Falklands 30 – Dockies, the unsung First Sea Lord and the same old from CFK

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems quite odd joining the ‘Falklands 30′ bandwagon, considering that a large proportion of the words written on this blog over the past three years or so have been about the Falklands! But I have been struck by three things over the last few days – the lack of credit given to the Dockyard workers, the importance of Admiral Sir Henry Leach, and the never-ending tripe emanating from Cristina Fernandez in Buenos Aires.

Firstly I want to pay a huge tribute to a group of people who were, for me, the unsung heroes of the Falklands campaign. The dockyard workers of Portsmouth Royal Dockyard – and indeed other places such as Plymouth and Chatham – prepared the fleet for action in an unbelievably short time. Argentina invaded the Falklands on 2 April. The Carrier Group – including HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes – sailed from Portsmouth on 5 April. Thats a turnaround of three days, to get two big, capital ships into action. The Hermes at least was destored. Many of the dockies – not dockers -were under threat of redundancy after Sir John Nott‘s defence cuts of the previous year, and his plan to emasculate the Dockyard. My Dad had left the Dockyard only weeks previously. Stories abound of men working round the clock, many setting up camp beds near their workstations. One Dockyard worker had to be almost forcibly removed from his machine after a 36 hour shift. We probably couldn’t put in a mammoth effort like that now, with a vastly reduced workforce, and much of it outsourced to private hands. There’s a great article about the Dockyard during the Falklands here in the Portsmouth News.

I’m also amazed by how little attention is given to another of the unsung heroes of the Falklands War – Admiral Sir Henry Leach. Leach, the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, happened to be in Whitehall in full dress uniform on 2 April. With his boss the Chief of the Defence Staff away on an official visit, Leach took it upon himself to seek out the Prime Minister. At the time Mrs Thatcher was in her House of Commons meeting room with the Defence Secretary, Sir John Nott. Nott was outlining the difficulties that any military operation would entail. Leach was kept waiting outside by flunkies, but one Thatcher learnt of his presence, she asked for him to be shown in. Leach proceeded to explain that an operation to re-take the Falklands would be possible. And not only that, he overstepped his authority and explained that it SHOULD take place. When asked why he said this by Mrs Thatcher, he explained that ‘if not, soon we will be living in a very different country where words count for little’. Liking this, the Prime Minister sent him away with approval to form a task force. Apparently John Nott went white as a sheet. Not only had he been outplayed by one of his subordinates, but his defence reforms were in tatters. I am reminded of the officer in Bridge over the River Kwai, who loses grip on reality and tries to prevent the demolition of the bridge.

Henry Leach and Terence Lewin were seadogs of a different age. Having been to war in 1939-45, they were cut from different cloth than our political commanders of current years. Would modern First Sea Lords tell a Prime Minister exactly what they think, contrary to the Defence Secretary’s advice? Sadly, politicians don’t seem to tolerate professional wisdom nowadays. If I were Prime Minister, I would rather uncomfortable advice from an experienced serviceman, than hollow rhetoric from a career politician. Henry Leach was 100% right – Britain would be a very different place now, if it had not stood up for its beleagured friends in 1982.

It never ceases to amaze me the rubbish that Cristina Fernandez comes out with down in Buenos Aires. This time she hijacks the anniversary of an Argentine-instigated war, to argue that ‘colonial enclaves are absurd’. I’m still not sure how exactly she can have the gall to say that, given that the Falklands were under British sovereignty before Argentina even existed. Argentina itself is made up of the diaspora of colonial conquerors in the Spanish. This fascinating article by John Simpson tells us the story from another angle – the growing domination of the press by the Government in Argentina; the ‘official’ inflation rate of 7% and the indenpendent rate of 22%; and the feeling that Fernandez has resorted to traditional route one Argentine politics by wheeling out the Malvinas issue when there are social and economic problems at home. The sad thing is, that the majority of Argentines appear to believe her tripe.

In recent years it has routinely been peddled that the rest of South America is at one with Buenos Aires over the Falklands. Certainly, no one has said or done anything to dispel this myth. But Simpson argues that Fernandez is taking Argentina down a dysfunctional and isolated path, taking the country closer to dubious regimes such as Venezuela and Iran, which more moderate South American leaders are understandably not happy about. Fernandez is propogating something of a cult of personality, Chavez style. A snazzy dresser (for an Argentine, anyway!), and quite possibly reconstructed by surgical means, she also rarely gives interviews, only broadcasting direct on national television. She has reportedly annoyed Brazil by proposing a non-nuclear zone in the South Atlantic – obviously with an eye on putting a shot across British bows. However, Brazil is currently building a fleet of nuclear submarines.

I cannot help but feel that if Britain tries to weather the storm emanating from BA, reacting robustly and being prepared, that eventually Fernandez and her ilk will have no choice but to moderate their behaviour. It’s hard to see it lasting for too long in that regional and international context.

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33 Comments

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33 responses to “Falklands 30 – Dockies, the unsung First Sea Lord and the same old from CFK

  1. John Erickson

    Don’t necessarily count out the rest of South America (with the exception of that nutcase Chavez) just yet. A couple different sources I’ve seen suggests that, while the SA governments are paying lip service to unity against the UK, in reality they are far from willing to insult the UK just to keep CFK happy. And even the Buenos Aires Herald, comfortably pro-government, has been writing stories arguing against agitating the UK government or the Falklanders (Falkland Islanders?) – not to mention covering protests by military personnel who remained in Argentina during the war, and were thus refused the bonuses paid to soldiers who actually landed.
    Not exactly a monolithic South American, or even ABC (Argentina, Brazil, Chile) response, at least from this side of the pond.
    I’ll have to dig you out a WW2-period poem somebody wrote, in praise of the ground crews who kept the fighters and bombers flying. It actually credits the support personnel with a more significant role than those glory-seeking flyboys who got all the credit (and women). In other words, my kinda folk – the support staff! :D

  2. x

    NSFW

    I am bit overwhelmed at the moment with it all to comment. Just soaking it all up.

  3. Mike Day

    I think you have summed it all up well. I agree with all of your conclusions. We are fortunate that CFK can probably do nothing unless she spends a lot of money on equipment. We are lucky because, since just after the Tories got in to power, we lost the ability to carry out Government’s stated policy of standing by the Falkland Islands.
    One feels that for the first time, intelligence is driving our defence policy. And yet we have agreed to spend the same amount on new snooping systems as the original cost of a carrier. Do they really want to take us in the direction of cyber warfare? Apparently.
    Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

  4. The current First Sea Lord did speal quite plainly – here for example:

    http://www.defensenews.com/article/20110511/DEFSECT03/105110307/Loss-of-Carrier-Strike-Capability-Top-Concern-of-Royal-Navy-Chief

    Cameron did not like it.

    See also a whole thread on what 1SL (and others) said: http://www.arrse.co.uk/royal-navy/162824-what-first-sea-lord-said.html

    • James Daly

      Now, if I was a Prime Minister, I would be very conscious that I knew next to nothing about military matters. Therefore, I would trust those who do. Within reason, of course.

      Lets think about a comparable scenario – would you go to your doctor with a bad back, then when he tells you you have a bad back, ignore it because you would rather you didn’t have a bad back? Of course you wouldn’t!

      I suspect that the reason the frocks do not like what the brass hats have to say is that nine times out of ten they are right.

      Yes, I am naive!

  5. Good viseo. What’s the URL?

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  7. Are the politicians bright enough to know their limitations?

    Cameron appears to be a weak leader who panicked at the last minute before SDSR was announced:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jameskirkup/100083011/rethinking-defence-cuts-the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

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  20. “Lets think about a comparable scenario – would you go to your doctor with a bad back, then when he tells you you have a bad back, ignore it because you would rather you didn’t have a bad back? Of course you wouldn’t!”

    Interesting analogy! But a politician would claim that it isn’t a problem.

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