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Britain needed the Falklands War It was ruthless, romantic and fervently populist

The Empire Strikes Back (Sahm Doherty/Getty Images)


March 31, 2022   7 mins

On the morning of Monday, 5 April 1982, the aircraft carrier Invincible slipped its moorings and eased into Portsmouth Harbour, bound for the South Atlantic. It was barely ten o’clock, yet the shoreline was packed with tens of thousands of flag-waving onlookers, singing and cheering for all they were worth, many of them in tears. From every building in sight flew the Union Jack, while well-wishers brandished dozens of homemade banners: “God Bless, Britannia Rules”, “Don’t Cry for Us, Argentina”. In the harbour, a flotilla of little boats, crammed with spectators, bobbed with patriotic enthusiasm. And as the band played and the ship’s horn sounded, red flares burst into the sky.

It is 40 years now since the outbreak of the Falklands War, one of the strangest, most colourful and most popular conflicts in British military history. Today this ten-week campaign to free the South Atlantic islands from Argentine occupation seems like a moment from a vanished age. But that was how it felt at the time, too: a scene from history, a colossal costume drama, a self-conscious re-enactment of triumphs past.

On the day the Invincible sailed, Margaret Thatcher quoted Queen Victoria: “Failure? The possibilities do not exist.” In the Sun, executives put up Winston Churchill’s portrait. And as the travel writer Jonathan Raban watched the departure of the Task Force on television, he thought it was like a historical pageant, complete with “pipe bands, bunting, flags, kisses, tears, waved handkerchiefs”. He regarded the whole exercise with deep derision, until the picture blurred and he realised that, despite himself, he was crying.

For many people the Falklands War was only too real. There were serious issues and genuine lives at stake, not just for the 1,813 islanders who had woken to find military vehicles roaring down their little streets, but for the tens of thousands of Argentine conscripts and British servicemen who were soon to be plunged into the nightmare of combat. And although polls suggest that about eight out of ten Britons strongly supported it, there were always those who considered it a mistake, a tragedy, even a crime. A certain Jeremy Corbyn thought it a “Tory plot to keep their money-making friends in business”. The novelist Margaret Drabble considered it a “frenzied outburst of dying power”. A far better writer, Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges, famously called it “two bald men arguing over a comb”. That seems an odd analogy, though, for almost 2,000 blameless sheep farmers, who had no desire to be ruled by a junta that threw dissenters out of helicopters.

One common view of the Falklands campaign is that it was Britain’s last colonial war. But this strikes me as very unpersuasive. When we think of colonial wars, we think of wars of conquest by white men in pith helmets against brown-skinned underdogs. We think of embattled imperialists struggling to stave off a nationalist uprising, or fighting in defence of white settlers against a native majority. But the Falklands War was none of those things. There was no oppressed indigenous majority — except perhaps for the islanders themselves, some of whom had been there since the 1830s. As for the Argentines, their Spanish and Italian surnames were a dead giveaway. Indeed, few countries in the Americas had done a more thorough job of eliminating their original inhabitants.

What of the British? For all the “Empire Strikes Back” headlines, they had actually spent the last decade trying to give the islands away. Less than 18 months before the invasion, Mrs Thatcher had sent the chain-smoking Nicholas Ridley to urge the islanders to accept a sovereignty deal with Buenos Aires. His words have a blackly ironic ring today. “Do you want the Argentinians invading you and us kicking them out in a state of perpetual war?
 I mean, it’s all very well sitting here saying someone else must come and kick the Argentinians out. Of course we will, but is that good for sheep farming, for fishing, for looking for oil, for all your futures, for your children, and your grand­children and your great­-grand­children?”

On paper, much of what he said was perfectly true. Not unsurprisingly, however, it went down like a lead balloon. When Ridley flew home, the islanders saw him off with a loudspeaker playing Land of Hope and Glory, This Land Is Our Land and We Shall Not Be Moved. He didn’t come back.

Not a war of decolonisation, then. And still less a Victorian war of conquest. Yet there’s no denying that this was a war with a sense of history. On the morning the Task Force sailed, the Daily Mail interviewed a veteran of the First World War, Tommy Mallen, for whom it had been a day of catharsis. “I thought England was done for, spineless, a doormat for the world,” he said. “I’d pass the war memorials or see Nelson’s Victory and wonder what it had all been for. But I was wrong, thank God. We are still a proud country, and we’ll still protect our own.”

The fleet’s commander, Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward, said much the same. Two months later, bursting with pride after the successful landing at San Carlos, he too looked back to the age of Nelson. “What difference,” he wondered, “between Ardent, crippled and burning, still fighting and Sir Richard Grenville’s Revenge all those centuries ago? Or between this and that October day off Cape Trafalgar as Nelson and Hardy walked the quarter deck of the Victory shortly after noon?”

The references to Nelson, the most romantic of all British patriotic heroes, were no accident. From start to finish there was something oddly 18th-century about the Falklands campaign, not least the fact that so much of it involved the high seas. One of its many ironies was that until the Argentines invaded, the Thatcher government had been planning to slash the Royal Navy to the bone. But the spectacle of the Task Force ploughing through the Atlantic was perfectly calculated to stir the hearts of a seafaring people who had grown up with tales of Drake and Nelson. And from the moment the fleet left, press and public alike relished the connections with Britain’s maritime history. In that respect, the news editor of the Sun, who took to wearing a naval cap and demanded that his subordinates address him as Commander, spoke for millions.

Today much of the Sun’s coverage would have sensitive readers running for the hills. The “GOTCHA” headline, glorying in the sinking of the General Belgrano, was merely the most infamous example in a long series: the repeated admonitions to “STICK IT UP YOUR JUNTA”, the paper’s “Argy-­Bargie” joke column, even its operation to airlift 50 gigantic posters of Page Three girls to the RAF base at Ascension Island.

Yet none of this would have seemed shocking to newspaper readers in 18th-century London. Britain fought at least seven major campaigns against the Spanish Empire in the course of the 18th century, from the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of Jenkins’s Ear to the Seven Years’ War and the struggle against Napoleon, and the press coverage back then was much the same. On one side, the jolly, earthy, open-hearted Jack Tars, the defenders of individual liberty and plain-speaking Protestantism. On the other, the inheritors of Spain’s Black Legend: flamboyant, superstitious and unspeakably cruel. “A jumped-­up junta of barbarous men,” roared one Tory backbencher. “The very thought that our people, 1,800 people of British blood and bone, could be left in the hands of such criminals is enough to make any normal Englishman’s blood boil,” thundered another.

He was speaking in the spring of 1982, but he could so easily have been talking two centuries earlier. Indeed, it’s striking how often MPs reached for parallels, not just with the Second World War, but with the campaigns against the Spanish, the French and other similarly sallow and superstitious foreigners. “Let us hear no more about logistics — how difficult it is to travel long distances,” declared the Tory backbencher Edward du Cann. “I do not remember the Duke of Wellington whining about Torres Vedras. We have nothing to lose now except our honour!”

History never repeats itself, of course. But when you start noticing the Georgian resonances, it’s hard to stop. A few months after the Task Force returned in triumph, the social commentator Peter York claimed that the single most powerful “piece of everyday symbolism” in the country was the mock-Georgian front door, “strong and safe and solid
 a revisionist burst of bourgeois individualism”. The members of Visage, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, with their whitened faces, billowing pantaloons and over-elaborate eye make-up, would have made superb extras in a stage revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. So too would the greatest sporting icon of the age, whom you can easily imagine roaring out “Hearts of Oak” on the deck of the Victory.

As the cricket writer Derek Hodgson put it: “Regency England would have recognised him instantly as the man who could ride to hounds from dawn, fight 25 rounds bare-knuckle of an afternoon, dine on a mountain of boiled mutton, roast beef, plum duff and cheddar cheese, washed down by ale and claret, and top it off with a bottle of brandy: a man who proclaimed one Englishman worth 10 scurvy foreigners. For Ian Botham read John Bull.”

Even Margaret Thatcher, so often seen as a Victorian Gradgrind, had her Georgian side. When she moved into 10 Downing Street, she specifically requested paintings of Nelson, Wellington and George II. At a reception in the autumn of 1982, she gave the journalist Hugo Young a tour of the new paintings, proudly pointing out George I, Sir Robert Walpole, William Pitt the Younger and “other admirals and soldiers”. And when, in her memoirs, she discusses the moment she became Prime Minister, whom does she quote? Not Churchill, but Pitt the Elder: “I know that I can save this country and that no one else can.”

Perhaps it was no wonder, then, that the Falklands War felt like an eighteenth-century throwback. In a country shorn of its imperial pretensions, struggling to find a new place in the world, it revived the image of a buccaneering, free-trading, maritime people, sometimes boorish, often vulgar, but always staunch in the defence of freedom. Here was the Britishness — or perhaps more accurately, the Englishness — of Rule Britannia, of James Wolfe at Quebec and H. Jones at Goose Green, swashbuckling martyrs in the national cause. It was cynical and sentimental, ruthless and romantic, fervently patriotic and often aggressively populist. Some people hated it. But deep down, most felt its emotional pull.

For almost two centuries it had been buried beneath a veneer of Victorianism, but it had never disappeared. “It must have always been there,” wrote the columnist George Gale on the day of victory, “for we have seen it flooding back.” Britain, agreed Margaret Thatcher, “has re-kindled that spirit which has fired her for generations past and which today has begun to burn as brightly as before.”

But it was an even more controversial politician who put it best. “A change has come about in Britain,” wrote Enoch Powell. “We are ourselves again.”

Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland discuss the Falklands War in The Rest is History.


Dominic Sandbrook is an author, historian and UnHerd columnist. His latest book is: Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982

dcsandbrook

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John Murray
John Murray
2 years ago

Honestly, a few Exocets going the wrong way and it could have been an utter catastrophe. I do remember as a kid at the time having much the sense of the war as described in the article; and always a feeling that inevitably we were going to win because who were the bloody Argies anyway? However, reading about it later and having got older, bloody hell, Margaret Thatcher fairly rolled the dice on that one. They broke the mold with her.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Murray
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  John Murray

She fairly rolled the dice with the miners too. It was really silly that she was defenestrated by a stupid poll tax – though that was just an useful excuse to be exploited by her jealous Tory colleagues.
A bit like all those tories submitting confidence letters because Johnson attended some parties. They hate Johnson, like the old tories hated Thatcher – but both of them connect with voters.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  John Murray

Perhaps. A Prime Minister never really has full control of course.
But what she did was give a massive vote of confidence to the armed forces. And they responded in kind – achieving the improbable.
More exocets may have got through yes – but to suggest it was only luck is a disservice to the professionalism of the task force – who performed every manoeuvre and took every measure possible in order to protect themselves and their assets. And it didn’t always work – but worked enough to get the job done.
Edit: another accusation of “luck” that was and is thrown about is how some bombs struck ships but didn’t explode. It wasn’t luck – the Argentine pilots were flying too low for the bombs to fuse in time. That took immense skill and bravery – but was a direct result of the Argentine pilots having to take extreme measures to avoid detection and interception. If they flew higher they’d have been caught and shot down (more than already happened).
(I know you weren’t explicitly or mindlessly criticising with no purpose – but feel this needed saying)

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Didn’t the BBC inadvertently tell the Argentinians they were dropping their bombs too low?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Yes! Alongside the other more famous blunders such as revealing San Carlos as the landing location and live broadcasting 2 Para forming up to attack Goose Green.
It’s a good case study in there being some limits to the freedom of the press

Kevin
Kevin
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I believe that was The Sun. I believe their correspondent was not treated well on the ship on which he was embedded after that.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Thank you. I stand corrected.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Thanks – likewise

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago

For anyone doubting just why the Falklands War had to be fought and whether it was “worth it”, just read Admiral Sir Henry Leach’s words to Margaret Thatcher below.
What price freedom and self-respect ?
Powell was correct here – for a moment, we rediscovered who we are. Decades of efforts by the elites in this country still haven’t erased our identity and out reaction to Ukraine suggests we still know who we are and that some things matter more than short term economics.
On 31 March 1982, soon after the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, Leach brushed aside serious doubts from the Secretary of State for Defence Sir John Nott and addressed the Prime Minister on the appropriate course of action.[14] The Chief of the Defence Staff at the time was on his way back from a foreign visit, and in addressing the Prime Minister, Leach effectively bypassed the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff.[1] When he was asked if retaking the islands was possible, he replied “Yes we can recover the islands.” He then added “and we must!” Thatcher replied “Why?” Leach exclaimed “Because if we do not, or if we pussyfoot in our actions and do not achieve complete success, in another few months we shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little.[1]

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

Unfortunately Leach and Thatcher‘s magnificent legacy was totally destroyed by Messrs Blair, Brown, Campbell & Co.

In fact we are now “living in a different country “, where HMG is still pursuing vexatious prosecutions against former Northern Ireland Veterans, despite ‘promises’ not to do so.
I wonder what Leach, Thatcher and Powell would have to say about that?

Last edited 2 years ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Damian Grant
Damian Grant
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I’m sorry to disagree with you vehemently, Sir, but members of the British Parachute Regiment were found guilty by courts in their own jurisdiction of unlawfully killing innocent bystanders who were availing of their democratic right to peacefully protest against a bigoted, gerrymandered, sectarian Statelet ‘underwritten’ by a parliament in London at that time simply because it suited their needs and agenda. A couple of generations later and it’s so ironic how the same British Establishment and Elite are now so unwilling to ‘underwrite’ the very same Statelet and categorically guaratee its staus within the United Kingdom.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Damian Grant

Whilst I agree with much of what you say here, I don’t think calling N. Ireland a “statelet” is fair, in fact it is perjorative. The people there consider it to be a self-governing county within the United Kingdom much like Wales or Scotland (but, frustratingly, not England), and none of those would appreciate being refered to in those terms.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

The concept of a “self-governing country within the United Kingdom “ is a dangerous delusion that may lead to a Civil War in the not too distant future.
The rhetoric coming from North Britain* is just one example of how nationalistic passions, long thought dormant, have been reignited by this nonsense. We have only Blair to blame.

(* Sometimes referred to as Scotland .)

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Damian Grant

What precisely are you referring to Sir?
Not the Ballymurphy incident by any chance?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I’m not sure the Northern Ireland prosecutions are vexatious. We should cut soldiers a lot of slack when they are under huge stress for example, by Afghan insurgents using ambushes, IEDs etc. But there is little doubt now surely that at Bloody Sunday the Paras were out to ‘teach the mick’s a lesson’, or something like that and ended up shooting many unarmed civilians in the back. Apart from anything else it was a complete political disaster and greatly strengthened support for the Provisional IRA.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

There was never any question that the 1982 invasion by Argentina of The Falklands was a fait accompli, moreover. People back then spun their globes and surmised the direction to travel more than the distance. In fact, such was the go-it-alone response that I cannot recall any calling upon Britain’s European neighbours for help. And I wonder to this day what the Continental papers said about it all. A good piece, the above, and a reminder that many First World War veterans were alive and kicking in 1982.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

Interesting, is it not, that the reaction of the WWI veteran seems to indicate that the war poets of that conflict did not speak for their generation? It’s kind of Orwellian in a “he who controls the past controls the present” kind of way.

Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
2 years ago

The later popularity of poets like Owen, Sassoon and Graves obscures the fact that far more popular with the troops were the patriotic poems about fighting for king and country, sticking it to the hun, and so on.
In fact most of the modern understanding of the war came from theatre and literature and would have been baffling to the majority of the soldiers who didn’t see it as the pointless sacrifice which characterises popular understanding of the trenches.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

… if it was not for the endless poetry.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

Ernst Junger certainly “wanted to be there”, and was very disappointed when it was all over, as I recall. Good man!

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

I was about to mention this myself before I saw your post. Such a great book.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  R Wright

I gather the original version is rather more forthright than later editions

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

You might find the book “Mud, Blood and Poppycock” by Gordon Corrigan interesting. I thought this was a wonderful examination of WW1, and it takes apart many of the myths that have become the accepted narrative.
Just as an aside I remember being at a musem in Ypres in c2006, whle visiting the grave of a family member, I was with my brother and we were parroting the view of WW1 taught to us at school, we were obviously overheard by a local man (he looked in his forties) who took us vehemently to task for denigrating our own country and what it did for Belgium. I was suitably chastened and started to research the war myself. By the way, war poetry was used for a lot of our teaching at school.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Not the same Gordon Corrigan who was Clerk of the Course at the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong by any chance?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I knew that he was an ex-officer in the Royal Gurkha Rifles and a military historian, but you’re right, he also seems to have joined the Hong Kong Jockey Club.and served as Clerk of the Course.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Yes, an extaordinary chap, an Ulsterman who became a Gurkha.
I haven’t read any of his work but thanks for the recommendation for ‘Mud, Blood and Poppycock, what a splendid title!

A brief call to HQ Old Farts has also given the book a ringing endorsement.

Last edited 2 years ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Philip Tisdall
Philip Tisdall
2 years ago

Just ordered it, thank you.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago

Thank you for the recommendation. I just ordered it.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

“ Storm of Steel” by the German Ernst Junger is a far better read than most of ‘our’ stuff, and certainly far more exhilarating than say Remarque.

Last edited 2 years ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Terry Martin
Terry Martin
2 years ago

One First World War veteran was still alive and kicking in 2009.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Good grief? Did I really say that? That “there was never any question that the 1982 invasion by Argentina of The Falklands was a fait accompli”?

On the contrary, what I meant was that there was never any question (from the British perspective) that it was NOT a fait accompli. Maybe you guys thought I meant that anyway. (Without cool heads, some in the Establishment might have been prone to thinking that the game was up: that Argentina had the islands and that was it).
The admirable Admiral who spoke with the PM as much as told her that the invasion was NOT a fait accompli and that the country ought to act and retake the islands.
So, sorry for my faux pas.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
2 years ago

Then, and for so long, a country “always staunch in the defence of freedom”. Now, a country whose next Prime Minister is very likely to be Sir Keir Starmer, a man who never saw a freedom he didn’t want to ban, curb, lockdown or regulate.

Last edited 2 years ago by Stephen Walshe
Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

I’d be surprised…

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

It’s not going to be Keir Starmer. England is not voting for Labour/SNP rule. Or the gender nonsense.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

No, ‘Fat Man’ should pull it off again, with any luck.

Richard Barnes
Richard Barnes
2 years ago

Surely the greatest significance of the Falklands war was that it won Margaret Thatcher her second term in office. Before Argentina invaded the Falklands it was looking like the Tories were going to lose the 1983/4 election.
Thanks to victory in the Falklands, Thatcher won a second and a third term in office which gave rise to the transformative legislation on markets and nationalised industries which laid the foundations for increasing national prosperity in the 1990’s.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Barnes

It also ended the Argentine military junta and brought them democracy. No small benefit.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

An excellent evocation of those stirring events forty years ago that absolutely ‘made’ Margaret Thatcher. It was almost like a ‘gift from heaven’ for her, and she certainly rose to the occasion.

However let us not forget, that just as twenty six years previously at Suez, one word from US President Ronald Reagan would have stopped the whole thing dead in its tracks. Thank you Ronald!

The reference to the slimy Edward du Cann was well chosen. No other contemporary Tory epitomised the greasy, corrupt, smug side of the Tory Party as Mr du Cann. Fortunately men of his ilk were very much in the minority, and readers will rejoice to hear he died in well deserved exile and ignominy in Cyprus.

For the rest of today perhaps we should discuss the effectiveness or otherwise of, and in no particular order, the SAS, Sea Harrier, 5 Brigade, Bluff Cove/Fitzroy, the Belgrano, and the presence or otherwise of US mercenaries fighting for the Argies, for starters.

peter lucey
peter lucey
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

After the Belgrano and Sheffield were sunk, Reagan called Maggie and said she should accept the Peruvian Peace Plan (which did not give the Islanders a veto…) She was minded to accept, but Galtieri and company rejected the Plan out of hand.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  peter lucey

Thanks, after all these years I am a bit hazy on the chronology!
I seem to recall that US General Haig was also being a bit of a pest?

peter lucey
peter lucey
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

My source was Mr Sandbrook’s “Who Dares Wins” 🙂

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

How come you reference 5 Bde specifically?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

All that stuff about I WG failing to cross the Sussex Mts, the c*ck up over Bluff Cove & Fitzroy, and off course the sudden departure of the Brigade Commander at the conclusion of the campaign.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
2 years ago

I assume he meant some of the islanders are descended from people who were there in the 1830s.

Andrew Langridge
Andrew Langridge
2 years ago

The fact that it is 40 years ago is telling. I doubt the UK would be able to mount such an operation again. With scepticism over foreign adventures after the Iraq war (Blair’s deceptions over WMD and the disastrous outcome), and the huge cuts in the defence budget (from 4% of GDP in 1980, to 2% now), it is inconceivable to me that a similar operation acting alone on the other side of the world would be sanctioned. ‘Global Britain’ ruling the waves is a fiction of the imagination.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Langridge
Fergus Mason
Fergus Mason
2 years ago

We wouldn’t need to mount such an operation today, because while HM Armed Forces are far too small they do have capabilities that weren’t there in 1982. There are only four or five countries that could stop us parking a carrier group off their coast and simply destroying whatever we felt like until they backed down. Argentina isn’t one of them.

David Harris
David Harris
2 years ago

“…perfectly calculated to stir the hearts of a seafaring people who had grown up with tales of Drake and Nelson.”
Alas, no longer I think.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
2 years ago

A Tory minister goes to the Falklands to tell the locals to make an accommodation with a dictatorship. The dictatorship then takes a gamble that Britain will not be interested in reclaiming the islands if they invade. Doing so will restore said dictatorship’s popularity.
The invasion having taken place, the Tory government must retake the islands or most likely fall. They reverse what must have been their original policy, otherwise why was the Tory minister sent there in the first place? Surely a failure of that policy. But it can be made out to be a success when told from another angle, just like the development of the Boeing 747 can be made out to a be success when the story is not told from the angle of Boeing’s attempted development of their SST.
Was it Georgian to tell British colonials to make an arrangement to be ruled by foreign potentates? Thatcher is held in derision because of the Falklands Effect on her popularity. Whereas the derision should stem from how underserved it was, given the job she gave her minister to attempt to persuade the Islands away. There’s nothing in that policy of Davison’s bold quote from Exodus on the medal he had produced for the ratings of HMS Victory who took part in the battle of Trafalgar – The Lord is a man of war.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

The expedition was entirely justified and the Argentine invasion was itself a colonial land grab. No Falkland islanders wanted to live under Argentine rule.

I seem to recall Michael Foot of all people supporting the Falklands Task Force. Would the modern Labour Party or indeed much of our woke and naĂŻve younger population do the same? Foreigners are usually in the right! I also believe the whole thing would not now be militarily possible, as the Task Force so nearly was 40 years ago – I’m happy to be corrected on that.

Of course we now know that there were also some almost criminal military blunders, which led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of British soldiers and sailors. These included sailing largely unarmed cargo vessels during daylight, the completely unnecessary assault on Goose Green and the sea expedition round the south coast of Falkland, dispersing rather than concentrating British forces.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

There were far more important benefits, which benefitted our military: the exposure ( excuse the pun) of wholly inadequate boots, lack of waterproof clothing and other infantry kit was one, and the baring of The Royal Navy’s inability to run the ” command and control” of any war, and the low quality of many of its Officers was another. Thatcher’s cynical use of the campaign as a personal PR exercise had been highlighted in the recent TV documentary, and its interference, as witnesses by the two General Michaels ( please note, both ex Foot Guards) was positively frightening, as were the closeness to defeat that it caused.

Terry Davies
Terry Davies
2 years ago

Yes, I’ve just watched the documentary. Fascinating and a tad frightening….

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

As a former recruit of the Guards Depot I am surprised that you believe everything you see on television.
Nothing is ever perfect in war, neither kit, nor command, you just have to ‘muddle’ through and trust that the enemy is in an even more chaotic state than yourself*.
Incidentally what ever the claims of the two (Guards) “General Michaels”, the Household Division (HD) did not exactly cover itself in glory in the Falklands. Frankly they should never have been sent in the first place, as there were other fitter, better trained, Infantry
Battalions available elsewhere.
The is no doubt that the HD lobbied hard to be included in this, the ‘last British Hurrah’, but to use that terrible contemporary expression, they were found to be “not fit for purpose”.
Finally, and without wishing to be cruel, your syntax needs to improve.
OS perhaps?

(* Which is normally the case.)

Last edited 2 years ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

My cousin was posted to the Falklands shortly after the war and brought back some anecdotes which the Sun and the official handouts omitted. Like the battle where the Argies allegedly outnumbered our lads 1,400 to 400 and were still defeated. The problem was that a lot of the Argies were 14 year old raw recruits, some with their school crayons still on them. They had been told that they were in Tierra del Fuego and, no surprise, were not going to fight to the last boy against a tightly disciplined team of highly trained killers.

My cousin got a ride out by Hercules in what was probably the most expensive airlift since the Luftwaffe’s attempt to supply Stalingrad. The one problem with this wonderful workhorse (apart from the chemical toilet in the corner) was its limited range. The runway at Stanley had not yet been extended to take big jets. So you needed a relay of five tankers to get the Hercules down to Stanley. The RAF tankers themselves had a limited range and had to refuel each other.

The Hercules pilot had to be prepared to fly 24 hours non stop. After flying down from Ascension, Stanley might be fog bound and you had to be ready to fly all the way back to Ascension with tanker support. And each refuelling up and down involved a terrifying dive from 25,000 to 10,000 feet with tanker and Herc coupled. The maximum speed of the prop driven Herc was close to the stalling speed of the old jet bombers converted to tankers.

Each trip thus cost ÂŁ250,000. Including the one where they flew Maggie out. As it would not be fitting to get a female PM to use the chemical bucket, they put a small caravan inside for her comfort needs.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago

I’m a Yank, but I have a particular affection for England at the moment of the Falklands War. My wife and I were on a belated honeymoon in the UK during the war and remember watching Thatcher whisking out of Downing Street in a black limousine heading to some crisis meeting elsewhere and reading the headlines referred to in the article as the came out as we traveled north — didn’t get as far north as we’d planned because we stopped in York for three days instead of the originally planned one. Yes, it does seem to have done Britain good.

Ben P
Ben P
1 year ago

We are in desperate need of another hinge moment now.

jason whittle
jason whittle
2 years ago

The Falklands, is 12,200 km from Great Britain and 430 km from Argentina. US$600,000 was spent per inhabitant in retaking the islands US$2.4m per family, a fortune then. In a census in 2012 only 31% of Falkland inhabitants associated themselves with Britain. 900 people died in the Falklands war, 1 for every 2 inhabitants.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

What a bargain then!

Fergus Mason
Fergus Mason
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

Is any of this relevant?

Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

And your point is ?

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Aidan Trimble

I think his point is obvious: cost-benefit ratio. By that metric, it was a stupid war. The principle of territorial defence as a thing in itself is somewhat harder to quantify.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

I believe what was said was that they considered themself Falkland Islanders first and British second, not that unreasonable, many people consider themselves English first and British second, and they live in Britain. Perhaps it would be better to take the 2013 referendum when, with a >90% turnout, 98% wanted to remain British with only 3 voting against. The Argentine President said that the Falkland islanders’ wishes were not relevant in a territorial dispute; maybe she’ll ask for a recount or a “people’s” referendum.

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Hutchinson
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

I think that’s call principle. I do not think it translate into US

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

Only three islanders died, but all were freed, have been free ever since, and will be free always, God willing.
255 British service men died (and of course there were terrible wounds), but they died doing the duty for which they enlisted, as have many in Iraq and Afghanistan, for less clear reasons.
649 Argentinian servicemen died. I’m sorry for them, because they were sent to an unprovoked war by a military dictatorship. Thank goodness we won, because rather than strengthen that junta as intended, it caused its downfall.
If you still doubt that Britain did the right thing, then you are in a small minority, even if that minority is over-represented in broadcasting.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

As has been noted in other comments, the medium and long term economic benefits to Britain were enormous.
It restored Britain’s self respect and purpose.
And the Argentine defeat finished off the military junta and brought them democracy.
Finally, where would Britain’s reputation in the world have stood without taking a stand ?
Fortunately we were not governed by accountants at that particular moment in 1982.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  jason whittle

So it’s all about an economic calculation is it? Maybe Britain might not have been capable of doing anything about the Argentine invasion, but in the event it could, and it was right to do so.

It is absurd to imply as you do that the Falkland islanders might have been just as accepting of Argentinian rule as of British. Of course they have a somewhat different identity to the mainland British, but exactly the same can be said of the Gibraltarians who are similarly determined they do not want to come under Spanish rule. Oh, but it would look neater on a map if they did!

The problem with your kind of analysis is that the Argentine junta, or the current Russian dictatorship will never make it!

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher