25 years ago, Britain was at war over islands in the South Atlantic many Britons had never heard of – and some at the time even thought were part of the Shetlands. Jeremy Briggs examines the comics that featured the 1982 Falklands conflict between Britain and Argentina…
On 19th March 1982, Argentinian forces landed on the South island of South Georgia, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic and raised their national flag. After little reaction from Britain, the head of the ruling Junta in Argentina, General Leopoldo Galtieri launched Operation Rosario, the invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentinian military on the 2nd April.
Three days later Operation Corporate began, with a British naval taskforce leaving Portsmouth for the southern ocean. By 25th April, South Georgia was back in British hands and on 14 June the Argentine forces in the Falklands surrendered to the British. Over 900 lives had been lost in the fighting.
It was inevitable that the conflict in the Falklands would be covered by the British war comics of the day, with IPC’s Battle presenting a documentary style comic strip history of the conflict whilst DC Thomson’s Warlord featured aspects of the conflict on its centre spread, in artwork and photographs. Later, as the war slipped from the public’s immediate consciousness, Battle with Storm Force (as Battle had then been retitled) would return to the war with a fictional tale of a boy’s resistance against the Argentine invaders.
“Fight For The Falklands” began in the issue of Battle dated 18th September 1982 and ran as three pages of black and white art per issue, plus several colour covers, until 19 March 1983. It was written by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner and illustrated by artist Jim Watson.
Watson had been one of the original artists on DC Thomson’s Warlord and had previously illustrated many of Battle’s characters including the earlier factual strip The Red Baron. Watson’s gritty art style complemented the messy conditions of the South Atlantic while Wagner’s script maintained a fairly even handed approach to the conflict, only rarely straying into pompously pro-British rhetoric.
The main events of the conflict were charted in the story with naval and aerial battles tending to loose out page-wise to the land battles. These land battles received more details than many of the other incidents and in particular the two Victoria Cross actions, of Lt-Colonel H Jones during the battle for Darwin and Goose Green and of Sergeant Ian McKay during the battle of Mount Longdon, were detailed.
Wagner did not shy away from the military losses with the Argentine Skyhawk attack on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad receiving a full episode – admittedly rather more space than the still controversial sinking of the ARA General Belgrano. Lesser known incidents, such as Sea Harrier attacks on other Argentine naval vessels or the destroyer HMS Glamorgan surviving a direct hit by an Exocet missile, were covered as well.
The story, like the war, ended rather abruptly with the British forces taking all the high ground around Port Stanley and the Argentine surrender prior to a British attack on the capitol. A further episode of the repatriation of the prisoners and Britain’s response to the Fleet’s return would have tied the story up rather better, but it was not to be.
Warlord was DC Thomson’s weekly war comic. Battle was created by IPC to cash in on the success of the DCT title, yet with the Falklands War it was Warlord that had to play catch up. Rather than a comic strip, Warlord produced a centre spread feature entitled “The Falklands File” which ran from issue 427 (27 November 1982) to issue 446 (9 April 1983).
The mix of art and photographs in factual military features had been a component of Warlord’s formula since its first issue in 1974, however what was unusual about “The Falklands File” was that it was a full two-page centre spread of the art, surrounded by text and several black and white photos. Artists used for the features included Terry Patrick and Gordon Livingstone, both DC Thomson stalwarts.
“The Falklands File” covered different aspects of the conflict such as the ships, the aircraft, the missiles and the various battles, but presented them in no particular order. Indeed issue 435, dated 22 January 1983, on the subject of the British light helicopters and issue 442, dated 12 March 1983, on the subject of the British transport helicopters both use the same two page illustration of an Argentinian Pucara aircraft attacking a British Scout light helicopter, but with different text and photographs around the main image.
Battle with Storm Force would return to the Falklands from 24th January to 29th August 1987 with a story entitled “Invasion!”
This detailed the adventures of Falklands schoolboy Tommy Baker as he harasses the occupying Argentinian troops after the invasion and manages to be in all of the most interesting areas when the fighting occurs. Jim Watson returned to the three pages of black and white art per week for the story, written by Battle’s editor Terry Magee.
“Invasion!” was a throw back to an older style of storytelling where the protagonist was of a similar age to the readers. Tommy Baker lived on an East Falkland farm settlement and was able to escape when the Argentinians captured and imprisoned its inhabitants during the initial invasion on the 2nd April.
Driving a jeep towards Port Stanley, he is able to survive rockets being fired at him from a Chinook helicopter, an event which makes him determined to fight back against the invading forces. With two friends in Stanley this fight consists of spraying Argentine soldiers with a hose, pouring paint on them or disrupting an officers meeting with a fire sprinkler system before he is captured and imprisoned.
Writer Magee uses Tommy’s imprisonment to give the British taskforce time to reach the islands. The next big event is the first RAF Black Buck bombing raid on Stanley airfield. During the confusion this causes, Tommy escapes to the airfield to see what has happened, just in time for the first Sea Harrier raid – again another factual occurrence which took place on the 1st May.
Surviving this, he escapes to the countryside and runs into a British SBS patrol before being shot in a fire fight between the SBS and Argentinian forces. The SBS take him to an unnamed British Amazon class frigate where his chances of surviving are given as 50/50 by the naval doctor.
Again the time recovering allows Tommy to become part of another later factual event, in this case the Battle of Falkland Sound as Argentinian aircraft attempt to disrupt the British landings in San Carlos Water which began on the night of the 21 May. His frigate is hit repeatedly by bombs, despite Tommy manning an anti-aircraft machinegun, before finally sinking in a panel reminiscent of the loss of HMS Antelope in the real battle. Tommy’s survival allows him to become a guide for the British paratroopers setting out for Penguin Creek near his home. The soldiers free his parents but Tommy is captured by the ruthless Argentinian, Capitan Sanchez, who returns him to Port Stanley.
After various adventures around Stanley, the story starts to come to its conclusion as Tommy helps the British soldiers on the mountains overlooking the capital. However, as the rest of the invaders raise white flags on the 14 June, Tommy is captured yet again and used as a hostage by Sanchez as he tries to find a plane at the airfield to take them both to Argentina. Tommy is finally saved from Sanchez’s bullet by one of the Argentinian conscripts he had befriended earlier and the story ends quite literally with a bang as the villainous Sanchez steps on a mine laid by his own side.
The passing of time in the story with the imprisonment and the recovery from his wound would allow Terry Magee to place Tommy in the most dangerous and, by implication, most interesting areas of the conflict, while his contact with Sanchez allowed the story to continue in the Argentinian-controlled areas of the islands. Again, Watson’s gritty art helps the story with some very densely detailed battle sequences.
The British comics history of the Falklands war is unusual in having been told in three different fashions — in a documentary style comic strip, in factual features, and in a fictional adventure strip.
“Fight For The Falklands” was a valiant attempt to split the chronology of the conflict into three page increments. Sometimes it worked well with the third page climaxing on the beginning of another battle, yet the lack of action inevitable in panels of ships at sea and the later repetition of air attacks on those vessels tends to drag the narrative. It works best when putting names to the people and concentrating on smaller incidents, particularly those of the medal winning servicemen, which show a more human side to the conflict.
Given that the dates of Warlord’s “The Falklands File” shadow Battle’s “Fight For The Falklands” so closely, it is tempting to suggest that the feature was Warlord’s quick attempt to keep pace with its rival. It would have made more sense for the feature to work its way through the conflict in a chronological fashion, rather than the haphazard way that it was published. Perhaps this indicates a lack of preparation time, particularly given the fact that one of the pieces of artwork was printed twice within two months.
Of course, there were no schoolboy helpers like Tommy Baker for the British soldiers in the real conflict, and indeed a wounded civilian would have been transferred to a hospital ship rather than remaining on the doomed frigate, but that is hardly the point. We may look back on the story of Invasion! with some amusement from our modern adult perspective, but Magee tells a cracking tale of what many of the readers of the comic would have imagined themselves doing if they had have been on the Falklands in those dark days of 1982.
Since none are likely to be the subject of modern reprint books, these stories and features now seem all but lost, but to the memories of their readers and the few surviving copies of the weekly comics. Also all but lost are the Task Force flagship, HMS Invincible, which sits in mothballs in Portsmouth awaiting the inevitable decision to scrap or sell her, and the few remaining Sea Harrier aircraft which gather dust in aviation museums. The reduction in capacity of the Royal Air Force and, in particular, the Royal Navy in the last quarter of a century mean that the United Kingdom no longer has the capability of projecting such a force over such a distance.
The battle to recover the Falklands was probably the last war that Britain will ever fight alone.
HOW MANY DIED IN THE FALKLANDS WAR?
• The official count of British military and civilian war dead was 255, with approximately 300 wounded, announced 16 June 1982
• The number of Argentinian war toll was set at 645 dead and missing on 2nd July 1982
THE FALKLANDS: STATUS TODAY
• Falklands.info, written by island residents, reports that since the Conflict, the Falkland Islands have enjoyed economic prosperity and modernisation through the establishment of an internationally acclaimed fisheries regime. “Offshore oil exploration, and onshore minerals prospecting, are ongoing. Tourism is expanding rapidly, particularly expedition ships and daytrippers from cruise ships. A wide range of artwork and craft articles are produced by local artisans for sale to visitors and locals. Fine quality wool is exported, as is mutton slaughtered in a new EU-approved abattoir. Beef, pork and lamb are produced for local consumption. A hydroponic market garden supplies salad vegetables and other fresh produce to cruise ships, fishing vessels, British Antarctic ships and bases, Ascension Island and the British military base at Mount Pleasant. Aquaculture is developing, particularly oysters, mussels and crab.
“Recommendations following the conflict for an international airport, an all-purpose jetty, the creation of a development corporation, the expansion of the Camp road network on East and West Falkland, and the subdivision of the former sheep ranches into family-run farms have all been fulfilled. A new hospital, new secondary and primary schools, swimming pool and sports complex, visitors centre and other civic facilities have been built. The Islands are now a vibrant and forward-looking community, an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom and a member of the Commonwealth family.”
• Argentina continues to dispute the sovereignty of the Falklands (known in that country as the Malvinas) and there is little sign the dispute will be resolved anytime soon, despite continued diplomacy and negotiation
• Biggles Recounts: Falklands War
by B. Asso (Author), J. Rideau (Author), D. Chauvin (Illustrator), M. Uderzo (Illustrator), Luke Spear (Translator)
A collection of real history books in which aviation plays the greater role. Recently published by Cinebook Ltd., publishers of several translated comics collections, anyone expecting to see Biggles inside the book, even as a narrator, will be sorely disappointed.
• The Falklands War: A Day-by-day Account from Invasion to Victory
by Simon Weston and Marshall Cavendish
This book provides a chronological account of the campaign and the key factors that enabled British forces to succeed, offering an insight into the horror of the War, from the opening shots to the final Argentinian surrender. 25 years later, the Falklands War remains fresh in many people’s memories as one of the most gripping historical events in recent times.
Weaving in eyewitness accounts, its direct and punchy narrative recounts just what it was like to be caught up in one of Britain’s most brutal modern wars.
• The Argentine Fight For The Falklands
by Martin Middlebrook
Martin Middlebrook is the only British historian to have been granted open access to the Argentinians who planned and fought the Falklands War. It ranks with Liddell Hart’s World War 2 title The Other Side of the Hill in analysing and understanding the military thinking and strategies of Britain’s sometime enemy
• Razor’s Edge: The Unofficial History of the Falklands War
by Hugh Bicheno
One man’s view of The Falklands Conflict – with a useful insight into the shadowy world of the Argentinian Junta and why they couldn’t believe ‘that woman’ (Margaret Thatcher) would make war on them.
• The Falklands War – 25th Anniversary Collection
Buy it from Amazon.co.uk
Documentary recounting the Argentinian invasion of the UK-controlled Falkland Islands. The film looks at Britain’s military response, as well as futile efforts by the UN Security Council to intervene.
• Comic Creator Spotlight: Jim Watson (by Colin Noble)