On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, sparking a 74-day conflict that ended with the total surrender of Argentine forces on 14 June. This year marks 40 years since the occupation began, and Falklands War veterans in both Britain and Argentina will be looking back on their experiences. 

The Falklands War ultimately came about due to failed diplomatic efforts between Argentina, the UK and the Falkland Islanders to determine who had sovereignty over the islands. Argentina believed it had sole rights to the Falklands, while most Islanders wanted them to remain a British territory. The UK also believed that they had sovereignty over the islands, although there was waning enthusiasm among some officials for retaining control. 

Another key reason for the conflict was a change to Argentina’s military regime in December 1981, when a new junta came to the fore. With dire economic and human rights crises erupting across the country, the leadership was keen to find a political distraction. They decided that launching an offensive in the islands would be popular among citizens, and so, on 2 April, they made their move. 

The small British Royal Marines garrison stationed on the islands initially held off the amphibious invasion but surrendered upon the arrival of reinforcements. The following day, South Georgia – an island 870 miles to the east of the Falklands – was also taken by Argentine troops. 

British operations to retake the islands swiftly got underway, and the first taskforce ship left Portsmouth on 5 April. Three nuclear submarines had already been dispatched. A British War Cabinet was then set up on 6 April. Despite the Falklands War name, neither country ever actually declared war on the other during the entirety of the conflict. 

The first victory for the British came on 25 April, when troops delivered by the destroyer HMS Antrim retook South Georgia. A few days later, on 1 May, attention turned back to the Falklands. A pair of Vulcans bombed Stanley Airfield on the Falklands, destroying three Argentine aircraft but ultimately only landing one hit to the runway itself. 

Precisely one month after the invasion of the Falklands, one of the conflict’s most infamous – and controversial – incidents occurred. In a move that was heavily scrutinised by anti-war campaigners and others, the Royal Navy submarine Conqueror sank an Argentine light cruiser called the General Belgrano. The attack resulted in the loss of 323 lives – just under half of all Argentine fatalities during the war. 

The act of torpedoing the Belgrano drew sharp criticism from some, mostly because it was claimed that the ship had been sailing away from the Falklands and was outside the official exclusion zone – an area surrounding the islands which had been marked out by Britain in the days after the first invasion. 

Meanwhile, the conflict continued. Peace talks held in May came to nothing, and by the end of that month it was clear that a fight on the Falklands was inevitable. British troops continued to arrive throughout May and June, leading to a crucial series of battles on 11, 12 and 13 June. On 14 June, British forces arrived in Stanley, virtually unopposed. A ceasefire was announced in the afternoon and a surrender was inevitable.