Britain says assault on Stanley may be delayed

Delay. A new awareness of the dangers and the political price of the entire war. But stiffened resolve to press on.

Those are the three results here so far of the latest waves of Argentine air attacks launched June 8 against British forces on or near the Falkland Islands. The details of the latest attacks are still sketchy.

But it appears casualties to British forces and ships were heavier than expected -- so much so that Whitehall sources began telling British reporters June 9 and 10 that the final assault on Port Stanley looked likely to be delayed.

''That could be disinformation to fool Argentine forces,'' commented one military analyst here late June 10, ''because the British have used such tactics before - notably when they said they would take Port Darwin with hit-and-run attacks but proceeded to take it in one burst the next day.

''But there is reason to suppose that the casualties could indeed have lost the British men and supplies they need for an attack.''

At this writing, Defense Secretary John Nott was refusing to give detailed casualty figures because he said they would help the enemy. Speculation was that about 40 men on the landing craft Sir Galahad might have been killed. One other landing craft hit, the Sir Tristram, had only one casualty, it was thought.

The frigate HMS Plymouth was damaged but was still operational, according to the British, while four marines were killed and two Navy men injured on another small landing craft. Argentina says the Plymouth sank.

The news comes as a blow to Britain because suspense has been building up steadily each day that the Port Stanley assault is delayed. The British now want the fighting in the Falklands to be over soon, and they fear even more casualties to come.

''What worries me,'' the military analyst said, ''is that the British now have to go straight into massed Argentine forces -- 2,000 regular Navy and Air Force troops, and 5,000 conscripts.

''The British cannot pick them off on the flanks because the Argentines are now trapped right in the Port Stanley area, with nowhere to escape. They have to stand and fight. Even though many might give in, the British will find the final push expensive, I'm afraid.''

So far the British have lost upward of 120 men, two destroyers, two frigates, a big container ship, six Sea Harrier jump-jets, two Air Force Harriers, and 11 helicopters, according to figures published here June 10.

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