Book Review: A Damn Close-Run Thing

A Damn Close-Run Thing: A Brief History Of The Falklands War, by Russell Phillips

As someone with an interest in the Falklands Islands [1], and who is slightly familiar with the writings of its author [2], this book does what it sets out to do. It is a brief history, without a great deal of analysis, and only implicit critique, and largely contents itself to write a factual account of various operations and encounters during the war, providing a discussion of tactics (with no images), some quotes, and enough information for others to create their own analysis of the various operations. For example, the account is detailed enough to demonstrate that the United Kingdom was seeking to defend its claim to the Falklands and restore control on the cheap, and that tacit American and Chilean support was critical in this end. It is also clear that although the Argentines had a great deal of advantages, not least of which is being closer to the Falklands than the United Kingdom, the lack of morale among many Argentine troops when it became obvious that the British were fighting in earnest contributed greatly to Britain’s victory in the war. Speaking of British earnestness, it appears that Argentina’s initial invasion was done in part to bolster flagging approval of the military junta and in part because Argentina sensed weakness in the British behavior in the months and years leading up to the invasion. That said, the British effort, while at first threatening the legitimacy of its political leadership, ended up making Thatcher’s government much more successful in the following elections.

In terms of its organization, the book is written in a strictly chronological fashion, with a page (or two) devoted to every operation. Despite the brevity of the book as a whole, the coverage in terms of the operations covered is both complete and of great interest. For example, of a minor engagement at Bluff Cove, the author writes: “Elements of 2 Para had occupied Fitzroy and Bluff Cove, southeast of Stanley, once it was confirmed that there were no Argentinian forces in the area. On the 7th and 8th of June, the Welsh Guards sailed in RFA Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad from San Carlos to Fitzroy and Bluff Cove. Three waves of Argentinian aircraft attacked on the afternoon of the 8th. Three Argentinian aircraft were shot down, with a fourth damaged, but they managed to successfully bomb both RFA Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad. Both ships caught fire and had to be abandoned, at a cost of 56 dead and 150 wounded. RFA Sir Tristram was recovered to the UK and repaired, while RFA Sir Galahad was towed out to sea and sunk as a war grave by HMS Onyx on the 25th of June.” The author depends on the reader having enough context in reading to note that the 2 Para refers to the 2nd Paratroopers Regiment, for example. A reader who is prepared to note the regiment and company names, though, would be able to mentally reconstruct the battles with the information that is given, though.

It is important to at least comment briefly on the unfortunate title of this book. Although I must admit to have a history of reading books with unfortunate titles, in this case the title comes from a quote from a British military leader, whose statement is accurate. The British suffered heavily in terms of their limited war material as well as in casualties in bringing their forces to bear in the Falklands Islands. Additional losses in time and men and material took place because of the political need for interim victories that went against the soundest military practice of seeking to go after the capital first and then mop up any remaining resistance. That said, if the British were hampered by not having a robust military after the long imperial decline by the time the Falklands War came around, the Argentines were even more hindered as a result of the massive political disconnect between the military leaders and the troops that made the ground forces. In general as well, the gentlemanly treatment given to both the British and Argentine soldiers after their surrenders at the beginning and end of the war, respectively, speaks to the fact that although feelings were harsh between the two nations over the control of the islands and to what extent the wishes of the local inhabitants should be respected, and here I side with the British in believing that the wishes of the local residents is decisive, both sides fought the war in a humane if serious fashion. It should also be noted that the book gives attention to the conduct of the war in South Georgia as well as the abortive commando raids in both Gibraltar and the Tierra Del Fuego. The book almost makes one do a walking tour of the Falklands Islands, if one can avoid the minefields that still remain there.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/book-review-envisioning-information/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/book-review-to-rule-the-waves/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/how-long-can-the-united-kingdom-retain-control-over-the-falkland-islands/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/book-review-this-well-defend/

[3] Russell Phillips. A Damn Close-Run Thing: A Brief History of the Falklands War (Kindle Locations 355-360). Shilka Publishing.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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