Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
20 May 2021
Review by Rémy Hémez, Armée de Terre française
Across an Angry Sea: The SAS in the Falklands War
By Cedric Delves
London: Hurst, 2018. Pp. xxxviii, 341. ISBN 978–1–78738–112–4.
Descriptors: Volume 2021, 20th Century, Falklands Print Version

This book chronicles the role of the D squadron 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) regiment in the 1982 Falklands war and its commanding officer, Lt. Gen. Cedric Delves, whose last active duty assignment had been Commander in Chief Regional Headquarters Allied Forces North Europe. He received the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership during the Falklands operations.

The author places the story of the Special Forces participation within the greater effort of the "repossession." Part I concerns the days preceding the recovery of South Georgia (operation Paraquet), including the chase of the Argentinian submarine Santa Fe. The second (and main) part of the book describes the regaining of the Falklands themselves: the raid on Pebble Island, the landings and operations to support the thrust toward San Carlos and Stanley, and the assault on Mount Kent. An interesting appendix examines the weaponry and other equipment the SAS used in the war. A meticulous index and eight color maps are added enhancements.

This rare account of a Special Forces campaign by its commander gives readers a good idea of the types of missions they carried out in a high intensity conflict: (a) participating in deceptions, for instance, a diversion in the area of Darwin to fool the Argentinians about the true locations the landing operations; (b) raids on enemy airfields, like the one D Squadron used on Pebble Island to destroy eleven enemy aircraft along with a quantity of fuel and other items; (c) attacks on rear areas to distract the enemy from the main British efforts and apply psychological pressure; (d) careful reconnaissance of key sites. This vivid firsthand account is a salutary reminder of the nature of wars waged by near-peer adversaries, especially when they involve the persistent threat of aerial assault.

Delves clarifies the tactical reasoning of a leader in combat, as in the following account: "On the face of it the mission was clear enough, recorded as: To conduct guerrilla action against Arg[entine] Gar[rison] STANLEY area." But he added a coda: "Addl [additional] benefit to suck Bde fwd [Brigade forward] onto Mt Kent/Challenger" (237). But how to fulfill both missions at once?

I settled down to clear my thoughts.… The business of Mount Kent and the Brigade came second to the specified task of conducting guerrilla action. But the "additional benefit" started to take on the greater weight. Raids and such might achieve tactical gains, but the second carried campaign level significance. Didn't it therefore trump raiding? I allowed my thoughts to roam. If Mount Kent was vital ground, going begging with us in the area, surely we must take it; … But how did that square with SAS principles and the direct action exactly? If it means taking and holding ground, that would be an unusual thing for the SAS to do.… Meandering thoughts were not getting me far. (238–39)

His professional reading on tactical thinking guided him as well: "I drew comfort from a dimly recalled piece of T.E. Lawrence, on the benefits of leaving things sometimes in order to ensure the enemy continued to act in a way that already served one's interest" (242–43).

The author is remarkably candid in describing various Special Forces failures, admitting that things often went horribly wrong during the various raids and actions he describes. Notably, during operation Paraquet, attempts to land in extreme conditions and rescue a troop on the Fortuna Glacier are recounted in harrowing detail, stressing the uncommon bravery of the aircrew involved. Delves readily confesses his own mistakes as well. During the raid on Pebble Island, he botched the planning of the coordination of naval gunfire to support the maneuver of troops on the ground. A subordinate said to him "I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining, but do we need all this naval gunfire?" At which Delves realizes his mistake: "it came rushing in on me, crashing in with shocking realization: First mountain a long way out, would it be okay to start stepping-in the gunfire from a point closer to the airstrip? It all now made terrible sense" (168). Such frankness gives the reader a striking impression of the doubts and strains that beset a military leader:

My mind turned on the next concern: helicopters. Would they find us, be on time? What if they didn't return? Should we go back in towards the settlement to take the enemy on? Or should we high tail it down to the end of the Island? And then what? (170)

I heartily recommend Cedric Devles's enlightening and forthright memoir for what it reveals about the conception, planning, and execution of special operations by commanders engaged in expeditionary warfare over long distances. Military officers and any others seriously interested in Special Ops or the Falklands war will find Across an Angry Sea to be compelling and instructive reading.

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