The Naval War in the Falklands, Part 1

Modern Relevance

The naval battle for the Falklands was a surprisingly savage war, pitting two near-peer powers against each other. Virtually every weapon of modern naval warfare was employed- ships, submarines, aircraft carriers, anti-ship missiles and anti-aircraft missiles, and amphibious warfare.

As best as I can recall, the US Navy hasn’t lost a single warship since the Korean War. The naval war in the Falklands provided our Navy with a significant number of lessons to digest, from anti-aircraft operations at sea and in the littorals, to damage control training.

Current US Navy doctrine and shipbuilding programs are focused on fighting in the littorals, that is, the narrow band of water near the shores of land. These waters, with their restricted room for maneuvers and cluttered environment, pose challenges that blue water operations don’t. Understanding the lessons of the naval war in the Falklands can provide clues as to challenges the Navy will face in the littorals.

Introduction

War- On April 2nd, 1982, forces from Argentina staged an amphibious invasion of the Falklands Islands in the South Atlantic, approximately 300 miles east of the Argentine coastline. The Falklands had long been a bone of contention between Argentina and Great Britain. Talks had been underway to arrange a transfer of sovereignty from Great Britain to Argentina, but had hit a deadlock over one major sticking point- the 2000 residents of the islands thought of themselves as Britons, and had absolutely no desire to become Argentinian. The Argentinian government, a military junta, intended the invasion more as a diplomatic maneuver than a military expedition. Incredibly, they thought the invasion would present the British with a fait acompli, giving the Thatcher government justification to write off the islands. The junta was stunned by Margaret Thatcher’s immediate announcement of Britain’s intent to form a task force and retake the islands by force of arms if necessary.

 

Britain quickly assembled and sortied a large naval task force centered around two light carriers, the Invincible and the Hermes, armed with Harrier jump jets and Sea King helicopters. The task force also had anti-air destroyers and anti-sub frigates, as well as a large number of amphibious warfare ships and merchant ships pressed into service with the task force. This task force was intended to secure control of the air and waters surrounding the Falklands, and land an amphibious force to defeat or eject Argentinian forces from the islands, reinstating British control of the islands.

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Each side faced challenges they were only imperfectly prepared to meet. For the Argentinians, the challenge was to maintain sea and air communications with the Falklands in the face of determined opposition by a modern navy equipped with aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. For the British, the challenge was to deploy and sustain a carrier and amphibious task force 8000 miles from home, and operate in waters the enemy could cover with land based airpower.

Next installment- Part 2 Opposing Forces Order of Battle

18 thoughts on “The Naval War in the Falklands, Part 1”

  1. Who did Maggie Thatcher give the ultimatum to? Was it Mitterand? “Give us the Exocet codes or we will nuke their ass.” Got some “Old Timers” and can’t remember…

  2. Good start, Brad – I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this. The Falklands have been a particular interest of mine for a long time. I feel there’s a lot of lessons there that still haven’t really been taken to heart …

    1. D’oh!

      OK, you got me. Never even occurred to me. And while the USS Liberty wasn’t lost, she was pretty badly damaged.

      The damage to Stark, Roberts, Tripoli, and Princeton as well all serve to show the danger of operating in littoral waters. But that’s where the people are, so that’s where navies need to have presence.

  3. This entire series of articles is really, really good – it’s as good of a brief analysis and write-up as I’ve seen on the Falklands conflict. Your hard work shows.

    This all went down while I was in high school, it was the first ‘major’ conflict that I was old enough to be able to follow and understand what was going on. I knew all the major players (aircraft, ships, submarines and officers) and my buddies and I (yes, we were considered to be quite the geeks for paying attention to this as much as we were) would sit and discuss the previous day’s events during lunch.

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