New Delhi. 21 May 2019. Today in contemporary war history is the day when the British troops landed in Falkland Islands in 1982. During the night of 21 May, the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp (Commodore, Amphibious Warfare – COMAW) mounted Operation Sutton, the amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water, on the northwestern coast of East Falkland facing onto Falkland Sound. The bay, known as Bomb Alley by British forces, was the scene of repeated air attacks by low-flying Argentine jets.
The 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade were put ashore as follows: 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para) from the RORO ferry Norland and 40 Commando Royal Marines from the amphibious ship HMS Fearless were landed at San Carlos (Blue Beach), 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 Para) from the amphibious ship HMS Intrepid was landed at Port San Carlos (Green Beach) and 45 Commando from RFA Stromness was landed at Ajax Bay (Red Beach). Notably, the waves of eight LCUs and eight LCVPs were led by Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who had commanded the Falklands detachment NP8901 from March 1978 to 1979. 42 Commando on the ocean liner SS Canberra was a tactical reserve. Units from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, etc. and armoured reconnaissance vehicles were also put ashore with the landing craft, the Round Table class LSL and mexeflote barges. Rapier missile launchers were carried as underslung loads of Sea Kings for rapid deployment.
By dawn the next day, they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations. From there, Brigadier Julian Thompson’s plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Port Stanley. Now, with the British troops on the ground, the Argentine Air Force began the night bombing campaign against them using Canberra bomber planes until the last day of the war (14 June).
At sea, the paucity of the British ships’ anti-aircraft defences was demonstrated in the sinking of HMS Ardent on 21 May, HMS Antelope on 24 May, and MV Atlantic Conveyor (struck by two AM39 Exocets) on 25 May along with a vital cargo of helicopters, runway-building equipment and tents. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor was a severe blow from a logistical perspective.
Also lost on this day was HMS Coventry, a sister to Sheffield, whilst in company with HMS Broadsword after being ordered to act as a decoy to draw away Argentine aircraft from other ships at San Carlos Bay. HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were badly damaged. However, many British ships escaped being sunk because of weaknesses of the Argentine pilots’ bombing tactics described below.
To avoid the highest concentration of British air defences, Argentine pilots released ordnance from very low altitude, and hence their bomb fuzes did not have sufficient time to arm before impact. The low release of the retarded bombs (some of which the British had sold to the Argentines years earlier) meant that many never exploded, as there was insufficient time in the air for them to arm themselves.
A simple free-fall bomb in a low altitude release, impacts almost directly below the aircraft, which is then within the lethal fragmentation zone of the explosion. A retarded bomb has a small parachute or air brake that opens to reduce the speed of the bomb to produce a safe horizontal separation between the bomb and the aircraft. The fuze for a retarded bomb requires that the retarder be open a minimum time to ensure safe separation. The pilots would have been aware of this—but due to the high concentration required to avoid SAMs, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and British Sea Harriers, many failed to climb to the necessary release point. The Argentine forces solved the problem by fitting improvised retarding devices, allowing the pilots to effectively employ low-level bombing attacks on 8 June.
Thirteen bombs hit British ships without detonating. Lord Craig, the retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: “Six better fuses and we would have lost” although Ardent and Antelope were both lost despite the failure of bombs to explode. The fuzes were functioning correctly, and the bombs were simply released from too low an altitude. Argentines lost 22 aircraft in the attacks.
In his autobiographical account of the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward blamed the BBC World Service for disclosing information that led the Argentines to change the retarding devices on the bombs. The World Service reported the lack of detonations after receiving a briefing on the matter from a Ministry of Defence official. He describes the BBC as being more concerned with being “fearless seekers after truth” than with the lives of British servicemen. Colonel ‘H’. Jones levelled similar accusations against the BBC after they disclosed the impending British attack on Goose Green by 2 Para.
Argentina has long disputed Britain’s claim to the Falkland Islands , having been in control of the islands for a few years prior to 1833. The dispute escalated in 1982, when Argentina invaded the islands, precipitating the Falklands War. Contemporary Falkland Islanders overwhelmingly prefer to remain British.
The Falkland Islands are a dependent territory of the UK and will remain so for as long as the Islanders wish them to. British Armed Forces protect the Falkland Islands to deter military aggression against The South Atlantic Overseas Territories.
In March 1982, Argentinean scrap metal merchants landed on the Falkland Islands’ dependency of South Georgia and raised the Argentinean flag. This was followed by an invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982. The United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion.
The United Kingdom reacted by sending a Task Force to the South Atlantic and imposing a naval and air blockade on the large Argentinean garrison on the Falkland Islands. South Georgia was recaptured, and a large logistics and staging post was set up on Ascension Island to support the Task Force.
On 21 May 1982, British troops landed at Port San Carlos and began to move towards Stanley. Our troops won a significant battle at Goose Green, which laid the foundation for victory. After an intense air and artillery barrage and the capture of dominant mountain ridges around Stanley, the Argentinean Commander on the Falkland Islands surrendered all his forces on 14 June 1982.
After the 1982 conflict, the UK established a garrison on the Falkland Islands, consisting of naval, land and air elements.
The situation in the South Atlantic has changed substantially since the conflict. Argentina is now a democracy, committed to the peaceful resolution of issues over the Islands.