James Lockhart discusses some recent revelations from the Argentine government on their side of the 1982 Falklands War:
Earlier this month, the Argentine army declassified documents showing that some officers abused other officers and soldiers under their command and subjected them to excessively harsh disciplinary measures, including torture, during the Falklands War of April to June 1982. Reportedly, this included beatings and mock executions. One lieutenant described how “another officer tied his hands and legs to this [sic] back and left him face down on the wet sand of a cold Falklands beach for eight hours.” Though declassified, these documents remain in the army’s archives, requiring a trip to Buenos Aires for anyone who wishes to read them.
Argentine Lieutenant General Benjamín Rattenbach, however, presided over an inquiry just after the war. The Rattenbach report, which Argentina’s Servicio Privado de Información, an independent news agency, has made available online, presents the junta‘s history of the Anglo–Argentine dispute from 1833 to 1982. The report critically reviews the junta’s strategic and operational planning that preceded its decision to invade the Falklands (which Argentina refers to as Las Malvinas) in 1982, and summarizes the negotiations that occurred both before and after the war. It contains insights that help us understand what was going on and why it led to some Argentine officers’ and soldiers’ maltreatment.
The Rattenbach report criticized the junta‘s political decisions, its ad hoc operational planning, and its commanders’ multiple failures in execution. In short, it found that the Falklands campaign represented an ill-conceived, poorly planned, and terribly implemented military operation, especially in the area of logistics.
The junta‘s multiple errors in judgment began becoming apparent just before its invasion began. As the report notes, “On 1 April, late in the evening, [Secretary of State] General [Alexander] Haig told Ambassador [Esteban] Takacs in Washington that he was aware of the invasion that was taking place. He asked that the operation, which would place two powers friendly to the United States at war with each other, be stopped. He offered to mediate the dispute and he warned him that if war were unleashed, the Reagan administration could not remain neutral. It would necessarily side with Britain.” Reagan telephoned the junta‘s leader, General Leopoldo Galtieri, reiterating this message to no avail.
Thus the junta‘s errors in judgment included its failure to anticipate and plan for Washington’s granting British forces use of American-controlled airfields on Ascension Island. But the junta‘s errors in judgment went deeper than this. It believed that by occupying the islands, it would force Britain to negotiate, and that would be the end of the matter. It did not plan for a British military response. Indeed, it did not begin planning for one until the Royal Navy had already put to sea.
The Rattenbach report also concludes that “logistical operations did not unfold in an acceptable manner.” In fact, Rattenbach and his colleagues describe an unmitigated disaster. When they began their investigation, they soon discovered that it was “useless to seek any coherence” in the junta‘s logistical planning before it launched the invasion, and they could discern only improvised logistical operations afterward. They cite the 5th and 12th Infantry Regiments to illustrate what this meant on the ground. These units lacked vehicles and in many cases, ammunition. There was no internal transportation system to move the supplies they did have. This reduced their combat effectiveness by 40–50 percent before anyone had even fired a shot. “LOGISTICS CANNOT BE IMPROVISED,” Rattenbach aptly insists in all caps.