Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Falklands War
A Note

Map of the Falklands

Sometimes nations go to war over the most trivial matters. Perhaps one of the most telling indications of a war over trivialities is the Falklands war of 1982.

Now to be blunt the Falklands although in some respects scenic and wild with a large population of penguins and birds is not really a place to lay down your life for. Unless of course you live there and with a population of only c. 2800,1 it is hardly heavily settled.

Falklands Sheep and Penguins

The islands are wind swept and in many respects remind one of the Hebrides, where wind and rain prevent the growth of extensive and tall forests. The islands are wet, cold and not the best climate for agriculture although the islands are excellent for sheep raising and has such have extensive herds of sheep totaling c. 500.000.2

There are two main islands called with great creativity East Falklands and West Falklands. East Falklands is the bigger of the two. All together the islands cover an area about the size of Northern Ireland.

Scene -  Falklands

Of course given the wet cold climate, the location, off the southern part of South America and unpleasantly close to the Antarctica peninsula; one would wonder aside from some truly beautiful scenery which can be enjoyed during the brief times the weather isn’t bad why anyone would fight over it.

Well it is all because nations like symbols and the Falklands are a symbol. For the Argentinians they are Las Malvinas an integral part of Argentina stolen from them by greedy, evil colonialists. They also have served in Argentinian politics as a safety valve to distract the public from local concerns.

The history of the dispute over the Falklands is both interminable and in the end rather pointless. After being knocked back and forth the Falklands ended up in British hands for good in 1833.3

Since then the islands have been resolutely British. The Argentinians have repeatedly claimed sovereignty and want to negotiate over the issue. The problem is that the islanders do not want to become part of Argentina. Considering what a basket case economically Argentina became after the Second World War, to say nothing of Argentinian politics marred by coups and terror including the infamous Dirty War of the late 1970’s. It is not a surprise the islanders don’t want to become part of Argentina and view the prospect with horror.4

At times Britain had explored the possibility of turning the islands over to Argentina, which given their remote location seemed too much of a burden to continue carrying. Each time the determined opposition of the islanders scuttled such efforts.5
Falklands - Scene

In 1982 with the economy failing and the junta ruling Argentina running out of ideas to continue justifying its brutal rule; the Junta decided to invade the Falklands. It was a classic example of going to war to create instant popularity. Britain  had shown signs that it was not terribly interested in holding on to the islands and the Junta apparently expected an easy public relations triumph.6

This was not the first time there had been war in the Falklands during the First World War a small German raiding fleet trying to raid the port of Sydney in the Falklands had been intercepted and largely sunk in the Battle of the Falklands on the 8th of December 1914.7

Aside from that episode the islands had despite the occasional sabre rattling from Argentina been conflict free.

To the consternation of the Junta the British reacted to the invasion by sending a task force which forced the Argentinians to capitulate and repossessed the islands since then the British have had a significant military presence on the island to discourage the Argentinians from trying  again.

Going through the military aspects of the Falkland’s war is rather pointless there is lots of material available in print and on the web. So I will make only general comments. The war is an outstanding example of a long distance military operation and it also shows the importance of small scale tactical training of officers and men. The Argentinians were in combat completely outclassed by the British losing repeatedly to much smaller British forces, in such combats as the battle of Goose Green and other affairs. In fact the main problems of the British were logistical which they managed to overcome with great effectiveness.

The Argentinian soldiers were mainly poorly trained conscripts who were place in an untenable position by the Junta. The Junta showed that while it was very “good” at torturing and murdering defenceless, unarmed civilians it was crassly incompetent in dealing with an armed trained adversary. So despite the fact that the British were fighting at the end of an 8,000 mile supply line, and without air superiority and outnumbered they thrashed the Argentinians. On top of all the advantages the Junta had several weeks of occupying the islands before the task force arrived and still blew it.

The only force that gave the British pause was the Argentinian air force, which sadly from the Argentinian point of view had not enough planes that could attack the British at that range. The planes that the Argentinians had on the islands were outclassed by the British. The Argentinian air force was handled with some degree of competence and was able to sink and seriously damage more than 10 British ships, giving the British real headaches. They were also the only force that even more a moment made British failure a possibility. However the British defences were too good and the Argentinians didn’t have enough planes.8

The result was complete defeat for Argentina and virtually no likelihood for the foreseeable future for the Falklands becoming part of Argentina.

That likelihood was further decreased by a recent referendum in which the Falkland islanders voted overwhelmingly to retain the British connection. The vote didn’t get to within even light years of being close. 1649 people were eligible to vote and 1518 people cast their vote. 1513 voted to retain the link with Britain and only 3 voted no. One ballot was spoilt and another one lost.9
For an isolated place with such brutal austere beauty the Falklands have had a bit too much history.
Scene - Falklands
1. Falklands, Wikipedia Here.

2. Geography of the Falklands, Wikipedia Here.

3. Footnote 1.

4. See Nunca Mas, [Never Again], A Report by the Argentina’s National Commission on Disappeared People, Faber and Faber, London, 1986.

5. Footnote 1.

6. See Hastings, Max, Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Book Club Associates, London, 1983, Cordesman, Anthony H., The Lessons of Modern War v. 3, Westview Press, San Francisco, 1990, pp. 238-361, Andersen, Duncan, The Falklands War 1982, Osprey Pub., Oxford, 2002.

7. Battle of the Falklands, Wikipedia Here.

8. See Hastings et al, Cordesman et al, Andersen.

9. Falkland islands referendum: who were the three 'No' votes?, The Telegraph Here.
Pierre Cloutier 

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