Tag Archives: Falklands

Mount Harriet Photos

Recently I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Falklands with elements of the army as the attached academic on their battlefield study. The islands are utterly incredible, but one of the most particularly striking sites was Mount Harriet, where the Royal Marines of 42 Commando wrested control of the hill from the Argentine defenders on the night of 11-12 June, 1982. Thanks to excellent planning, and brilliant co-operation between different branches of the Task Force, the hill was taken with the loss of just two men.

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As a defensive feature, Harriet is impressive. It is bounded by an almost vertical incline to the north, an open slope to the south, and the summit is marked by rock outcrops that form natural sangars. You can explore all of the old Argentine positions and I’ve included a few photos of them below. It’s staggering to think how you’d attack it, and incredible to think it was done with just 32 British casualties.

However, this alone isn’t what is so amazing about Harriet. Instead, what’s incredible is that the summit of the slope is like a time capsule. The hill is littered with the detritus of war, from small personal items evoking such pathos, Like shoes or razor blades.

But you can also see the defensive positions and remnants of heavy weapons that should have made this natural fortress utterly impervious. The views from the summit, down to where the Royal Marines attacked from, and the surrounding hills, are commanding to say the least.

 

It really is an incredible place.

 

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The Blog in 2013: Top posts and numbers

Hello, and happy new year to you all!

While the blog hasn’t been running for a whole calendar year, I thought now was the perfect time to review some of the numbers on the blog.

Thanks to you all for reading and commenting. When I started the blog I had no idea how many people would stop by, and I’ve been amazed by the response!

So, without much further ado, the top posts on my blog this year have been:

 

3. Thatcher and the British Military: A Champion of the Armed Forces?

When Margaret Thatcher died earlier this year, there was an enormous amount written on her legacy. I was particularly struck by the strong association between Thatcher, the Falklands, and the military that featured in her funeral, and so produced this post.

 

2. The Royal Navy and the Battle of San Carlos

It was refreshing to see a post on naval history, and from the recent past, gain such attention! The topic of the performance of the Royal Navy in the Battle of San Carlos during the Falklands War is of great interest to me, and will hopefully be the basis of a future article.

 

And finally:

1. In the Footsteps of Easy Company in the Battle of the Bulge

Showing just how dominant big budget TV productions can be in sparking interest in history, this post (despite being one of the most recent) about following Easy Company in the area around Bastogne that they inhabited in late 1944 and early 1945, along with images from the battlefield and memorials in the town.

 

In total, my blog has had 2,994 visits since I started it in late March. Thank you all for reading, and here’s to 2014! 

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Sir John Woodward: Recollections of a Meeting

On Monday I was said to hear of the passing of Sir John ‘Sandy’ Woodward. Sir John had risen to national recognition following the successful campaign to retake the Falkland Islands in 1982, an operation he commanded. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Sir John last year in order to interview him as part of the programme for the University of Kent’s ‘The Falklands: 30 Years On’ conference, held last April. 

I found him to be a great interviewee, witty, engaging, and willing to challenge my questions and put his own view across. It was exactly what I had expected, having read his memoir of the campaign, ‘100 Days’.

As well as discussing his memories of the campaign, and gaining a fascinating insight into the command view of the campaign to complement my previous research with veterans who had often be enacting decisions that he had made, much of our discussion revolved around the criticism of his command structure and style that has featured in several a books since the ned of the conflict.

While Sir John remained resolute in defence of some of the decisions that he had made, he did acknowledge some of the criticisms, though provide his counter-points to them. He also commented that he was now on good social terms with nearly all of those who had previously criticised him.

Howverer, the Falklands was just one part of Sir John’s long career, though it was undoubtedly what brought him to attention – even though the then-Secretary for Defence, John Nott, questioned his initial appointment.

Sir John was held in high esteem in military and political circles. It was a pleasure to have met him. 

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The Royal Navy and the Battle of San Carlos 21-25 May 1982: The Wrong Enemy in the Wrong Place

31 years ago, the Royal Navy was coming to the end of a pitched battle against the air assets of the Argentine Air Force and Navy in the Battle of San Carlos. They had been heavily engaged while supporting Operation Sutton, the amphibious landings to recapture the Falklands. Nicknamed “Bomb Alley” by the soldiers, the fighting in San Carlos Water highlighted the Royal Navy’s lack of flexibility, and was very much a case of fighting the wrong enemy, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place.

In fighting more akin to that which had taken place off Crete and Okinawa 40 years earlier, the Royal Navy was shown to be functionally underequipped and unsuited for such operations, despite the skill and commitment of its sailors.

Why was this the case? There are several reasons. The first is that the Royal Navy, as a result of extensive cuts since the end of the Second World War, had become a predominately anti-submarine force. The surface fleet had been shaped and designed for operations based around patrolling the North Atlantic whilst also providing escort duty for US Navy battle groups, and dealing with high-flying Russian bombers, along with minesweeping and other blue water roles.

This functional role had an impact on defensive armament. Missile systems that tracked high-flying bombers, such as Sea Slug, Sea Wolf or Sea Dart, were introduced as primary defensive systems, with the idea being that the ships could track air assets from long distances and lock on before firing. Even the air defence ships, the Type 42s, were unable to operate as effectively as hoped. San Carlos was the first time in history that a modern surface fleet armed with surface-to-air missiles defended itself against full-scale air strikes, and so it is understandable that there were problems with the technology and tactics.

However, when faced with repeated waves of low-level, close in aerial attacks, such systems could simply not cope. This meant that many of the ships that sailed south in 1982 did so with only hastily added close-in defences, such as General Purpose Machine Guns that were mounted on the bridge wings and operated by men of the Royal Marine detachments aboard. Other ships had quickly taken Bofors or Oerlikon guns from storage and mounted them. When the Argentine aircraft penetrated this now ineffective defensive screen, the thin-hulled ships were incredibly exposed to their low-tech iron bombs which caused considerable damage. HMS Coventry, for example, was struck by three 1,000lb bombs on 25th May, and within twenty minutes was upside down, ‘her keel horizontal a few feet above the sea.’ One Electronic Warfare Officer aboard Coventry recalled that his role was rendered virtually useless by this low-tech assault: ‘Anti-ship missile defence is what I was trained to do against the Soviets. So whilst the procedures are sound, the weapons we were now expecting weren’t things we trained against. We were back against iron bombs; there’s no radar on those, so there’s no electronic warfare detection of those.’ Had the Argentines set their fuses accordingly, the losses would have been far higher; British ships were struck by thirteen bombs that failed to explode.

The Royal Navy was also hampered by ship design in this era. Whereas previous generations of warship had been designed to be able to survive a great number of hits from the big guns of battleships, or fitted with armoured decks to resist air attack, many of the ships sent south in 1982 were thin-hulled. The Falklands War revealed that ships constructed principally of aluminium, and filled with flammable materials such as electronic cables and wiring, were no longer able to withstand a multitude of hits, but were far more vulnerable. HMS Sheffield, for example was crippled and had to be abandoned after being struck by an Exocet missile that did not even explode on 4th May.

Soviet-centric strategic thinking in Whitehall had also led to a lack of Airborne Early Warning and a reduced fix wing aerial capability. The two carriers sent south, HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible, were too small to launch AEW aircraft, and could only carry a small number of Sea Harrier and GR3 Harriers in comparison to their larger predecessors, such as HMS Ark Royal. Decommissioned in 1979, she had also been able to launch Phantom and Buccaneer aircraft via a catapult system, larger aircraft that could remain airborne for longer in comparison to the smaller Sea Harrier. As a consequence, the fleet sent south in 1982 had less time to prepare for attacks as they were deprived of eyes in the sky, which the Argentines exploited to drop into the channel of San Carlos Water before missile systems could lock on. The Royal Navy also had less air cover due to an inability of the Sea Harrier to maintain an effective combat air patrol.

The Royal Navy engaged in tough fighting against the brave Argentine pilots, and showed excellent adaptability in finding solutions to ongoing problems. However, many sailors were killed and both HMS Ardent and HMS Antelope were lost in Bomb Alley what was a risky gamble from the British government, with mnay other ships suffering severe damage. MV Atlantic Conveyor, and its precious cargo of Chinook helicopters, was also lost to an Exocet attack, which prolonged the ground campaign. There was no margin for error, and had more ships been lost, particularly one of the carriers, it would not only have led to the failure of the landings, but also had severe consequences on Britain’s NATO commitments in the Northern Hemisphere.

The impact of Bomb Alley and the Falklands campaign on a whole cannot be understated. Despite the leaning trend for missile systems that had taken place in the preceding years, following the conflict most warships from navies around the world were retrofitted with close-in weapon systems and guns for self-defence as extra safe-guards and to ensure greater defensive flexibility.

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Combat Experience in the Falklands War

Here’s a video of the Lunctime Lecture I gave at the National Army Museum in May 2012 on combat experience in the Falklands War was mediated and shaped by the combat theatre.

I got a good response from the audience, and it was great to be able to discuss research I’ve been working on for so long!

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March 12, 2013 · 9:23 pm