The War at Sea
The war at sea began before the actual war, the Ministry of Defense in the United Kingdom dispatched two submarines before the invasion and the third, H.M.S. Conqueror two days after the invasion. They maintained a remarkable speed all the way south, but even so the first did not take up station off Port Stanley until 12th April. Fort Austin sailed on the 29th to provide support for the Ice Patrol Ship Endurance. A meeting of the Senior operations staff of the first Sea Lord before the invasion had stated that any counter-attack against the Falklands involving a Royal Navy task force would not be accepted unless it embraced all the resources available, including carriers, submarines and an amphibious assault element. A few years later, and Britain would not have been able to mount such an operation as her carriers would have been sold off in the defense cutbacks and the Amphibious Assault groups phased out. The First Flotilla, then on exercise in the mid-Atlantic, was immediately recalled
The first units of the task Force left Britain under the command of Admiral J.F.Woodward on the 5th and 6th of April, on its way south to Ascension island it was joined by a frigate and destroyer force from Gibraltar, fresh from Exercise Spring Train. Three days later, 3 Commando brigade departed onboard Canberra from Southampton. British ships were now committed to the Falklands Campaign.
The fleet's air defenses relied primarily on the Sea Harriers and Sea Wolf missiles of the two Type 22 Frigates. No Airborne Early Warning system was available, a grave deficiency, but the Royal Navy anticipated its first actions would be against the Argentinean Navy and secondly the Argentinean Air Force. As the Task Force approached the Maritime Exclusion Zone, it attempted to shoot an Argentinean Boeing reconnaissance aircraft down with a Surface to Air Missile, but failed.
Against the wishes of the Military, the politicians ordered the retaking of South Georgia almost 800 miles beyond the Falklands. A squadron was detached and placed the Mountain troop of D Squadron, SAS on the Island. The SAS were withdrawn because of appalling conditions and put down elsewhere on the Island, from which they reconnoitred the Argentine positions. The Group was then dispersed as an Argentine submarine was believed in the area and the SAS and SBS troops were put ashore later by Helicopter. The Squadron now detected the Argentine Sante Fe, a Guppy class submarine and attacked it with depth charges and torpedoes. HMS Plymouth's Wasp helicopter put an AS12 missile through the submarines conning tower and it was forced to beach and its crew scuttled ashore. The Squadron then put every possible man ashore, Royal Marines, SBS and SAS, seventy-five men were put ashore by Helicopter following a Naval bombardment of the Argentine shore positions. The Argentines surrendered without much of a fight. Pictured left is a picture of H.M.S. Invincible courtesy of Guy Derdall from his web site Battleships Carriers And All Other Warships
The squadron rejoined the main task force on 24th April. The Battle Group went into battle formation three days later as it steamed south toward the Falklands. The Task Force bombarded Port Stanley for the first time on 1st May and the first Argentine air attacks began. The attacks forestalled any future shore bombardment in daylight and future bombardments took place in the safety of night.
The British submarines prowled for Argentine ships outside the Total Exclusion Zone. On the afternoon of the 1st May, H.M.S. Conqueror sighted the General Belgrano and its escort of two Exocet equipped destroyers, this was a pre-eminent threat to the task force and on the 2nd May, the War Cabinet cleared the Conqueror to remove the Belgrano from the theatre. H.M.S. Conqueror fired a pattern of torpedoes from around 2,000 yards and scored two hits. The Argentine cruiser sunk rapidly, the loss of one of its most prestigious units probably caused the Argentine navy to recall its other units including an aircraft carrier to port.
Argentine air attacks on 2nd May claimed the Sheffield with an Exocet missile, her Sea Dart system was unable to track and shot down because of its deficiency in engaging low-level targets. A submarine was thought to be in the area at the same time and no chances were taken, Yarmouth firing her Anti-submarine mortars. Sheffield was abandoned, her crew transferred to the Arrow, 21 men had died in the attack. This was Britain's first large lose of life in the conflict. The ship drifted for three days before she was reboarded and towed away. In a rising sea, she listed helplessly and sank. On the 10th May, Alacrity detected and fired on a ship. The 3,900 ton Islas de los Estados sank immediately as the first round probably hit fuel supplies.
On 12th May, H.M.S. Brilliant a Type 22 Frigate, equipped with the potent Sea Wolf point-defence missile system, blew two Argentine skyhawks out of the sky and forced a third into the sea. A second wave got through due to a fault in Brilliants' Sea Wolf system and hit Glasgow, the bomb however, passed right through the ship without exploding. Taking on water, Glasgow retired to make temporary repairs and stayed on station for a further three weeks before returning home. A third attack was met by Harriers, from which they broke off and turned for home. Throughout all of these actions, the ships refuelled every other day from the fleet of supply ships kept out of range of the enemy's aircraft east of the Falklands.
In mid-May Harriers bombed and strafed two Argentine supply ships. The Task Force was strengthened when the Amphibious group arrived bringing with it RAF Harrier GR3s. Every requisitioned ship carrying Marines or Army troops bristled with weaponry in place against air attack, Blowpipe SAMS, Bofors, machine guns were all readied. They arrived on 15-18th May, and the 19th saw more Harriers arriving following air-refuelled flights all the way from Ascension Island.
The Navy landed the ground forces in the early hours of Friday, 21th May in San Carlos water. As the troops crossed the Falklands, the air attacks continued against the Task Force and the 21st May saw the Ardent sunk, followed by the Antelope on the 24th and Coventry on the 25th in the San Carlos area. A second landing at Bluff Cove was costly, Argentine aircraft destroyed the landing ships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram between the 4th and 8th of June.
With the fall of Port Stanley the Argentine invasion was at an end, for a terrible price to the Royal Navy. Five warships and one civilian ship sunk, Eleven warships damaged in varying degrees. The campaign had cost the British 255 men killed and 777 wounded.
Please note that we have only touched the surface of the Falklands Sea War and will be adding more information to this site as time permits.