Battle Analysis of the Falkland Islands




The battle of the Falkland Island was an undeclared war in 1982 from 2 April to 14 June between the United Kingdom and Argentina. The conflict lasted ten weeks and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June, returning the islands to British control.[1] The battle also was basically the last complete war after the Second world war involving symmetric tactics by both adversaries. Falkland islands battle is of particular interest when considering the application, and combination of military/war theories by famous philosophers like  Henri Jomini, Carl Von Clausewitz, Liddell Hart and Sun Tzu amongst others. Consequently, this paper will discuss the application or misapplication of both forces to some theories propagated by Sun Tzu on Knowing the enemy, Clausewitz on the surprise and Henri Jomini on logistics, 

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“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”[2] It implies that a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the adversary, his capability, intention and reaction to your actions would ensure success. The Falkland battle proved that Argentina did not adhere to this theory in that they had a faulty knowledge of Britain’s political, economic and military resolve before commencing the assault of the Falkland Islands. This is because they perceived the United Kingdom lacked not only the means to defend its interests 8,000 miles from England, but also the national will to employ what little capability remained.”[3] Additionally, the argentines were overoptimistic that the United Nations (UN), the USA and Russia would support its cause for claiming the Falkland islands as part of Argentina.[4] Accordingly, this strategic misconception by the Argentineans, negatively affected its operational plans. As a result, the actions of the Argentine forces were reactionary (improvising) rather than proactive when the British decided on kinetic military action to repossess the Island.[5]

Unlike the Argentines, Britain carefully analyzed its strength and weaknesses against those of its foes. The British had naval and amphibious superiority while the Argentines had air superiority regarding numbers of available aircraft.[6] Consequently, Britain in adherence to Sun Tzu’s theory of “knowing the enemy” came up with four operational objectives named “Operation Corporate”.[7] These operational objectives also buttress the  adoption of Clausewitz theory on military objective i.e. one must keep the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed. Accordingly, the ability to Britain to adhere to this theory from the onset, accorded them the advantages of initiative and flexibility which eventually led to the recapture of the Falkland Islands.

Thus, march by an indirect route and divert the enemy by enticing him with a

Bait…… [8]

         Sun Tzu 

Surprise therefore becomes the means to gain superiority, but because of its

psychological effect it should also be considered as an independent element.

Whenever it is achieved on a grand scale, it confuses the enemy and lowers morale; many examples, great and small, show how this in turn multiplies   the results.[9]

Carl Von Clausewitz

 In the course of the war, numerous instances of the application of surprise as postulated by Clausewitz by both countries was evident. For example, on 28 March 1982, the Argentinian task force departed from its home port in Puerto Belgrano for an exercise with the Uruguayan navy; almost everybody on board the different ships except very few Officers knew about the true nature of the deployment. After one day at sea, and at the same time, the ships turned their general courses from south to east, the real aim of the underway was communicated and all realized that they were tasked to achieve Argentina’s greatest sovereignty dream, retake the “Islas Malvinas.” This act of deception by the Argentine took the royal marines off guard, and eventually led to the capture of Falkland island. However, this perceived success by Argentinian forces was short-lived. Similarly, the successful attacks by the British forces on Port San Carlos, Goose Green and Darwin were accomplished by combinations of the above stated quotes.


2. “Logistics comprises the means and arrangement which work out the plans of strategy and tactics Strategy decides where to act logistics brings the troops to this point”.[10]This preceding quotation is from Henri Jomini an 18th Century war theorist whose work was titled the art of war. It emphasized the importance of Logistics in deciding strategy and sustaining tactics in conduct of military operations with respect to the particular operating environment. As mentioned earlier the Falkland islands war was fought across the 3 major operating environments however the highlight of the operations was the formation of a naval task force to counter the Argentine seizure of the Islands which took the British by absolute surprise. The Task force comprising several frigates, submarines and landing ship logistics ships and aircraft carriers had to confront the problem of sailing over 7, 000Nautical miles to the theatre of operations.

3. This major Logistics challenge was addressed by the assistance of several British allies including France, US and the activation of a base at Ascension Island which was approximately half way between the UK and Falkland Island. A major issue addressed was the large amounts of fuel needed to ensure smooth sailing of the task force. The solution to this logistics challenges was to source for fuel in Sierra Leone which was some 4100 miles from the Falklands.Over 29 tankers were detailed to ply this route. This addressed the Logistics Requirement challenge of the Falklands Island war for the UK and thus adhered to Henri Jomini theory on the importance and influence of Logistics in determining strategy and tactics in modern warfare. Logistics was of the utmost importancean extended line of communication (LOC) made possible by the assistance of their allies and strategic partners.  Failure to maintain this LOC would have been a direct neglect of Henri Jomini theory and could have cost the British the war.



6. The Falklands Island war which was symmetric in nature was fought over 30 years ago involving movement of men and material over enormous distances that  required  coordination, supervision and sustenance of British combat units several thousands of Miles away from their home base. Curiously it was a conflict in which war was not declared officially.  It reasserts the theory of Carl Von Clausewitz which says “War is a continuation of Politics by other means”.The conflict resulted in a decisive British victory culminating in the surrender of Argentine Forces on  June 14 1982. 

7. The current threat being faced by the Armed Forces of the world is assessed to be Asymmetric as it is mainly from non state actors like the Talibans, Al Quaeda and ISIS. The Falkland Island war as earlier stated was symmetric in nature but the lessons of the conflict are encompassing and cuts across both the Symmetric and Asymmetric types of conflict.These lessons can be summed up in Logistics, Firepower and Intelligence. Modern military operations in any form or shape will be dependent on accurate and timely intelligence precise and defined firepower and a coherent and workable Logistics plan to sustain the operation.                               `

 ` `

[1]  Freedman


[3]  Admiral Harry D. Train II, U.S. Navy (Retired), “An Analysis of the Falkland/Malvinas Campaign”, in The Falklands War Officer Training Package (Toronto, Ont. : Canadian Forces College, 200-), section 12, p 36. 


[5]  Cdr F.K. Saelzer Concha “When Goliath defeated david”

[6]  ibid

[7]  Ibid

Additionally, the Argentines further failed to adhere to Sun Tzu theory by not correctly predicting that the UK would control and block the sale of the Exocet missiles through the French.  Furthermore and of more consequence was the failure of the Argentine High Command in addressing the issue of the Ascension Island which was vital to maintaining and sustaining the entire British Operation against the Argentines at the Falklands. If the Ascension Island was factored into the operational plans of the Argentines the UK might have found it difficult to maintain its forces so far away from its home base and thus their capability would have been limited due to broken lines of communications. A complete intelligence picture of the intension’s capabilities and likely/dangerous course of action open to the British should have been considered in the entire operational plans of the Argentines before deciding to capture the Island.