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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 7 March 2024

The Falklands Naval Campaign 1982

 Last week, I spent the final day of my visit to the National Archives looking at the HMS Ambuscade ship's logs for the Falklands campaign of 1982 and related files. The ship's logs only provide the most limited information, even less than the equivalent war diary for a land unit. Therefore, it helps to have a good overview of the campaign before going through them. I used Edward Hampshire's The Falklands Naval Campaign 1982 in the Osprey campaign series for that.

Lots of books were published quickly after the conflict. I also have the three-part Osprey MAA series published in 1982. However, this was published in 2021 and benefits from subsequent research and access to archives. 

While my interest is in the naval campaign, the book gives an overview of the campaign's origins. This was the first war in my adult lifetime, yet I had forgotten some of the background. The author follows the usual Osprey format in this series by covering the commanders and the opposing forces. The Argentinians had a small and relatively obsolete navy. At the same time, the Royal Navy had reduced in size and faced many challenges just getting an adequate fleet so far from home bases. In particular, civilian ships, cargo, and passenger liners had to be converted to provide the necessary logistics. The fleet included seven Type 21 frigates, including HMS Ambuscade. Frigates and destroyers primarily acted as radar pickets and AA cover for the fleet, which would be exposed to superior numbers of Argentinian aircraft.

The description of the various naval actions includes excellent maps and plenty of illustrations. The Argentinian Navy split into two main groups coming at the islands from north and south. The sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano just outside the Total Exclusion Zone was controversial but effectively kept the Navy in their bases for the rest of the campaign. This left the job to the Air Force with a mix of Skyhawks, Super Etendards and IAI Daggers to attack the Task Force. Argentina only had a handful of airborne Exocet missiles, so they had to rely mainly on conventional bombs, attacking at low levels. Many of these did hit their targets but failed to explode. Royal Navy losses started to mount as the Task Force landed troops on the island and, consequently, were easier to find.

Frigates like HMS Ambuscade provided fire support to the landings and a subsequent assault on Stanley. The ship's log outlines how they operated in a gun line off the coast, an essential role as the army had only modest artillery support. Those who argued that ships didn't need guns in the missile age were proved wrong. 

How HMS Ambuscade reported the capture of Port Stanley in the ship's log.

The conflict also highlighted the vulnerability of warships without air cover and better airborne early warning systems. Many Argentinian attacks were made under the radar. In defence policy terms, it highlights what is known as the 'Quinlan Paradox' - the unexpected is more likely to occur.

I am still considering how to do this on the tabletop. I bought a lovely 1/700 3D print of a Type 21 frigate from the Dorset Print Man. However, if I want to cover more ships and aircraft, this becomes an expensive project. I suspect I will return to Navwar.


  1. There were certainly plenty of challenges for both sides in this conflict. I must admit, I do like to include naval support in my games where possible (such as for the Israelis in Lebanon). Navwar - the old reliable ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

    1. My problem with naval fire support is that it can overwhelm a scenario. Although that is probably more a WW1/2 issue given the much higher number of warship guns. Real old school ordering with NavWar! I wrote my one and only cheque to them last year!