Downing Street ignored Falklands military requests: Other things on its mind

Falklands 'wasn't on the list' says Sir Jon Nott

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Britain has had a military presence in the Falkland Islands since the Sixties, which today includes more than 1,000 military personnel and Typhoon aircraft. Yet, back in the early Eighties, it was a fraction of this size. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, a ten-week undeclared battle between Argentina and the United Kingdom. Beginning on April 2, 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the islands, a naval task force was en route within 72 hours to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force.

The build-up to that fateful day was explored in new ITV documentary ‘Falklands War: The Forgotten Battle’, which has uncovered the untold stories of Naval Party 8901 (NP8901) — a small detachment of Royal Marines who were prepared to give their lives to defend the Falklands and their people.

Major Mike Norman, commanding officer of NP8901, told the documentary that Government officials had assured him the Argentines would not invade.

He recalled leaving a meeting feeling “totally confident that they knew more than I did”.

They were equipped with standard infantry equipment — a machine gun about as advanced as it got.

The documentary’s narrator, Ben Fogle, said: “Repeated requests to London for upgraded equipment for Naval Party 8901 fell on deaf ears.

“The Government of the day had other things on its mind.”

Sir John Nott, Defence Secretary at the time, said: “Well, we were completely preoccupied with the Cold War.

“South America and the Falklands had never crossed our minds.

“We were in a very dangerous world. The Soviets were getting stronger and stronger, and my concern as Defence Secretary was 100 percent the Soviets.

“I think I knew where the Falkland Islands were, but only just.”

Lying about miles from Argentina, and 8,000 miles away from the UK, the islands had been a Crown colony since 1841.

Argentina has long claimed sovereignty over the British-run islands, which it calls the Malvinas.

In December 1981, there was a change in the Argentine military regime, bringing to office a new military junta fronted by General Leopoldo Galtieri, Air Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo and Admiral Jorge Anaya.

Admiral Anaya was the driving force behind the decision to invade, with the new government hoping to divert public attention away from the crippling Argentine economy and mobilise long-standing patriotism towards the Falklands.

Yet the invasion took Westminster by surprise.

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Asked where the Falklands were on his priority list, Sir John said: “It wasn’t on the list.”

With the Argentine political situation as it was, NP8901’s lack of firepower proved hugely detrimental.

On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings, codenamed Operation Rosario, on the Falklands.

The 68 marines and eleven naval hydrographers gave a fierce, albeit brief defence, under the guise of Governor Sir Rex Hunt.

A further 23 volunteers from the Falkland Islands Defence Force assisted, but had few weapons and were used as lookouts.

The 800 Argentine troops swiftly destroyed their empty Moody Brook barracks, before moving on to Government House in Stanley, the capital.

Upon arrival, Sir Rex declared a ceasefire and ordered NP8901 to put down their weapons.

The small detachment of Royal Marines had been expected to face off against hundreds of Argentines with next to no warning.

Inaccurate media coverage at the time portrayed them as cowards, yet the documentary seeks to show how this band of brothers were prepared to fight to the grave.

A naval task of 30 warships headed south to retake the islands, initially taking South Georgia Island on April 25.

After several intense naval battles around the Falklands, British troops landed on East Falkland on May 21.

The Argentine garrison at Stanley eventually surrendered on June 14, bringing to an end 74 days of fighting, returning the islands to British control.

Britain lost five ships and 256 lives, while the Argentines lost some 750 lives and saw its military humiliated, and eventually ousted from power.

Back on British soil, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity skyrocketed, and the Tories won a landslide general election victory the following year.

Falklands War: The Forgotten Battle is available on ITV Hub.

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