"Key to the Pacific" no more. The 1914 Falklands battle and the Strategic Role of the Islands

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During the Eighteenth century, the British Admiralty had gradually convinced itself that the Falkland Islands would become «Undoubtedly the key to the whole Pacifick Ocean» from a strategic perspective. Even in the Nineteenth century the Falklands, due to their geographical location, provided a safe landing place for vessels operating in the vicinity of Cape Horn and for those ships that needed to circumnavigate it. The Southern passage, hence, appeared particularly relevant as a choke point for routes to Asia. During the Twentieth century, however, the islands gradually lost their strategic importance. In 1914 the waters around the Falklands were the theatre of an important battle between the Royal Navy and the Kaiserliche Marine. Then, according to the famous historian John Keegan, «None was a match. The victory of the Falklands [by the British Navy] terminated the high seas activity of the German navy [...] After the Falklands, indeed, the oceans belonged to the Allies». This naval battle represented the last circumstance when the importance of the Falklands within the British naval strategy was evident. In the same year, indeed, the Panama Canal was already opened. It allowed the US Navy to navigate between ports on both coasts and to Asia without having to sail around Cape Horn. In a mood of friendship and partnership, the Canal’s use was granted on a preferential basis to Britain. Over the years the Panama Canal became the second most important choke point in the world after Suez, obviously to the detriment of the Falklands. Since the end of World War II, while the British Empire embarked on the path of decline, the Argentine geopolitical thinking tried to re-evaluate in a strategic perspective the control of the Falklands essentially on two basis: firstly, the possession of the Islands would allow to project national power in the area between Antarctica and the Southern Cone; secondly, the Falklands would be important in the event of the closure of the Panama Canal. During the 1982 war this last argument was raised by the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, too, but with not so much firm belief. Actually the British victory in the war definitively proved that the Falklands’ role shifted away from that of choke point to that of symbol of national pride.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorld War One 1914-1918, Acta of the 40th International Congress of Military History
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event40th International Congress of Military History - Varna
Duration: 31 Aug 20145 Sept 2014


Conference40th International Congress of Military History


  • Falklands
  • World War


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