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Margaret Thatcher's files on the Falklands

 

The Falklands War of 1982 was one of the defining events of recent British history, a sudden and almost revolutionary shock to the national psyche which transformed the domestic political scene, and much else besides.

There are thousands upon thousands of secret documents on the war, as one might expect, and their release on 28 December 2012 marks the beginning of analysis rather than its conclusion. We will return to them many times on this site, but here is the first bite, an upload of all of MT's 1982 files on the topic, filmed by us in preview at the National Archives in Kew.

Much more will follow, from the archives of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence especially.

the key items: april-june 1982

Documents on this site can be viewed in two different ways: in the site database or as whole files.

Items selected for our site database are the most imporant. They can be searched for by date/period, subject, keyword, and importance.

Site search page

Constructing search terms is something of an art, so here are some searches we have already done:

 

The most important Falklands documents just released at UK National Archives (30 or so)

Larger selection of Falklands documents just released at UK National Archives (693 & counting)

 

We had already uploaded a lot of Falklands material from other sources, including speeches, interviews and other statements by MT and previously secret material from sources like the Reagan Library. Adding in the new material we get:

 

Key Falklands documents on this site, 4 May 1979-14 June 1982

All Falklands documents on this site, 4 May 1979 - 14 June 1982

 

The whole files can be read in PDF format, filmed just as they appear in the reading room. They can be downloaded by clicking on links - see list below this section for the new Falklands material. They are often large documents (50MB+).

files on the origins of the war: 1979-82

2 May 1982: decision on the Belgrano

Many files on the run-up to the war had already been opened by UK government archives, including the Private Office papers of Lord Carrington first released on this site. But the PM's two files on the years 1979-82 were held back till this year.

Unsurprisingly they show sporadic rather than constant prime ministerial attention to the Falklands. No one in government doubted the potential for serious trouble (as with Britain's other Latin American possession, Belize) and the policy was to defuse the problem by diplomacy. The Conservative Government followed its Labour predecessor in favouring a policy of negotiation with Argentina over sovereignty, making the case for 'leaseback'. This was a scheme devised originally by officials in 1976, which Labour kept up its sleeve but never got as far as tabling due to islander hostility, by which sovereignty over the islands would be ceded in return for a long (ideally very long) agreement to continue British administration. The Treasury and the Ministry of Defence argued against the presumed alternative of defending the islands sufficiently seriously to deter any Argentine assault, on grounds of cost.

The Foreign Office came up with the leaseback idea, but it could not have been pursued without collective government agreement and the files show the process by which, with evident reluctance and important qualifications, MT signed up to it. The most important of the qualifications was that the islanders themselves must consent, a principle to which she showed close and constant attention. But the islanders did not consent, emphatically not, and as that fact became unavoidably apparent in late 1980, leaseback slowly died. Unfortunately it was not replaced by a policy of deterrence. The Foreign Office acted as if it had not died at all, while the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury continued to refuse the resources to deter.

The void was filled by a policy of talking to Argentina, which seemed to be going well enough until the end of February 1982 when the Junta abruptly repudiated an agreed communique its diplomats had just negotiated with Britain in discussions held in New York. Argentina was departing from the script, and London noticed at once. MT jotted across the telegram: "We must make contingency plans". The following month a party of Argentinian scrap metal merchants made an illegal landing on the Falklands dependency of South Georgia, a crudely contrived incident which pointed to trouble yet to come.

Even at this moment outright invasion of the islands seems to have crossed no one's mind in Britain. The expectation was that Argentina would ratchet up the pressure by a series of provocative steps rather than go for broke. The contingency plans MT had in mind were almost certainly meant to cover such things as the cutting of communications to the islands rather than full-scale war. There was a sense that we had some time to calibrate our reactions, an illusory sense as it turned out.

MT's two files covering the run-up period can be read here:

PREM19/612 Argentina Falklands (21 Sep 1979 - 15 Dec 1981)
PREM19/613 Argentina Falklands (1 Jan 1982 - 3o Mar 1982)

Some of the key documents from these early files were extracted for examination by the Franks Committee, the independent enquiry which examined the run-up to the war, about which more can be found at the end of this page.

PREM19/656 Argentina Falklands papers for Franks Enquiry (20 Sep 1979 - 31 Dec 1981)
PREM19/657 Argentina Falklands papers for Franks Enquiry (7 Jan 1982 - 2 Apr 1982)

files on the war itself: april - june 1982

The literature on the war is already vast. The raw files match it in scale, and often exceed it in fascination. Here are the notes of meetings, telephone calls, telegrams and letters, many of them carrying the highest security classifications. Below are links to individual files, hurriedly filmed in preview. Better copies will be substituted in time.

 

Series One - MT's main Falklands file

PREM19/614 Argentina Falklands (Part 3) (1-5 April 1982) includes Argentine invasion
PREM19/615 Argentina Falklands (Part 4) (6-8 April 1982)
PREM19/616 Argentina Falklands (Part 5) (8-11 April 1982)
PREM19/617 Argentina Falklands (Part 6) (12-14 April 1982)

PREM19/618 Argentina Falklands (Part 7) (14-17 April 1982)
PREM19/619 Argentina Falklands (Part 8) (18-19 April 1982)
PREM19/620 Argentina Falklands (Part 9) (20-22 April 1982)
PREM19/621 Argentina Falklands (Part 10) (23-26 April 1982)

PREM19/622 Argentina Falklands (Part 11) (27-29 April 1982)
PREM19/623 Argentina Falklands (Part 12) (30 April - 2 May 1982) includes sinking of the General Belgrano
PREM19/624 Argentina Falklands (Part 13) (3-5 May 1982) includes missile hit on HMS Sheffield & post Belgrano diplomatic crisis
PREM19/625 Argentina Falklands (Part 14) (6-7 May 1982)

PREM19/626 Argentina Falklands (Part 15) (8-10 May 1982)
PREM19/627 Argentina Falklands (Part 16) (11-13 May 1982)
PREM19/628 Argentina Falklands (Part 17) (14-17 May 1982)
PREM19/629 Argentina Falklands (Part 18) (18-21 May 1982) includes British landing at San Carlos Bay

PREM19/630 Argentina Falklands (Part 19) (22-24 May 1982)
PREM19/631 Argentina Falklands (Part 20) (25-27 May 1982)
PREM19/632 Argentina Falklands (Part 21) (28-31 May 1982)
PREM19/633 Argentina Falklands (Part 22) (1-5 June 1982)

PREM19/634 Argentina Falklands (Part 23) (6-11 June 1982)
PREM19/635 Argentina Falklands (Part 24) (12-16 June 1982) includes Argentine surrender
PREM19/636 Argentina Falklands (Part 25) (17-18 June 1982)
PREM19/637 Argentina Falklands (Part 26) (19-25 June 1982)

 

Series Two - MT's more sensitive Falklands material:

Some of the most highly classified Prime Ministerial documents of all were placed in a series titled blandly "The handling of the Falklands Invasion". Intelligence material found its way there, although almost of it remains closed at present. The first of those files included some pre-war material - official must have gone back through other intelligence material and extracted bits and pieces.

PREM19/643 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 1) (14 Sep 1981 - 13 April 1982)
PREM19/644 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 2) (14-22 April 1982)
PREM19/645 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 3) (23-29 April 1982)
PREM19/646 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 4) (30 April - 4 May 1982)

PREM19/647 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 5) (5-14 May 1982)
PREM19/648 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 6) (15-20 May 1982)
PREM19/649 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 7) (21-31 May 1982)
PREM19/650 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 8) (1-6 June 1982)

PREM19/651 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 9) (7-25 June 1982)
PREM19/652 Argentina Handling of the Falklands crisis (Part 10) (26 June - 28 September 1982)

post-mortem: the franks enquiry, 1982-83

We earlier put online Foreign Office documents provided to Franks:

Foreign Office documents given to Franks from Lord Carrington's Private Office files

One key document not included in this cache was the FCO's note of a very secret meeting between Nick Ridley and his Argentine counterpart which took place in Geneva on 10 and 11 September 1980. This kicked the ball rolling as far as leaseback was concerned, Ridley sketching possibilities in a hopeful style which left the Argentine minister "bubbling with pleasure", according to the British Ambassador to Buenos Aires. This document has not been found in any of MT's Falklands files; a copy is included on this site from an FCO file declassified in 2010. MT certainly knew of its existence and showed marked concern over it. She questioned initially whether it should be supplied to anyone on the enquiry but Franks in person and on the urging of officials approved in the end an arrangement by which it was given to all enquiry members with special attention drawn to its sensitivity. Franks in return agreed in advance to make no reference to the meeting in his report. The first authoritative account of the meeting came in Lawrence Freedman's Official History of the Falklands Campaign in 2005.

MT's papers regarding the enquiry can be read here:

PREM19/654 Argentina Falkland Islands Enquiry (Part 1) (15 April - 5 July 1982)
PREM19/655 Argentina Falkland Islands Enquiry (Part 2) (5 July - 28 October 1982)

PREM19/656 Argentina Falklands papers for Franks Enquiry (20 Sep 1979 - 31 Dec 1981)
PREM19/657 Argentina Falklands papers for Franks Enquiry (7 Jan 1982 - 2 Apr 1982)

The enquiry took evidence in private session. MT appeared once, a long and carefully prepared testimony having read through her files.

Here is the transcript:

MT evidence to Franks Enquiry (25 Oct 1982)

Lord Carrington gave evidence twice, the summons for a second bout triggering a deeply-felt expression of dismay, because it clearly implied he was to be singled out for criticism in the Report:

Carrington evidence to Franks Enquiry - 1st session (29 Sep 1982)

Carrington evidence to Franks Enquiry - 2nd session (29 Dec 1982)

Nick Ridley gave testimony on 29 September:

Nick Ridley evidence to Franks Enquiry - (29 Sep 1982)

 

Page completed: 28-29 Dec 2012