Tag Archives: Atlantic Ocean

Falklands 30 – the Fleet sails

I’m actually a day late with this one, but better late than never!

After the Argentine invasion of the Falklands on 2 April 1982, we have already heard about how the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Henry Leach persuaded the Prime Minister to launch a task force with a view to retaking the Islands.

By a fortuitous set of circumstances, many of the Royal Navy’s Destroyers and Frigates were off Gibraltar exercising. This enabled Britain to attempt to get to the South Atlantic before any diplomatic attempts forestalled a re-possession of the islands. Antrim, Glamorgan; Arrow; Brilliant; Coventry, Glasgow, Sheffield; also RFA Appleleaf, Fort Austin and Tidespring.

In Portsmouth, frenzied preparations took place. Two Aircraft Carriers were immediately available – the old HMS Hermes, and the brand new HMS Invincible. Neither were ready to sail, HMS Hermes in particular was partially destored. At once the Dockyard swung into action, literally working round the clock to prepare the ships to sail. To store, ammunition and ready two big ships for war within three days was nothing short of miraculous.Eyewitnesses remember endless lines of trucks coming off the M275 motorway heading into the Dockyard. My parents, who were living in Stamshaw at the time, a stones throw from the Dockyard, could hear the Sea Harriers coming in and landing on the decks of the carriers. Normally, you would never have seen a fixed wing aircraft land on a ship inside the dockyard – but these were special circumstances, and peacetime regulations went out of the window. The two carriers eventually sailed on 5 April 1982.

HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes sail from Portsmouth

Notice just how many people are on the seafront in Portsmouth to see the ships off. I don’t know if its just me, but the images of Invincible and Hermes sailing to war are among the most iconic images of the 1980’s. It shows just how closely Portsmouth takes the Royal Navy  to its heart, and similar scenes were witnessed – albeit slightly fewer people – when HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless deployed recently. It’s something that Portsmouth and its people have seen countless times, over more than 800 years of history.

In the same week that Hermes and Invincible departed, they were joined by Alacrity, Antelope, Broadsword, Fearless and Yarmouth; along with Brambleleaf, Olmeda, Pearleaf, Resource, Sir Galahad, Sir Geraint, Sir Lancelot, Sir Percivale and Stromness. The first Merchant vessels also departed – including Canberra from Southampton, carrying two Royal Marine Commando and a Para Battalion.

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HMS Daring leaving Portsmouth – some belated pics

Here are some belated pictures of HMS Daring leaving Portsmouth for the Middle East a few weeks ago.

Just to give you an idea of how long ago she left, she was last in port at Aqaba, in Jordan after transiting the Suez Canal!

Expect even bigger crowds when HMS Dauntless leaves for the South Atlantic next month…

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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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Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Submarine warfare

English: Cropped version of public domain File...

Image via Wikipedia

In 2009 I identified a serious risk of the Royal Navy losing a useful mass of numbers when it comes to submarines.

As in 1982, one would imagine that the Submarine service would be expected to shadow the Argentine fleet, and try to take out some of its inventory – in particular the Exocet equipped ships that might cause our surface vessels trouble. They would also be expect to loiter off the Argentine mainland watching for aircraft and shipping, to provide land strike capability, and also to slip ashore special forces.

The Astute Class are regarded as the best submarines in the world, perhaps on a par with the US Navy’s equivalent Virginia Class. According to one website, she is as quiet as a baby dolphin, which probably makes her as good as undetectable in skilled hands. And a submarine that cannot be detected can act with impunity. And knowing that British submarines can roam around the South Atlantic at will is bound to put the fear of god into Argentine naval officers.

The Astutes carry advanced sonar and weapons systems, more weapons than any other British submarine previously – Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and Spearfish torpedoes. With a range of 1,240 miles, this means that Astute could accurately target sites in North Africa sitting off the South Coast of England. Such a range and sophistication really would cause severe problems to the Argentine forces. The only problem might be replenishment of Tomahawk stocks, both in terms of the US allowing us to purchase more, and then getting them to the South Atlantic. But as I identified in 2009, Tomahawk would provide a more accurate and less risky alternative to the Black Buck Vulcan raids.

In terms of slipping ashore Special Forces, I must confess I had always laboured under the impression that bigger SSN’s were not as ideal for the task of inshore work as the smaller, old diesel electrics where. After all, in 1982 HMS Onyx was sent south reputedly to work close inshore with special forces. Yet it seems that the new Astute Class boats will be able to use a piece of American technology, the Dry Dock Shelter (DDS). The DDS enables special forces teams to enter and exit the submarine much easier. As with much special forces and submarine technology specifications are hazy, but I can imagine the DDS being pretty useful.

The big problem – and this is the same as with Destroyers and Frigates – is that we simply do not have enough Submarines. By the time the Astute class are finished in 2024 – yes 2024, in 12 years time! – the RN will have seven SSN Submarines – critically short. Of course, as with any vessels a number of these will be in refit at any time. As the Astute class boats are commissioned – at a rate of one every two or three years – the Trafalgar Class will decommission, with the Navy maintaining a level of seven SSN’s in service. Of course, there is a strong possibility that the Trafalgars might start falling apart long before then.

The problem with Submarine procurement, is that with the political desire to ‘buy British’, there is only really one option – BAE Systems yard at Barrow. In order to maintain a healthy programme of orders and ensure that a skilled workforce and facilities can be maintained, submarine procurement and constructions works on a ‘drumbeat’ policy – stretching out orders to ensure that there are no quiet periods when workers would have to be laid off. With the MOD looking at renewing the nuclear deterrent SSBN’s by the mid 2020’s, the building programme for the Astutes has been stretched to cover until when work is due to begin on the SSBN replacements. All very well, but according to the National Audit Office this delay will cost more, to the point at which if the boats had been built faster an eighth Astute could have been built. The MOD decided against this, however, no doubt fearful of the running costs of operating another boat.

Obviously, due to their nature it is very difficult to find out too much about submarine deployments, or submarine technological specifications. But if it is true, that an Astute can watch shipping from off the North American coast, then even one Astute in the South Atlantic could provide a wealth of intelligence without actually firing its weapons. And that is actually the beauty of submarines – you don’t know where they are, so you have to assume that they could be anywhere and could strike at any time – a real hinderance on your freedom of operations if you are an Admiral looking to take and defend the Falkland Islands.

In 1982 the Task Force deployed 5 SSN’s of the Churchill, Valiant and Swiftsure Classes, and one diesel electric Oberon class Boat. In 1982 the RN was geared up for submarine warfare in the North Atlantic, and hence had a considerable submarine arm, in terms of numbers and experience. In 1982 the Royal Navy had 11 SSN’s to chose from, and no less than 13 Oberon Class conventional boats. 24 boats, whilst in 2012, we would be able to choose from 7 at the most.

A theme is emerging – a Royal Navy with first class assets, but with not nearly enough of them.

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HMS Albion mothballed for five years

The HMS Bulwark, a Albion class landing platfo...

HMS Bulwark, now the Royal Navy's sole Landing Ship (Image via Wikipedia)

We’ve seen in the news today how HMS Albion, the Royal Navy’s flagship and one of two main landing ships, is to be put in mothballs in Devonport Dockyard for five years. She’s a little over ten years old, which ranks as not even mid-life for a major warship.

Make no mistake about it, after five years in mothballs she will require a LOT of work to get her operational again – that will take time, and cost money. I would also imagine that if HMS Bulwark needs spare parts during the next few years, the temptation to ‘borrow’ them from Albion would be all too tempting. Meanwhile, for five years the Navy will only have one crew practising amphibious warfare. If Albion is needed to be brought back into service in a hurry, where will another crew come from?

As I’ve mentioned before, hull numbers matter – a ship can only be in one place at any given time, and if you want it to get to somewhere else then it is going to take time. If Bulwark is on a flying the flag exercise in the Far East, for example, and something kicks off in the South Atlantic, we can pretty much count out any kind of rapid response. The Government has also descreased the Navy’s second line Amphibious vessels, the Bay Class Landing ships. We now only have three of them, and they are often off around the world filling in for non-existant frigates and destroyers.

The parallels with 1982 are quite a coincidence. Back then, only HMS Fearless was ready for action. Intrepid was destored and effectively mothballed in Portsmouth Dockyard, and took weeks to be made ready, even with round the clock effort from the Dockyard – many of whom were working under redundancy notices, and in any case, such a workforce no longer exists. In 1982, the date for the landings at San Carlos was dictated by when exactly Intrepid could be made ready and reach the South Atlantic. The inference is that without her, it could not have happened. The situation now is identical. These are very useful vessels, absolutely central to commanding and controlling the projection of force worldwide.

The most fundamental function of Government is to defend the realm, and keep British territories and citizens safe from aggressors. Secondly, the armed forces exist to maintain Britain’s interests around the world. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that decimating armed forces does not defend the realm, in a very uncertain world. Compared to money ringfenced for overseas aid, or even more so the bailing out of the banks, the money saved by hatcheting defence is minimal. Is this the ‘good job’ that Liam Fox was doing? If Adam Werritty was his advisor, then he clearly wasn’t a very good one.

With just one landing ship operational, no strike aircraft carrier, minimal escorts and sparse auxiliaries, our ability to mount another Falklands operation is non-existant. Should I revisit my 2009 series of posts ‘The Falklands: Then and Now’, or would it simply be too painful?

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HMS Gloucester barred from Uruguay

HMS Gloucester docked on Portsmouth harbour.

HMS Gloucester in Portsmouth Harbour (Image via Wikipedia)

According to today’s Portsmouth News HMS Gloucester has been barred from calling in at a Uruguayan port.

The Type 42 Destroyer, on her way to the South Atlantic for her stint as Falkland Islands Guardship, had originally been granted permission to stop in Montevideo for supplies and fuel, as Royal Navy warships in the South Atlantic have frequently done for decades. When Gloucester arrived in Montevideo last week, however, she was informed that she was not welcome and asked to leave. An anonymous Uruguayan source even referred to the Falklands as the ‘Malvinas’.

Argentina had previously requested that all South American countries refuse to allow British warships or aircraft to use their facilities, in an attempt to blockade British Forces and make their job much more difficult. In 2007 HMS Nottingham was also barred from Montevideo, while also heading to the Falklands. On that occasion a specific request was made by the Argentinian Foreign Minister. Apparently that was not the case with HMS Gloucester. The barring of ports in South America is a very serious issue. In 1982 Argentina was a virtual pariah, as a military dictatorship. Although most countries did not give Britain open support (apart from perhaps Chile), neither did they support Argentina.

In the past year or so Argentina has been slowly ratcheting up pressure over the Falklands, brought to a head by the discovery of oil reserves in the South Atlantic near the Falklands. Funnily enough they were not so bothered about them until oil was discovered. I’ve written before about my views on the Falklands. British soveriegnty of the islands is something of an oddity of empire, but its by no means the only one – after all, most of the continent of South America is populated by – and ruled by – people who originally came from Spain. What happened to the indigenous people there? Yet the Falklands had no native population. The British people there now have been living there for hundreds of years, which in anyones book, makes them pretty settled. The arguments have been raked over over and over again. If there are issues, they should be raised in the United Nations.

The parallels with 1982 are rather alarming. An unpopular Argentinian Government with economic and social problems, a Thatcherite British Government looking to slash British Armed Forces, a decision pending over a South Atlantic Ice Patrol Ship, and fears that the Royal Navy might lose Aircraft Carrier and Assault Ship resources. Against that background, a lack of support – and, indeed, ambivilence to Britain in South America – is something we could well do without.

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The John Nott 1981 Defence Cuts revisited

British Royal Marines in the Falkland Islands ...

An image we ever want to see again? (Image via Wikipedia)

The parallels with 1982 are all to worrying. An aggressively-sounding Government in Buenos Aries (even though technically Democratic), a newly elected but unpopular Conservative Government seeking to slash public expenditure, and economic problems in both countries.

In 1982 the Secretary of State for Defence had just implemented a Defence Review the previous year. It was conducted in the context of economic problems, a Thatcher-led desire to slash budgets, and a Soviet build-up during the era of ‘reaganomics’. Nott’s solution was to concentrate almost solely on Britain’s role in NATO. The purchase of Trident was confirmed. The British Army of the Rhine, although the centrepiece of British defence within NATO, was to be limited to 55,000 men. The Royal Navy was to lose one fifth of its 60 Destroyers and Frigates. Aircraft Carriers were to be phased out, with the sale of HMS Hermes and the newly-built ‘through deck cruiserHMS Invincible. Amphibious ships were to be scrapped too, meaning the end of HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless. Essentially, the Navy was to become an anti-submarine force to operate in the North Sea, North Atlantic and the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap. The ability to act independently out of the NATO area was effectively being given up. And amongst other things, the Royal Navy Dockyards were to be drastically wound down and privatised, meaning thousands of redundancies. One of the lesser-known items in the review was the withdrawal of the antartic patrol ship, HMS Endurance.

These proposals were underway when the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982. The kind of crisis that the Nott review hard ruled out had happened. Reportedly MOD Civil Servants were most upset that the Falklands War had scuppered their beautiful review. When the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, obtained permission from Margaret Thatcher to assemble a Task Force, apparently John Nott went as white as a sheet. He knew that his career was finished. Somehow I cant help feeling that for a lot of people their careers were more important than the fate of British Citizens in the South Atlantic, and the fate of the men sent to fight for them.

The upshot of the Falklands War was that almost everything that had been offered up as savings was rescued at the eleventh hour. Hermes was sold, but the three Invincible Class Carriers -as we are allowed to call them now – were retained. Fearless and Intrepid were reprieved, and replaced with HMS Albion and Bulwark recently. HMS Ocean has also added to the Royal Navy’s expeditionary capability. Endurance was also reprieved, and replaced in the early 1990’s with a modern vessel. The Destroyer and Frigate fleet was pegged – in the short term – at 55 ships.

The cost of the Falklands War – financial, human, and material – has been far in excess of the relatively meagre savings sought by Nott. The hundreds of lives lost in 1982. The ships sunk, aircraft lost, ammunition expended. The cost of a sizeable garrison, and building a military base at Mount Pleasant. The Falklands Island has had a patrol ship,  a Frigate or Destroyer on guard, and auxiliary vessels since the war. The running cost – to this day, and still rising – must be incredible. All inspired to save a few quid. Evidence, if any is needed, that Defence cuts can be shortsighted and a false economy. Argentinian sources suggest that the decision to invade, although largely spurred on by domestic unrest, was further emboldened by the Nott cuts. The Junta’s reasoning was that if the British were cutting their forces – and the ice patrol ship in particular – not only would they be unable to respond to an invasion, but they obviously did not care about their overseas posessions enough to defend them in the first place.

Fortunately, British resolve was restored by the war. Although it is tragic that in the modern world we even need to resort to force, had Britain capitulated in 1982 we would, in Henry Leach’s words, have been living in a very different country were words counted for little. Britain’s role as a force on the world state was maintained, a brutal military dictatorship fell, and the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact received a timely reminder of the quality of NATO standard troops. But all by the skin of our teeth, and if Nott’s cuts had been fully implemented, we would have not been able to act.

Whilst Mrs Thatcher received plaudits for her handling of the Falklands War, more searching inquiries suggest that the war needn’t have happened in the first place. If only the Foreign Office under Lord Carrington had not been so clueless, the Defence Secretary not so subservient, and if Thatcher had not been so single minded and ideological in wishing to strip public spending. Worryingly, the upcoming Defence Review may once again remove Britain’s ability to react adequately to any crisis in the world, particularly in the South Atlantic. This cannot have been lost on the Argentinians. Do we really trust David Cameron and ‘Boy’ George Osborne to sort things out for us if their cuts go badly wrong?

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Royal Navy to replace Endurance?

HMS Endurance (A171) in Portsmouth

HMS Endurance in Portsmouth (Image via Wikipedia)

Today’s Portsmouth News contains an unconfirmed report that the Royal Navy is looking to replace the stricken Ice Patrol Ship HMS Endurance with a Norwegian Icebreaker for next years South Atlantic Patrol. Endurance, one of the most famous and recognisable ships in the Royal Navy, almost sank in 2008 when her engine room flooded. She has been laid up in Portsmouth since arriving back in the UK in early 2009, whilst the Navy and the Ministry of the Defence decide what to do with her.

During 2010 HMS Scott, an ocean-going survey vessel, deployed to the South Atlantic. This is not seen as a long-term solution, as she has no icebreaking capability and cannot operate helicopters in the same manner as Endurance. Also, she has her own duties to attend to. Militarily, the case for a South Atlantic Patrol Ship is not a priority for the Navy itself, but politically it would be seen as a major sign of weakness if the UK were to withdraw such a presence in the region. Earlier this year Argentina attempted to garner support from fellow South American countries for its stance over the Falklands. A proposed cut to the previous HMS Endurance precipitated the 1982 war.

With the current HMS Endurance laid up in Portsmouth and needing repairs believed to run into millions of pounds, it is likely that the Navy will seek to lease an existing icebreaker, probably from a Scandinavian source. This has been done in the past, when in 1967 the Navy purchased the MV Anita Dan from a Danish shipping line and renamed her HMS Endurance, and in 1991 when the Norwegian MV Polar Circle was chartered for eight months. She was later purchased outright and became second HMS Endurance. Leasing a ship before purchase enables the Navy to evaluate its suitability, especially for service in the ice. Any merchant vessel, however, will need to be adapted to Naval damage control standards, and will have to be able to operate helicopters.

Officially nothing has been decided, and it is likely that  an announcement will come as part of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Defence Review.

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