Falkland Islands Defence Force: 150 years of Voluntary Service

By Major Peter Biggs, OC-FIDF
November 2004

A celebration is being hosted by the Defence Force this weekend, in recognition of 150 years of voluntary military service in the Falklands.

As a response to the possibility of aggression from Russian warships and privateers during the Crimean War in 1854 Governor Rennie formed the first Falkland Islands volunteer force. The force, although not officially titled but sometimes called the 'Stanley Volunteers', was the forerunner of the Falkland Islands Volunteers, which subsequently became the Falkland Islands Defence Force.

In June 1891 the Chilean steamer Maipo called at Port William. The vessel belonged to the revolutionary party in the Chilean civil war and called into Port William ostensibly to carry out engine repairs. Because the vessel had over 200 fully armed soldiers and sailors on board it was considered a risk to the security of the Islands. Governor Sir Roger Goldsworthy therefore formed an armed body of volunteers called the Falkland Islands Volunteers. The first body of 37 volunteers was sworn in at Government House on 13 June 1892.

During the First World War the Colony of the Falkland Islands was placed on a war footing and the Falkland Islands Volunteers were mobilised for service in military outposts positioned around Stanley. On 8 December 1914 the smoke of a German fleet was spotted by one of the outposts and subsequently the outpost on Sappers Hill provided valuable information on the movement of the vessels. The end result was the resounding victory of the Battle of the Falklands.

During World War One 36 Falkland Islanders, many of them members of the Falkland Islands Volunteers, enrolled with Her Majesty's Forces. Ten lost their lives during service overseas. In 1919 the Volunteers were ordered to stand down. Later that year the name of the force was changed to the Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF).

During World War Two the FIDF was again used to man military defensive outposts throughout the Islands. At this time the FIDF included a horse mounted rifle unit. As in World War One the Falklands provided an impressive number of volunteers to join HM Forces. During the war the FIDF worked closely with the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own) and the Royal Scots.

From 1952 until 1982 there was a Royal Marine presence in the Falkland Islands and the FIDF consequently adopted Royal Marine drill and a dress uniform similar to Royal Marine blues. From the mid-sixties until 1982 the FIDF received training assistance from the Royal Marines.

On 28 September 1966 the Falkland Islands became the site of one of the world's first hijacking incidents. Nineteen armed Argentine extremists hijacked a DC4 aircraft during an internal flight in Argentina and landed on the Stanley Racecourse. Their intention was to stage a symbolic invasion of the Falkland Islands. The Royal Marines and the FIDF, reinforced with ex-FIDF members and contractors, encircled the aircraft and, using a combination of food, water, heat and sleep deprivation tactics, forced the terrorists to surrender without loss of life.

Following this incident the FIDF was put on a heightened alert and a section was held on permanent standby until February 1967. In November 1968 a light aircraft from Argentina landed illegally on Eliza Cove Road - the FIDF was again deployed to contain the incursion, however this time the passengers were unarmed Argentine journalists.

On 1 April 1982 the FIDF was mobilised, along with Royal Marine Naval Party 8901, to defend the Falkland Islands from a full scale Argentine invasion. On the morning of 2 April the Governor, Sir Rex Hunt, ordered the FIDF and the Royal Marines to surrender. The Argentines seized all equipment belonging to the FIDF and declared it to be an illegal organisation. Several members of the FIDF were arrested by the Argentines and sent to Fox Bay where they remained under house arrest until the Argentine surrender. The FIDF was reformed in 1983.

Today the FIDF is entirely funded by the Falkland Islands Government and follows British Army doctrine in training and operations. The Force is modelled on an infantry company (light role), and two of its main strengths are local knowledge and the capability of rapid deployment using Landrovers, quad bikes and rigid raiders. Through a secondment arrangement with MOD the FIDF currently employs a Royal Marine WO2 as a Permanent Staff Instructor.

Recent modernisation includes reconfiguring the Force into sniper/recce, machine gun, close combat, amphibious and logistic support units, co-ordinated by a central command. The Force supports the local community by providing a mountain rescue capability and trained search and rescue teams.

In 1999 members of the FIDF received training with Royal Navy establishments in the UK in the operation and maintenance of an Oerlikon 7 Alpha 20mm cannon, board and search, and various other skills associated with fisheries protection duties. Subsequently the FIDF has given the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department the capability of mounting armed deterrence against illegal fishing activity within the Falkland Islands conservation zones.

The FIDF is armed with the Steyr AIG assault rifle and light support weapons system, together with GPMG's (general purpose machine guns) and .5 heavy machine guns. The FIDF has excellent support equipment and night vision capability, together with a state of the art communications system that has the capability of giving secure communications, global positioning system interface and in-field email. In general terms the FIDF is very well equipped and now has the benefit of a new headquarters from which to train.

However, its greatest asset is undoubtedly the dedication and professionalism of the volunteers that give their time in order to serve their country.

Our thanks to the author Major Peter Biggs, Officer Commanding the FIDF for kindly allowing us to publish this article

Postscript (Penguin News, 12 November 2004)

More than one hundred past and present members of the FIDF and their families gathered at the FIDF Club on Saturday night to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first formation of a voluntary military force in the Islands. Guests were welcomed by the Officer Commanding, Major Peter Biggs. A presentation was given by WO2 Adam Cockwell and Sergeant Paul Watson on the history of the FIDF and its diverse current-day role.

Promotions of members of the FIDF were then made by HE Governor Pearce. Lieutenant Andy Brownlee was promoted to Captain, Colour Sergeant Justin McPhee was promoted to Lieutenant, Sergeant Paul Watson was promoted to Colour Sergeant and Lance Corporals Gerard Ford, Nigel Bishop, Owen Betts and Richard Morrison were all promoted to Corporal.

Addressing the gathering, His Excellency commented on the readiness of Falkland Islanders to stand to in their own defence, referring to military campaigns ranging from the Crimean to the Falklands War. He said, "That is a record of courage and commitment and bravery which I think Falkland Islanders can and should be proud. I think you should also be proud of the FIDF as it stands today. If the same proportion of the UK population volunteered for the Territorial Army, then there would be some two million members. That's quite an impressive figure."

The Commodore of British Forces South Atlantic Islands, Air Commodore Richard Lacey, then presented Long Service and Good Conduct Awards, in recognition of over twelve years service, to Lieutenant Justin McPhee, Corporal Gerard Ford, Private Stuart Wallace, Corporal Russell Smith and Lance Corporal Denise McPhee, who is the first female member of the FIDF to receive this award.

Husband and wife team Lieutenant Justin McPhee and Lance Corporal Denise McPhee celebrated their achievements with Justin's father Terence McPhee and grandfather Owen McPhee, both former members of the FIDF.

Air Commodore Lacey described the efforts of the five medal recipients as "outstanding" and expressed his pleasure at seeing the FIDF work alongside their full-time counterparts. He said, ". they are indistinguishable from the professionals. They are really unique. I have seen them operate on a number of different occasions and they are extremely professional. I particularly like the training opportunities that they present to my organisation. We would not have the training for the particular roles that we have, were it not for the Falkland Islands Defence Force. They are the most difficult 'enemy' that we have ever faced - they really give us a hard time." Paying tribute to the FIDF's success in march and shoot competitions and in the Commando Challenge, he said, "Yes, you do mop the floor with us. You are an extremely proficient and professional organisation and my hearty congratulations to you on the 150th anniversary of your formation."

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor of the Penguin News


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