Royal Naval Museum

What was the 'Task Force'?

The Task Force route - from Britain to The Falklands across 8 000 miles

In 1982 the Royal Navy played the lead role in a remarkable war.

On 2 April 1982, the day Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, destroyers and frigates exercising off Gibraltar were ordered south by Rear Admiral ‘Sandy’ Woodward. They were joined by the carriers HMSs Hermes and Invincible, loaded with Sea Harrier fighters and amphibious ships.  Merchant ships were taken up from the trade (STUFT) for use as troop transporters. These were also three nuclear powered submarines to cover the surface ships.

In overall command was Commander-in-Chief Fleet, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, based at his headquarters at Northwood near London. Woodward commanded the carrier task group while Commodore Mike Clapp was in charge of the amphibious ships.

The first task was to retake the island of South Georgia, a mission that included helicopters sinking the Argentininian submarine Santa Fe. HMS Conqueror responded to the supposed threat of an Argentinian ship inside the exlcusion zone by sinking the cruiser ARA General Belgrano, effectively ending the threat of the Argentine carrier and surface ships but killing 323 people on board.

On 4 May, HMS Sheffield was hit by an air launched Exocet missile, caught fire and had to be abandoned. Despite this setback, the Sea Harriers effectively protected the British landings from Argentinian air attack.

The amphibious ships benefited from the cover of the guns and missiles of the destroyers and escorts shared between Woodward's and Clapp's task groups. Fighting was serious, with bombs exploding and destroying the frigates HMSs Ardent and Antelope and the destroyer HMS Coventry. Other ships had some very narrow escapes.

One of the major setbacks of the campaign was the loss of vital helicopters on the transport Atlantic Conveyor, creating massive transport difficulties and putting the ships used as transporters to East Falkland, in greater danger.

As the ground assault began on the Falklands capital of Stanley, RAF Harriers provided reinforcements to Royal Marine Commandos and naval gunfire. The Argentinians responded to the move on Stanley by damaging HMS Glamorgan with a shore based Exocet.

But it wasn't enough. The Argentinians surrendered on 14 June, outfought and demoralised.

Operation Corporate, as it was called officially, had been a demonstration of the continued strength of British maritime power at a time when its future was in some doubt.

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