THE BATTLE FOR THE FALKLANDS
For a "little" war, the Falklands struggle has turned out some good books (q.v., Sunday Times Insight Team, War in the Falklands), but this one will be hard to top. Hastings (Bomber Command, Das Reich), covered the war for the London Standard and then interviewed returnees; Jenkins, political editor of The Economist, covered the war's political beat and the prior diplomatic-ups-and-downs. Together, they're a strong combination. Like most others, they're convinced that this was a war that shouldn't have happened: the Falklanders should have accepted the "lease-back" agreement; the Argentines acted only because they didn't think the British would send their fleet; the British never believed the Argentines would actually invade the islands. When it become clear that they might, Hastings and Jenkins blame Prime Minister Thatcher for not issuing an ultimatum. But once the Argentine invasion occurred, they credit her with her single-mindedness--only British determination made the operation a success. The logistics were immense, and it's clear that the British sent their fleet out before they were sure of what they were doing. Many things broke right for them, though. Having grossly underestimated Argentine air strength, they launched their assault at San Carlos without having achieved air superiority; luckily, bad weather kept the Argentine planes away--but when the weather cleared the day after the landing, the Argentine air force took its toll on the Royal Navy. The inadequacy of British ship design became all too clear, but not, the authors say, because of the infamous aluminum superstructures. They place most of the blame on the concentration of vital functions in a single area of the ships, and on inadequate defense against air attack. (As one senior captain put it, "We have moved too quickly and too completely into the missile age.") But the navy benefited from Argentine fear of missile defenses anyway, since they failed to set their bombs properly for low-level flying (adopted to avoid the missiles)--as a result, many went unexploded. (Manuals-of-instruction from the bombs' American manufacturers were unavailable because of American restrictions.) Still, the toil taken by the Royal Navy after the landing is a glimpse of the disaster that could have befallen the British if the weather had cleared earlier. The sea battle of San Carlos was a close call, it's clear from this report. Meanwhile, reports of sunken ships created political panic in Britain, where demands were forwarded for a quick strike on land. Royal Marine Brigadier Thompson, defended for his caution, is the hero here. The hastily mounted attack on Goose Green succeeded--against overwhelming numbers--only because of the quality of the British soldiers. Again, luck had its part: the Marines' NATO responsibility is for northern Norway, so they were well-trained for conditions on the Falklands. The depiction of the land battles is vivid but spare, and highly effective. The uncertainty of war, the reality that is never quite what was expected, is beautifully portrayed.