Razor’s Edge: The Unofficial History of the Falklands War
by Hugh Bicheno, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, distributed by Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret, Vt., 2006, $37.50.
When Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982, it was with a two-pronged perspective: their historic claim to the islands discovered and settled by the British more than a century earlier; and their perception that the Anglo backbone had weakened to such an extent there would be no military response. Argentina’s military leaders reasoned that since Great Britain was already negotiating an end to its sovereignty over the Falklands, an invasion would be an easy victory and would deflect some of the guilt over the brutal “dirty war” they had waged against insurgents in their own country.
To international surprise, however, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government cobbled together a strike force to win back the islands and free the British inhabitants known as “Kelpers.” Despite a dwindling operational window due to the imminent South Atlantic storm season, the British fleet sailed for the Falklands, knowing full well that Argentine forces had had ample time to dig in and establish fields of fire. In Razor’s Edge, author Hugh Bicheno describes the ensuing battles and firefights in ample detail.
A former British intelligence officer, Bicheno trekked throughout the Falklands to understand in context the ferocious small-unit engagements that erupted as soldiers and marines clashed on land. Using the terrain as a guidepost, he dissects the movements of both attackers and defenders. Bicheno’s narrative touches on combatants’ personal experiences as they fought over Goose Green and the ragged summits of Longdon, the Two Sisters and Tumbledown.
According to Bicheno, Longdon was the linchpin of the Argentine defense. Though not the highest of the fortified hills, at just 600 feet, it offered the best zones of interlocking fire. The author suggests that had the Argentines advanced their 155mm guns to this position, it would have set back the British assault. As it was, Argentine mortars and machine guns took a toll among the attackers before British artillery and naval fire, combined with heroic small group actions, finally forced the surrender.
While there is mention of naval losses—including the devastating missile attacks against British support vessels and the torpedoing of the Argentine heavy cruiser General Belgrano with heavy losses—Razor’s Edge centers on the heroics of British and Argentine soldiers and marines. Bicheno’s blow-by-blow account reveals the madness and pathos of the combatants and the mistakes made by military and civilian leaders on both sides.
Far from a dispassionate historian, Bicheno indicts the governments of both Argentina and Great Britain. He likens the Fascist regime that controlled Argentina to the Nazis, “on a smaller scale but no less poisonous.” As for the British, he suggests they “were increasingly convinced theirs was a failed society.” The resulting cultural collision led to the deaths of hundreds of young men and forced the remote Falkland Islands into the international spotlight.
Originally published in the June 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.