RogerBW's Blog

One Hundred Days, Admiral Sandy Woodward and Patrick Robinson 16 July 2014

In 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands; a Royal Navy task group was sent to take them back. This is the memoir of the task group's commander.

Well, more or less the commander. One of the problems was that, while Woodward was under the impression that he had been placed in overall charge, the other three task unit commanders (South Georgia Group, Amphibious Group, Landing Group) believed themselves coequal with him under Sir John Fieldhouse (who was not on the scene). Combine this with a collapse of Naval morale following John Nott's decision the previous year to sell off most of the Navy's movable assets, including all the carriers, to pay for Trident, and it's not surprising that things were sometimes a bit of a shambles.

One gets the impression that Woodward — how should one put this? — did not suffer fools gladly. Or perhaps that he was an irascible old bugger. Of course the memoir is shaded, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to realise the level of argument that must have gone on at times.

Still, as an account of the naval war and of the decisions made by the commander this is pretty good. There's an increasing feeling of a war of attrition as more and more ships are sunk; to some extent this is inevitable, of course, since after the withdrawal of the Argentine surface fleet there were no "big" targets on that side. Shooting down one, or two, or fourteen aircraft over a day of attacks doesn't make an impression the way losing a frigate does, particularly if you can't see how many enemy aircraft are left or what the morale of their crews is like.

When this war was happening, I was a child who didn't take a great deal of interest in such matters. I've picked up a few things since, but even so there's material here that's new to me; for example, maintenance constraints meant that many of the ships of the Task Group would have had to be pulled out by the end of June no matter the situation on land.

One of the bigger problems with the book is that tenses are all over the place, shifting from past to present to future sometimes within a single sentence; this gives the text an unfortunately sloppy and disjointed feel, and is sometimes distinctly confusing. The primary author, Robinson I assume, also doesn't know the difference between "may" and "might"; not unusual now, but still hard to forgive in a man who went to school before the 1960s. It's also clearly Robinson's decision to pull the sinking of Sheffield forward to start things off with a bang, rather than to leave it in chronological sequence as the rest of the book is.

Woodward clearly has his biases; he's particularly scathing about the Sea Dart and Sea Wolf missile systems, and enthusiastic about the AIM-9L Sidewinder made available by the Americans for use aboard Harriers, without which he believes the war would have been lost. This is in no way a neutral history of the conflict. But for me this is much less a story about bombs and missiles, although there's plenty of that sort of thing, than about the real business of war: logistics. How many picket ships are needed, how many are available, and what do you do when the latter is less than the former? How many aircraft are available, and how often can they fly? How long will it take troops to move round a bay on land, rather than embarking them all in landing craft and sailing them to the other side? And what happens if an air attack comes in during that transfer? These are typical of the sorts of decision that Woodward recounts here.

This book was first published in 1992; I borrowed the 2003 revised edition, and intend to buy the 2012 final edition.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 12:19pm on 16 July 2014

    Woodward was also not in charge of the submarines and knew that from the outset (or should have). They remained under direct control from the UK. Of course he may not have considered them to be part of the task group, the Vulcan bombers weren't either.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:49am on 18 July 2014

    Indeed, but Woodward (who died last year) did think (or at least so he claimed) that he was in charge of the South Georgia, Amphibious, and Landing Groups.

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