Margaret Thatchers huge Falklands gamble after being warned of unbalanced devastation

Falklands 'wasn't on the list' says Sir Jon Nott

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Today marks the 40th anniversary of the UK winning the Battle of Goose Green during the Falklands War. The fierce battle saw 17 British soldiers killed, while 47 of their Argentine counterparts also died. Goose Green was the first major land conflict of the Falklands War and the most intense bout of fighting most soldiers experienced. The merits of the battle are contested as it was seen as a way for Margaret Thatcher’s Government to maintain public support for the war back home.

Politicians needed a morale boost after several successful Argentine attacks, including the sinking of HMS Sheffield in which 20 people died.

British sea power was crucial to the war after Argentina invaded the Falklands – a remote South Atlantic archipelago – on April 2, 1982.

However, in the run-up to the ten-week conflict, Mrs Thatcher was warned about the impact of defence cuts on the Royal Navy.

Admiral Sir Henry Leach sent the Prime Minister a stern note in May 1981, which is held by the National Archives.

The first sea lord pleaded with the Tory leader to take “two minutes” to read his letter and regretted that she could not meet him.

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He wrote: “The [defence cuts programme] has been devised ad hoc in two months.

“It has neither been validated nor studied in depth. No alternative options have been considered.

“It has all been done in a rush. Such unbalanced devastation of our overall defence capability is unprecedented.

“It must cause serious doubts concerning US reactions in the context of your own conventional assurance and successful negotiation of the Trident project so important to our country.

“We are on the brink of a historic decision. War seldom takes the expected form and a strong maritime capability provides flexibility for the unforeseen.”

He added: “If you erode it to the extent envisaged I believe you will undesirably foreclose your future options and prejudice our national security.”

The Admiral’s letter was also shared with the defence secretary, John Nott, who also received a warning from Lord Carrington.

In his letter, which is also held in the Archives, the Foreign Secretary spoke of the potential perils of recalling the icebreaker HMS Endurance, which was involved in the early stages of the war.

He argued that the vessel “plays a vital role in both political and defence terms in the Falkland Islands, [its] dependencies and Antarctica.”

He added: “Any reductions would be interpreted by both the islanders and the Argentines as a reduction in our commitment to the islands and in our willingness to defend them.”

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The unearthed missives are poignant today as the nation remembers the soldiers who gave their lives at Goose Green and during the rest of the war.

The battle on the Falklands’ central isthmus was led by the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para).

But the soldiers faced an uphill struggle during the 40-hour conflict, which saw them at times face enemy fire for hours at a time.

The battlefield was a patch of nearly featureless, boggy ground, which offered soldiers little cover due to it being so flat.

The fighting began in the early hours of May 28 and British forces faced a barrage of attacks that were heavier than expected, including mortar rounds.

Despite the British being outnumbered two to one by the Argentines, Argentina agreed to surrender after talks led by 2 Para’s Major Chris Keeble.

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