From the Archives, 1982: Unconditional surrender on Falklands


Argentinian soldiers captured at Goose Green, The Falklands Islands, being guarded by a British Royal Marine as they await transit out of the area.Credit:AP Photo

Reports reaching London from Port Stanley said the Argentinian troops were being gathered into units and counted before being shipped home.

There was no concession to Argentinian sensitivities in the surrender, no attempt to soften the blow to Argentinian pride by arriving at a ceasefire formula which could allow President Galtieri and the rest of the Buenos Aires military junta to pretend that somehow there had been an honourable draw. Unconditional surrender and the laying down of all Argentine arms were the harsh terms, and General Menendez had no alternative but to accept.

For the British troops, victory came 10 weeks to the day after the first elements of the task force set sail from Portsmouth on a dash across the world to start a campaign which has cost the British about 220 dead, hundreds of wounded, the loss of seven ships and a dozen aircraft and helicopters. The details of Argentinian losses may take days to emerge, but they have certainly exceeded 1000 men and could be as high as 1500.

Among these Argentinian losses are more than 100 pilots whose bravery and dedication won the admiration of every man of the British taskforce.

But in the British ranks, this dedication spread through all services in an extraordinary display of professional fighting skills. Argentina has claimed that the British victory was due to superior equipment. Most observers would agree with that if the most basic form of equipment is accepted as the courage and training of the fighting men.

When Mrs Margaret Thatcher, beaming and victorious, returned to 10 Downing Street last night from announcing to the House of Commons that white flags had begun to flutter above Port Stan-ley, she was greeted by a big crowd singing ‘Rule Britannia’ and cheering her the length of the street.

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For the Prime Minister, the Falklands campaign, which began in disaster, has ended with a complete personal triumph. Her ascendency in the Cabinet and the Conservative Party is now total. Outside the party, her political opponents look futile and largely irrelevant. Hers has been the iron will which has forced through tough decisions and military leaders talk with wonderment about her ability to give quick, straight answers to questions — a quality rare in a British politician.

Never before has she shown so starkly that her best political attribute is courage in adversity. Under remorseless pressure, she grew quieter rather than more strident; while members of her personal staff and military planners sagged with fatigue, she worked longer than any and still managed to maintain a daunting eye for detail.

Throughout this affair, she has astounded political observers with her obvious thriving on crisis and strain. Even those, particularly foreigners, who have regarded the Falklands adventure as highly questionable from the start and who find Mrs Thatcher’s terrible certainty more than a little worrying at times, are nonetheless full of admiration for her spirit and her courage. On the present British political scene, she dwarfs livery other figure.

But having won the war Mrs Thatcher must now win the peace. The large measure of political unity on the Falklands issue will not survive for long.

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For the next few weeks, the British task force will be engaged in resettling the Falkland islanders whose lives were disrupted by the Argentinian invasion. The British Government will need to make urgent efforts to get the Falklands’ economy running again.

The medium term problems will not be so easily solved. Reports from Buenos Aires talk of a country and a capital stunned by defeat and furious at the surrender. There must be a real risk that, whether or not General Galtieri and his junta survive, Argentina will harass the Falklands and make necessary the continued stationing of a big and disproportionately expensive British defensive force on “Fortress Falklands”.

The United States, whose Latin American policies have been so battered through its support for Britain on this issue, will continue to press for some accommodation to be reached with Argentina. Mrs Thatcher has set her face firmly against this.

Sources say that the number of prisoners involved in the surrender indicates that reinforcements had been getting through the British blockade.

They believe that Hercules flights have been secretly landing nightly with more and more troops for the “last-bullet-last-man” defence that General Menendez promised but failed to deliver. A supply ship has also been found in Stanley Harbor.

Many of the prisoners are reported to be in “a bad way”, suffering from exposure, exhaustion and frostbite.

Once they have had der names, ranks, and numbers recorded, and been shipped out of the islands, special repair teams already on the Falklands will work 24 hours a day to get Stanley airfield working again. Despite the ferocious bombardment of the runway and facilities, it is believed in London that the airfield could be operational again in just two days.



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