Might Britain win another Falklands-Malvinas War

Falklands War: "We wouldn't have a chance today"

On June 14, 1982, the war for the Falkland Islands ended with the surrender of Argentina. Admiral Sir John "Sandy" Woodward, Commander of the Royal Navy battle fleet, spoke to the "press".

Admiral Sir John Forster "Sandy" Woodward was in 1982, as Rear Admiral, in command of that battle fleet of the Royal Navy that was sent around the Falkland Islands (Spanish: Islas Malvinas), which was occupied by Argentine troops on April 2, 1982, and since 1833 an external British possession in the South Atlantic British land forces landed near Port San Carlos in East Falkland on May 21, and the Argentines surrendered after heavy fighting and around 900 deaths on both sides on June 14. Today, Woodward (80) lives in the picturesque southern English village of Bosham near Portsmouth in an old fisherman's house close to the waterline - every day the tide sloshes on its outer walls, withdraws again and leaves boats lying at an angle in the sand. There he spoke to the "press" about the war, its tactical lessons and atrocities, that Life afterwards, the present state of the Royal Navy and Margaret Thatcher.

The press: What is the first thought when you hear "Falkland Islands"?

Sir John Woodward: Memories of postage stamps, they were very colorful. I used to collect stamps, still do. The Falklands were very pretty, I knew the Marches when I was eight or nine, so I knew the islands existed. Many people didn't know that.

What if someone says "Islas Malvinas"?

Argentina, that's what they say. I have no problem with that. This comes from the historical connection with Saint-Malo, the settlers from there, the Malouines, i.e. French, the islands were also settled by the British and Spanish. You have a strange story.

What else did you know about the Falklands before 1982?

Very little. And you?

I don't think so, I was 12 then. Then I saw your ships sailing there on TV. It was impressive, that's how I realized that the islands existed.

I knew where they were, but didn't know their history. I didn't know anything about the people, what the country was like, how big it is. It's about the size of Wales, so it's pretty big.

In 1973, as captain in the Department of Defense's Naval Planning Directorate, you wrote a report that the Falklands were indefensible ...

It was less about the fact that they could not be defended, rather we did not think that one ever had to. We had no plans for that. We saw no threat. In the Ministry of Defense there are seldom emergency plans for areas where one has not been for a long time. One such area was the Falklands. Sure, they could have been defended, but we made up our minds not to.

So there were no repellants in 1982 either. How did you see the chances of getting it back?

I avoided paying too much attention to the question because I knew that the Ministry was of the opinion anyway that it would be difficult, even improbable. There was also a notable shortage of volunteers to lead the task force. Other officers were invited and declined with thanks. I tried not to think about it much, especially not negatively. You could just do your best. And if all goes well, it's good, and if not, it's bad. This is how you think in the military: you do what you are told, you don't ask if you should do it. And so I said to my people on the way down there: “We're going there to give them a rub. Do your best and see what happens. "

Why did you become commanders of the battle fleet?

There were primarily three flag officers, commanding admirals at sea, who were eligible for the job. But one had only had the rank for six weeks and hadn't been at sea for two or three years. The other had similar experience to mine, although he was not a submarine man. But I had already been doing maneuvers with the fleet on the way to Gibraltar for two weeks at the end of March, so I was simply closest to the Falklands. It was pretty clear then.

They didn't know much about the Falklands or the Argentine military. You actually drove there pretty bare, didn't you?

Yes, without a letter. It was simple: "Here's your stuff, make something of it." We didn't have an operation plan, it was only drawn up on Ascension. I designed it, I think it was the first time. that a war would end the exact day the plan said it would end, I said it had to end by mid-June, and it would end by mid-June.

In 1982 the Royal Navy had 60 destroyers and frigates, 28 fighter submarines and two aircraft carriers. Their combat group, which arrived in front of the island's capital Stanley on May 1, counted only ten warships and three submarines in addition to the porters. By the end of the war, 25 warships had been dispatched - four of them sank - and six submarines. Why wasn't your fleet bigger?

As a rule of thumb, if you want to permanently station a ship 8,000 miles away you need a total of four or five of them in your inventory. There are factors such as the passage time: it takes about three weeks for the route, a little less at top speed, that wears out the machines, in any case a ship has to go back for overhaul after a while. At any given time, one or two in five of their ships are undergoing overhaul or repair and one may not be operational for other reasons. As a result, typically only about two in five are ready to go. We sent almost everything we could. And we had other operational obligations too, for example in the North Atlantic. The "Sheffield", for example, was withdrawn from the Persian Gulf. In theory, we would never have been able to send all 60 destroyers and frigates at the same time and have them on site for several months: at some point they have to go home and then they have no replacement for them on site is the "roulement" problem in distant operations. And the most critical factor was the aircraft carriers: we only had two.

What was your biggest fear about the Argentines?

We didn't even know that on the way down. It was less a question of fear than considerable ignorance of (a) what they had, and (b) what could they do with it? My main concern was with their airborne Exocets: we weren't sure if they could get them operational. We knew they only owned five, but we didn't know if they'd hooked those up to their "Etendard" jets and practiced them. But every war is a matter of trial and error. You do this: You say, "I've got it all." observed, so I'll try something and see if it works, and if not, I'll stop and try something else. " As commanders, you have to be very flexible and learn from mistakes in order to be successful. If something doesn't work, stop! Not like, for example, in World War I, when General Haig attempted frontal mass attacks on the Somme: he failed the first time, did it again and again and again, and thus always failed.

-> Video: "Bomb Alley" - air raids on the British

They had it all after the Argentine porter ...

Yes, we missed it. We almost got him, but the reason why it failed was this: One day we got a report from a "Sea Harrier" fighter, according to which he had spotted him in the northwest. But now I was on board the carrier " Hermes "that the Harriers' radars were not working properly. The report, however, came from a Harrier on the Invincible, and their Harriers did not have these radar problems: They worked there! In fact, the Harrier had reported the direction AND range of the target, but by the time the report got on board the Hermes operations room, someone had erased the range - because the Harrier people on Hermes didn't know the Harrier radars on the Invincible were perfectly fine, so they thought the range was nonsense. So we only had one direction, no range - so they could use their ship-based missiles Don't say where the porter is, just roughly, and that's not enough. Anyway, we were lucky with the porter: he had engine problems and therefore only made 19 knots. And then it was the day she got from there wanted to launch an air raid on us, there was no wind. Therefore, they could not launch their fully loaded "Skyhawk" bombers and drove home. The doldrums lasted five days, very unusual for the area.

Your Harriers, on the other hand, had no problem with the calm, they didn't need a headwind to take off. There were many other examples of luck in their campaign.

Well, you have to be lucky. Otherwise you will probably lose - like the Argentines.

Why did you actually give the order to Captain Chris Wreford-Brown of the submarine "Conquerer" to torpedo the cruiser "General" Belgrano? (Out of a crew of around 1100, 323 died, the action was politically controversial, note). He was only armed with artillery, not with Exocets like his two destroyers accompanying him. So they were actually the main threat, so why not attack them? Her crew wasn't much either.

Nobody has asked me that before. But I didn't tell Wreford to sink the Belgrano! My order was intercepted and overwritten at home (by the command posts in London, note). Indeed, I considered the entire Belgrano group to be a danger, especially their destroyers, although the Belgrano's guns were not insignificant. My term "Belgrano Group" must have been shortened to "Belgrano"; in any case, Wreford-Brown received the order to sink the Belgrano from the Ministry of Defense, not from me. The signal that I had sent to the submarine radio network was immediately intercepted by the chief of the submarine fleet before Wreford could receive it. Then you went to Thatcher to get the green light, you might say "Belgrano Group", I don't know. In any case, my order was interpreted as "sink Belgrano". Be that as it may, the cruiser was the fatter target, it seemed natural to attack. Especially since I wasn't that concerned about the Argies' ship-based Exocets, we had the same and knew how to handle them. And so the success of their Exocets, which they took off from airplanes, was founded on our part: the destroyer "Sheffield" got its "chaff" (defense system that is supposed to make a target invisible to radar with a cloud of metal foil strips, note), the freighter "Atlantic Conveyor" had no trouble, the destroyer "Glamorgan" was stupid.

The Royal Navy actually suffered pretty badly from the blows of a South American country. You almost lost the war!

Well, just almost lost, and it's always about wear and tear-related losses. They pay for ships, men, or land with ships, or men for planes, or whatever, you pay with life and or material to win. It's a war of attrition. Your main interest as commanding officer is to compare the wear and tear of your forces with that of others. And it's all about having strength left in the end when the other one has nothing left and is lying in the corner. That's the whole trick of war, that's what its whole brutal damn existence is about! All they can do is try to minimize their losses as much as possible, but they know that these are exactly what are driving the war.

You were also lucky that most of the Argentine bombs did not explode.

Yes, that was because of poor detonator settings. Their bombs were built to be dropped from a certain height; they only armed themselves after a while. But because the Argentines were afraid of our "Sea Dart" anti-aircraft missiles, they did not like to fly at medium altitudes, where Sea Dart was most effective, but extremely deep - admittedly, almost all of their bombs were not designed to be dropped that deep If they want to drop bombs as low-flying bombs, they should be equipped with brake parachutes so that they can go up a safe distance behind them and not tear their own plane from the sky. But the Argentines hardly had any parachute-delayed bombs, and so, thankfully, their bombing attacks were decisively less effective than In addition, it has been a long time since the pilots realized that their bombs were not going off - at least not until the BBC made it big on the news.

The three bombs against the destroyer "Coventry" then went off ...

That was a little different. If you throw a 1000-pounder low against the broadside of a ship, as in the case of the destroyer "Glasgow", it usually penetrates the hull without exploding. Coventry was attacked from the bow, that is, along its length. The trajectory of the bombs is then longer, so they have time to get armed. So don't show yourself from the narrow side! Up until then, the tenet was that you should present your ship to the enemy on the narrow side during an air raid, it is then a smaller target. But me gave the order based on our experience: "Show them your broadside!"

In the end, after six weeks of war, more than half of their fleet was sunk, damaged or otherwise technically in the process of disintegration. What would that have looked like in a war with the Warsaw Pact?

Well, the Royal Navy would have been largely limited to securing routes across the nearby North Atlantic. A third world war would probably have been over after a week or two, because if the Russians had reached France, the French would have used nuclear weapons. But yes, such a war ... I knew a guy named Karendevich, a captain in the Soviet Navy, a Ukrainian. I once asked him what they learn about us in the West. He said, "That they are on the border planning a massive invasion of the east." I replied, "Oh, that's funny. We are told that they are planning the same thing, just the other way."

But would the Navy have been afloat after a week in World War III?

Oh yeah! We would have held out that long. And we would have brought many ships to Norway in the fjords, where the Russian naval bombers would have been of little use.

Wasn't it risky, the land troops (3rd command brigade and 5th infantry brigade) on only two transport ships to the southto bring? Lose one and the war is over ...

No, because we didn't send the vans to the front line. The men on the "Canberra" were distributed to the landing ships far east of the battle fleet. And the "Queen Elizabeth II." even drove to South Georgia, where the troops were reloaded. The range of the Argentines was very limited and they had no way of finding our vans in the Atlantic. Their reconnaissance capabilities did not extend beyond about 800 miles from land, and they did not have satellites.

Regarding the accident at Fitzroy / Port Pleasant: Why wasn't there even a single warship stationed as anti-aircraft defense? (During a hasty landing maneuver on the east coast of the Falklands, two dropships were bombed by Argentine jets on June 8, 1982. 56 British people died and about the same number were wounded, mostly infantrymen of the "Welsh Guards", it was the largest single British loss in the campaign) .

There were several reasons. At first I had forbidden the commander of the Amphibious Task Force from sending more than one DropShip forward at the same time without escort. But he sent two off. When I found out, the weather was very bad. So I thought that with luck it would stay that way and the Argentines would not be able to fly. Then it cleared up, their ground troops saw the ships from a long distance and called the planes. Had I been more foresighted and astute, I could have sent a hunter patrol circling the bay. But even then, the Argies would have got through because their jets flew very low and were difficult to see. And we didn't have early warning planes. The Harriers found it difficult to spot low-flying aircraft. Half of our hunters had problems with the radar at all, and interestingly enough, the other half didn't. All the radars were okay! It was just that the 800th Squadron on the Hermes had chosen to ignore the 801st Squadron's advice on how to set up the radars. It said, "Oh, you just want to do something important and make a career by saying how awesome you are, but we don't believe you!" Sharkey Ward was the lead Harrier pilot of the 801s, which managed completely different planes compared to the Hermes However, I was advised on the Harriers by the Hermes people, and so I stayed closed to the fact that I had all-weather fighters in my fleet, while I had to believe that I only had daytime visual interceptors, because that has I get so gossiped on Hermes.If I had chosen the Invincible as my flagship, things would have turned out differently! But it would always have been difficult to spot low-flying aircraft over the sea. In addition, Sea Harrier was still in development as a weapon system and we went to war with it. Then everything goes wrong.

What were the Argentines' military mistakes?

There were many of them. For example, that they did not give their bombers any protection from the fighter. They did so initially because their "Mirage" fighters had done badly in the very first aerial battles against the Harriers on May 1st. They concluded that the Mirage had no chance against the Sea Harrier. But without escort, the bombers are shot down instead This also limits the tactical options, because your bombers now have to fly extremely low, very fast, you almost crash into the sea, everything happens very quickly, you get tunnel vision and tend to attack the first ship that comes along, and that usually will be a destroyer or a frigate, while others would be far more important, namely the carriers and troop carriers. There is also the theory that after the first strategic bomber attack on Stanley on May 1st by an RAF "Vulcan bomber" the Argentines attacked Feared Buenos Aires and therefore withheld their hunters for mainland protection. And so their bombers had such a high loss rate that in the end they could not have been flying for more than a few more days. Imagine you are a pilot and you are sitting at a breakfast table where half of your buddies are already missing.

How did you personally live on the Hermes?

There was a small cabin, not quite three meters square, with an even smaller shower, with a bed, table, cupboard, metal clad. A few steps further down the corridor was the Flagg operations room, which was in turn separated from the actual bridge of the ship, and from which a small balcony opened onto the flight deck. Sleep was rare, by the way, but very easy. The Navy also teaches you how to sleep standing up.

In your book you write a lot on the subject of war stress and its symptoms. Did you suffer from it?

No, I do not think so.

But the ship's doctor once said he saw signs of stress in them.

Well, the amiable chief physician at Hermes came to me and we talked about the stress problem, which can have massive consequences, we recently found a guy who was curled up under a table like a fetus in the womb. Like all experts, he talked too much, over 20 minutes, and at some point I yawned. Then he points to me and shouts: "Ah, that can be an indication!" But when you develop war stress you are usually the last one to notice. You have to ask someone else if I had that too back then.

How close did death seem to you in your tower on the Hermes?

He was quite a long way away. I think most soldiers go to war thinking that there's not much you can do anyway if your name is written on someone else's ball. Do not worry too much, it is a waste of time and does not bring any good. I didn't think about losing either, that's negative thinking. Just do your best.