Falklands 40

Paying tribute to those who delivered liberation

In the spring of 1982, thousands of British forces travelled to the remote, bleak Falkland Islands off the east coast of South America in response to invasion by Argentine forces.

Carried by a mighty task force of Royal Navy vessels and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, and assisted by cruise liners, tankers, cargo vessels and even tugs, 27,000 women and men were mobilised.

As winter descended on the South Atlantic, a bitter war raged for six weeks, resulting in the liberation and ongoing guardianship of the archipelago.

Meet the people who were there

Veteran accounts and gallery

The Falklands Timeline

Key episodes from the conflict

April 2nd - Argentine Invasion

Argentine forces invaded and, having destroyed Moody Brook barracks in Stanley, a group of Argentine marines attempted to take the Governor’s House – only to be driven away by an ad hoc force led by commandos.
But Major Mike Norman, who commanded the RM detachment recalled:
“They went away but you knew they were going to come back.”

April 5th - Task Group Sails

In just three days, a task force left the British Isles to sail south to liberate the Falklands.
The first elements of a mighty armada was cheered out of Portsmouth Harbour.
With no space on the historic waterfront for two miles or more, people waved
Union Flags, shouted, cheered, and hung out hastily-crafted banners.

April 25th - South Georgia Liberated

The remote island paradise of South Georgia, claimed for England by Captain Cook, was occupied by Argentina a fortnight ahead of the Falklands themselves. A group of scrap metal workers had landed at the disused whaling station in Leith in mid-March and refused to leave. They were soon joined by a small garrison of marines and one of four Argentine submarines, the Santa Fe.

May 1st - The Day of the Harrier

As May began, despite the surrender on South Georgia, Argentine forces showed no intention of giving up on islands they called Las Malvinas.
However, in a day of 'shock and awe', Britain’s resolve to re-take the islands was demonstrated beyond any doubt. With a series of air strikes and bombardments led by the Vulcan bomber, dominated by the Harrier, and supported by the fleet, superiority by air and by sea was secured.

May 2nd - Sinking of the Belgrano

Having sailed more than 8,000 miles to the South Atlantic, the British task force had delivered its first blows against the Falkland Islands – and now expected Buenos Aires to respond with its powerful navy.
Two groups were at sea: the carrier Veinticinco de Mayo to the north of the Falklands, a second built around the aged cruiser General Belgrano to the south.
The carrier was due to launch an air strike on the British on Sunday May 2nd but with the weather was against it she was turned around.
More than 40 years old, the Belgrano wasn’t much of a threat – but her escorts armed with Exocet missiles were.

May 4th - Striking of HMS Sheffield

Key to liberating the Falklands was air superiority, largely delivered from HMS Hermes and Invincible. If either carrier was lost it would effectively end the operation.
The carriers’ first line of defence was the three Type 42 destroyers - HMS Glasgow, HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry, slung in a wide arc 25 miles west of the task force.
Shortly before 11am on May 4th, HMS Glasgow thought she picked up an incoming enemy aircraft, though the warning was dismissed by HMS Invincible as a false sighting.
The 'ghost sighting' was real - two Super Étendards hugging the waves at more than 500mph. They released two Exocet missiles and hurriedly turned around before the British could retaliate.
HMS Glasgow picked up the missile attack on radar and responded, manoeuvring violently, filling the air with chaff to distract the missiles.

May 12th - The Lucky Escape of HMS Glasgow

By May 12th 1982 it was clear that the conflict in the South Atlantic
would be fought to the bitter end.

Harriers struck Argentine positions and defences in the islands repeatedly.
HMS Conqueror had sunk the Belgrano.
An Exocet missile left HMS Sheffield a burned-out hulk.

And the guns of the Fleet were called upon to support their aviators by hammering enemy defences in the Falklands and prevent any aerial supply to Argentine forces around the Falklands capital, Stanley.

May 21st - Falklands Landing and Loss

Six weeks after sailing from the UK, the amphibious element of the
Operation Corporate task group began putting Royal Marines
and soldiers ashore at San Carlos.

A remote, but sheltered bay on East Falkland, the ultimate goal
was seizing the capital Stanley, 50 miles away.

May 24th - Explosion of HMS Antelope

On the morning of May 24th, British sailors, soldiers and Royal Marines
in San Carlos Bay woke up to an apocalyptic sight:
HMS Antelope torn apart by internal explosions.

In scenes reminiscent of Jutland seven decades earlier, the frigate was torn
in two as her magazines detonated, the result of an unexploded Argentine bomb
being triggered as bomb disposal experts tried to render it safe.


May 25th - Attacks of HMS Coventry and Atlantic Conveyor

To catch incoming jets before they reached the more sheltered waters of
Falkland Sound and San Carlos Water, HMS Broadsword and HMS Coventry
were dispatched to waters off Pebble Island.

The tactic worked. Coventry’s Sea Dart missiles accounted for at least two attackers.
But late in the afternoon the Argentines singled out the duo for a concerted attack.
The day would see the final moments of HMS Coventry,
the last Royal Navy warship lost to enemy action.


June 8th (1) - The Loss of RFA Sir Galahad

The struggle to liberate the islands was entering its closing stages with British forces closing in on the capital Stanley. To support that final assault, the Sir Galahad and Tristram, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) support ships were to deliver troops
to Bluff Cove – just 15 miles from Stanley.

The ships dropped anchor five miles short of their destination and began to offload at Fitzroy Sound – five miles from Bluff Cove. Aboard Sir Galahad, the Welsh Guards refused to leave. Having already had a disjointed campaign to date, they were adamant they would be taken to Bluff Cove, despite the protestations of Royal Marines. With the ships' presence at Fitzroy spotted by Argentine forces, Skyhawk jets from Grupo 5 de Caza, ‘Los Halcones’, (5th Fighter Group, ‘The Hawks’), were scrambled
to intercept from the mainland.

June 8th (2) - The Loss of Foxtrot Four

For many sailors who took part in the Falklands, tragedies such as the loss of
HMS Sheffield, Coventry or RFA Sir Galahad were the darkest moments.

But for veterans of HMS Fearless and the Royal Marines Landing Craft community,
the blackest day was June 8th and the loss of a brave crew
who’d given their all for three weeks


June 11th/12th - Three mountain assault

Little more than half a dozen miles to the west of the capital of the Falklands,
a crescent of hills – Mount Longdon, Two Sisters and Mount Harriet, form the final
major natural obstacle to reaching the capital Stanley from the west.

Brigadier Mario Menéndez, the Argentine commander in the islands,
expected his men – who outnumbered the British – to hold the hills.

It had taken British forces nearly three weeks to reach the approaches to Stanley.

June 12th - Strike on HMS Glamorgan

By the morning of June 12th, Argentine defeat in the Falklands was almost certain,
with the dislodging of the occupying forces from those three vital hills outside Stanley
by soldiers and Royal Marines.

There were few obstacles – natural or man-made – standing in the liberators' way

June 14th - The Islands Are Liberated

This is the day the guns fell silent in the Falklands after the brief but bitter conflict to
liberate the remote South Atlantic island chain from illegal Argentine invasion.

Long after nightfall on a wintry Monday, the islands' Argentine commandant Mario Menéndez put pen to paper on the act of surrender and Las Islas Malvinas became the Falkland Islands once more.

British rule was restored.


Meet the people who were there

Veteran accounts and gallery