Header image: RAF Waddington 1982 | Engineers and flight crew with the Vulcan prior to deployment to Ascension Island
On 14 June 1982, Argentine ground forces surrendered, signalling the end of the Falklands War and the islands returned back to British control. It was the end of the ten-week conflict, which began on 2 April 1982 with Argentina invading and occupying the Falkland Islands.
The retaking of the Falkland Islands was considered extremely difficult. According to historian Arthur L. Herman, the chances of Britain succeeding were assessed by the US Navy as “a military impossibility”. However, Britain had been making preparations in the event of war. Following the invasion on 2 April, a British task force began to assemble.
The entire task force eventually comprised of a number of nuclear submarines and 127 ships, including Royal Navy aircraft carriers, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and Merchant Navy ships. These vessels also carried some of the Armed Forces to Ascension Island – Royal Marines, British Army and Royal Navy.
The RAF provided Harriers and flew Lockheed C-130 Hercules transports to Ascension, carrying stores and RAF and Royal Navy personnel to set up a base. The RAF had also been researching the possibility of carrying out a long-range bombing campaign with Vulcans using aerial refuelling – the result was Operation Black Buck.
While there were significant successes in the air and on the battlefield, sadly there were also losses. One of the most reported is the loss of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship, Sir Galahad, along with 48 of her crew and soldiers.
The task to liberate the islands was entering its closing stages. British forces were closing in on the capital Stanley for the final assault. Two RFA ships were transporting troops to support the final assault.
On 8 June 1982, while preparing to unload members of the Welsh Guards in Port Pleasant, Fitzroy, Sir Galahad was attacked by three Argentine Skyhawks. Sir Galahad was bombed and set on fire. Onboard the ship was ammunition, as well as phosphorus bombs and thousands of gallons of diesel and petrol. Following the air attack, fire quickly began to burn out of control. A total of 48 crew members and soldiers were killed in the attack, with a further 97 wounded. A second support ship, Sir Tristram, was also hit. Two of its crew died in the blast.
One of the most well-known survivors of the attack on Sir Galahad was Guardsman Simon Weston. Only 20 years old at the time, Simon survived with burns to 46% of his body. His face was barely recognisable.
His story has been widely publicised over the years and he has become prominent across the world for his struggle to overcome his injuries and redefine his role in life. Simon’s message is one of achievement, of triumph in the face of adversity, and of seizing the moment and succeeding. Simon’s charitable work earned him an OBE in the 1992 Queen’s Birthday Honours and in the 2016 New Year’s Honours Simon was awarded the CBE for his work.
On 14 June 1982, after British troops had fought their way into the outskirts Port Stanley, a ceasefire was agreed. At 2100 hours the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, General Mario Menéndez, surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore. Back in Britain, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced to the House of Commons that negotiations had begun for the surrender of the Argentine invasion force in the Falkland Islands, ending the Falklands War.
The surrender was finalised in the early hours of 15 June. The noted time of surrender was backdated three hours so that both Zulu time (UTC) and the local time were recorded as 14 June. This was to prevent possible confusion by Argentine troops who might have mistakenly thought that they were permitted to keep fighting until the next day, 15 June 1982.
The terms of the surrender document were slightly changed after negotiation by General Menéndez. The phrase ‘unconditional surrender’ was changed for the term ‘surrender’. The Argentines were granted:
- The Argentines units will retain their flags.
- The units will remain under control of their respective officers.
- The surrender ceremony will be private (not public).
- The Argentine officers will retain their sidearms.
A final point regarding the return of 11,313 prisoners of war in their own ships was not accepted. 4,167 of them were repatriated to Argentina on the ocean liner Canberra alone, a vessel that the junta in Buenos Aires had falsely claimed was crippled during the Battle of San Carlos. All Argentine prisoners were repatriated to Argentina by 14 July.
Did you know? Like the English Electric Canberra, the SS Canberra was named after the capital of Australia. The ocean liner was used as a troopship during the Falklands War, but was a film star in her earlier career. She appeared in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
255 British lives were lost and 775 wounded in the fight to regain the Falklands. While the nation proudly rejoiced in liberating the Falkland Islands, many families also grieved over the loss of loved ones.
“We owe an enormous debt to the British forces and to the Merchant Marine. We honour them all.”Margaret Thatcher, 14 June 1982
The brave service personnel, in particular those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the sovereignty of the Falklands Islands so that others can live in freedom, will never be forgotten.
The Falklands War
2 April 1982 – 14 June 1982
Lest We Forget