The Royal Navy's Cold War Posture and Operation Corporate: Impact and Lessons
How did the Cold War-posture of the Royal Navy affect its contribution to Operation Corporate and what impact did the Falklands War subsequently have on this?
First published: 24th June 2014 | Michael Campbell
5.2. Amphibious Warfare
6.4. Strategic Lessons
This dissertation will focus upon the Royal Navy during the Cold War period from 1966 to 1990. In particular it will examine the affect the Cold War had upon the Royal Navy’s contribution to Operation Corporate and then the impact this conflict subsequently had upon the Royal Navy. By doing this, a full understanding of how the Royal Navy was affected by the geopolitical situation from the 1960’s up until 1990 will be reached.
The Royal Navy (RN) was heavily impacted by the Cold War, a period of heightened political and military tensions between the Capitalist ‘West’ and ‘Communist ‘East’. During this period, as will be shown throughout this dissertation, the Navy was shaped towards combating the Soviet Union (USSR) in a potential conflict. However, in April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British Dependent Territory whose sovereignty had long been disputed. As a result of this, a British task force was dispatched to retake the Islands. It consisted of elements from all three services, including 43 RN Warships. This response was codenamed Operation Corporate.
This dissertation will examine the question: How did the Cold War-posture of the Royal Navy affect its contribution to Operation Corporate and what impact did the Falklands War subsequently have on this?
In order to answer this, my dissertation will explore the RN during the Cold War period from 1966 to 1990 around a focal point of the Falklands War. I have decided to base my dissertation around these areas for several reasons. As Britain is an island nation and heavily dependent on the sea for the majority of its supplies, it can be seen that the RN, historically, presently and into the foreseeable future, will play a key role in ensuring the safety of this country. The Cold War was a significant part of twentieth century history, not only in Britain but across the world and continues to influence events to this day. As such, the influence it had on Britain’s Armed Forces was considerable and long-lasting and I believe it is important to recognise the impact this had, both upon the RN and the Falklands War. It can be seen that the Falklands War, far from being viewed in Britain as another ‘proxy war’ during the Cold War, became a very ‘personal’ conflict and invoked ideas about Britain’s place in the world. (Boyce 2005: 5).
This can be summed up in a quote from Admiral Lewin, the Chief of Defence Staff during the conflict:
“Britain is an island nation. For over a thousand years Britain’s military expeditions have depended on ships to transport men and materials, with warships to defend them and ensure the continuity of their supply. The Falklands War was a classic example of this eternal truth. This was the war that for fifteen years Governments of both persuasions had been telling the Services they would not be required to fight.” (Clapp and Southby-Tailyour 1996: xiii)
There has been a large amount of literature written about the Falklands War, including personal recollections, official documents and historical books. There is surprisingly little however on the wider implications of this ‘limited war” on the Cold War nature of the RN. This is due to various reasons including the more circumspect nature of the Royal Navy compared to the other two services as well as the RN Captain responsible for PR being sent to Japan half-way through the campaign. (Clapp pers. Comm., 31 May 2014) As such, whilst there are sources that focus individually upon the RN in the Cold War environment, its actions during the Falklands War and in the last years of the Cold War, very few link the three sectors together to construct an overall narrative. As such, this dissertation will be constructed using information from a wide variety of sources, including memoirs, interviews I conducted and official government documents.
A range of memoirs, such as the autobiography of Admiral Woodward, who was the Task Group Commander, will be used. In his book, One Hundred Days (2003), he runs through the topics detailed in the second section. In using these, the authors aim and agenda must be taken into consideration. They write for a specific audience and portrayal and thus will omit information they deem irrelevant or unflattering. As such, a wide variety of these must be used to gain a full appreciation of the events that transpired. Where this is not available, memoirs are still useful however they should be reinforced by other sources.
This is also true of the interviews I conducted during the course of my dissertation. I interviewed Rear Admiral Moncrieff RN Rtd who provided me with a perspective of the Royal Navy throughout the late 1970’s, the Falklands War and afterwards to the end of the Cold War as a serving officer. Vice Admiral McClement, the Executive Officer of HMSConqueror also provided me with useful information about ASW and the conduct of fleet submarines during the conflict. When using these, it is important to recognise that they have a vested interest in the RN and as such, they are inherently biased. Despite this, the interviews remain an important part of this dissertation due to its singular focus on the RN.
Government documents do not have this problem however they do fail to reflect the true nature or impact that they have. This is a significant issue with the Defence Reviews as their proposals had wider implications that are not discussed within them, as will be demonstrated in Chapter One. Further to this, in chapter three, The Falklands Campaign: The Lessons (MoD 1982) will be utilised. This allows me to gain the official government perspective of the implications of the conflict.
Further to this, there is a large amount of information available on the Falklands War, however due to the constrained nature of this dissertation, I am limited in what I can include. As such, I have been selective in the examples chosen and the sources used. This includes the use of the Official History of the Falklands Campaign written by L. Freedman (2007). This is a very useful and informative book however, due to circumstances beyond my control, I wasn’t able to fully integrate this into my dissertation. Since been written, this piece has been slightly revised following comments made by Michael Clapp.
As a result, the range of literature being used has shaped the way I have approached the question. The variety of both official, personal and authoritative literature used has led me to a full, well-rounded approach to the question. This gives me a full appreciation of the various aspects involved. The limitations to each source will be taken into account and, by using such a variety of sources, I can comprehensively answer the question posed.
During the 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s, the RN was shaped by a series of White Papers that formed the basis of Defence Reviews undertaken by the government of the day. These were designed to lay out and shape the role of the Armed Forces during the Cold War period and ensure they were able to contribute to a possible future conflict against the USSR. In doing so, they not only had to bear in mind British interests but also the geopolitical climate and budgetary concerns. In trying to balance these three, oft conflicting aims, the RN was shaped into a predominantly Cold War focused force, aimed primarily at conducting ASW in the North Atlantic against Soviet submarines. This section will examine the period from 1966 to 1981, focusing on the three Defence Reviews that occurred. These are the 1966, 1975 and 1981 Reviews.
As such, this chapter will demonstrate how the RN was postured towards a Cold War role before the Falklands War and will allow me, in further chapters, to demonstrate the impact this had upon Operation Corporate and the lessons that were subsequently learned from this.
The 1966 Defence Review was the second major Review to take place after World War Two (WW2) and occurred under the premiership of Harold Wilson. This review had had a significant impact on the future of the RN and indeed shaped the fleet that would be involved in the Falklands War. The review had two primary objectives: “to reduce the strain imposed on the British economy by the defence programme […] and to shape ‘a new defence posture’ for the 1970’s.” (Chichester and Wilkinson 1982: 14) Due to these, at times conflicting, aims, all three services sought to fight their own corner and gain an advantage over the other two. This became particularly marked between the RN and RAF, both of which had expensive capital projects they wished to retain. These were a new fleet aircraft carrier, CVA-01, and new strike aircraft, respectively. As such, a situation akin to open warfare broke out between the two Services, with various political blows being traded in order to gain the upper hand. The RN regarded its aircraft carrier fleet as its most important asset, from which it could project power to the vast majority of the world. Indeed, this was so important that the Admiralty Board warned the Government that “without a new generation of aircraft carriers the RN would be reduced by the late seventies to the small ship navy of a middling European power.” (Chichester and Wilkinson 1982: 16) This would prove fortuitous in the years that were to follow as the various large fleet carriers were withdrawn from service and replaced by the smaller Invincible class ‘through-deck cruisers’, as they were originally known.
The decision was taken however to cancel both CVA-01 and the RAF’s new strike aircraft project. Despite this, the Review stated that “Britain would retain a major military capability outside Europe, subject to limitations.” (Ovendale 1994: 136). For the RN, this meant that they had been reduced to “a mainly small ship force incapable of effective deployment outside the range of land-based aircraft. (Chichester and Wilkinson 1982: 19) This was to prove costly during the Falklands War, especially in regards to the lack of AEW, which will be discussed in the next chapter.
This Defence Review was followed the next year by the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy of 1967. In this, despite the commitments made the previous year, it laid out a withdrawal of all British Forces in the Middle East and Far East or ‘East of Suez’ as it became colloquially known. This had a profound impact on the RN and indeed, it demonstrated that “Britain had […] renounced the landing or withdrawal of troops against sophisticated opposition outside the range of land-based air cover.” (Koburger 1983: 19) This shows how the Cold War-posture shaped RN and impacted on its efforts during the Falklands War.
This was further followed by one in 1968, which not only speeded up the ‘East of Suez’ withdrawal but also laid out the future Defence posture that would impact heavily upon the RN. This was that “Britain would concentrate her resources on the defence of Europe and on the nuclear deterrent.” (Dockrill 1988: 96.) It can therefore be seen that the 1964 Defence Review and the subsequent follow-ups to it shaped the RN towards a predominantly Cold War, European focus that would have a major effect on its ability to fight ‘out-of-area’ conflicts, including most obviously, the Falklands War.
This Defence Review was carried out against a background of British economic trouble and as a result, the Wilson administration announced that it had “initiated a review of current defence commitments and capabilities against the resources that, given the economic prospects of the country, we could afford to devote to defence.” (MoD 1975 cited in Ovendale 1994: 151) As such, this Defence Review, as with the previous one, was placing the UK’s defence interests in the context of budgetary rather than foreign policy concerns. This was to have a significant impact upon the RN as, in order to reduce defence expenditure, several priority areas had been identified and ring-fenced. These were primarily NATO tasks, including the BAOR and operations in the North Atlantic. Consequently, the Review, with these constraints in place, saw “The navy bore the brunt of the cuts in equipment and weaponry, losing one-seventh of its surface combat fleet” (Dockrill 1988: 104) This demonstrates how the Cold War focus was impacting upon the RN. In addition to the cuts being made to the escort force, the 1975 Review also saw that “The large amphibious ships Hermes, Bulwark, Fearless andIntrepid were not to be replaced, and thus Britain’s vital amphibious warfare capability would be completely phased out.” (Roberts 2009: 110) This decision, which would be reinforced and hastened in the 1981 Defence Review, would go on to have serious implications during the Falklands War and show the need for these forces.
As such, it was seen that this Review “was a move towards minimalism, a virtual elimination of Britain’s out-of-area capability” (Taylor 2010: 7) This demonstrates the heavily Cold War influence upon the RN as it was being streamlined solely towards an ASW role in the North Atlantic. The need for this to be retained however was demonstrated very aptly in 1978, with what can now be seen as a precursor to the events of 1982. Due to Argentinian threats against the Falkland Islands, a decision was taken by the Government to secretly send a small task group, consisting of two frigates and a submarine to a holding area 400 miles from the Falklands as a deterrent against an Argentinian invasion. (Koburger 1993: 10) This demonstrates how, despite the focus on NATO operations against the Soviet Union, there was a very real requirement for the RN to be capable of operating independently outside of the North Atlantic which would be demonstrated heavily by the Falklands War.
This review would prove to be one of the most controversial and contested Defence Reviews of the 20th Century and would be heavily criticised for the decisions and assumptions made following the Falklands War that occurred less than a year after the Review. It was conducted by the Defence Secretary John Nott and outlined what Thatcher’s conservative government saw as the four main roles for Britain’s Armed Forces.
“An independent element of strategic and theatre nuclear forces committed to the [NATO] Alliance; the direct defence of the United Kingdom homeland; a major land and air contribution on the European mainland; and a major maritime effort in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel” (Nott 1981: 257-8 in Boyce 2005: 4)
As can be seen, this Review continued the focus upon the Cold War threat and commitments to NATO operations. As a result of this, the RN would be reduced further and shaped “to concentrate on its nuclear deterrent role and on anti-submarine warfare.” (Dockrill 1988: 115)
This would see the two aircraft carriers in service go, with HMSInvincible being sold to Australia and HMS Hermes being withdrawn. This was a continuation of the 1966 Defence Review which emphasised that “land-based aircraft could cover all the roles of carrier-based aircraft.” (Roberts 2009: 133) Had this taken place before the Argentinian invasion, it is doubtful the task force would have sailed without any carriers available to provide air defence. As such, this demonstrates how the Cold War threat was impacting upon the RN and how it was losing vital areas of capability.
In addition, the two LPD’s, Fearless and Intrepid were to be withdrawn earlier than the 1975 Review planned. This would remove the RN’s amphibious capability entirely and, had this been completed before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands, would have had a very significant impact on Operation Corporate and might have meant that the recovery of the Islands was military impossible.
This review also saw the withdrawal of HMS Endurance, the RN’s ice patrol ship. With the wide-ranging cuts to the fleet, this seemed minor. It would however have a major influence in the Argentinian decision to invade the Falkland Islands. “It is possible to describe the Enduranceaffair as the case of the little ship that started, or at least helped to start the (small) war. (Boyce 2005: 27) This is due to the fact, while it may not have been recognised as such in the Ministry of Defence, that Enduranceacted as the ‘minimum tripwire’ in the Falkland Islands. (Sloan in Badsey, Havers and Grove eds. 2005: 25) This was a Cold War concept whereby any attack, in this case on the Falklands, would trigger a military response. The Nott Review, by withdrawing this, signalled to the Argentinians than an invasion of the Islands would not be contested.
It can be seen that the period between the 1966 and the 1981 Defence Reviews shaped the RN from a large, general purpose force towards a predominantly Cold War ASW role in the North Atlantic. Each of the three different Reviews examined cut or withdrew a significant area of capability from the RN in order to meet budget demands and reshaped the service into one focused upon combating the USSR. There are several constant themes that are present in these. These include a NATO focus, the misguided belief, as was demonstrated in 1982, that land-based air power is superior to carrier-based aviation and the removal of Britain’s amphibious warfare capability. As such, had the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands taken place just a few months later, the possibility of a task force being sent down and recapturing the Islands successfully would have been significantly harder, if possible at all. It can be seen therefore that the Cold War, through the Defence Reviews conducted, had a significant impact upon the RN.
The Falklands War broke out following the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands on the 2nd April 1982. In the week prior to this, acting on assessments made about Argentinian intentions, a meeting of senior RN officers took place where it was decided that, in the event of an actual invasion, they should “reject any task-force contingency which did not embrace all the resources available, including carriers, submarines and an amphibious assault element.” (Hastings and Jenkins 2010: 78) Thus, it meant that many of the units earmarked for disposal in the 1981 Defence Review, including HMS Invincible and the two LPD’s, HMS Fearless and Intrepid would be essential for the operation to succeed. This shows just how the Cold War posture was impacting on the RN and its ability to conduct independent operations. Following this, on March 31st, acting on further intelligence about the very real possibility of an Argentinian invasion, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in consultation with senior Ministers and Admiral Leach, the 1SL, ordered the assembly of a Task Force. This was subsequently ordered to set sail following the invasion two days later. The British response would be heavily based around the RN. This meant that “the Navy could put together an impressive Task Force […] although in doing so she was obliged to strip her naval commitment to NATO to the bone in the process.” (Boyce 2005: 72) This demonstrates, as indicated in the previous chapter, how the Defence Reviews, in shaping and cutting the Navy towards a predominantly Cold War role had removed the capacity to mount an independent operation and maintain other commitments.
This chapter will demonstrate how the missions undertaken by the RN in the Falklands War were impacted by its Cold War-posture. In order to do this, the provision of three distinct areas will be examined, these are AAW, Amphibious Warfare and ASW/ASuW. By the end of this chapter, the impact of the Cold War upon these areas will have been shown.
One operational provision that would challenge the Cold War orientated RN during the Falklands War was AAW. This would be one of its main roles, due to the large number of combat aircraft that Argentina possessed.
One of the primary components of this within the task force was the destroyer force, which was designed primarily for long-range AAW in the North Atlantic against high-flying Soviet Bombers. “Our main role was to counter the threat posed by Soviet aircraft heading south over the North Atlantic with the ships’ long-range missile system, Sea Dart.” (Hart-Dyke 2007: 11) As such, Type 42 Destroyers, armed with Sea Dart suffered from a limited capacity to deal with short-range and low-flying aircraft and missiles. This demonstrates the Cold War impact upon the RN, that the ships and weapons systems were designed to engage a specific threat in a specific environment.
In addition to the problems with their armament, the terrain of the Falkland Islands hindered the Type 42 Destroyers long-range search radar which had again been designed for the open waters of the North Atlantic. This allowed Argentinian aircraft to utilise these shortcomings to great effect. “Time and again the Argentinian attackers came in low over the hills.” (Preston 1982: 103) Had there been an Airborne Early Warning system in the theatre, such as that which the Gannet AEW3 had previously provided, it would not have alleviated this problem as the radar used could not work close in on land. Such a system would however have benefited the carrier group against Exocet attack but could only have protected the ships in San Carlos Water had it been deployed, at great risk to the aircraft, forward or on the flanks. (Clapp pers. Comm., 31 May 2014) The Gannet had been retired with the scrapping of HMS Ark Royal in 1979 and, due to budget constraints and the Cold War mindset that any future operations would be undertaken with land-based AEW, had not been replaced. As a result of this, the RN task force in the South Atlantic had no early warning of Argentinian air attacks, save for positioning Type 42 Destroyers ‘up threat’ in relatively open waters. This demonstrates how the Cold War posture of the RN had a significant impact on its ability to provide fleet air-defence for the Task Force.
It became clear that the most efficient air-defence system for the conditions around the Falklands available to the RN was the short range Seawolf missile. This was carried by the two Type 22 Frigates, HMS Brilliant and Broadsword and the Leander Class frigate HMS Andromeda. This system proved invaluable and indeed, was “the only defence that the Task Force had against Exocets.” (Preston 1982a: 82) The ships were however optimised for ASW. This shows the Cold War focus with the ASW platforms receiving modern, up-to-date short range air defence systems.
As a result of the issues the Type 42 Destroyers had in short range air-defence, Admiral Woodward introduced the ‘Type 64′ combination, whereby one of the Seawolf armed Type 22 frigates would provide short-range air defence for a Type 42 Destroyer. (Woodward 2003: 272) This indicated the limitations of the Cold War-designed warships. “The ultimate absurdity was reached when the area-defence DDG Coventryhad to be given a Seawolf-armed frigate, HMS Broadsword as an escort. Point-defence protecting area-defence?” (Preston 1982b: 4) This shows therefore that the Cold War posture of the RN did have an impact upon AAW during the Falklands War.
The provision of Amphibious Warfare by the RN would be the most vital and dangerous part of Operation Corporate. This involved the landing of 3 Commando Brigade, enhanced by two Parachute Regiments, in San Carlos Water. Without the use of ground troops to retake the Islands, they would remain in Argentinian hands.
“The action in the Falklands once again demonstrated that the ultimate outcome of a war is determined on the ground. The Royal Marines and the British Army won on the ground. The Royal Navy could have lost the Falkland Islands conflict at sea but could not have won it.” (Train 1988: 34)
This quote demonstrates the importance of Amphibious Warfare in the conflict, which under the 1981 Defence Review restructuring, would be marginalised and many of the assets withdrawn. Furthermore, this quote indicates the importance of the RN to Operation Corporate and shows that a balanced, multi-capable force was needed rather than one focused primarily on providing ASW.
The lack of assets required to transport a landing force was one major issue facing the RN at the start of the campaign. It can be seen that “Britain’s war plans […] no longer envisaged the likelihood of a major amphibious operation being carried out, certainly not one so distant from the United Kingdom” (Middlebrook 1987: 78) The two LPD’s, HMSFearless and Intrepid were to be taken out of service, indeed, Intrepidwas already decommissioned and was quickly made ready. In addition, due to the lack of amphibious shipping, a number of British flagged merchant ships were requisitioned to provide transport. These Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT) included the Canberra, the Queen Elizabeth II as well as the Atlantic Conveyor. This shows how the Cold War-posture of the RN had clearly impacted on its ability to perform and support independent out-of-area amphibious operations.
The amphibious landings would happen at San Carlos Water. This location was governed by certain requirements, from both the land forces and the Navy. “The choice of a landing site was governed by certain fundamental considerations, those dictated by military, naval and amphibious requirements.” (Boyce 2005: 119) In terms of the RN, the landing site needed to be sheltered from both air and submarine attack and allow a suitable defence of the landing ships to be mounted. This further indicates the weaknesses in AAW highlighted in the section above as they weren’t able to prevent Argentinian aircraft from reaching the landing site so it needed to be as easily defended as possible.
A key aspect in Operation Corporate that was also affected by the Cold War nature of the RN was the provisions of both ASW and ASuW. The Argentinian Navy had a relatively strong regional navy. Their surface fleet comprised of an ex-British aircraft carrier, ARA Veintecinco de Mayo, an ex-American WW2 Cruiser, ARA General Belgrano and a variety of escorts, including two Type 42 Destroyers. They also had 4 conventionally powered submarines in their fleet, two ex-American submarines and two new Type 209 Submarines. The latter two were “formidably difficult to detect with sonar” (Hastings and Jenkins 2010: 78). The Argentinian Navy could therefore pose a significant threat to the British task force in both Surface and Submarine warfare.
The Argentinian submarines could have presented themselves as difficult opponents for the RN. Whilst ASW was a key operational area and indeed one in which the 1981 Defence Review was making the primary focus of the RN, this was fully geared towards the Cold War threat. This involved countering Soviet nuclear-powered submarines in the deep waters of the North Atlantic. As such, the Argentinian diesel-electric submarines and the underwater geography were substantially different to what the RN had been training for. This can be seen with the words of 820 NAS’s CO, who flew ASW Sea Kings: “Our job was anti-submarine warfare, but the aircraft we had was primarily operated against nuclear submarines and, of course, ASW against a conventional threat was rather different from that which we had been practising” (Wykes Sneyd cited in Parker 2003: 301) This demonstrates the Cold War focus upon the RN that they were solely focused on the Soviet nuclear submarine threat.
In order to counter this significant threat, the RN’s ASW efforts consisted of several interlinking systems. These included nuclear-powered fleet submarines, ASW frigates including the Type 22 and Leander class and helicopters designed for this task, which the majority of British warships carried, such as Lynx and Wasp. This further demonstrates the impact of the Cold War upon the RN with the majority of escorts deployed in the South Atlantic having a primary ASW capacity.
In terms of the ASuW aspect of Operation Corporate, British warships, along with the Lynx helicopter were equipped to deal with this. The nuclear-powered fleet submarines were however the primary means to deal with Argentinian surface ships. This was demonstrated with the sinking of ARA General Belgrano by HMS Conqueror on the 2nd May. This was the first engagement of an enemy ship by a nuclear-powered submarine and proved their effectiveness and utility in modern conflicts.
The sinking did however highlight weaknesses in various modern systems. One of the most significant of these can be seen with the new Tigerfish torpedoes, which were designed to defeat Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic. They had been proved as unreliable and were not designed to sink surface ships, further demonstrating the impact of the Cold War upon the RN’s weapons systems. As a result, the senior officers onboard HMS Conqueror elected to fire three Mk8 WW2 era torpedoes against the cruiser instead. (McClement 1982, pers. Comm., 5 Feb 2014)
In addition, the sinking of Belgrano also demonstrates how the Cold War affected the command and control of fleet submarines during the conflict. The system had been designed for NATO operations in the North Atlantic and as such, only FOSM had control over them. “Northwood kept control because that is how the headquarters expected to operate in the Cold War.” (Freedman 2007: 33) This proved problematic prior to the sinking as Woodward feared HMS Conquerorwould lose the cruiser and wanted to engage before this could happen. This required orders to be passed from the South Atlantic to London and back again. (Woodward 2003: 213) This demonstrates the impact the Cold War had upon the ASW/ASuW efforts of the RN during the Falklands War.
It has been demonstrated that the Cold War-posture of the RN had significantly impacted on its ability to carry out the various missions required during the Falklands War. The provision of AAW in particular was heavily impacted by this and the shortcomings resulted in the loss of 6 ships. Furthermore, the decision taken in the various Defence Reviews to withdraw from ‘East of Suez’ and concentrate on the Soviet threat in the North Atlantic meant that various areas of capability could be removed, such as amphibious warfare. Had these cuts come into force before the Argentinian invasion, it would have been considerably harder if not impossible to retake the Islands. In addition, the focus on the Soviet submarine threat had an impact on ASW and ASuW in the South Atlantic. This was shown by the lack of preparation for conventional submarine as well as the equipment and C2 during the conflict.
The RN’s efforts during the Falklands War, as demonstrated in the previous sections, had been heavily affected by the Cold War. Resources and operational concepts had been directed against the Soviet threat, whilst other roles had been neglected and, in certain cases, were to be withdrawn altogether. As a result of this, the missions required of the RN during the conflict demonstrated the need for a balanced fleet instead of a purely anti-submarine force. “The Falklands War saved the Royal Navy. It remained capable of delivering limited but effective British military force anywhere in reach of the sea.” (Van Der Vat 2001: 395) It can be seen therefore that the Falklands War had a significant impact upon the RN in the last years of the Cold War. Not only did it mean the retention of the amphibious force, consisting primarily of the two LPD’s, and the cancellation of the sale of HMS Invincible to Australia but there were various other lessons that were applied to the RN. These came out following the conflict: “The government in 1982 did […] conduct an intensive internal review of the military lessons learned from the campaign and it published its conclusions from the review inThe Falklands Campaign: The Lessons (Cmnd. 8758).” (Jackling in Badsey, Havers and Grove 2005: 242) This publication, amongst other things, detailed the RN’s contribution to the conflict and what could be learnt. This demonstrates that the Falklands War did have a measurable impact on a Cold-War postured RN.
This section will show this impact by examining two main areas, the operational and strategic lessons learned. The operational lessons that were learnt will be demonstrated through three case studies, the need for an AEW system, the requirements for close-range air defence and the redesigning of the future frigates. The strategic lessons will be shown by the need for a better command structure during joint operations and greater planning. By the end of this section, an appreciation of how the Falklands War impacted on the RN during the final Cold War years will have been reached.
One area that was sorely lacking during the Falklands War was the provision of AEW. This resulted in the employment of several ships, both destroyers and frigates on tasks which they were not designed or equipped for. The loss of several escorts could have been avoided therefore had such a system being in place. This need was recognised back in Britain and a crash programme was instigated whilst the conflict was still being fought to provide this. Indeed, in a cruel stroke of irony, the programme was given the go ahead on 4th May, the day when HMSSheffield was hit by an Exocet. (Bryson 1985: 824) This was being worked on by a combined team from Westland and Thorn EMI who proposed to retrofit the Searchwater radar found in the RAF’s Nimrod AEW planes into several Sea King helicopters. This had actually been developed and suggested 18 months prior to the conflict however the project was only now taken forwards. The fact that this occurred at this time demonstrates both the Cold War focus of the RN prior to the Falklands War and the impact the conflict had upon the Service. The system would be inferior to an aircraft-mounted version but it was the only option available. From the go-ahead to it being deployed was 3 months, which demonstrated the urgency of the project. The Sea King AEW2 allowed the RN to have an over-the-horizon radar capability that was capable of detecting targets at long range. This would be used primarily during a similar operation to the Falklands War in order to “defend a task force well away from northern Europe.” (Whitaker 1983: 313) This demonstrated how the conflict changed the focus of the RN from a purely NATO Cold War-orientated force to one that could operate independently outside of the North Atlantic and still retain the ability to detect targets at long range.
One critical lesson that emerged from the conflict was the need for RN warships to be equipped with short-range air defence systems. This lesson had been learnt from WW2 but was forgotten, primarily because “British warships had been armed to fight a NATO war in the North Atlantic, and it has long been NATO doctrine to ignore the risk from shore-based air attack.” (Preston 1982: 84) As such, the lack of Point air defence can be attributed to the Cold War focus that had defined the RN.
During the Falklands War, short range air-defence for the task group was provided primarily by the Seawolf missile system carried by HMS Brilliant, Broadsword and Andromeda. During the conflict, the Seawolf system demonstrated its utility but also raised issues in terms of both sensors, which could be overwhelmed with a large number of targets, and also the launch method utilised, as demonstrated with the loss of HMS Coventry. As a result, a programme was launched to update the missile and its associated systems. As part of this, “the improved Sea Wolf system already ordered will have an all-weather capability against low-level missiles.”(MoD 1982: 229) This demonstrates how the lessons from the Falklands were being integrated into the upgrade package to provide a better point-defence capability.
In addition to the few frigates fitted with Seawolf, all warships and many of the STUFT were armed with a variety of light weapons. These were employed in the anti-aircraft role during the conflict and included General Purpose Machine Guns and WW2 vintage cannons. They did have a degree of success against Argentinian aircraft, however they were largely inadequate for the task and the lack of more capable provisions led to the loss of several ships. As such, the need for a dedicated Close In Weapons System was acknowledged as being essential. This saw the procurement of two US Phalanx CIWS systems to be fitted to both HMS Illustrious, before her voyage to the South Atlantic to relieve HMS Invincible and to Invincible herself when she returned to Britain. (MoD 1982: 230) This demonstrated the immediate urgency in providing these after the events of the Falklands War and shows that, in preparing for a possible nuclear conflict against the USSR, the need for short-range air defence had been forgotten. (Finlan in Badsey, Havers and Grove 2005: 208) These were augmented by Dutch-made Goalkeeper CIWS in 1986. These two systems were either retrofitted to existing ships, such as the Type 42 Destroyers, or were part of the initial weapons fit for the Type 22 Batch III frigates. As such, the impact of the Falklands War can be seen upon a Cold War-postured RN as it demonstrated that “Close-in (“Point”) air defence is just as important as the sophisticated longer-range protection of forces meant to project power by sea” (D. Kinney 1989, 240).
One significant impact that the Falklands War had upon a RN geared towards fighting the USSR can be seen with the design and construction changes made to the Type 22 Batch III frigates and the new Type 23 frigates to incorporate the lessons learned.
The Type 22 Batch III frigates, which were ordered after the Falklands War as a result of the losses sustained, had significant design changes made. These reflected a shift in focus from a predominantly ASW vessel towards a more general purpose role that the conflict had demonstrated was needed. In particular, the value and application of Naval Gunfire Support had been recognised from this and, because prior Type 22 frigates had been constructed without a main gun, the decision was taken to include a single 4.5′ Mk 8 gun on the foredeck. To make room for this, the Exocet missiles were removed and replaced with the more capable US-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles behind the bridge. In addition, as shown above, CIWS in the shape of the Dutch-made Goalkeeper was fitted above the bridge. (Roberts 2009: 180) This demonstrates a shift in focus from a Cold War orientated role to one that allowed the RN to operate outside the NATO area and also integrated other lessons such as the need for short range air defence as discussed above.
This was further shown with the significant design changes made to the Type 23 frigates as a result of the Falklands War. Originally, these ships had been “intended as a smaller ASW frigate” to succeed the Type 21 and Leander class frigates but their plans were “redrawn to provide a much more potent all-round ship, still with a prime ASW role but with an enhanced general-purpose capability” (Roberts 2009: 180-181) This was to incorporate lessons learned following the conflict and reflects an acknowledgement that the Cold War focus which had been prevalent, as shown in previous chapters, was resulting in an RN equipped solely for one task and neglecting other areas.
One of the most significant changes that were made to the design was the addition of a 32 cell Vertical Launch System for the Seawolf missile. This system had been chosen over the original quad-launcher fitted to the Type 22 frigates, due to the issues that occurred in the Falklands War and in particular the loss of HMS Coventry. By using a VLS, the missiles can be fired up around a 360 degree arc and the response time of the system is raised. (MoD 1987: 159)
Internally, other lessons that came from the Falklands were being incorporated into the design. This includes modifications for damage control, such as “five rather than three smoke-containment zones in view of the effect of fire on the four lost warships.” (Van Der Vat 2001: 396) This again demonstrates how the hard-learned lessons from the campaign were being acted upon and shows the impact the conflict had. This was further reinforced by improvements made to ensure that critical areas were armoured against fragmentation damage. (Marriott 1990: 130)
These changes made to the future frigates demonstrate the far reaching impacts that the Falklands War had upon the RN. The conflict, by highlighting weaknesses in the current escort fleet, illustrated the need for a more general-purpose escort force instead of one primarily designed for a Cold War ASW role in the North Atlantic. This is one of the clearest ways in which the impact of the Falklands War upon a Cold War-postured RN was demonstrated.
The Falklands War also impacted on the wider strategic formation of the RN that resulted from the Cold War focus. The lessons from this and the subsequent changes made helped the RN to mount independent operations outside the NATO sphere.
The first of these can be seen with the lack of any foresight and preparation for an operation that was not conducted with the support of allies against the USSR. “The lesson for strategic planners and problem created was that Britain’s force structures and focus were governed by specific NATO regional scenarios.” (Moncrieff 2005a) This shows how, as demonstrated in the first chapter, the various Defence Reviews had optimised the RN for Cold War operations. As such, when an ‘out of area’ threat occurred, as happened with the Falklands, there was little prior preparation. This demonstrated that “Britain’s armed forces should be capability based and able to meet a spectrum of differing threats.” (Moncrieff 2005b) This transition did began after the Falklands War however it was not fully realised until after the end of the Cold War.
Another strategic problem that occurred during Operation Corporate due to the Cold War focus on the RN can be seen with the various issues involved with Command and Control (C2). The largely separate missions given to the three services against the USSR meant that they were, to a great degree, self-contained and had little experience working with each other in large-scale operations. In order to correct this, “Development of what we now recognise as modern joint doctrine started following the Falklands Conflict” (Band in Badsey, Havers and Grove 2005: 35) This demonstrates how the Falklands War impacted upon the RN designed for limited NATO operations.
In addition to this, it was recognised that in future, joint operations required an overall commander. Within Operation Corporate, there were three command structures in place, with Admiral Woodward, Commodore Clapp and Brigadier Thompson all in charge of a different element. As such, this resulted in a serious amount of confusion and a very complicated chain of command. Indeed it was recognised by both Admiral Woodward and Brigadier Thompson that Operation Corporare suffered from “the lack of a Three-Star commander to be in theatre, capable of assessing priorities on the spot and dealing directly with Northwood.” (Freedman 2007: 31) The result of this was the designation of Northwood and RAF High Wycombe as joint headquarters should it be required. (Band in Badsey, Havers and Grove 2005: 34) This was implemented before the end of the Cold War and shows how the conflict impacted upon the RN force structure.
This shows therefore the impact the Falklands War had upon the strategic level of a RN prepared only for a Cold War conflict.
As a result of this, it can be seen that the Falklands War had a significant impact on the RN during the final years of the Cold War. The lessons that came out of it were applied during these years to create a better-rounded and equipped RN that could be tasked with a range of operations. “The RN, which had been in danger of becoming, under John Nott, a small localized ASW force, was maintained as a versatile, ‘balanced’ fleet, preserving its ability to go anywhere on the seven seas.” (Rossiter 2008: 375) This is demonstrated with the retention of a range of platforms such as HMS Invincible and the LPD’s. In addition, the Sea King AEW2 provided the RN with the capacity to mount operations outside of the NATO area with long-range radar cover. The addition of better short-range air defence in the form of CIWS and improvements to the Seawolf missiles allowed RN ships to be better protected. The Type 22 Batch III and Type 23 frigates that incorporated the lessons learned became the mainstay of the RN’s escort fleet well into the 21st century. In addition, the strategic lessons allowed the RN to become more flexible and wide-ranging in the operations it could undertake.
This dissertation has set out to answer the question of: How did the Cold War-posture of the Royal Navy affect its contribution to Operation Corporate and what impact did the Falklands War subsequently have on this?
In order to answer this, as set out in the introduction, I examined the RN from 1966 to 1990 around the Falklands War. To do this, I first looked at the shape of the RN through the lens of the three Defence Reviews that occurred in 1966, 1975 and 1981. This allowed me to gain a perspective on how the Cold War affected the RN and the situation it was in prior to the Falklands War. I then moved on to exploring the missions of the RN during the conflict itself and how the Cold War affected these. The final chapter examined the lessons that were learned from the Falklands War and how these were implemented to the RN up until 1990 and the end of the Cold War.
In Chapter 1, I demonstrated that, through the three Defence Reviews, the RN had been shaped from a large, general purpose force into, by the time of the Falklands War, a streamlined service that was heavily optimised for anti-submarine warfare in a Cold War setting against the Soviet Union. This saw the withdrawal of a number of capabilities, as shown in the chapter, such as the large fleet carriers and associated provisions, such as AEW and a transition towards a small, streamlined service.
Chapter 3 allowed me to show the impact of the Falklands War upon the Royal Navy in the last 8 years of the Cold War. This involved a number of lessons from the conflict being implemented within the Royal Navy, such as the reintroduction of an organic airborne early-warning platform and improved short-range air defence provisions. As well as this, there was shown a “recognition by the Government of the crucial importance of the Royal Navy.” (Roberts 2009: 168)
In my dissertation, I have therefore shown that the Royal Navy first underwent a transition towards a regional force focused heavily on the Soviet threat in the Cold War. I them demonstrated the resultant impact this had on fighting a conflict it was not prepared for or expecting. Finally, I presented the lessons that came from this and the subsequent reversal back to a blue-water navy capable of projecting power around the world. This has allowed me to demonstrate, as I proposed in my introduction, that the Cold War-posture of the Royal Navy did indeed affect its contribution to Operation Corporate. I was also able to show that the Falklands War did have a marked impact upon this.
In writing this dissertation, it is important to consider the significance of what I have actually demonstrated. There are two main areas to this. The first is that the Royal Navy was heavily affected by the Cold War and the need to prepare for conflict with the Soviet Union. This was the result of various governments taking a short-sighted view and, by preparing the Royal Navy to just fight this potential war, ignored other possible areas of conflict. Thus, parallels can be drawn between this and the situation today, where a very land-centric focus is prevalent due to the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, the RN has been reduced in size and stature again, not only mirroring but also extending the cuts that have been shown in this dissertation prior to the Falklands War. As such, the first and second chapters in this have presented the importance of having a strong RN, and by extension the other Services, which are focused on a range of threats. It has also shown the implications of neglecting areas of capability that have limited utility in the current conflict.
Following on from this, it can be seen that the lessons learnt and the changes made following the Falklands War, as shown in the third chapter, are also significant. It demonstrated that land-based air power, whilst important in maritime operations, must be reinforced by organic carrier-borne aircraft as well, with particular regard to AEW. This is extremely relevant to today, with this capability having been lost from the RN since 2010 and will not be resorted until 2020 at the earliest. (Bush 2013: 43) In addition, the need for multi-role vessels that can provide a range of operational provisions are becoming increasingly important in today’s world with a variety of threats has been shown.
Having conducted this research and been able to answer the question, there are various areas where this could be further expanded and improved. In particular, it would be both beneficial and interesting to enlarge the time period the topic focuses on. This would allow future research to encompass how the lessons learnt from the Falklands War have impacted upon the RN after the end of the Cold War and into the 21st century. By conducting this, a greater overview of both the impact of the Cold War and the Falklands War upon the RN could be gained. Another way in which my dissertation topic could be developed would be to include the other Armed Forces, the RAF and British Army and see how the Cold War affected them and whether the Falklands War had any subsequent impact on their posture. This would form a broader study into both of these conflicts and their wider effects on the British Armed Forces.
Clapp, M. Dissertation Publication, E-Mail. (31 May 2014)
McClement, T. Phone Interview. 5 Feb. 2014
Moncrieff, I. Phone Interview. 28 Jan. 2014
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