23-Apr-2005 -- Coming from Montevideo after an unpleasant voyage almost always through stormy and high seas through the autumnal south-western Atlantic Ocean, we finally arrived off the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). The Falkland Island (Islas Malvinas) comprise more than 100 islands of which about 15 are inhabited. East Falkland Island (Isla Soledad) and West Falkland Island (Isla Gran Malvina), the two main islands, are separated by Falkland Sound (Estrecho de San Carlos). The archipelago is a British Crown Colony and the population is about 2,000. Nearly two thirds of them live in Stanley (Puerto Argentino). The remainder lives in settlements, of which there are more than 80 throughout the islands. The people are almost entirely of British birth or descent.
The vegetation of the islands is a complex mixture of dwarf shrub, herbs and grasses, in general appearance similar to the heath found in parts of Scotland. The islands and the surrounding waters are rich in bird and marine life. Penguins are common. Of the marine mammals, more than 20 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise have been recorded. Seals and sea elephants, sea lion, and fur seal breed on the coasts of the islands. The principal occupation of the islands is sheep farming for wool to which nearly all the land is devoted. However, much of the revenue of the islands is derived from the sale of licences to foreign fishing vessels.
Coming from North, we arrived at 51S 61W well after sunrise. The closest land to this Confluence is Grand Jason Island with a small off lying island, which I believe has no name at all.
To the SE several small rocks can be seen.
From the Confluence we had to proceed to the Berkeley Sound (Bahía de la Anunciación), in order to commence transshipment of our cargo (frozen krill, a kind of shrimp very common in the South Atlantic Ocean and Antarctica - and very appreciated by the Far Eastern cuisine).
The history of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) is extremely interesting and everything else than boring, as one might assume for such a remote area, and so I would like to deliver a short breakdown of it:
It is generally accepted that the islands were discovered in 1592 by the English navigator John Davis. From about 1730, the islands were frequented by sealers and whalers, but until 1764 they remained uninhabited. French sealers named the islands Îles Malouines after their home port of Saint Malo. The Spanish name, Islas Malvinas, is thus derived from the French name. The French established a settlement at Port Louis in East Falkland (Isla Soledad) in 1764, and a British settlement was established at Port Egmont (Puerto de la Cruzada) in West Falkland (Isla Gran Malvina) in 1765. Two years later the French sold Port Louis to the Spanish who renamed it Puerto Soledad. Subsequently, the Spanish expelled the British from Port Egmont (Puerto de la Cruzada), an act that brought England and Spain on the brink of war.
The British colony was reinstated in 1771 but for economic reasons it was withdrawn three years later. Spain withdrew from Puerto Soledad during the South American wars of independence, and in 1820 the United Provinces of Río de La Plata, forerunner of Argentina, laid claim to the islands in succession to Spain. In 1831, during a dispute about sealing rights, Puerto Soledad was sacked by United States warships. Britain reclaimed sovereignty in 1833.
In the middle of the nineteenth century the islands were a refuge for sailing ships bound to or from Cape Horn and an important ship repair trade grew up. With the coming of steam power, which enabled ships to use the Magellan Strait instead of rounding Cape Horn, and finally with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the islands lost their importance for shipping. However, since 1833, except for a short period during 1982, the islands have remained under British governance. This "short period during 1982" many of us do still remember. It was the time of what became known to the world as
THE FALKLANDS WAR (GUERRA DE LAS MALVINAS):
This war between Argentina and Great Britain lasted from March to June 1982.
The question who to be the legitimate owner of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) was discussed over a long period. Argentina gained independence from Spain in 1816 and occupied the archipelago in 1820. The settlement, however, was abandoned soon and the Argentine claim began to fade out. Finally, in 1833, the British settled on the islands and Argentina resumed to argue the archipelago to be Argentine national territory.
During the 20th century several British governments were prepared to hand over the archipelago to Argentina, but the inhabitants, about 1,800 "Kelpers", did strongly reject the idea to become Argentines. In 1965 negotiations about the future of the islands between Great Britain and Argentina began (UN resolution 2065), but after seven years no decision was taken. In 1976 Argentina became a military dictatorship. Heavy economical problems, especially due to fights between the government and the leftist guerrillas followed. In 1981 the guerrillas were finally defeated but Argentina's economy was in a disastrous condition. Inflation rate was at about 140%.
General Galtieri, Argentina's dictator, had the idea to smother public criticism about the horrible economical situation and the permanent violation of human rights, diverting the people's attention with a fast national victory over the Falklands (Islas Malvinas). Subtle pressure was executed in the UN, but Britain did not pay much attention to it. Subsequently, Argentina believed the British no longer to be too interested in this archipelago and to settle the problem best with a quick invasion. Encouraged by the withdrawal of the last troops of the Royal Navy in 1981 and the new "British Nationality Bill", which deprived the Falklanders of their full British citizenship, Admiral Jorge Anaya, a passionate anti-British, began to develop his invasion plan.
The invasion was supposed to start in April 1982. Previously, on 19 March 1982, a small island south of South Georgia (1,500 km ESE of the Falklands) was occupied by a group of patriotic Argentine civilians. Royal Navy's Antarctic patrol boat HMS "Endurance" received the order to evacuate the inhabitants, but was stopped by three Argentine warships and had to withdraw. Despite this incident and further proof that the Argentine Navy was embarking troops at Puerto Belgrano (the military section of the port of Bahía Blanca), the "Latin America Group" of the "UK Joint Intelligence Committee" decided an invasion on the Falklands not to be imminent.
On 2 April early morning Argentine marines landed on East Falkland Island (Isla Soledad) and began to march towards Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino). At 08:30 a.m. all was over. The British Governor had ordered his ten marines (Navy Party 8901) to surrender. The Royal Marines, the Governor, and all the others wishing so were sent to Great Britain. Meanwhile, when these news arrived, Plaza de Mayo at Buenos Aires was immediately crowded with masses of enthusiastic Argentine patriots flying countless blue-white-blue flags. The Government in London, on the other hand, was shocked about that what had happened on this "Black Friday". The next day Argentine troops occupied South Georgia (1,500 km ESE of the Falkland Islands) and the South Sandwich Islands, 2,200 km ESE.
Soon the British began to execute diplomatic pressure on Argentina. A military squadron was rapidly formed. The most important part of this squadron were the aircraft carriers HMS "Invincible" and HMS "Hermes". The famous passenger ship "Queen Elizabeth 2" and several others were requisitioned as fast troops transporters. Public opinion in Britain was to recapture the archipelago by all means and as soon as possible. International attitude however was split. Many countries did consider Great Britain to be nothing else than a colonial power, trying to win back a colony, and this was exactly the point Argentina was stressing in order to collect international support.
But Britain won the diplomatic game, alluding to the UN-principle of self-determination and not to forget to keep open a peaceful door, i.e. to maintain an attitude always ready for compromises towards Argentina. But Argentina was not prepared to any compromise, arguing that they are basing themselves on rights, which had been established prior to the existence of the UN. Many UN members, however, knew perfectly well that if such old rights should be revitalized in other parts of the world as well, their own borders could probably be in danger, too, and so on 3 April the UN ratified a resolution with which Argentina was requested to withdraw from the territories they had occupied. A commercial embargo followed shortly.
Alexander Haig, US Foreign Secretary of State, initiated a short lasting "shuttle diplomacy", but soon President Reagan declared to support Great Britain. Reagan's statement of these days that "he cannot understand how two allies could quarrel over a handful of icy rocks" became famous. American neutrality, however, was anyway impossible to be maintained due to Ascension Island, a British possession, but hired by the US Army and needed by the British as an intermediate base in the forthcoming conflict. Additionally, the US delivered air defence missiles (although only quite outdated ones). Further, they supplied Britain with the secret code of the Argentine Navy, satellite photos and aids to communication.
British Marine task force consisted of the air carriers under command of Rear Admiral J. F. Woodward (better known as "Sandy Woodward") and an amphibic assault group under command of Commodore M. C. Clapp. The whole operation was commanded by the Commander in Chief Fleet (CINCFLEET), Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse.
Mid April a huge air garrison was ready on Ascension Island, with a considerable quantity of fuel aircrafts and F-4 Phantom fighter jets, in order to protect them. Meanwhile British main marine task force was steaming southwards, where a small part separated in order to recapture South Georgia. The South Georgian group consisted of a few Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) troops, which should act as reconnaissance troops for the invasion of the Royal Marines on the RFA "Tidespring". The first to arrive on 19 April was HMS "Conqueror", a submarine of the "Trafalgar" class, and on 20 April an aircraft flew over the island for radar-cartography. On 21 April the first SAS troops landed, but weather was so bad that they had to withdraw after one day and several lost helicopters.
On 23 April submarine alarm was raised among the British and all operations were stopped, whilst the "Tidespring" headed back to sea in order to avoid to be attacked. On the 24th British troops reformed themselves and attacked the Argentine submarine "Santa Fe", which was subsequently so heavily damaged that the crew had to abandon it and to land on South Georgia. As the "Tidespring" was far away at sea then, and the Argentine Commander with the shipwrecked crew of the "Santa Fe" had available now additional men, he decided to attack the British with his 75 people. But after a short march, the Argentines had to surrender and South Georgia was again under British control. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spread the news in the media and demanded her people: "Rejoice, rejoice!"
The War in the Air
On 1 May operation "Black Buck" against the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) began with RAF "Avro 698 Vulcan V-Bombers" on the airfield of Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino). The Vulcan bombers were developed for mid-range missions within Europe and thus their fuel capacity was of course not sufficient to reach the South Atlantic. Thus several on-air refuelling operations were necessary. The fuel aircrafts of the Royal Air Force, however, were themselves mostly rebuilt bombers of the "Victor" type with a similar limited range. So they had to be refuelled as well in the air. Altogether for only two attacking Vulcans eleven fuel aircrafts were needed - a gigantic logistic task!
Finally, only one single bomb hit the airstrip of Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino), but the Argentine Air Force (FAA - Fuerzas Aéreas Argentinas) understood the British to be as well able to hit targets successfully. Subsequently they withdrew all their fighter jets and commanded them back to the Argentine mainland, in order to protect them from loss. So the British attack was a tactic failure but a great strategic success. Argentine Air Force could no longer attack without bypassing British Royal Air Force.
Only a few minutes after the operation "Black Buck", nine Sea Harriers from the "Hermes" carried out an attack, dropping bombs on Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino) and onto the smaller airfield near Goose Green (Pradera del Ganso). Both missions caused destruction of airplanes on the ground and caused minor damages to the airstrips. After having learned that British had already landed, the FAA started an attack with their "Grupo 6". Four aircrafts of this group were shot down by Sea Harriers operating from the "Invincible".
Then air combats broke out between other Sea Harriers and Mirage jets of the "Grupo 8". Both sides avoided to fight on the optimum altitude of the enemy, until the Mirages finally lowered their altitude to a minimum and began their attack. One of them was shot down; another was damaged and headed back to Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino), where it was damaged by "Friendly Fire" of their Argentine comrades, being meanwhile driven completely nervous.
The War at Sea
On 2 May the technically completely outdated WW-II Argentine cruiser "General Belgrano" was sunk by the British submarine "Conqueror" (ironically as well by means of outdated torpedoes originating still from WW-II). 231 Argentine seamen lost their lives. Argentina immediately announced that the cruiser at the time of her sinking was moving away from the Falklands, but for the Royal Navy the sinking of the cruiser was of great importance, as now the two destroyers which accompanied the "General Belgrano" had to head as well back to their base (where they remained until the end of the war). Additionally, the "General Belgrano" and her accompanying destroyers had been heading towards a British aircraft carrier and could have fired her "Exocet" rockets. British Government, however, was accused to having sunk deliberately the "General Belgrano" in order to stop the current US efforts of reconciliation.
Two days later, on 4 May, the British lost a destroyer of the Type "42", the HMS "Sheffield" after being struck by an "Exocet" missile.
Speed of operations increased during the second half of May. All attempts of the UN to stop the war failed. On 21 May 4,000 British soldiers landed on the beach near Port San Carlos (northern coast of East Falkland island). The plan was to march southwards in order to recapture Darwin, Goose Green (Pradera del Ganso) and Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino).
At sea meanwhile British forces became weaker and weaker. On 21 May the frigate HMS "Ardent", and on 23 May another frigate, the HMS "Antelope" and the container carrier "Atlantic Conveyor" were sunk. The latter had important equipment on board, as helicopters, material for the construction of airstrips, and tents. On 25 May, HMS "Argonaut" and HMS "Brilliant" were seriously damaged. But during these attacks the Argentines had lost 30 aircrafts.
On 28 May, Darwin and Goose Green (Pradera del Ganso) were recaptured in a tough battle. 17 British and 200 Argentine soldiers were killed, and 1,400 Argentines became prisoners of war. On 1 June, another 5,000 British soldiers landed near Port San Carlos, and Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino) was thus encircled. Argentina continued with air attacks, killing 50 Welsh Guards on 8 June on the RFA "Sir Galahad" and RFA "Sir Tristram". The Welsh Guards were only on board as the loss of the container carrier "Atlantic Conveyor" and her cargo forced them to be transported over sea, in order not to expose them ashore to the atrocious weather without tents.
12 June was another day of bloodstained battle. On Mount Longdon 30 British and 50 Argentine soldiers died and during recapture of Mount Tumbledown another 50 lost their lives. Another 13 died on board the HMS "Glamorgan" after she had been struck by an "Exocet" missile, fired from a lorry. On 14 June the Argentine garrison of Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley) was defeated. Argentine Commander Marion Menendez agreed to surrender, and his 9,800 soldiers became prisoners of war. On 20 June, Britain recaptured the South Sandwich Islands and declared hostilities to be over. The conflict lasted 72 days. About 250 British and 712 Argentine soldiers (of which 321 were on the cruiser "General Belgrano") were killed. 12,000 Argentine soldiers became prisoners of war.
Under the military point of view the Falkland War (Guerra de las Malvinas) was important, as this war included one of the very few sea battles after WW-II. The war clearly revealed the extreme vulnerability of ships, be it by missiles or by submarines. Further it made clear the consequences of political misinterpretation and lack of proper communication. Both parties heavily underestimated the reciprocal importance of the Falkand Islands (Islas Malvinas).
And we have learned the important role luck is playing during war. Most analysts do believe that Argentina could have won the war easily if one of the "Exocet" rockets had struck a British aircraft carrier. Probably the Argentines would have been able to hold the islands if they had taken better preparations. They did not expect, however, Britain to be prepared to fight a war more than 10,000 km far away from Europe.
Politically the war made Margaret Thatcher extremely popular and was the reason for her re-election in 1983. Britain had gained again increased international respect, being previously considered frequently only to be a fading out ex-colonial power.
Indirectly the war had positive consequences for Argentina. The shameful defeat forced dictator Leopoldo Galtieri to abdicate after heavy turmoil. His successor was General Reynaldo Bignone.
A question immediately put to British Ministry of Defence, however, was whether their ships during the conflict had nuclear weapons on board, too? Of course initially strictly denied, British Newspaper "The Guardian" insisted on the "Right of Information" and requested clarification. After a many years' lasting legal battle, not before 2003, British "Ministry of Defence" did confirm what anyway everybody already knew: Yes, several ships did carry nuclear weapons. But... so it was added immediately... be reassured, ... of course it was clear from the very beginning, that their use would not have been even considered and would have never ever taken place!
British: 254 soldiers
2 destroyers: HMS Sheffield, HMS Coventry
2 Frigates: HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope
1 container ship: Atlantic Conveyor
3 Harrier fighter jets
Argentine: 700 soldiers
1 cruiser: General Belgrano
1 patrol boat
30 fighter jets
Okay, this was the Falkland War (Guerra de las Malvinas). But now the question again: WHY?
Ronny Reagan did not know the answer. He was unable to understand why two allies are fighting aver a few icy rocks. Is it because Argentina needs to add a few square miles to their anyway extremely huge country? No.
Are they interested in the few "Kelpers" growing sheep and wool? Do they need a 2,000 citizens more, which are anyway all of British descent, feel entirely as British and do not speak a single word of Spanish? Certainly not.
Are the Falklands of any strategic importance? Absolutely not.
The answer is clear and Ronny Reagan knew it very well, Maggie Thatcher knew it bloody well, General Galtieri knew it "muy bien", and we do know it as well: MONEY – and nothing else than MONEY!
It is the EEZ - the 200 nautical miles Economic Exploitation Zone around this archipelago with its plentiful Krill, squid and excellent fish. The licences given to the fishing fleets in these waters are extremely expensive and easily earned money. If the Archipelago was Argentine territory, the money for these licenses would not go to London, but to Buenos Aires, and that's it.
But nobody wants officially to fight a war for money. A war has to be fought for far honourable reasons and higher aims. All powers hide themselves behind some national honour and other useless rubbish, betraying their people and sacrificing their soldiers' lives. In fact, they are after nothing else than money - and that is what is called "politics".
Finally, I would like to introduce Thomas. Thomas is a German film producer from Cologne and at present passenger on board our ship. He is making a movie with the title "ADVENTURE ATLAS", thus about the history of navigation and cartography throughout the centuries. Sometime in 2006, the movie will be broadcast on the French-German TV channel "ARTE".
Information about the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas obtained partly from Nautical Publication Nr. 6, South America Pilot, Vol. II, 16th
ed. 1993, Hydrographer of the Navy, Taunton, England