saxitoxin wrote:Symmetry wrote:Hardly a war of aggression. Argentina invaded and attempted to bring the Islanders under military dictatorship.
South Georgia Island was spontaneously liberated by unarmed, Argentine fishermen. The British then began aggressive military posturing and Argentine forces had to be brought in as a preventative step to protect civilian lives. The British then went completely berzerk and decided to go on a war rampage instead of simply talking.
The only British presence at Leith on 19 March was an Antarctic Survey (BAS) team, whose leader, Trefor Edwards, handed a message from London to the commander of the Buen Suceso, captain Briatore, demanding the removal of the Argentine flag and the departure of the party. At the same time, the Argentine crew had to report to the top BAS commander in Grytviken, Steve Martin. Briatore replied that the mission had the approval of the British embassy in Buenos Aires.
Eventually, the Argentine captain ordered the lowering of the flag, but failed to report to Grytviken. The BAS commander sent a message to the Governor of the Falkland Islands, Rex Hunt (South Georgia being run as a dependency of the Falklands). After consulting London, Hunt was instructed to dispatch HMS Endurance to South Georgia with a detachment of 22 Royal Marines.
ARA Almirante Irízar, the first Argentine Navy ship to arrive at Grytviken in December 1981.
The reason for the landing of scrap metal workmen at Leith was a 1978 contract between an Argentine businessman, Constantino Davidoff, and the British company Christian Salvesen, for the scrapping of the abandoned whale factories and facilities on the island. Aware of the contract, the Argentine Navy conceived of a plan to hijack Davidoff's business in South Georgia, in order to establish an undercover base on the disputed territory. The action was code named Operation Alpha.
There had been already two other Argentine trips to South Georgia: on December 1981, on board the Argentine icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar, when Davidoff made an inventory of the facilities; and on February 1982, when an alleged commercial rival of Davidoff, bank employee Adrian Marchessi, made an unannounced visit to Leith. Marchessi assessed Leith facilities on board the Panamanian registered yacht Caiman, which had sailed out of Mar del Plata. He later reported himself to Grytviken, claiming that he was part of Davidoff's scheme and giving the British authorities details of the December inspection and even of early Argentine trips during the 1970s.
The failure of the Argentines to comply with the diplomatic formalities prompted Whitehall to opt for a small-scale intervention. In the meantime, a formal protest was issued by the British embassy in Buenos Aires. The Argentine Foreign Minister's response appeared to defuse the crisis; the note asserted that the Buen Suceso would soon be leaving, and that the mission had no official sanction at all.
By the morning of 22 March the Buen Suceso left Leith harbour. However, in the afternoon, a BAS observation post detected the presence of Argentine personnel and passed the information to London. In consequence, the Foreign Office chose to order HMS Endurance to evacuate any Argentine personnel remaining in South Georgia.
HMS Endurance at Mar del Plata naval base, during her trip to the Falklands in February 1982
The British moves met with a series of Argentine countermeasures: the corvettes ARA Drummond and ARA Granville were deployed between the Falklands and South Georgia, which would have allowed them to intercept the Endurance and remove any Argentine personnel on board. In addition, upon arrival at Leith, HMS Endurance found the Antarctic Survey ship ARA Bahía Paraíso at anchor. This vessel landed a party of 10 naval commandos picked up from South Orkney Islands.
Facing the potential for military action, the Foreign Office sought some sort of compromise. Lord Carrington proposed to his counterpart, Nicanor Costa Méndez, to indulge the workers presence at Leith, given the proper documentation, which could include the stamping of temporary permissions instead of passports, a concession crucial to the Argentine position. The Argentine intention, however, was that the arrival of any of its citizens to South Georgia should follow the procedures agreed on the communications treaty of 1971. Governor Rex Hunt strongly rejected this extension of the agreement, valid only for the Falklands jurisdiction, and raised his concerns to the British Government. Costa Mendez left things in a limbo; both countries were then on the brink of conflict.