‘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).

We suggest listening to Clive Ponting on the Audio Archive, and also to Ian Mikado

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.

The Truth

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).

5 Responses to “SEVEN LIES”

  1. ed samouelle says:

    I am currently writing a book that includes the sinking of the Belgrano. How may I gain permission to use the seven lies? regards Ed

  2. FOARP says:

    Mendacious nonsense. Let’s knock ’em down:

    1) “The Belgrano was approaching the task force and was a threat to it.”

    Belgrano had been ordered to attack the British fleet on the 1st of May, and as you admit, had guns with a 13-mile range. Yes, she was super-annuated, but had she got within range, she could have wreaked havok on the British fleet. As Admiral Molina Pico admitted, her change of course was prompted only by a desire to await the right moment after the first attempt at attacking had been cancelled due to weather conditions.

    To say that Belgrano was a threat to the task force, and was approaching the task force immediately before the attack was cancelled, was no word of a lie.

    2) “It kept changing direction throughout the day.”

    You yourself admit that they had at least three changes of course during the day. The zig-zag that was observed by HMS Conqueror is not at all incompatible with Hector Bonzo’s statement that they maintained a general course to the west – one can zig zag and maitain the same general heading. This, then, is also not a lie.

    3) “It was heading for the shallow waters of the Burdwood bank, where it could have been lost by the Conqueror.”

    The weird thing here is to see you posing as experts on naval warfare. The fact that the draft of the Conqueror was less than the total depth of the Burdwood Bank is immaterial. What they are referring to is the sonar conditions on the Burdwood Bank – tracking targets in shallow water via sonar is much more difficult than in deep water as the sound cannot propagate as far.

    Similarly your claim that Belgrano was sailing away from Burdwood Bank, which was to the North-West of Belgrano (and between it and Argentina). If you want to claim that Belgrano’s heading was towards Argentina, and that it was not zig-zagging, then how do you explain her heading immediately before being sunk (i.e., towards the South-West)?

    Again, this is no lie.

    4) “It was part of a ‘pincer movement’ attack on the task force”

    We already know that this is true from Admiral Lombardo’s intercepted orders to seek out and attack the British fleet, and from Admiral Molina Pico’s statement that she was part of a co-ordinated plan of attack on the British fleet.

    Not a lie.

    5) “The Conqueror detected the Belgrano on May 2nd.”

    A difference of a few hours in statements. To lie implies intent (and, reasonably speaking, a motive) yet you have not shown anything of the kind.

    Not a lie.

    6) “The decision to fire was made by the submarine commander.”

    An attempt to read too much into the statements made. Any decision to sink the Belgrano required permission and decision-making at multiple levels, including the commander.

    Not a lie.

    7) “News of the Peruvian peace proposals did not reach London until after the attack.”

    You have not shown that the cabinet knew of the proposals. Why do you think you have proved a lie here? Instead all you have shown is an exchange of messages without knowing their substance. Just as much to the point, why do you think the Peruvian peace proposal is important when other proposals with exactly the same content (i.e., not including an Argentine withdrawal from the islands) had already been rejected?

    Not a lie.

  3. AGD says:

    The Threat Posed

    Regarding the level of threat posed by the Belgrano Task Group 79.3, you fail to mention that the 2 destroyer escorts, both ex-USN Allen M. Sumner class, had been outfitted with 4 Exocet missiles each back in 1979.

    While correct that the ARA Belgrano had been fitted with mock Exocet launchers, how were the RN and government at the time supposed to know that these weapons were wooden? The Argentine Navy had successfully mounted Exocets on 4 different WW2 era destroyers. Later in the conflict they created a shore based battery from ship based Exocets and successfully attack the Glamorgan. The technical ability of the Argentine weapon artificers should not be underestimated and it would not have been outside the bounds of possibility that they had mounted real Exocets onto the ARA Belgrano.

    Considering that Task Force 79.3 was potentially armed with 12 Exocet missiles I think you have seriously downplayed the potential threat posed by focusing on the naval gun armament.

    Burdwood Bank

    You have stated that the depth of the bank was mostly over 600′ / 200m with shallows of 150’/50m. But how accurately surveyed was the area was in 82′, how old and accurate were the maps were on board HMS Conqueror and how accurately could they have plotted their position? You have stated that the Conqueror had a submerged draught of 55′, so running at periscope depth I imagine that this would become 100′. So while running a PD, they would have successfully passed over the shallows, but what I don’t know is if this would be considered safe and within the Release To Service of the submarine (I imagine one or similar would have existed). Also we don’t know how “loud” the submarine would be to passive sonar when operating in these conditions, with the bow wave reaching the sea bed.

    I doubt that the captain of the Conqueror would want to remain at PD in close contact with TG79.3 for extended periods of time and expect they would have opened the distance and submerged to improve their acoustical advantage the surface ships. And as stated by FOARP this would be considerably harder, if not impossible over the bank.

    Now all of the above is predicated on TG79.3 remaining at a relatively slow speed. The flank speed of all 3 ships was theoretically over 32knots, although I have no idea if this were still possible in ’82 or with the sea state at the time. If the plan were to get into a suitable position and then sprint over the bank, HMS Conqueror would be unable to follow and maintain convert. Travelling at high speed while submerged HMS Conqueror’s passive sonar would be blind and they would not have been able to travel the position of TG79.3. The captain may have been forced to break contact and transit round the bank at depth and high speed. Either way, if TG79.3 had detected the presence of HMS Conqueror, or merely wanted to ensure it wasn’t being followed by a submarine, a high speed sprint across the length of the bank would have lost any following submarine.

    The Pincer Attack

    While a simultaneous attack from 2 different bearings would have been disastrous of the Task Force, it was not necessary for the Argentine navy to do so to gain a tactical advantage. Ideally the Task Force will have wanted to place it’s Type 42 destroyers and HMS Bristol “up-threat” of any air/missile attack. In order to not split the air defence assets into 2 separate groups, the Task Force would either have to withdraw to the East, and/or launch a Harrier attack on TG79.3 as soon as possible. This would immediately reduce the number of Harriers available for CAP providing and provide an opening for a counter-strike by their carrier force. TG79.3 would not need to be in range to launch it’s Exocets in order to reduce the defensive capability of the Task Force, it just needed to draw them away.

    “The decision to fire was made by the submarine commander”

    I’m struggling to find out who said that the decision to sink ARA Belgrano was the decision of Commander Wrenford-Brown. It would have exceed his RoE to do so with additional orders. I know Admiral Woodward sought to extend the RoE to allow an attack, and if Cmd Wrenford-Brown has done the same, this is completely different from the Cmd actually making the decision to attack.

  4. matt says:

    The Belgrano was an enemy military ship. It is not a war crime to attack an enemy vessel, even if it is inadequately armed, and even if it appeared to be retreating (which is arguable). Britain was free to change the rules of engagement at any time. Argentina should be grateful for the TEZ and that its sole aircraft carrier was not attacked while cowering in port, which would probably have caused civilian collateral damage.

    The real war crime was declaring war against a nuclear-armed first-world nation, then sending a bunch of trainees on an obsolete light cruiser into waters where the Royal Navy could have been present.
    This was stupid, and shows a reckless disregard for the lives of the young Argentinian trainees on the part of the naval command.

    What did Argentina think was going to happen in a war with the UK?

    And I note they still don’t seem to have learnt their lesson – they’re still going on about “Las Malvinas” now. They might need some sabre-rattling to keep ’em in their place.

  5. Belgrano’s captain, Hector Bonzo, totally rejects the suggestion that the sinking of his ship was a crime. It was, he said, a sad but legitimate act of war. And the war had been started by Argentina.

    There is a notorious case of the British sinking an enemy warship that was doing its best to sail home and which was already so badly damaged that she posed no immediate threat. 2000 Sailors died, but nobody was ever tried or punished for it. The ship in question was of course the Bismarck in 1941.