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20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Tue Apr 02, 2002 10:39 pm

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, triggering the Falklands War.

It seems hard to believe that it was so long ago. I have very clear memories of that time - disbelief that Britain was at war, especially after the General Belgrano was sunk, and then when HMS Sheffield was destroyed. Pride in the professionalism and sheer ability of the British forces in achieving something that many people around the world said was impossible. Admiration of the incredible bravery of the Argentine air force pilots.

Above all a sadness at the loss of life on both sides.

As it recedes into history, the argument that it was a necessary war, in the sense of the "decadent" west standing up to aggression becomes ever stronger, particularly as the documents and reminiscenses from the Kremlin reinforce the strong interest the Soviets took in both the performance and determination of a key NATO member.

It shouldn't have ever happened. The Thatcher government was at least partly to blame for encouraging the Junta in Buenos Aires that a landing would not be opposed. It also wrecked the probability that the islands would have been handed over to Argentina at some point.

Democracy in Argentina came about as a direct consequence of losing the war, and it could be argued that defeat was the best thing that could have happened to them. Certainly, a victorious Galtieri would have continued with the repression that had already started, and it would probably have intensified.

As for Britain, you can probably define the war as the point when Britain stopped retreating. The time when the country rediscovered a purpose in fighting a war that appeared out of the colonial past.

But above all, 655 Argentine and 238 British servicemen lost their lives. And that was the true tragedy.
She's as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot.
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RE: 20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Wed Apr 03, 2002 1:30 am

A truly surreal time.
Who would have thought it would lead to war?
The Argentines certainly thought that the US would prevent the UK from taking action, as happened in Suez in 1956.
The British goverment were indeed cupable, the previous year they published a defence review that sent all the wrong signals. Early retirement of the carrier HMS Hermes, the brand new carrier HMS Invicible sold to Australia, retirement of the two assault ships HMS Fearless and Intrepid.
The RN was to be turned from a mainly NATO anti-submarine force, but still with a power-protection capability, to a totally NATO force with only a bit more submarine capability, plus the hugely costly Trident nuclear weapons system.
Worse still, the South Atlantic patrol ship HMS Endurance was to be scrapped, it was only a converted merchant ship, doing mostly survey work, but again the wrong signal was sent.
If Argentina has waited just another year, the UK could not have responded.
These planned cutbacks were mostly reversed after the war.
Also the American Ambassador to the UN then was Jeanne Kirkpatrick, an Anglophobe always attacking the UK for Northern Ireland, but very friendly to some very brutal S.American military Junta's, including Argentina.
But US Defence Secretary Cap. Weinburger steered the Reagan administration into supporting the UK. Providing satellite recce and about 100 AIM-9L Sidewinder air to air missiles from US stocks. The Sea Harriers already had the older AIM-9G/H models, like the rest of the UK airforces, they were waiting on AIM-9L's from a European licensed production line.
The AIM-9L, like all Sidewinders was a heat-seeker, but it could still lock-on when in front of the target aircraft, as well as being more agile and reliable. It gave the Sea Harriers that vital extra edge.
Even so, the lack of airborne early warning for the fleet, a limited number of Sea and RAF Harriers on just two carriers made the operation a very risky affair.
The Navy's missile defences were designed to stop big Soviet long-range anti-ship missiles and their bombers, not get into a war of attrition with a nearby land based airforce.
The Sea Harriers and ship to air missiles took a heavy toll of Argentine aircraft, their pilots were very brave, and sometimes very effective.
But the failure to hit a carrier, or the big troopships during the British landings, sealed the Argentine garrison's fate.
The Belgrano sinking was controversial, but it was not a political descision. The Task Force Commander, Sandy Woodward was an submariner, if he had a major enemy ship being tracked by one of his subs, he wasn't going to let it go. He had to ask London twice for the order to fire.
Probably the most serious loss was the sinking of the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor by an Exocet missile, it went down with three Chinook helicopters, a fourth was luckily airborne at the time.
This meant the British troops had to march 50 miles from the landing area, each with about 120 pounds of equipment, in rotten weather, then fight against a well dug in enemy, often being outnumbered.
When they managed that, maybe then the Argentine commanders on the Islands knew the game was up.
Much of the fighting was bloody and hand to hand.
20 years on, the Falklands have a bigger civillan population, a much better economy, young islanders leave to study, but unlike in the past, most come back.
The UK military presence is much scaled down now, some troops, air defence missiles, 4 Tornado F.3 fighters, an RN Frigate or Destroyer.
It can be reinforced quickly now, but few think that democratic Argentina would use force again.
For all of Thatcher's political gains, it's worth remembering that in 1977 Argentina made similar threats, but the goverment of the day, who Maggie often accused of neglecting defence, sent a couple of ships and most pointedly, a nuclear submarine down south. The Junta backed off that time.
I don't buy it that the 'Falkland's Factor' won the Tories the 1983 election, it helped them get a landslide sure, but then Labour was an increasingly anti-EU, anti-NATO, CND supporting, far left shambles, lead by the eccentric, ineffectual Michael Foot.
Maggie still would have won without the Falklands.

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RE: 20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Wed Apr 03, 2002 2:28 am

This is an informative site, with lots of info about this tragic conflict, and much else besides;
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RE: 20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Wed Apr 03, 2002 4:23 am

There were lots of events that took place, good and bad, and on both sides. I think that there was never any doubt (in the UK) that we wouldn't regain the Falklands especially as the Argentinians were considered as just a disorganised rabble and the Brits a highly trained and equipped force. That point of view was to prove costly as even though most of the army were poorly equipped conscripts, there were lots of professionals too. This point needs to be remembered in today's conflicts otherwise more people will get killed. They may be a bunch of 'rag heads' but it doesn't mean they can't kill you.

Anyway, back to aviation. One of the most impressive feats of the conflict for me was the bombing of Port Stanley airfield by a Vulcan bomber. The logistics involved in getting it there and back - tankers refuelling tankers refuelling tankers etc was no mean achievement. The damage that it caused was pretty minor, but the psycological damage was immence and I'm sure it played a lot in undermining any resistance.

The Vulcan was always an impressive aircraft to watch too and if you ever saw one at an airshow I bet it always stands out as one of the most memorable events.
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RE: 20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Wed Apr 03, 2002 8:09 am

As an ocean liner fan, I always found it kinda cool that the QE2, used as a troopship in a combat zone, could, to paraphrase the late Queen Mum, "look her older sisters in the eye".

Now I'm trying to remember...did the QE2 perform in her standard transAtlantic Cunard colors or did she get a low-vis paint job?
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RE: 20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Wed Apr 03, 2002 9:06 am

Great website GDB. Very informative, I'm glad you posted it here.
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RE: 20th Anniversary - Falklands War

Wed Apr 03, 2002 10:11 pm

On the issue of the sinking of the Belgrano (interestingly, that ship was the only one to escape Pearl Harbor unscathed thirty years before, as the USS Pheonix - there is a certain irony in it eventually being sunk by the British) as a military decision there was no choice. The direction it was facing was irrelevant. The Argentine navy had clearly mounted an attempt to launch a pincer movement against the task force using the Belgrano and the aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo. Had the Belgrano got close enough to take pot shots at the carriers the war could have been over in minutes. The British fleet were extremely vulnerable. As it was, the Argentine Navy returned to port after the sinking and never came out again.

It is interesting that the senior Argentine naval officials after the war said they had no problems with the British taking that military decision - they would have done the same.

As for the Americans, whilst it was some time before they finally came down on the British side (ultimately they had no choice,it was likely Britain would have left NATO had they not done so) when they did they even extended an offer of an aircraft carrier to support the British fleet, much to the asstonishment of the British, who naturally declined.

It should also be noted that countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada took over the Royal Navy's peacetime obligations for the period of the war, freeing RN units to go down south.

Heavymetal, I believe all the merchant ships were repainted to some degree, although none were fully camouflaged. The "Great White Whale" (Canberra) and the "Black Pig" (QE2) were always vulnerable, especially in San Carlos Water for the landings.

The lack of minesweepers (all in UK waters) made clearing the channel somewhat problematic. One ship was ordered to zig zag down the Choiseul Sound. If there were any mines, it would hit one, if there weren't, it wouldn't. As Adml Woodward pointed out, if the area had been mined, the ship's captain would probably have won a posthumous VC.  Wow!

I would strongly recommend the book "One Hundred Days" by Admiral Woodward for a better insight into the war.

The presence of assault ships was also crucial. It meant that of all the world powers, only Britain, the US and the then USSR could have mounted this operation. THAT is how remarkable this war was.
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