34] During the next week the SAS and Mountain & Arctic Warfare Cadre looked to wage intense battles with Argentinian forces (that were finally concluded with a British victory on 31st May). Then, in a last ditch effort to turn the war in their favour, the Argentinian Navy looked to use their last Exocet missile on 30th May to attack HMS Invincible without much success so that, by 1st June, the British were preparing to mount their final offensive against the Argentinian stronghold at Stanley. [35] 

In the build-up to this offensive, however, the Argentinians continued to undertake air assaults on the British naval forces with as many as 32 men killed from the Welsh Guards alone on RFA Sir Tristram and RFA Sir Galahad on 8th June whilst another 150 men also suffered significant injuries as a result of the attack. [36] That the Welsh Guards should take such significant losses is a mark of the fact that the British advance at this stage was some what uncoordinated to say the least causing planning nightmares for the commanders of the combined operation. This is reflected by the fact that, whilst the soldiers were able to march over the rough terrain, their equipment and supplies needed ferrying by sea. [37] To redress the problems that had been caused, plans were drawn up for half the Welsh Guards to march light, whilst the Scots Guards and the rest the Welsh Guards were to be ferried by the RFA Sir Tristram and HMS Intrepid. However, the plan was scrapped for being too risky and was replaced with a complicated operation to take place across several nights involving HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless along with RFA Sir Tristram and RFA Sir Galahad. But this was still only part of the problem resolved. This is because there is a need to appreciate that the attempted overland march by the Welsh Guards failed as they returned to San Carlos and then had to be directly landed at Bluff Cove when HMS Fearless dispatched her landing craft. [38] 

However, whilst the landing craft should have been able to unload the ships quickly, confusion regarding the disembarking point saw the senior Welsh Guards infantry officer aboard insisting his troops be ferried directly to Port Fitzroy/Bluff Cove rather than march around seven miles leading to an enormous delay in the undertaking of the operation with disastrous consequences. [39] Due to a lack of effective escorts and sufficient air defence, whilst also still being almost fully laden, the ships involved in the operation undertaken were too easy targets for the Argentinian air force and, as a result, it was a disaster that provided the world with some of the most sobering images of the war to that point in view of the atrocities perpetrated at this time. [40] As a result, on 11th June the British launched a brigade-sized night attack against the heavily defended ring of high ground surrounding Stanley before simultaneously launching assaults in what later became known as the Battle of Mount Harriet, the Battle of Mount Longdon and the Battle of Two Sisters leading to the completion of the British objectives but with heavy losses for both the British and Argentinian forces arising at this time from the conflict. [41] With a view to capitalising on the momentum that they had built up the British under the second phase of their attacks with the Battle of Wireless Ridge and the Battle of Tumbledown standing as further strategic gains as Stanley's Argentinian defences began faltering leading to an inevitable cease fire on 14th June and the Argentinian surrender - although hostilities did not officially come to an end until 20th June when British forces retook South Sandwich Islands. [42] 

Conclusions - Lessons Learnt

In seeking to conclude this essay's discussion, having provided for an operational analysis of the British role in the Falklands War, as part of this essay it is now also necessary to look to provide some consideration of what lessons have been learnt with regard to the conducting of contemporary military affairs. For one thing, there is a need to appreciate that the Falklands War is still considered to be the most significant air-naval combat operation since World War II so that it has been subject to some significant analysis with a number of notable 'lessons learned'. By way of illustration, as has already been recognised in the preceding section of this essay's discussion regarding the operational analysis, British surface ships proved somewhat vulnerable to Argentinian attack arguably largely due to poor strategic planning and a lack of sufficient defences. With this in mind, noted historians like Sir John Keegan have, as a result, even gone so far as to recognise the fact that the events of Falklands War served to illustrate surface ships all too clear vulnerability to anti-ship missiles and submarines dominance as they were able to approach and destroy their targets with impunity. [43] Nevertheless, it is has been argued that the ARA General Belgrano's sinking was an example of a pre-World War II ship with no anti-submarine technology losing out against a modern nuclear-powered submarine, whilst the various British ships that the Argentinian air force served to sink was acceptable. This is because even to the British themselves they were seen as being little more than 'screen forces' for British aircraft carriers and thus were looked upon as being little more than collateral damage with a view to ultimately successfully winning the war overall - effectively they were considered as minor losses as a means to an end. [44] On this basis, it is arguably a mark of the effectiveness of the British navy during the war that, in the years that followed, the proposed sale of HMS Invincible to the Australian government was cancelled whilst proposed cutbacks in the British surface fleet were abandoned with replacements for the lost ships and helicopters ordered. [45] 

In addition, it is also to be appreciated that the amphibious assault ships HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless were not actually decommissioned until 2002 and 1999 respectively. [46] Even then there is a need to recognise that, as a mark of the importance of the navy to any war effort that may have to be undertaken in the future, these two vessels were then effectively replaced by HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion in their stead. [47] At the same time, however, there is a need to show an understanding of the fact that, despite the Argentinian forces apparent success against the British navy, neither country was able to really claim air supremacy even though it was of critical importance due to the isolated, rough landscape restricting the movement of land forces. [48] As a result, a whole range of air strikes were launched against an array of targets on both sides, and often with clear results like those already recognised regarding Britain's naval losses as a result of Argentinian attacks. [49] With this in mind, it is arguable that air war undertaken served to vindicate Britain's decision to keep some aircraft carriers in the region after the HMS Ark Royal retired since air powers dominance in the most significant engagements involving the navy was demonstrated along with the effectiveness of the small but manoeuvrable Sea Harriers with not a single one shot down. [50] Therefore, with regard to the Sea Harriers in particular, this also served to bear out the superior training of the British pilots which was a clear benefit with a view to exploiting the aircraft's manoeuvrability, whilst the latest weaponry was also utilised in the form of the AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles that had a much wider angle of engagement than anything used by the Argentinians. [51] 

In addition, there is a need to recognise the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) Systems significance was also shown in the course of the conflict. This is because during the war AEW Systems had proved extremely detrimental to British operations due to their lack of over-the-horizon radar capability that was hastily rectified in the wake of the war to provide for earlier awareness of the enemies presence. [52] During the war British operations were also not helped due to the fact that forces were largely stretched to their absolute limits in so many areas of the war effort including mounting any amphibious operations so far from an effective land base. As a result, in the years that followed the war a considerable amount of work was undertaken with a view to improving the British navy's logistical and amphibious capabilities. [53] By way of illustration, it is interesting to note that, during operations throughout the war, the task force's ships could only remain on station for a limited time due to the worsening weather that arose with a southern hemisphere winter. However, despite the logistical problems that were faced by British forces during the war, as has already been recognised in the preceding section of this essay, the effectiveness of the SAS in bringing about the resolution of the war could not be discounted both in combat operations - notably regarding the raid on Pebble Island - and also by undertaking highly informative intelligence-gathering operations. [54] 

Interestingly the British went to war without a UN Resolution specifically mandating the use of force and unconstrained by what is now the European Union. With this in mind, the Falklands War is looked upon as being what is a classic example of a state asserting its sovereignty and right to self-defence. The British, with the US' and Chile's strategic support, ultimately defeated a larger Argentine force at a heavy cost that was, however, still considered to be a sacrifice the British were willing to bear to defend their territory and the cause of freedom. Countries the world over, in much the same way as Britain, have looked to confront Iranian intimidation and al-Qaeda and the Taliban in seeking to resolve the global war on terrorism amongst of contemporary concern that serve to threaten independent state's territorial integrity and national state sovereignty leading to the use of force in an effort to guard against losses in this regard. Therefore, aside from those lessons so obviously learnt as a result of the operational analysis undertaken of military affairs, another key lesson learnt relates to state sovereignty and its ongoing recognition amongst modern states in the face of military force through the UN allied to the UN Charter 1945. State sovereignty generally relates to the idea of states like the Falkland Islands having exclusive governance of their own domain for better understanding international law regarding the prohibition of the use of force and its exceptions under Articles 2(4) and 51 of the UN Charter 1945 respectively. [55] 

However, state sovereignty is not always so easily understood as a principle in practice. The reason for this lack of effective understanding of the principle of state sovereignty is largely because, whilst it has been recognised that the principle of state sovereignty may be said to refer to a symbol of political legitimacy, the principle of state sovereignty could also be taken to refer to the authority that allows a country/state to be able to then make and enforce its own laws and preserve its position as an independent nation. [56] With this in mind, an individual state's membership of the UN serves to condition the understanding of the significance of state sovereignty so that recognition of the principle then cannot be said to have overridden the obligations and international responsibilities encompassed within its development. [57] Moreover, there is also a need to appreciate that the implementation of the UN Charter 1945 had a significant role in relation to the ongoing maintenance of security and peace within the international community between nations to their ongoing benefit. On this basis, it has come to be recognised that both sovereign legitimacy and authority under the UN Charter 1945 was derived from the people so a sovereign national authority is then under their significant constraint to then prevent the possibility of war from escalating between the states involved in much the same way as arose between Argentina and Britain over the disputed territory of the Falkland Islands. [58] This is because it has been recognised that the remit of the UN Charter 1945 guarantees the recognition of the principle of sovereignty in international law relating to the use of force and its general prohibition, whilst also discouraging anything associated with state absolutism to the detriment of international relations between states. [59]