The Falklands Conflict was a short undeclared war between Argentina and Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (known as Islas Malvinas in Argentina), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.  The conflict lasted 74 days and cost over 900 lives. 

The islands are British overseas territories located in the South Atlantic, 8,000 miles from Britain. Sovereignty over the islands has been contested by Argentina since 1833.

Most Falkland Islanders were of British descent and opposed the Argentinian claim. In 1982, President Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina decided to take control of the islands by force.

Argentine photograph showing a line of Argentine soldiers marching past a senior officer
© IWM FKD 2931 Argentine photograph showing a line of Argentine soldiers marching past a senior officer

Argentina had already established an unauthorised but unopposed presence in the South Sandwich Islands in 1976. Now, Argentinian forces occupied the Falkland Islands (2 April) and South Georgia (3 April), a move condemned by the United Nations. 

The British Governor, Sir Rex Hunt was deported and repatriated to Britain along with Naval Party 8901, a small contingent of Royal Marines who defended the islands before being forced to surrender.    

President Galtieri appointed General Mario Menéndez as Governor of the islands and commander of the Argentinian force deployed to defend them. 

In the weeks that followed, many restrictions were imposed on the islanders. Some were forcibly deported.  Others were incarcerated for weeks.

The Cunard liner QUEEN ELIZABETH II leaves Southampton, whilst crowds watch on from the shore
© IWM FKD 2591 The Cunard liner QUEEN ELIZABETH II leaves Southampton with troops of 5 Infantry Brigade on board.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher authorised a military operation, codenamed Corporate, to retake the islands. 

It was the first since the Second World War in which all branches of the British armed forces deployed simultaneously. 

Within days, a British task force comprising 127 warships, submarines and requisitioned merchant ships carrying troops, aircraft and equipment, set sail for the South Atlantic.

Operation Paraquet returned South Georgia to British control on April 25. 

The Task Force then turned its attention to the retaking of the Falklands. 

The destroyer HMS SHEFFIELD on fire after being struck by an Exocet missile fired from an Argentine aircraft
© IWM FKD 64 The Type 42 destroyer HMS SHEFFIELD on fire after being struck by an AM.39 Exocet missile fired from an Argentine aircraft from a distance of 6 miles.

On 30 April, the Task Force imposed a 200-mile Total Exclusion Zone around the Falklands, prohibiting all aircraft and ships from any country from entering. British special forces, the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm attacked Argentinian ships and defences. 

Two days later, Royal Navy submarine HMS Conqueror sank Argentinian cruiser ARA General Belgrano with the loss of over 300 of her crew. 

Argentina responded quickly.  On 4 May, Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield was hit by an AM39 Exocet cruise missile fired from an Argentinian Super Éntendard strike fighter aircraft. Twenty were killed in the explosion and resulting fire, which destroyed the ship.

The Argentinian Air Force continued to attack British ships with Exocet missiles and bombs, causing many casualties. In total, seven ships were lost and others were seriously damaged during the conflict. Attacks on landing logistic ships RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram (24 May) and merchant container ship SS Atlantic Conveyor (25 May) were particularly devastating.

Landing craft from HMS INTREPID approach the beach at San Carlos in the Falkland Islands to land British troops, 21 May 1982
© IWM FKD 2119 Landing craft from HMS INTREPID approach the beach at San Carlos in the Falkland Islands to land British troops, 21 May 1982

Nevertheless, the Task Force landed 4,000 troops unopposed at San Carlos and Ajax Bay in East Falkland (21 May onwards). They faced a numerically superior but largely conscripted Argentinian army.  Lack of cover and air superiority forced the British to attack Argentinian positions by night.

Goose Green was the first settlement to be taken by British forces (28-29 May). 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment fought a fierce battle, during which its commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones was killed.

Colonel Jones was one of two soldiers to receive a posthumous award of the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the conflict. The other, Sergeant Ian McKay, was killed during the Battle of Mount Longdon on 11-12 June. 

British troops faced an advance of 56 miles across East Falkland through difficult terrain, enemy minefields and hostile weather conditions to the islands’ capital, Port Stanley. Half of the troops completed the march on foot after the helicopters that were supposed to transport them were lost onboard the SS Atlantic Conveyor, which had sunk on 28 May

45 Royal Marine Commando marches towards Port Stanley during the Falklands War, 1982. Marine Peter Robinson carrys the Union Flag on his pack.
© IWM FKD 2028 45 Royal Marine Commando marches towards Port Stanley during the Falklands War, 1982. Marine Peter Robinson carrys the Union Flag on his pack.

One of the most famous images from the conflict, taken by Royal Marines photographer Petty Officer Peter Holdgate, shows Corporal Peter Robinson ‘yomping’ to Port Stanley with a Union flag fixed to his radio antenna.

Media coverage of the war popularised the term ‘yomp’, which is Royal Marines slang meaning a long-distance march carrying full kit.

After fierce fighting in the mountains overlooking Port Stanley, Argentinian forces surrendered on 14 June. 

British troops arrived in Port Stanley the same day to an enthusiastic welcome from the islanders. 

Over 11,000 Argentinian troops were disarmed and repatriated to Argentina. The British also retook control of the South Sandwich Islands. 

907 lives were lost during the conflict: 649 Argentinian, 255 British and three Falkland Islanders. 

Today, the islands are British overseas territories under the protection of British Forces South Atlantic Islands.

The dispute with Argentina is still unresolved. 

 

Find out more about how Imperial War Museums is marking the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict.

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