Academic journal article Military Review

The Falklands War: The Bluff Cove Disaster

Academic journal article Military Review

The Falklands War: The Bluff Cove Disaster

Article excerpt

GIVEN THE Falkland Islands' location, one would expect an invasion or defense would require joint operations, an expectation that was certainly borne out when Argentina invaded the Islands in 1982 and the United Kingdom dispatched a joint task force to reclaim them a week later. The Falklands War involved a number of joint operations by the British task force, many of them highly successful, including amphibious landings, naval gunfire support of infantry operations, and the insertion of Special Forces by helicopter and ship. One of the less successful joint operations was the amphibious landing of the Welsh Guards on 8 June 1982 at Fitzroy, in which failures in jointness were in part responsible for the ensuing disaster.

Relations between the Royal Navy and the British Army (represented by the newly formed 5 Brigade) were strained--at best. Many believed the Army had inserted itself into the war only to accrue its share of glory, despite being unprepared for amphibious operations in the South Atlantic's winter weather.

Commodore Michael Clapp, who had overseen the nearly flawless landings of 3 Commando Brigade, was especially critical: "What I did not appreciate ... was the lack of understanding of joint operations by the Army Brigade ... nor the near nonexistent communications that were to dog that brigade. The blame for much of this inefficiency should not be laid at the door of [Brigadier] Tony Wilson [commander of 5 Brigade] and his staff. Delaying the dispatch of these reinforcements on the assumption that any plan to recapture the Falkland Islands was bound to fail suggests that the Army staff did not want to be part of that presumed disaster in the first place. Also, when the Brigade was dispatched it was without two of its three original major maneuver units, and it had no logistic backup and little significant training--certainly none in joint Navy/Army or amphibious operations. That they were to fight and not garrison in one of the most complicated of military roles in a sub-Antarctic winter must have been a disagreeable surprise to the Army staff." (1)

Perhaps 5 Brigade's soldiers' behavior on board the transports in San Carlos Water colored Clapp's view. They became notorious for lack of order and discipline and their penchant for stealing other sailors' personal belongings. (2) One Army officer said, "The Navy [is] well used to having the Royal Marines and other Green Beret-wearing members of Commando Forces on board. They therefore assumed the Welsh Guards would be the same--if not something similar. However, it had rapidly become clear even to the saltiest of sailors that the Welsh Guards were nothing like as well prepared as they needed to be. After confusions and difficulties, [the commander of] Intrepid had put the soldiers ashore, only to be recalled back to pick them up again. This entailed quite a bit of work, with the LCMs [landing craft, mechanized] ferrying the troops back on board, and much disruption of a ship that was difficult to operate under normal circumstances. The sailors were shocked at the condition of the Welsh Guards when they returned after just a night or so ashore--wet, filthy, miserable--and obviously ineffective. Their yardstick was the Royal Marines, who come back on board after arduous exercises in good order, even if they do leave muddy boot prints throughout the nice, clean ship." (3)

The lack of discipline and amphibious training in the Army and a dearth of communications led to friendly-fire casualties. The first such incident occurred on the night of 5 June, when HMS Cardiff mistakenly shot down one of 5 Brigade's Gazelle helicopters. Four factors contributed to this unfortunate accident:

[] Unaccustomed to operating with the Royal Navy, 5 Brigade did not have a naval liaison officer attached.

[] The brigade failed to signal the flight to Major General Jeremy Moore's headquarters so the Royal Navy could be informed. …

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