Continuing in the series. Part 7 and earlier parts here.
18 April- The main body of the British task force sails from Ascension Island, roughly 2000 miles from the Falkland Islands.
From Great Britain to the Falklands is roughly 8000 miles. Even with robust supporting elements, few if any fleets can operate that far from a support base. Indeed, never in the history of naval warfare has it been attempted. British task force elements instead staged from the British possession at Ascension Island. Ascension Island served as the forward base for the task force. The task force dropped anchor here to organize, plan, restow, fill bunkers, and prepare for the arduous task ahead.
Modern warships have a range of roughly 3000 to 5000 miles. While that range can be extended by underway refueling, there was no possible way the fleet’s oilers could travel from the theater of operations to Britain and back in time to replenish the fleet. Instead, point-to-point tankers would traverse from Britain to Ascension, and refill the fleet oilers. Those ships would then shuttle to the fleet, and replenish them at sea.
Even fleets with the most robust service forces must have access to forward operating bases.
As the US Marines and the US Navy spent the 1920 and 1930s struggling to define their warplans against a future war with Japan, they soon discerned that seizing forward bases would be key. The Marines, prior to this, had only the vaguest mission description. But as the possibility of war in the Pacific loomed, clarity was shone upon them. The Marines would assault to secure forward operating bases from which the Navy would sortie to defeat Japanese forces. And that was pretty much how they were utilized in WWII.
The British in 1982, as a result of their previous Empire, had no need to forcibly seize Ascension Island. But it served much the same purpose. If only as a place to drop a hook, and secure from steaming stations for a night, it was invaluable. But it was more than that. Even sailors must call a port home. And Ascension Island served as the forward most airbase the British had access to in the war. Critical cargo could be airlifted there, and long range maritime patrol aircraft operated from there. If the maritime patrol planes failed to pinpoint the enemy fleet, they at least showed where the way was clear.
Had the British not had ready access to a secure forward base, it is difficult to see how they could have been successful in retaking the Falklands.