What a Difference 25 Years Makes

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The Red Arrows complete the flypast in London in a ‘Vulcan formation’, representing the contribution of the Vulcan bomber to the 1982 conflict [Picture: Allan House]

Nothing highlights the political changes in Britain in 25 years more than the 25th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Falklands.

During the celebrations and remembrance, Lady Thatcher was flanked by HRH Prince Charles Prince of Wales, and HRH Prince Andrew Duke of York. Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair hovered eagerly on the fringes trying to find a photo opportunity as he tried to act as meeter and greeter. His wife sat looking bored and sour throughout the proceedings.

The Prince of Wales, during his RN career, held command at sea but as heir was not permitted to go to war. The Duke of York was permitted to serve during the Falklands Liberation and served with great distinction. As a helicopter pilot, he and his crew flew dangerous missions that included acting as a decoy for missiles aimed at the warships. He was also one pilot who flew into the dense smoke from the burning Sir Galahad to rescue survivors and used his rotor downwash to blow lifeboats ashore.

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The Task Force was led by helicopter carrier HMS Hermes with RAF VSTOL Harriers for ground attack and RN Sea Harriers for ground attack and air defence

Lady Thatcher was met with great enthusiasm by the many veterans who attended the event in London. Having suffered a number of strokes in recent years, she was frail but determined. Twenty Five years ago her courage and determination was instrumental in achieving liberation for the Falkland Islanders from a vile Argentinian invasion ordered but a revolting military junta to divert public attention in Argentina from the gross abuses of civil liberties by that junta.

The junta smugly assumed that they could land a large invasion force unopposed. Although vastly outnumbered the tiny Royal Marine garrisons in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia put up a spirited defence and, after repatriation to Britain, immediately volunteered to go back with the Task Force.

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Typical of the mistreatment of islanders, a community was crammed into a meeting hall at Goose Green with inadequate food, sanitation or medical facilities until liberated by 2 Para. Goose Green Settlement, the final objective of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment. This was where the local population were held prisoner during the 1982 Falklands War. The Parachute Regiment liberated the local population after fighting in the most gruelling and brutal battle since the Second World War. The population were secured in the School House. The town was secured by B Company, led by Major John Crosland who famously wore a black knitted hat throughout the battle. The Falklands Conflict, 2 April to 14 June 1982, followed the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina on 2 April 1982. It was a unique period in the history of Britain and Argentina and, although war was never formally declared, the brief conflict saw nearly 1,000 lives lost on both sides and many more wounded.

The islanders also showed British grit in a campaign of civil disobedience against the invaders and were treated badly by the ill-disciplined Argentine conscripts who were in turn also poorly treated by their own officers.

Lady Thatcher ordered the formation of a Task Force to liberate the islands. This collection of warships and merchant vessels was hastily assembled and sent south to Ascension Island for final storing and checks. The fleet then sailed down through the South Atlantic into the teeth of the early winter storms that rage in those waters.

South Georgia was liberated first, before the Fleet turned for its main target of the Falklands Islands. Not only were the ships of the Task Force operating 8000 miles from home with no close safe haven, but a primarily anti-submarine RN was having to prepared for an anti-air war and a potentially opposed beach landing.

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The Sea Harrier developed air to air tactics during the battles to defend the Task Force and forces ashore. It surprised aviation specialists and shocked the Argentine Air Force

The Task Force fought with considerable bravery and professionalism and won a battle that theoretically could not be won, demonstrating that a military force can triumph through will when their fight is just. A lack of helicopters, lost when the Atlantic Conveyor was sunk, meant that the troops had to carry their ammunition and supplies in a forced march across difficult terrain in the unpleasant weather of approaching Falklands winter.

To the tales of bravery on the part of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Task Force is added the bravery of Islanders in aiding the troops. A convoy of tractors, trailers and Land Rovers was assembled by the islanders to carry supplies for the troops into the battles. Travelling at night and unable to use lights, the convoy was led by a young woman walking ahead of the lead vehicle, wearing white gloves to indicate the route and armed only with a morphine syringe to use in the event that she stepped on a land mine.

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Lady Thatcher worked well with two US Presidents in a relationship that was good for Britain and good for the US. That meant lively debate in private and unity in public.

During her Premiership, Lady Thatcher was to fight three wars. She inherited the war against Irish terrorism, surviving the bombing of her hotel during a Party Conference when terrorists tried to wipe out the Government. She managed to bring that fight to the stage where political solution was possible, winning the military and intelligence battle without attacking the civil liberties of British citizens. She rose to the defence of the Falklands against a vile aggressor and secured the support of the US President that made it possible to obtain supplies of the new AIM9L missile for the Task Force VSTOL Sea Harriers. She then faced a third threat when Iraq invaded Kuwait and she worked with US President Reagan to assemble a true multi-national force to liberate Kuwait from another vile dictator.

In facing these military trials, Lady Thatcher always put the troops first and did everything possible to ensure that they had the arms and supplies to do their work as liberators against aggressors. As a Prime Minister she was not afraid to take hard decisions but as a mother she felt for the safety of the young men and women who were executing those decisions. In her dealings with the US President, she achieved public unity but managed to achieve frank debate in private, never pulling her punches.

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Tony Blair, War Criminal-at-large

In contrast, Tony Blair has managed to take Britain to war without bothering to ensure that the troops received the arms and supplies they required. He has blindly followed a US President, serving Britain badly, but also serving America badly. The Anglo/US Special Relationship is only special and productive for both countries when the British Prime Minister is prepared to be constructively critical in private discussions and united in public. Winston Churchill managed during the 1939-45 War, Macmillan managed with Kennedy, and Margaret Thatcher managed that during her premiership. A great pity for the world that Tony Blair was not equal to the task. Of special and enduring shame was the invasion of Iraq which was not only aggression against a sovereign power that presented no direct and immediate threat, but drew focus away from other more pressing matters, such as completing the liberation of Afghanistan and supporting the people there to build a peaceful and free community. In the fight against terrorism, Blair has managed to both increase the threat to Britain and attack the civil liberties of all Britons.

The main publishing period for titles related to the Falklands Liberation was timed for the 21st anniversary but many of these books are still in print or fairly easy to acquire ad used books.

IJB

For reviews of some of the best: tinyurl.com/oozvg

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