Political Science at Huntingdon College
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Optional: purchase Union Jacks herePSC 321: British Politics

"The Battle of the Falklands /Malvinas, May-June 1982"

summary for undergrads

revised 17 Jan. 2006 from presentation July 2003,
by Jeremy Lewis, Professor of Political Science, with tenure, Huntingdon College.


  • Hypotheses:
  • short term political miscalculation, not grand strategy, caused battle
  • developing country met developed country on roughly equal technological terms
  • Argentina, 1982: pop. 30 m, income $7,000 per capita.
  • UK, 1982: pop 60 m, income $21,000 per capita.
  • differences of expertise, not technology, caused success in ground war
  • outcomes indicated consequences of political conflict without economics
  • British government, for the first time since Suez, gained confidence in its forces -- Freedman
  • Strategy versus Politics -- on both sides
  • conflicting claims to sovereignty
  • United Kingdom's historical limited investiture, plantation, and support
  • Argentina's constitutional claim to Malvinas
  • Questionable strategic value of islands to either side
  • UK political concerns:
  • Conservative government's military budget cuts without reducing commitments
  • decolonizing in conflict with self-determination of small colonial population
  • implications for other possessions
  • remoteness (see maps)
  • impending reduction of naval forces
  • Argentina's political concerns:
  • Peronist revival in junta, ardent nationalism
  • domestic political dissent, riots, economic recession, inflation
  • Falklands population's concerns:
  • maintenance of colonial status, stubborn resistance to change
  • lack of economic development
  • dependence on communications via mainland Argentina
  • attrition of females of child-bearing age owing to small garrison
  • Initial Attack by Argentina, 2 April 1982
  • British response, sending flotilla (slide of routes, distances)
  • April skirmishes at sea and in South Georgias (slide)
  • Naval battle begins, with sub sinking cruiser, missile killing destroyer
  • May 1982, British landings and Argentine aerial attacks
  • May British assaults on Darwin & Goose Green
  • Marches, landings & battle for heights above Stanley (3 weeks)
  • Argentine result:
  • misled by British signals of unwillingness to defend Malvinas
  • poor timing of the Argentine invasion, before UK capability reduced
  • incomplete political and military planning
  • British results
  • hasty departure of HM fleet, improvised planning of supplies & logistics
  • amphibious ships hastily returned to active duty
  • only one UK amphibious brigade improvised successfully
  • minimal intelligence available until scouting accomplished
  • second infantry brigade cannibalized, unready till final battle
  • diplomatic scramble to win favor of UN, US.
  • strategy of attacking center of gravity, in tension with incremental victories
  • Differentials in diplomacy
  • by invading, Argentina lost anticolonial advantage in latin America
  • Argentina overestimated US support
  • UK successful with US & at UN despite Latin American leadership of UN
  • Differentials in public information
  • Argentina's over optimistic propaganda soon disproven, intensified political failure
  • UK control in theatre over reporters' communications, factual statements
  • Similar, moderate levels of technology: naval platforms and small arms similar
  • logistics: distances neutralized British advantage of naval forces
  • weaponry in improvised roles: guided missiles & tracked vehicles
  • major exception: UK nuclear attack submarine
  • Differentials in Expertise
  • closest to equality in Argentine air forces and 5th marines
  • widest in naval forces, capital ships
  • Argentine army conscripted, static, lacking patrolling
  • UK professional army: scouting, patrolling, night attack, maintenance
  • Operational and Tactical Innovation
  • Argentina
  • air forces adjusted strike tactics daily, lear jets, Exocet, refuelling
  • navy used corvettes for scouting, special forces in invasion
  • Mistakes:
  • army failed to counter attack, defend mount Kent, feed conscripts
  • navy failed to use capital ships, submarine attacks
  • United Kingdom
  • adaptation was required by rapid deployment, reorganization of forces
  • extensive use of special forces
  • STUFT requisitioned ships
  • adjusted fleet tactics rapidly after attacks
  • attacked Argentine cruiser flotilla outside TEZ to hasten battle
  • moved fleet according to operational needs
  • amphibious landing in sheltered sound, sacrificing radar for air defense
  • used new & adapted weaponry
  • adjusted tactics to respond to loss of helo-lift (Snow cats, landing ships)
  • long range bombing with daisy-chained tankers, improvised refuelling
  • mistakes:
  • paratroops with inadequate artillery support
  • Welsh guards landed Bluff Cove in daylight without air defense.
  • Military outcomes
  • 250 UK, 1200 Argentine losses, mostly of ground troops
  • destroyed fighter-bomber strength of Argentine air forces
  • one Argentine cruiser and several smaller ships sank, one submarine beached
  • two British destroyers, several frigates, one container ship and helicopters sunk.
  • Political outcomes
  • replacement of junta with democratic regime
  • fortress Falklands, still heavily dependent on communications
  • re-election of Conservatives in UK, 1983, with historic majority, cabinet shift to right
  • reduction of UK forces, naval in particular, continued
  • British commitments to Belize, Gibraltar and N. Ireland continued
  • British government, for the first time since Suez, gained confidence in its forces -- Freedman
  •