Negotiations collapse, and the British attack
Early this morning, British aircraft took action to enforce the total exclusion zone and to deny the Argentines use of the airport at Port Stanley." That terse announcement from Britain's Defense Ministry last Saturday confirmed what the world had steadily come to fear after a month of failed diplomacy: the war was on for possession of the remote, frigid, sparsely populated Falkland Islands.
In a sudden spate of attacks, British warplanes swept in over Port Stanley, the Falklands' tiny capital, and struck at the 4,000-ft. airstrip held since Argentina invaded the islands on April 2. First came a long-range, delta-winged Vulcan bomber from a base at Ascension Island, some 3,800 miles away. The Vulcan refueled in the air on the way to its target, dropped 21 half-ton bombs and, said a British defense official in London, left the airfield "severely cratered."
About three hours later, carrier-based Sea Harrier jets armed with 1,000-lb. bombs and cannons swooped in again on the airfield, pounded it and then streaked back out over the South Atlantic. In a separate strike, British jets attacked a grassy airfield 50 miles away, near the settlement of Goose Green (see map). Though one Harrier reportedly suffered minor damage, British officials called the series of missions a success and reported: "All aircraft and personnel returned safely." British warships also shelled the Port Stanley airport and perhaps other military positions along the Falklands coastline. A British Sea King helicopter was also said to have launched a strafing attack near the settlement of Darwin, hard by Goose Green.
The outburst of hostilities confirmed Britain's determination to enforce the total air and sea blockade of the Falklands that went into effect at 7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Friday. At that point, British government spokesmen had made it clear that Argentine planes on the ground, including the Italian-built Aermacchi light attack aircraft spotted on the islands, would be considered in violation of the ban on all non-British craft within a 200-mile radius of the islands.
The attack, if it did in fact make the Port Stanley strip unusable, meant that the British had virtually destroyed Argentina's ability to resupply its roughly 10,000 troops in the Falklands. The air assault had also considerably eased the task of protecting the British task force of 60-odd ships, some of which were now on battle stations within a few miles of the Falklands. In addition, the attack prepared the way for a possible full-scale invasion of the islands. According to the Argentines, the British task force commander, Rear Admiral John ("Sandy") Woodward, who celebrated his 50th birthday on the day of the action, broadcast a demand for surrender to the troops occupying Port Stanley. "No waywe're winning," replied the local Argentine commander. He added: "Bring on the little prince," a reference to Britain's Prince Andrew, 22, a helicopter pilot with the fleet.
On the mainland, the Argentine junta denounced Britain's aggressive action, but denied that the Port Stanley airfield had been taken out of operation at all. The Argentines also claimed that their antiaircraft gunners at Port Stanley had downed two Sea Harriers, killing one