Sink The Belgrano

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The torpedo attack on  the Argentine cruiser Belgrano by the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror, in May 1981, shocked the world, and showed that the Royal Navy had lost none of its aggressive instincts. Opponents of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that the order to sink the cruiser, which caused the deaths of 340 sailors was politically motivated, designed to commit the country irrevocably to war, and bring an end to any negotiations about the future of the Falkland Islands.

Sink the Belgrano is a definitive retelling of the events that lead up to the Argentine invasion of the islands, and is a blow by blow account of the journey of  HMS Conqueror, and the Argentine navy task force commanded by Captain Bonzo on the Belgrano.  In order to tell the story I interviewed officers on Admiral Woodward’s flagship HMS Hermes, crewmembers of HMS Conqueror and men from the Argentine task force that sailed towards the Falklands. In addition, I was given documents and diaries from the Conqueror, and obtained the minute by minute record of the submarines movements contained in the Report of Proceedings, or the patrol report as it is known.

Sink The Belgrano reveals that Conqueror left port with a squad of Special Boat Service men, heading not for the Falklands, but the island of South Georgia. It was here, approaching these islands that the Conquerors periscope and radio aerials were damaged by drift ice. Conqueror would most likely have been recalled if  two other nuclear submarines had located and tracked  the Argentine aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo.

The Belgrano had already sailed from Porto Belgrano and headed south to the port of Ushuaia. They were anticipating the arrival of the British task force now sailing en masse as part of Operation Corporate to recapture the Falklands from the Argentine army.  Two missile-carrying destroyers who would make the first attack would escort Belgrano, which would go in afterwards and take on any damaged British warships. The Argentine sailors were fatalistic. They knew that they had no defence against nuclear submarines.

As the Belgrano and the two destroyers steamed towards the Falklands, the Conqueror picked up the noise of the Argentine ships propellers on her sonar, and set off to intercept. For two days, the submarine secretly trailed the cruiser, hiding in her wake, while urgent signals flew between Admiral Woodward, the task force commander, the Admiralty, and the War Cabinet. Should HMS Conqueror be ordered to sink the Belgrano or not?

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Related words/search terms: Belgrano, HMS Conqueror, Patrol Report, Falklands war, Exclusion zone, Task Force, Admiral Sandy Woodward, nuclear submarine, War Cabinet, Argentine Junta, General Galtieri, Margaret Thatcher, Admiralty, Admiral Leach, HMS Spartan, HMS Splendid, HMS Invincible, Punta Arenas, Ascension Island, Operation Corporate, Exercise Spring Train, HMS Sheffield, SBS, South Georgia, Veinticinco de Mayo, Mark 8 Torpedo, Tim McClement