‘But then we live, do we not, in an age of misinformation?’ Tam Dalyell (Thatcher’s Torpedo, p.16).
One thing puzzles me. You Anglo-Saxons are supposed to be so logical. As a mere Latin, I thought that a Total Exclusion Zone must mean that if you were in it, then you get shot at. If you were not in it, you did not get shot at. But if you are going to be shot at in any case, why have a Total Exclusion Zone at all? Captain Bonzo, of the Belgrano (Gavshon & Rice, The Sinking of the Belgrano, p.112).
If you shoot a person in the back, when they are walking home and not expecting it, and they are not carrying a weapon that would be capable of harming you even had they so wished, then that act has to be a crime. You have committed murder in cold blood. Even if you claim that there was a war on – though others may not accept this – you would still be liable to be prosecuted, for a war crime.
You would have committed an act of cowardice, by killing someone giving them no opportunity to defend themselves. Surely, you may say, no-one could be honoured for such a thing?
To evade its guilt under international law, the British Government suppressed centrally-relevant information and lied on just about everything – as regards why a modern nuclear submarine the HMS Conqueror should have shot and sunk the floating-museum pre-WW2 battleship the Belgrano, with 1100 novice seamen on board, its guns having a maximum range of 13 miles, 36 miles outside the TEZ, eleven hours after it had started sailing home, and when not a single British life had been lost in the engagement.
In his Official History of the Falklands War, Sir Lawrence Freedman remarks;
‘These were, in a number of respects, inaccurate’
concerning governmental statements in the wake of the Belgrano sinking. That is a monumental understatement, concerning the tremendous ramifications of Untruth which proliferated around this event, and their endurance through the years. For a detailed account of how the Government held onto statements which it knew to be untrue, and how it only very gradually admitted the truth concerning this event, chiefly through being continually challenged by Tam Dalyell, see Clive Ponting’s book, The Right to Know (1985).
The emergence of the diary of Narenda Sethia, from one on board HMS Conqueror, had a big effect in exposing Government lies. As Clive Ponting wrote, ‘In the Autumn of 1983 the diary of Lieutenant Sethia, who was the Supplies Officer of HMS Conqueror, became available to both Tam Dalyell and Arthur Gavshon. This confirmed that the Government’s account of events was almost totally inaccurate…’ (The Right to Know, p.121)
Major Lies by HMG over Belgrano sinking
- The Belgrano was approaching the task force and was a threat to it.
- It kept changing direction throughout the day.
- It was heading for the shallow waters of the Burdwood bank, where it could have been lost by the Conqueror.
- It was part of a ‘pincer movement’ attack on the task force.
- The Conqueror detected the Belgrano on May 2nd.
- The decision to fire was made by the submarine commander.
- News of the Peruvian peace proposals did not reach London until after the attack.
These are very similar to the seven ‘main examples of untrue or misleading statements’ given in the FAC Report (cvii-cx); also to the ‘litany of lies’ enumerated in the house of commons by Tam Dalyell on 24 March 1983 (Ponting, RK p112). Here are some details:
LIE 1: ‘This heavily armed surface attack group was close to the total exclusion zone and was closing on elements of our task force, which was only hours away’ Secretary of State for Defence, Official Report 4 May TT p.14.
In fact on the morning of May 2nd, ‘They [Belgrano and accompanying two warships] spent the night meticulously paralleling the exclusion zone about 18 miles to the south of it,’ as the Conqueror diarist Sethia recorded FAC36. HMS Conqueror had been tracking the Belgrano for 30 hours before sinking it, and initially in its fairly slow Eastward motion due South of the Exclusion Zone (5 knots) it had been going slightly towards the Task Force. Had it been deemed a threat that would have been a logical time to attack. It had reversed direction and was travelling homewards for its last 11 hours.
LIE 2: There was only one significant change of course, that the Belgrano had been travelling due East, and reversed at 8.30 am BST (4.30 am SAT) to due West. Then at 10 am SAT she turned to a slightly more Southward direction. Captain Bonzo ‘steered a slow, steady source, not even using sonar equipment’ tending to indicate that ‘he assumed he was entitled to safe passage in international waters.’ (RA 86)
Sandy Woodward’s account One Hundred Days mistakenly has the Belgrano pursuing ‘a gentle zig-zag’ before it was shot. (p219) as if it were endeavouring to escape detection: whereas its crew evidently had no idea they were in danger, being mostly in bed or in the restaurant. The present Wiki site (2012) has the Belgrano pursuing a zig-zag path, which was discredited years ago.
LIE 3: ‘Concerned that HMS Conqueror might lose the General Belgrano as she ran over shallow water of the Burdwood Bank, the task force commander sought and obtained a change in the rules of engagement to allow an attack outside the 20-mile exclusion zone’ – government reply to a written question (29 Nov 82 TT14) Dalyell ascertained that the well-surveyed Burdwood Bank had a minimum depth of 25 fathoms, over 150 feet of water, but it was mostly 90 fathoms or more, c. 600’ of water. The draught of HMS Conqueror is 55 feet when submerged (Jane’s Fighting Ships). When sunk it was at least 45 miles South-West from the Burdwood Bank and heading away from it. ..’Now when one looked at the co-ordinates, she’s been and was going and was known to be going nowhere near the Burdwood Bank.’ TD34. The latter is basically within the TEZ and due South of the islands.
LIE 4: Cecil Parkinson (on War cabinet) recalled ‘We were told that the Belgrano posed a threat, that it had the capacity within a time of about 6 hours of steaming towards our fleet, getting within range of it.’ The Belgrano’s Captain Bonzo was told about this, and he replied: ‘Absolute nonsense. The nearest British surface ship must have been 250 miles off. I’d have needed 14 hours to catch it at my top cruising speed of 18 knots, provided it stopped dead in its tracks.’ (3.6.83 FAC 36) He added that it would be ‘an odd pincer movement’ which had its prongs 350 miles apart. (G&R 270)
This group was patrolling in a slow and leisurely manner due South of the TEZ, even though it could detect the presence of the Conqueror submarine a mere 4,000 feet away: i.e, they assumed they were safe. The Belgrano had no sonar for detecting submarines. It had some ‘Exocet missiles’ made out of wood.
LIE 5: ‘The next day 2 May at 8 am London time one of our submarines detected the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, escorted by two destroyers.’ Nott, Commons, 4 May. Not until April 1984 did Thatcher admit that it was identified on 1 May. The four-stage sequence was as follows: on Thursday 29th GCHQ intercepted an order to the Belgrano, concerning its patrol, to go due East ‘to a set point’ after which it would ‘return.’ Then on 30th The Conqueror locates it, presumably as a result of this info, then on May 1st it plus two escorts are ‘identified’ i.e. the British Navy recognised it as the pre- WW2 floating museum. Then on May 2nd it is sunk.
Lie 6: Faslane, Scotland, – Where Truth first Emerged! Scottish MP Tam Dalyell, Labour’s shadow Minister for Science, – whose weekly New Scientist column was much appreciated by British scientists for its reliability and factual accuracy – was reading The Scotsman of July 1982. Commander Wrenford Brown, captain of HMS Conqueror, had been asked:
‘Why, Commander Wrenford-Brown, did you sink the Belgrano?’
And he answered that he did it
‘On orders from Northwood.’ TD 34.
It dawned upon Mr Dalyell:
‘Now that was totally different from what parliament, press and the people had been told.’
Likewise the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported;
‘the situation was reported to fleet HQ at Northwood, Middlesex. The decision to attack was taken by HQ and was confirmed by Commander Wrenford-Brown.’ (Thatcher’s Torpedo, p.20).
Vital info here came from the log book of the Conqueror (UW p56): Sub captain Wrenford-Brown had first queried the order to fire, by explaining to Northwoods how the Belgrano had reversed course and was heading homewards – ‘twice in the period after that he again received the disturbing signal that he could now sink the Belgrano, and he didn’t do so,’ as Clive Ponting explained to our Enquiry (56) Finally, Wrenford-Brown had to obey orders and three torpedoes were fired. This shows Nott’s mendacity in explaining to the Foreign Affairs Committee how the sole message relayed to the Conqueror, that afternoon, was of the change in the Rules of Engagement.
Lie 7 : Thatcher claimed that no news of the Peruvian Peace Plan reached London until 3 hours after the sinking of the Belgrano; ‘The first indication of the Peruvian proposals reached London at 11.15 pm on Sunday 2nd May.’ Freedman’s Official History endorses this view. See section on these plans, for detailed rebuttal. Key liason-figures have chosen to remain silent, especially Lord Thomas. The ‘Crown Jewels’ over which Clive Ponting was prosecuted, concerned telegraphs sent from Washington and Lima over the crucial weekend – especially those sent before the Belgrano sinking – remain secret to this day. Those telegrams would have expressed hope and tidings of peace, which we the people could not be allowed to see. On Sunday afternoon President Belaunde went on television to say that his mediation was going to be successful: would he really have done that, had no-one in his team even contacted Britain?
A couple of further untruths are worth mentioning: ‘The House will know that the attack by our submarine involved the capital ship only and not its escorting destroyers,’ according to John Nott’s official report given on the 4th of May. The PM backed him up, ‘the cruiser was accompanied by two destroyers, which were not attacked in any way.’ (RA41) In fact, of the three torpedoes fired by the Conqueror, one struck the Hippolito Bouchard and it did explode, cracking the ship’s hull. (Source: interview with Captain Barcena of the Hippolito, Guardian 18.10.00). Then, there is a persistent story that the Conqueror returned the next day ‘and saw the two destroyers, helping with the search and rescue of survivors – so it turned away and left them to it,’ (Woodward, 100 days 226) whereas actually it was then still under instructions to sink anything it found, and so such rescue could not take place until the 4th of May.
We suggest listening to Ian Mikado in the Sound Archive
If you want to know what the affair was really about, and if you want that in one paragraph, then here is Ian Mikado at our Belgrano Enquiry:
… But the basic deception, the basic deception from which all the rest flows, the basic deception which we did manage to uncover in spite of deliberate ministerial obstruction, was that a week before the critical Belgrano weekend, the Government decided to make a radical change in their announced Falklands policy. They decided at the same time to deceive the House and the country by not announcing the change and by pretending that they were continuing the original stated policy. That original stated policy was to use the minimum force necessary to secure a diplomatic solution to the conflict. During the weekend of 23rd/24th April the War Cabinet decided to abandon that policy and they decided instead to carry out an act of aggression sufficiently large and dramatic to precipitate and to escalate military action to the level that they could impose a solution by force. The large and dramatic act which they chose was to sink the aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo which they could reasonably claim was a potential source of danger to our forces. So they searched the seas for the aircraft carrier but even with all the American satellites and GCHQ and all the rest of it, they failed to find the aircraft carrier. But they had to have some target, so instead they sank the Belgrano which they knew perfectly well was not a potential source of danger to our forces. …We sank the Belgrano because we wouldn’t find the Veinticinco de Mayo.
He further added:
The visit of Francis Pym to Washington and New York over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd May was part of the pretence that the Government was still seeking a diplomatic solution. Mind you, he himself, Francis himself was not a party to the deception, indeed he was one of the victims of it. He was sent off, an innocent abroad, to talk peace with Al Haig and Perez de Cuellar without being told that any such talk would be scuppered while he was engaged in it, by the decision to sink one of the Argentine capital ships. 139.
‘A sustained deception of Parliament by Ministers seriously undermines the accountability of the Executive to the House of Commons which is one of the essentials of our parliamentary democracy. We deplore the deception of parliament, the failure of HMG to correct false statements at the earliest opportunity, and the subsequent reiteration of untrue or misleading statements by Government Ministers’ – that was the conclusion of the ‘Minority Report’ of the FAC. And further, ‘most of it’s [HMG] suppression of information and facts from our Committee, from Parliament and from the public are in no way justified on grounds of national security.’ (FAC, cxxii. Ian Mikado, Nigel Spearing).