- Gerardo Lessard
- BBC News World
Argentinian Robin Pablos recalls how the last “brutal” battle of the Falklands/Malvinas War was on a frigid night from 13-14 June 1982, 40 years ago now.
“Between the tracking shots and the torches, the battlefield looked like broad daylight,” says Pablos, who was 19 at the time and who was sent to that war as a conscripted soldier.
“Between the smell of gunpowder and blood, all that could be seen was quite Dantesky,” he told BBC Mundo.
This scene took place in Wireless Ridge, a hillside a few kilometers from Puerto Argentino or Stanley, the disputed capital of the archipelago.
The Argentine army had arrived there after landing on the islands to claim their sovereignty on 2 April of the same year, an action that ignited the war with the United Kingdom.
When the British were victorious at the Battle of Wireless Ridge 73 days later and took control of that hill, where they had other strategic positions near the capital, the war entered its final hours.
Upon receiving the order to retreat, Pablos and the other men of his division, some wounded, went to the city, where they were captured. Argentina surrendered on 14 June the same.
Beginning of the End
When war breaks out, it is often difficult to predict how it will end, just look at what is happening now in Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
In the Malvinas/Falklands conflict, it was also unclear what would happen after Argentina’s junta ordered its forces to invade the islands and the British government sent a combat fleet to the South Atlantic to retake the archipelago.
Key to the course of the conflict was the sinking of the British submarine Conqueror of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano on May 2, 1982.
Nearly half of the 649 Argentine casualties in the war occurred in that torpedo attack, which also killed 255 British soldiers and three islanders.
Since then, the Argentine Navy has withdrawn its surface fleet to port, the United Kingdom has begun to consolidate naval supremacy, and fighting has intensified.
But experts believe that the outcome of the war was imminent once the British infantry landed in San Carlos Bay and advanced into the Argentine positions, in bloody hand-to-hand combat.
Supported by their air and sea fire, the British forces, better prepared and equipped than their enemies, won battles such as Pradera del Ganso (Goose Green) until they took control of the perimeter of the capital where Argentine soldiers were stationed.
“When it became clear (the Argentines) were going to be defeated, there was not much they could do,” says Lawrence Friedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London.
“They had no choice but to give up,” Lawrence told BBC Mundo. “If you are on an island, you cannot escape, disperse, or retreat anywhere.”
On June 14, groups of Argentine fighters like Pablos began to reach the ice in the streets of Puerto Argentino/Stanley, seeking shelter and medical care for the wounded.
“It was a very strange thing, because there were already English soldiers walking around with guns and so were we,” says Pablos.
Negotiations for a cease-fire and the surrender of Argentina prevented the outbreak of hostilities in the archipelago’s capital and the bloodshed continuing.
He later learned that General Mario Menendez, who had been appointed by Argentina as governor of the islands during the war, had decided to surrender. on site Despite the fact that his bosses on the mainland were initially against it.
“When the order is given to Méndez to resist in the city, then he decides to surrender,” says Argentine historian Federico Lorenz, who specializes in the struggle over the islands.
“It’s a contradiction,” Lorenz told BBC Mundo, “but it’s probably the only reasonable military decision for Mendes, although many scold him: not to fight among the population because it would have been a massacre.”
The terms of the Argentine surrender were agreed upon by Menendez with the commander of the British Ground Forces, Major General Jeremy Moore, on 14 June.
Moore telexed to London that night to report that Argentine forces had laid down their arms and preparations had begun for the “men’s return to Argentina”.
“The Falkland Islands are once again subject to the government their people want,” he wrote.
As a result of the war, the British Prime Minister’s popularity skyrocketed. Margaret Thatcherwho won a comfortable victory in the UK elections a year later.
Instead, the military defeat precipitated the downfall of the military regime in Argentina, which in 1983 ceded power to a democratic government.
The country continued to claim sovereignty over the islands through diplomatic channels.
Pablos remembers spending a month as a prisoner of war before being sent back to the mainland with hundreds of Argentine ex-combatants.
Today, Pablos, director of veterans at Malvinas in Río Negro Province, notes that the end of the war caused “perpetual vague thinking.”
“On the one hand, it was the joy that the horror of war was over and I was still alive,” he explains. “But on the other hand, grief over the loss and on the many colleagues who are not here.”
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