Ecojon’s comments are indented, with Craig’s comments thereon beneath.
“There is nothing in any of these statements that I would wish to retract and I have no intention of going through Craig’s point by point defence of the sinking of the Belgrano as my Guest Post was aimed mainly at the effect Thatcher’s warped economic vision had inflicted on UK mining communities.”
I must say I’m disappointed that someone who has made many reasonable factual posts about Sevco over the past year is unwilling to consider the facts on this matter.
“I will, however, make some general comments in a broader context of the Falklands War although I am all too well aware of the skilled dissembling that the MOD is capable of in keeping its secrets and the myths that were hurriedly spun by them and senior politicians over the Belgrano which – and I clearly stated this – ‘presented no immediate dangers’ to British forces. No matter Craig’s defence of the UK myths that was the actual position at the time the almost 50 year old cruiser was sunk.”
Then you are clearly wrong. Any Argentine warship in the South Atlantic posed a serious threat to the British task force. In addition to her own capability, her very position restricted Woodward’s room for manoeuvre.
Your talk of “immediate” danger belies your lack of understanding of how operations like this are carried out. First of all, politicians in the UK do not give orders – they’re not in the Chain of Command (unlike Obama in the US for instance). They make only high-level decisions that are carried out by the MOD. In this case the War Cabinet was advised by the Chief of the Defence Staff that the naval assessment of the situation required a change in the Rules of Engagement. It then has to be communicated back to the frontline and the Commanding Officer has to exercise his best judgement as the commander on the scene.
This does not happen “immediately”. Woodward shortcircuited the process slightly but it took over 12 hours.
Woodward’s request – 0600
Passed up to the Chiefs of Staff by 0915
Taken to the War Cabinet at 1000
Northwood places the updated ROE on the Satellite at 1330
Submarines operate on a communications schedule so it was 1410 before Conqueror dropped back to check for signals. Unfortunately because of her communications difficulties, it took several attempts to download the message cleanly and it wasn’t decrypted until 1730. She then has to regain the Belgrano group and move into an attack position, which she does at 1822. The attack was carried out 1854.
Situations like these cannot and were not micro-managed. You cannot wait until there is an immediate danger and only then react. Rules of Engagement exist to guide commanders in the exercise of their qualified judgement.
Even the Argentine Navy agrees. Hector Bonzo, Captain of the Belgrano, made no bones about it:
“On April 30, we were authorised to open fire, and if the submarine had surfaced in front of me I would have opened fire with all our 15 guns until it sank.”
“Our mission in the south wasn’t just to cruise around on patrol but to attack. When they gave us the authorisation to use our weapons, if necessary, we knew we had to be prepared to attack, as well as be attacked. Our people were completely trained. I would even say we were anxious to pull the trigger.”
“Approx a year prior to the Argentinian invasion Thatcher sent a signal to the world that she didn’t intend to defend the Falklands by removing the ‘guard’ ship HMS Endurance. There was also the “John Nott’s Navy Cuts” of the early 80s which reinforced the feeling Britain wouldn’t or couldn’t defend the Falklands. That was an irresistible lure for a vicious dictator facing internal pressures and is as old as time – deflect from dissent at home with a successful foreign war/adventure. Indeed Mrs Thatcher also employed it in the Falklands.”
She reacted to the Falklands Invasion primarily because it was an affront to Britain’s world standing in the world and her personal dignity as the only female at the international top table. I truly believe that Thatcher didn’t give a fig about the Falkland Islanders and their wishes but they were handy backdrops for her jingoism and desperate need not to be seen to back down which would IMO spelt electoral disaster.
But we mustn’t forget that the official UK Franks Report into the Falklands published the year after the Argentinian invasion concluded that it “could not have been foreseen”. Well since it’s official it must be right! WRONG!
And how do we know it was WRONG – through previously secret documents released to the National Archives – in December 2011.
In May 1981 Admiral Leach – The First Sea Lord – sent the prime minister a forthright note regretting that she was too busy to see him and begging that she spend “two minutes” reading his letter.
His note was copied to the defence secretary, John Nott, who also received warnings from Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington about the risks of withdrawing the icebreaker HMS Endurance.
Carrington said the vessel “plays a vital role in both political and defence terms in the Falkland Islands, [its] dependencies and Antarctica … Any reductions would be interpreted by both the islanders and the Argentines as a reduction in our commitment to the islands and in our willingness to defend them.”
In the aftermath of the Argentinian invasion, both Nott and Carrington offered their resignations. Carrington’s was accepted. Nott stayed on but left office in 1983. So Thtacher had a good war but not so Nott and Carrington.
Part of the dispatch, marked “secret”, is still so sensitive that one paragraph is redacted “under a 40 years freedom of information exemption”. I wonder what myth that is still shielding? And I really do wonder Craig how many of the so-called myths you claim to have debunked are hot-air generated by the Government propaganda machine to feed cake to a hungry populace drunk on the power of being Great once again. Pity about all the Argentinian and British lives that were an essential part of the ingredients for the Thatcher jingoism and steely determination that she would have her war after personally actually creating the conditions for it.”
She reacted because that is what the First Sea Lord advised her to do. No naval officer sends men into battle because a poor politician’s personal dignity is affronted.
Nor could any British Prime Minister could back down in that situation – they would simply be replaced by another who in turn has no choice. Again, it was the First Sea Lord’s proposal to assemble a task force that prevented the entire Government falling that very weekend. You only have to read the Hansard of the emergency debates in Parliament to get a feel for just how committed both sides of the House were.
Where is the logic in “manufacturing” a war that at best you have a very good chance of losing and, at worst a war that nobody believes you stand a chance of winning? That is the single biggest flaw in your argument.
Because that was the situation in 1982. The simply truth is next to nobody thought we could defend the islands, and once they were lost there would be no hope of recovery. Not the Soviets, not the Americans, not even Woodward when he wrote a report on the very topic in 1972 .Before the First Sea Lord intervened, the considered advice of the MOD was nothing could be done. The mood of the room was gloomy and resigned to defeat – both in the South Atlantic and in Parliament.
Make no mistake, the First Sea Lord left nobody under the impression that it was going to be easy or that the outcome was certain. Only that it had to be attempted.
Nor did the Argentine Junta pursue the invasion for domestic political reasons. Indeed the use of the military was originally planned as nothing more than a back up to a renewed diplomatic initiative. The Junta were determined to recover the islands by January 1983 – the 150th anniversary – by any means necessary. Planning began in December 1981 for a ‘soft’ landing in September 1982 in time for the autumn UN General Assembly, if the new round of negotiations beginning in February 1982 failed. Previous talks had gone nowhere as the British Government restated the principle that the wishes of the islanders were paramount.
When Galtieri became of the Junta in December 1981, he needed the support of Admiral Anaya. Anaya quickly took the opportunity to step up planning for the Falklands. His focus was ensuring that his Navy received the glory of recovering the islands. Setting the agenda, he hardened attitudes within the Junta to the point that the outcome of the talks in February no longer mattered – it was to be down to his Navy.
At the same time, a separate plan to land military forces on South Georgia under the cover of scrap merchants was under consideration. When the Falklands planners found out, they demanded that plan be abandoned in case it tipped their hand. Unfortunately for them, Anaya lied when he assured them it was cancelled. Anaya used the cover of the scrap merchants to land a small party of Marines, led by a geniune criminal Alfredo Astiz.
The British Government responded by sending HMS Endurance with a small party of Royal Marines to remove the Argentine presence – they believed this appropriately demonstrated the gravity of situation. This wrong-footed the Junta completely. They were expecting a nuclear submarine to be dispatched and were planning accordingly. They estimated they had no more than 10 days before the assumed submarine would arrive. Ten days in which to immediately bring forward the preparations for invasion and attack before the seas became dangerous. What was supposed to be a ‘soft’, almost diplomatic, landing became a clear aggressive attack.
This is what makes a mockery of claims, especially that of David Owen, that the war could’ve been prevented: not even the Junta knew they were about to invade the Falklands until just days beforehand. They had to act in less time than it took for a submarine to sail to the Falklands (approximately 14 days). As the situation escalated during this 10 day period, two nuclear submarines were eventually dispatched but by then it too late. They could only arrive a week after the invasion.
Endurance played little part in the thoughts of the Junta – she was ignored. And who can blame them when one of the few courses of action available to Endurance’s captain was to serious consider using her ice-strengthened bow to suicidally ram an Argentine transport. Likewise the Defence Cuts – the Junta went ahead even though next to none of the cuts had happened. And they were under no doubt that they would have to prepared to defend the islands – the reaction to the assumed nuclear submarine demonstrates that clearly by itself.
“Craig states that there was no hope of a diplomatic solution and that can be the case where such a solution isn’t desired by the participants and that certainly applied IMO to Thatcher and probably to Galtieri as well.
But for perspective it is often useful to step outside our own navel-gazing and look to another external and if possible more independent view. In that regard it’s worth looking at the comments of US Secretary of State Alexander Haig who worked tirelessly to achieve a diplomatic settlement and stated: “The mixture of history, passion, miscalculation, national pride, and personal egotism that produced a ‘little’ war that everyone knew was senseless and avoidable also contains the ingredients for a much larger conflict.
Now Craig had a cheap shot at me when he questioned whether I was: ‘better qualified to judge than two professional submariners’. I would answer the point by stating that many professional submariners and other well-qualified combatants make absolutely shockingly bad decisions in combat situations for a variety of factors ranging from stress to the ‘fog of war’.
So to return the cheap shot I wonder if Craig thinks he is better qualified on the diplomatic front than Haig.”
Haig had a number of flaws. In that sentence he correctly identifies many of forces that brought the situation to a head. But he failed to appreciate that everybody only thought it was “senseless and avoidable” if only the other side had backed down. It ceased, if it ever had been in the first place, about individuals or even governments. Rods were made for national backs. Thatcher could have been replaced by any other prime minister and the outcome would’ve been much the same. Likewise Galtieri in the Junta. Haig’s view was coloured by his own less-than-independent desire for a diplomatic solution – for he substitutes that in place of Britain’s need to repel armed agression against its interests, and Argentina’s desire to have the Falklands.
Game theory demonstrates it is exceedingly difficult to back out of situations like this – largely because ‘backing out’ or compromising means much the same as losing entirely. Especially from the British point of view where it had to be demonstrated that Argentina achieved nothing by resulting to armed agressive. Yet despite this Thatcher did actually go as far as accepting compromise proposals on two occasions before they were both rejected by Argentina. It was a gamble that could have brought down her government if Argentina had accepted them.
The fact is Haig took it as far as he could but eventually had to concede defeat. It can’t be called a failure because the reality was what he was looking for did not exist.
Far from being a ‘cheap shot’, I would say I was entirely correct to question your qualifications. Your reply shows that you are not interested in the facts of the situation and instead prefer to rely on your impression of Thatcher, even where it is completely at odds with what actually happened.
It is one thing to state that SOMETIMES military commanders make the wrong decision. It is quite another to simply rely on that general assertion and ignore the facts of a given situation. This isn’t history – its just ignoring reality.
For in spite the fog of war and all the other difficulties, Woodward and his fellow officers correctly assessed the plan of the Argentine Navy. Their judgement is validated in hindsight by Argentine accounts of the threat to the British Task Force.
“I trust Craig and others will excuse me for not basing my response on the planning and plotting going on in the control room of the Conqueror or Norwood – these were irrelevant IMO because Thatcher had spoken, knew what she wanted and that was war. I truly wonder what other ‘secrets’ will surface over the years which might give us a much fuller picture of what this squalid and sordid adventure was all about.
For those who want to look at the myths from an Argentinian and others viewpoint I would recommend: http://belgranoinquiry.com/article-archive/seven-lies
I give the health warning that it is from another perspective as was the minority House of Commons report and should be viewed in that light. But white hair has taught me that very few things in life are all wrong or all write. They are usually a mixture and the nearer they are to the centre of power and Government then the harder it is to separate truth and myth.”
There is not much secret left about the War. Plenty has come out and has been subject to academic research, both here and in Argentina. It has been clear for a long time, on both sides, that the conflict arose because of ‘cock-up’, not conspiracy.
I’ve gone into this all detail to demonstrate why your “no immediate danger” assessment is wrong. I also refute entirely your claim that “these were irrelevant IMO because Thatcher had spoken, knew what she wanted and that was war. ” It was the Navy that spoke and they knew what they needed to protect their task force and achieve success. It shows that you fail to understand just how risky and uncertain it was. You’re unwillingness to deal in facts on this subject simply elevates Thatcher to mythology, which does nobody any favours.
I would advise other readers that the health warning for the ‘Belgrano Inquiry’ site should be along lines of the health warning for Vanguard Bears! There are far better independent sources documenting the conflict, in both English and Spanish, than a website that makes some very serious errors in order to make the ‘evidence’ fit their predetermined outcome. Unfortunately the people behind it (Ponting, Dalyell et al) have little interest in truth.
As Woodward said in his autobiography: “By necessity, the military commander under the threat of missile attack is required to be more crisp than someone thinking the matter over some weeks later in front of the fire in a country house the south of Scotland”.
Posted by Craig