HMS Fearless

The British assault ship HMS Feaerless leaving Portsmouth in April 1982, escorted by some of her own landing craft, leaves Portsmouth, headed for war in the South Atlantic. Photo: Jonathan Eastland/AJAX.

In April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a windswept British territory that had long been a source of antagonism.  Prior to the conflict most people in the United Kingdom had never heard of the Falklands and some even thought they were somewhere off Scotland. Of course to the Royal Navy, which had for so long sent its warships to the South Atlantic to protect British interests, the name Port Stanley held real meaning. During WW2 the cruiser HMS Exeter received repairs to damage caused during the Battle of the River Plate, at Stanley.  Before WW2, Exeter had frequently called at South American ports.  In 1982 a guided-missile destroyer named Exeter saw action and even today that same Sheffield Class warship is still listed in the Royal Navy’s order of battle. A quarter of a century ago, the invasion of the Falklands that eventually led to Exeter shooting down Argentinean aircraft was certainly a daring move that caught everyone by surprise, but the response of the UK government was equally surprising: Rather than rely on a settlement negotiated by the United Nations to evict the occupiers, the British decided to send a naval task force 8,000 miles to liberate the Falklands.   It led to the first full-blown naval war of the missile age, which was otherwise characterised by infantry battles fought by Royal Marines and Paras that seemed more like episodes from the Napoleonic Wars: A hard fight at the end of a long march. In a short, sharp campaign warships and aircraft were lost on both sides, an attrition rate as bad as WW2.  In the May 2007 edition, we begin a series telling the story of the war and its causes, how the conflict unfolded from both sides.