THE FALKLANDS WAR: THERE AND BACK AGAIN THE STORY OF NAVAL PARTY 8901

Reviewed by: Chris O'Flaherty

“Surrender is a hugely emotional moment”. In this vivid, often intensely personal, account of Naval Party 8901’s inadequately resourced defence of the Falklands, Major Mike Norman’s emotions consistently shine through the flowing narrative, culminating in his “quiet pride” when his troop on 16 June 1982 re-hoisted the Falkland Islands’ Flag outside Government House in Stanley. This new book fills a previously notable void in the historical accounts of the Falklands conflict by narrating the background, developing threat, and Argentine invasion of the islands from the perspective of the regularly rotated defensive garrison. It is baselined from the generation of 1982’s deploying team, consisting of a Captain (RM) or Major plus 42 Marines tasked to defend an area roughly the size of Wales. Using his personal memoirs together with the diaries of some of his Naval Party, Mike Norman navigates the reader through his perfunctory pre-deployment briefings, outdated handover notes, obfuscated exposure to emerging intelligence, and the still familiar bureaucracy of trying to get ‘the system’ to repair one of only two token fire-support mortars, let alone to supply the garrison with sufficient effective weaponry to execute their mission.

The coincidence of the annual handover of the Naval Party being at the same time as the invasion meant that the initial action to defend the Islands was actually undertaken by 69 Marines. Mike Norman sets out, with the full authority of the man actually in Command, his plans, his fears (facing an invasion force of about 2,000), and the emotions within his team as his brave Royal Marines settled down to the task of resisting the enemy. The fact should not be lost to history that tears were running down his face as he shook each hand after his Orders Group, listening to a whistled marines’ refrain of Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. His marines, stoic and proud, had just resigned themselves to a glorious death in defence of British territory.

Much of the narrative is, correctly, devoted to putting straight the record of what really happened in those fateful hours as the Islands were invaded. That the British press succumbed to the lies of the Argentine information machine and reprinted as supposed fact the false claims of a bloodless capture of the islands, may be seen not only as a national disgrace but also a lesson for modern practitioners of Information Warfare. With the record now corrected by this narrative, as well as by the recent book by Ricky Phillips (The First Casualty) to which Mike Norman cross-refers, the heroism of the garrison can now be recognised. In a desperate defence that was most certainly not ‘bloodless’ they fired 6,450 rounds of 7.62mm, 12 rounds of larger calibre weaponry, killed at least five Argentines (probably many more), wounded at least 17 enemy and took three Prisoners of War.  And, the main body of the Royal Marines’ NP8901 never truly surrendered – they were ordered to ‘lay down our arms’ by the Islands’ Governor. That they suffered no casualties themselves is best summed up by Sir Rex Hunt: “Professionalism”.

This memoir of inadequate intelligence, bureaucratic indecision, overwhelming invasion and often black humour is an enlightening read that should find its place on the bookshelves of all those with an interest in the Falklands, as well as those who wish to understand the fear and the fortitude of those who fight in close combat.