In 1982 – after years of failed negotiations – Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and the unthinkable happened – Britain went to war.
The Islands (known as the “Malvinas” in Argentina), located 300 miles east of Argentina in the South Atlantic, had been a British colony since 1833, but Argentina still expressed a claim to them. The Argentine military invaded the islands in April.
Although US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, tried to mediate, a British task force was immediately dispatched and British troops landed at and around Port San Carlos on the western side of the West Falkland island on 21 May.
The British prepared to advance to Port Stanley, some 50 miles to the east.
An Argentine force was known to be at Goose Green, to the south of San Carlos, and since this posed a threat to the flank of the British advance, troops of the Parachute Regiment, with a battery of 105 mm guns in support, were sent to deal with it.
Due to a shortage of helicopters at a critical time, not all the battery of guns and its ammunition was able to get into position, and with this limited support, the Parachute troops made an attack on foot.
A brisk fire-fight resulted, in which the commanding officer of the Parachute troops was killed while leading a charge, for which he received a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Two Royal Navy ships, Ardent and Antelope were sunk by low-flying aircraft in what the soldiers called “bomb alley”. British sources claimed that as many as 23 Argentine planes had been shot down, but a beachhead had been established.
The men went ashore from the landing craft, quickly darting through the heather in case of snipers. Argentine jets were screaming over the ships assembled in the bay but there were few attacks on the forces on land.
The Argentine garrison was overrun, leaving the Argentineans with 250 dead and 1,200 taken prisoner, and the advance on Port Stanley was free to move. Islanders released from the recreation hall where they had been held for 30 days, threw their arms around the British troops and offered them cups of tea.
On 14 June, British troops recaptured Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. The 10-week war was over – It had cost a thousand lives: 750 Argentine and 254 British.
HMS Sheffield was destroyed by Exocet missiles, to the disbelief of the Admiralty. Two days earlier the Argentinean cruiser Belgrano had been sunk by British torpedoes.
12,000 Argentine troops surrendered (pictured at left) and the Falkland Islands were returned to British rule on 15 June 1982. The cost of the Falklands War was £1.6 billion. It involved 15,000 British military personnel.
As a result of the defeat, rebel forces in Argentina removed President Galtieri. The victory, however, was a triumph for Conservative British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who had gambled that her forces could win in a battle fought far from home.