Photos courtesy of After the Battle
In 1982, Argentine troops occupied a group of islands known to them as the Malvinas, but to the British the islands were the Falklands. The result was a ground war that pitted troops equipped with remarkably similar small arms against each other.
Most people alive in 1982 remember it well. It was the event that sent us all to the atlas to look-up the location of the Falkland Islands (known as Islas Malvinas in Argentina). It was the event that pitted British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher against Argentine dictator Leopoldo Galtieri. Triggered by competing territorial claims to remote islands in the South Atlantic, the brief but intense conflict remains a stunning example of modern air and naval war. But despite all its modernity, the Falklands/Malvinas conflict hinged on plenty of conventional land warfare. While Mirage and Harrier jets streaked across the sky above, British and Argentine troops struggled against one another with rifles and machine guns on the ground.
During the pre-dawn hours of April 2, 1982, Argentina set in motion Operation ROSARIO—the invasion of the Falkland Islands. At Mullet Creek south of Port Stanley, 94 heavily armed men from the Amphibious Commando Group landed by rubber rafts at 0430 and moved toward Stanley—population 1,800. Then at 0540, the 2nd Marine Battalion began landing at Yorke Bay north of the airport in 20 American-made LVTP-7 Amtracs. As almost 1,000 Argentine Commandos, Marines and soldiers descended on Stanley, they made contact with the city’s defenders: 68 Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901. With a numerically superior enemy force closing-in, the defenders pulled back to positions around Government House at 0715 and prepared to make a last stand.
Royal Marine Cpl. George Gill was staring through the scope of his sniper rifle when Argentine troops came out from behind cover near his position. He squeezed the trigger on his L42A1 Enfield and it bucked as a 7.62 mm bullet zipped downrange. One of the finest sniper rifles ever made, the 10-pound L42A1’s deadly accuracy served the task effectively. “I had a couple of them in my sights and made sure they were taken out of the game,” Gill recalled. For the next two hours the British held their ground, but then the Argentines brought up Amtracs for support. At that point, Argentine Commandos swiftly moved into the building complex from several directions in a final assault that overwhelmed the Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901.
Sargento Manuel Batista was particularly well-armed for this type of close-quarters firefight: He carried four fragmentation hand grenades, an Argentine-made 9 mm Browning Hi-Power pistol and a suppressed L34A1 Sterling submachine gun. He kicked-in the door to the first outbuilding he came to, quickly collected several prisoners and then moved-on to capture a group of Royal Marines around the outside of Government House. Batista then lead his prisoners into the parking area in front of the maid’s quarters where they were disarmed and searched. Another group of Royal Marines were similarly handled in front of the island’s Cable and Wireless Office after surrendering.
With the fall of Stanley on April 2 and the island of South Georgia the following day, it seemed that Argentina had finally cemented its long-disputed territorial claims to the islands of the South Atlantic. While the world wondered how England would react, the images of disarmed Royal Marines face-down in the street filled Margaret Thatcher with resolve. That same day, she addressed Parliament regarding Argentina’s “unprovoked aggression” against sovereign British territory. The Prime Minister concluded her speech with these words: “It is the government’s objective to see that the islands are free from occupation and are returned to British administration at the earliest possible moment.” Almost immediately, England began assembling a naval task force to conduct Operation CORPORATE: the counter-invasion of the Falkland Islands.
In anticipation of just such a response, the Argentines began to flood Islas Malvinas with thousands of reinforcements. By day and night, C-130s flew into the airport at Stanley delivering planeloads of fresh troops—troops who carried an interesting variety of small arms. Principal among them was Fabrique Nationale’s venerable Fusil Automatique Léger (Light Automatic Rifle). Argentina adopted the FAL in the late 1950s with the direct purchase of rifles produced at FN in Herstal, Belgium. Then in 1960, the Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares (the General Directorate of Military Manufacturing, or “DGFM”) began domestic production of the FAL at the state-owned Fábrica Militar de Armas Portátiles (Military Small Arms Factory, or “FMAP”) Domingo Matheu factory in Rosario. The DGFM produced the FAL in four models: the standard FM FAL (Fusil Automatico Liviano or Light Automatic Rifle) Model 50-00; the folding stock FM FAL Model 50-61; the short-barreled Paracaidista Model 50-63; and the Model 50-41, known as the FAP (Fusil Automatico Pesado or Heavy Automatic Rifle). In addition to their DGFM FALs, Argentine battalions were also armed with FN’s legendary 7.62 mm Mitrailleuse d’Appui Generale (MAG) general purpose machine gun.
Although these arms were present by the thousands in the streets of Stanley during April 1982, Argentine troops also carried other domestically manufactured military firearms. Alongside their MAG machine guns, some Argentine units were still using the ALAM-1 machine gun in the Falklands/Malvinas. Chambered in the 7.65x51 mm cartridge, the ALAM-1 was the DGFM’s copy of the U.S. M1919A4 air-cooled machine gun. There were also two different DGFM 9 mm blowback submachine guns: the more modern FMK-3 and the PAM-II (Pistola Ametralladora)—a copy of the U.S. M3A1 “Grease Gun.”
Most Argentine officers carried the standard sidearm in general issue in 1982 —the DGFM’s version of the Hi-Power—but some still carried something older and more powerful. Between 1927 and 1966, the DGFM’s Domingo Matheu factory produced the Sistema Colt Cal. 11.25 mm Modelo 1927—a licensed copy of the M1911A1 pistol. Many Argentine officers preferred the extra punch of the .45 ACP Sistema 1927 over the 9 mm Luger. There were also a few arms of foreign manufacture among the various Argentine units in the Falklands/Malvinas. British-made L2A3 Sterling submachine guns, Belgian-made FN UZI submachine guns and even Italian-made Beretta BM-59E rifles were in the hands of the extremely well-armed occupying force.
Through the remaining weeks of April, Argentine units moved into the jagged hills surrounding Stanley and began preparing for a defensive campaign on the ground. They planted anti-personnel land mines by the thousands and they dug-in, creating fighting positions amid the wind-swept rocks. But the conventional ground forces would have to wait-out a seven week interim of escalating air and naval warfare. On May 1, British combat operations in the Falklands began when Royal Air Force and Royal Navy aircraft carried out the first airstrikes against Argentine positions around the Stanley airport. As the naval and air wars unfolded with each passing day, the British carried out a daring raid on the airfield on Pebble Island on the night of May 14-15. In the raid, the 45 men of D Squadron, Special Air Service infiltrated using two Sea King helicopters and proceeded to destroy 11 Argentine aircraft on the ground. In addition to mortars and rockets, the SAS fought the battle using American-made M16 rifles equipped with 40 mm M203 grenade launchers.