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The Falklands Conflict has always had a special interest for me because it’s the first war I remember living through and seeing on the nightly news. I was 11 in 1982, and therefore well able to appreciate what was going on. I remember a kid in the year below me at primary school who had a brother in the Paras; he brought in a gruesome show-and-tell of looted Argentine equipment, some of it bloodstained.

This strange little war has also intrigued students of modern military history. Partly this is because the big confrontation of the late twentieth century, that of the Warsaw Pact and NATO, never actually happened, so smaller-scale clashes like these are the only glimpses we have of what might have been. It’s also because the Falklands was a kind of bonsai version of an all-out war, featuring combat on land, sea and air, submarine warfare and a significant moment in the development of the missile age.

It’s unsurprising, then, that there should have been a number of attempts to reflect the conflict in wargame form down the years. However, with the exception of skirmish-level games, these have tended to enjoy limited success. One reason for this is that to be anywhere near realistic, the player taking the Argentinian side would be hampered by his or her forces’ lack of operational ability. Some games have tried to get around this by building in mechanisms to differentiate between poorly-trained Argentine conscripts and British professionals, but to my mind this is missing the point. The relevance of troop quality is pretty much situational; even “poorly-trained conscripts” can be effective when dug into prepared positions up a mountain with plenty of ammunition, and conversely, advancing across open ground towards said positions will test the mettle of even the most professional of professionals.

In the light of this, the decision to make Mrs Thatcher’s War a solitaire game seems to be an eminently sensible one. The game makes use of a two-map design, one map depicting the strategic situation in the sea and air surrounding the Falklands, and the other representing the ground war on East Falkland and the air war above it. This enables all three aspects of the conflict (naval, aerial and land) to be played out with proper weight given to each. Under the game’s rules, Argentine naval forces appear sporadically, an obstacle rather than a threat; their air force is a nightmare, showing up out of the blue and potentially wreaking havoc, and their land forces are formidable, sometimes unidentified, but largely static. This is exactly how they would have seemed to British strategists in 1982, and the game does a great job of forcing the player to grapple with exactly the sort of dilemmas they must have done. One of the pleasures of this game is in coming up with plans to prosecute the war and then adapting (or sometimes abandoning) them in the face of rapidly changing circumstances.

The strategic and tactical levels dovetail nicely; game turns start with strategic actions at sea and in the air, and events there will go on to influence later-turn air and land battles on the tactical map. Combat is simple, comprising the totalling up of friendly and enemy forces, applying modifiers and rolling a die. The interest and uncertainty comes from imperfect knowledge. In the air, you can dispatch your Harriers to contest a patch of sky only to find that the opposition there is very different from that which you anticipated, and your advancing ground forces may encounter opposition ranging from enemy patrols to a regiment-sized formation. As with many solitaire games, you never have the resources to do everything you want to, and so it’s all about deploying them where they’ll be of maximum benefit.
The simplicity of the game’s combat system is the result of judicious abstraction, in which there’s a world of subtleties and which have the happy knack of replicating the real-world characteristics of the Falklands war. For instance, all of the Task Force’s fighting ships other than the carriers Hermes and Invincible, are abstracted into two Escort units. This is a stroke of genius. It means that when a non-carrier vessel is struck by bombs or even sunk by an Exocet, it’s much less of a disaster than public and media response at the time would have you believe. The Escort counter goes away for a while, and then comes back. This is exactly how it was in the war; the purpose of the escorts was to absorb the worst that the Argentine air force and navy could throw at them and thereby shield the carriers (something the Argentinians largely failed to realise). In the air, too, “victory” does not equate to destroying an enemy’s aircraft in their entirety. Rather, it simulates driving them off, probably with some losses. Over time, consistent success in air battles will gradually erode the enemy’s ability to contest the airspace over the islands, just as happened in the war (conversely, failure to win these battles will result in great difficulty in securing and maintaining air superiority over the battlefield). And on land too, the combat system does a good job of embodying the peculiarities of the Falklands conflict. Battles in the Falklands were not attritional stand-up fights that would continue until one side had suffered losses to the point at which they could no longer continue fighting. Rather, defeat for the British would constitute failure to take key strong points and/or failure to make sufficient progress by the time the sun came up, meaning that they would have to withdraw and regroup. For Argentinian forces, defeat tended to mean that unit cohesion would collapse under a sufficiently sustained and violent assault so that they would either flee or surrender. This is exactly how it goes in MTW, and it’s very much to this game’s credit that the player can see events of exactly the sort that happened historically happening on the tabletop.

Aside from combat, there was another dimension to the conduct of the Falklands war, that of the political and diplomatic milieu, which MTW deals with via two principal mechanisms. First, there is a headlines table, reflecting world and domestic events mostly beyond the control of the British military and government (some helpful, others not). This works well; few of the headline events are game-changers in themselves, but they do have a palpable impact, and do a nice job of replicating the perpetually-changing political environment in which the British had to operate. The other mechanism is a “BBC news” counter (nice touch: the counter displays the contemporary BBC television news logo) that zips up and down the turn record track to indicate rising or falling domestic and international support for the war. Broadly speaking, a high BBC News level will give you a boost in combat, a low one will hinder combat effectiveness and ability to move. This probably doesn’t entirely replicate historical realities. Even if they were aware of it (which I doubt), I don’t think British troops’ performance on the battlefield would have been affected by public support (or the lack of it) back home. And the war was never going to have lasted long enough for it to be halted by domestic opposition in the way that (perhaps) the Vietnam War was. However, the British government did care about opinions at home and abroad (from a combination of interest in their own political futures and a concern for Britain’s standing in the world), and the game needs to find a mechanism to make the player care about it too, which this is certainly effective in doing.

On top of all this, your sternest foe is time itself. With dwindling resources and the advancing South Atlantic winter, you have only nineteen turns to secure victory. This above all injects real tension into the game, and is a huge part of what makes it exciting (and sometimes table-bitingly frustrating) to play.

The rules are written in a distinctive style, analogous perhaps to a sparse and economical prose fiction voice, and it may not be to everyone’s taste. The rules are logically and efficiently presented with a handful of examples, and nearly all of them are intelligible upon careful (and sometimes repeated) reading. I think that there’s maybe one instance of the rules being genuinely ambiguous (rather than me just being obtuse), but multiple threads on BGG should clear up any confusion the player may have. Certainly, though, the rules don’t labour points or spell them out. A good example is the rule concerning the counter representing the SAS/SBS. This unit has the unique ability to hop between the three prongs of your march towards Stanley, which is an incredibly useful feature. This is clearly implied by the rules, but is not explicitly stated, leaving the player to infer it for him or herself. Similarly, there’s a “unit” that represents friendly islanders; they confer a movement bonus upon the stack they’re attached to. This is definitely stated in the rules, but is there to be found rather than being front-and-centre. The upshot of all this was that my appreciation for the rules grew immensely as I played through them, but it does probably mean that all will not be clear on first reading, and your first play-through will be a learning experience rather than your first game proper.

In summary, the game is engaging, intelligently designed, exciting to play and solidly representative of historical realities. In the largely unimpressive history of strategic-level Falklands wargames, Madison’s Mrs Thatcher’s War stands out as a shining exception. It comes as a thorough recommend to those interested in the conflict, and fans of challenging solitaire wargaming.

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Timothy Bowden
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Great write up - but I still wonder, since I already own Where There Is Discord, whether this adds enough that is different to make it worthwhile buying?

I do like the sound of the land campaign - that was one aspect of WTID I found quite disappointing, that the battle ends once the troops are ashore.

Have you played WTID?
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Thomas Huber-Wehner
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MTW is completely different from WTID.

I own both games and I think it is worth to have both games.
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TimothyBowden wrote:
Great write up - but I still wonder, since I already own Where There Is Discord, whether this adds enough that is different to make it worthwhile buying?

I do like the sound of the land campaign - that was one aspect of WTID I found quite disappointing, that the battle ends once the troops are ashore.

Have you played WTID?
The focus in MTW is more on the march to Port Stanley, which makes it a perfect complement to WTID. It still has some great, albeit abstracted, naval elements, and the air war, particularly Argentinian air cover and the harrier combat elements, are a major part of the action. MTW is still quite a procedural game, but it has been well-designed and the random elements are well integrated and 'to theme'; MTW also plays in a much shorter time than WTID.
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Nice review!

I have played both games (MTW and WTID) and they are very different. MTW is a decent game but I found the different mechanisms a bit bland and not very exciting; the random events are cumbersome and have litte impact on the whole situation, the way in which the actions of the Argentinian air force are simulated is a lot of work for little result.

WTID is good as a simulation but it really shines as a game: every decision is important, almost every die roll is exciting (and you roll a lot of them) and the random events can have a big impact on your strategy. The ground combat is pretty abstract but can be very involving as well.
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Tiggo Morrison
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Good solid review. I was a few years older than you at the time (so I suppose I still am!), but the war still resonates with me much as it does with you.

There are a couple of points I might take issue with however.

Quote:
...and thereby shield the carriers (something the Argentinians largely failed to realise)
I think this a bit glib and does a great disservice to the Fuerza Aérea Argentina. These guys were not stupid (neither pilots, nor commanders), and so flying 300+ miles out over the roaring forties in winter for sinking no more than an escort was never what they were about. They realised (just as Admiral Woodward did) how crippled the British effort would be without carrier based air cover. Hermes and Invincible were always their targets.

I saw the war as a university student from the perspective of a northern English town. In certain circles

Quote:
And the war was never going to have lasted long enough for it to be halted by domestic opposition
this was always quite close to the surface in all the local media, anything to force the hated Conservative Government of the day to lose a Vote of Confidence in the House and be forced to the polls.

In many ways, Thatcher's and Galtieri's views of a foreign war as a means to bolster domestic opinion were very similar.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the Islands themselves several times since the war and of course some of the 'memorabilia' to be found in Camp sticks in the mind. An abandoned field kitchen on the slopes of Mount Tumbledown. A conscript's helmet with a hole in it near Port San Carlos. The penguins strutting up and down the beaches where no-one could clear all the mines.

I have Where There Is Discord, and although a fun game, I had been left unmoved by it sadly. I think, based on your review, I might look once more at this one.

Tig.
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Robert Madison
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stuarttigger wrote:
In many ways, Thatcher's and Galtieri's views of a foreign war as a means to bolster domestic opinion were very similar.
The hilarious Smith and Jones World A(t)las put it similarly, saying the invasion was a desperate bid for popularity by Galtieri's unpopular junta, and the liberation was a desperate bid for popularity by Thatcher's unpopular junta.

A bit harsh, but still funny. That there was no measurable "Falklands Factor" in the 1983 general election was telling, but doesn't change the fact that what Thatcher did was the right thing to do.
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Never saw that "Alas Smith and Jones".

Not sure about this though...

Quote:
That there was no measurable "Falklands Factor"
Again, from my perspective, the 1983 election seemed to be a struggle between an unfocussed and aimless socialist Labour Party and the backers of the Conservatives who saw the War in the Falkland Islands as demonstrating once again how "Great" Britain really was (and conveniently forgetting the lessons from Suez in 1956). It seemed there really was nothing other than the Falklands War in that election, both overtly and unspoken. That conflict between left and right was to erupt in less than a year in the horribly destructive Miners Strike.

The Conservative landslide in 1983 played no small part in my spending the majority of the next 10 years working overseas. Odd in restrospect how one can be so disgusted with your own countrymen that you need to leave, but each to his own. Being away I did learn a great deal about the World which I hadn't been aware of at the time.

Sorry OP, Sorry Robert, I didn't mean to hijack your game review thread, but some things do touch nerves even after all these years!

Tig.

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Which cover did you get?
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stuarttigger wrote:
Never saw that "Alas Smith and Jones".
You've got to get a copy. They're dirt cheap on Amazon and you'll split your sides laughing. ("No country, however small and insignificant on the world stage is omitted," the foreword reads. "The United Kingdom, for example, has a whole page donated to it.")

stuarttigger wrote:
Not sure about this though...

Quote:
That there was no measurable "Falklands Factor"
The Conservatives actually got a smaller percentage of the vote in 1983 than they did in 1979; there was no swing at all to the Tories. What made all the difference was the Labour Party split and the SDP carried off a ton of Labour support. Michael Foot did a good job neutralizing the Falklands War as a political factor by coming out in support of it quickly so Thatcher couldn't claim the war was a Conservative achievement alone.
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Talossa wrote:
stuarttigger wrote:
Never saw that "Alas Smith and Jones".
You've got to get a copy. They're dirt cheap on Amazon and you'll split your sides laughing. ("No country, however small and insignificant on the world stage is omitted," the foreword reads. "The United Kingdom, for example, has a whole page donated to it.")

stuarttigger wrote:
Not sure about this though...

Quote:
That there was no measurable "Falklands Factor"
The Conservatives actually got a smaller percentage of the vote in 1983 than they did in 1979; there was no swing at all to the Tories. What made all the difference was the Labour Party split and the SDP carried off a ton of Labour support. Michael Foot did a good job neutralizing the Falklands War as a political factor by coming out in support of it quickly so Thatcher couldn't claim the war was a Conservative achievement alone.
I am going to disagree with this analysis. Comparing the percentage of popular vote at consecutive general elections does not tell the whole story, and with the "first past the post system" of election, the party with the largest number of elected MPs may not have the highest percentage of the popular vote. I recall this happening in the past.

My recollection of the early 1980's is of an increasingly unpopular Tory government, saved from election defeat by a wave of support post Falklands. Of course, memories from so long ago a worth diddly squat in terms of evidence!

However, http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-1979-1983 is a summary of UK opinion polls from the period 1979 to 1983, and it chimes with what I remember. Yes, the formation of the SDP did play a part, but I believe the Falklands War was the turning point for the Thatcher government.
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macbeth77 wrote:
However, http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-1979-1983 is a summary of UK opinion polls from the period 1979 to 1983, and it chimes with what I remember. Yes, the formation of the SDP did play a part, but I believe the Falklands War was the turning point for the Thatcher government.
The polling data are valuable but the only poll that matters is the fact that the Tories went from 43.9% of the popular vote in 1979 to 42.4% in 1983. It doesn't look like many people (or any people) switched from Lab/Lib/SDP/other to Conservative on the strength of the Falklands War. The seat totals are a whole different story, but obviously FPTP can bring about wild shifts especially when the #2 party (Labour) is split down the middle as it was in the 1983 election. I still maintain the SDP/Liberal alliance was the big story in the 1983 election.

For what it's worth, Americans have always been mystified by how little impact military victory seems to have on British voters (turfing out Churchill in 1945 after VE Day comes to mind!) but I've always ascribed that, perhaps naively, to a degree of sophistication among British voters that we flag-waving Yankee jingoists fail to grasp. (In the glow of her Falklands triumph, Thatcher's approval rating reached 60%; after 9/11 George W. Bush's approval rating was near 90%.)

This is off topic but perhaps still relevant: I read a book years ago by Canadian expert-on-everything Pierre Berton and he argued that a key cultural difference between Americans and Canadians was this: Americans love "politicians" (really -- we do -- we re-elect our incumbent politicians in enormous numbers and once you're elected to office it's very difficult to be thrown out) but we hate "government" in the abstract (government is always trying to take away our freedoms, or so the legend goes). Canadians, by contrast, hate "politicians" (the average Canadian thinks his own MP is a bum) but love "government" in the abstract. I wonder if the British may be more like the Canadians in that regard. But I digress.
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stuarttigger wrote:
I think this a bit glib and does a great disservice to the Fuerza Aérea Argentina.
I have to agree.

External image


Those things under the wings, right next to the unguided bombs with the crummy fuses, on the deck? Stone cold balls.
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alberic de mauleon
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stuarttigger wrote:
Good solid review. I was a few years older than you at the time (so I suppose I still am!), but the war still resonates with me much as it does with you.

There are a couple of points I might take issue with however.

Quote:
...and thereby shield the carriers (something the Argentinians largely failed to realise)
I think this a bit glib and does a great disservice to the Fuerza Aérea Argentina. These guys were not stupid (neither pilots, nor commanders), and so flying 300+ miles out over the roaring forties in winter for sinking no more than an escort was never what they were about. They realised (just as Admiral Woodward did) how crippled the British effort would be without carrier based air cover. Hermes and Invincible were always their targets.

Tig.
Fair enough, and I wasn't intending to malign the Argentine air forces in any way; they were, by common consent, the most effective arm of the Argentine military in the war. The point I was really trying to make was that an event like the sinking of the Sheffield by Exocet, for all that it seemed a major Argentine success at the time, was perhaps not so, and that the expenditure of an Exocet without hitting a carrier was a more significant loss to the Argentinians than was the loss of a Type 42 destroyer to the British.
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TimothyBowden wrote:
Great write up - but I still wonder, since I already own Where There Is Discord, whether this adds enough that is different to make it worthwhile buying?

I do like the sound of the land campaign - that was one aspect of WTID I found quite disappointing, that the battle ends once the troops are ashore.

Have you played WTID?
I haven't, and so I can't speak about it from an informed perspective. Well, at all, really!
 
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stuarttigger wrote:


Sorry OP, Sorry Robert, I didn't mean to hijack your game review thread, but some things do touch nerves even after all these years!

Tig.

Hey, nothing to apologise for; your discourse has been thought-provoking and heartfelt. Nothing wrong with that.
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CountDeMoney wrote:
stuarttigger wrote:
I think this a bit glib and does a great disservice to the Fuerza Aérea Argentina.
I have to agree.

External image


Those things under the wings, right next to the unguided bombs with the crummy fuses, on the deck? Stone cold balls.
Please don't misunderstand me; I do not dispute or denigrate in any way the bravery of Argentinian pilots.
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TimAllen wrote:
Which cover did you get?
It was the "Bride of Frankenstein" Mrs T one. I thought the other one was more aesthetically appealing, but I really don't mind.
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canonalberic wrote:
Fair enough, and I wasn't intending to malign the Argentine air forces in any way; they were, by common consent, the most effective arm of the Argentine military in the war. The point I was really trying to make was that an event like the sinking of the Sheffield by Exocet, for all that it seemed a major Argentine success at the time, was perhaps not so, and that the expenditure of an Exocet without hitting a carrier was a more significant loss to the Argentinians than was the loss of a Type 42 destroyer to the British.
This is my assessment as well. Having said that however I do think it was a loss that never should have happened. The downgrade (if you'll pardon the term) from cat/trap carriers to through-deck massively degraded the airframe options to the RN with the most significant loss that of AEW.

I understand the need to control defense spending (as a U.S. citizen I see our defense budget as absolutely ridiculous), however it's rare for politicians to understand the intricacies of combined naval operations and how such a change can result not just in the loss of millions of Pounds worth of naval equipment but the lives of her crew members. I don't see any budgetary advantage outweighing the simple fact that an in place AEW platform during the Falkands would have massively reduced the chances the Argentinians had at successfully destroying any surface asset.

And yes I know it's easy for me to play arm chair admiral now but even then (at age 12) I was furious when Reagan announced on TV that we would not be aiding our cousins with direct military support (even though we kinda did anyway). Devoting a few AWACS with supporting tankers to Admiral Woodward's use would have been all that was needed.
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KD7SVH wrote:
canonalberic wrote:
Fair enough, and I wasn't intending to malign the Argentine air forces in any way; they were, by common consent, the most effective arm of the Argentine military in the war. The point I was really trying to make was that an event like the sinking of the Sheffield by Exocet, for all that it seemed a major Argentine success at the time, was perhaps not so, and that the expenditure of an Exocet without hitting a carrier was a more significant loss to the Argentinians than was the loss of a Type 42 destroyer to the British.
This is my assessment as well. Having said that however I do think it was a loss that never should have happened. The downgrade (if you'll pardon the term) from cat/trap carriers to through-deck massively degraded the airframe options to the RN with the most significant loss that of AEW.

Precisely because they didn't have any AEW assets, the British had to deploy surface ships on vulnerable picket duty. That's what cost them the Sheffield. Fortunately for the British, the Argentine junta miscalculated France's reaction to the Falkland War: France embargoed Argentina right when they were in the middle of converting from A-4 Skyhawks to Super Etendards. Argentina had only 4 air-worthy Super Etendards and 5 Exocet missiles for them. Argentina wanted to sink or damage the British carriers but didn't have the assets to successfully attack the carriers.
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UK did not have AEW, but it has been revealed recently that UK had several submarines in position off the Argentine coast, trailing some sort of antennae which acted as a sort of early warning of Argentine jets headed out to sea. So I think UK was not totally blind to incoming air attacks.

RCairo wrote:
KD7SVH wrote:
canonalberic wrote:
Fair enough, and I wasn't intending to malign the Argentine air forces in any way; they were, by common consent, the most effective arm of the Argentine military in the war. The point I was really trying to make was that an event like the sinking of the Sheffield by Exocet, for all that it seemed a major Argentine success at the time, was perhaps not so, and that the expenditure of an Exocet without hitting a carrier was a more significant loss to the Argentinians than was the loss of a Type 42 destroyer to the British.
This is my assessment as well. Having said that however I do think it was a loss that never should have happened. The downgrade (if you'll pardon the term) from cat/trap carriers to through-deck massively degraded the airframe options to the RN with the most significant loss that of AEW.

Precisely because they didn't have any AEW assets, the British had to deploy surface ships on vulnerable picket duty. That's what cost them the Sheffield. Fortunately for the British, the Argentine junta miscalculated France's reaction to the Falkland War: France embargoed Argentina right when they were in the middle of converting from A-4 Skyhawks to Super Etendards. Argentina had only 4 air-worthy Super Etendards and 5 Exocet missiles for them. Argentina wanted to sink or damage the British carriers but didn't have the assets to successfully attack the carriers.
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Tiggo Morrison
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but it has been revealed recently that UK had several submarines in position off the Argentine coast, trailing some sort of antennae
That is interesting. Never heard of that before. Do you have a reference?
 
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For instance, all of the Task Force’s fighting ships other than the carriers Hermes and Invincible, are abstracted into two Escort units. This is a stroke of genius. It means that when a non-carrier vessel is struck by bombs or even sunk by an Exocet, it’s much less of a disaster than public and media response at the time would have you believe. The Escort counter goes away for a while, and then comes back. This is exactly how it was in the war; the purpose of the escorts was to absorb the worst that the Argentine air force and navy could throw at them and thereby shield the carriers (something the Argentinians largely failed to realise).
Its wonderful what a countermix limitation can force designers to do. :-)
 
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stuarttigger wrote:
Quote:
but it has been revealed recently that UK had several submarines in position off the Argentine coast, trailing some sort of antennae
That is interesting. Never heard of that before. Do you have a reference?
I had not heard that either. Clever fellows, those Brits!
 
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