Falklands 25: Background Briefing

The Falklands Conflict, 2 April to 14 June 1982, followed the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina on 2 April 1982. Although war was never formally declared, the brief conflict, in which a joint British Task Force was dispatched at very short notice to recapture the Islands, saw nearly 1,000 lives lost and many more wounded.

The Falklands 25 Logo is owned by the South Atlantic Medals Association 82

The Falkland Islands, which number some 700, lie around 300 miles (483 km) off the coast of Argentina and approximately 8,000 miles (12,875 km) from Britain. In 1982 the population was just over 1,800. Following the Argentine invasion a brief but spirited defence, led by a small detachment of Royal Marines and the Falkland Islands Defence Force, was unable to hold off the superior Argentine force.

On 3 April 1982 a second Argentine force landed on the island of South Georgia, a Dependency of the Falkland Islands approximately 800 miles (1,288 km) to the south east. During the engagement that followed the Royal Marines defending the island succeeded in damaging an Argentine Navy corvette and shooting down a Puma transport helicopter before they too were forced to surrender.

Also on 3 April 1982 the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Margaret Thatcher announced in Parliament during an emergency debate that a Task Force had been formed to 'restore British administration' to the Falkland Islands. This Cabinet decision was backed by the Leader of the Opposition, Michael Foot, who stated that Britain had "a moral duty, a political duty and every other kind of duty" to ensure the Falklanders could continue to live as they wished, as a dependent territory of Great Britain.

The sovereignty issue had been a source of tension between Britain and Argentina for over 200 years, although the intensity of the dispute varied considerably. In 1982 perhaps the most significant feature of the dispute was that most British people were only vaguely aware of the sovereignty issue - if indeed they were aware of it at all - whereas to Argentines it was a matter of national pride, liable to generate great emotion.

Following the Prime Minister's announcement Operation CORPORATE, the name given to the UK military operation to reclaim the Falkland Islands, began. The Task Force, including two aircraft carriers, HMS HERMES and INVINCIBLE, the assault ships HMS FEARLESS and HMS INTREPID, supporting ships from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) and Merchant Navy, and their accompanying escorts set sail from the United Kingdom for the South Atlantic, starting on 5 April 1982, only three days after the decision to form it.

They were preceded by warships that had been carrying out manoeuvres off Gibraltar including nuclear-powered submarines. More vessels followed, including some 50 ships requisitioned from the commercial sector, amongst them the liners CANBERRA and QE2, and the converted hospital ship UGANDA. In all over 110 ships and 28,000 men were eventually involved in the theatre of operations.

The initial destination of the Task Force was Ascension Island, a British Dependency in the South Atlantic over 3,700 nautical miles (6,852 km) from the UK and 3,300 nautical miles (6,112 km) from the Falkland Islands. Ascension offered both an anchorage and Wideawake airfield with its single 10,000ft (3 km) runway.
During the campaign Ascension Island played a key role as the forward mounting base for the Task Force. The first British forces were flown to Ascension by RAF Hercules transport aircraft on 2 April 1982, and within three weeks the establishment on the island had grown to over 800 personnel from all three Services. The RAF presence at Ascension included detachments of RAF VICTOR air-to-air refuelling tankers, VULCAN bombers, NIMROD maritime reconnaissance aircraft, SEA KING search and rescue helicopters, and PHANTOM fighters to assist with island protection. The 'airbridge' established by the RAF HERCULES and VC10 transports between the UK and Ascension formed a vital part of the logistic 'tail' for the Campaign, and the HERCULES also dropped personnel, supplies and mail to the Task Force in the South Atlantic.

On 20 April 1982, the British Government war cabinet ordered the repossession of the Falkland Islands. South Georgia was retaken on the 25 April 1982 and the British Government imposed a 200-mile (322 km) exclusion zone around the Islands on 28 April 1982. Two days later an RAF VULCAN aircraft departed from Ascension Island and on the morning of 1 May 1982 bombed Port Stanley airport. This operation, codenamed Black Buck, involved a record 8,000 mile (12,875 km) round trip from Ascension Island and was only made possible by a major refuelling operation by a fleet of VICTOR tanker aircraft.

Royal Navy SEA HARRIERS shot down the first Argentine aircraft on 1 May 1982 and subsequently several sorties set out to bomb not only Stanley airfield but also the secondary airstrip at Goose Green. On 18 May 1982 the SEA HARRIER squadrons with the Task Force were reinforced by the deployment to HMS HERMES of No 1 Squadron RAF, equipped with HARRIER GR3 aircraft. No 1 Squadron subsequently assumed responsibility for the ground attack role, enabling the SEA HARRIER squadrons to concentrate on the vital task of fleet air defence. In all, SEA HARRIERS flew 1500 sorties and the liberation of the Falkland Islands would not have been possible without them.

On 2 May 1982 the Argentine ship the General Belgrano was sunk by the Royal Navy submarine HMS CONQUEROR, with the loss of 368 Argentine lives. After this Argentine naval surface forces retreated to the safety of Argentinean territorial waters and played no further part in the war. However, Naval aircraft flying from land bases in Argentina continued to carry out air attacks on the Task Force alongside the Argentine Air Force. Two days after the later, HMS SHEFFIELD was hit by an Exocet missile launched by a Super Etendard strike aircraft of the Argentine Navy, with the loss of 20 lives, and later sank.

On the night of the 20/21 May 1982, 3 Commando Brigade, consisting of 40, 42 and 45 Commandos Royal Marines and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment (2 and 3 PARA) and supporting units, landed in San Carlos Water on four beaches. There was little ground opposition, although two light helicopters were shot down. The main battle, now known as the Battle of Falkland Sound, that ensued for the next six days was between the Royal Navy and the Argentine Air Forces. During that time Argentine air attacks against the beachhead and shipping took place whenever weather allowed, several times a day. Almost every Royal Navy escort was damaged, and HMS ARDENT was sunk. Fortunately no logistic ships were lost to enemy action but several were damaged; this was in no small measure due to the extraordinary bravery of the Mine Clearance Divers of the Royal Navy and those Royal Engineers who defused a large number of bombs and so saved the ships.

On 25 May 1982 the destroyer HMS COVENTRY was sunk and 19 of her crew were killed or suffered fatal injuries while trying to protect the beachhead from further air attack. Later that same day the container ship MV ATLANTIC CONVEYOR was struck by an Exocet missile launched by a Super Etendard. The ship was consumed by a raging fire and the ship had to be abandoned, tragically, three of those on board lost their lives and a further nine (including the ship's captain) died whilst awaiting rescue from the sea. Although later taken under tow, the ATLANTIC CONVEYOR broke up and sank on 30 May 1982. All of the equipment aboard the ATLANTIC CONVEYOR was lost, including three RAF Chinook and nine Royal Navy Wessex helicopters. However, two of the helicopters embarked upon ATLANTIC CONVEYOR were airborne at the time that the vessel was hit, and survived; one of these being Chinook Bravo November, a support helicopter which proved invaluable for the movement of troops, casualties and supplies throughout the conflict. (Bravo November is still on active service in 2007, and is currently deployed in Afghanistan).

The move out of the beachhead began on 26 May 1982 with 2 PARA ordered to move South against the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green. The 2 PARA Battalion Group, with naval and artillery support, and close air support from HARRIERS of No 1 Squadron RAF operating from HMS HERMES, met strong Argentine resistance at Goose Green. However, after fierce fighting lasting over 24 hours, the 1200-strong Argentine garrison surrendered on 28 May 1982. The battle had cost the lives of 17 British troops including 2 PARA's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel 'H' Jones who was subsequently awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

On 27 May 1982 the majority of 3 Commando Brigade (42 and 45 Commandos and 3 PARA) headed East towards Port Stanley on foot and by helicopter. While 3 Commando Brigade were moving East to the high ground dominating Port Stanley, the 5th Infantry Brigade landed at San Carlos on 1 June 1982. Because of the shortage of helicopters, the decision was taken to move the brigade forward by a long southern sea route. The weather cleared, allowing Argentine air attacks to resume. The destroyer HMS PLYMOUTH was hit near San Carlos Water while the logistic support ships SIR TRISTRAM and SIR GALAHAD were bombed. Although they had landed most of their stores, elements of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and the Royall Engineers were still onboard and tragically suffered casualties when the ships were bombed at Bluff Cove.

On 11 June 1982, after eleven days of patrolling, the attacks to defeat the Argentine Army defending Port Stanley started with a night assault by 3 Commando Brigade on three key hills: Mount Longdon, Two Sisters and Mount Harriet. By dawn these were taken, the heaviest losses being suffered by 3 PARA on Mount Longdon, where Sergeant Ian Mackay's gallantry earned a posthumous Victoria Cross. 3 PARA then held Mount Longdon for 48 hours under intense and accurate Argentinian artillery fire. All three objectives were formidable and involved a night of close-quarter fighting in rocky, rough terrain against a well dug-in enemy. The attack on Mount Harriet by 42 Commando Royal Marines resulted in the capture of over 400 prisoners for comparatively light British casualties (two dead and 13 wounded). The next day HMS Glamorgan was hit by a land launched Exocet missile with the loss of thirteen lives.

On the night of the 13 June 1982, both 3 Commando Brigade and 5th Infantry Brigade closed in on Port Stanley with attacks by 2 PARA on Wireless Ridge, and by 2nd Battalion Scots Guards on Mount Tumbledown. By the following morning both objectives had been taken. Argentine Army resistance collapsed and their troops streamed back into Port Stanley. 3 Commando Brigade followed up immediately and by early afternoon on 14 June 1982, the whole Brigade was in Stanley. That evening, General Menendez, the Argentine commander in the Falklands, surrendered the forces under his command in the Islands to Major General Jeremy Moore, the British Land Force Commander.

By 20 June 1982 all outlying settlements and other Islands had surrendered but Argentina itself had not. Although the land battle for the Falklands was over, the naval and air forces remained on full alert for many months afterwards.

The rapid military success would have not been possible without the ability of the Royal Navy and its embarked air power, the RFA, the Merchant Navy and the RAF's 'airbridge' to Ascension Island, to sustain the conflict 8,000 miles (12,875 km) from the home base. The high readiness of the Services, which enabled the Task Force to sail in a very short time, and the professionalism of those taking part, which outmatched a largely conscript Argentine force in the Islands, were also significant factors in the success. The conflict lasted 74 days and claimed the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentine servicemen, and 3 civilian Falkland Islanders. Over 700 British Servicemen were wounded. By far the greatest number of fatal casualties, on both sides, occurred at sea. The United Kingdom lost thirty-four aircraft, twenty-two to enemy fire, and the following ships to air attacks: HM Ships SHEFFIELD, ARDENT, ANTELOPE, COVENTRY, the RFA SIR GALAHAD, the MV ATLANTIC CONVEYOR and the landing craft FOXTROT 4. Many useful lessons were learned or relearned from the campaign in the equipment and training fields, and these have proved very valuable in subsequent operational deployments.

The Falklands Islands campaign was one of the first in which media (mostly British) correspondents were 'embedded' aboard ships of the Task Force and with Commandos and battalions ashore. The world's media focused on the MOD's press conferences over the two months, although reporting was generally over the radio, and many despatches were pooled owing to the limited communications available from the Task Force.

Further information can be found under Falklands 25: Offical Information >>>  and Useful Links >>>, and by visiting the Royal Navy website (http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/server/show/nav.5887)

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