The Falklands War 1982
The Falklands War began in April 1982 when the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic were invaded and occupied by Argentina.
The Falkland Islands are located in the south west of the Atlantic, off the South American coast.
The British landed on the Falkland Islands in 1690. A permanent settlement by the British has existed there since 1833 when the islands were seized from Argentina. Argentina has always claimed that the islands (which they call the Malvinas) belong to them.
In 1982, tensions between the British and Argentinian governments became strained when General Galtieri, head of the military junta in Argentina, started to make aggressive threats about taking the islands.
The withdrawal of the British vessel HMS Endurance helped to convince the Argentinian generals that Britain was not serious about defending the islands.
The first Argentine troops landed by helicopter at 04.30 local time on April 2nd, three miles to the southwest of the Falkland Islands capital Stanley. The main force of 1,000 troops landed two hours later. The
80-man garrison of Royal Marines was vastly outnumbered and, after a short battle, Stanley was captured. No significant injuries were suffered by the British, but three Argentines were killed during the firefight at Government House.
The next day, the UN Security Council met and demanded immediate withdrawal of Argentine forces.
Over the next few days, Argentine troops consolidated their positions on the Islands, and landed more troops on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Argentine authorities said they would ensure there was no ill-treatment of the Islanders.
In Britain, politicians and public opinion was taken completely by surprise by the invasion. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned. An emergency session of parliament was held and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, announced that a British task force would be sent to liberate the Islands. The action was backed by the Opposition leader Michael Foot, leader of the Labour Party.
On 5 April, two Aircraft carriers, fleet flagship HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible along with accompanying frigates, sailed out of Portsmouth. Three nuclear submarines also left for the South Atlantic. Further vessels followed, including amphibious ships, specialist vessels, and some 50 ships requisitioned from the commercial fleet including the QE2, Canberra and converted hospital ship Uganda. Over 110 ships and 28,000 servicemen sailed towards the Falkland Islands.
The American Government tried to negotiate a settlement between Britain and Argentina but with little success. On 22 April, they stopped trying and President Ronald Reagan formally announced his support for Britain.
On 12 April, Britain declared a 200 mile exclusion zone around the Islands. After several exploratory landings, the Royal Marines and the SAS landed and took South Georgia on 25 April.
On 1 May, the invasion to retake the Islands was stepped up. Stanley airport was bombed by Vulcan bombers based on Ascension Island — a difficult mission because of the distance. That was followed by a naval bombardment and Sea Harrier attack on Argentine bases at Stanley and Goose Green.
On 2 May, the Argentine cruiser ‘General Belgrano’ was sunk by torpedoes fired from the British submarine ‘HMS Conqueror’. Within minutes, the Belgrano began to sink and an hour later it had done so. three-hundred-and-sixty-eight of the Argentine crew were killed and approximately six-hundred-and-fifty were picked up from the sea. The sinking of the Belgrano became one of the most contentious aspects of the war, amid arguments about whether or not it was in the exclusion zone or sailing away from the Islands. Certainly, the sudden loss of so many lives made people in Britain and Argentina realise the seriousness of the conflict.
On 4 May, the British warship HMS Sheffield was struck by exocet missiles. Large sections of the ship caught fire and, after 5 hours of fighting the flames, the ship was abandoned. Twenty British seamen were killed and many more suffered from serious burns, exacerbated by the nylon fibres in the uniforms melting in the heat. Television crews filmed the servicemen as they left the ship, bringing the reality of the war into people’s living rooms.
On 21 May, 3,000 troops and 1,000 tons of supplies were landed at San Carlos water to establish a beachhead for attacks on Goose Green and Stanley.
Only two warships survived unscathed; HMS Ardent was sunk with the loss of 22 crew; HMS Argonaut and Antrim were hit by bombs which failed to explode and 2 were killed. Thirteen Argentine aircraft were reported to have been shot down.
On 28 May, the second parachute regiment retook Goose Green and Darwin, in one of the fiercest battles of the war. There were heavy losses on the Argentine side. The British then started a lengthy and grueling ‘yomp’ across East Falkland, in bitter winter conditions, towards Stanley.
The fighting continued throughout the early days of June, with casualties on both sides. Fighting reached Wireless Ridge and Tumbledown on 13 June with significant British successes.
UN attempts to force a ceasefire had failed, but the affect of the fighting undermined Argentine morale on the Islands and in Argentina. After taking the heavily defended high ground surrounding Stanley, British forces marched into Stanley almost unopposed. The Argentines lay down their weapons and surrendered on 14 June.
A ceasefire was declared and a formal end to the conflict was declared on 20 June. The 200 mile exclusion zone was replaced by a Falklands Protection Zone of 150 miles. The Government of Argentina collapsed and was replaced by a leadership that vowed to uphold the ceasefire.
Two-hundred-and-fifty-two British service personnel were killed in the war, plus three civilians who were killed when a British shell from the naval bombardment hit a house. An estimated three-hundred servicemen were wounded. No official figure is available relating to Argentinian casualties but it is estimated that six-hundred-and-fifty-five Argentine servicemen died in the Falklands War, many of them teenage conscripts.
On the Islands are monuments for those killed. There is also a cemetery for the British dead whose bodies were not repatriated and a cemetery for the Argentine dead.