Osprey Publishing gives us a new book on the Falklands in their Campaign series, covering the ground war. For those of us who watched it unfold on the news, the assault on Goose Green, the taking of Mount Tumbledown, and attendant “yomping” across the boggy interior of East Falkland are the stuff of legend.
Indeed, there are plenty of books and television shows about virtually all aspects of the whole affair, so anyone too young to have lived through it will still have a good chance of knowing the details. But for those who don’t, the brief war stemmed from an unresolved long-standing dispute over the ownership of two large islands off the Argentinian coast in the South Atlantic. Settled (eventually) by Britains, the islands held the key to fishing and mineral rights in the South Atlantic and the Southern Ocean, as well as forming a base of operations for expeditions to the South Pole. The Argentinians, who called them Las Malvinas, launched an invasion in the spring of 1982 that overwhelmed the small garrison. The British response was swift and hard-hitting, despite the 8000-mile distance from reinforcements in the UK, and by mid-June the islands were back in British hands.
It is worth bearing in mind that this is the 30-year anniversary of the conflict, and the contested issue of ownership is still a sore point between the two countries.
The Falklands, 1982: ground operations in the South Atlantic by Gregory Fremont-Barnes is the latest in Osprey Publishing’s “Campaign” series (#244), ISBN 978-1-84908-607-3. There are 96 glossy pages in Osprey’s standard 7 ¼ x 9 ¾ inch format, with 61 photographs and 9 maps scattered throughout. The text follows a common format, with the following chapter headings:
• Opposing Commanders
• Opposing Forces
• Opposing Plans
• The Campaign
• The Battlefields Today
• Bibliography and further reading
This book looks specifically at the actions of the British ground forces. The Argentine side is covered in strategic outline and where it touched on British actions, but its actions and deployment are not covered in anywhere near the depth of the British side. Even the supporting armour used by the British gets only a few brief mentions. It also makes reference to the naval and air components, but for more detail on these important aspects the reader will need to look elsewhere. Fortunately there is a decent bibliography, as well as a back-page full of ads for other Osprey publications on the war, including a whole book on the Argentinian forces.
The author is a senior lecturer in war history at Sandhurst (the UK’s Royal Military Academy), so the book is naturally well-researched and packed with detail. The Campaign chapter in particular is an almost hour-by-hour diary of events, which is possible in a book of this size because of the short duration of the conflict. If anything, there is a certain dryness to the text, reflecting its reliance on official reports of actions such as the unfortunately suicidal charge by “H” Jones, which is dealt with surprisingly positively. It is hard to see how a book on this subject can avoid being pro-British (or even a bit “gung-ho”), but there are times when I wondered what it would be like to see the actions described from the Argentine perspective.
The maps are quite useful in illustrating the action, and for once (in my experience of similar books) pretty much all the places referred to appear on the maps! The presentation of terrain as coloured contour bands is a bit unfortunate, because it removes any useful feature detail from what was already a fairly featureless landscape. The photos are surprising – many of them are black & white rather than colour – something I didn’t expect as late as 1982. However, looking up some of them by their IWM reference numbers on the internet confirms the originals were monochrome. My main gripe (as with other Campaign- and Commanders-series Osprey books) is that the photos are reproduced too small and dark. There are two painted reconstructions – another Osprey specialty – but I found these to be less than inspiring given that they take up two pages each (plus a page of notes) that could be better used for large photos.
There is a very narrow focus to this book, looking at the war mainly from the perspective of the British forces involved. This almost demands that the reader also consults other sources to gain a more rounded perspective of the conflict. While this isn’t a fault, it is worth bearing in mind if this is your first foray into the subject.
As with other books of this series, I’m of two minds. The text is good, but I cannot help feeling the photos deserved better reproduction given that Osprey is a large and professional publishing house. Still, if you want to know how the recapture of the islands went, this book will take you through it.
Highs: Very thorough description of the strategy and actions of the British land forces.Lows: Small, dark photos. Very narrow focus. Can be a bit one-sided.Verdict: A good description of the ground actions, worth having if you are interested in the application of tactics. Just don't expect a comprehensive war history.