- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- History - post WWII
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
With only one Chinook surviving to carry the largest loads to the forward battle zone the decision was made to economize on carrying capacity by getting the Marines and Paras to make their way to Port Stanley on foot – the epic ‘yomping’ and `tabbing’ (as the soldiers’ slang described it) which outflanked the Argentine defenses. Thereafter the pressure on Port Stanley was inexorable, marred only by a setback at Bluff Cove on 8 June. In a rash attempt to speed up the advance two landing ships, Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram moved detachments of the Welsh Guards into Bluff Cove in daylight. There they were caught by Skyhawks which set both ships on fire. In the confusion some 50 soldiers died and the Sir Galahad was so badly damaged that she was subsequently scuttled.
While the troops tightened their grip on Port Stanley the task force continued to supply them with their munitions and supplies, and the two carriers Hermes and Invincible flew off constant Sea Harrier strikes. On 31 May the Argentines made their last attempt to break the naval stranglehold. A force of six Skyhawks and two Super Etendards with their single remaining Exocet missile attempted to sink the Invincible but ran into a well prepared defense. The destroyer Exeter shot down two Skyhawks and in the confusion the Etendards were forced to make their attack at maximum range. The pilot who fired the Exocet mistook the still smoldering hulk of the Atlantic Conveyor for a carrier, and thus wasted the last of these deadly weapons.
The last major naval engagement was on the night of 11 June, when the destroyers Exeter and Glamorgan bombarded the Port Stanley defences. As they moved out to sea an Exocet missile mounted on shore was fired at them. Fortunately the Glamorgan was alert and turned her stern to the approaching missile to minimize any damage. The missile did not explode but wrecked Glamorgan’s helicopter hangar and after auxiliary engine compartment, killing 13 and injuring 14 men.
Port Stanley surrendered on 14 June. Casualties had been remarkably light, roughly 250 British and 1000 Argentines, about 75 percent lower than the British had estimated at the start of the campaign. The long-term future of the Falklands remains unsure but to prevent another Argentine attack the British have left a powerful garrison in the island and have built an airport capable of handling wide-bodied transport aircraft. Port Stanley’s harbor facilities were also improved to permit RN warships to spend the winter ‘down South’. The strategic value of the islands now obscures any considerations about the welfare of the 1800 inhabitants.
Not only the Royal Navy but other Western navies learned important lessons from the Falklands. The danger from sea-skimming missiles was already known but the need to deploy electronic countermeasures promptly was not widely understood. Nor was the risk from smoke in a damaged ship appreciated; new designs emphasize preventing smoke spreading and the elimination of materials which generate toxic smoke. Designs of antimissile guns were under development before 1982 but now they are widely used.
On the positive side the British Sea Harrier STOVL (short take off/vertical landing) aircraft proved a match for Mirage IIIs capable of flying at twice the speed, and their heroic air defense decimated the Argentine Air Force and Navy strikes sent against the task force. The Argentine Air Force was handled bravely but failed to drive away the British; the Navy was handled very badly, and after the sinking of the General Belgrano returned to harbor.
The British devoted considerable energy to countering the threat from submarines but out of four boats available to the Argentines one was already stripped for scrapping, one was sunk while running reinforcements into South Georgia and a third was laid up with machinery trouble. Claims were made that the fourth, the San Luis, had torpedoed HMS Invincible with a ‘dud’ torpedo, but the submarine captain’s own testimony revealed that he fired three torpedoes in 34 days, two at surface escorts and one at a submarine, all apparently at long range and without success. British submarines proved a major deterrent to Argentine surface forces, and also played a useful role in landing and recovering SAS and SBS patrols.