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Falklands War

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History

The Falklands War was an unexpected conflict that an already unpopular Margaret Thatcher had to deal with in 1982. Why was there conflict over the control of some islands thousands of kilometres away from the UK? Who was involved? And what was the result? Let's begin!

Falklands War: dates and timeline

Below is a brief timeline of the Falklands War in 1982.

DateEvent
19 March 1982Salvage workers occupied South Georgia Island by raising the Argentinian flag.
2 April 1982Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands.
3 April 1982Argentina invaded South Georgia Island.
5 April 1982Before attacking the islands, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force.
14 June 1982After 74 days of conflict, Argentina surrendered, and the islands returned to British control.

The hostilities caused a death toll of around 650 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and 3 Falkland Islanders.

The Falklands War Map of distances for argentina and UK during falkland war StudySmarterThis map shows the distances that Britain and Argentina travelled during the Falklands War, with Ascension Island providing an essential halfway point for British forces travelling the 8000 miles to the Falklands, Wikimedia Commons.

The Falkland Islands' history: causes of the Falklands War

The territory of the Falklands has long been disputed since it was first colonised in the eighteenth century. Let's look at a brief timeline to show the claims made to the Islands.

DateEvent
1764France established a colony on East Falkland.

Colony: a country or area under the total or partial political control of another country, typically a distant one, and occupied by settlers from that country.

1765Britain claimed West Falkland as a colony. Port Egmont was the first British settlement founded on the islands.
1767Spain took control of East Falkland.
1770Spanish troops captured the fort of Port Egmont in West Falkland.
1811Spain abandoned their settlement in the Falklands.
1816Argentina gained independence from Spain.
1820A mercenary claimed Argentine sovereignty of the Islands following the country's independence from Spain.
1833Britain reasserted its sovereignty of the Falklands and requested the Argentinian administration to leave the islands. Britain retained its control of the islands, but it remained a controversy.
1976A right-wing military coup d'etat overthrew the Argentinian President Isabel Perón and established a military dictatorship known as a junta.

Junta: a military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force.

1982The Falklands War.

The junta that assumed control of Argentina in 1976 responded to the economic crisis and political unrest in the country by attempting to appeal to the population whilst running its bloody regime of mass genocide. They believed that reclaiming the Falklands would appeal to nationalist sentiment and unite an increasingly divided public behind the government, leading to the 1982 invasion.

Since Britain reasserted its sovereignty in 1833, the majority of the Falkland Islands' population has been of British descent. When Argentina sought to claim sovereignty in the mid-twentieth century, the islanders considered themselves British and did not want to be under Argentina's rule.

Attempts at diplomacy between Argentina and Britain

In 1965, the United Nations had called upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to reach a settlement on the sovereignty dispute.

  • The UK regarded the islands as a nuisance and a barrier to UK trade in South America. Therefore, while confident in British sovereignty, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) was prepared to concede the islands to Argentina.

  • When news of a proposed transfer broke in 1968, those sympathetic to the islanders who wanted to remain under British rule were able to organise an influential Parliamentary lobby to frustrate the UK's plans.

  • Negotiations continued but failed to make meaningful progress. The islanders steadfastly refused to consider Argentine sovereignty on one side, whilst Argentina would not compromise on the other.

  • A Communications Agreement signed in 1971 created an airline, and later, YPF, the Argentine oil company, was given a monopoly in the islands.

  • In 1980, a new Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Ridley, went to the Falklands trying to sell the islanders the benefits of a leaseback scheme, which was met with strong opposition from the islanders. The scheme would grant Argentina sovereignty of the Falklands but the UK would 'lease' the islands from Argentina either indefinitely or for a long time period, say 100 years. On returning to London in December 1980 he reported to parliament his leaseback plans but was viciously attacked at what was seen as a sellout. At a private committee meeting that evening, it was reported that Ridley cried out:

If we don't do something, they will invade. And there is nothing we could do.

The United Nations Security Council

How did the United Nations respond to tensions in the Falklands?

  • On 1 April, London told the UK ambassador to the UN, Sir Anthony Parsons, that an invasion was imminent and he should call an urgent meeting of the Security Council to get a favourable resolution against Argentina.

  • The meeting took place on 3 April, and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 502 was adopted ten to one (Panama voted against) and four abstentions (refusal to vote). Significantly, the Soviet Union and China both abstained.

  • Resolution 502 stated that Argentina must withdraw from the Falkland Islands and reach a diplomatic solution to their differences.

  • Article 51 of the UN Charter states that if peaceful negotiations are unsuccessful following an armed attack on a member of the UN, the attacked nation can legally engage in warfare through self-defence. Essentially, as Resolution 502 did not stop Argentina, the UK could go to war over the Falklands.

Key battles and events in the Falklands War

The Falklands War Argentinian Marines take the Falklands on 2nd April 1982 StudySmarterArgentinian Marines invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982 beginning a war with Britain over control of the islands, Wikimedia Commons.

The British Task Force set sail on 5 April and consisted of 100 ships carrying marines and military equipment. The Atlantic crossing was around 8000 miles, and the UK territory of Ascension Island acted as a halfway post for ships sailing toward the Falklands.

Let's look at some of the key events during the Falklands War before and after the arrival of the Task Force.

Date (1982)Name of Event/BattleDetails
2 AprilCommencement of Falklands War.Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The outmanned and outgunned British forces on Falklands and South Georgia Islands surrendered to Argentine forces.
26 AprilOperation Paraquet.After the arrival of British forces, Argentina surrendered South Georgia. This was the first instance of Active War in the Falklands.
1 MayThe Black Buck Raids.A series of five attacks by British forces were conducted at the Stanly airfield on the Falkland Islands. An intimidated Argentina was forced to retreat its air force to the mainland. This limited Argentine air attacks throughout the war.
2 MayThe sinking of ARA General Belgrano.The Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano was sunk by the HMS Conqueror. 323 members of Belgrano's crew died and over 700 men were rescued from the water. The incident forced the Argentine Navy to retreat to the mainland; it did not return throughout the conflict. Only the submarine ARA San Luis remained. However, this increased Argentine passion for the war.
4 MayThe sinking of HMS Sheffield.A missile strike from an Argentine naval air fighter sank the British HMS Sheffield. 20 crew members died and a further 24 were injured. Onboard fires burned for six days and the ship sank on 10 May.
18 MayBritish-Argentine negotiations.After failed attempts by the UN to mediate peace with Argentina, Britain presented a revised peace negotiation that withdrew both British and Argentine forces and allowed the Islanders to choose who controlled them. No Argentines lived on the Falklands so this would almost certainly have favoured the British anyway.
11 JuneThe Fall of Stanley: i) Battle of Mount Harriet, ii) Battle of Two Sisters,iii) Battle of Mount Longdon.The first phase of attacks on Stanley with three simultaneous battles: all three were successful but with losses on both sides.
13 JuneBattle of Mount Tumbledown.The second phase of attacks on Stanley provided British forces with a final breakthrough of Argentine defences.
14 JuneCeasefire and Surrender.A ceasefire was negotiated and Thatcher announced the commencement of surrender negotiations. The Falklands War ended.

The Royal Navy and the Falklands War

The Royal Navy was an integral part of the British win in the Falklands War. Let's look at some key facts that helped the Navy:

  • On 26 March, the submarine HMS Superb left Gibraltar and the press reported she was heading south. There has since been speculation that the effect of those reports was to panic the Argentine junta into invading the Falklands before nuclear-powered submarines could be deployed.

  • The Royal Navy has always been a strong arm of the British Forces. The Task Force sent by Margaret Thatcher on 5 April 1982 consisted of 127 ships to aid the war. Over 25,000 British military personnel were dispatched to the Falklands to fight roughly 10,000 Argentinian troops, most of which were conscripts with limited experience.

  • Despite the Falklands being over 8000 miles from Britain, the war lasted 74 days due to the quick response of the Navy from Portsmouth.

  • Argentina had expected the United States to remain neutral during the conflict, however as UN talks were unproductive, the US provided the Royal Navy with essential supplies of communication and military equipment, missiles and fuel to aid the war effort.

The Falklands War HMS Invincible returns from Falklands War StudySmarterThe HMS Invincible returned from the Falklands War to celebrations in Britain on 17 September 1982. The Royal Navy's competence was a key part of the British success, Wikimedia COmmons.

The Aftermath of the Falklands War

The Falklands War left around 650 Argentinian and 255 British people dead. Hundreds more were injured on both sides.

  • The burns suffered by troops became some of the most recognizable images of the conflict.

  • Britain captured around 11,000 Argentine prisoners, all of whom were freed when the fighting finished.

  • The conflict received widespread popular support in Britain, possibly because the opening years of the 1980s had been characterised by bad news: economic recession, a decline in industry, and - arguably - declining influence on the world stage. The victory became a defining moment for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's office.

Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War

Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in 1979 following a defeat of James Callaghan's Labour government. Her first term as Prime Minister made her very unpopular in Britain.

  • When Thatcher came to power, she reduced government spending through privatisation of state-owned industries and a reduction of spending on social services such as education and health care. This proved very unpopular as unemployment rates doubled in the first two years of her prime ministership.

  • When the Falklands War began in 1982, Thatcher was tested in other areas besides her handling of the British economy.

  • On 27 March 1982, Thatcher held a crisis meeting about the imminent Argentine invasion of the Falklands where she was advised to deploy a task force.

  • Margaret Thatcher rose in popularity in the UK for her military decisions and success during the War. The Conservatives won a landslide victory in the following general election in 1983, the most convincing election outcome since 1945.

The Falklands War Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan 1988 StudySmarterMargaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan met at the Oval Office in 1988. The US' support during the Falklands War was integral for British supplies. Thatcher remained in office as Prime Minister until 1990 following popularity after the Falklands, Wikimedia Commons.

In a speech in Cheltenham, Thatcher said:

We have ceased to be a nation in retreat… we rejoice that Britain has rekindled that spirit which has fired her for generations past and which today has begun to burn as brightly as before.

Did the War answer the question of sovereignty?

Ultimately, no. Although the two nations re-established relations in a joint statement in 1989, Argentina still maintains its claim to the Falkland Islands, even adding it to its Constitution in 1994.

In a 2013 referendum, all but three islanders voted to remain a UK overseas territory - a result dismissed by the Argentine government as a 'publicity stunt'. Therefore, despite Britain's clear win in the Falklands, the issue is far from resolved.

Falklands War - Key takeaways

  • The Falkland Islands have long been controversial since the beginning of European colonisation in the eighteenth century. Britain reasserted its sovereignty over the Falklands in 1833 and has been in constant debate over it with Argentina since, especially when a right-wing military coup instated a junta in Argentina in 1976.
  • Official negotiations between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands began in 1965 when the United Nations called for a settlement. These negotiations ultimately failed and on 2 April 1982 Argentina invaded the Island, instigating the Falklands War. The UN announced Resolution 502 on 3 April which stated that Argentina must cease hostilities and withdraw from the Falklands. Britain was hence permitted to invoke Article 51 and initiate a self-defence military response.
  • Britain sent a military task force on 5 April, comprising 100 ships and over 25,000 troops to reclaim the Falklands. The Black Buck Raids intimidated Argentina's Air Force on 1 May, and the sinking of Argentina's ARA General Belgrano on the 2 May saw an Argentine Navy retreat. Britain's HMS Sheffield was sunk on 4 May. British military operations led to the Fall of Stanley between 11-14 June and ultimately an Argentinian surrender.
  • Margaret Thatcher was unpopular before the War because her reductions in government expenditure had created a massive rise in unemployment in Britain. However, the Falklands victory gained her support and the Conservative party saw a historic landslide victory in 1983 following the war.
  • The Falklands still remain under British sovereignty but Argentina continues to dispute this and lay claim to the Islands.

Falklands War

The Falklands War lasted 74 days between 2 April and 14 June 1982.

Around 650 Argentine Military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and 3 Falkland Islanders died during the conflict in 1982.

The Falklands War lasted 74 days between 2 April and 14 June 1982.

The Falklands War was fought by the British to retain their sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. At the time, Argentina was run by a brutal military dictatorship and the inhabitants of the Falklands were mostly British citizens. The Falklands War helped Margaret Thatcher gain popularity in Britain and win the 1983 election by a landslide. Control of the Falklands continues to be a controversial topic, especially with the colonial history of the Islands. The British population of the Falklands makes the issue particularly difficult to navigate in modern times.

Official negotiations between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands began in 1965 when the United Nations called for a settlement. These negotiations ultimately failed and on 2 April 1982 Argentina invaded the Island, instigating the Falklands War. The UN announced Resolution 502 on 3 April which stated that Argentina must cease hostilities and withdraw from the Falklands. Britain was hence permitted to invoke Article 51 and initiate a self-defence military response. 


A military task force was sent from Britain on 5 April, comprising 100 ships and over 25,000 troops to reclaim the Falklands. The Black Buck Raids intimidated Argentina's Air Force on 1 May, and the sinking of Argentina's ARA General Belgrano on the 2 May saw an Argentine Navy retreat. Britain's HMS Sheffield was sunk on 4 May. British military operations led to the Fall of Stanley between 11-14 June and ultimately an Argentinian surrender.

Final Falklands War Quiz

Question

Why did the Falklands war start?

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Answer

Both Argentina and Britain felt they had sovereignty over the Falklands.

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Question

What is a junta?

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Answer

A military dictatorship.

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Question

What was adopted on 3rd April?


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Answer

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 502.

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Why were the Black Buck Raids successful?


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They scared the Argentine forces as they did not understand how the British were able to carry them out, causing them to retreat to their air bases and weakening their position in the air.

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Question

What was the most controversial event of the Falklands war and why?


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Answer

The sinking of the Belgrano as it was thought the ship may have been attacked whilst in a supposedly demilitarized zone.

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When was the ceasefire announced?


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Answer

The 14th June 1982.

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Question

"Britain's victory in the Falklands was clearly solves the issue of sovereignty over the Falklands." True or false?


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Answer

False. Argentina still feels as though they are the rightful holders of the Falklands and has not accepted Britain's victory as the end of the matter.

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Question

Which election did Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party win by a landslide following the Falklands War victory?

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Answer

1983 General Election

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Question

Which island acted as a halfway point for British Forces on their way to the Falklands?

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Answer

Ascension Island

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Roughly how many troops did Britain deploy for the Falklands War?

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Answer

25,000

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Question

When did salvage workers start to occupy South Georgia Island?

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Answer

19th March 1982

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Why was Ascension Island a strategic point for British ships travelling to the Falklands?

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Answer

It acted as a half way point across the Atlantic

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When did Britain reassert its sovereignty over the Falklands?

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Answer

1833

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Question

Which number Resolution issued by the UN attempted to peacefully resolve the Falklands conflict?

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Answer

502

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Question

How far are the Falkland Islands from Britain?

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Answer

8,000 miles

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