British Empire Books

The Battle for the Falklands

AuthorMax Hastings
Simon Jenkins
PublisherPan Grand Strategy
First Published1982

In many ways, this is the definitive book about the Falklands conflict. It was written by two authors with impeccable credentials. Max Hastings was the correspondent for the Telegraph, but is perhaps best known for his military history. Whilst, Simon Jenkins was a (still is) parliamentary sketch writer with unparalleled levels of access to the corridors of power at Whitehall and the House of Commons. Between the two of them, they have produced a masterly overview of the war covering the historical context, the diplomatic fumblings since 1964, the outbreak of the war itself, the British military reaction, the diplomatic and political courses of action and the naval, land and air campaigns. In shorty, pretty much all you could want to know about the conflict.

It should be said that the book is written in a crisp style whilst not avoiding some very detailed events or nuanced political manoeuverings. It is clear, that both authors know their brief extremely well and it is a credit that they could piece together a coherent narrative, despite having two authors. It is also clear that they had access to an incredible range of actors, at least from the British point of view. They interviewed all the major military leaders, politicians and civil servants involved in the myriad of decision making from the highest to lowest levels. They pull no punches when it comes to assigning blame or illustrating mistakes and yet also point out the reasons for success in such an unlikely campaign in such a far thrown part of the world.

It was particularly interesting to me to read about the diplomatic successes of the British in isolating the Argentinians at the EU and especially the UN. Especially when it was compared to the Foreign Office and political mess that helped precipitate the war in the first place. It was heartening to see that British diplomats could pull the rabbit out of the hat when push came to shove. It was even more intriguing to compare this to the political fumblings of the US politicians and diplomats who singularly seemed to have offended just about every one at one point or another.

It was also interesting to read an account that tied all the various military arms together - the Naval war, the Amphibious Assault phase the battle for Air Supremacy and the land campaign. The authors were very good at tying together disparate events to provide the reader with a more informed explanation for certain events in the campaign. A case in point would be the coverage of the bombing of Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram at Fitzroy sound. Without excusing the participants, it explained the logistical difficulties of 5th Brigade that led to corners being cut and the forces being sent in inappropriate vessels. It explained why the Royal Navy had had to pull away their valuable Assault Ships with the appropriate landing craft. It also explained how the attack on HMS Plymouth diverted Harrier coverage for the crucial minutes that allowed the Argentinians to swoop down on the unguarded ships. In short, it provided a much more comprehensive explanation that led to one of the most serious setbacks for the British in this war.

The copy of the book that I read was published in 1983 and in many ways it reflects that fact. It pulls an awful lot of conclusions about how the British Armed Forces were all prepared to fight a Soviet behemoth crashing through Europe and that many of the lessons of the war may not actually alter the strategic necessities of a battle group designed to slow down Soviet forces before a nuclear war breaks out. Of course, this seems anachronistic now, but was very much a part of the era that they were then writing in.

I do recommend this book as a first port of call for anyone who wants an overview of the entire campaign from start to finish. There are many other specialist books that pick up on one aspect or another, but if you want an overarching view of the campaign in its full political and diplomatic context then this is the book for you.

Buy this book at: Amazon or at Abebooks

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by Stephen Luscombe