Academic journal article Military Review

The Battle of Darwin-Goose Green

Academic journal article Military Review

The Battle of Darwin-Goose Green

Article excerpt

OFFICERS STUDY the history of past battles to learn how to be better commanders. Yet more often than not, military history is the study of failures rather than successes. Most interesting battles have been close affairs, in the sense that, at least at one point in the action, victory might have gone to either side. In many of these battles, the final result was decided not so much by what the winner did right, but by what the loser did wrong.

For example, the rapid, decisive character of the victory of Prussia over France in 1870-1871 owed as much to the French's incompetence as to the Germans' superior tactics. The same can be said of many of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's victories over Union armies in the American Civil War or of Israeli victories in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. Indeed, it would probably not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that battles in which this was not the case are the exception rather than the rule.

The Falklands War between Argentina and Great Britain was not one of the exceptions. Although the invasion of the Falkland Islands began well enough for the Argentines, most subsequent operations did not. Despite being thousands of miles from their nearest base, the British were able to mount an unopposed amphibious landing at San Carlos, win every land engagement, and maintain air superiority throughout the campaign. While the Argentines did have some successes, including sinking at least six British ships, these came at a heavy cost in pilots and aircraft to the Argentina Air Force (Fuerza Aerea Argentina [FAA]) and Argentina Naval Aviation (Aviacion Naval Argentina [ANA]). (1)

What is most interesting about the Falklands conflict is that, based on commonly accepted military doctrine and the forces available in the theater of operations, Argentina should not have lost so easily. From a strictly military point of view, an eventual British victory was inevitable, but it should not have been such a walkover. Furthermore, such a victory might have required a higher cost in human lives than the British public was willing to pay, which might have led to a negotiated solution. Yet such a strategy of attrition could not succeed in the wake of repeated tactical and operational failures.

At least as interesting as the question of why Argentina so easily lost the war is why British historians have failed to consider the conflict from the Argentine perspective. Saying that the British were better trained or had better tactics and doctrine is fine, but war depends as much on what an adversary does as on what one does oneself. Among the dangers inherent in failing to consider an adversary's possibilities--even after the fact--are the learning of inappropriate tactical lessons and the complacency caused by overconfidence. Israel, for example, had fallen into both traps in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War. (2)

After the unopposed landing of 3 Commando Brigade at San Carlos on 21 May 1982, the British occupied the hills surrounding the settlement and consolidated defense of the beachhead. Despite strikes by the FAA and ANA that resulted in the sinking of four British ships, the Argentine Army made no attempt to prevent the amphibious landing. (3) First among the many reasons for this was that they did not have land vehicles capable of traversing the terrain of the islands, which had few roads. Second, British air superiority made it too dangerous to fly helicopters. Finally, a march was out of the question: the nearest Argentine troop concentration was at Goose Green, more than 20 kilometers away. (4) By the time these troops reached San Carlos, the five British battalions would have already adopted their defensive positions in the hills.

Brigadier Julian Thompson, commanding the landing force, ordered Lieutenant Colonel Herbert "H" Jones, commanding 2 Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para), to plan a raid on Argentine positions at Darwin and Goose Green. …

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