Fought in 1982, the Falklands War was the result of the Argentine invasion of the British-owned Falkland Islands. Located in the South Atlantic, Argentina had long claimed these islands as part of its territory. On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces landed in the Falklands, capturing the islands two days later. In response, the British dispatched a naval and amphibious task force to the area. The initial phases of the conflict occurred mainly at sea between elements of the Royal Navy and the Argentine Air Force. On May 21, British troops landed and by June 14 had compelled the Argentine occupiers to surrender.
The Falklands War began on April 2, 1982, when Argentine troops landed in the Falkland Islands. The fighting ended on June 14, following the British liberation of the islands' capital, Port Stanley, and the surrender of Argentine forces in the Falklands. The British declared a formal end to military activity on June 20.
Prelude and Invasion
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. Argentine troops also landed on South Georgia and quickly secured the island.
After organizing diplomatic pressure against Argentina, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered the assembly of a naval task force to retake the islands. After the House of Commons voted to approve Thatcher's actions on April 3, she formed a War Cabinet which first met three days later. Commanded by Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, the task force consisted of several groups, the largest of which was centered on the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. Led by Rear Admiral "Sandy" Woodward, this group contained the Sea Harrier fighters that would provide air cover for the fleet. In mid-April, Fieldhouse began moving south, with a large fleet of tankers and cargo ships to supply the fleet while it operated more than 8,000 miles from home. All told, 127 ships served in the task force including 43 warships, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, and 62 merchant vessels.
As the fleet sailed south to its staging area at Ascension Island, it was shadowed by Boeing 707s from the Argentine Air Force. On April 25, British forces sank the submarine ARA Santa Fe near South Georgia shortly before troops led by Major Guy Sheridan of the Royal Marines liberated the island. Five days later, operations against the Falklands began with the "Black Buck" raids by RAF Vulcan bombers flying from Ascension. These saw the bombers strike the runway at Port Stanley and radar facilities in the area. That same day Harriers attacked various targets, as well as shot down three Argentine aircraft. As the runway at Port Stanley was too short for modern fighters, the Argentine Air Force was forced to fly from the mainland, which placed them at a disadvantage throughout the conflict (Map).
Fighting at Sea
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, including the carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, 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. Having been ordered forward to serve as a radar picket, the destroyer was hit amidships and the resulting explosion severed its high-pressure fire main. After attempts to stop the fire failed, the ship was abandoned. The sinking of Belgrano cost 323 Argentines killed, while the attack on Sheffield resulted in 20 British dead.
Landing at San Carlos Water
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 a Special Air Service (SAS) raid on nearby Pebble Island's airfield. When the landings had finished, approximately 4,000 men, commanded by Brigadier Julian Thompson, 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.
Goose Green, Mount Kent, and Bluff Cove/Fitzroy
Thompson began pushing his men south, planning to secure the western side of the island before moving east to Port Stanley. On May 27/28, 600 men under Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones outfought over 1,000 Argentines around Darwin and Goose Green, ultimately forcing them to surrender. Leading a critical charge, Jones was killed later received the Victoria Cross posthumously. A few days later, British commandos defeated Argentine commandos on Mount Kent. In early June, an additional 5,000 British troops arrived and command shifted to Major General Jeremy Moore. While some of these troops were disembarking at Bluff Cove and Fitzroy, their transports, RFA Sir Tristram and RFA Sir Galahad, were attacked killing 56 (Map).
Fall of Port Stanley
After consolidating his position, Moore began the assault on Port Stanley. British troops launched simultaneous assaults on the high ground surrounding the town on the night of June 11. After heavy fighting, they succeeded in capturing their objectives. 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.
Aftermath and Casualties
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.
The settlement that ended the conflict called for a return to status quo ante bellum. Despite its defeat, Argentina still claims the Falklands and South Georgia. During the war, Britain suffered 258 killed and 777 wounded. In addition, two destroyers, two frigates, and two auxiliary vessels were sunk. For Argentina, the Falklands War cost 649 killed, 1,068 wounded, and 11,313 captured. In addition, the Argentine Navy lost a submarine, a light cruiser, and seventy-five fixed-wing aircraft.