Tuesday 3 April 2012

The Empire Strikes Back.

One of the most famous magazine covers of modern times must be that of Newsweek which was published on 19 April 1982 with the phrase "The Empire Strikes Back" against a picture of a British aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes, heading south from Britain in the direction of The Falkland Islands which had been occupied three days earlier on 2 April 1982 by Argentine troops (see blog of 2 April 2012).
The British government had had no contingency plans for an invasion of The Falklands even though the islands had long been claimed by succeeding Argentinian regimes. The prime minister, the formidable Margaret Thatcher, later to be nicknamed "The Iron Lady" by the leader of The Soviet Union, and her government rapidly put a task force together from whatever vessels were available at the time. The nuclear submarine, Conqueror, set sail from France on 4 April and the two aircraft carriers, Invincible and Hermes, departed from Portsmouth on the 5th April with a company of escort vessels.
It is rather surprising that only one postage stamp has ever depicted Margaret Thatcher (to the best of my knowledge). The stamp in question was issued by Kenya on 13 October 1988 as the top value of a set of eight which commemorated the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of the then Kenyan President, Daniel Arip Moi. The stamp depicts Margaret Thatcher using a telephone, seated by President Moi and also identifiable standing behind the two leaders is Mrs. Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher. Mrs. Thatcher was also depicted on a postcard produced in 1982 by King Card, KQP Limited of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. The post card was produced in a limited edition of 2000 and as well as depicting the British prime minister, also showed the Argentine dictator, Leopoldo Galtieri, who had ordered the onslaught on the Falklands. In the centre of the card was a map which illustrated the route, 7,500 miles long, which the task force had to take from Britain to The Falklands.
On the first anniversary of the end of the war The Falkland Islands' Post Office issued a set of four stamps and a miniature sheet which depicted troops, aircraft and ships involved in the British campaign against the Argentinians. Two of the designs show ships of the Task Force. The 50p value depicts one of the aircraft carriers in an illustration which reminds one of the Newsweek cover and the 13p stamp depicts two of the merchant ships which were used to transport troops and supplies to the islands.
Clearly identifiable on the 13p stamp is the ocean liner, SS Canberra, which returned to Southampton from a world cruise on 7 April and was then requisitioned by the government and prepared so that it could sail to The Falklands on 9 April with 3 Commando Brigade aboard it. The ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth II was also requisitioned and departed Southampton on 12 May carrying 5th Infantry Brigade.
The whole British Task Force comprised 127 ships:- 43 ships of the Royal Navy, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and 62 merchant ships. I will continue the story over the next few weeks.

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