|Atlantic Conveyor hit by 2 Exocet missiles 25 May 1982 during Falklands War. (Photo credit: Scouse Hobbit)|
The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas or Guerra del Atlántico Sur), also known as the Falklands Conflict or Falklands Crisis, was a 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The conflict resulted from the long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which lie in the South Atlantic, east of Argentina.
The Falklands War began on Friday 2 April 1982, when Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault. The resulting conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, which returned the islands to British control. During the conflict, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and 3 Falkland Islanders died.
The conflict was the result of a protracted historical confrontation regarding the sovereignty of the islands. Argentina has asserted that theFalkland Islands have been Argentinian territory since the 19th century and, as of 2013, shows no sign of relinquishing the claim.The claim was added to the Argentine constitution after its reformation in 1994. As such, the Argentine government characterised their initial invasion as the re-occupation of their own territory, whilst the British government saw it as an invasion of a British dependent territory. However, neither state officially declared war and hostilities were almost exclusively limited to the territories under dispute and the local area of the South Atlantic.
The conflict had a strong impact in both countries. Patriotic sentiment ran high in Argentina, but the outcome prompted large protests against the ruling military government, which hastened its downfall. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s government was bolstered by the successful outcome. The war has played an important role in the culture of both countries, and has been the subject of several books, scholarly articles, films, and songs. Over time, the cultural and political weight of the conflict has had less effect on the British public than on that of Argentina, where the war is still a topic of discussion.
Relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina were restored in 1989 following a meeting in Madrid, at which the two Governments issued a joint statement which explicitly did not change either side’s position on sovereignty.
Position of third party countries
On the evening of the 3 April, Britain’s United Nations ambassador Sir Anthony Parsons put a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution, which condemned the hostilities and demanded immediate Argentine withdrawal from the Islands, was adopted by the council the following day as United Nations Security Council Resolution 502, which passed with ten votes in support, one against (Panama) and four abstentions (China, the Soviet Union, Poland and Spain). The UK received further political support from the Commonwealth of Nationsand the European Economic Community. The EEC also provided economic support by imposing economic sanctions on Argentina. Argentina itself was politically backed by a majority of countries in Latin America and the Non-Aligned Movement.
The war was an unexpected event in a world strained by the Cold War and the North–South divide. The response of some countries was the effort to mediate the crisis and later as the war began, the support (or criticism) based in terms of anti-colonialism, political solidarity, historical relationships or realpolitik. In other cases it was only verbal support.
The United States was concerned by the prospect of Argentina turning to the Soviet Union for support, and initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. However, when Argentina refused the U.S. peace overtures, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both Houses of the U.S. Congress passed resolutions supporting the U.S. action siding with the United Kingdom.
The U.S. provided the United Kingdom with military equipment ranging from submarine detectors to the latest missiles. President Ronald Reagan approved the Royal Navy’s request to borrow the Sea Harrier-capable amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) if the British lost an aircraft carrier. The United States Navy developed a plan to help the British man the ship with American military contractors, likely retired sailors with knowledge of the Iwo Jima‘s systems. France provided dissimilar aircraft training so Harrier pilots could train against the French aircraft used by Argentina. French and British intelligence also worked to prevent Argentina from obtaining more Exocet missiles on the international market, while at the same time Peru attempted to purchase 12 missiles for Argentina, in a failed secret operation. Chile gave support to Britain in the form of Intelligence about Argentine military and early warning radar.
While France overtly backed the United Kingdom, a French technical team remained in Argentina throughout the war. French government sources have said the French team was engaged in intelligence-gathering; however, it simultaneously provided direct material support to the Argentines, identifying and fixing faults in Exocet missile launchers. According to the book Operation Israel, advisors from Israel Aerospace Industries were already in Argentina and continued their work during the conflict. The book also claims that Israel sold weapons and drop tanks in a secret operation in Peru. Peru also openly sent “Mirages, pilots and missiles” to Argentina during the war. Peru had earlier transferred ten Hercules transport planes to Argentina soon after the British Task Force had set sail in April 1982. Through Libya, under Muammar Gaddafi, Argentina received 20 launchers and 60 SA-7 missiles, as well as machine guns, mortars and mines, all in all, the load of four trips of two Boeing 707 of the AAF, refuelled in Recife with the knowledge and consent of the Brazilian government. Some of these clandestine logistics operations were mounted by the Soviet Union.
Landing at San Carlos—Bomb Alley
During the night on 21 May the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp (Commodore, Amphibious Warfare – COMAW) mounted Operation Sutton, the amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water,[notes 2] on the northwestern coast of East Falkland facing onto Falkland Sound. The bay, known as Bomb Alley by British forces, was the scene of repeated air attacks by low-flying Argentine jets.
The 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade were put ashore as follows: 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para) from the RORO ferry Norland and 40 Commando Royal Marines from the amphibious ship HMS Fearless were landed at San Carlos (Blue Beach), 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 Para) from the amphibious ship HMS Intrepid were landed at Port San Carlos(Green Beach) and 45 Commando from RFA Stromness were landed at Ajax Bay (Red Beach). Notably the waves of 8 LCUs and 8 LCVPs were led by Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who had commanded the Falklands detachment only a year previously. 42 Commando on the ocean liner SS Canberra was a tactical reserve. Units from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers etc. and armoured reconnaissance vehicles were also put ashore with the landing craft, the Round table class LSL and mexeflote barges. Rapier missile launchers were carried as underslung loads of Sea Kings for rapid deployment.
By dawn the next day they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations. From there Brigadier Julian Thompson‘s plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Greenbefore turning towards Port Stanley. Now, with the British troops on the ground, the Argentine Air Force began the night bombing campaign against them using Canberra bomber planes until the last day of the war (14 June).
Recapture of South Sandwich Islands
On 20 June the British retook the South Sandwich Islands, (which involved accepting the surrender of the Southern Thule Garrison at the Corbeta Uruguay base) and declared hostilities to be over. Argentina had established Corbeta Uruguay in 1976, but prior to 1982 the United Kingdom had contested the existence of the Argentine base only through diplomatic channels.