Argentine government, consisting of a military junta responsible for the
kidnapping and disappearance of tens of thousands of citizens accused of
communism, wobbled to the bad economic results and growing public opposition,
now aware of the serious human rights violations of which the military junta
The junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, aimed to recapture the Falkland Islands, which the Argentinians call the Malvinas, to regain popular support, rekindling the patriotic pride. The archipelago was under British sovereignty. It is located in the southwest of Argentina, 600 km. off Port Gallegos. South Georgia islands and South Sandwich islands, lost in the immensity of the Atlantic 1000 km. west of the Falklands, are also covered under the name Falkland, in addition to the two islands of the same name, separated by a narrow channel.
Argentina, since the establishment of the independent state took place in 1810, claimed sovereignty of the islands, without success until then. The archipelago of the Falkland had been populated by British migrants, mostly from Scotland, already nineteenth century.
In 1982 there was a population of about 2,000 Britons on the Falklands, also there was a small military garrison made up of 68 soldiers and 11 sailors, plus 25 men of the territorial defense. The English naval unity, Civil patrol boat Forrest, was also stationed at the archipelago. The governor of the islands was Rex Hunt at the time. The other islands were uninhabited, with the exception of small military bases.
The intention to take over the Malvinas by the Argentine junta was also encouraged by the ambiguous UK policy, which had partly erased the British citizenship rights of its overseas dependencies. UK had also decommissioned or was about out the commission, for economic reasons, some vessels essential to the defense of its territories far from the motherland.
The generals of the military junta were convinced that military action, intended to occupy the Malvinas, would cause only a diplomatic reaction from the British. The status quo, with the presence of Argentine military on the islands, would become an irreversible situation. The British could have obtained, in the UN and after direct negotiations, recognition and guarantees for the British archipelago residents. In addition, the South Americans were counting on the support of the United States, linked to Argentina by the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, which however was worth only in case of aggression and not in the case that the attackers were the signers of the Treaty.
General Galtieri and the junta did not consider the
special link between the United States and the United Kingdom, the power of the
British diplomatic and military force that same kept despite the out of
commission of some naval units.
31 March 1982 the command of the British armed forces warned the governor of the Falklands, Rex Hunt, that the Argentine attack was imminent. The few soldiers of the island prepared to receive the Argentine attack. They abandoned the barracks and the governor’s palace, taking up positions in some casemates under the command of Major Mike Norman.
On April 1, at 9 pm, the Argentinians landed on the island with 84 men who quickly made their way to the barracks. They realized that it had been abandoned only after intense fire on the building. Then they went to the governor’s palace, where three Her Majesty marines awaited them. There was a violent exchange of fire between the Marines and the Argentine military that they had to stop. Three Argentine military fell in the firefight. The Argentinians had to call for reinforcements from the ship that had landed them, the destroyer Santissima Trinidad.
Only after the three marines were convinced of being surrounded by huge forces, they surrendered to the Argentinians. Meanwhile, other Argentine detachments, with armored vehicles and heavy weapons, landed from the ship Cabo San Antonio. The following morning the remaining British forces, believing the resistance useless, given the large number of enemy forces landed, treated the surrender. The governor was on board of an Argentine airplane that took off from the only airport on the island this. He was transferred to Montevideo in Uruguay, where he was able to return to England.
In the following days the Argentine forces landed on the South Georgia Islands, where the British military detachment gave the invaders a hard time, who were able to occupy the island only after several days of fierce fighting.
Meanwhile the South American military took over the Falklands, consolidating the military presence. They replaced the pre-existing British standards with those of Argentina. They also changed the rules of the road by adopting the right-hand traffic, moving the traffic signs on the right and drawing arrows on the streets to mark the direction of movement to civilians. The residents continued undaunted with English driving at risk of serious accidents between their car and the Argentine military vehicles.
The United Kingdom began its diplomatic counter-offensive towards the UN and towards various friendly countries. The US was caught between two fires: Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and the NATO alliance, besides the special relations that existed between the US President, Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister, the iron lady Margaret Thatcher at that time. Reagan, while he was maintaining an official equidistance between the two contenders, gave substantial support to the United Kingdom. 502 UN resolution was approved which established the withdrawal of the Argentine from disputed islands.
The British proposal to allow the people to decide,
according to the principle of self-determination of peoples, was rejected by
the Argentine junta. The first British minister Margaret Thatcher summoned the
commander of the Royal Army, the Chief of Naval Staff admiral Sir Henry Leach,
asking if the British Navy was able to retake the islands. The answer of the
First Sea Lord was: “Yes, we can. Or rather we must”. Thus the
“Corporate” operation was born.
British forces put in motion consisted of units of the Royal Navy. Consisted of two aircraft carriers, the Invincible and Hermes, both with Sea Harrier fighter bombers and helicopters Sea King, 8 destroyers, 13 frigates, 8 landing ships, 6 submarines of which 5 nuclear, 10 tankers, 6 refueling and support ships. The team was complemented by various civilian ships requisitioned for the occasion, among which stood out the ocean liners Canberra and Queen Elisabeth 2. Another aircraft carrier, the Illustrious, came in service by participating in the operation and making the minimum training during the Falkland approach. Aircraft Harrier GR2 were also provided, shipment already in progress. The Air Force used the bombers Avro Vulcan (who were based in the island of Ascension). Detachments of Royal Marines and paratroopers were embarked on the ship. The commander of the expedition was Sir John Fieldhouse, which operated from London.
The English fleet was really impressive, superior in number and as qualities of the Argentine naval forces. The Argentine fleet consisted of the aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo, the Belgrano cruiser, four destroyers, one submarine, Marine infantry and Army infantry. Argentina still could rely on the Air Force which were equipped with modern aircraft SuperEnterad, Pucara and Aermacchi, in addition to C-130 troop and material transport. In addition, the Argentine military enjoyed the advantage of operating virtually in their home, with all the logistical support at hand.
The mission “Commodore” became operational on April 19 when the first British naval vessel, the submarine Conqueror, arrived in Falklands sea.
It was immediately decided to recapture South Georgia being much easier, given the few Argentine forces that had occupied the island, but whose the reconquest would cheered the troops up. April 21 detachments of Marines and SAS landed on the island with the support of two frigates and two destroyers, an ice pick and a nuclear submarine. An Argentine submarine, the Santa Fe, which was identified in the area of attack, was hit by depth charges and severely damaged. It went to silt up on the island’s coasts so it did not sink. The crew was able to land on the island joining their comrades on the land. The Argentine garrison was made the subject of an intense fire, assisted by the guns of the naval units. After just they surrendered. The command of the Royal Navy sent the following message to London: “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the Union Jack flies in South Georgia. God save the Queen”.
On 26 April, an Argentine naval squadron moved to
the English fleet from the port of Ushuaia. The fleet was formed from the
cruiser Belgrano and two destroyers. The aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo
had to join the other units from the north. The carrier had a fault catapults
remaining without the ability to launch its aircraft. The expedition was
canceled and the Belgrano reversed course. On May 2 the British nuclear submarine
Conqueror spotted the Belgrano. It asked permission to attack in London.
Margaret Thatcher personally authorized the attack. The Belgrano was hit by two
torpedoes and sank. It counted 323 dead, 770 Argentine sailors were collected
and saved by the rescue ships arrived.
Argentina’s revenge was not long. Two days after two planes SuperEnterad, armed each of an Exocet missile crossed a naval group formed by British destroyers Glasgow, Sheffield and other vessels. The two planes launched their missiles on two ships. The frigate Yarmouth succeeded with a maneuver to avoid the missile, instead Sheffield was hit and sank. They counted 20 dead and 24 wounded.
In a subsequent Argentine aviation attack the Glasgow was hit by a bomb that went through from side to side without bursting. It boarded a lot of water but it did not sink because the watertight bulkheads were all closed cautiously. The Glasgow was operating a few more days until its replacement arrived from England.
An operation was planned to destroy the base of SuperEnterad on the mainland, in Rio Grande, and to stop the Argentine air attacks. Two C-130 Hercules aircraft, carrying 64 SAS men, were due to touch down in disguise on the runway of the base in Rio Grande. This group had to be supported by 24 other commandos of the Navy who would be transported off the beach in front of the air base with a submarine and transferred to the mainland with inflatable boats Zodiac type. In the Argentine base four battalions were deployed of infantry of the Argentine Navy. The mission did not take place because of an incident with a British Sea King helicopter reconnaissance, lying on Argentine territory, it had to divert due to bad weather condition, where it landed on Chilean soil. The case sparked the Argentine protests internationally to the presence in the Argentinean skies of British helicopter. It was not considered appropriate to proceed with the operation in Rio Grande, which would have been lived, also internationally, as a real invasion of Argentine territory at this point.
Argentinians also had prepared an attack plane in Europe against the British. The Argentine armed forces were preparing a raid in Gibraltar. The operation was annulled to the firm opposition of Spain. It threatened military retaliation against air or naval units which had participated in the operation that would take place virtually on Spanish soil.
In addition to the skirmishes of war between the Royal Navy and the Argentine forces, the English navy was continuing the preparation of its landing men on the Falklands.
In this regard, the three British aircraft carriers
launched continuous bombing missions against the Argentine military posts on
the island. Even basic bombers on the island of Ascension collaborated with
repeated bombings. The runway of airport at Port Stanley, the capital, was hit
and seriously damaged.
On 21 May there was the landing of the British on the Falkland Islands. A first group of 4,000 men formed by paratroopers and marines landed in the San Carlos Bay, in the north of East Falkland, about seventy kilometers west of the capital Port Stanley. The area was subjected to an intense bombardment by the Argentine forces. Two frigates, a destroyer and an English mother ship were sunk. Almost all Chinhook helicopters to the landing were lost together with the support ship.
On 26 May, another 500 men were landed on the narrow isthmus connecting the two parts of the island east, preventing the transfer of enemy forces from two sides of the island. The Argentine base of Goose Green was allocated on the other side of the isthmus, with a beaten ground runway from which the aircraft Pucara and attack helicopters took off. The British military forces attacked the base defended by 1,050 Argentinians. It took two days because the Argentine commander Italo Piaggi declared surrender.
The Marines and parachutist detachments began approaching in Port Stanley, while other men of the British forces landed on the island. They had only one helicopter available to transport troops. Slowly they proceeded toward the objective having repeated clashes with the Argentine detachments, with casualties on both sides. The British were informed by a British national that the Argentine military had abandoned the town of Bluff Cove, a short distance from Port Stanley, with a simple phone call from a public phone. Immediately some detachments, transported by the only still operational helicopter, took possession of the town where a bridgehead for the final conquest of the capital was prepared.
On June 13, the British occupied all strategic points around Port Stanley. The siege of the capital lasted four days, during which the Argentine military were completely blocked in their defensive positions because of the English fire on every moving target. On the evening of June 14, the British commander met with the commander of the Argentine forces barricaded in Port Stanley. The Argentinians surrendered and 8,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. Imprisonment only formal because, soon after, the transatlantic Canberra repatriated all the Argentine military. On June 14, 1982 the British had taken over possession of the Falkland Islands. June 20 also the Argentine base on the Southern Sandwich Islands surrendered.
The war was finished. The human losses were enormous: 649 Argentinians, including 16 civilians, and 258 British, including 9 civilians. Material losses were huge: 8 naval units and 62 aircraft for the Argentinians, seven ships and 10 aircraft for the British.
After the war, the citizens of the Falklands have regained the full British citizenship together with the citizens of Gibraltar. Military forces were deployed in numbers much greater than those present before the conflict on the island.
In 1983 the Argentine military junta resigned because the humiliating defeat and the growing popular protests. It was replaced by an elected government with free elections.
The United Kingdom demonstrated its ability to intervene militarily on a massive scale throughout the world to defend the nation’s vital interests, with the victory in the Falklands war.
(Image at the top: Isole Falkland NASA Shuttle Topography Mission)