When in 1982 Argentinian scrap-metal merchants, dismantling an old whaling station on the British territory of South Georgia, raised their national flag, they set a chain of events in motion that would affect half the western world politically as well as militarily. A full-scale invasion by the Argentinian forces followed on 2nd ApriL because they felt safe in tweaking the Lion's tail, trying to cap a long list of countries claiming the "forgotten and unlovable" Falklands Islands as their own. But they had not reckoned with the steely determination of a Margaret Thatcher and her ministers, and also the immediate action of her Chiefs of the armed forces.
Our July-speaker, Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Grose, at that time Captain of HMS Bristol, a type 82 destroyer, gave us a vivid account of the remarkable campaign for the Falkland Islands, aptly called "Operation Corporate", concentrating on the Royal Navy's involvement..
Although Gt.Britain had been caught off-balance, fortunately the disastrous 1981 defence review had not yet become reality, and the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, which had been sold to Australia, was still in England.
The speed with which a turn-around was achieved, elicited praise from all quarters. The toughest problem was the fact that the islands lay 8 000 miles away, a logistical nightmare for everyone! Fortunately, Ascension Island with its airfield lay in-between and was used as intermediate Task Force base..
While all this happened, HMS Bristol was in harbour being refitted, but became operational quickly, and within one week sailed on 9.5.1982. Her's was just one example of how everyone involved, from Admiral down to dock-yard worker, worked and slaved to get going, (23 hour-days became the norm, it has been claimed). Co-operation was excellent, the build-up breathtaking.
For the giant Hercules aircraft to land on Ascension Island, the airfield was converted to fully operational standard within three weeks. A whole armada of warships and submarines sailed in quick succession, some carrying fighter and bomber aircraft with them. Passenger ships, the QE 2 among them, converted merchant ships, freighters and tankers were taken up from Trade and acquitted themselves extremely well. Almost 100 ships of all kinds were employed on various duties..
HMS Bristol became air defence picket and stand-by flagship, and our speaker had a grandstand view of the whole operation, although he would have preferred to join in the fighting.
The two aircraft caters, HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible, became the backbone of air attacks and were very successful, as were the other destroyers and frigates. Losses of, and damage to, ships were minimal, but still serious, mostly through Exocet missiles. It was fortunate that the Argentinians did not have more Exocet and concentrated its attacks on warships., otherwise the battle group might not have faked as well as it did. In any event the Navy found immediate solutions to damage or technical breakdowns.
The Falklands invasion had been the Argentinian Navy's brainchild, but after the General Belgrano was sunk on 2' May, the navy lost its nerve and withdrew to its bases. It was therefore left to a "reluctant" air force to fight a more experienced and motivated enemy, and to a badly led and supplied anny consisting mainly of conscripts to carry on the battle. In addition, the Argentinian leaders felt they had to protect their country against a possible Chilean invasion, forcing them to hold back some of their best units. Still, the fighting for the Falkiands lasted for 75 days, but eventually on 15 June the Argentinian ground forces surrendered..
Altogether HMS Bristol was at sea for 130 days during the largest and most successful military operation of the British Royal Navy after WW II.
Sir Alan's talk was followed by a long question-and-answer session, and fellow member Tony Gordon thanked him for his spirited presentation.
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Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797-5167