"An Extraordinary Number Of Penguins"

The Battle For The Falklands, Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, ISBN 0393301982

I was eight during the Falklands War, and remember few details: the scrap merchants, the task force, the Sheffield. Most of the history I've read over the last year or so has been about events a bit more conceptually distant from late 20th century Britain, which made this an interesting contrast: many of the actors in this story are still around in this country today.

This book was written shortly after the end of the Falklands war and covers both the military campaign (from the British point) of view and the political and diplomatic story. Hastings was there in person, but the book is the narrative of the war, rather than his personal experiences (although they do get a mention from time to time).

It starts with background material examining Argentina's and Britain's claims to the islands. Niether can be dismissed out of hand: Argentina was evicted by force in the 19th century; but the present-day population prefer British rule. A colonial war or a simple matter of righting a wrong, then? The diplomatic games before the war are presented too: the British Foreign Office seeking a mutually acceptable settlement, but never really succeeding in getting its own government on-side. The rest is a reasonably straightforward description of events, with the politics in separate chapters from the warfare.

A theme that appears at a number of points is the foolish behaviour of both sides, for instance the British unwillingness to put any effort into keeping the islands (before 1982), the decision to go ahead with the landing despite not having gained control of the air, and publicly announcing the attack on Goose Green before it started; and the Argentinian assumption that the British would not actually fight for the islands, or their failure to make use of the resources they'd brought to them in their defence.

There is plenty of nitty-gritty detail as well as the overview of the whole campaign, concerning both the personalities involved and the day-to-day action. More from the Argentinian side would have been enormously beneficial to this book, but perhaps was impractical to get at the time.

The attack on Goose Green gets a better map and a more detailed description than the advance on Port Stanley. Maybe this was inevitable given the relative complexity, but nonetheless perhaps there is room for improvement.


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