On April 2nd 1982, the Argentine military launched an amphibious landing on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. In response, the United Kingdom flexed the last of its imperial might and deployed a task force to retake the islands by force. On May 21st, in a small bay, under heavy Argentine air attack, the British ships de-gorged themselves onto the beachheads, landing thousands of troops. For the next two weeks, Argentine and Britain would fight a brutal short campaign, availing themselves of all the benefits of modern conventional military technology.
However, even while British and Argentine infantry were engaging in some of the most ferocious close quarters battles in the 20th century at the Battle of Goose Green, sixty miles to the north British and Argentine military ships stationed themselves peacefully within view of each other and regularly communicating on good terms. What was this place? The Red Cross Box.
Before launching their attack on the Falklands, the British government suggested that both sides establish a neutral point on the high seas where hospitals ships from both sides could operate in safety. This areas, called the Red Cross Box was approximately twenty nautical miles in diameter and within its confines the peace reigned. Stationed within the box were four British and three Argentine hospital ships. Most of the vessels had only recently been converted to hospital ships, with two of the Argentine vessels being hastily converted icebreakers. The ships were periodically inspected by Red Cross officials to make sure they were abiding by the rules set forth in the Geneva Convention. Both sides were in regular radio contact to coordinate their movements and the movement of patients. The proximity between the two sets of medical units allowed for the easy exchange of wounded between the ships. One British hospital ship, the S.S. Uganda made four separate patient transfers to Argentine vessels. By the end of the war, the ships of the Red Cross Box treated hundreds of British and Argentine casualties. While a largely overlooked in histories of the conflict, the Red Cross Box should serve today as the epitome of the application of the Geneva Convention in modern warfare.
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