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Tuesday 13 February 2024

THE FALKLANDS WAR - THE FULL STORY


The Sunday Times Insight Team produced this paperback in 1982, not long after the end of the war, which was quite an achievement. The writing team consisted of Paul Eddy, Magnus Linklater and Peter Gillman, though they were assisted several reporters and researchers; participants from both sides of the conflict were interviewed.

The book contains black-and-white photographs, diagrams and maps.

On the night of April 1, 1982 the first Argentine troops landed – variously called the Amphibious Commando Company or the Buzo Tactico - two distinct military groups; depends on whose report is true. According to this book the Argentines attacked Moody Brook barracks with indiscriminate bursts of automatic fire, using phosphorus grenades and riddling each room with bullets. Fortunately, the barracks had already been abandoned by the Royal Marines. ‘The Argentine government made much of the claim that its troops had gone to great lengths to ensure that the invasion was bloodless. That was largely the result but what happened at Moody Brook suggests it was not the intention’ (p15).

According to an Argentine officer, they only used tear gas and intended to take prisoners, and only fired their weapons to alert other troops converging on Government House. (The Argentine Fight for the Falklands by Martin Middlebrook (1989)).

Mid-morning on April 2 the Union flag was lowered, to be replaced by the blue and white flag of Argentina.

Chapter 2 covers some of the diplomatic events taking place at the UN building in February. Talks had been going on for about five years or more, with no headway being made. Talk was that if negotiations got nowhere there would be an invasion in July. Also ongoing was a dispute between Argentina and Chile regarding the Beagle Channel.

Chapter 3 relates the history of the Falkland Islands and the assorted occupiers, going back to the 1500s. In 1690 English Captain Strong stepped ashore and named the islands after Lord Falkland, the commissioner of the admiralty. Frenchmen came in his wake... The poet Byron’s grandfather  sailed into a bay off West Falkland in 1765 and established Port Egmont. As it happened the French had set up a settlement on East Falkland in 1764, Port Louis. In 1767 the French sold Port Louis to Spain for £250,000. ‘Spain formally restored Port Egmont to the British – on September 16, 1771’ (p38).

In 1816 the United Provinces of the River Plate split from Spain and Argentina was born. In 1820 an Argentinian frigate took formal possession of the islands. Some argy-bargy ensued over the years, including the razing of Port Louis by the American corvette Lexington, and the establishment of a penal colony whose prisoners promptly murdered the colony’s new governor. At that point the British sloop Clio hove into sight and was mostly welcomed by the Port Louis settlers. The British raised their flag on January 2, 1833 and stayed. Argentina protested for almost 150 years thereafter, ultimately appealing to the UN whose resolution 1514 of 1960 ‘pledged to bring an end everywhere colonialism in all its forms’ (p41). The UN’s 1965 resolution pressed Britain and Argentina ‘to find a quick and peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the UN charter and the interests of the population of the said islands’ (p41).

In January 1982 scrap merchant Constantino Sergio Davidoff visited the British embassy in Buenos Aires to report his intentions: the scrap metal merchant had a contract to dismantle South Georgia’s four old whaling stations (which were closed in the early 1960s); they belonged to the Christian Salvesen shipping firm in Edinburgh. The Argentinians saw an opportunity to bring forward their intended invasion, using the scrap metal issue as both an excuse and a cover.

On March 19 four British Antarctic Survey scientists were on a field trip to Leith from their base in Grytviken (comprising about 30 BAS people).  They spotted the Argentinian naval fleet auxiliary Bahia Buen Suceso anchored in the harbour. Onboard were a contingent of marines, arms, ammunition, radio equipment, field surgical kit and food supplies. The troops were led by a slim, boyish-looking man whose shock of fair hair earned him the nickname ‘el Rubio’: Captain Alfredo Astiz. (p68). Astiz was a particularly nasty character, responsible for torture and death. He landed about 50 men, some in paramilitary uniform, and raised the Argentinian flag. The BAS scientists reported this to the governor at Stanley.

On March 20 HMS Endurance, with a contingent of Royal Marines was directed from Stanley to South Georgia and authorised to use force if necessary. Three days later Endurance was redirected to Grytviken; however, two marines were landed surreptitiously to an observation post on a bluff overlooking Leith harbour and, on March 25, they noted the Bahia Paraiso arrive and disembark many troops and their equipment. They reported by radio to London via a satellite link; but it was kept a closely guarded secret – why?

MI6 had a base in Buenos Aires. ‘Every Wednesday a meeting is held after lunch time, attended by, among others, the naval and military attach├ęs at the British embassy’ (p78). On March 24 their assessment was that something was up – naval exercises with the Uruguayan navy were not plausible, judging by first-hand intelligence from the naval bases. Their opposite numbers in the American embassy concluded that an invasion was due on April 1.

The machinations in the UN make for interesting reading as certain countries take sides. ‘Guyana, worried about the claims on her territory made by neighbouring Venezuela, was on the British side’ (p114). [And this situation is still contentious today!] Interestingly, the Russians abstained – the issue did not affect their interests. America sat on the fence initially, for Argentina supported the fight against Communism that was spreading in Latin America: ‘We’re friends on both sides,’ Reagan announced. (p115). Ultimately, the British ambassador Sir Nicholas Henderson, with the help of General Haig, brought the Americans on-side. ‘On April 30... America would be allying herself publicly with the UK. “Armed aggression of that kind must not be allowed to succeed” said the president’ (p137).

Chapter 12 – ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – relates the travails and recovery of South Georgia and the surrender of the Argentinians based there.

The recapture of Port Stanley signalled the end of the conflict with the surrender of the Argentine forces on June 14.

There are chapters and sections on the air-battles and aircraft, the terrible loss of life, the sinkings, and the bravery on both sides. As a piece of ‘instant reportage’ it is an impressive book. Granted, after all this time, as many more facts (and books) have surfaced some of this account will have been expanded upon and even corrected. Still, it’s a worthwhile read for an overview of the conflict.

It concludes: ‘At least the war has guaranteed one thing for the Falklanders on their remote rocks in the South Atlantic. No one will ever again underestimate the dangers they face’ (p265). [Famous last words?]

 

 

 

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