Just over 40 years ago on 2nd April 1982, Argentina invaded the British overseas territory of the Falkland Islands. They are an island archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean located over 12,000 kilometres away from the British Isles. The Falklands were a community of just 1,800 people, primarily rural sheep farmers, the majority of whom were of British descent.
In the face of this challenge, the British government under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher organised a Task Force of over 100 ships, including naval vessels, merchant ships, and a submarine all carrying supplies, military equipment and troops. An extraordinary feat considering the tight time frame and the huge distances involved.
At the time Argentina was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship. Argentina had claimed sovereignty over the islands for many years and the ruling military junta did not believe that Britain would attempt to regain the islands by force. With falling popularity and failing economy, the junta saw the invasion as a diversion from their domestic problems.
On 21st May 1982 British forces landed on the islands. On 25th May the container ship, Atlantic Conveyor, a ship requisitioned by the Royal Navy was hit by two Exocet missiles fired by the Argentinian air force, killing 12 of the crew including captain. Due to the presence of both fuel and ammunition that were stored below decks, the incendiary effect of the unburnt propellant from the missiles caused an uncontrollable fire and the vessel sank three days later.
What else was lost?
Apart from fuel and ammunition the Atlantic Conveyor was carrying seven Westland helicopters, four Boeing Chinooks, and a Westland Lynx. Only one Chinook one Westland Wessex were saved. Almost all the Task Force helicopters were on this ship.
Did this influence the plan to retake the islands by the British forces?
Yes, the plan to ferry troops by helicopter could not be carried out, resulting in a significant change of strategy. The loss of these helicopters meant that British troops with the onset of winter had to march on foot across the wet and semi-frozen ground to recapture the island’s capital, Stanley. However, despite this setback, Stanley was captured on 14 June 1982 – the war having lasted only 74 days.
So, what do you think is the main management lesson from the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor?
Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Having most of the helicopters on one ship making it vulnerable to a missile attack was a very poor decision!
Can you think of other management lessons from the sinking of Atlantic Conveyor?