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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Britain's 'forgotten' invasion of Argentina
Britain-Argentina
It's 200 years since Britain's invading army was routed from Buenos Aires - a mere footnote in British history, but, says military historian Peter Caddick-Adams, a historic event in the forging of friendship between the two countries that eclipses the Falklands fall-out.

Did I hear that right? Apparently we are now marking the bicentennial of the Reconquest of Buenos Aires by Argentine forces from the British in 1806 and the Argentine ambassador to Britain Federico Mirre is hosting a memorial.

If, as Winston Churchill said, battles are the punctuation marks of history, then the events in far off Argentina 200 years ago rate as a relatively minor comma. That said, what were the Brits doing there in the first place?

In fact this summer marks the first of two invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807: military expeditions that took place within the framework of the Napoleonic Wars with France.

Spain, then a French ally (remember that it was a combined Spanish-French fleet that Nelson attacked off Cape Trafalgar in 1805) was at war with Great Britain and one way of hitting back was for the Brits to attack the Spanish colonies in South America.

Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires weathered two invasions by the British
The overall aim was to gain control of River Plate - a large estuary between what is now Argentina and Uruguay - by conquering the dominant city, Buenos Aires.

On 27 June 1806 a British force of 1,500 men under William Carr Beresford occupied the city, for about six weeks until surrendering in mid-August to colonial militia, led by Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, a French nobleman at the service of Spain.

A second, better-resourced invasion followed in May 1807, under Lieutenant-General John Whitelock, attacking Buenos Aires in July. After a couple of days of intense street fighting, the British surrendered to an army it had considered no more than a rabble.

After losing more than half his force, the British signed a ceasefire on 7 July and left for home, where Whitelock was court-martialled and discharged.

War often defines nationhood: just as America was said to have come of age in 1776, when British colonists declared their independence from the Crown, so Argentina felt it had come of age as a separate state, having fought for themselves against the British.

In 1900, Harrods had two branches, London and Buenos Aires, surely a sign that trade had cemented the two countries
Peter Caddick-Adams
Within three years of routing the British, Buenos Aires established a government independent from the Spanish Crown, anticipating the eventual declaration of Independence of Argentina of 1816. This sparked the Wars of Independence throughout South America that ended Spanish domination in 1826.

When dignitaries gather in London on Saturday to mark the 200th anniversary, I hope Ambassador Mirre remembers not the British invasion, but its lasting impact, therefore.

In some ways, Argentina has much to thank Britain for: a war which led to her independence. Furthermore, some of the British, and Irish, prisoners-of-war from 1806 and 1807 decided to stay and took part, voluntarily, in fighting the Spanish military machine elsewhere in South America, securing the independence also of Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

Amongst these was Irish-born William Brown, considered the founder of the Argentine navy, who led Argentine fleets, first against the Spanish, then Brazil in the 1820s.

This obscure Napoleonic campaign also saw key British generals, such as Beresford, and another, known as Robert "Black Bob" Craufurd, tested in war, before they later took on the French in the Peninsular War, the setting for the Sharpe novels and TV dramas starring Sean Bean.

Maradona lifting World Cup in 1986
Maradona's "Hand of God" goal against England in 1986 poisoned football relations
Ironically by then, Spain had had enough of France - who had deposed the Spanish king and occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula - and its army was fighting alongside the British and Portuguese, led by the Duke of Wellington, to repel the French.

Of course, the Falkland Islands are never far from our minds when we think of Argentina, but they were never really a bone of contention until made into one by a military junta in 1982.

Discovered by English navigator John Davis in 1592, the French took possession and founded the settlement of Port Louis in 1764. The British, who claimed them on the grounds of their previous discovery, removed the French in 1765; meanwhile France had sold her rights to Spain who yielded the islands to Great Britain in 1771.

It was only in 1820 that the new country of Argentina laid claim to the islands, but the British declared them a crown colony in 1832.

Against this backdrop of benign diplomatic debate, to shift attention away from the faltering economy of General Galtieri's regime, the islands were invaded on 2 April 1982.

World Cup tie 2002
Maradona's "Hand of God" goal
Britain retaliated, forcing the Argentine surrender in Port Stanley on 14 June, but Galtieri's military junta fell shortly afterwards.

The invasion, the 25th anniversary of which will be marked by "major celebrations" in London next year - was a great tragedy for British-Argentine relations. There remains a huge English-speaking community throughout Argentina, established over the last 200 years. In 1900, Harrods had two branches, London and Buenos Aires, surely a sign that trade had cemented the two countries.

In some ways, the Argentine embassy's event should observe the friendship between the two nations, who have been allies for 200 years and opponents for just a few months over that period. Our real war, should I say England's real war, with Argentina is football, nothing else.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Two names are missing from the list- Admiral Cochrane (the inspiration for Hornblower and who's adventures are more unbelievable than any fictional hero's) and the incredibly named Bernado O'Higgins who both played a major part in ending Spanish occupation of S. America.
Peter, Nottingham

Excellent piece. This is something worth reading. Educational and informative both past and present. I do believe people should now more about their own history.
George Parnell, Fleet, Hants, UK

"Our real war with Argentina is football, nothing else." Is this a corollary of, "Football isn't a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that!"?
Ray Lashley, Bristol, UK

I can't believe an article on the relationship between Argentina & Britain has been written without a single mention of the fact that Welsh is spoken in the Chubut region of the country! High profile Argentinians (from media & sport) are fluent speakers of Welsh (Ex. Manchester United's Gabriel Heinze) and the author doesn't feel this warrants a mention?
Gerallt Williams, Manchester

Interesting read about our history with Argentina - I do believe though we should be handing the rights back of the Falkland Islands to Argentina. What right do we have a on these islands that our over 6000 miles from us.
Paul Taylor, Maidstone

It saddens me that most Brits just think of the Falklands War and hand of God when Argentina is mentioned. The locals were so incredibly warm and friendly when I went there last year, on my own and with very little Spanish. The people and landscape left such an impression on me that I'll be going back for 6 months shortly. Let's stop living in the past and embrace a new future.
Alex Palmer, London

Surely 'our real war with Argentina is football' applies to England, not Britain?
Alan White, Glasgow, Scotland

I was born and grew up in Buenos Aires until I was 12. The history of Argentina's independence is taught very rigorously to foster a sense of nationality and I remember very clearly the story of Britain's invasions and how the 'ordinary' people of Buenos Aires defeated the 'mighty' armies of the British empire. I was surprised when emigrating to England that people I met there never heard of it and seemed quite shocked. The event does, to my mind, bolster the idea of nationhood and how the seeds of independence sprouted from this victory against oppression. It also nurtures the city's sense of pride that it could defend itself against a foreign invader. There is still a huge ex-pat British presence in Argentina and in particular Patagonia, where many Welsh set up farming communities there. The relationship between the two countries is a close one and I hope one that continues to improve from the last 20 odd years.
Alex Laidlaw, London, UK

It's also a fact that some 600 Argentinians fought with the RAF in the Second World War and 116 were killed in action serving Britain and the Commonwealth.
Ian brown, Cardiff

I think you should appreciate the Irish contribution to the liberation of South America. You conveniently leave people to believe William Brown to be British when he was Irish as well as ignoring O'Higgins in Chile and his contribution to the liberation of Chile. In short putting Irish in brackets is disgraceful.
Chad Cavazzi, Dublin

Sorry BBC this is the sort of statement that still has old colonial arrogance that is used now to justify the modern wars, "In some ways, Argentina has much to thank Britain for: a war which led to her independence."
Marko, London

Interesting to note that large chunks of British or increasingly English history have been relegated to footnotes in history. No doubt it was far more than a footnote to the thousands of working class English squaddies involved in the invasions!
James Read, Southport UK

I was lucky enough to live for a few months in Buenos Aires and found the people to be warm and welcoming. Argentina is a fabulous country and one that more Brits should visit. The Falkland Island conflict (a name not adopted by Argentines) is a much more prominent topic of conversation there and is taught about in much more detail in schools - a part of history that seems to be forgotten about in British school history lessons. Locals were enthusiastic that British people were visiting their country and were keen to learn about it's history. A fascinating place.
Emma, London

A very onesided view of history, no mention of deporting the entire population of the Islands to the Argentine mainland! Is it right that the British Government continue to pay (mostly English) British farmers to work on the lands on the Islands in order to uphold the idea that the Democratic wish of these people is to remain British? they are hardly likely to want to anything else!
Pat Lee, Belfast

John Davis was not the first recorded European to discover the Falkland Islands. There were at least 2 other Europeans before him: the Amerigo Vespucci (Florence) in 1504 and Ferdinand Camerago (Spain) in 1540.
Mike Antonis, Larne, N Ireland

Some of the British troops had as a marching song "Green grow the rushes, OH" which led the locals to call the Britons "Los Gringos". Now the term is more often applied to Americans.
Michael Algar, Toronto, Canada

I and a few other work-colleagues spent some time working in Argentina over the last few years. I was struck by the sophistication, friendliness and plain like-ability of the Argentines. We were always made very welcome, and we were constantly struck by their hospitality. Conversations over beers always tip-toed nervously around the subject of the Falklands, but there was always a rush of mutual relief when we discovered that they frankly cared as little about them as we did. In fact the most contentious issue was football (hand of God...).
Gus , Norwich

Another cultural import in which the UK and Argentina share a good relationship is Rugby Union. The Pumas are a growing force, due in no little part to the expat communities and migrants since.
Owen, Bury-St-Edmunds, Suffolk

I admire Argentina and am fascinated by Eva Peron. So Much so when I hear Madonna's dance remix of Don't Cry For Me I was in Argentina last year and found absolutely no anti-British feeling, despite the Falklands War. The only comment made to me was when an Argentine man told me he was glad that Argentina had lost the Falklands War as it resulted in the end of the dictatorship.
Martin Lyons, Edinburgh

I have had the pleasure of working in Buenos Aires and found the people there to be welcoming, friendly and proud. British, Argentine relations and cooperation is part and parcel of Argentina's rich heritage. Lets not demonise the Argentine people for the psychotic acts of their 1982 military Junta. We British Will never suffer appeasement of tyrants but we do pratise tolerance and reconciliation to towards friendly nations and their inhabitants.
Philip Turner, Billericay, Essex

Another Briton of note in the South American wars of independence was Lord Thomas Cochrane whose successful naval exploits against vastly superior Spanish and Portuguese forces from 1817 to 1825 was the stuff of legend.
Steve, London

As an Argentinean living in the UK I find both cultures so alike in many ways. Argentineans love their beef (as British used to do in the past); are passionate about football, tennis, rugby and polo (all British sports); and even have a "British" tower in downtown Buenos Aires celebrating the friendship between both countries. Unfortunately the Falklands War ruined all that but, as the author says, it was only a few months, with losses to both sides. We should all look forward, pull together and think about those things we share in common. Let the past get us closer rather than pull us apart!
MJ, Reading UK

Fascinating tale of changing loyalties. If the Spanish who were our mortal enemies could later during the same conflict be considered our friends surely 25 years is long enough to forgive any wrongs of Argentina, especially given our long standing friendship prior to the Falklands conflict.
Stephen Pearce, Chatham, Kent. England

Not forgetting the fact that there are more Welsh language speakers in Patagonia, Argentina than in Wales itself.
Seb Dario Gomez, Miami, USA (born Sante Fe, Argentina)

Very well balanced story until the last line when it goes on about football, don't remember there being a British football team. An English maybe and the English are just a part of the Britain. Don't think that comment was particularly well placed or reflects the attitude of the nation. If anything rugby is the sport where every country in Britain has had a struggle with Argentina, especially with the most recent Lions tour.
Kenny, Edinburgh

As far as I am aware, contrary to popular belief and your article, the Harrods in BA has nothing to do with the one in Knightsbridge!
Simon, London

Football is a game and not war. To say that football is our only war with Argentina trivialises events, both historical and current. I would suggest that the writer looks at current affairs in Argentina and other South American countries that will illustrate that the politics behind the Falklands war, and it's impact on Argentine and British relations, rumble on. Why is it that the British press need to see everything in terms of football?
Tim, Hull

General Beresford went on to take a commission in the Portuguese Army during the Peninsular War. He helped to reform and reorganise its armed forces in order to fight for their independence from France. Perhaps he was inspired by the example of the Argentinians.
Oliver Clark, London

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