Relevance of the Falklands War of 1982 to the Manoeuvrist Approach

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18/05/20 History Reference this

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Evaluate in what way, if any, the Falklands War of 1982 can be considered relevant to the Manoeuvrist Approach (ADP, Land Operations, 2017)

The Falklands War was the result of what began with Argentinians invading the British-owned Falkland Islands on April 2nd, 1982. In response to this, Britain dispatched a naval and amphibious task force to the area. The initial stages of conflict took place at sea between the Royal Navy and the Argentine Air Force, however on May 21st, British troops had landed on the island. During this essay, we will be looking at the components of Manoeuvrist Warfare and if they were applied during the Falklands War. We will begin with a definition of what Manoeuvrist Warfare is and the different aspects involved.[1]

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The Manoeuvrist Approach is the Army’s fighting doctrine for the tactical level. The approach is designed in a way to use the British Army’s current size and strength to its advantage. Specifically, it is focused around avoiding wars of attrition. This is used by the British Army today as we no longer have a large army, so we must be tactical with the forces we do have and how we approach conflict. It is an indirect approach which emphasises effects on the will of the enemy. It blends lethal and nonlethal actions to achieve objectives which shape the enemy’s understanding, undermine their will and break their cohesion. It aims to apply strength against vulnerabilities. Significant features are momentum, tempo and agility, which in combination lead to shock and surprise. It entails doing the unexpected, using initiative and seeking originality, combined with a relentless determination to succeed. These factors ultimately lead to Dislocation, Disruption and finally Destruction of the enemy force. [2]

The Manoeuvrist approach is applicable at all levels of command, namely Strategic, Operational and at a Tactical level. We will look at each of these areas individually and find examples of how they can be applied to the Falklands War so that overall, we can get a picture if Manoeuvrist Warfare played a key part in the Conflict.

“Strategic manoeuvre incorporates the coordinated application of all elements of national power in support of national strategic objectives”.[3] This is telling us that strategic manoeuvre uses military forces as part of an overarching military strategy at the highest level. Military strategic manoeuvre involved placing the military assets and combat forces for the optimum advantage for operational and tactical success. This is even more important when a country or fighting force has limited resources as it enables them to best apply what they do have to seize the initiative and get an early advantage in their operations.  At this level we will look at how Britain organised itself when initially dealing with the invasion of the Falklands. They main argument for the use of Strategic Manoeuvrist approach is how Britain used military diplomacy to isolate Argentina in April of 1982. From the start of the conflict, Britain was seeking to find a non-violent solution to the war. Even when they tried to show force as a deterrent with their 36-ship task force, nuclear missiles, jump-jets and attack helicopters, they struggled to make a peaceful solution with Argentina. As Britain was failing on their own they then began using a Strategic Manoeuvrist approach when they met with the European Community (EC) in Brussels on April 6th and asked them to help with diplomacy and economic sanctions against Argentina, who themselves exported goods worth $2.1 Billion to the EC in 1980. The EC condemned the Argentine invasion and urged the United States to join in to try and make peace. To show support for Britain, West Germany, France and Belgium agreed on April 7th to block the sale of frigates, submarines, and other military items to Argentina. Furthermore, it was Britain’s diplomatic strategy with the United States, leading to Britain using the Ascension Island and the Wideawake Airbase, which can be seen as one of the most important logistical factors in the British Campaign. Without this partnership and the use of the Islands, Britain would have struggled to supply the campaign they were about to start, but also they would not of been able to carry out their Operational Manoeuvrist approach and cordon the Island. To summarise this, Britain’s diplomatic strategies allowed it to react to the Argentine invasion quickly and effectively and put the measures in place to Dislocate and Disrupt the enemy forces. This is a good example of Manoeuvrist Warfare, as it demonstrates quick thinking and managing to work around an issue, establishing a logistic chain over 12,000 kilometres through the aid of its neighbours to fully isolate the Falklands. As stated previously for a country with limited resoucres Britain effectly used this stratergy to seize the early advantage which proved vital to further operation in the Falklands.

We will now consider how Manoeuvrist Warfare was used at the operational level during the Falklands war in 1982. Operational Manoeuvre is how a nation places its forces on the ground, including their administrative support, in a favourable position in relation to the enemy.  Operational Manoeuvre occurs mainly in theatre or during a campaign and requires coordinated offensive, defensive and deception actions to position their forces in an advantageous position. In this sense, the use of intelligence and information gathering during such operations led to new possibilities for the application of Operational Manoeuvre.  When this tactic is deployed correctly, it can often lead to missions and effects being met without the need for the battle itself. This means that you can minimise causalities and spent resources by simply using intelligence to out manoeuvre the enemy at the start. Whereas before we discussed how during the Falklands conflict Britain used Strategic Manoeuvrist Warfare and diplomacy to isolate the Islands, we are now looking at the operational side of how they actually utilised their assets to cordon the Islands. After the initial landings by Argentina on April 2nd, Britain was quick to organise diplomatic pressure against them. It didn’t take Britain long to organize itself and deploy its initial task force. The Royal Navy deployed two Aircraft carriers from Portsmouth on 5th April with further departures swiftly following. British strategists have often told of how success in such a distant area of operation would hinge on an efficiently managed logistics chain. It was a huge effort undertaken by the Royal Navy and the Royal Airforce to transport the troops and supplies over the great distance to the Falklands. The objective of this Task force was to establish an air and sea blockade of the Islands to prepare the way for an amphibious landing, first by 3 Commando Brigade and later by 5 Infantry Brigade. By April 12th Britain had established a 200 nautical mile radius maritime exclusion zone around the Islands. Furthermore, by 30th April a total exclusion zone was established. This gave Britain the foothold to supply its troops and also keep deploying onto the island for the initial assaults. If we consider the initial definition and criteria for Manoeuvrist Warfare, we can see that this initial blockade does include many of the essential characteristics. Britain used tempo and surprise to quickly establish a blockade to cut off its enemy’s supplies while also establishing its own logistical chain. This is a great example of seizing the initiative and Disrupting the enemy. It is even more impressive if you consider the distance Britain had to cover in such a short amount of time to take advantage this.[4]

Finally, we will consider how Manoeuvrist Warfare was used at the tactical level. This is how the Manoeuvrist Warfare was fought on the ground, employing physical and non-physical means to achieve an advantage over the enemy. The overall purpose of tactical manoeuvre is to destroy the enemy’s cohesion by use of coordinated speed, shock action and lethal force. An example of this can be seen when 42 Commando assaulted Mount Harriet on the night of 11 June 1982 in a surprise attack from the enemy’s rear. The 4th Argentine Infantry Regiment, defending Harriet, expected an attack from Mount Wall to the west; a diversionary attack by 12 Troop of 42 Commando reinforced that perception. This in itself is an excellent example of using shock and surprise to Disrupt the enemy. It also shows how Britain was manoeuvring around the battlefield to take advantage of key opportunities, a main characteristic of Manoeuvrist Warfare. The main body attacked from the south-east and approached to within a hundred metres of the Argentine positions before it was detected. The assault itself was deployed quickly with leading elements reaching the top of Mount Harriet within forty minutes, the crest line itself was cleared within about two hours, and the fighting was largely complete within five hours. The Argentine regimental command post and mortar platoon were overrun early in the assault. This was a lucky consequence of the chosen line of attack, but the effects of this selective Destruction was significant. The Argentines lost much of their primary indirect fire support and command and control of their forces; both affected their cohesion. An Argentine Company Commander attempted to organise a counter-attack force on the north side of the ridge-line; however, a sudden, concentrated artillery fire mission broke up the attack. The survivors were seen fleeing east towards Stanley through the smoke and darkness. The surprise attack, shock action and some aspects of the Destruction achieved had overcome the 4th Infantry Regiment’s cohesion; it collapsed and was effectively destroyed as a fighting force.[5] This demonstrates how 42 Commando moved around the battlefield and fully utilised Manoeuvrist Warfare to defeat their enemy. It demonstrates the effectiveness of a surprise attack, especially when it uses deception to reinforce the shock factor. This is easily a great example of Manoeuvrist Warfare being used to devastating effects in the Falklands War. Unsurprisingly, this is not the only example of this type of warfare being used tactically on the ground. On 28th May, 2 Para attacked the Argentine garrison at Darwin-Goose Green. During this attack, Lt Col“H” Jones forces lacked any significant fire support and managed to overrun a composite force who had an overwhelming advantage in terms of fire and man power. The Argentinian’s were dug into trench systems along a very defensible front in an isthmus. In the end, 2 Para suffered many causalities, 18 dead, including the CO and 66 wounded, however they managed to secure the area capturing the entire garrison. They were shocked to discover they had captured over 1000 troops. The battle was won by quick thinking and good use of ground and momentum by the commanding officers to establish momentum and gain initiative even when faced with a much larger enemy force. Again, this is an excellent example of Manoeuvrist Warfare as it shows 2 Para avoiding a conventional battle of attrition, where they could have potentially lost against such large enemy numbers and succeeding in their mission by using the correct tactics at the ground level. It also demonstrates how the British fighting tactics were not based around kit, but more of a moral component in how they conducted themselves and had will to out manoeuvre the enemy and defeat them.

We have looked at how the Manoeuvrist Warfare can be implemented in three different ways, strategic, operational and finally tactical. We have analysed the Falklands Warfare to see if Manoeuvrist Warfare was used in this conflict at each level. I think from the evidence provided, how Britain and its forces acted on the ground and at a higher level it’s clear that Manoeuvrist Warfare was present at all levels of the conflict. For Strategic, we looked at how Britain used diplomacy to set sanctions against Argentina and put steps in place to begin to isolate the Falkland Islands. This is Manoeuvrist Warfare as it shows Britain not going head on into a war of attrition, but gaining aid from other countries to gain the advantage. Next, we saw how Operational Warfare was utilised in how Britain created a cordon around the Falklands to isolate it using its Naval forces. This also allowed it to set up a logistical chain to supply its troops on the ground and provided the foothold to deploy onto the island. Again, this is a great example of seizing the advantage early to cut off the enemy and cause Dislocation and discord amongst them. Finally, and I think most importantly we examined how Manoeuvrist Warfare was deployed at a tactical level on the ground during the battle for Goose-Green and for Mount Harriet. I believe these are the key arguments for Manoeuvrist Warfare, as they show the most conventional form of the doctrine being used at a company level.  In both of these examples, the Commanders on the ground used the tactics to seize the advantages by using the ground and the skill and will of the soldiers to out manoeuvre their enemy. We saw in the case of Goose-Green that these tactics led to them defeating and then capturing a garrison sized enemy of over 1000 enemy combatants. This is showing how they avoided a head on battle of attrition, which they would of surely lost and managed to attack the will and cohesion to such an extent that they surrendered. Finally, I think its clear to see from the evidence provided that Manoeuvrist Warfare was deployed at all levels during the Falklands conflict and we can see that it was crucial in allowing Britain to react quickly and gain victory in many of the conflicts.


  2. Doctrine & Combat Estimate Pre-Reading Workbook, Chapter Two – The Combat Estimate, Page 4 – The Manoeuvrist approach
  4. G. Fremint-Barnes, The Falklands 1982, Ground Operations in the South Atlandtic (Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 2012), pp4, 49.
  5. D. Anderson, The Falklands War 1982 (Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 2002), pp 7-10, 14.
  6. G. Fermont-Barnes (ed.), War Studies Commissioning Course Handbook (RMA, 2013), pp 110-118
  7. M. Hastingd snf S. Jenkins, The Battle for the Falklands (London, Micheal Joseph, 1983), pp234, 240-252.


[2] Doctrine & Combat Estimate Pre-Reading Workbook, Chapter Two – The Combat Estimate, Page 4 – The Manoeuvrist approach


[4] G. Fremint-Barnes, The Falklands 1982, Ground Operations in the South Atlandtic (Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 2012), pp4, 49.


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