The Fleet Sails
April 5, 2013 Leave a comment
Have you been enjoying Jess’s series on Margaret Thatcher as much as I have? I’m going to pick up the story now because this is a piece of history that Jess is too young to remember but I will never forget.
You see 31 years ago today the battle fleet sailed to
protect recapture sovereign territory. No, not the 6th Fleet or even the 5th. It was the Royal Navy sailing to recapture the Falkland Islands from Argentina.
If you remember the Argentine army had occupied the Islands capturing the Royal Governor and a contingent of Royal Marines were forced to go to ground by the Argentines. I’m a very proud American and that picture bothered me. It bothered the Brits even more.
President Reagan found that because of our commitments we could not offer overt help, although we were there, to hold the ring and refuel Vulcan bombers and support the mission with satellite reconnaissance. We were also preparing to transfer the USS Iwo Jima to the Royal Navy if they happened to lose one of their carriers. Because of our commitments that was the best the United States could do. Other than cheer for our friends. Which we surely did.
Prime Minister Thatcher understood, and when the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach proposed a workable plan,she approved it.
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.
The other thing is, the Royal Navy was getting ready to scrap HMS Hermes.
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.
Read this entire article.
And so on 5 April 1982 the HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible sailed.
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.
You should read this article also.
And so 31 years ago Great Britain sustained her honor and her claim as a Great Power by preventing a tinpot Argentinian junta from stealing her property and enslaving her people.
It should be noted that it has long been said that some powers like Germany and Russia can wield great power close to home, and some powers can wield power far from home like France, but very few can wield great power far from home, for the most part that would be the United States and the United Kingdom. And that makes the world a far safer place.
One of the things that has marked modern world history, since the defeat of the Armada in 1588 is that the seas have been ruled by the English speaking peoples, it is not coincidental that this period has seen the most marked advance of freedom the world has ever known.
In those troubled times, with the cold war still going on, seeing the forces of a free nation take the field on their own to preserve their territory and their honor was a high point of the decade for this (and I suspect many another) Yank.
In these troubled times, it’s a reminder of what tough-minded leadership can accomplish when leading a free people. OK, here’s the video you expected.
It truly is a sight I will never forget.
- HMS Dauntless to head to the Falklands (itv.com)
- Falklands 30 – Dockies, the unsung First Sea Lord and the same old from CFK (dalyhistory.wordpress.com)
- Thatcher confidential: The untold story of the Falklands War (independent.co.uk)
- Thatcher papers show Falklands doubts in heart of Downing Street (guardian.co.uk)