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Did Britain’s Victory in the Falklands War Owe More to the Superior Training, Élan and Command Structure of the British Armed Forces Vis-À-Vis the Argentinean Conscript Army Than to Britain’s Superior Military Technology?

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Did Britain’s victory in the Falklands War owe more to the superior training, élan and command structure of the British armed forces vis-à-vis the Argentinean conscript army than to Britain’s superior military technology? (2611 WORDS)

The Falklands War was a conflict over what seemed an insignificant archipelago of islands in the South Pacific, 500 miles from the coast of Argentina and 8000 miles away from the British mainland. The conflict was the result of 149 years of unsuccessful diplomacy[1], which resulted in an Argentinean “recovery”[2] of what they held as the “Malvinas” islands. This led to the outbreak of the last successful conventional campaign of the twentieth century. After the Argentine surrender on June 14th of 1982, the debate of why and how the British achieved victory became prominent. Some believe that it resulted from better training, a more effective command structure and the thrust with which the British embarked on the campaign. Others judge that the victory was due to Britain’s superior military technology. This essay will explore the extent to which this idea was credible. The comparison between the British and Argentineans will be made. This war, which is described as “two bald men fighting over a comb”[3], will be examined in order to understand the combination of factors that resulted in British victory in the spring of 1982.

In order to answer why the Argentineans’ attempt at repossession was unsuccessful, it is significant to look at the development of the long-standing conflict. From 1833, Britain had retained authority until the invasion of April 2nd of 1982[4]. The dispute arose because Argentineans held the opinion that the islands had always belonged to them, believing that Britain had been exercising colonial domination[5]. This was achieved by promoting the idea of self-determination[6]. Under the United Nations Charter, the Falklanders held the right to remain “British” if they wished to[7]. Although several diplomatic steps were made towards compromise between the Falklanders, Britain and Argentina, the talks fell into despair. Thereafter, the unpopular President Galtieri decided to invade in order to distract the Argentinean population[8]. The late 1970s had been a period marked by political dissatisfaction and economic instability, which promoted Prime Minister Thatcher to act in a similar manner to Galtieri. She would respond to the invasion with overwhelming force. Galtieri did not anticipate this and was therefore not prepared to counter her attack[9].

It is significant to take into account the context in which Thatcher, the Royal Navy and the population of Britain found themselves before the invasion, as they would deploy their forces with considerable élan. For Thatcher, the war was pivotal. Within three years in office, she had become strikingly unpopular, as she had implemented severe limits on public spending. This affected the Royal Navy, who was facing cuts and was threatened with the early disposal of it aircraft carriers, “Intrepid and Fearless”[10] as dictated by the 1981 Defense Review[11]. The victory of the Falklands campaign would save the Navy. It faced up to ten thousand redundancies[12] and witnessed a decline in its role on the world stage, which was seen as unnerving by those who held patriotic ties to it[13]. Moreover, the Navy was lacking in technological modernity, which was evident during the war. This was visible in the inability of gathering reconnaissance photographs during the campaign[14]. This shortage created obstacles where there would have been none in circumstances where the economy and geography furthered development and allowed for its use. Nevertheless, the obstacles faced only encouraged the Navy’s determination and will to prove itself. Furthermore, the British population was suffering from unemployment and the Petrol Crises of the 1970s that weighed heavily on the economy. Thus, when the issue of the Falklands reappeared it proved a necessary distraction and aroused a “deeply emotional Britain”[15].

The élan with which they embarked on the campaign was thus caused by the social context that would prove favorable to British victory. Whilst there had been continuous discussions with the Argentineans regarding the status of the Falklands, an agreement had not been met. When it became apparent that tensions were rising, the British practiced a policy of “understated response […] and de-escalation”.[16] As a consequence, Britain and its the government looked weak. Their failure to intervene early against the threat posed by the Argentineans was not beneficial to the already vulnerable government. Thereafter, it would compensate by acting swiftly and with force. Thatcher would have committed domestic political suicide had she not responded to the invasion in this way. The islands were of political rather than economic significance. There was a necessity for both Britain and the Navy to strike with quick, considerable force while there was momentum, in order to prove themselves. This favorable timing of the crisis enabled optimal cooperation of the government and the Royal Navy. The public’s patriotism and support of the war, the Navy’s grasping of an opportunity and the government’s chance to salvage its reputation were combining factors of the victory. The élan and cooperation would continue throughout the campaign.

Superior training of the 3 Commando Brigade and 5 Infantry Brigade was also a factor of the British victory. The causes for the Argentineans’ lack of training were threefold. Firstly, they did not believe that the British would respond, as they had demonstrated disinterest in the islands[17]. They had removed “Endurance” (an aircraft carrier) from the Islands[18] and had enforced a bill that disabled automatic citizenship to Falklanders of 3rd and 4th generation descent[19]. This ambiguity increased the self-confidence of the Argentinean Commanders who would deploy with no perceived threat of a counter-attack. In their eyes, emphasis on training was trivial. Secondly, the Argentineans were conscripts, and did not receive the professional training undergone by the British troops. This affected their skill in combat. Thirdly, the majority of conscripts sent to the Falklands originated from the warmer climate of northern Argentina[20]. The southern, experienced and appropriate troops were instead deployed to the borders of Chile[21]. Thus, the Argentinean troops were inept and not acclimatized to the cold of the Falklands. This arguably affected the outcome of the war. This is contrasted with the British troops, some of which had endured arctic training in Norway[22]. The climate was an obstacle to both belligerents in terms of transportation of rations, machinery and personnel. The ability to survive and fight in the severe weather was pivotal. It’s effects on morale and the ability to achieve tasks is visible in “Illuminados Por el Fuego”, in which the cold was portrayed as a significant factor to the surrender.

Preparations for battle were made on Ascension Island and on board vessels, specifically targeting disembarking procedures and coping mechanisms for the particularities of combat. In Julian Thompson’s account of the Falklands war, the value of training is highlighted. Although the British troops were more proficient during the majority of the campaign, there were instances in which inadequate training was present. An example of this was visible in the landing of 2 Parachute Regiment on San Carlos Beach, who slowed down operations and jeopardized the task at hand due to their lack of training on Ascension Island[23]. Thompson also describes 3 Brigade’s frustration with the arrival of new helicopters, whose pilots had not been trained to a sufficient standard. They were unable to read maps and understand the battlefield properly. However, as Thompson denotes “superior training, aggressive soldiering, [and] the ability to think fast [eventually] won the day”[24]. This competence was evident in the raid for Mount Longdon, in which 3 Parachute Regiment improvised and continued towards the objective without their Commanding Officer[25]. This demonstrated the positive outcome of ample training. Additionally, the Argentinean troops were symbolically withdrawing in “No Picnic”. This was contrasted with the portrayal of the British troops, who relentlessly fought despite adverse conditions. Although this may be perceived as Argentinean cowardice, one must remember that the belligerents did not have equal training. Thus, the latter had no choice or capability other than to run. This is contrasted to the majority of the British force that had learnt to use its troops to the best of its ability.

The commanding structure of the British troops is another key element to the victory. Although the British were “outnumbered by more than 2 to 1”[26], the Royal Marines were known as a close-knit family. This increased cohesion[27], thus promoting the idea of working as a unit rather than as an individual. This had a positive effect on morale and the soldiers’ will to fight. As they had become acquainted over a period of time, they had common goals and had learnt to work together, as they had also trained as a unit. For the Argentinean troops, who had been thrust upon each other, this lack of group cohesion would prove detrimental. Also, the hierarchy of the British was not clearly defined. In “No Picnic” this was depicted when the soldiers arrived in Port Stanley after the surrender. An Argentine Commander approached the men in order to speak with the leader, but found it difficult, as he was not discernible from the rest of the troops[28]. “There was little sign of rank anywhere”[29], which is significant because it demonstrates that troops were equals. Contrastingly, the ranks of the Argentine troops were visibly regimented and separated, which was highlighted in “Illuminados Por el Fuego”.

Additionally, whilst the Commanding Officer of a unit, platoon or battalion was given orders from the “Orders Group”[30], objectives were relayed directly to the troops. They were educated and trained accordingly. This was essential in that they were subsequently able to continue the task at hand in the event of fatalities. This demonstrates the link between sufficient training and a well-organized command structure. Thus, all ranks of the troops were given responsibility. This amplified the feeling of being valued by superiors, the will to fight. Due to appropriate training, the soldiers were able fight relentlessly, as stated above. It prompted the troops to believe that the war “bloody well was [worth it]”[31]. Furthermore, the officers joined in and were at the forefront of their troops during assaults, therein facing the greatest danger and sacrificing themselves for the task at hand[32]. The fact that they partook in a war and were on sight during the danger increased morale and respect for superiority. Moreover, Julian Thompson’s “No Picnic” exhibits a reciprocal respect for one’s inferiors. He often described the troops as “splendid”[33] and praised their achievements. This symbiosis created an environment of good cooperation. This emphasis on the unit and group was pivotal. It was contrasted with the “us against them” sentiment present in the Argentinean force. Both cohesion and cooperation between ranks countered the obstacles faced.

Nevertheless, one may argue that the British victory was not caused by the strengths exhibited above. One may consider that it resulted from superior military technology. Although there is little evidence to suggest this during the campaign, it is true that “Britain was one of only three nations […] in the world which could mount such an operation”[34] so far from home. Even so, for the duration of the campaign, the British were not better equipped. Although their fleet was strong and supported the land-based operations, it is said that that “a ship entering service in the mid-1980s [was] fitted with 1960s-designed weapons systems [that had] not been improved”[35]. This portrays the lack of modernity within the fleet, which resulted from the budgetary cuts undergone in the Navy’s conventional force during the Cold War[36]. This was evident in the threat posed by “Exocet”[37], anti-aircraft missiles used by the Argentineans. Furthermore, the physical shortage of military technology to which the forces had become accustomed is visible in the absence of aerial reconnaissance photographs. The exact locations of the enemy, its major strongholds and weaponry remained unknown. Although this shortage could have potentially hindered progress of the campaign, it did not. This leads us back to the fact that the lack of superior military technology was compensated by the attributes discussed above (the élan, training and command structure). The scarcity of military technology was due to the inability to mobilize the entirety of the task force, because of the geographic positioning of the islands.

Keith Speed attempts to justify this deficiency by stating that a democratic state such as Britain could only spend so much on Defense. Thus explaining why the Argentinean armies were able to accord a more proportionate part of their budget to military technology. Even so, a majority of their planes were in poor condition and the pilots were ill trained, which disabled the full use of their “air superiority”[38]. Also, it may be argued that their best military equipment was sent with the more experienced troops to the Chilean border. Yet in theory, the Argentineans should have been able to destroy the proportionally smaller British force. Julian Thompson presents many occasions after the British landing, in which the “Pucara”[39] and “Skyhawk”[40] aircraft could have easily destroyed the largely land-based British forces. Therein, whilst the Argentineans held superiority in numbers, the British used what they had to the most of their ability, considering the climate, which was an inhibiting factor. The effect of poor weather on the utility of technology was visible in “No Picnic” when the troops had no choice but to walk to their objectives due to the lack of visibility caused by snow[41]. Nevertheless, obstacles such as the weather were overcome, during a period of military cuts, which affected both the availability of military technology and the development of technology available. Therefore, it was a combination of circumstances, which included the Argentinean emphasis on defense against Chile, the climate of the Falklands as well as the lack of quality of both the troops and the technology[42] that proved favorable to a British victory. At most, the manner in which they used their technology affected the outcome of the campaign.

To conclude, there was a shortage of military technology available to the troops during the campaign, which was visible in the frustration felt in Thompson and Speed’s accounts of the war. Even though the British struggled with the available resources, their victory was decisive. The significant factors to the victory were the élan with which Thatcher, the Royal Navy and the British population through themselves into the war. The British were investing a considerable task force in order to prove themselves, as the war was an attempt to salvage their reputation. For Thatcher and the Navy, there was a lot at stake. In winning the war, Thatcher gained considerable support and consequently won the elections of 1983. Moreover, the training of the British meant that they were better conditioned to win the war in the harsh climate of the islands. Also, the impact of a well-cooperating structure of the troops was visible. Especially when they faced an enemy with air superiority and a larger task force. It is evident that whilst employing and deploying a task force 8000 miles away from home was partly a feat of military technology, the victory was mainly due to planning and cooperation achieved before the commencement of battle. The complex intertwining of the major factors discussed above, amongst others, such as the Argentine underestimation of the enemy and the external context (which had originally provoked the war) resulted in the victory of the British. Thus it becomes evident that the victory was the result of the manner in which men fought the war and what they fought for, rather than what they fought with.

Bibliography (197 WORDS)

Duffy, Michael, Photo Reconnaissance,, last updated 22.08.2009, viewed on 23.03.2012

Hastings, Sir Max and Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Pan Military Classics Series, 1997

Falklands veteran meets Argentine “enemy” 30 years on, found on, BBC WEBSITE, 16 January 2012, Last updated at 01:20, viewed on 17.02.2012

Major Leonardo Arcadio Zarza, Malvinas: The Argentinean perspective of the Falkland’s conflict,, School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, April 2010

Mason, Rowena, Britain defends military presence near Falklands after Argentina threats,, Published on 8.02.2012, viewed on 19.02.2012

Posted by “robbyg”, My Falklands War, found on, Posted On 27.10.2012, viewed on 16.02.2012

Speed, Keith, Sea Change, The Battle for the Falklands and the Future of Britain’s Navy, What Kind of Navy Do We Need? Ashgrove Press, 1982

Thompson, Julian, No Picnic: 3 Commando Brigade in the South Atlantic, Secker and Warburg, 1997

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Iluminados Por el Fuego (Blessed by Fire), Produced by Tristan Bauer (2005), Canal+ Espana

Tumbledown, (1988), Produced by Richard Broke and written by Charles Wood, BBC

[1] Arcadio Zarza, Major Leonardo, Malvinas: The Argentinean perspective of the Falklands Conflict,, School of Advanced Military Studies, Leavenworth, Kansas, April 2010, viewed on 23.02.2012
[2] Hastings, Max and Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Chapter 3, Galtieri’s Gamble, pp. 58, Pan Military Classics Series, 1997
[3] Veterans, The Falklands- Aljazeera English, 21 April 2008, Found on, viewed on 17.02.2012
[4] Hastings, Max and Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Chapter 1, Forgotten Islands, pp.7, Pan Military Classics Series, 1997
[5] Ibid, pp. 7
[6] Arcadia Zarza, Major Leonardo, Malvinas, The Argentinean perspective of the Falklands Conflict, School of Advanced Military Studies, Leavenworth, Kansas, April 2010, viewed on 23.02.2012
[7] Hastings, Max and Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Chapter 1, Forgotten Islands, pp. 9, Pan Military Classics, 1997
[8] Veterans, The Falklands- Aljazeera English, 21 April 2008, found on, viewed on 17.02.2012
[9] Corum, Dr. James, Argentine Airpower in the Falklands, An Operational View, Found on, 20.08.2002, Air Space and Power Journal

[10] Speed, Keith, Sea Change: Battle for the Falklands and the Future of Britain’s Navy, Chapter 11, What Kind of Navy Do We Need? pp. 173, Ashgrove Publishing, 1982
[11] Ibid, pp. 173
[12] Ibid, pp. 174
[13] Ibid, pp.172
[14] Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter 2, Approach to Battle, pp. 38, Secker and Warburg, 1985
[15] Hastings, Sir Max and Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Chapter 5, Task Force, pp.121, Pan Military Classics Series, 1997
[16] Ibid, pp. 74
[17] Ibid, pp. 52-54
[18] Ibid, pp. 53
[19] Hastings, Sir Max and Jenkins, Simon, The Battle for the Falklands, Chapter 2, The Seventeen Years’ War, pp. 52-54, Pan Military Classics Series, 2010

[20] Veterans, The Falklands- Al Jazeera English, 21 April 2009, found on, viewed on 17.02.2012
[21] Ibid
[22]Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter 3, South Georgia, pp. 28, Secker and Warburg, 1985
[23] Ibid, pp. 58
[24] Ibid, pp. 131
[25] Ibid, pp.145-47
[26] Ibid, pp. 18
[27] Ibid, throughout the book, idea specifically explored in Chapter 5, First Foothold
[28] Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter 10, Capture Port Stanley, pp. 184, Secker and Warburg, 1985
[29] Ibid, pp. 184
[30] Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter 10, Capture Port Stanley, pp. 39, Secker and Warburg, 1985
[31] Posted by “robbyg”, My Falklands War, found on, Posted On 27.10.2012, viewed on 16.02.2012
[32]Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter 8, Night Battle, pp.147, Secker and Warburg, 1985
[33] Ibid, pp. 148
[34] Hasting, Max and Jenkins, Simon, Battle for the Falklands, Chapter 5, pp. 121, Pan Military Classics Series, 1997
[35] Speed, Keith, Sea Change, The Battle for the Falklands and the Future of Britain’s Navy, Chapter 11, What Kind of Navy Do We Need? pp.184, Ashgrove Press, 1982
[36] Ibid, pp. 175
[37] Corum, Dr. James, Argentine Airpower in the Falklands, An Operational View,, 20.08.2002, Air Space and Power Journal

[38] Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter, Chapter 2, Mid-Atlantic Interlude, pp. 23, Secker and Warburg,1997
[39] Corum, Dr. James, Argentine Airpower in the Falklands, An Operational View,, 20.08.2002, Air Space and Power Journal
[40] Ibid
[41] Thompson, Julian, No Picnic, Chapter 7, Yomp East, pp.109, Secker and Warburg, 1997
[42] Corum, Dr. James, Argentine Airpower in the Falklands, An Operational View,, 20.08.2002, Air Space and Power Journal

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