Victory in the Falklands was a must – success was rooted in trusting our forces
My earliest memory of the Falklands conflict was my fellow classmates’ parents leaving to go to war.
At the time, I was 12 and at school near the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm base in Yeovilton. I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t heard of the Falklands, nor was I aware at that age of the formidable task that lay ahead for our armed forces, as well as the courage it took to make the political decision to retake the Falklands by force.
People should not underestimate the bravery of Margaret Thatcher to order the task force to sail. The victory we celebrate today was far from certain then, and many advised her against even attempting it. Yes, ministers in government take decisions every day that affect people, but very few decisions are calls where the outcomes are very hard to predict and are basically unknowable. The United Kingdom’s reputation would have never recovered if we had failed.
Key to the success was our armed forces. Their bravery and leadership shone through. History forgets quite how unprepared many of the units were. My own regiment, the Scots Guards, was on ceremonial duties in London. There was a rush to find maps, ammunition and even basic intelligence on the islands. But after a very short time the task force departed 8,000 miles. At home, many of us were glued to the daily TV reports – with neither the 24-hour news nor the instant coverage we have today.
The Falklands today should stand as a symbol to all of what Britain is
I have often reflected on what our key battle-winning formula was. For me, it wasn’t our equipment and it wasn’t the size of the force. It was, in my opinion, the fact that in our armed forces we trust our junior commanders and non-commissioned officers to find their own way to achieve the objectives set by senior commanders. We call it mission command, and it is at the heart of what our forces do.
When I see Russia’s failures in Ukraine, a lot of it is down their overwhelming centralisation and almost non-existent non-commissioned officers corps. The Falklands conflict tested the doctrine of mission command like no other. London could speak only once or twice a day to the task force commander and he in turn could only speak to his forces on land intermittently. So, once objectives were given, it was up to the unit commanders to find a way to achieve them.
That is what sets us apart. Thinking for ourselves is at the heart of our training. So often in war, innovation and resilience make the difference. The unofficial moto of our training should be “there is always more than one way to skin a cat”.
As we mark 40 years since the conflict, we should remember the remarkable service by the men and women of all three services.
As a former Scots Guardsman, I was privileged to have served with a number of veterans from the Battle of Mount Tumbledown. There is no doubt their night-time assault, pipers and all, up a rocky ridge against regular Argentine Marines was a remarkable achievement. But some of those veterans also, to this day, carry the mental scars of the bayonet charges and the war fighting with them; brave men and women sent thousands of miles away with a clear mission to liberate the islands and in doing so defend both our people and our values.
Sadly, the world is still not short of dictators who use force to impose their will and who dispose of the rule of law and human rights when it suits.
The Falklands today should stand as a symbol to all of what Britain is. No matter how far away, how small you are, Britain will always stand up for our values and, if necessary, fight for what is right – even when the odds are against us.
Ben Wallace is the Conservative MP for Wyre and Preston North and Defence Secretary.
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