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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Nott to Go to War, 27 April 2014
This review is from: Exocet Falklands: The Untold Story of Special Forces Operations (Hardcover)
(publisher’s review copy)

Whatever happens, they have got
The Exocet and we have Nott.

Paraphrased from Mr Irfon Roberts’ letter to the Times 2.2.1983, paraphrasing Hilaire Belloc.

This is a very well-told and researched account of three disparate missions that were dreamed up to remove the threat to our Falklands War task force from air-launched Exocet missiles. One was aborted and two were cancelled, but their study provides lessons far beyond the difficulties caused by ‘Fog of War’. The stories of their conception exemplify a belief in action as a substitute for thought.

The author emerges from his other careers as yachtsman, Commando, and popular author as now a serious professional historian. The acknowledgments, let alone numerous attributions in the text, show how complete his inquiries have been, aided by his personal acquaintance with many of the senior players stemming from his own time ‘down South’ both before and during the Falklands War. His ability to tap into and interview Argentinians suggests an engaging personality.

We are first introduced to the political milieu in London where a cabal of sea-blind, anti-naval and defeatist FCO staff, Secretary of Defence (Nott), CGS and CAS were brought to order by First Sea Lord Sir Henry Leach’s intervention with the Prime Minister. S-T’s scathing criticisms are well justified and the only mystery is how the man who appears to have been the architect of our woes - for his plan to sell HMS Invincible and scrap the landing ships and the Ice Patrol ship must have sent a clear signal to the Argentine junta - was knighted after the war was over. Quite rightly the author does not suffer fools gladly, for in war fools cost lives and the more so the more senior the fool. Hysterical nationalism apart, S-T points out that possession of the Falklands gave the Argentines the opportunity to develop an air base out of range of their intended Chilean next adversaries.

We move on to the ridiculous, irresponsible and unprofessional refusal of the SAS, from spurious considerations of security but perhaps from other motives, to coordinate their activities with the other services.

The first mission recounted, Plum Duff, involved an idea of using a one-way trip in a naval helicopter to land a patrol on Tierra del Fuego to reconnoitre, and perhaps assault, the Rio Grande base from which the Exocet strikes were launched. This was planned in a complete intelligence vacuum with old maps (brought to us as illustrations in the book) that did not even show where the base was. Unsurprisingly this all went completely wrong.

I get the impression that the SAS seniors wanted the ill-briefed and ill-equipped Plum Duff patrol to perish so that the story of its want of planning, intelligence, and coordination would die with them. This bespeaks an apparent want of care, even contempt for the soldiers under command and their Fleet Air Arm chauffeurs. Previous exhibition of physical courage, however exemplary, is not enough in a commander. There has to be moral courage as well. For the senior echelons of the SAS safe behind their desks to set up a Roman Holiday for political purposes is not leadership, nor was the apparent later cowardly scapegoating of the (here anonymous) Plum Duff patrol leader, who took a very courageous decision to abort his patrol when it became clear that the sacrifice of his men could yield no useful outcome.

As it was there were two results - the destruction of a much-needed helicopter and the removal from the board of an RAF Nimrod which had been operating from Chilean territory and in Chilean airspace.

The pilot of the helicopter involved, Richard Hutchings (also RM), has told his part of the Plum Duff story in ‘Special Forces Pilot’ (cited).

‘Mikado’ was a hare-brained plan to land two Hercules at Rio Grande out of which would roar a company of SAS who would charge off and destroy the remaining Exocets, their Super Etendard carriers, and the aircrafts’ pilots. The concept was founded in an imbecilic false analogy between the Israelis raiding the well-lit, undefended civil airport at Entebbe and landing a Hercules against a defended military airbase. It would have cost us the only two Hercules capable of in-flight refuelling and thus of supplying the Falklands task force by air, and they would probably have been shot out of the sky before ever landing their troops. The story exposes the senior officers, of an RAF run until 2013 for and by fighter pilots, as managers rather than leaders (as later exemplified in relation to the losses of Chinook ZD576 in the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 and Nimrod XV230 near Kandahar in 2006). The intellectual shortcomings of the air marshals are contrasted with the can-do professionalism of the 47 Squadron’s Special Forces Flight.

The third adventure, Kettledrum, mercifully also called off, involved landing an SBS team at Puerto Deseado, an airstrip with no involvement in Exocet at all. For reasons of seamanship (see the chart in the book) the insertion from the submarine should have been seen to have been wholly impractical.

As the story unfolds Symonds-Tailyour gives us valuable correctives showing what real help we received from France, and also more cautiously from Spain and Chile. Per contra we see how the Argentine aggressors were helped by Israel under its anti-British terrorist leader Menachim Begin.

The work is densely packed with facts at every level. It is copiously and professionally referenced and indexed and is served by a comprehensive bibliography. We are well served by its maps. S-T has done an amazing job in obtaining photographs from British and Argentine sources, which I am sure are nearly all new to us.

I learned a lot from this book, in spite of having read an number of other works about the Falklands War, mostly by participants, and I had a number of misconceptions corrected. It includes the odd fine grain critique of some other previously published accounts.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 May 2015 11:05:13 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 May 2015 11:10:24 BDT
'Seaweed', in terms of Plum Duff and Mikado, some of your comments and assessments are inaccurate and very misleading. To some extent, this is understandable, as elements within Southby-Tailyour's book are equally inaccurate and very misleading. Truth is both perception and reality.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2015 14:42:52 BDT
Seaweed says:
In the absence of specifics I obviously cannot respond!

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2015 15:21:34 BDT
There the matter rests.
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