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1982 - Falklands War

Falklands War - after Argentinian forces invaded the disputed territory in South Atlantic, Britain responded by dispatching a naval force, and after 10 weeks of combat compelled the Argentine occupiers to surrender

In early 1982, President Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of Argentina's ruling military junta, authorized the invasion of the British Falkland Islands. The operation was designed to draw attention away from human rights and economic issues at home by bolstering national pride and giving teeth to the nation's long-held claim on the islands. After an incident between British and Argentine forces on nearby South Georgia Island, Argentine forces landed in the Falklands on April 2. The small garrison of Royal Marines resisted, however by April 4 the Argentines had captured the capital at Port Stanley. 

After organizing diplomatic pressure against Argentina, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered the assembly of a naval task force to retake the islands. In mid-April, a large fleet began making it's way south. All told, 127 ships served in the task force including 43 warships, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, and 62 merchant vessels.

While cruising west of the Falklands on May 2, the submarine HMS Conqueror spotted the light cruiser ARA General Belgrano. Conqueror fired three torpedoes, hitting the World War II-vintage Belgrano twice and sinking it. This attack led to the Argentine fleet remaining in port for the rest of the war. Two days later, they had their revenge when an Exocet anti-ship missile, launched from an Argentine Super Étendard fighter, struck HMS Sheffield setting it ablaze. The sinking of Belgrano cost 323 Argentines killed, while the attack on Sheffield resulted in 20 British dead.

On the night of May 21, the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp moved into Falkland Sound and began landing British forces at San Carlos Water on the northwest coast of East Falkland. The landings had been preceded by an SAS raid on nearby Pebble Island's airfield. When the landings had finished, approximately 4,000 men had been put ashore.


Over the next week, the ships supporting the landings were hit hard by low-flying Argentine aircraft. The sound was soon dubbed "Bomb Alley" as HMS Ardent (May 22), HMS Antelope (May 24), and HMS Coventry (May 25) all sustained hits and were sunk, as was MV Atlantic Conveyor (May 25) with a cargo of helicopters and supplies.

The British began pushing south, planning to secure the western side of the island before moving east to Port Stanley. On May 27/28, 600 men outfought over 1,000 Argentines around Darwin and Goose Green, ultimately forcing them to surrender. A few days later, British commandos defeated Argentine commandos on Mount Kent.

After consolidating their position, the British began the assault on Port Stanley. After heavy fighting, they succeeded in capturing their objectives on 11th June. The attacks continued two nights later, and British units took the town's last natural lines of defense at Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown. Encircled on land and blockaded at sea, the Argentine commander, General Mario Menéndez, realized his situation was hopeless and surrendered his 9,800 men on June 14, effectively ending the conflict.

In Argentina, the defeat led to the removal of Galtieri three days after the fall of Port Stanley. His downfall spelled the end for the military junta that had been ruling the country and paved the way for the restoration of democracy. For Britain, the victory provided a much-needed boost to its national confidence, reaffirmed its international position, and assured victory for the Thatcher Government in the 1983 elections.


Further Reading


The Atlantic - 30 Years Since the Falklands War

The IndependentA Look Back at the Falklands War in Pictures

New Statesman - The Falklands War Revisited

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