Forty years ago, British victory in the Falklands War led to the fall of Galtieri’s military regime

Falklands or Falklands?

The dispute over the forgotten mountainous archipelago of the Falklands (according to Argentinians Malvinas), where 1,813 settlers tended an incredible 658,000 sheep, located about 480 kilometers off the coast of Argentina, Georgia from the South and South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic, has dragged on for centuries. From the 17th century, the Spaniards, the British, the French and the Argentinians gradually fought for them.

The United Kingdom took control of them in 1833. Argentinian authoritarian leader Juan Manuel de Rosas proposed in the 1930s and 1940s to the “queen of the seas” to buy the islands from his country, but the British never accepted them, for the simple reason that they had the islands under their control.

The Argentines viewed the government of the islands as a matter of national honor. In 1965 the United Nations declared the Falklands to be considered a British colony. The Galtieri government rejoiced in the hope that the rapid occupation of the disputed islands would divert the attention of an increasingly dissatisfied population from deep domestic economic problems, exacerbated by widespread human rights abuses. Argentina’s La Prensa newspaper speculated on a plan that would start with a cut in supplies to the islands and lead to direct military operations after negotiations at the UN failed.

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To hell with a warning!

The steady deterioration of relations between Argentina and Britain led to a one-off step. On March 19, 1982, a group of Argentine scrap dealers, including naval personnel, raised the blue and white Argentine flag on South Georgia Island, after which the British Navy (RN) coastal vessel HMS Endurance left the Falklands capital (Port) Stanley for South Georgia. Fearing a strengthening of the British position in the South Atlantic, the Argentine junta quickly plans an invasion. The Galtieri regime ignored Britain’s warning or harsh American President Ronald Reagan’s April 1 warning that military intervention in the Falklands would disrupt mutual relations between the two American countries, and it paid for it. the price.

The clear choice: a powerful solution

On April 2, 1982, the Argentine special forces managed to occupy the Falklands capital Stanley during the operation under the code “Rosario” without too much resistance and to disarm the local crew, consisting of Royal Marines (RM) under the command of Major Mike Norman. The fact that their troops were to occupy the capital without causing casualties to the British testifies to the fact that the Argentines did not want to push the territorial dispute to the extreme. However, they have been recalculated in the UK response forecast.

Unpredictable Chile

Since the snap elections of 1979, the British government has been led by “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to become British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. There was a concurrence of diplomatic and military steps. The European Economic Community imposed economic sanctions on the aggressor, and the Falklands invasion was also condemned by the UN Security Council, which called on Argentina to withdraw its troops. Argentina’s actions were supported by most South American states, with the exception of rival Chile, which had territorial disputes with it in the Beagle Channel. Disagreements with Chile significantly affected continued military operations, as the Argentines left all elite units on the border with their South American rival due to uncertainty.

To the Falklands!

In addition to diplomatic action, Margaret Thatcher’s government inadvertently made it clear that it was prepared to reclaim the Falklands, even by force. Already on March 29, four days before the Argentine invasion, she sent the submarines HMS Splendid and HMS Spartan to the South Atlantic. The RFA supply ship Fort Austin sailed to support the patrol ship HMS Endurance.

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The British assembled an improvised naval unit under the command of Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. On April 4, the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror sailed into the area, followed three days later by the aircraft carriers HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes, followed by the SS Canberra, carrying the 3rd Commando Brigade, and the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 with the 5th Infantry Regiment. Squad. The whole union numbered 127 ships (47 warships, 22 support and 62 commercial transport). The greatest weakness of these forces was the lack of air support, as the British had only 42 fighters (28 Sea Harriers and 14 Harrier GR.3s), while the Argentines could build about 122 combat aircraft, including 50 fighters and the rest for direct support of ground troops. .

At a meeting of Her Majesty’s Government on 6 April, a War Cabinet was established to oversee the day-to-day conduct of combat operations.

Argentina’s heaviest loss

By mid-April, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had opened an airbase on Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic. On April 25, the British Marine Corps 42 Commando conquered the island of South Georgia. At Falkland, fighting took place between the air forces of the two states and mutual air attacks on enemy ships. On May 2, the British submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Argentinian light cruiser ARA General Belgrano, armed with fifteen 152mm main caliber guns and British Seacat anti-aircraft guided missiles, which – paradoxically – could now pose a dangerous threat to danger to British planes. 323 Argentine sailors were killed, which by some figures was almost half of the Argentine casualties of the Malvinas War (Guerra de las Malvinas/Guerra del Atlántico Sur, as the conflict is called in Argentine literature). The General Belgrano was originally a World War II-era USS Phoenix cruiser.

Argentinian pilots have done

From April 30 to June 12, the British carried out six airstrikes on enemy positions in the Falklands.

On May 4, the Argentine Air Force severely damaged the British destroyer HMS Sheffield, the crew of which left the burning ship. The destroyer sank after four days. The brave Argentine pilots destroyed the frigates HMS Ardent (21 May), HMS Antelope (24 May), the destroyer HMS Coventry and the container ship MV Atlantic Conveyor (25 May), carrying Chinook transport helicopters, construction equipment for the construction of the landing area, runways and tents. From a logistical point of view, the sinking of this ship was a very significant loss.

Landing

On May 21, a 4,000-man British amphibious battle group under Commodore Michael Clapp landed in the San Carlos Bay area of ​​East Falkland. The group was made up of commandos from the Royal Marines and airborne units from the land forces. The Argentines tried to deceive them with low-flying planes. The British penetrate the island and, from May 27 to 28, seize the airport of Goose Green.

On June 1, 5,000 British soldiers from Major General Moore’s 5th Infantry Brigade landed in the Falklands and, in the following days, pushed the enemy back towards the metropolis. The fighting for Stanley lasted from June 11 to 14, when the city fell and the Argentine troops surrendered, including their commander – General Mario Menendez. The surrender ended the Falklands campaign with an outright British victory.

The fall of the dictatorship following a defeat

The lost war so weakened Galtieri’s military rule that the following year the civilian government regained control of Argentina, forcing Galtieri to resign. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the popularity of the “Iron Lady”, who proved to be a tough, capable and energetic politician, peaked. The British could remember with nostalgia the victorious colonial wars, of which the Falklands conflict was a vivid reminder.

However, the war also had unpleasant international consequences. It brought Argentina closer to socialist Cuba, while the attitude of the United States and President Reagan undermined the position of the world superpower as a mediator in the conflicts between European countries and their former colonies. The Latin American population was outraged that the United States had supported Britain, a European power, in its confrontation with the Latin American state. In contrast, during the Cold War, the tough Thatcher-Reagan tandem became a symbol of the West’s intransigence towards the Eastern bloc and its most powerful leader, whom Reagan called “the evil empire”. .

In 2009, the Falklands began the destruction of around 20,000 landmines laid here since the Argentine occupation. Over a hundred specialists, mostly from Zimbabwe, carried out their removal by hand, without the aid of trained rodents. Thirty-eight years after the end of the war, in November 2020, many years of extremely dangerous work are over.

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