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Review of the alternate history: The Falklands War


The bandwagon of AH rolls on. We have seen the books on WW2, and the Korean War. Another author is attempting to cash in, this time in a near-present period.

This, however, is definitely an inferior product, clearly rushed out to cash in on the current popularity of AH. This is obvious from the sloppy proofreading. The author seems unable to decide whether she is referring to the Falklands War, or the Falklands Conflict. I will use the title, the Falklands Conflict, as that appears to be the formal name.

The book is best described as a modern Boy's Own Paper Heroic Action Adventure wet dream brought into the modern day. Plausibility goes out of the window, with logistics, politics, economics and common sense all being disposed of in short order. The author may as well have called the book "The Empire Strikes Back", and be done with it.

The premise

The background of the yarn is roughly as follows. A long dispute over the fate of a bunch of god-forsaken islands in the south Atlantic started to get interesting when the British Foreign Office decided that it was prepared to discuss handing the islands over, as the days of Empire were over. The Ministry of Defence chipped in by announcing that it was making a cost saving by planning to scrap HMS Endurance, Britain's only long-term permanent naval presence in the area, an obsolete and effectively defenceless survey ship.

Not surprisingly, the Argentine Government assumed Britain had no real desire to keep the islands, which were a financial burden to the British taxpayer. So, the Argentine forces invaded, with thousands of troops with all sorts of heavy equipment assaulting in a carefully planned attack on a handful (approx 30) of Royal Marines. Despite the odds, and despite the huge expenditure of ammunition, the Royal Marines hold out for about a day (outnumbered 100-1). Despite THIS, there is not a single casualty among the Marines. The Marines are returned to Britain - it appears that the Argentines haven't heard of the concept of prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, in an even more god-forsaken corner of the south Atlantic, Argentine forces attack South Georgia. The British defenders, using a single anti-tank gun, knock out a corvette, a second ship, a helicopter, and generally prove just how bloody difficult amphibious assaults are. Remember this point. The Marines surrender, and there is not a single British casualty.

Lesson 1. Huge amounts of ammunition being expended in close-quarter combat in confined spaces does not harm British troops.

The political consequences in the UK are immense. The Minister in charge of the Foreign Office, Lord Carrington (A Lord as Cabinet Minister? In 1982? Puhlease!) resigns because his department had blundered, and he took responsibility. A resignation from one of Thatcher's Ministers, on a principle of honour?

The consequences

However, rather than accepting a fait accompli, an outburst of jingoism sweeps the country, even affecting such notables as Michael Foot, leader of the Labour Party and CND member, who seems to regard this as a re-run of the Munich Crisis. The retaking of the Falklands is given top priority, regardless of cost. Right. The Thatcher Government, which was prepared to sacrifice industries wholesale and see unemployment rise to Great Depression levels, all in the name of keeping the tax burden down, is ready to sign a blank cheque to retake some rocks located, well, the average tax payer didn't know where they were.

Within days, a Task Force is formed and sent out in a blaze of publicity. Of course, no-one suggests taking a few extra days to make sure that the right people and the right equipment are on the right ships. Seemingly, the plan is to get everyone down south as quickly as possible, dump them somewhere on the islands, and let them get on with it.

A tiresome interlude

Trundle goes the Task Force. Just to make life interesting (and presumably to get a few sales in Australia), the single most important vessel in the Task Force has actually been flogged off to the Aussies. However, the Aussies raise no objection to Britain sending their kit into the middle of a war.

The British suddenly notice that supplying an army at the end of a supply line over 8000 miles long might be a bit of a problem. So a bunch of civilian merchant ships (is this a tip of the hat towards Dunkirk?) are called on to help out. This includes such high-profile vessels as the QE2 and Canberra. It also includes a Ro-Ro ferry - we assume that its captain is under strict instructions not to open the bow doors.

There is one notable absence from the Task Force. Britannia, which was always said to be used as a floating hospital in time of war, is nowhere to be seen. One can only assume that the Queen didn't want her nice floating hotel damaged. Still, she did allow Randy Andy to go down, presumably hoping to lose him. Keep Britannia, lose Andy, sounds like a good deal to me. Nonetheless, the author manages to get a Very Senior Royal Family Member involved in the war. Is the author aware that this is supposed to be the late 20th century, not the age of Monarchs?

Then there is an immensely long passage section. At least the author remembers that 8000 miles is a long way.

Getting to the good stuff

The Task Force arrives. It enters an area where air superiority is in doubt, and it is going to be badly outnumbered in the air. So what happens? The Task Force is split up, with some ships (with zero air cover) are sent to retake South Georgia. Despite being outnumbered, the Marines retake South Georgia, and the only casualty on either side occurs after the fighting is over. Mental note - in a war in 1982, it might be worth arming troops with Brown Besses, for all the good guns seem to be.

Back to the Falklands. Despite the long passage south, the British suddenly wake up to the fact that they are going to have to get troops from ship to ground, and some planning might be a Good Thing. By pure chance, they discover that one of the staff actually wrote a book on the Falklands, covering sailing and had detailed knowledge of the coastline. The book had never been published, but he had kept the manuscript. (This person is clearly written from the author's personal experience in being an unpublished author. Never a good sign!)

Now the British start planning. D-Day was two years in preparation, but without American help, the plucky British can do this one in two days.

Things now start to get seriously silly.

Is there no end to the implausibility?

First of all, there is aerial combat, in which the much outnumbered and amazingly slow Harrier outperforms fighters with proven combat experience. I guess the author is a fan of slow planes like the stringbags.

The author realises that the readership wants blood on the ground, so the ships go in to land Red and Green Berets. Yes, that's right. In this day of super-tough helmets that actually do protect somewhat, the British ground troops wear berets. Into combat. I presume the author is making a point about the location of brains in Marines and Paras.

Now, the Argentineans have been given five shots of a SuperWeapon, an air-launched Exocet from the Super Etendard. We get to see first use. Is it against a carrier? Do they go after the Black Pig or the Great White Whale? No, it gets used against Sheffield, a destroyer, commanded by the implausibly named Sam Salt. The ship is sunk, but despite the lack of warning (seemingly, British ships have this slight technical embarrassment that using a satellite to talk stops radar from working effectively), casualties are light.

Almost immediately afterwards, the WW2 era General Belgrano is sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine. The submarine uses an obsolete torpedo (which it just happened to have) which could do the job, rather than the ultra- modern torpedoes which didn't have enough power to do the job.

Now, at this point, the author would have us believe that there is much hand-wringing in Britain over whether the Belgrano was at point X or point Y, and what direction it was steaming in, when Thatcher could have just upped and said: "We are at war, so we sunk an enemy warship." In the appendix, it appears that, come the inquiry, the submarine had managed to lose not one, but two logs for the relevant period. Right.

The stage is set for the landings. The British are outnumbered 3-1, the Argentineans have air superiority. The British have a logistics train 8000 miles long. The Argentine forces have had a couple of months to prepare defences. Naturally, the landings proceed with the British easily victorious.

Having landed, what do the British do? Advance and get away from a confined killing ground as quickly as possible? No, they wait to let the ships unload. 8000 miles may not be a problem, but the 800 yards from ship to shore appears to be a major problem.

We then learn that the Argentinean air force has apparently never tested its bombs, because the bombs have a habit of not exploding.

At last, the British get moving. Presumably because the Marines and Paras are scared that if they don't, Sandy Woodward will personally and single-handedly capture Stanley by a solo paradrop.

Yomping, yomping, yomping...

The British are on the far west of the island, Stanley is on the far east, so obviously, the first push is due south. Never give a Para a compass. It's got a moving part.

The attack on Goose Green gets bogged down, the CO leads from the front, gets shot, (and is later awarded a posthumus VC). The No 2 takes over, changes battle plan in mid-battle, and wins the day in short order. (Isn't this clich� a bit old?) The CO is called a hero.

British troops now walk across mountainous peat bogs in the depths of winter. The author is now showing utter contempt for logistics. There is negligible helicopter support, and the only significant means of getting stuff forward is to carry it.

Just to add to British logistic woes, another use of SuperWeapon wipes out the Chinook helicopter support.

Then the author engages in a touch of whimsy. An obsolete Vulcan is launched from Britain, flies 8000 miles, drops its bombs and returns, in the longest bombing raid ever, with logistic support and complications like you wouldn't believe. The bombs miss, of course. Have I mentioned that the author doesn't like logistics?

Then the author gives the Green and Red Berets reinforcements. The author obviously has a thing for berets, however. The Scots Guards, after the cake walk it has been so far, have a damned tough fight on Tumbledown. The Welsh Guards suffer heavy casualties on disembarking. As for the Gurkhas, well, clearly the author couldn't do anything nasty to them, so has the Gurkhas, the finest light infantry in the world, and used to operating in these sorts of conditions, and fresh and spoiling for a fight, these are used - to guard prisoners.

The British reach the outskirts of Stanley. Is there a climactic last battle? No. The author is close to deadline, and has to wrap things up, so the Argentinean forces, still outnumbering the British, surrender. The author hits deadline, and another trashy novel is released onto an unsuspecting market.

Alison Brooks


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