Enemy ship posed threat to forces
after the battle in the south Atlantic the order
to sink the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano
remains the most controversial decision of the
In 1982 the 10,650
ton ship was already aged. As the USS Phoenix she
had survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour
forty years before.
comradeship was wonderful. We knew there
would be loss of life but morale was
But with her
15.6 inch long-range guns and Sea Cat
anti-aircraft missiles, she was believed to be a
threat to Britain's task force.
Ask Cmdr Jeff Tall
to justify the attack and he is adamant it had to
He went to the
South Atlantic in 1982 as submarine staff officer
to the Task Group Commander. He was on the
aircraft carrier HMS Hermes.
`I was part of
waterspace management, rather like air traffic
control. It was my job to be part of the link
between the admiral and headquarters in
Submarines in the
task force included HMS Conqueror, the
nuclear-powered sub that torpedoed and sank the
Belgrano. Of her 1,000-plus crew, 368 perished,
many of them new recruits.
Cmdr Tall, 59,
said: `Conditions on Hermes were cold,
uncomfortable and packed. The decision had been
made that we were not going to risk losing people
if we were torpedoed.
Argentinians have since said Belgrano was a
legitimate target, that they would have
done the same. '
we were living high up on the ship, sharing
cabins. Sleep became an irrelevance. You found a
space someone had vacated and rested where you
was wonderful. We knew there would be loss of
life but morale was high. We expected things were
not going to be easy. We had no airborne early
warning and we were in unknown territory.
The sinking of the General
Belgrano was a controversial act
`We were there
with a Royal Navy equipped to fight the Soviets.
We believed in what we were doing. It was the
right thing in the face of aggression.'
have since said Belgrano was a legitimate target,
that they would have done the same.
`Imagine it is
dark and you have no night vision. You hear the
enemy creeping towards you. For some reason he
sneaks away. You see nothing. Then he comes back.
It is your one chance to catch him. That is why
Belgrano was sunk.
`It was war. Of
course there was sadness at the number of
Argentinian sailors killed. We did not want that.
Belgrano was old. She was totally incapable of
taking any kind of hit.
`She was not
taking even the most simple anti-submarine
measures. But she was part of an aggressive act
by the Argentinians. She was going about her
legitimate war function of trying to hit the task
after the battle of the south Atlantic was a time
of mixed emotions, he said.
demonstrated the capability to operate
independently, miles from home and do the job.
But we had lost friends and comrades.
feelings were sadness, pride in the way things
went, pride in being British - and of being more
than ever in love with my wife.'
Cmdr Tall left the
Royal Navy in 1994 after 30 years service. He was
awarded the OBE and is now director of the Royal
Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.