The Falklands War: Origin Story, Commanders, Casualties, & Aftermath.
For over two months in the prime temps of 1982, the Falkland Islands, an archipelago in the eastern parts of Southern America, captured the globe’s attention due to a fierce battle fought for its ownership. The conflict came to be known as the Falklands War or the Malvinas War.
The Falklands War was a brief and undeclared war between Great Britain and Argentina over the control of two British overseas territories, the Falkland Islands and its associated dependencies. The war lasted for 74 days, beginning on April 2, 1982, and ending on June 14, 1982. The British were the victors of the war. However, Argentina’s defeat discredited its military administration and paved the way for restoring civilian governance in 1983.
Background & Origins of the Falklands War
Although only a few people in the 18th and 19th centuries could identify the far-flung archipelago of Falkland on a map, great disputes about its ownership lingered for over 100 years. As a result, there is no certainty about who first discovered the Falkland Islands. While many historians attribute the Islands’ discovery to English traveler John Strong, others propose it was Sebald de Weerdt, Estaban Gomez, or John Davis.
Beginning in the early 19th century, Argentina asserted its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which they called Malvina Islas. However, in 1833, the British seized total control of the Islands and expelled all the Argentine occupants within the territory. The following years saw all Argentine claims of the Islands consistently rejected by the British, leading to many minor conflicts and battles.
In 1965, the United Nations urged the United Kingdom and Argentina to resolve their disagreement over the Islands’ sovereignty. As a result, many negotiations took place between the parties in the following decade but unfortunately yielded no peaceful agreement and terms.
In 1982, the Argentine junta under the command of the acting president Lieutenant Leopoldo Galtieri, Admiral Jorge Anaya, and General Basilio Dozo, abandoned the long-lasting negotiations with the British and instead launched an attack to invade the British-controlled Falkland Islands.
Their decision to invade the islands was primarily political. The junta viewed the invasion attack as a means of diverting their people’s attention from frustrating internal problems. Thus, at the time, the Argentine general public criticized the junta for mismanaging the economy and inflicting human rights abuses on the people. However, the junta knew that the Falklands dispute was extremely sensitive for many Argentines, and its recovery would ultimately unite the people under their control.
Admiral Anaya, the architect of the invasion, was confident that it would be a simple task for Argentina to seize the Islands due to the minimal British army presence in the area and the UK’s reluctance to enter a battle that was so far from Britain. In a nutshell, Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands Islands in 1982 originated “The Falklands War.”
Which countries supported Argentina or Britain in the war?
Most Latin American nations sympathized with Argentina during the war, except for Chile. However, the United States gave Great Britain its full assistance, enabling them to use its missiles, communications technology, aviation fuel, and military stocks and intelligence.
The Argentine Invasion of the Falkland Islands
On April 2, 1982, Argentina launched a surprise attack on British territory, invading the Falkland Islands with amphibious commando forces, which landed near the Cape Pembroke region.
Lieutenant Commander Guillermo Sanchez Sabarots led the Argentine commando. The Argentine forces numbering 600 soldiers, faced only between 50 and a 100 British military men in the Falklands. Argentina’s dominant numbers made it simple to overpower the British at the Moody Brook Barracks. They subsequently seized the Government House located at Port Stanley, which ultimately meant the British had lost control of the Islands to the Argentines. It was the first loss of British territory to a foreign nation after World War II. During the invasion, the Argentines followed orders from the junta to inflict no casualties on the British, even if they experienced losses to their units.
By late April 1982, Argentina had allocated over 10,000 soldiers to the Falklands and established total control of the region. The initial successes of the invasion were met with favorable cheers from the Argentine public. Many Argentine citizens gathered in front of the “Plaza de Mayo” (Presidential Palace), demonstrating their support for the military action.
Great Britain’s Response & the War
As a result of the Argentine invasion, Britain’s government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, held a crisis meeting to find a perfect response to the situation. After the emergency meeting, the cabinet approved the formation of a task force to fight the Argentines and reclaim the Falkland Islands. The British House of Commons also backed this decision later.
The task force was assembled hastily and began sailing for the Falklands on April 4, 1982. It comprised 127 ships: 62 commercial/merchant ships, 43 Royal Navy ships, and 22 Royal auxiliary vessels. However, the British had 42 aircraft, while the Argentines had 122 aircraft. Although the British had fewer aircraft, they planned first to secure total air and sea dominance around the islands using their aircraft and navy forces. They then deployed ground troops and created a 200-mile “exclusion zone” around the Falkland Islands, preventing Argentine vessels from sailing near the islands. The Argentine forces sought to counter Britain’s plan by encircling the British Navy, which had gathered in the Northeast parts of the Falklands.
On May 1, 1982, the British successfully conducted the “Black Buck 1” operation on the airstrip at Stanley, preventing Argentina from stationing its air force operations on the islands. The following day, Britain’s famed submarine, “HMS Conqueror,” sank Argentina’s cruiser, “ARA General Belgrano.” The move forced most Argentine fleets to return to the mainland and abandon their counter-move to surround the British Navy. Over 300 Argentine crew members of the “ARA General Belgrano” died when it sank.
The Argentines responded swiftly. On May 4, 1982, their fighter aircraft fired an “AM39 Exocet Cruise” missile at the British Royal Navy vessel, “HMS Sheffield.” The missile exploded the ship and killed over 20 people instantly. In the following weeks, the Argentines attacked various British vessels, hitting them with Exocet bombs and missiles. As a result, the British could not secure total dominance of the island’s sea and air regions as they had planned.
Nevertheless, Britain still proceeded to deploy more soldiers to the Islands. On May 21, 1982, 4,000 British troops of the “3 Commando Brigades” were divided into three sets, “2 Para,” “3 Para,” and “45 Commando.” They were then stationed ashore in the eastern parts of the islands at San Carlos, Green Beach, and Ajax Bay. However, they faced a robust and numerically superior Argentine army. Argentina had stationed 2000 of its soldiers in the eastern part of the Falklands, 1000 in Goose Green, and about 10,000 in the Stanley region.
Although the Argentine forces outnumbered the British troops numerically, the bulk of the Argentine forces were conscripts. This disadvantaged the Argentines compared to the British troops, who were trained professionals.
However, Argentina intensified its offensive against the British Navy. They intended to cut off their supply and assistance, making life as difficult as possible for the British forces in the Falklands. Between May 21 and May 25, 1982, the Japanese sank the following British vessels: HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope, HMS Coventry, MV Atlantic Conveyor, RFA Sir Galahad, RFA Sir Tristram, SS Atlantic Conveyor, vital helicopters, runway-building supplies, and tents. Britain’s ground forces suffered a severe setback when the helicopters were destroyed because they originally planned to transport troops by air because of Argentina’s superior numbers on land.
Between May 27, 1982, and May 28, 1982, Britain’s “2 Para” troops launched an attack at Goose Green, a settlement in the Falklands held by Argentina’s “12th Infantry Regiment. After over 14 hours of serious battle on May 27, 1982, the British pushed the Argentine forces deeper into the lands of Goose Green. In their exhaustion and precarious position, British military commander Chris Keeble decided to act bravely and take his chances.
The British commander then sent a bold request to the Argentines, ordering them to surrender and threatening them with bombs if they continued to fight back. His plan worked. Argentina’s Commander Italo Piaggi agreed to his request and surrendered. As a result, the British took 961 Argentine forces as prisoners. However, Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones, Britain’s commanding officer of the “2 Para,” was killed during this attack.
British soldiers could now exit the “San Carlos” beachhead after the sizable Argentine army at Goose Green was driven out. In addition, on May 27, troops of the “3 Para” and “45 Commando” began a laden march towards Teal Inlet, a coastal community.
By June 1, 1982, an additional 5000 British soldiers had arrived at the Islands, planning to launch an offensive at Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. Leading the offensive was British Major General Jeremy John Moore. They planned to defeat the Argentines at Mount Longdon and Tumbledown, ultimately making them gain Stanley’s control.
Unfortunately, the offensive at Stanley suffered a devastating setback. The Argentines found out that the British used the Royal fleet auxiliary vessels to transport supplies and reinforcement to their troops at night. They then launched airstrikes on opponent vessels, killing 56 British troops. It was Britain’s heaviest loss in a single attack during the Falklands War.
However, Argentina’s commander in the Falklands, General Mario Menéndez, was falsely informed that over 800 British soldiers were killed. As a result, his expectation was that the casualties would cause a morale drop in the British troops and force them to stall their attacks. In addition, he lowered his guard. Unfortunately, to his surprise, the British launched simultaneous attacks at Mount Longdon, Two Sisters, and Mount Harriet between June 11, 1982, and 12, 1982.
Argentina eventually surrendered to Britain.
On June 13, 1982, the outstanding heroism of Britain’s “Scot Guards” helped them to defeat the Argentine forces at Mount Tumbledown. This victory finally gave the British access and control of Stanley. On June 14, after a ceasefire was announced, Margaret Thatcher declared the start of surrender discussions with the Argentines. The next day, June 15, Britain’s Royal Marines and “Paras” moved into Stanley, began disarming the Argentine forces, and moved them to the airport. Additionally, Brigade General Mario Menéndez, the leader of the Argentine force at Stanley, gave himself up to Major General Jeremy Moore that same day.
Aftermath & Casualties
The British lost 255 British service members and three civilians (females). On the other hand, Argentina’s death toll was 650.
The British took 11,400 Argentine people as prisoners during the Falklands war. Although all the prisoners were later released, repatriation took a while. On June 17, 1982, the “SS Canberra” and “MV Norland” ships carried about 6,000 prisoners for repatriation. By June 20, 1982, about 10,250 prisoners had been sent home, leaving about 593 behind in Britain for intelligence purposes. The remaining prisoners also served as hostages for Britain to prevent Argentina from further hostilities. By July 1982, the last batch of Argentine prisoners was sent home.
The Argentine military Junta was overthrown after its surrender and defeat in the Falklands War. Argentina then reinstated civilian rule in 1983. However, in Britain, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher utilized strong nationalist sentiment to lead her Conservative Party to a resounding victory in the 1983 parliamentary election.
Following a conference in Madrid during which the two governments produced a joint statement, diplomatic ties between Britain (United Kingdom) and Argentina were again established in 1989. However, it was clear that neither nation’s view on the Falkland Islands’ sovereignty had changed. Argentina changed its constitution in 1994, which designated the Falkland Islands as a province of the country by law. As of 2022, disputes over the islands’ sovereignty still linger, although they operate as a self-governed United Kingdom Territory.