Tag Archives: argentina

Falklands 30 – the sinking of the Belgrano

The Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano lis...

The first heavy loss of life in the Falklands War occured when the British Submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sank the Argentine Crusier, the General Belgrano on 3 May 1982.

The ARA General Belgrano was a Brooklyn Class Cruiser, originally built for the US Navy as USS Phoenix. In that guise she served throughout the Second World War, before being sold to Argentina and renamed in 1955. In 1982 she had an armament of 15 6-inch guns, 5 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, as well as 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. In 1968 she was retro-fitted with Sea Cat missile systems, which we obsolescent in 1982. As a WW2 vintage ship she had relatively thick armour compared to other Falklands-ear ships, her main belt of armour being 5.5 inches thick, and her deck armour 2 inches. The Belgrano did not actually take part in the operations to invade the Islands – Operation Rosario – but eventually put to see from Ushaia in southern Argentina on 26 April, accompanied by her two destroyer escorts, ARA Piedra Buena and ARA ARA Bouchard (both also ex-US Navy ships).

The British battle group had entered the north east of the exclusion zone around the islands on 1 May. The Task Force Commander, Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward, feared that the Belgrano and her escorts would form the southern part of a pincer attack by the Argentine fleet, with the northern pincer formed of the aircraft carrier Vienticino de Mayo. The de Mayo had actually been preparing to launch a Skyhawk strike on the British fleet on 2 May, when light winds made it impossible to launch aircraft. She was also escorted by two Type 42 Destroyers, Santissima Trinidad and Hercules. HMS Spartan had been assigned to track down the de Mayo, and although she never located the carrier, Woodward’s memoirs suggest that if she had, she would have been sunk.

There seems to have been a lot of controversy in recent years about the sinking of the Belgrano. It has been painted as a monstrous, heavy-handed or even illegal act by left-wingers, anti-war activits and Argentines alike. Nobody in Argentina – in particular men on the Belgrano – seems to have been aggrieved that the Conqueror attacked the Belgrano whilst she was outside the exclusion zone. Hovering around the edge of a war zone, with clearly hostile intent, is asking to be sunk. On 23 April a message was passed to the Argentine government via the Swiss Embassy in Buenos Aires, to inform that although the British Government had announced a maritime exclusion zone, it would not limit its actions to within this zone if hostile threats occured outside of the zone. This is an important point to make. Essentially, any Argentine ship leaving port was liable to be attacked.

Sandy Woodward later said that “the speed and direction of an enemy ship can be irrelevant, because both can change quickly. What counts is his position, his capability and what I believe to be his intention”. The decision to torpedo the Belgrano was taken after much deliberation, though the military chain of command and at war cabinet level. It was not a decision that seems to have been taken lightly. Indeed, Conqueror seems to have been tracking the Belgrano for three days before she attacked – hardly ideal, militarily, as it placed the Conqueror at much risk, but it does show that due diligence was taken. We also need to recognise that the sinking of the Belgrano did represent a fine feat of arms by the Conqueror’s crew and her Captain Christopher Wreford-Brown. It certainly suggests that British submarine’s were very effective, not surprising given that they had spent years practising their craft in the North Atlantic shadow-boxing with the Soviet submarine fleet.

Interestingly, a book published in 2011 suggested that signals intelligence showed that the Belgrano was actually steaming towards a rendevouz inside the exclusion zone, which clearly would signal hostile intent. Accounts from survivors suggest that the ship was not in a high state of defence – neither the Belgrano nor her two destroyers were zig-zagging. Compare this lax state to some of the vigorous anti-submarine actions taken by the British task force during the war. It is absolutely tragic that over three hundred young men died when the Belgrano was sunk. But it is even more tragic that they were condemmed to their deaths by a Government and a Navy that sent young, poorly trained conscripts sea in an obsolete ship, with inadequate anti-submarine defences, lifejackets or liferafts.

What might have happened had the Belgrano not been sunk? Certainly, her 6-inch guns outranged and outgunned anything that the British fleet had. They were almost certainly outranged by surface missiles such as Exocet, but none the less the Belgrano and her task force, could, potentially, have caused some damage to the task force. In particular, if the de Mayo had managed to launch air strikes, and the Belgrano had appeared from the south, a double threat might have been a bit of a problem. Add into that mix the potential for Super Etendard Exocet strikes, then we can see that it was important for the British to remove whatever threats they could, however they could.

The sinking of the Belgrano not only removed the Argentine Navy‘s second most dangerous ship from the war, it also had a serious morale effect – not only did it provide a boost early in the war, but it also compelled the Argentine Navy – agitators in starting the war in the first place – to scurry back into port and not sail out again for the rest of the conflict. This superiority of the waves made the British Task Force’s job that little less difficult when it came to gaining a degree of air superiority, and then eventually landing on the Falklands.

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CFK – a latter day Nasser?

Logotype of the former Yacimientos Petrolífero...

It’s struck me that the Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner has been behaving in a very similar manner to Nasser, the Egyptian leader who nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956.

Earlier today the Argentine Senate backed the nationalisation of the oil company YPF, even though a controlling stake is owned by the spanish company Repsol. Obviously, this has drawn negative reaction from Spain, the European Union and the World Trade Organisation. Unilateral nationalisations don’t tend to go down too well in a free market world. And all this comes just weeks after CFK announced that Argentina would be seeking international support over their Falklands claims,  in particular targeting Spain who it was felt might sympathise due to the Gibraltar issue. Nobody in their right mind will want to invest in Argentina – why would you, if you would always be looking over your shoulder, wondering whether your investment is going to go into CFK’s slush fund? It’s not the kind of thing that the US smiles upon. And whether we like it or not, US influence over what goes on in the world is crucial, in particular when it comes to lending support over disputes such as the Falklands.

Now, you won’t often hear pro-capitalist commentaries on this blog. In fact, in theory I am not a fan of so-called free-trade, which seems more like a banner for freedom to exploit. But, thinking about it from an Argentine point of view, I really don’t get what she is trying to achieve. It’s not very pragmatic at all. You can’t ask a country to support you on the one hand, and then nationalise the interests of a major company on the other. Not only will such actions dent Argentina’s image abroad, but it also gives an impression of an inconsistent and unpragmatic administration, trying to have their cake and eat it. It also reinforces perceptions among some Latin American countries that CFK is taking Argentina too far down a socialist path, in a very Chavez-esque manner.

The funny thing is, the nationalisation of YPF seems to have gone down a storm in Argentina. Does it not occur to the Argentina populace that they are being played like fools? One has to look beyond the flag-waving, nationalist aspect, and look at the longer term impact, which can only be harmful to Argentina in the long run. The YPF issue shows just how fickle and populist Argentine politics can be. Substitute ‘YPF’ for ‘Falklands’, and you can see a pattern – President plays for the popular vote, everyone comes out waving flags, but in the long run it doesn’t work out.

I suspect that if Britain can ride out this current Falklands hysteria that CFK is whipping up – almost in a ‘Keep Calm and Carry On‘ style – then sooner or later she will be gone, and a slightly more sensible and mature leadership in Buenos Aires might realise that the same populist agitation that gets them elected also isloates Argentina, quite needlessly.

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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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Falklands Anniversary events in Portsmouth

  

  

  

  

  

  

HMS York-Portsmouth-02

HMS York (Image via Wikipedia)

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will host a special ‘mini-Navy Days‘ over the weekend of 5 and 6 May to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.

HMS Dragon, the fourth brand-new Type 45 Destroyer, and HMS York a Batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer will both be open to visitors from 10am until 3.30pm. Living history group Forces 80 will be wearing naval and Argentinian uniforms and display kit and deactivated weapons from the war, and the Band of HM Royal Marines from HMS Collingwood in Fareham are due to perform in Victory Arena near HMS Victory at 11am and 3pm both days.

Click here for the Portsmouth News report about the event.

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Ordinary Heroes: Untold Stories from the Falklands Campaign by Christopher Hilton

With the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War coming up in a matter of weeks, we will probably see a considerable amount of new books being dedicated to the war. This book by Christopher Hilton is the first ‘Falklands 30′ book that I have received.

I find it quite an interesting concept that  Hilton – in stark contrast to, say, the Falklands book by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins – chose to write about only men who were on the very lowest ladder of the military hierarchy – privates, sailors and marines. The idea was, as he explains, that they were the men who were most at mercy of events – they could not give orders to anyone, only follow. Included are naval ratings, a man who was on the Atlantic Conveyor, marines, paras and a sapper. As you might expect, I wholeheartedly approve of such a ‘grass roots’ level of history.

The are some fascinating anecdotes here, the kind that you only get from an oral history based, down to earth approach such as this. There’s the chinese laundryman who hid from air raids in one of the ships tumbloe dryers, and was awarded the British Empire Medal. One rating had to send a brief telegram home from HMS Sheffield when she was sent south, telling his fiance to cancel their impending wedding. One man who lost an eye in the war found that he was not allowed to become a postman or a traffic warden, but could become a taxi driver!

What I find interesting, is that in place some of the recollections of these blokes are at odds with the history books. To take one example, one of the men featured refers to one of the Marine Commando’s going to the Falklands onboard HMS Ark Royal or HMS Bulwark. In fact, the Ark had been scrapped and Bulwark was rusting in Portsmouth Dockyard. He must have meant their close sibling HMS Hermes. But what this story does portray, is that the men on the ground were not necessarily completely in the loop all of the time about major events – they seem to have been overwhelmingly concerned with what was happening in front of them, and their mates next to them.

For me, the clincher which makes this book so important is the prominent space given to coverage of the hidden wounds of war – namely, the high number of Falklands veterans who have suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the years since the war. In fact, it is an oft-quoted belief that more Falklands survivors have committed suicide in the ensuing years, than the number of men who died there in 1982. Whilst the Americans had learnt about PTSD in Vietnam, it was still a relative unknown to the British military. Each of the interviews talked remarkably candidly about their experiences post-war – in some cases alcohol, crime and even prison sentences feature. They talk about the strain on relationships, especially with their families. They also talk about their returns to the battlefields, and how this affected them. Intriguingly, several of them note with approval that men fighting in Afghanistan now receive very good after-care for mental trauma issues.

I was transfixed by this book. I hardly put it down from cover to cover.

Ordinary Heroes is published by The History Press

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Argentina take Falklands issues to the UN

ID: DN-SC-94-01949 Service Depicted: Navy A po...

Image via Wikipedia

The Argentines have been steadily ratcheting up the pressure on the Falklands for the past few years, and yesterday the Argentine Foreign Minister met with the Secretary General of the United Nations to air the South American country’s grievances.

I spent a fair bit of time studying the history of the United Nations some years ago, and took part in a few model United Nations debates. Therefore you could say I have a bit of an insight into how the organisation works. It is certainly not an idyllic, righteous organisation like it was intended to be. In reality, it is dominated by the large block of non-aligned countries who vote en-masse, and in particular ex-colonial countries who still have a chip on their shoulders about imperialism. Hence Britain often comes in for a bit of a bashing at the UN.

Lets look at the history of Britain and decolonialisation. Britain effectively gave up much of her Empire post-1945, and it has to be said, handled it much better than other decolonising countries, such as France, Belgium, Holland, and even Portugal. Yet somehow that fact seems to go un-noticed. Seeing the Falklands through the prism of colonialism is misleading, as the islands themselves never had any kind of population before British settlers arrived over two hundred years ago. At that point, Argentina did not even exist. Argentina itself is a nation of settlers – in the last Argentine census, only 1.6% of the population declared themselves to be descended from Amerindians. In that case, when are the other 98.4% going to be catching a flight home to Madrid?

To any observer with more than one brain cell, the Argentinians are shooting themselves in the foot by marching to the United Nations under the banner of colonialism. The United Nations is based on one fundamental tenet above all overs – that all human beings are born free and equal, and have the right to choose the kind of governance under which they live. Therefore, effectively Argentina wants to over-ride the fundamental principles of the United Nations, by annexing a country that is populated by citizens who wish to chose a different path for their destiny. 70 years ago, such policies drove Europe to war. The United Nations was founded to prevent war, yet by constantly listening to the Argentines morally and intellectually bankrupt histrionics, the UN is emboldening Fernandez Kirchner’s regime.

The Argentine Foreign Ministers claims about British escalation were also clearly untrue. We need to be very clear of the difference between nuclear POWERED submarines and nuclear ARMED submarines. South America is indeed a non-nuclear zone, a treaty to which Britain has long been a signatory. But think about it – Britain has four Vanguard Class Ballistic Missile submarines, which are armed with Trident nuclear missiles. These are to provide a nuclear deterrent against countries which might threaten a nuclear strike on Britain. Despite the end of the Cold War, this pretty much constitutes Russia. And perhaps China and some rogue states. Out of the four Vanguard class boats, usually one is ever on patrol under the waves. Why would Britain denude her nuclear deterrent by sending a sub to sit off Argentina? In any case, using nuclear missiles on a country like Argentina would hardly help Britain’s cause.

Now nuclear POWERED submarines are different – we have more of them, of the Astute and Trafalgar classes. But there is no limit on them going anywhere, as they only carry conventional torpedoes, and Tomahawk missiles. There is a distinct possibility that there is one in the South Atlantic, but that could have been the case at any point over the past 30 years since the Falklands War. The faint possibility that there might be one there now does not constitute an escalation. Neither does sending the new Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dauntless, nor sending Prince William on a tour of duty as a Search and Rescue Pilot. Both are completely routine deployments. In the case of Dauntless, the Type 45’s are replacing the Type 42’s which used to perform the South Atantic patrol task. Vastly improved, yes, but hey thats called progess and technology. And it seems to have escaped Buenos Aires attention that a Search and Rescue deployment is a humanitarian function – a yellow Sea King isn’t likely to start dropping depth charges.

Claims of a four fold increase in military assets are also laughable. The garrison of the Falklands has remained at the same levels for years – at sea a patrol vessel, a destroyer, perhaps an RFA and the ice patrol ship; on land a roulement infantry company and a Rapier detachment; and in the air four Typhoons, a VC10 and a Hercules, and the two Sea King SAR’s. Increasing that fourfold would give us the following:

  • Four Destroyers and Frigates – including a couple of Type 45’s
  • Probably another OPV
  • Couple more RFA’s – with that level of RN deployment, need tankers and supply ships
  • An Infantry Battalion – lets say, 2 Para?
  • Every Rapier launcher we can get
  • 2 Squadrons worth of Typhoons
  • More refuelling and transport aircraft
  • A few more helicopters for sundry tasks

Wow – that’s quite some force we have in the South Atlantic. Actually, if we had all of those assets in the Falklands like the Argentines are insinuating, they probably wouldn’t be able to take the islands. Ironic, eh?

I thought that the British ambassador at the UN did a very good job of rebutting these sensational but ludicrous claims. I, on the other hand, have been thinking about a career change for some time. I’m good at writing fiction – perhaps I could apply to become an Argentinian diplomat?

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HMS Dauntless to deploy to the South Atlantic

Todays Portsmouth News revealed that HMS Dauntless is due to deploy to the South Atlantic. The second Type 45 Destroyer to deploy is rumoured to be leaving Portsmouth in late March, to relieve the Devonport-based Type 23 Frigate HMS Montrose. The South Atlantic patrol is a task that has been performed by the older Type 42 Destroyers for some years.

One would imagine that the deployment has been long planned – as was her older sister ship HMS Daring going to the Gulf several weeks ago. The move however does dramatically enhance British forces in the Falklands – a Type 45 sat off the islands, with its Sea Viper missile system and SAMPSON radar, would provide a significant deterrent to any Argentine threat. In addition, she does also carry a Lynx helicopter with anti-surface capability. She could also provide direction for the Eurofighters on the Islands. If you were an Argentine senior officer, you would think twice about sending in your obsolescent airfcraft against a Type 45 Destroyer, with four Eurofighter Tyhoons under direction. Of course, one ship is not enough to fight a war, but as was found in 1976, one ship in the right place might be enough to prevent one from occuring.

There have been some rather inaccurate comments in some media outlets about the deployment. According to the Telegraph, one navy ‘source’ claimed that Dauntless could take out all of South America’s air forces, let alone Argentinas. Well, I’m not sure whether this ‘source’ got his GCSE maths, but there are more military aircraft in Argentina than 48. Not every missile is guaranteed a hit, as the Falklands showed, and even then, missiles are often fired in salvos, ie, more than one per target. Another odd claim is that Dauntless could shoot down Argentinian aircraft as soon as they leave their bases. Well, I doubt Dauntless would be sat off the Argentine coast – too risky – and with my rudimentary knowledge of the geography

The delpoyment is bound to increase tensions with Argentina at an already difficult time – any move that comes across as inflamatory is bound to incense Buenos Aires,

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