Logistics in the Falklands War

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  • Author:
    Kenneth Privratsky
    This is the first book published on the logistic effort that supported the retaking of the Falklands. As the book points out, the Falklands are 2,000 miles further than Japan from the UK. Supplying a force at that distance was an incredible feat of supply – especially when considering that the early stages were organised on the fly with no warning and few precedents.

    The author of the book is a retired US Major General who specialised in logistics while serving. He also interviewed many of the leading UK participants over a number of years. The book is thus very insightful on the huge logistical problems that resulted.

    The book is broken up into twelve chapters. Eleven cover specific time periods in the conflict from the build up to war to the return of the surrendered Argentine forces to their homeland. The final chapter reviews the lessons to be learned.

    The initial chapter covers the run up to war and emphasises the UK’s total unpreparedness to fight a war to retake the Falklands. There were no contingency plans, no prepositioned materials and few facilities for what would be a hugely extended supply route. The chapter also emphasises the decisive intervention of Admiral Sir Henry Leach who rapidly convinced Maggie Thatcher that forcing the Argentineans out of the Islands was possible.

    The next chapter covers the initial mobilisation for war. Time was of the essence as winter was approaching in the southern hemisphere. The campaign would have to be fought and won before its onset. Urgent moves were made to move equipment, men and supplies south. Large scale improvisation was required with cargo ships hurriedly chartered, a huge volume of RAF logistic flights started and warships ordered to sail as soon as they could be resupplied. It wasn’t a case of throwing away the rule book – there was no rulebook to throw away.

    The third chapter covers the next few weeks as planners struggled to bring order out of chaos. Having started the necessary forces on the way south, the planners now had to put the wherewithal in place to support sustained combat operations. At the same time as the logistic operations were being thrown together they had to be dovetailed with the operational plan being thrashed out. With no contingency planning, information had to be garnered from every possible source. This plan was complicated by the lack of facilities and the inhospitable conditions on the islands; they were bleak and windswept with little shelter, roads or infrastructure.

    The fourth chapter covers operations on Ascension Island which went from a sleepy backwater to a major logistics hub in a matter of days. One huge problem was the restricted size of the island – there simply was not enough room for all the facilities required. As well as the flood of supplies arriving by sea and air, the cargo ships and liners sailed from the UK had to be completely re-stowed from the original haphazard arrangement to a combat loading suitable for getting equipment and supplies ashore in the order they would be needed on the invasion beaches.

    The next chapter covers the preparations for the final assault. Integral to this was the recapture of South Georgia which gave a sheltered area of sea about 900 miles from the Falklands. This provided a focal point for the invasion shipping to assemble. Two other significant events were the huge logistic effort for the Blackbuck sorties that enabled a Vulcan to bomb the airfield at Stanley and the sinking of the Belgrano by HMS Conqueror which sent the Argentinean navy scuttling back to port.

    The sixth chapter covers the invasion and the struggle to build up sufficient supplies ashore to break out of the original beachhead. This was an important constraint as the logistic build up had to be carried out in the face of constant Argentine air attacks. The invasion beaches were carefully chosen because they were surrounded by hills and could be protected by a gun line of warships. Even then liners like Canberra, ferries like the Norland and landing ships like Fearless were acutely vulnerable. In some cases ships were sailed before fully unloading because of this danger.

    The next chapter covers the first moves out from the beachhead and towards Goose Green – a move imperilled by an incredibly stupid BBC news item reporting it was underway. Again, the scale of the assault was decided by logistics: artillery support being governed by the amount of artillery and shells that could be moved forward by the very limited force of helicopters and BV202 tracked vehicles.

    The next chapter deals with the problems of providing reinforcements from the UK for the first forces sent south; 2 Para, 3 Para and 3 Command Brigade. Of themselves these forces were not strong enough to eject the Argentines, so they were reinforced with 5 Brigade. This created another logistic nightmare as men and equipment were hurriedly moved south and the supply arrangements put in train to support them.

    The ninth chapter deals with the problems that resulted in Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad coming under air attack at Fitzroy. The ships were being used to transport the Welsh Guards forward by sea as they were struggling to move on foot across the break Falkland terrain. Owing to confused orders, the ships anchored in a vulnerable location under clear skies and without significant anti-aircraft defences. Nor was there any urgency in getting the troops ashore. Tragedy was inevitable.

    The tenth chapter deals with the assault on the hills around Stanley. Before this could take place, men, equipment and supplies had to be moved forward in large quantities over inhospitable terrain. With finite numbers of helicopters and relatively few vehicles capable of moving across the often boggy and rock strewn ground, this was a major task. As well as supplies dumped forward for the artillery, air defences and so on, intermediate dumps were created at places like Teal inlet to reduce the time it would take to move urgent supplies to the fighting front. Similarly, medical facilities had to be rapidly relocated forward to reduce the time taken to get casualties to the surgeons.

    The penultimate chapter deals with the problems after the surrender. These ranged from clearing up the highly insanitary mess left behind by the Argentinean conscripts, restoring basic servicers like water and power to the islanders, providing permanent shelter for the British forces who had been roughing it for weeks, caring for the huge number of prisoners and making arrangements to transport those prisoners back to the Argentinean mainland as soon as possible.

    The final chapter deals with the lessons to be learned from the Falkland’s campaign. It was an astonishing feat of logistics that has to be improvised at short notice and in the main kept the British forces supplied. But like any hastily improvised methods, short comings emerged. These ranged from communications problems between the varying components of the British forces, the problems of unloading the hurriedly requisitioned civilian ships and distributing the large quantities of fuel required by thirsty Rapier batteries, helicopters, Harriers and motor vehicles.

    All in all this is a highly recommended book. It makes clear the huge amount of improvisation needed to improvise a supply chain that stretched 8,000 miles, the often innovative methods that were required, how problems like the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyer and its cargo impacted on operations and how the campaign was shaped by the logistic limitations and capabilities of the British forces.

    Five mushroom heads.

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  1. baboon6
    Sounds good. Anything in it on Argentine logistics or rather lack of logistics?
    1. Wordsmith
      No - it deals almost exclusively with the UK's logistics. There are a few comments on Argentinian logistics, but they are more in the nature of asides.

      Wordsmith, Apr 15, 2015