British Empire Books

Eyewitness Falklands

A Personal Account of the Falklands Campaign

AuthorRobert Fox
First Published1982

This was a book written immediately at the close of hostilities by the BBC World Service Correspondent attached to the British Forces, Robert Fox. It certainly benefits from a journalist's style. It is fluently written. He scrupulously observes names, facts and dates and he certainly had access to many of the key units and formations throughout the campaign. Perhaps most importantly of all, is the insight that he throws on British soldiers and sailors as they dealt with daily difficulties and the hardships of the campaign and the harsh Falkland Island terrain and weather.

He travelled down to the South Atlantic on the Canberra. He spent some time at Ascension Island as diplomats were given their chance at ending the conflict peacefully. When it was obvious that no diplomatic negotiation was forthcoming, the ship steamed further South towards the exclusion zone. The author then transferred to the Norland as he was being attached to 2 Para. I found it fascinating to read how the Harrier pilots were obsessed with the Space Invader Machines - they were keen to prove their reaction times to one another by wracking up huge scores on the machines! It is this kind of detail that makes the book fascinating to read.

The author explains the kind of practicalities that faced the troops as they launched a major seaborne invasion in an area where they did not have undisputed control of the skies. The shuttling of troops and logistics to the shore at San Carlos Bay was quite fascinating to read. He explains issues to do with equipment, the need to set up Rapier Defences as rapidly as possible. The weight of the Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles and their relative poor performance to the more agile Stinger missiles used by the SAS. He points out the value of machine gun fire against the Argentinian pilots as they swooped along the Bay - planners had long thought machine guns had been made redundant by sophisticated missile defence systems, yet the author explains the psychological effects on pilots as they saw streams of tracer bullets coming towards them, forcing many to dump their ordinance early in an attempt to save their own lives. These are the practicalities of a major military campaign - but it is useful to hear names attached to these difficulties or to see the situations in which they have to be overcome.

Of course, the author does have a wider perspective than most individual soldiers would have. He is shuttled from ship to shore and through various units - he has access to commanders, soldiers and civilians alike. He even gets to talk to Argentinian POWs and accompanies them back to Argentina as the seccession of hostilities. This gives his views a much broader view. He gets to hear from officers who thank their lucky stars that the Argentinian Air Force is aiming for the escorts rather than the Amphibious Assault Ships. He hears of complaints about the lack of AWAC cover and of the logistical difficulties of keeping the planes and helicopters in the air for as long as they have to.

The key event for the author in this book is his joining 2 Para in their attack at Goose Green. He met and was highly impressed with the leadership of Colonel 'H'. He writes a fascinating account from the Para perspective. It shows the lack of decent intelligence as the British forces were convinced that they were fighting far fewer Argentinians than they actually were. It shows just how professional the British forces were to persevere in such arduous circumstances. The death of Colonel 'H' is told with remarkable candour and attention to detail. Fortunately, he goes on to explain how the British forces do learn from their mistakes - far more respect and firepower would be forthcoming for the assault on the peaks around Port Stanley in the final stages of the campaign.

The author does also go into the practicalities and the logistics of reporting in the 1980s. It seems like ancient history now in the era of the Internet and blogs and so on, but everyone is insatiable for information. The author is constantly harangued for information wherever he is sent. The soldiers on the ground know very little of a wider picture, likewise the sailors back on the ships. As someone who shuttles around the various formations, he has a far bigger picture than most of the protagonists. However, reporting restrictions and protocols do keep the flow of information to and from Britain severely restricted. Their do seem to be lapses in control at times, and the commanders are often perturbed to hear of their dispositions and intentions in the national press back in Britain.

There was still one more major error to report, although the author did not witness the event himself, although he was able to interview some of the survivors. The bombing of Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. The author can at least put the attack into its perspective and even someone with little military knowledge has to wonder whose bright idea it was to send these two ships so close to the Argentinian lines with little or no protection. It was a disaster waiting to happen and it happened with appalling consequences for those caught aboard the ships.

The book gives virtually nothing to the wider political perspectives of the war, either in Britain or in Argentina - but then the subtitle does explain that this is an eyewitness account of the war. He was not witnessing the diplomatic chicanery or political processes going on in London or Buenos Aires. What he does witness, he comments on remarkably candidly and with considerable insight. If you want to understand the British military's perspective on the campaign, this is a great place to start.

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