Document created: 20 July 06
Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2006
Halcones de Malvinas by Comodoro Pablo Marcos Rafael Carballo. Ediciones Argentinidad (http://www.ediciones.argentinidad.com), Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2005, 480 pages, AR$50.00, softcover.
Halcones de Malvinas is a collection of almost 90 personal vignettes written in Spanish by Argentinean veterans of the Falklands/Malvinas War of 1982 between Argentina and Great Britain. The vignettes recount the experiences of fighter pilots, transport crews, helicopter pilots, ground troops, antiaircraft-artillery crews, chaplains, and many others. Comodoro Carballo, a renowned A-4 Skyhawk pilot for the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) (Argentinean air force), flew combat missions in the war. Previous books by this accomplished writer—Halcones sobre Malvinas and Dios y los Halcones—serve as points of departure for Halcones de Malvinas. Incidentally, the title may have a double meaning: in a narrow sense, “falcons” refers to the nickname of the author’s fighter squadron, but one can also see that the word refers more broadly to the spirit of the FAA and the nation.
The book repeatedly emphasizes the justness of Argentina’s wartime cause. British readers may wince at references to Royal Navy “pirate ships” and British “usurpers,” and a remark that British air operations “reminded me of Hitler and his relentless aerial assault against London” (p. 459) seems a bit harsh. On the other hand, the vignettes consistently make clear that the Argentineans did not hate the British people. Apart from some sore topics such as the British use of both Beluga air-dropped mines (considered illegal by the Argentineans) and the fearsome Gurka infantrymen, Halcones de Malvinas depicts a relatively chivalrous war. One especially gripping chapter entitled “Swimming among the Frigates” describes how the British rescued an injured Argentinean A-4 pilot after shooting him down during a low-altitude attack against a Royal Navy ship, gave him good medical care, treated him well, and repatriated him after the war. Similarly, the book mentions that Argentinean forces handled captured and dead British personnel with dignity.
The strong religious and nationalist undercurrent that runs throughout Halcones de Malvinas provides insight into the motivation of FAA pilots, known for their sheer bravery and audacity. The reader sees that for the Argentineans, the war was—and remains—almost a holy quest to recover lands they strongly believe the British wrongfully expropriated. Furthermore, one quickly becomes aware of Comodoro Carballo’s strong Catholic faith and patriotism. Such sentiments are important components of the Argentinean national identity, from which the FAA drew moral strength.
Unshakable faith in its cause interacted with religion and nationalism to enable the FAA to perform impressive combat exploits. Despite fully understanding that the British possessed superior military technology, the Argentineans confronted them nevertheless. Conducting strike missions by navigating at extremely low altitudes in bad weather enabled bold Argentinean pilots to repeatedly slip past British radar coverage and combat air patrols to deliver some very damaging attacks. Argentineans are also quite proud of their achievements in airlift and antiaircraft artillery. Additionally, several chapters criticize apparent British efforts to downplay Argentinean successes by insisting, for example, that the failure of many Argentinean bombs to detonate (a notable feature of the war) resulted from employing ordnance in unexpected ways rather than from ineptitude. The Argentineans also maintain that they damaged the Royal Navy aircraft carrier Invincible during a daring Exocet missile and bomb attack on 30 May 1982.
Readers unfamiliar with the overall course of the Falklands/Malvinas War will want to consult a reference work prior to reading Halcones de Malvinas. Although Comodoro Carballo presents the vignettes in generally chronological order and briefly sets the stage for each one, his book is not a campaign study. Additionally, American readers should not be misled by the fact that during the entire war, Argentina flew only about 500 sorties—a slow day during Operations Desert Storm or Iraqi Freedom, let alone the 1,000-bomber raids of World War II. Rather, one should realize that the relatively small FAA devoted practically all its resources to the war and paid a very heavy price, losing 55 of its members.
This book not only commemorates the wartime sacrifices of FAA members and their families, but also will help veterans come to terms with their grief over lost comrades and their lingering disappointment at losing the war. Indeed, a sense of frustration lies just below the surface of many of the vignettes. Comodoro Carballo continues to contribute to his beloved FAA by serving as an instructor at its academy, instilling patriotic military virtues in his students. Halcones de Malvinas offers many personal, tactical details about the human side of the Falklands/Malvinas War, nicely complementing broader works that address the war from strategic and operational perspectives.
Lt Col Paul D. Berg, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.