Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Land Forces

English: 2 para guarding POWs Port Stanley 1982

In 1982, the quality of British troops held out when the task force’s land troops came up against the Argentine Army. Much has changed since 1982, both in the British Army and the Argentine Army. Land Forces would play a pivotal part in any future battle for the Falklands, whether it be defending them, or attempting to retake them.

If the Falkland Islands were threatened, one would imagine that the first reaction of the British Government would be to reinforce the lone infantry Company at Mount Pleasant. This would probably involve flying in another infantry Battalion via Ascension, and some extra air defence in the form of Rapier and Starstreak of the Royal Artillery. An infantry Battalion is usually on standby as a spearhead Battalion to move anywhere in the world at short notice.

If, however, the islands were taken by Argentina, then larger land forces would be required to land and retake them. There are 9 Brigades available to the British Armed Forces for rapid deployment anywhere in the world:

There are also a number of other administrative Brigades, that are not geared up towards active deployment. These are the umbrellas for battalions and Regiments not earmarked for deployments, but which could in times of crisis be called upon. In such a manner in 1982, the Scots and Welsh Guards were deployed after finishing a stint of public duties in London, as they happened to be available.

As in 1982, we would probably be looking to the spearhead Brigades, ie 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando Brigade to bear the brunt of any operations. Realistically, with the shipping available, the likely Argentine Garrison to be faced and the troops available, any mission to retake the Falklands would probably consist of two reinforced Brigades, with a similar level of supporting troops – artillery, engineers, etc – as was seen in 1982.

The fly in the ointment, at present, would be Afghanistan. Currently light infantry and mechanised Brigades serve 6 month stints in Afghanistan, meaning that Brigades such as 16 AA and 3 Cdo have spent up 6 months of every two years in Helmand. Prior to this, they are training up for the role, and afterwards building themselves up again. Of course, if it really came to it, troops arriving back from Afghanistan could be sent down south a week later, but this would hardly be ideal. In an ideal world, 16 AA and 3 Cdo Brigades would both be available. In the next best case scenario it would be 3 Cdo Brigade plus one of the light infantry Brigades, and the least satisactory scenario would be 16 AA plus a light infantry Brigade. 3 Cdo Brigade, of course, would be invaluable due to their amphibious role.

There can be few personnel in the British Army who have not served at least one tour of Afghanistan, and many have probably served more, as well as in Iraq and possibly in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia for some older sweats. The British soldier of 2012 is much more experienced and battle-hardened than many of his predecessors, and thanks to some early disasters in Iraq, personnel equipment seems to have seriously improved. In 1982, many troops went down with trench foot thanks to having inferior boots for cold weather. Most weapons systems have been updated – for example the SLR with the SA80, the Bren with the Minimi, and Milan with Javelin. A lot of the new vehicles that have been procured for use in Afghanistan to replace Land Rover are great for that theatre, but would be totally unsuitable to peat bogs in the Falklands. As in 1982, Scimitars and others of the CVR(T) family would be very handy.

Ideologically, the British Army is in a strange place compared to 1982. The last ten years have been spent largely fighting counter-insurgency wards against extremist islamic terrorists – firstly in Iraq, and then Afghanistan. To what extent could the Army go from fighting in the sand to fighting in chilly mountain ranges overnight? One suspects so, given the similarity between the Falklands and the Brecon Beacons, for one. Could it summon up the agression for a conventional war, after devoting much of its attention to ‘wars among the people’? I suspect that this wouldn’t be a problem – in 1982 the British Army was geared towards fighting the Russians in North West Europe, and also dealing with terrorists in Northern Ireland, which especially provided very good training for junior leaders. And unlike 1982, most British troops are not already commited to NATO.

The Argentine Army abolished conscription after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1983. In 1982, the Argentine Garrison consisted of two strong Brigades, which consisted of 8 Regiments, the equivalent of a British Battalion. The Argentines also had many support troops, in terms of artillery, engineers and armoured cars. But as has often been written, in 1982 the Argentines had to keep their best troops in South America to guard against a possible Chilean attack. As a result, most of the troops deployed to the Falklands were inexperienced conscripts, and many were from warmer parts of the country, not suited to fighting in the cold and wet Falklands.

In 2012, the Argentine Army has 10 Brigades in total – two armoured, three mechanised, three mountain, one paratrooper and one jungle. In particular, a Rapid Deployment Forces is built around the Paratroop Brigade. The Argentine Marines consists of 4 Infantry Battalions with supporting troops. With the addition of dedicated Mountain Brigades, the Argentines could probably provide a better garrison for the Falklands than they did in 1982.Of course, what we do not know is how well trained their troops are – although the Argentine Army does seem to have benefited from increased international co-operation. In addition, friendly relations with the rest of South America means that Argentina would not have to leave units behind to guard her own frontiers.

But, as with the British Task Force, the Argentine’s real problem would be getting their troops to the islands in the first place. With one sole amphibious ship, and the tricky prospect of taking Mount Pleasant intact, they might have a bit of trouble actually getting them to the Falklands in the first place. But if a re-run of 1982 was to be experienced, but with modern forces, I would expect a British land force to edge it based on experience and training.

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17 Comments

Filed under Army, debate, defence, Falklands War, Uncategorized

17 responses to “Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Land Forces

  1. x

    Apparently if things go to plan 3Cdo and 16AAB won’t being go back to Afghanistan. Off on a tangent I don’t understand this new multi-role brigade business or the move to 4 (infantry) manoeuvre units or for that matter the ending of the arms plot. A more sensible move for me would be for the Army to establish a commando brigade of its own by pulling recruits of sufficient stand from the ranks of the line infantry and guards. That would be 3 commandos (and for 3Cdo to loose its battalion from the rifles.) And then to tack on to 3Cdo and the new army commando brigades 2 an 3 Para as a specialist (semi-independent) parachutist unit; a sort of 3+1 arrangement if you will. This would put both brigades on to the Army’s preferred 4 manoeuvre unit footing. I would probably add a FRR to each brigade too; I am sure there are lots of donkey wallopers who love a run round on the commando course. ;) Of course HMG would then have to furnish us with new LPDs and new LHDs (built in British yards, if not to British designs) to move everybody about. (4 Juan Carlos or 2 JCs and 2 modified Zuiderkruis. should do.)

    Back on topic the main concern for me is the make-up of the garrison now. There are 1200 bods which breaks down to 700 RAF personnel and 500 Army personnel. The orbat of the Army contingent is one company group, Rapier batteries, an engineer detachment, and assorted camp followers. Considering MPA is an airfield I am surprised there RAF Regiment isn’t there; of course with 4Typhoons deployed the Argentines won’t get close wil they? And then there is the FIDF whose quality according to a gentlemen over at ThinkDefence who has first hand experience of them says they are a good stout group.

    Over at TD I have expressed concern that the garrison seems to be a light by one company. MPA is very exposed. Argentine special forces aren’t inept. If they box clever it will be small teams everywhere and not a replay of 82. If they do attack though the company group and FIDF will have to deploy to prevent an 82 style invasion especially if MPA is rendered out of use (even temporarily.) If the Argentines are within the base and the company group is deployed I don’t if that just leaves technicians and engineers to deal with the Argentines. (I shall ask over at TD!)
    As well as MPA to secure there is the port and Stanley airfield too. Considering the major cost consideration for any deployment these days the ratio of specialists to infantry soldiers seems out of balance at approximately 10 to 1. An extra company group would give the command options.

    In 82 the RM gave the Argentines a bloody nose despite a lack of heavy weapons, deploying to the wrong beach, and with little intelligence. If in 82 they had gone to the right beach and had say Milan (the RM had no idea about Argentine AAVs) and heavy machines guns to hand things could have been very different. Though I grant weight of numbers would have won out in the end. Today I think the intelligence picture is such that in all likelihood an extra company or so would be deployed by air in time along with extra Typhoons (probably without air to ground capability!) But if we take that warning and MPA’s runway) away things could get sticky. heavy weapons wise I do hope the company group does have .50cal and Javelin. A ship lying at anchor off Stanley would be a very large target for Javelin team; again there is a parallel with 82 in the pasting the RM gave that Argentine ship off South Georgia. Stopping the Argentines coming up the beach with modern weapons (considering the engagement would be a 2 dimensional affair with no air element) would be achievable.

    Back to the wrong beach I have speculated again over at TD about what vehicles the company group are mounted in. Or indeed they have specialist vehicles (which I doubt.) Surely if the MoD think FI are worth 4 £100plus FJs they are worth 16 or so Viking. The vehicle is made for the terrain and isn’t manoeuvre the primary weapon of any modern army. I suspect that the company group is mounted in nothing more exotic than Land Rovers and 4 tonners that would be limited to the island’s tracks. So two company groups mounted in Viking with modern heavy weapons would be a formidable force for a 3rd rate army operating at considerable distance from home in a very difficult environment to face.

    • James Daly

      As well as MPA and Stanley I would probably want some kind of defence on the three radar stations on FI.

      I think the Vikings that were used in Afghanistan are now at a loose end after being replaced – might be a useful re-allocation of resources. I agree mobility would be the key, with a relatively small force, and a large rugged area to patrol, being able to get around it quickly with some decent firepower would be important.

      One of my favourite incidents from the Falklands was the RM subaltern on South Georgia being told to make a token resistance then surrender. He then decided that he was going to ‘make their fucking eyes water’.

      In terms of the garrison, I was discussing this with someone the other day. A lot depends on how ready it is to fight, after all some garrisons in history have been alert, whilst others have been pretty cushy. As much as we might think of them as support troops, anyone taking the queens shilling – except medics and padres – should be prepared to pick up a rifle.

      Regarding Afghanistan, my worry is that the Treasury will use it as an excuse to impose yet another ‘peace dividend’ cut in Army manpower.

      • x

        Well two commenters over at TD suggest that the garrison is exercised regularly and some thought given to passive defence (hence I suppose the engineering troops.) (Being odd, old fashioned, and with a fondness for defence works one would humbly suggest that anything that would make a difference would be be better built now.) But there is more, much, much more to being an infantry soldier than shooting a rifle. Actually I would say shooting at a man size target 200m to 300m would be the least perishable skill. I would say movement is the hardest skill to acquire and maintain. Being able to look at ground and assessing how to move yourself across it safely. Where to move to so you are in the best position to support the rest of your team. That takes some skill. I am fond of saying that 82 showed that conscripts dug into good defensible positions can hold up first class infantry. But surely the 19 year old with a years infantry training (even a second class training) is better equipped than 28-y-o Typhoon systems technician who sees a rifle twice a year? The latter might have a degree in engineering but clearing a blockage under fire isn’t the easiest of tasks. 5.56mm bullet at 3000fps outweighs innate intuitiveness on the battle field

  2. Brian Iddon

    I’ve just started reading THE BATTLE FOR THE FALKLANDS by Max Hastings & Simon Jenkins.

    The best laugh i’ve had so far is that apparently the intelligence office for task force had to go to Plymouth library to swat up on the argies.

    You really couldn’t make it up.

    • James Daly

      I remember reading that too. Its on my bookshelf at home, and as much as I can’t stand Hastings, it is a good narrative. Apparently they made good use of Janes in the Library’s naval history section. Although to be fair, they would have been better advised going to Portsmouth Central Library – many an afternoon I’ve spent in there leafing through Janes, its incredible just what is in the public domain if you know where to look!

      • x

        Hastings comes in for a lot p*ss taking in various Falklands books.

        The intelligence blackhole was frightening, if understandable. In a lot Falklands books that deal with the lead up to war you get a real sense of the island’s isolation on the day. That Whitehall was completely blind. There is a stillness and sense of an enveloping darkness.

        But saying that the government on the islands didn’t have much of a picture much beyond the main settlements. You feel that the Argentines could have landed a corps on West Falkland with only the sheep and sea birds as witnesses. (Slight exaggeration. :) )

    • James Daly

      I hope our politicians today have heard this. Radio stations being taken over belongs pre-1945. Whilst Argentina was a militaty dictatorship then and a so-called democracy now, the Falklands still has the potential to make them act like that again.

      • x

        You have to be careful with the D as it means so many different things to so many.

        One of the other things that comes out of my readings on the Falklands War is that many of their SF bods where just cruel. It is as simple as that cruel. Over the years I have had lot of exposure to the UK’s armed forces and I have come across some hard men. And I will admit some, but only the tiniest few, have been on the edge. But these individuals were never SNCO or officers the systems needed aggressive tough men, but the system never lets those who are marginal gain power. (Yes their are informal power structures and bullying.) But nothing in my experience compares with what I have read about Argentine SF forces. Or indeed those other members of the military complicit in the war on their own people. The pilots who would discuss dinner plans while flying some poor chained naked individual out to sea to be dumped like a sack of rubbish.

        Saying that having studied the Reformation, and acknowledging that the Inquisition (and late Medieval life) wasn’t as monstrous as commonly believed, I can see the values of pre-Reformation Europe in South American culture.

        • James Daly

          Indeed. I always remember the two Germanies in the Cold War – one was the Federal German Republic, the other was the Democratic German Republic.

  3. x

    Make me blood boil. ;)

    Whether you love or hate Mrs Thatcher you couldn’t see the likes of slobbering Ed Miliband acting with such grace and self-efficacy under pressure.

  4. x

    This is worth a watch.

    As a semi-historian I am always scared of bias; of the subjective bettering the objective. But I don’t really care for the Argentina’s position on the issue. And I won’t litter this splendid blog with the words and thoughts that come to mind when thinking about it.

    • James Daly

      If you changed the names, places, etc, the Argentine position on the Falklands would sound exactly like Nazi Germany’s claim on places like Danzig and the Sudetenland. And equally as agressive. Every argument I have ever heard from Argentinian outlets about the Falklands has been intellectually, historically or morally bankrupt.

      I have to agree with Eric Goss on this one, all the time those kids are being taught that BS in schools we’re going to have problems. If only Argentina could ‘grow up’ and get on with its life. It’s like being dumped by a gf – it doesn’t matter how badly you want it, you’ve just got to get over it and get on with your life.

      • x

        You like me have read the accounts of the culture shock experienced by the Argentine conscripts. Many thought they were going to a liberate not just the islands but a people. But they found English speaking mainly Protestant northern European with pale skins who just didn’t dislike them in most instance profoundly hated them. A people whose outlook on life differed from that of their own people. They spent two cold and hungry months in the field in an environment alien to many of them only to be killed or maimed at the hands of some of NATO’s finest armed services. It was a good thing many had the courage to surrender and their foes were representatives of a tolerant civilised country who showed compassion to the defeated. Yet despite all that there are veterans who want to repeat the debacle. Is it Latin hot headiness? I don’t believe the Argentines to be a stupid or ignorant people. Perhaps arrogance? Perhaps we don’t understand because our nation has a solid history dating back 1200 or so years on the same island whilst they are a rootless people who fought to break ties with their own native state and yet are still defined by its culture, religion, and history? A people without a cultural anchor if you will. Further many state Third World states are artificial constructs too and it is these states that form the majority in the UN. States that rail against a colonial era that ended for many over 40 years ago, yet accept Chinese investment with open arms. If we do enter into an era of depression and the world’s states (especially Europe) are forced onto a path of realism it would be good to see the UN as one of the casualties.

        • James Daly

          In that sense I think the average Joe (or Jose) in Argentina is really being sold down the river by their leaders. I kind of feel sorry for them, but if they insist on voting in people like Cristina Kirchner then I guess thats all that they can expect.

  5. Pingback: Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The Reckoning « Daly History Blog

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