Life Solved E06 600 300

Top historians and researchers from the University of Portsmouth discuss the pattern of events of 1982 Falklands War and ask whether such a conflict could happen again

  • 31 May 2022
  • 22 min listen

The 14 June this year will mark 4 decades since Argentinian forces surrendered in the Falklands War.


The conflict escalated quickly across 1982 and saw British forces fight with Argentinians over the sovereignty of this cluster of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. 


But what caused this war to happen and how are present-day British naval forces arranged, should a conflict of this scale take place today?


That’s the topic of discussion in the latest episode of Life Solved, where leading historians from the University of Portsmouth will be looking at the legacy of The Falklands War in the British armed forces, military culture and for relatives of 255 British soldiers who lost their lives.

British territory had been invaded, but people who wanted to remain British therefore wanted to be liberated by the UK armed forces

Dr Ben Jones, Senior Lecturer in Naval History at the University of Portsmouth

Dr Ben Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Naval History at the University of Portsmouth and is based RAF College Cranwell. He says that the reasons for the British to defend the Falklands from the Argentine invasion were clear cut. In a 1981 referendum, islanders had voted to remain British. But he explains how the conflict and damage escalated rapidly for both sides across May 1982, with the loss of aircraft as well as the General Belgrano, an Argentine Cruiser and then the British HMS Sheffield.


Dr Matthew Heaslip is Course Leader for the MA in Naval History here at The University of Portsmouth. He points out that the sinking of this British warship brought back echoes of an earlier trauma:


In the case of HMS Sheffield, that was the first loss of a Royal Navy warship since the Second World War. So very symbolic in its loss

Dr Matthew Heaslip, Course Leader for the MA in Naval History at The University of Portsmouth

Dr Melanie Bassett is a History Research Fellow and also a trustee of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust. She says that the Falklands conflict broke out as dock workers in the UK were being made redundant in national defence cutbacks, causing a temporary revival of these busy shipyards. But in reality the number of ships on hand fell short of capacity, causing dockyards like that in Portsmouth to innovate: 

They were actually requisitioning sort of merchant ships, oil tankers, ferries that would help to carry the troops and the equipment, and to provide workers and hospital ships. They were refitted in the dockyards. The decks were made into helicopter pads

Dr Melanie Bassett, History Research Fellow and also a trustee of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust

In addition, Dr Bassett says the political significance of the Falklands conflict lay in its challenge to the dismantling British Empire. As the Falklands lay in British territory, the response became mingled with narratives of patriotism and British might. However, Dr Heaslip adds that oral histories from soldiers paint it more as a “job to be done” that resulted in considerable loss of life on both sides.


So what is the legacy of this conflict in present day British forces? Ben, Melanie and Matthew agree that ultimately the defence cutbacks proposed in 1981 did lead to an eventual peeling back of naval resources, but point out that the technology and capabilities of modern day warships are far advanced.


Nevertheless, Dr Heaslip says that a conflict of this scale and speed would not be feasible for a present-day British Navy.


While there's the ability to conduct expeditionary warfare, there wouldn't necessarily be the ability to sustain the losses seen during the Falklands War against an opponent with any form of real defensive capabilities

Dr Matthew Heaslip, Course Leader for the MA in Naval History at The University of Portsmouth

In the lead up to commemorations for the fallen, Dr Bassett highlights that for the bereaved relatives of soldiers the war leaves a lifelong legacy and that war widows and families can often be overlooked in our reflections upon such conflict.


You can find out more about research at the University of Portsmouth on our website.


You can listen to the full podcast from Tuesday 31st May.


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