Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Battle for the Falklands - a Quick Review

Last night on the train home I finished reading "The Battle for the Falklands" by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins.  I thought I'd put down a few quick words on my thoughts on the book.  I hope to do this with all of the books in my Falklands Reading List this year.

First an admission is necessary; this is the first book on my Falklands Reading List, so I really have nothing to compare it with.  This claimed by many to be the standard reference work, so I thought I'd start with it.  Future reviews of other books will obviously contain comparisons where appropriate.

I read a 1983 paperback version of the book, 448 pages (although only about 380 of these are the meat of the book), with 16 pages of black and white photos and 8 pages of maps.  In addition to the the text, maps and photos, the book contains a chronology of political and military events, a glossary of terms, a list of british decorations (both civil and military) and an interesting section outlining the ships, men and aircraft of the taskforce.  Excerpts from the "Franks Report" which was the official government report into the Falklands conflict are also presented at the end of the book, to enable the reader to compare and contrast the official findings with those presented by the authors.  A full index is also included.
Max Hastings was a journalist who accompanied the task force to the South Atlantic and appears to have a fair bit of experience reporting military matters.  Simon Jenkins was the political editor of the Economist, and so had access to many sources in Whitehall.  In the text, Jenkins covers what was happening in the UK, Argentina and the US, whilst Hastings covers the progress of the task force and the conflict "on the ground" in the Falklands.
The first point I feel I need to make here is that this is a history book rather than military war story.  The authors have done an excellent job tracing the cause of the 1982 war from the original discovery of the islands, through the various claims and occupations of the islands through to the failures of diplomacy that lead to the war. In fact, the actual Argentine invasion does not occur until more than 90 pages into the book!
There is a lot of material on the actions of the Foreign Office in negotiating with Argentina over the future of the islands, and also decisions by Defence that lead to some of the materiel issues faced by the task force.
I found some of this early material difficult to read, paricularly keeping straight in my head the revolving door of ministers and secretaries working on the negotiations.  This did however contribute to the point that the text was trying to make that continuity of office was a big contributor to the issues with the dicsussions over the islands.
The narrative of the naval battles and then the land campaign is quite good.  There is some detail on Goose Green and also the battles for Stanley as 3 Commando Brigade and 5 Brigade advanced over the mountains, although obviously a book of this size and scope cannot provide infinitesmal detail on these military actions.  Some good overview maps are provided for Goose Green and the approach to Stanley, which helped to cement things in my mind.
The book is (of necessity I think) anglo-centric, although the authors appear to have attempted where possible to use Argentinian sources.  Quotes from Argentine politicians and soldiers appear throughout, but deep analysis of Argentine actions is not possible from these.  This appears to be a more general problem with Falklands texts (at least those in English) as access to Argentine sources appears to be difficult.
Overall the book provides a very good overview of the actual conflict and has enabled me to lay out in my mind what happened where and when. This has given me a great start in working out what to read next and I also now have some good ideas for actions to bring to the table top.

I would recommend this book.  It doesn't have a lot of nitty-gritty detail on the military actions, but there is enough to give you a good overview and steer you in the direction of more detailed accounts.  It is, however, an excellent analysis of the conditions that lead to the two nations facing off over a tiny spec of land in the South Atlantic and a record of how that played out.

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