Myth-adventures Down South

By Alison Brooks and David Flin

Sometimes, alternate history timeliness are criticised for being implausible, and these critics claim that they are not at all realistic. And yet …

The late Alison Brooks once wondered how a straight retelling of the Falklands Conflict of 1982 would be received if it got mislabelled as Alternate History. I have tidied it up a little, but otherwise kept her musings as they were.

Review of the alternate history: The Falklands War The AH bandwagon rolls on. We have seen stories looking at different takes on the American War of Independence, the American Civil War, and World War 2. Obviously, the answer to the question: “War, what is it good for?” is book sales. This book is by an author, OTL, attempting to cash in on a near-present period. It is called The Falklands War.

It is clearly an inferior product, obviously rushed out to cash in on the current popularity of AH. This is evident from the sloppy proof-reading. The author seems unable to decide whether she is referring to the Falklands War, or to the Falklands Conflict. I will use The Falklands Conflict, as that appears to be the formal name.

The book is best described as a Boy’s Own Paper Heroic Action Adventure wet dream brought into the modern day. Plausibility goes out of the window, with logistics, politics, economics, and common sense all being disposed of in short order. The author may as well have called the book: “The Empire Strikes Back”, and be done with it.

The Premise The background of the yarn is roughly as follows. A long dispute between Britain and Argentina over the fate of a bunch of God-forsaken islands in the south Atlantic started to get interesting when the British Foreign Office decided to make preparations to hand the islands over, as the days of Empire were over, the islands were a financial drain, and no-one of any importance lived there. The Ministry of Defence chipped in by announcing that it was making a cost-saving by planning to scrap HMS Endurance, Britain’s only long-term naval presence in the area, an obsolete and effectively defenceless survey ship.

Not surprisingly, the Argentine Government assumed that Britain had no real desire to keep the islands, which were a financial burden to the British taxpayer. For reasons best known to themselves, the Argentine Government decided not to wait until the islands were handed over, but instead invaded, with thousands of troops with all sorts of heavy equipment assaulting in a carefully planned attack on a handful (approx. 40) of Royal Marines. Despite the odds, and despite huge expenditure of ammunition by the Argentine forces, the hugely outnumbered Royal Marines hold out for nearly a day. Despite all of this, there is not a single casualty among the Marines. The Marines are returned to Britain. It seems that the Argentines haven’t heard of the concept of prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, in an even more God-forsaken corner of the south Atlantic, Argentine forces attack South Georgia. The British defenders, again heavily outnumbered, using a single anti-tank gun, knock out a corvette, a second ship, a helicopter, and generally prove just how difficult attacking defended positions is. The Marines finally surrender, because of overwhelming numbers, and again, there is not a single British casualty.

The lesson we can draw? Apparently, huge amounts of ammunition being expended in close-quarter combat in confined spaces does not harm British troops.

The political consequences in the UK are immense. The Minister in charge of the Foreign Office, Lord Carrington (A Lord holding one of the great offices of state in the UK? In 1982? One suspects the author mistook 1982 for 1882) resigns because his department had blundered, and he took responsibility for the actions of his department. I’m sorry? One of Thatcher’s Ministers resigned on a matter of honour for the errors of other people? This was an era when her Minister’s held on to office for as long as they could, with no thought of principle.

The consequences However, rather than accepting a fait accompli, an outburst of jingoism sweeps the country, even affecting such as Michael Foot, leader of the Labour Party and CND member, who seems to have flashbacks to the Munich Crisis. Retaking the Falklands is given top priority, regardless of cost. Right. The Thatcher Government, prepared to sacrifice industries wholesale and see unemployment rise to Great Depression levels in the name of financial probity, signs a blank cheque to retake rocks far away of no value and damn all voters.

Within days, a Task Force is formed and sent out in a blaze of publicity. Of course, no-one suggests taking a bit of extra time to make sure the right people and the right equipment are on the right ships. The plan seems to be to just get everyone Down South as quickly as possible, dump them somewhere, and hope for the best.

A tiresome interlude The Task Force trundles south. Just to make life interesting, and presumably to get a few sales in Australia, the single most important vessel in the Task Force has actually been flogged off to the Aussies. However, the Aussies raise no objection to Britain sending their kit into the middle of a war.

The author suddenly notices that supplying an army at the end of a supply line over 8000 miles long might be a bit of a problem. What does she do? She brings in a bunch of civilian merchant ships, possibly referencing the small boats of Dunkirk. She includes as many names of ships that she can remember, like the QE2 and Canberra, as well as a Ro-Ro ferry. One assumes that captain is under strict instructions about opening the bow doors.

There is one notable absence from the Task Force. Britannia, which was always said to be used as a floating hospital in time of war, is nowhere to be seen. One can only assume that the Queen didn’t want her nice floating hotel damaged. Still, she did let Randy Andy go down, presumably because she didn’t mind so much if he got damaged. The author manages to get a Very Senior Royal Family Member involved in fighting a war. Is the author aware that the tale is set in the late 20th Century, not the Age of Monarchs?

Then there is an immensely long and boring passage section. At least the author is aware that 8000 miles is a long way.

Getting to the “good” stuff The Task Force arrives at the Falklands. It enters an area where air superiority is in doubt, and is going to be badly outnumbered in the air. What does the author do? She splits the Task Force up, dividing the force in the presence of the enemy, and sends part to recapture South Georgia for no clearly explained reason.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Marines retake South Georgia, and the only casualty on either side occurs after the fighting is over. Mental note. In a war in 1982, the troops may as well be armed with Brown Besses, for all the good guns seem to be.

Back to the Falklands. Despite the fact that they’ve had a couple of months sailing south, it’s only now that the British wake up to the fact that they’re somehow going to have to get the troops from ship to ground, and that a plan might be a Good Thing. By pure chance, they discover that one of the Staff has actually written a book (unpublished) on sailing around the coastlines of the Falklands. The book had never been published, but he’d brought the manuscript with him, just in case. I would suggest the author has extensive experience of being an unpublished author.

The British start planning. D-Day was two years in preparation, but without the Americans helping, the plucky Brits can do this in two days.

This is where things start to get seriously silly.

Is there no end to the implausibility? First of all, there is some aerial combat. The greatly outnumbered and amazingly slow Harrier outperforms fighters with proven combat experience. I guess the author is a fan of stringbags.

The author realises that the readership wants blood on the ground, so the ships land the Red and Green Berets. That’s right. In this day of super-tough helmets that actually do provide some protection, the British ground troops wear berets into battle. I assume the author is making a point about the location of brains in Royal Marines.

The Argentinians have been given five uses of a super-weapon, an air-launched Exocet from a Super Etendard. We get to see its first use. Is it against a carrier? Do they go after the Black Pig or the Great White Whale? Taking out any of these wins the war for the Argentinians. No, it gets used against HMS Sheffield, a destroyer, commanded by the implausibly named Sam Salt. The ship is sunk, but despite limited warning (apparently British ships had this slight technical embarrassment that using a satellite to talk stopped the radar working effectively), casualties are light.

Almost immediately afterwards, the WW2-era General Belgrano is sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine. The submarine uses an obsolete torpedo (which it just happened to have lying around) rather than one of the ultra-modern torpedo, which may not have packed sufficient punch to do the job of sinking the enemy ship.

At this point, we are expected to believe that there is much hand-wringing in Britain over whether the Belgrano was at point X or at point Y, and what direction it was travelling, when Thatcher could have just upped and said: “We are at war. It was an enemy warship. We sank it.”

The stage is set for the landings. We’ve seen how difficult they are. The British are outnumbered 3-1. The Argentinians have air superiority. The British have a logistics train 8000 miles long. The Argentinians have had two months to prepare defences. Naturally, the British forces land with ease.

Having landed, what do the British do? Advance and get away from a confined killing ground as quickly as possible? No, they sit around while the ships unload stores. 8000 miles may not be a problem for Our Boys, but the 800 yards from ship to shore is nearly insurmountable.

Just to add to the amusement factor, we discover that Argentinian bombs tend to lack an important ingredient of bombs. They have a tendency not to actually explode, because of complex technical reasons. Seemingly, a bomb exploding when it hits its target is considered an optional extra.

Finally, the British troops stir into movement. Presumably, the Marines and Paras are scared that if they don’t, Sandy Woodward will stop writing his auto-hagiography, and will personally and single-handedly capture Stanley by a solo paradrop.

Yomping, yomping, yomping … The British are on the far west of the island. Stanley is on the far east of the island. So obviously, the first push is due south. Never give a Para a compass. It’s got a moving part.

The attack on Goose Green gets bogged down. The CO leads from the front, and gets shot, and is later awarded a posthumous VC. The No 2 takes over, changes battle plan in mid-battle, and wins the day in short order. Isn’t this cliché a bit dated?

British troops now walk across mountainous peat bogs in the depths of an Antarctic winter. The author is now showing utter contempt for logistics. There is negligible helicopter support, and the only way of moving stuff is to carry it using the Mark 1 Leg.

Then the author engages in a touch of whimsy. An obsolete Vulcan is deployed to Ascension Island, and with about a million refuelling tankers, flies 8000 miles, drops its bombs in the longest bombing raid ever, and returns to base. It’s an amazing feat of logistics. Of course, the bombs missed the target. Have I mentioned the author doesn’t like logistics?

The British Marines and Paras fight their way to the outskirts of Stanley. We’re reaching the climax, what everything has been building towards, the last battle, in the built-up urban zone of Stanley. Savage house-house fighting. It should be immense. The Argentine troops still outnumber the British.

But the author is near deadline, so the Argentine troops tamely surrender, and another trashy novel is launched onto an unsuspecting market.

My summary? OTL is a rubbish author who really has no idea about plausibility. Avoid OTL.

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