One of my readers, Craig, contributed this piece as a comment in response to some of Ecojon’s comments about the deceased Baroness Thatcher.
I thought it worthy of being a “guest post”.
Thank you Craig – the stage is yours.
“anyone with a crumb of intelligence knows that this could have been dealt with through diplomacy but she needed a ‘good’ war to ensure electoral survival.”
No, anyone with a crumb of intelligence would’ve done their research and know that there was no hope of a diplomatic solution. Argentina wanted nothing less than complete sovereignty. For all our negotiations about “Lease-Back”, the Government still accepted that it had to have the consent of the Islanders. Neither side could compromise these positions, especially once Argentina invaded.
As for this “good war” nonsense – when they invaded the MOD informed Thatcher that it couldn’t be done. An opinion shared by the Americans and Soviets at the time. It was only the intervention of the First Sea Lord who said the Navy could do it and at the very least we had to try. Nobody was under any apprehension that it was going to be a walkover (Admiral Woodward hoped, however, that it would be a walkover in the sporting sense of your opponent failing to turn up). Had it lasted a couple more days, had a few more bombs detonated… It was “a damn close run thing”.
The only way the war saved Thatcher was that if she had NOT stood up in Parliament in the immediate aftermath and announced that a taskforce was being assembled, her government would have fallen. It wasn’t boosting popularity so much as avoiding being kicked out entirely.
“And as to an honest fight – don’t make me laugh – a limping, worn-out Belgrano presenting no immediate dangers torpedoed by a state of the art submarine. And the French colluding with Argentina over the Exocet missiles which wrought havoc on our pathetically under-defended ships – there was nothing honest about the bloody carnage which followed and could have been avoided.”
The requests for permission to sink the Belgrano came from Admiral Woodward and the captain of the submarine who independently came to conclusion that the Belgrano presented a clear danger to the British Task Force. But I don’t know if you’re better qualified to judge than two professional submariners.
The Belgrano may have been WW2 Vintage (a Pearl Harbour survivor no less) but she was more than capable of holding her own against modern ships. Her WW2 guns would’ve made light work of the thinly armoured modern escorts while modern 4.5″ shells would simply bounce off her own armour. She also had two escorts armed with Exocet.
She was sailing just south of the Burdwood Bank, an area of shallow water, easily within dash distance of the British task force. Woodward himself knew from experience as he had once used the same tactics to sneak up and sink a US carrier during an exercise. Worse still, the Belgrano could have crossed the Burdwood Bank at high speed (she certainly was not limping) whereas Conqueror couldn’t without risking detection. Were she to lose track of the Belgrano, the next time she turned up could be attacking our fleet.
Woodward believed that the Belgrano represented the southern arm of a pincer attack with his task force in the middle. Somewhere to the North was the Argentine carrier group but the two submarines tasked to sink her (yes, they already had Rules of Engagement allowing that) couldn’t find her.
The fear was that when the pincer attack was launched, Woodward’s task group would face an air attack from the north while to the south the Belgrano and her escorts closed to gun distance, wrecking havoc amongst the fleet.
Woodward needed to relieve the pressure one way or other as he had a tight schedule of operations to conduct before the impending winter. If he couldn’t remove the Carrier, he had to urgently remove the Belgrano.
He had only two ways of doing that: 1000lb bombs from Sea Harriers or submarine torpedo. The Sea Harriers were too valuable to risk so that left Conqueror.
That is why he directly ordered Conqueror to attack her. He couldn’t actually do that as Conqueror was under control of Northwood and the order was removed but the Commander in Chief Fleet recognised the urgency of the matter. Together with the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Defence Staff (also a naval officer at the time), he went to the War Cabinet and told them they had to change the Rules of Engagement to allow Conqueror to sink the Belgrano.
Which brings us to Conqueror. She was not “state of the art”. Indeed unlike the Belgrano, which was in fairly decent condition, Conqueror suffered from various equipment issues throughout the conflict, particularly with her communication systems. Another issue is that her modern Tigerfish torpedos were unreliable so her captain opted to use the WW2 torpedoes she also carried. Despite these difficulties, the crew did their duty.
It’s worth considering the Argentine view. They did indeed have a pincer attack planned. Fortunately for us, their carrier was unable to put enough wind over her bow to launch her air group. Thus the attack was postponed until more suitable weather conditions – a matter of hours rather than days. The Belgrano group was simply awaiting the new order to attack.
The French, far from colluding with Argentina, were actually colluding with us. They worked with MI6 to prevent Argentina obtaining more air launched Exocets (the most dangerous but they only had 5 through the conflict). When the Task force was sailing south through the Bay of Biscay, they also provided fighter aircraft, similar to those we would face in the Falklands, to give our Sea Harrier pilots vital Dissimilar Air Combat practice. Next to Casper Weinberger, the French were our most important allies during the Falklands War.
While we’re at it, we might as well bust a few other myths peddled by ill-informed fools like Tam Dalyell:
“She was sailing away”
Totally irrelevant. Ships have something called a rudder and course is temporary. (In any event she was actually sailing for a point INSIDE the exclusion zone when she was sunk). What matters is her position.
“She was outside the “Total Exclusion Zone””
Again totally irrelevant. It had no standing in international law and was more a message to third parties to keep out of the way. We expressly warned Argentina on 23 April that the TEZ was not regarded as a limit of hostilities. The message was understood as the Rear Admiral Allara stated afterwards – “After that message of 23 April, the entire South Atlantic was an operational theatre for both sides. We, as professionals, said it was just too bad that we lost the Belgrano.”
“The sinking torpedo the Peruvian Peace Proposal”
No, it didn’t. The Peruvian proposal, which was really “Haig II in a Poncho” was not affected by the sinking. Indeed peace talks continued right up until the landings at San Carlos began.
Nor did the sinking precipitate hostilities. It occurred on the afternoon of 2 May. By this stage both sides were well aware they were at war. On 1 May Argentina sortied over 40 aircraft to attack the British task force. Few managed to find it but despite this, they claimed that they been successful in shooting down no less than 11 Sea Harriers and damaging several warships, including the carrier Hermes.
“Her log book went missing is proof it was dodgy”
Except it can be read here – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hms-conqueror-op-corporate-report-of-proceedings
There are many valid reasons to criticise Thatcher for without resorting to ill-informed claims, myths and lies. The latter serve only to diminish the importance of genuine grievances.
Posted by Craig