Thursday, 20 December 2007

Tumbledown - Continued

Assessment of the Battle

At the end of the battle, the 5th Marines had suffered a total of 61 casualties: 16 dead and 45 wounded. The Scots Guards recognize nine of their number killed and 41 wounded. Nevertheless, while Argentine casualties thus marginally outweighed the British, British sources still acknowledge that the fighting was fierce at Tumbledown. On that mount, as the Sunday Times explained to its readers, “the Scots Guards were to face the toughest action of all. There a well trained Argentinian marine battalion was heavily dug into a series of intricate bunkers, cut in the rock . . . The firepower of the marines was intense and impressive.” The Argentine 5th Marines stayed together as a team and behaved cohesively, both before and after their surrender. According to Lieutenant-Colonel N. Vaux, the commanding officer of the 42nd Marine Commandos, the Argentine Marines marched smartly, holding their regimental colors high as they marched along the streets of Port Stanley. The British wanted to capture their regimental flag, but “to the Royal Marines’ chagrin, the Argentine Marines poured gasoline on their flags and burned them to ashes before the eyes of their enemies.”

A publication of the Argentine Army also explicitly assessed the reasons for the superior performance of the 5th Marine Battalion:

[They] possessed a well-balanced set of weapons, and excellent communication equipment. But much more important, because of the Navy’s particular draft system, they had enough trained soldiers adapted from peacetime to the terrain and the extreme weather conditions . . . At the same time, the Navy’s excellent logistic support system ... could sustain the outstanding fighting performance.

Certainly in the experience of this unit there were lessons, both for the Argentine military and also for all whom want to learn from the experience of the Malvinas War.


From this analysis of the actual fighting of the Malvinas War, the idea that the professional British Army defeated the concept of a conscript army has to be qualified in significant degree. The battle of Goose Green showed how a group of conscript soldiers could fight effectively when they have capable leadership from their junior officers. In this case, cohesion was generated through the key role of military leaders. Moreover, the Argentine Marines, which were not an elite force, also showed what conscript soldiers can do when they are well equipped, trained and led. In this case, the Argentine Marines were better prepared to cope with the emergency and to fight this small war. Their institution had provided them with the tools and the capabilities to perform well under combat conditions.

The official account of the Argentine Commission of Inquiry for the Malvinas War, Rattenbach Report, underscored the contrast in institutional approaches to war that the Argentine services personified so clearly in the Malvinas:

The 5th Marine Battalion demonstrated teamwork, spirit, and higher levels of training, professionalism and adequate equipment. These aptitudes were shown in the land fighting during the defense of Puerto Argentino. In this action, the unit established an outstanding performance.

On the contrary, when the Argentine Army confronted an unexpected war situation, its soldiers were not adequately trained and prepared to wage a war of the magnitude and characteristics of the South Atlantic conflict, especially against an enemy highly experienced and superior in military power. In this case, as Steward wrote, “the Argentine Army did not train its men or prepare them for the battle ahead.” In the final hours of the conflict, as a consequence of the lack of cohesion of some Army units retreated disorderly and the number of conscripts that run away in direction of Puerto Argentino.

Another institutional feature that distinguished these services, the Army and the Navy, was the system of inducting conscripts. The Navy arranged to draft new recruits bimonthly in five successive rotations, which helped to maintain enough veteran conscripts 18 during the full year. The Marine conscripts served a fixed time of 14 months. Conversely, as Stewart also observed:

The fluctuating numbers for the Army depend on the number of conscripts inducted each year and on what date in any one of the three training cycles one measures the Army’s size. Conscripts are inducted in March; the training cycle closes in October; a portion of the class is released in November, others in December and January, and the final group after the induction of the new class in March. Therefore, some conscripts serve as few as eight months and others their full twelve-month commitment. Thus the lowest number of men in the Army is between January and March (summer).”

In this case, the organizational culture of the Argentine Army and Navy was the critical variable. This culture defined the set of basic assumptions, values, norms, beliefs, and formal knowledge that in turn shaped the ways in which the soldiers and Marines behaved collectively. Finally, the Malvinas case was also a typical example of “combined failure,” in which the Argentine High Command failed to anticipate the British reaction and to adapt to the combat conditions. Argentina was playing a dangerous game without a contingency plan in case the British accepted the gauntlet thrown down and decided to send troops to the South Atlantic. As both the broader issues of the Malvinas War and the actual strategies for fighting it demonstrate, the full responsibility for the Argentine debacle lay, mainly, on the shoulders of the High Command and the Theater Command. The tactical commands did what they could with the elements provided for them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Comrade, I think that Corbacho comment, as a researcher, had only one of of view: the marine's view (because he was a marine officer in the past) and if all taht is true... can he tell me why that later night died 16 army soldiers? (they had lost 16 in the whole war) and why the only counter attack was done by an Army platoon? The answer is that he has had only one source: the 5th battallion veterans. Spirit in soldiers and the "ready to die" sense does not belong to a force, belong to the unit spirit... you have the same sample in that latter attack: the Scottish guards were "guards" and people like Bicheno think that they were no well prepared, so Why they did it in such an excellent way? because they had the scottish proud and spirit.. as simple as that... in my opinion