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A Short History of the Falklands War

2 April 1982 – 14 June 1982

By Ayesh Perera, Last Updated: June 22, 2021

The Falklands War was a 10-week conflict in 1982 between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the British territories of the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The undeclared war between the two nations began with the Argentine invasion on the 2nd of April and would last till the 14th of June.

Key Takeaways: Falklands War
  • The Falklands War was a brief undeclared war in 1982 between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the British territories of the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
  • The UN had long called on the UK and Argentina to peacefully resolve the longstanding dispute over the sovereignty of the islands.
  • The Argentine junta’s dwindling legitimacy, civil unrest due to domestic problems, and the patriotic support which the capture of the Falklands could garner seem to have played a significant role in the junta’s decision to invade the islands.
  • The Argentine invasion of the Falklands which began on the 2nd of April, was initially met with a nominal resistance, following which Governor Hunt decided to surrender.
  • Under the leadership of Prime Minister Thatcher and the command of Admiral Sir Fieldhouse, soon, the British responded by dispatching a special task force to liberate the Falklands.
  • After easily recapturing South Georgia, the British bombed Port Stanley’s runway and radar facilities, sunk Argentina’s ARA General Belgrano, and raided Pebble Island before landing troops on the shores of San Carlos Water.
  • Fierce battles were fought on Goose Green, on Mount Kent and finally, at Port Stanley before the Argentine troops surrendered to the British General Jeremy Moore on the 14th of June.
  • The war which cost the lives of 258 British and 649 Argentinians ended on the 20th of June with the liberation of the South Sandwich Islands.
  • The British victory marked the downfall of the Argentine junta and sealed the Thatcher government’s landslide electoral win the following year.
  • Diplomatic relations between Argentina and Britain have since been restored and both nations remain committed to a peaceful solution to the islands’ ongoing sovereignty dispute.
The Falklands Islands War 1982 Map


The Falkland Islands, especially during the 18th century, was the subject of a dispute between Great Britain on one side, and France, Spain and Argentina (the United Provinces of the River Plate at the time) on the other side.

However, since 1833, the Falkland Islands had steadily remained under British sovereignty with a population of nearly 3,000 people who had been largely in favor of British rule over the territory. Despite this reality, Argentina continued to claim its right to the islands.

Consequently, the United Nations called on the United Kingdom and Argentina to reach a settlement concerning their sovereignty. In response, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom, which considered the territory to be a barrier to British trade relations in the region, sought to negotiate a transfer around 1968.

However, Falkland Islanders steadfastly refused to accept Argentine sovereignty and the FCO plan was effectively frustrated in the Parliament by groups sympathetic to the islanders’ concerns. In the meantime, Argentina underwent a military coup in 1976, and by 1982, the country was run by a junta headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri.


The Argentine Military mostly comprised poorly trained conscripts while the British Task Force was made up of professional warriors. Moreover, the want of bedding, shelter, clothing, as well as the harsh weather conditions of the Islands were too much for the conscripts to deal with. Argentina’s economic downturn would have played no small role in the provision of such necessities.

The United States, under the Reagan administration, initially sought to mediate via shuttle diplomacy for a peaceful solution. However, Argentina rejected America’s peace overtures. Subsequently, the U.S. Senate as well as the House of Representatives passed resolutions to support the decision by the U.S. to side with the UK. The U.S. prohibited the sale of arms to Argentina and provided the UK with thousands of rounds of mortar, airfield matting, hundreds of Sidewinder missiles and 12.5 million gallons of aviation fuel.

NATO was not involved because the North Atlantic Treaty’s Article 6 declares that collective self-defense pertains only to attacks on territories of the member states north of the Tropic of Cancer.

When the Falklands war started, Chile was negotiating with Argentina over the Beagle Channel. Seeing the Argentine invasion, Chile realized that Argentina could similarly use aggression to take control of the channel. Consequently, the Chilean government decided not to support Argentina in the war and sided with the UK by providing intelligence.

The Exocet missiles which the Argentines fired at the British ships Atlantic Conveyor and HMS Sheffield, killing 32 people, had been sold by France to Argentina prior to the war. However, after the war broke out, France embargoed the sale of weapons as well as support for Argentina. Moreover, France aided the British by permitting them the use of French ports in West Africa and providing them information on their previous sales to Argentina.

In the 1990s, diplomatic relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom were restored. In 1998, President Carlos Menem of Argentina visited London, and in 2001, Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Argentina. Argentina still affirms its claims to the Islands but has declared its intention to use only peaceful means to gain its sovereignty.

British citizens need not procure a visa to enter the Falkland Islands. However, those visiting the islands cannot take paid employment unless they have work permits.

Economic stagnation as well as the human rights abuses of the military dictatorship led to major civil unrest, and the junta had to devise a way to divert public attention from the country’s most pressing problems. Admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya, the commander-in-chief of the navy, proposed a military solution to the territorial dispute over the Falkland Islands.

The Galtieri regime reasoned that this would provoke Argentinians’ feelings of patriotism and solidify the junta’s authority. Tension between the United Kingdom and Argentina was gradually rising during this period.

On the 19th of March 1982, in what could be construed as the first offensive action in the conflict, a group of Argentine Marines, under the guise of scrap metal merchants, entered and raised the Argentine flag at South Georgia Island. On the 25th, the British, in response, dispatched the Royal Navy vessel HMS Endurance.

The Argentine government, suspecting UK reinforcements, decided to hasten its invasion of the Falkland Islands.

The Argentine Invasion

On the 1st of April 1982, the Argentine forces launched Operation Rosario which began with the disembarkation of the destroyer ARA Santisima Trinidad.

The next day, the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands with amphibious landings. The Argentine forces encountered a nominal defense under the command of Major Mike Norman of the Royal Marines, organized by Sir Rex Hunt, the Governor of the Falkland Islands.

The Argentine invasion involved a strike on Moody Brook barracks and an engagement with the troops under the command of Bill Trollope at Stanley.

A final engagement at the Government House preceded Governor Hunt’s decision to surrender.

The British Retaliation

In response to the Argentine Marines’ action on South Georgia, the British had also dispatched the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Austin and HMS Spartan in late March.

As the Argentines invaded on the 2nd of April, emergency meetings were called for in the British cabinet and the House of Commons, and approval was granted to form a task force to liberate the islands.

Thus, under the leadership of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Operation Corporate was launched with Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse as the commander of the task force. A bipartisan war cabinet was also established by the British Government on the 6th of April to guide the war effort and review the ongoing military developments.

Operation Corporate

British military operations in the Falklands War were given the codename Operation Corporate, and the commander of the task force was Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. Operations lasted from 1 April 1982 to 20 June 1982.

In the meantime, the British ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Anthony Parson managed to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and procure a resolution amenable to the British military response to the Argentine invasion.

By a vote of 10 to 1, the council adopted the United Nations Security Council Resolution 502 which called for the removal of Argentine forces.

Notably, the resolution made no reference to the British military, thereby, permitting the British to strike the Argentine occupiers in an act of self-defense.

The British Task Force

The task force dispatched by the British government included 62 merchant ships, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and 43 Royal Navy vessels.

Moreover, the British had 14 Harrier GR.3s and 28 Sea Harriers available for air combat while Argentina’s air force was equipped with 122 serviceable jet fighters. The British also lacked airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Further exacerbating the situation, the British were operating more than 8,000 miles from home. An assessment of the situation by the U.S. Navy concluded that a successful British counter-invasion to liberate the islands is a military impossibility.

The Royal Air Force managed to establish an airbase of RAF on Ascension Island by mid-April. Around this time, the naval task force also arrived at Ascension to prepare for the war. The British Task Force, during its travel southward, was shadowed by unarmed Boeing 707 aircraft of the Argentine Air Force.

Though some of the aircraft were intercepted, none were attacked because diplomatic endeavors were still underway.

The Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ)

On the 12th of April 1982. The United Kingdom declared a Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ), covering a circle of radius approximately 230 miles from the center of the Falkland Islands on the 12th of April.

The British government indicated that any Argentine warship or naval auxiliary entering the MEZ would be attacked.

On 23rd of April, however, the British government, probably in response to the use of Boeing 707 aircraft by Argentina to shadow the British Task Force, clarified that any Argentine aircraft or ship considered to threaten British forces anywhere in the South Atlantic would be attacked.

On the 30th of April, the British declared a Total Exclusionary Zone (TEZ). The TEZ covered the same areas as did the MEZ.

However, under the TEZ, any aircraft or sea vessel from any country inside the zone could be attacked without warning. Finally, on the 7th of May 1982, the British government further extended the TEZ to include an area within 14 miles of the Argentine coast.

The Liberation of South Georgia

Operation Paraquet to recapture South Georgia was carried out under the command of Major Guy Sheridan RM. The South Georgia force comprised Marines from 42 Commando, and troops from the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS).

The SAS troops landed on the 21st of April, and British forces launched the strike on the 24th of April. After wielding a devastating blow to the Argentine submarine ARA Santa Fe on the 25th of April, Major Sheridan took his 76 men on a forced march.

Following a naval bombardment demonstration by Antrim and Plymouth, two Navy vessels, the Argentine forces surrendered without resistance.

British forces at South Georgia sent a message to London that the “White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia,” and Margaret Thatcher broke the news, asking the people of Britain to “congratulate our forces and the Marines!”

Operation Black Buck

The British operations on the Falkland Islands began on the 1st of May with RAF Vulcan bomber from Ascension launching attack on the runway at Port Stanley as well as radar facilities close by.

In the meantime, Harriers managed to shoot down 3 Argentine aircraft. As a result of the raids, the Argentines concluded that their aircraft were open to attack at Port Stanley, and decided to withdraw them to their airbases on the mainland.

Due to fuel concerns as well as time constraints, having to take off from the mainland placed the Argentine forces at a major disadvantage.

Operation Black Buck

The Sinking of ARA General Belgrano

The British naval forces operating on submarines and surface vessels close to the Falklands soon engaged the Argentine fleet.

On the 2nd of May, HMS Conqueror spotted and fired three torpedoes at Argentina’s WWII vintage light cruiser ARA General Belgrano. Belgrano was struck twice and subsequently sunk, killing 323 members of its crew.

As a result, the entire Argentine fleet, with the exception of the ARA San Luis, withdrew to their bases and did not return to the conflict. In retaliation, two days later, an Argentine Super Etendard fighter attacked HMS Sheffield with an Exocet anti-ship missile. The explosion set the destroyer ablaze but cost the British only 20 deaths.

The Sinking of ARA General Belgrano

The Argentine cruiser General Belgrano sinking after being torpedoed by a British submarine, May 2, 1982.

The Raid on Pebble Island

The British Special Air Service (SAS) operatives were assigned the task of launching an attack on the aircraft on ground on Pebble Island, a smaller Falkland Island north of West Falkland.

On the night of the 14th of May, 2 Westland Sea King HC4 helicopters were dispatched with 45 of D Squadron members to infiltrate the airfield. Following their clandestine intrusion, the raiding team lay charges on 7 aircraft, and then, opened fire on them with L1A1 rockets and small arms.

In the meantime, Glamorgan would unleash high explosive rounds on Argentine positions. It was after the raiding team had regrouped that the Argentines began engaging. During the ensuing firefight one British soldier was wounded while the Argentine commanding officer was killed.

The raiding team, eventually however, after having destroyed 11 Argentine aircraft, were exfiltrated successfully before daybreak.

The Battle of San Carlos

From the 21st of May until the 25th of May, a battle between ships and aircraft occurred as low-flying Argentine jets launched repeated attacks on British ships as the British were seeking to land on the shores of San Carlos Water.

This was also the first time that full-scale air strikes were countered with surface-to-air missiles from a surface fleet and STOVL aircraft.

The British warship incurred most of the strikes. However, they succeeded in keeping the landing ships relatively safe from the Argentine strike aircraft. Moreover, several procedural problems crippled the Argentine efforts. 13 bombs, for instance, struck British ships but did not detonate.

The British sustained considerable losses, but were eventually able to somehow land the troops.

The Battle of Goose Green

Having landed on the Falklands, approximately 500 British troops engaged the Argentine forces on the 28th and the 29th of May on Goose Green and Darwin, settlements in Lafonia, East Falkland.

With artillery support from the Royal Artillery and fire support from HMS Arrow, the British attacked the 12th Infantry Regiment of Argentina which was in a well-defended position yet within attacking distance of San Carlos Water.

During a solo charge against an Argentine machine-gun post, the British commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Jones was killed; he would posthumously receive the Victoria Cross for his valor. The long fire fight would result in the deaths of 47 Argentine and 17 British soldiers.

Finally, the British commanding officer Chris Keeble decided to call for an unconditional Argentine surrender. If the Argentines did not surrender the British threatened to bombard Darwin and flatten Goose Green.

The Argentine garrison, realizing the seeming inevitability of their defeat decided officially surrender, and 961 Argentine troops were taken as prisoners of war. Following the Argentine surrender, Gurkhas were dispatched in helicopter-borne operations to hunt down Argentine patrols in the region.

The British encountered a 10-man Argentine patrol, and later deployed 20 Gurkhas to clear their outpost in an abandoned farmhouse. The spot was designed to be an ideal place from which to launch SA-7 missiles at British Aircraft.

The Assault on Mount Kent

In the meantime, 42 Commando decided to enter Mount Kent by helicopter while Argentine commandos as well as Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles were transported to Stanley on the 27th and the 28th of May.

During the ensuing week, intense patrol battles were fought between the Argentine forces and the British forces comprising the SAS and 3 Commando Brigade’s Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC).

The Argentine operation incorporated extensive helicopter use to support the patrols. However, this was not without cost. On the 30th of May, from the vicinity of Mount Kent, the SAS fired a FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missile destroying an Aerospatiale SA 330 Puma helicopter and killing 6 Argentine special operators.

On the 31st of May, the Argentine Special Forces were defeated by the M&AWC in the Skirmish at Top Malo House.

Bluff Cove and Fitzroy

5000 more British troops arrived by the 1st of June and the British commander, Major General Jeremy Moore RM, began planning a strike against Stanley.

In the meantime, the Argentine air strikes against the British navy continued, claiming 56 lives. On the 2nd of June, a small group of 2 Para were moved in Westland Scout helicopters to Swan Inlet house.

After discovering that Fitzroy was clear of Argentines, another contingent of 2 Para was requested for Fitzroy and Bluff Cove. This advance, however, was uncoordinated and would create 30 miles of indefensible positions. Moreover, indecision and disagreement arose over landing at Bluff Cove.

This delay turned the two Landing Ship Logistics (LSL) into easy targets for the Argentine A-4 Skyhawks. As expected, on the 8th of June, the Argentinians carried out airstrikes, killing 48 and wounding 115 British in what would later be called the disaster at Port Pleasant.

The Fall of Stanley

Despite the heavy loss at Bluff Cove, the British continued to advance. Following thorough reconnaissance, on the night of the 11th of June, the British unleashed a brigade-sized attack on the heavily guarded ring of high ground around Stanley.

With gunfire support from Royal Navy ships, the 3 Commando Brigade simultaneously struck in the battles of Two Sisters, Mount Harriet and Mount Longdon. While the objectives for the first two encounters were captured, the battle at Mount Longdon continued to escalate.

The British forces had to press through mortar, machine gun, rifle, sniper and artillery fire. After both sides had suffered great losses, the British objectives were eventually secured. The British Sergeant Ian McKay who was killed in a grenade attack upon an Argentine bunker would posthumously receive the Victoria Cross.

On the 13th of June, a second phase of assaults began as the Scots Guards liberated Mount Tumbledown, thereby breaching the last natural line of Argentine defense. Soon, the Argentine town defenses at Stanley started crumbling, and it became obvious to the Argentine General Mario Menendez that his circumstances were utterly hopeless.

On the 14th of June, he surrendered his 9800 troops to the British General Jeremy Moore, thereby, in effect, ending the war. On the night of the 14th of June, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced the news to the House of Commons and went on to subsequently join the celebrating crowds in Downing Street.

6 days later, on the 20th of June, the British sent 42 Commando Royal Marines to liberate the South Sandwich Islands. The Argentine military personnel readily surrendered by raising a white flag and no casualties were incurred on either side.

Margaret Thatcher Falkland War

The operation was swift, and by June, Argentina had surrendered, and the Islands were back in British hands. The electorate responded by reelecting the Thatcher government, more than tripling the Conservative majority with 144 seats.


The war cost the lives of 258 British and 649 Argentinians. 777 British were wounded while 1,068 Argentinians incurred injuries, and 11,313 Argentinians were captured.

In the United Kingdom, the British victory sealed the reelection of the Thatcher government in a landslide. Moreover, the islanders were granted full British citizenship in 1983, and the UK made significant investments which improved the economy of the Falkland Islands.

In Argentina, the head of the ruling junta, Galtieri, was compelled to resign, and democracy was restored to the nation. Though the Falkland Islands remain committed to British sovereignty and self-determination, Argentina still claims South Georgia and the Falklands as part of its indivisible and integral territory.

The government of the United Kingdom maintains that the Islanders have the right to determine for themselves the sovereignty of the region.

The Falklanders have consistently rejected Argentina’s claims, and 99.8% of them voted in a referendum, supporting its status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Perera, A.. "A Short History of the Falklands War." World History Blog, June 22, 2021.

About the Author

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

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