What purpose was served by Argentina's occupation of South Georgia immediately prior to the invasion of the Falklands? The famously elaborate operation, involving marines masquerading as scrap metal merchants and obscure diplomatic slights would appear to have achieved nothing of value. A miniature side show compared to the main Falklands war. What did Buenos Aires intend it to achieve?

If it was meant as a test of British resolve it surely made no sense to launch the full Falklands invasion almost in parallel and before evaluating the British response. If it was intended as a diversionary tactic it turned out to be anything but. If Argentina intended it to be strategically vital to defending the Falklands they were deluded since the British easily retook it some weeks later.

Why bother with South Georgia as a preliminary campaign? If, as Argentina intended and hoped, the Falklands occupation had been accepted by the British and the rest of the world as a fait accompli then South Georgia would quietly have been included in any eventual settlement.

  • I remember reading that it was a feint to test British resolve. London's failure to react strongly in that instance was received by the Argentinians as a signal that they could launch the full invasion with impunity.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 29, 2016 at 11:06

4 Answers 4


The main reason as I understand it was to extend the Argentine territorial waters and thus create a stronger claim to ownership of the Falklands. It would also seriously deplete the British forces in the Falklands to oppose the invasion (though that was of course not guaranteed).
Of course there's also the potential wealth of oil, gas, and minerals in and around the islands, but those were not as important back then as they would be today (the cost of extracting them was relatively much higher because of the lower prices of oil and minerals in the 1980s, making extraction at the time not economical).

South Georgia was invaded in early March, on the 19th the British noticed an Argentine flag flying over the islands, well away from their own scientific station there. The Argentinians had landed armed forces disguised as scrap metal dealers on the islands.
The next day HMS Endurance, embarking part of the Royal Marine detachment to the Falklands, sailed from Port Stanley to confront the Argentine landing force at South Georgia. On the 24th Endurance reached South Georgia, but was ordered to reinforce the British outpost there rather than sail around the island to the Argentine camp, possibly because of uncertainty about Argentine strength in the area.
This was fortuitious, as that same day the Argentinians landed another roughly 100 troops on the island (Endurance carried only 20 Marines and was itself only lightly armed, more a police vessel than a warship).

Directly following this, the Argentine junta found itself pretty much forced by general Anaya (who had orchestrated the South Georgia affair seemingly on his own) to bring forward the invasion plans for the Falklands. The decision to land in early April was made on 23 March, initially the plans had been for a landing about half a year later.

This according to "The Falklands War" by Martin Middlebrook, a military historian who's studied the whole affair in depth (as much as possible, the Argentinians still often don't want to talk to British people about it all).

  • So was it that the junta as a whole intended it as vital element in its entire territorial claim (first paragraph)? Or was it Anaya going rogue (later paragraph)? Either seem plausible (I especially like the notion that it was muddle/Anaya acting out his own campaign), but they're somewhat contradictory. Jun 17, 2014 at 9:03
  • @TeaDrinker the junta was planning to launch the invasion, Anaya decided to "speed things up a bit".
    – jwenting
    Jun 17, 2014 at 10:40

I completely agree with you that attacking South Georgia was a strategic error.

What you have to realize is that the people making these decisions are humans, not robots, and often the reason for an action has more to do with politics than what is militarily optimal.

Since South Georgia was more or less unoccupied, the Argentinian leaders could immediately announce a success by invading it and their would be no countervailing factors; no civilian deaths, no occupation issues, no chance of resistance. It would appear to be a completely "safe" victory. It is hard to resist the lure of safe victory, even if it has no strategic value.


To bargain and negotiate in a strong position. They didn't expect a war, but only a diplomatic conflict. So it wasn't a military strategy. In the worst case the expected to give away the other islands (South Georgia and Sandwich) while keeping Falklands.


The purpose was to help prop up the tottering government by a foreign adventure so that the populace would forget about the poor results in economics and internal development.

By taking all the bases in the region it would just make it more difficult to respond, and why would any sane country bother over some sheepfarmers on a set of worthless rocks?

But Britain managed to mount a counter-operation (with some US aid) and not easily or cheaply retook the islands and restored the status quo ante bellum. One thing the US did was lend them use of our facilities on Ascension Island to provide a base for long range aircraft.

  • What sane country? Our facilties? Surely the answer would be of more value without these distractions.
    – andy256
    Jun 10, 2014 at 4:24
  • 6
    Sorry, but this is a terrible answer. You're talking about the Falklands as a whole. I'm asking about a small part of that campaign. It's the equivalent of asking why Hitler occupied Narvik and answering "lebensraum". Jun 10, 2014 at 6:23
  • And Ascension island isn't an American base. It's British. Jun 10, 2014 at 6:25
  • And you say the islands were not easily or cheaply retaken. Wikipedia says Operation Parakeet cost the British 2 helicopters and no loss of life. Seems quite cheap to me. Jun 10, 2014 at 6:33
  • 1
    Sorry, -1 for the reasons @TeaDrinker mentioned. Jun 10, 2014 at 10:28

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