Forty years ago, on 2 April 1982, Argentina launched an invasion of the Falklands Islands, a British overseas territory, 300 miles off the coast of the South American country. Argentinians had long claimed the islands as their own and, after years of diplomatic negotiations between the countries, their ruling military junta took matters not their own hands.
Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, like the regime in Buenos Aires, was unpopular and under pressure. Three days after Argentinian troops arrived in Stanley, the Falkland Islands’ capital, Britain dispatched a naval task force to the South Atlantic. War was never officially declared but both countries declared the area a war zone.
And very soon it became a real conflict. On 2 May, the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine, killing more than 300 crew. After that, Argentinian ships remained in port. Two days later HMS Sheffield was hit by a missile and 20 lives were lost.
British forces landed on the Falklands on 21 May and began their advance on Stanley, with 5,000 Argentinian troops dug in against them. Argentinian planes sank further British supply vessels but many of their pilots were shot down too. The British attack on the heavily defended Stanley began on 11 June and three days later the Argentinian forces surrendered. In six weeks, 255 British servicemen, 649 Argentinians and three civilian females had been killed.
The Falklands war is an anniversary we wanted to mark with images, not words. By bringing together images taken by soldiers and photographers on both sides of the conflict, this essay lets us see, forty years on, what they saw.
Photographs by the Imperial War Museum: Alistair Campbell-Royal Marines Official photographer, Ronald Hudson (SGT) British Army Official Photographer, Paul Haley SoldierMagazine, and PA Images, AP Images, SIPA/Shutterstock, Getty Images
This piece appears in Anniversary, the new edition of Tortoise Quarterly, our short book of long stories. If you were lucky enough to grab a Founding Membership back in the early days of Tortoise, you will have received your copy in glorious, old-fashioned print. If not, then keep an eye out for a physical copy in our shop.