The white flags first began appearing late yesterday morning. Stunned British troops, who were prepared for a bloody house-to-house fight, watched in disbelief as first one Argentine soldier, then another, then dozens and hundreds threw down their weapons and stopped fighting.

A few minutes later, at 11 a.m. EDT, the Argentine garrison at Stanley sent a radio message to the British indicating its commander, Gen. Mario benjamin Menendez, was ready to discuss surrender. The Falkland Islands war was over.

As reconstructed today by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and defense officials here, British troops were outnumbered nearly two to one in the battle that capped Britain's recapture of the islands. The British said 11,000 Argentine defenders--at least 4,000 more than British intelligence had estimated--had been dug in around the Falklands capital, and they were defeated by 6,000 Britons.

As of tonight, all 11,000 have been disarmed and taken prisoner, according to the British Defense Ministry. The British also began rounding up 2,000 more Argentines on West Falkland Island. The British say they now have a total of 15,000 Argentine prisoners. Another 1,000 had already been repatriated, via Uruguay, last Sunday.

The ministry reported there were 31 British soldiers killed and 79 wounded in the battle for Stanley, which began Friday night and ended yesterday morning. Officials cautioned that the body count will probably rise when all of yesterday's casualties are tallied. A British military official estimated that more than 100 Argentines were killed.

The formal surrender by Menendez took place at 9 p.m. at the race course on the west end of town. Maj. Gen. Jeremy Moore, the British ground commander, flew by helicopter to the site in a blizzard.

Moore then radioed news of the capitulation to Navy headquarters in Northwood, England. "The Falkland Islands are once more under the government desired by their inhabitants," he concluded. "God save the queen."

In London, officials were just as surprised as British troops to learn of the sudden surrender. "We were preparing ourselves for a pretty unpleasant battle at Port Stanley," a Thatcher aide said.

Today the British forces at Stanley were attempting to cope with the unexpected problem of feeding and housing nearly 15,000 new prisoners of war, many of them suffering from exposure from the freezing South Atlantic weather.

Defense Secretary John Nott said the major immediate problem was that there was virtually no shelter ashore for the prisoners or for their captors and that the British were considering loading the Argentines aboard British ships as soon as possible. He said about 4,500 tents expected to be used for shelter were lost when the cargo vessel Atlantic Conveyor was hit by Argentine warplanes three weeks ago and sunk.

Besides rounding up the remaining prisoners, British troops were reported to be clearing the battlefield of weapons and explosives, taking a census of civilians in the war-battered town and handling other administrative functions. British journalists in the war zone said both the troops and the 600 civilians in Stanley were elated that the fighting was over.

Despite reports of privation among the Argentine defenders and repeated British bomings of the Stanley airfield, civilians told reporters that supply planes had arrived from the mainland as late as last night.

The Argentine defenders "had hundreds of rounds of ammunition, masses of weapons and plenty of food," wrote Max Hastings of the Standard newspaper in a pooled dispatch.

As recounted by officials here, the battle for Stanley began after dark last Friday when Royal Marines and paratroopers staged a surprise night assault on three Argentine military positions on high ground about five miles from the capital. Fighting was intense but by daybreak Saturday morning, all three points had been taken.

"Stealth, good navigation and surprise--these are the things that made that attack so very successful," said Lt. Gen. Sir Richard Trant, an Army planner. Britain initially reported that 400 Argentines were captured in the assault. Trant said today that 1,800 had in fact been taken.

Thatcher told Parliament today that 25 British soldiers were killed and 72 wounded in that attack. She said a total of 13 seamen died aboard the Glamorgan, hit by Argentine shellfire while participating in the naval and aerial bombardment that pounded Stanley through Friday night.

Throughout the rest of Saturday and daylight Sunday, British forces consolidated their hold on the three sites and began patrols to locate Argentine defenders at three more fortified sites about three miles from town.

There were two Argentine air raids that day, Thatcher said. One wave was turned back by Harriers before it could reach the islands, while the second made what Thatcher called "an unsuccessful bombing run." She said one Argentine Mirage jet was shot down.

That night, the British struck again. By daybreak yesterday, paratroopers had taken Wireless Ridge, Scots Guards held Tumbledown Mountain and Gurkhas were advancing on Mount William. Six British soldiers were reported killed and 17 wounded, although officials say they expect both figures to increase.

By 9 a.m. EDT, the advance units could see large numbers of Argentine troops fleeing toward Stanley from Mount William, the former British marine barracks at Moody Brook, and Sapper Hill, the last high ground on the outskirts of town.

British troops pressed forward to the outskirts, where they saw large numbers of Argentine troops throwing down their arms and displaying small white flags. At 11 a.m., the Argentine garrison sent a radio message indicating it was ready to talk.

Orders were given to the British forces to fire only in self-defense. "An air strike by Harriers was canceled," reported Brian Hanrahan of the British Broadcasting Corp. from the islands. "The guns of the artillery fell silent for the first time in days."

An hour later, a white flag appeared over Stanley.

Britain's Moore and Argentina's Menendez met two hours later. Officials here said Moore requested the surrender of all Argentine forces on the islands and Menendez consulted by radio with the ruling military junta in Buenos Aires. At 9 p.m., the surrender was agreed upon.

Lord Hailsham, speaker of the House of Lords and a senior member of Thatcher's Cabinet, today compared the British triumph to Henry V's defeat of the French at Agincourt in 1415. "This was one of the most remarkable feats in the history of arms," he said. 130:Map, no caption, By Dave Cook -- The Washington Post