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An A-Z of the Falklands War


On 2 April 1982, in a move which led to a brief, but bitter conflict, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote UK colony in the South Atlantic. The war which resulted is a story of occupation, fierce air battles, heavy naval losses and bitter encounters between ground forces amidst an inhospitable terrain and unforgiving climate. Taken from renowned historian Gregory Fremont-Barnes’ book, A Companion to the Falklands War, here’s an A to Z guide to some of the perhaps lesser-known aspects to the British involvement in the Falklands conflict.

A = Amphibious Task Group

Commanded by Commodore Michael Clapp RN, who held the post of Commander Amphibious Warfare at Plymouth, this force was responsible for planning the amphibious landing, directing inshore operations and supporting ground operations in pursuit of Argentine defeat. HMS Fearless served as HQ ship of the Amphibious Task Group. While the Commander Amphibious Task Group neither controlled operations on shore nor laid down the design for battle for the landing force, he did make the ultimate decision in respect of whether or not a landing should proceed on the basis that he furnished the transport for the landing force, and other assets such as ship-to-shore movement craft and helicopters, naval gunfire support, and control of fixed-wing support.

B = Bristol Group

On 10 May the Bristol group of ships, the last major component of the Task Force to disembark from the UK, left Devonport and Portsmouth bound for the South Atlantic. This element initially consisted of eight vessels: the destroyer HMS Bristol, the frigates HMS Active, HMS Andromeda, HMS Avenger, HMS Minerva and HMS Penelope, the helicopter support ship RFA Engadine, and the tanker RFA Olna. All these, apart from Minerva, arrived in the Total Exclusion Zone (an area declared by the UK on 30 April 1982 covering a circle of 200 nautical miles from the centre of the Falkland Islands, into which any sea vessel or aircraft from any country entering the zone may have been fired upon without further warning) on 25 May, with Minerva arriving a day later, together with HMS Cardiff and RFA Bayleaf, both of which had left Gibraltar and Devonport, respectively, at different dates than the rest of the Bristol group. The Bristol group’s arrival in theatre helped compensate for the loss of the destroyers Coventry and Sheffield, and the frigates Antelope and Ardent.

C = Casualties

Total fatal casualties during the war amounted to 85 for the Royal Navy, 26 for the Royal Marines, 58 for the Army, one for the RAF, and 18 civilians operating aboard vessels in the Total Exclusion Zone, for a total of 253. To these should be added the three civilians living in Stanley killed accidentally by an artillery shell. Breaking with long tradition, the Ministry of Defence offered to repatriate the bodies of service personnel killed and buried in the Falklands. In the event, all but 16 were returned to the UK, with 14 buried at the Blue Beach Military Cemetery at San Carlos, and two others buried in Goose Green and Port Howard, respectively. Some naval personnel were buried at sea, while a few bodies were never recovered.

D = Destroyers

Eight guided missile destroyers of three different classes served in the South Atlantic during Operation Corporate (the codename given to the British military operations during the war): HMS Antrim, HMS Glamorgan, HMS Bristol, HMS Cardiff, HMS Coventry, HMS Exeter, HMS Glasgow, and HMS Sheffield

Destroyers played a vital role in the campaign – bombarding targets in and around Stanley airport and other installations, serving as lead vessels of detached naval forces performing specific duties, as command and control centres using their sophisticated satellite communications, and providing air defence and fighter direction. Royal Navy destroyers first came into action on 1 May, when they began shelling Stanley airport and the facilities around it. Two of the eight destroyers serving in the South Atlantic were sunk; an Exocet missile struck Sheffield on 4 May, killing 20 officers and men; and Coventry succumbed to bombs that set her alight on 25 May, leaving 19 men dead.

E = Exocet

Designed by the French firm Aerospatiale, the MM.38 Exocet was a ship-launched, anti-ship missile system with an active radar terminal homing capability and inertial mid-course guidance. The two County class destroyers HMS Antrim and HMS Glamorgan were armed with four MM.38 Exocets. Five Type 21 frigates, HMS Active, HMS Arrow, HMS Alacrity, HMS Ardent and HMS Avenger, all carried four MM.38 Exocet launchers. The solid-fuel rocket booster could propel the 17ft (5.2m), 1,540lb (700kg) missile at 700mph at sea-skimming elevation – rendering it very difficult to detect – for at least 20 miles (37km), with a maximum range of 45. Before launching, the bearing and range of the target were inputted into the memory of the computer guidance system. On approaching its target, the radar locked on and detonated its 365lb charge upon breaking through the ship’s casing.

F = Fleet Replenishment Ships

Supplying ammunition, food and dry stores, five such vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary served in the South Atlantic: RFA Regent, RFA Resource, RFA Stromness, RFA Fort Austin and RFA Fort Grange.

G = Gemini

Inflatable and collapsible craft equipped with an outboard motor, used by special forces for water-borne insertion, specifically in the operation to recapture South Georgia.

H = Hecla, HMS

HMS Hecla, a Royal Navy survey vessel, together with HMS Herald and HMS Hydra, was used as an ambulance ship to ferry casualties from the combat area to the hospital ship Uganda and from there to Montevideo for onward aeromedic Vickers VC10 C1 air transport to naval and military hospitals in Britain. She departed Gibraltar on 20 April, reached Ascension on 2 May and arrived in Falklands waters on 14 May. In one example of her role, Hecla arrived at Montevideo on 2 June with British and Argentine wounded, the latter of which were then flown home on a VC10 that arrived at Brize Norton the following day. Hecla then arrived back in the Red Cross Box on 6 June. Her service in the campaign ended on arrival in Devonport on 29 July.

I = Irishman, MV

An ocean-going motor tug requisitioned from United Towing on 7 April, Irishman contained a Naval Party from the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service. She had two sister ships, MT Yorkshireman and MT Salvageman, also requisitioned tugs. On 10 April she left Portsmouth loaded with towing and salvage gear. She was called to the stricken SS Atlantic Conveyor for work after the latter was struck by an Exocet missile on 25 May. Irishman returned to the UK in November.

J = Junella, HMS

A motor fish factory trawler requisitioned on 26 April and converted to a minesweeper. Junella departed from Portland on 27 April and arrived at Ascension on 11 May. She then proceeded to South Georgia, reaching the island on the 27th. Her service in Falklands waters did not begin until 21 June, a week after the cessation of fighting. Her South Atlantic service ended upon arrival in Rosyth on 11 August.

K = Klepper canoe

Small craft capable of being dismantled, the Klepper canoe was employed by a recce team of D Squadron, 22 SAS prior to the raid on Pebble Island. In the event, an eight-man Boat Troop patrol deployed four Kleppers at Purvis Bay on the night 11–12 May, but owing to very rough seas had to dismantle and carry them to Deep Ferny Valley. They laid up there, establishing an observation point over Pebble Island before reassembling their canoes and crossing 2km of water to Phillips Cove.

L = Lynx HAS2

The Westland Lynx, the principal workhorse of British helicopters in theatre, formed the mainstay of rotary wing aircraft embarked on destroyers and frigates, with its tasks including ASW and operations in the anti-surface, anti-Exocet ESM, reconnaissance and gunship roles. Carrying a pilot, observer and aircrewman and up to eight passengers, it had twin engines, was capable of operating in practically all weather conditions, and could land on a deck rolling up to 20 degrees. Equipped with Seaspray surface search radar, the Lynx supplemented the capabilities of its parent ship. Most Type 42 destroyers and frigates embarked a Lynx. Many of their sorties were short, often between ships, but they were numerous: between 1 April and 30 June, Brilliant’s two Lynx chalked up 490 flying hours and performed 860 deck landings.

M = Mexeflote

A three-part (bow, centre and stern), multi-purpose pontoon specifically designed for salt-water operations and used as a raft or joined together to form jetties, causeways and breakwaters. Each Mexeflote had its own specialised diesel engine. They were operated by 17 Port Regiment, Royal Corps of Transport. The six Landing Ships (Logistic) each carried two Mexeflotes, which greatly aided the logistics effort.

N = Naval Air Squadrons

The air assets available to the Royal Navy, which in the case of the Falklands War involved the Sea Harrier and various types of helicopter, were deployed across a range of vessels, including the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. All such aircraft were organised into Naval Air Squadrons (NAS), which in 1982 included approximately 250 helicopters, almost 200 of which served in the Total Exclusion Zone, and 30 Sea Harriers, of which 28 were deployed south. The helicopters were responsible for carrying troops and conducting anti-submarine warfare operations, resupply, and casualty evacuation.

O = Onyx, HMS

An Oberon class diesel-electric patrol submarine, Onyx was the last built of her class before the war and carried a crew of six officers and sixty-two ratings. She was the only diesel-electric submarine to serve in the Task Force. The other five were designated ‘Fleet’ submarines, whereas Onyx was designated ‘Patrol’. Accordingly, her principal function was to patrol in coastal waters, collect intelligence and insert and extract SBS and SAS teams, although she could, like other submarines, detect and destroy her counterparts and surface vessels. Recharging her diesel engines required surfacing at regular intervals, although her snorkel also performed this function. Onyx had two stern tubes and six forward tubes, these firing the Mark 8 homing torpedo with a weight of 3,375lb and running at up to 45 knots at a depth of 60ft.

P = Parachute Regiment

With a distinguished service record dating from its formation during the Second World War, the Malayan Emergency, Aden, Borneo, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, the Parachute Regiment had not performed an airborne role in combat since parachuting on to an Egyptian airfield during the Suez Crisis in 1956. In order to earn his ‘wings’, each soldier had to complete at least eight jumps, but although airborne-trained they performed a normal infantry role. With their strong regimental ethos and exceptionally tough training regime – much of it carried out in Arctic, desert and jungle conditions – they enjoyed an elite status only rivalled within the Army by the SAS, and they were thus some of the fittest and best-trained troops in the world. Continuously ready for ‘out-of-area’ operations, the Parachute Regiment sent two of its three battalions south.

Q = Queen Elizabeth II, RMS

A luxury steam passenger liner owned by Cunard – in fact the largest passenger liner afloat at the time – she was requisitioned on 4 April after returning from a cruise to Philadelphia. As soon as she reached Southampton, workmen from Vosper Thornycroft began shifts on a twenty-four-hour basis to refit and load her as a troopship, a process that took nine days and involved three months’ supply of stores and constructing two helicopter pads, one aft and one forward over the swimming pool. She was also fitted with satellite communications and equipment for replenishment of fuel and water at sea. Once converted, with a troop capacity of 3,000 and with most of her crew remaining on a voluntary basis, she departed with Naval Party 1980 under Captain N.C.H. James RN on the afternoon of 12 May, carrying most of 5 Infantry Brigade, including Brigade HQ, 2 Scots Guards, 1 Welsh Guards and 1/7th Gurkha Rifles, as well as many support units and most of HQ staff Land Forces Falkland Islands – in all about 3,000 troops.

R = Royal Army Medical Corps

Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Roberts, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) personnel of 16 Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, provided medical services at dressing stations at Ajax Bay, Teal Inlet, Fitzroy and elsewhere. The long journey to the Falklands enabled medical officers to train the men intensively in advanced first aid, including resuscitation, applying a drip and the treatment of various types of wounds. 16 Field Ambulance was among the first to go ashore from Sir Galahad on 8 June and was thus spared the disaster that befell the Welsh Guards and others who were still on board when Argentine aircraft attacked around midday. Nevertheless, some RAMC personnel were still aboard Galahad during the attack, losing three dead and much of their equipment.

S = Spartan, HMS

Six submarines served in the South Atlantic, of which Spartan numbered among two of the nuclear-powered fleet Swiftsure class, the other being HMS Splendid. She sailed from Gibraltar on 1 April. Upon intelligence received in London of an imminent invasion of the Falklands, Spartan was ordered immediately to embark for the South Atlantic; accordingly, she departed from Gibraltar on 1 April and arrived in Falklands waters on the 12th. As with all British submarines in the conflict, her role remains secret. Spartan arrived in Devonport on 24 July.

T = Tugs

Four ocean-going tugs served in the conflict: the Typhoon, belonging to the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS) and three requisitioned vessels, MT Salvageman, MV Irishman and MT Yorkshireman. In the closing days of the war, the tugs extracted SAS and SBS patrols scattered across the islands. Three of them helped to dispose of the Argentine submarine Sante Fe by towing it out to sea.

U = Uganda, SS

In peacetime an educational steam cruise liner belonging to P&O, she was docked at Alexandria when the Ministry of Defence requisitioned her on 10 April while she was carrying more than 1,000 passengers, mostly schoolchildren. Upon reaching Naples en route to Gibraltar, an MoD survey team, a surgeon and engineers began the process of planning her conversion to a hospital ship, a transformation that began in earnest when the Uganda reached the Royal Naval Dockyard at Gibraltar on 16 April and was completed within an astonishing three days. In that time she was fitted with a casualty receiving area, operating theatre and a main ward. Special means were devised for moving casualties on stretchers without recourse to gangways and ladders, and the ship boasted a dispensary, x-ray facilities, operating theatre and wards for burn victims and other intensive care requirements. All told, the ship could accommodate more than 100 medium dependency and intensive care patients, and dozens more less critical cases. Her medical team numbered 135 doctors and nurses.

V = VC10 C1

The mighty Vickers VC10 C1 transport aircraft carried a payload of up to 20 tons and could complete a return flight between Britain and Ascension in a single day by rotating its crew. Its principal responsibility lay in the aeromedical role, flying British wounded out of theatre from Montevideo back to the UK via Ascension and Argentine wounded and prisoners, such as the first batch of POWs (137) captured at South Georgia, which arrived in Montevideo on 13 May. In the course of the conflict these heavy-lift aircraft, marked with a red cross, conveyed 570 patients. They also ferried men, stores and equipment to Ascension with onward transport by sea to the Total Exclusion Zone. Several flights left Brize Norton each day, with a stop at Banjul in Gambia or Dakar in Senegal.

W = Welsh Falcon

Welsh Falcon was a two-week exercise organised by Colonel Christopher Dunphie for 5 Infantry Brigade at Sennybridge and the Brecon Beacons in mid-Wales, deemed necessary in light of the recent reorganisation of the brigade that saw the transfer of both Parachute battalions and their replacement by two Guards battalions. Consequently, none of these units were accustomed to training together and time was required to prepare and re-equip them for the coming campaign. The first week consisted of basic military skills and the second included a simulated landing with barracks serving as ships, lorrys in the place of landing craft, and twenty-four RAF Puma helicopters. The 1st Green Howards, together with RAF Harriers and Jaguars, acted as the enemy. It was particularly hot during the exercise, which began on 21 April and ended on the 29th. With rolling hills, boggy ground, high rate of precipitation and mist, the Beacons proved well suited as a training ground for service in the South Atlantic, with time devoted to physical fitness, weapon handling and section platoon, company and battalion attacks.

Y = Yomp

Royal Marines acronym for ‘your own marching pace’, the counterpart to the Army ‘tab’ (‘tactical advance to battle’) and coined in reference to the epic loaded march carried out by 45 Commando, conducted simultaneously with the march conducted by 3 Para along a slightly different route. Each man carryied at least 100lb, and many carried 120lb or more, especially those with mortars, machine guns, or anti-tank weapons. 45 Commando left Port San Carlos after first light on 27 May, moving over soft boggy peat and large clumps of tussock grass, nicknamed ‘babies’ heads’, slowing progress and in many instances causing ankle or knee injuries. The commando passed New House that night after a 12-mile trek and reached Douglas settlement, a further 8 miles, early the next day. They arrived at Teal Inlet by 0030Z on 31 May. The distance from Douglas to Teal amounted to 25 miles, covered in thirty-six hours over wet and rough terrain, and resulted in twenty-six leg and foot injuries, requiring the evacuation of six men. With still no helicopters available, ‘Four-Five’ carried on, leaving Teal Inlet on the 3rd and establishing a patrol base just west of Mount Kent by 1700Z on 4 June, completing their epic journey. ‘Yomp’ and ‘yomping’ soon entered ordinary British vocabulary after journalists with the Task Force introduced them in their press releases.

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