Britain: South Georgia first?

Britain could gain several strategic and psychological advantages by invading the tiny island of South Georgia before trying to tackle the Falklands themselves.

Naval strategists and politicians here point out that South Georgia is well beyond the range of Argentine Mirage and Skyhawk aircraft based on the Argentine mainland. These planes, however, can reach the Falklands.

By making South Georgia their first target for an amphibious landing, British commanders would encounter far fewer opposing forces and far less firepower than they would find on the Falklands themselves.

South Georgia offers the opportunity of getting Royal Marines on dry land once again after an exceptionally long ocean voyage in cramped conditions. A number of observers here have been worried that the men's fighting ability is being reduced the longer they stay on board ship.

If British marines and paratroops landed successfully on South Georgia, and overcame the Argentine forces there, they could hearten the British government immeasurably by raising the British flag once again.

This would allow Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to claim that she had achieved at least partial success in her efforts to regain control of territories occupied by Argentina. And capturing South Georgia would give elements of the British task force a staging post where they could regroup and prepare to launch an assault on the Falklands themselves, should that be necessary.

It would also increase pressure on the junta in Buenos Aires without risking a large-scale loss of British lives. This is important to Mrs. Thatcher, since British opinion polls show support for her overall strategy so far, but widespread apprehension at the possibility that British forces may be killed.

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