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David Brown. London: Leo Cooper, 1987. 384 pp. Photos. Maps. Append. Gloss. Bib. Ind. Order directly from Leo Cooper Ltd.,
10 Upper Grosvenor Street, London W1X 9PA, England.
Reviewed by Captain John O. Coote, Royal Navy (Retired)
As head of the Naval Historical Branch of the British Ministry of Defence, David Brown has all the credentials to undertake this considerable task of telling the story of the bitter campaign fought off the Falklands, from the perspective of those who planned it and executed it successfully in just 74 days. Britain fought the action 7,000 miles from the nearest friendly base, with nowhere to hide but in the fog and gales of the Howling Fifties. There was no contingency plan to draw on, even though only five years previously the Royal Navy had used a show of force to deter the Argentinians from imposing their own solution to the sovereignty problem, the origins of which were as readily forgotten as the Balkan Question earlier this century.
The opening chapter reviewing the antecedents of the dispute is thorough and lucid. But, having read it, even a neutral observer might still have difficulty forming an objective opinion about the sovereignty of these islands that “had always been on the front page of Argentinian newspapers but the back page of British atlases.”
The book’s title does not do it justice, for it speaks of all the combat forces, not only the Royal Navy. The then-ViceChief of the Naval Staff originally sanctioned and encouraged Brown’s writing of this account, so he had a limited measure of official approval. But in a second author’s foreword, written two years after defense officials had vetted his draft, Brown takes pains to disassociate the Ministry of Defence from his views. Perhaps Brown lost his editorial patronage because officialdom has swept under the carpet some of the controversial aspects of the campaign that Brown discusses, although even he does not deal with them satisfactorily.
Many observers believe that the United States made satellite coverage of the South Atlantic available to the British during the campaigns. Readers of Tom Clancy’s novels would expect U. K-' U. S. cooperation to go further into a pooling of efforts in signal intelligent’ which includes code-breaking. That would convincingly explain the abrupt manner in which the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror took out the cruiser General Belgrano. Brown should not have left an analysis of Argentinian nava intentions to staff appreciations; he jus says that it was decided to take out the aging cruiser. For the safety of his ship* the Conqueror’s captain had to execute his orders before the General Belgnan° steamed into nearby shallow waters over the Burdwood Bank.
But Brown explains that “for reasons they well know, the exploits of our su marines must remain discreetly tinre
Low-Flying Bogeys in the Falklands
By Lieutenant Commander Phillip C. Ingham, Royal Navy
worst moment came when—with one raider crossing Intrepid’s head from left to right, dropping a pattern oi bombs 100 feet from the port bow—a Skyhawk appeare^ out of nowhere over the hilltop on our starboard side an closed fast. We had the gut feeling that success was his for the taking. Time stood still. The starboard Seacat fir
HMS Intrepid arrived in the area of the Falkland Sound and San Carlos Water on a bitterly cold, damp morning. There was little wind and sound traveled far. From our gun direction platform’s (GDP) crew brief we knew that bombardment or small-arms fire from ashore was possible, so we were attentive to even the smallest detail.
Knowing that enemy troops were in the area, we were relieved and surprised to arrive at our initial anchorage in the Falkland Sound unmolested. To our west, naval gunfire support by HMS Antrim commenced against Fanning Head shortly after we anchored and continued for half an hour, firing over our heads and lighting up the skyline like a fireworks display. At this stage, it all still seemed distant and unreal, as we shifted our anchor berth into San Carlos Water. Just after the breakfast action snack, we detected the first enemy air activity in our vicinity. Then came our first visual acquisition—half a wing of a Pucara showed above the hill on our port quarter. Our antique Bofors mounting opened fire against the aircraft before it dropped behind the hill, attempting to attack the troops ashore. This first sighting set the adrenalin flowing in the upper deck crews, keying us up for the attacks that came later that day in the afternoon. Tense cries of “Alarm aircraft!” rang out occasionally as a bird took to the air on a distant hill, only to be discounted as the supposedly fast- moving target went into a hover. On the other hand, the sheer speed and determination of the real attacking aircraft were startling. Our alarm procedures were just fast enough to bring our weapons to bear; more often than not we found ourselves looking down from the GDP on aircraft making low passes. The Argentinians’ attack pattern this afternoon was to approach up and along the Falkland Sound attacking ships en route, then to make a hard
right-hand turn into San Carlos Water, where they attack6 the amphibious ships off-loading troops and supplies.
In the first raid that forenoon, A-4 Skyhawks entered from the Sound attempting to attack the SS Canberra an HMS Antrim, both on the Intrepid’s port beam. This was a good raid for us. We fired the port forward Seacat, which gave us a chance to overcome our butterflies bef°r we ourselves became the target. It also boosted our conn dence, because we saw our Seacats and those of HMS Plymouth force one A-4 to turn away and another pil°l 10 eject. (HMS Plymouth proved to be a trusted friend over the forthcoming days, and warfare officers from the Antrim—damaged in the first raid on the Sound—told me that it delighted them to see Argentinian aircraft appr°aC ing either the Intrepid or the Plymouth, as both of us seemed to fire at anything with everything at the drop 0 hat.) This policy of lead-before-accuracy seemed to w°r ’ and while it was difficult for any one ship to lay claim destroying a particular aircraft, we did seem to deter the from greater things.
Once our nerves settled after the first couple of attaC to a man nobody took cover during air raids—we were too busy urging each other on. At times, we were pos1' tively jumping up and down!
The raids continued at intervals throughout the day- and, for what seemed like an age, the aircraft kept < with the Seacat closing. Luckily, before releasing his
Proceedings / Jub
Brown does not discuss the Ministry of fence’s farcical handling of the media its correspondents on-scene with the ask force. The Chief of the Defence Staff r^ely admitted in testimony before the . °Umon’s committee to dispensing mis- •nfoi
'relation and manipulating the news.
Ported.” So he tells us nothing about why . e British did not intercept the Argentin- lan carrier 25 de Mayo, nor what the ^her five Royal Navy submarines were doing.
He makes the recurring charge that the ritish media in general and the BBC’s vv°rld Service radio in particular endangered the lives of British fighting men by reaking story embargoes. In December the all-party Defence Committee of 1'e House of Commons aired this matter
some length. The BBC’s protestation nat it would always put the national in- erest and the safety of British forces be- 0re all other considerations was broadly
e committee accepted that this was a ecessity in the circumstances. For example, official British documents no longer mention the Sea King helicopter that crash-landed on Tierra del Fuego near the Super Entendard base at Rio Grande, although millions of television viewers in Britain saw Chilean bulldozers burying the evidence. It is hard to see why officials should prevent Brown from telling the story, beyond saying that the helicopter crew was decorated. Maybe they set up an observation post overlooking the airfield? It would be in character with the way “Operation Corporate” was run that ten days after the shooting war began the Special Boat Section of the Royal Marines flew in to do a demolition job and was later taken off by the diesel submarine HMS Onyx.
In spite of its omissions and the undersized printing of many of the photographs, this remains a fascinating story of endurance, improvisation, and tenacity, all conducted with a sure hand at the wheel. Everyone emerges with his share of credit: the pilots, the captains fighting a battle for which they had to make up the rules as they went along, the damage control parties, the civilian crews of the STUFT (ships taken up from trade), and the bomb-disposal professionals, who had to endure knowing that at least one unexploded bomb was ticking away inside a ship for the first ten days of battle. Those brave Argentinian pilots, especially those of V Air Brigade, pressed their attacks so close to the mark that their bombs were not armed when they hit their targets.
Brown gives a fresh dimension to the Falklands story by recording the names of individuals on both sides who briefly held center stage in making history.
Captain Coote was a Royal Navy submariner who saw war service off Norway and in the Mediterranean and later held four sea commands, 1948-54. At age 38, he resigned to go into newspaper publishing at Fleet Street, ending as Deputy Chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers. His article on the Falklands, “Send Her Victorious ...” was published in the January 1983 Proceedings.
Jjj’dbs or firing at us, the pilot turned hard right and liter- fell out of the sky behind a hill. I suspect he ditched ls Bombload, since he did not reattack. This was one for u' Prom then on the confidence and effectiveness of l ‘Hs Intrepid's weapons’ crew took a definite upward ^rtl. The afternoon continued in a haze of air attacks and ) dusk, we were exhausted. It was a great relief when i^ness fell, because we knew that the Argentinians only
a limited night-flying capability.
C the second morning we went to action stations at (.rst light for a day that proved anticlimactic compared to S(e °ne before. The Argentinians must have been taking t,°ch of the damage they had sustained so far. They .'ded us only once, at dusk. Two A-4 Skyhawks made a
RSf • *
^ttem on the previous day’s anchorage positions, which 1^ had changed overnight. Had we not moved, those Sky- a^ks would almost certainly have hit the Intrepid.
^ Bo the third day came almost as light relief. A-4s ran ,i0st of the attacks. It was a lucky day for us—bombs fell ff°rt by 100 feet and in the heat of battle, spent Seacats ^0rn another ship managed to straddle us harmlessly. As e defended ourselves, 4.5-inch shells from our ships
s that proved ineffective, because the weather was »nst them and they had obviously based their attack
of San Carlos Water and came so close to us they might have been Airwork Hunters doing a flypast at the end of a tracking serial. The afternoon became even more aweinspiring, and we watched from the Intrepid as an A-4 hit by 20-mm. fire passed over the Antelope, taking off the top of her mainmast. Things happened quickly then, with Seawolf and Rapier missiles in the air together. The aircraft exploded into a mass of burning metal and crashed into the sea—but not before two of the Skyhawks, one of which reattacked with considerable courage, managed to lay an unexploded pattern of two bombs on the Antelope. Unfortunately, one of these bombs exploded later that night, and the Antelope became a raging inferno—a reminder that the Argentinians were a force to be reckoned with. I will never forget one sight that came through my binoculars during this raid—an enemy pilot all but pedaling his aircraft through the wall of fire until our starboard Bofors took off his wingtip and he disappeared over the hillside.
On another evening later that week, A-4s made a daring raid on Red and Blue Beaches at dusk, accurately bombing our ammunition supplies and causing many casualties. This was an impressive performance; the aircraft came in very low and managed to avoid detection until they were actually in San Carlos Water. But I am pleased to report that the Intrepid hit them both with her 40/60. Sympathetic ammunition explosions ashore went on long into the evening.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the situation in San Carlos Water is with a phrase well known in* HMS Intrepid: “Keep a good all-around lookout and watch out for the low bogey.”
n traveled over the hill and into Bomb Alley, though °ne was hit. The A-4s concentrated on the north end
Commander Ingham was warfare officer in HMS Intrepid, an amphibious transport dock ship, during the 1982 Falklands Campaign. He has served in Five other Royal Navy ships and until recently was an instructor at the U. S. Naval Academy.
»ngs / July 1988