Skip to main content

"B is for Belgrano": The Falklands War

On 2 April 1982, Argentine troops landed on the British colony of the Falkland Islands and captured them after a short battle with the small garrison of Royal Marines and part-time soldiers of the Falkland Islands Defence Force.

British response was rapid. Three days later the first ships of a task force set sail from Portsmouth bound for the South Atlantic. British aerial combat operations began on 1 May and troops began to land at San Carlos Water on 21 May. Fighting continued until 14 June, when the Argentine garrison surrendered.

The war cost the lives of 255 British military and Merchant Navy personnel, 649 Argentine military personnel and three islanders.

This is an online version of an exhibition at the Modern Records Centre. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the images.

 
Statement from the Commonwealth Trade Union Council condemning the Argentine invasion

Statement from the Commonwealth Trade Union Council condemning the Argentine invasion

Condemnation of the Argentine invasion was swift from the Commonwealth, the EEC and two thirds of the UN Security Council, although much of Latin America and a number of other nations supported Argentina's actions.

[Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292D/980.9/2]

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) was established in 1905 to operate transport, replenishment and refuelling vessels for the Royal Navy. Although they are uniformed, work for the Ministry of Defence and come under naval discipline in wartime, its personnel are civilian members of the Merchant Navy and can join trades unions. Twenty-two RFA ships served in the war. The task force suffered its worst casualties of the war on 8 June when 48 men (mostly from the Welsh Guards) were killed and more than 150 wounded during air attacks on the landing ships RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram in Bluff Cove. The former was lost and the latter badly damaged.

Ten RFA personnel were killed during the war. RFA personnel received two Distinguished Service Orders, three Distinguished Service Crosses, two George Medals, two Queen's Gallantry Medals, one Mention in Dispatches, one Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct, six Commander-in-Chief Fleet Commendations, five OBEs and three British Empire Medals.

Ship-by-ship account of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's contribution to the war from their newsletter, Force 4

Ship-by-ship account of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's contribution to the war from their newsletter, Force 4

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/146]

Copy of 175A_146_07.jpg

Details of some of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's bravery awards from their newsletter, Force 4

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/146]

The Merchant Navy

In order to supplement the task force's transport capabilities, the Ministry of Defence requisitioned and chartered forty-five civilian vessels, which were known as Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT). They were crewed by volunteers from the Merchant Navy, supplemented by parties from the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Merchant Navy personnel received one Distinguished Service Cross, one Queen's Gallantry Medal, two Mentions in Dispatches, one Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct, three CBEs, four OBEs, one MBE and six British Empire Medals.

List of Ships Taken Up From Trade

List of Ships Taken Up From Trade

A list of STUFT vessels and their estimated date of return to the UK following the war.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/146]

Harrison Line and the Falkland Islands

Harrison Line and the Falkland Islands

An account of the Harrison Line's involvement with the Falkland Islands, both before and during the war. One Harrison Line vessel was later used to resupply the task force, although she did not arrive in time to serve in the war itself.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/146]

Crew list of the SS Atlantic Conveyor

Crew list of the SS Atlantic Conveyor

The SS Atlantic Conveyor was the only merchant ship sunk in the war. A roll-on, roll-off container ship owned by Cunard and registered in Liverpool, she was requisitioned by the government and sailed to the South Atlantic as part of the task force carrying RAF and Royal Navy Harriers and helicopters, as well as a considerable quantity of military stores. On 25 May she was hit by two Exocet missiles and set on fire; she sank three days later, the first British merchant ship lost to enemy action since the Second World War.

The six men circled died in the attack, along with three Royal Navy personnel and three Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/145]

Account of the Merchant Navy's contribution from the British Shipping Review 1982

Account of the Merchant Navy's contribution from the British Shipping Review 1982

The photograph at the top right is of the SS Atlantic Conveyor.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/146]

Order of service for a remembrance service in Liverpool Cathedral for the men lost on the SS Atlantic Conveyor, 1 July 1982

Order of service for a remembrance service in Liverpool Cathedral for the men lost on the SS Atlantic Conveyor, 1 July 1982

The Atlantic Conveyor was registered in Liverpool.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/145]

Opposition to the War

Opposition to the war from left-wing and/or pacifist organisations and individuals began as soon as the Argentines invaded and continued throughout the war and afterwards. Much of the opposition was based on genuine anti-war beliefs and condemned both Argentina for its aggression and Britain for responding with military force of its own. Some left-wing groups, however, supported Argentina's claim to 'Las Malvinas' and opposed the war on the basis that Britain was an old colonial power which should just give in gracefully and allow Argentina to take back what it claimed to be its territory.

War...It's a dying business

War...It's a dying business

The Ad Hoc Committee for Peace in the Falklands was set up to campaign against the war and comprised representatives of many pacifist and left-wing organisations, including CND, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the National Union of Students, the Roman Catholic peace movement Pax Christi and the Ecology Party (the forerunner of the Green Party). This handbill advertised a 'March for Peace' from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square on 23 May 1982 which was addressed by, among others, Tony Benn and Harriet Harman.

[Alan Clinton papers: MSS.539/2/2/26]

Malvinas are Argentina's

Malvinas are Argentina's

The Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party made no bones about where it stood in the debate! It wholeheartedly backed Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands. This pamphlet lays out its reasons for doing so and attempts to claim that the military regime in Argentina was simply a reaction to outside 'imperialism' and its atrocities nothing compared to those inflicted by the 'British ruling class' in its efforts to 'turn half the world into a vast concentration camp'. It argues that Argentinian victory in the Falklands would be the best result for the 'class struggle' in Argentina.

[Collection of Trotskyist and other left-wing periodicals and pamphlets: MSS.661/4/2/3]

Photograph of CND demonstration against the war in London

Photograph of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) demonstration against the war in London

CND opposed the war for pacifist reasons and were particularly worried about reports that the task force was carrying tactical nuclear weapons.

[Mary Brennan papers: MSS.410/3/2]

An A to Z of the Falklands

An A to Z of the Falklands, 1984

On 2 May the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror controversially torpedoed and sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives, the only time in history that a nuclear submarine has ever fired her torpedoes in anger. Much of the opposition to the war focused on this incident, which occurred outside the official 'exclusion zone', although it was claimed by British government and military authorities that the vessel was a threat to the task force and that the sinking was wholly legitimate. This 1984 pamphlet was written by Labour MP Tam Dalyell, a staunch opponent of the war.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/145]

The Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are an archipelago of 778 islands in the South Atlantic over 250 nautical miles east of Argentina. Discovered in the 16th century, they were first settled in 1764 and have been claimed and occupied at various times over the ensuing centuries by France, Britain, Spain and Argentina. They have been permanently occupied by the United Kingdom since 1833, but have been claimed by Argentina since her independence from Spain in 1816.

State Research Bulletin

State Research Bulletin, no.30, 1984

This publication generally opposed the war, but does give a good chronology of the islands' history.

[Collection of anarchist and alternative publications: MSS.758/1/2/29/4]

Falkland Islands Weekly News

Falkland Islands Weekly News, 22 February 1945

An example of the islands' newsletter detailing a cycling trip across the 'Camp' (countryside).

[Cyclists' Touring Club archive: MSS.328/C/5/FALK]

Falkland Islands Weekly News

Falkland Islands Weekly News, 1 March 1945

Another example of the islands' newsletter giving the results of a sports meeting in the capital, Stanley, which appears to have combined equestrian events with events commonly seen at a school sports day.

[Cyclists' Touring Club archive: MSS.328/C/5/FALK]

Documents relating to the Falkland Islands General Employees Union

Documents relating to the Falkland Islands General Employees Union

A collection of copies of historic documents assembled to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Falkland Islands General Employees Union (FIGEU) in 1983. FIGEU, previously the Falkland Islands Labour Federation, is the islands' own trade union to which most farm employees belong.

[Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292D/980.9/2]

Agreement between the Falkland Islands Sheepowners' Association and the Falkland Islands Labour Federation, 9 August 1952

Agreement between the Falkland Islands Sheepowners' Association and the Falkland Islands Labour Federation, 9 August 1952

Wool is the Falkland Islands' main export and this agreement defined the terms and conditions of employees working for sheep farms on the islands.

[Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292/980.81/2]

Falkland Islands Economic Study 1982

Falkland Islands Economic Study 1982

The first study was published in 1976 and this updated edition was produced after the war.

[National Union of Seamen archive: MSS.175A/146]

Minefield map

Minefield map, 1983

This map was compiled by the Royal Engineers a year after the war finished. It shows minefields and mine clearance in the area of the Falklands' capital, Stanley. Green areas have been cleared, blue areas are not known to have ever been mined, red areas are still considered dangerous. People are still being killed and maimed by Argentine mines on the Falkland Islands to this day.

[Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292D/980.9/2]