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on 23 February 2012
".. impossible .. the Navy do not know the word .."
- General Carton de Wiart VC, Norway, 1940

1n 1982 Rear Admiral Chris Parry was the Observer of Humphrey, HMS Antrim's Wessex helicopter. In that capacity he became the only Fleet Air Arm Observer to incapacitate an enemy submarine since 1945, and he helped first insert and then rescue the SAS from a misguided attempt to enter South Georgia via the Fortuna Glacier, and experienced many other helicopter operations well beyond the safety parameters of normal peacetime practice. Every night he wrote, for himself, a detailed account of his and his ship's activities and his thoughts regarding them; for, as a graduate historian, he recognised that all other accounts would be informed by hindsight and rationalisation; his would be unvarnished actuality. He demonstrates this at the end where, the war over, he has to correct the ship's Report of Proceedings where some matters have been incorrectly recorded and some remembered `with advantages' as Shakespeare says.

In 2009 while sorting out for a house move the author rediscovered in a forgotten trunk this loose-leaf diary of the Falklands War, which is now presented to the general reader. We are assured that it is unedited except for the deletion of some items that would cause distress. Given the tart nature of some of his immediate (and apparently justifiable) comments on such targets as John Nott (I never have understood why he was knighted, that seemed to me to be on a par with Caligula making his horse a consul), Admiral Woodward, HMS Endurance and her captain, Cindy Buxton and her father, and unsurprisingly the BBC World Service, one can only regret losing what has been excised.

Endurance, whose captain was junior to Antrim's, particularly got up Parry's nose when her Wasps turned up late and uninvited at 'his' Santa Fe and, superfluously, fired expensive AS12s at her when she was already quite satisfactorily crippled, for which Endurance's Flight commander received a DSC (see Captain Nick Barker's book `Beyond Endurance' (Pen & Sword Books 2001) ( ). Barker should of course be credited with warning Downing Street about Argentine intentions months before the invasion, for which he was punished by being denied further promotion.

Visiting QE2 Parry had a nasty encounter with two Guards officers (identified only as Rupert 1 and Rupert 2) who demonstrated exactly that mixture of stupidity, ignorance and arrogance which appears to me to have been the cause so many of their men being killed and maimed at Bluff Cove (for more on this see Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour's book `Reasons in Writing' (Pen & Sword Books, 2003) (

In its editorial approach to the conflict the BBC indeed gave little acknowledgment that it is owned by and is funded by a compulsory levy on the British people, nor that this war represented freedom and democracy pitted against a cruel dictatorship. However one cannot help surmising that the information it had in advance of the Goose Green attack and other matters must have been fed to it by a MoD Civil Servant.

Parry's comments on the sinking of the Sheffield give pause for thought. If the reported scuttlebutt is true one wonders how Captain Salt achieved further promotion - but then, he was a submariner.

Antrim's Padre comes in for the occasional gentle sideswipe as he takes some time to realise which way is up. He meets his Waterloo when he tries to confiscate Parry's beloved Wardroom uckers board so as to give it to the Argentine PoWs in another ship.

RN helicopter aircrew are antisubmarine warfare specialists and understand their quarry. Submariners per contra need know little of the air and this deficit surfaced in Woodward's initial estimation of the air threat he would face. Parry's attempts to correct this were not appreciated. Woodward (who seemed to Parry to show that he only took advice from people he liked and knew - a key defect in a Commander) preferred his ill-informed RAF staff officer's erroneous input. Parry permits himself a wintry smile when Woodward is publicly told by CINCFLEET, three days later, to revise his assumptions. Fieldhouse (another submariner) himself rubs Parry the wrong way on their only occasion of meeting, the day before Antrim berths on her return, by clearly not knowing what a Fleet Air Arm Observer is or does.

Another theme is the secrecy with which operations are planned, leaving the man at the pointy end who has to carry them out lacking a full intelligence picture.

As a General List officer Parry entered very fully into the life of his ship, which is well delineated with a wealth of `domestic' detail, including several entertaining dits and examples of matelot humour. When the Royal Navy goes to war it does not leave its sense of humour on the dockside. What also shines through is the Fleet Air Arm's can-do tradition, often an extension of the absolute, age-old determination of the Royal Navy never to leave Percy Pongo in the lurch. This, incidentally, is what informs Nick Richardson's book `No Escape Zone' (Little, Brown 2000) about his escapades as a Sea Harrier pilot over and in Bosnia in 1993 ( ).

I came to `Down South' from a background of service in the mid-sixties in a DLG (London) (in which I was one of the Flight Deck Officers and therefore somewhat in touch with Wessex operations) and a Leander-class frigate. I found this book compelling and highly informative - not only a primer on the role and tasks of an Observer, but as a refresher on how much our ships and weapons systems had moved on in that time - how much more so after twice that interval nowadays. As to the ship and her weapons, Parry includes a descriptive appendix which includes detail on the ship's organisation. My only cavil with that is some apparently optimistic figures for the performance of her guns. Where he touched on anything I knew something about, his judgments were sound, which has inclined me to trust the remainder. His reservations regarding some individuals are balanced by warm appreciation of others, particularly the ratings of his ship's flight, but also some of the other ship's captains like Captain Christopher Craig of HMS Alacrity (see ). Parry is quick to notice and calumniate (but forebears to name) toadies.

The only judgment I truly find fault with is some of his condemnation of their Lordships regarding anti-air missilery. Of course Seaslug and Seacat were old kit but Seacat was optimised on exactly the sort of attack the A4s were carrying out and (Parry in 1982 wasn't to know this) as it was, as far back as 1969 it was planned to retrofit Seawolf for Seacat in the Leander and Tribal classes. As to Seaslug, it was indeed designed against the high level bomber, but it was conceived in the 50s. It was our failure to develop the technology to cast cordite for a tandem boost missile (like its USN contemporaries Terrier and Tartar) that lumbered us with the County Class' extraordinary magazine arrangements whereby the naval constructors had to start with the rigid box of the Seaslug magazine and design the rest of the ship around it. It is culpable that we remained locked to Hawker Siddely's Seadart when we were already negotiating to buy Exocet off the French (and were yet to start building the Type 42s). An indication that we were wasting our time defending against down-the-funnel shots and that sea-skimmers were the business was Styx, already a Soviet export, sinking the Israeli Eilat in 1967. The real problem in 1982 was the radar invisibility of aircraft over land, something only solvable with a Doppler radar. As it was Seaslug might have notched up the odd kill out in the open sea earlier on, but (as Parry points out) pusillanimous RoE restrictions imposed by Whitehall prevented its use.

Eventually Parry comes to terms with Woodward, recognising his strategic ability if resenting his rather wooden touch, and with his Captain. That moment comes after a rather cagey discussion that follows Parry trying to torpedo a strange submarine which successfully swam off submerged at 28 knots.

In case you wonder why we need yet another book on the Falklands, the justification for this one is its immediacy. That said, if you send several thousand people off to a war, they have several thousand deeply individual experiences. So, for instance, there is little here about the land battle, but few books cover so well the recovery of South Georgia. Antrim was then bombed fairly early in the proceedings in Falkland Sound and had first of all to be patched up, and was then used to return to the area of South Georgia to protect its supply route.

The sinkings of Coventry, Atlantic Conveyor and Belgrano are treated at length, the first too not without censure, the last with entire and carefully explained approbation. Sometimes one can feel the Fog of War closing in.

Given that the text was compiled by someone who was very busy and must have often been dog-tired, its literacy is a credit to Portsmouth Grammar School and Oxford University and one must therefore excuse the odd slip. Perhaps the regular diary writing was cathartic. Parry is an erudite and pithy master of the apposite quotation, and his (unsurprisingly) strong sense of history illuminates the work throughout; the narrative sets a rattling pace. One is grateful to his old shipmates and others for contributing so many original, apposite and often amusing photographs. Besides the account of each day's events, his real-time analysis of them is and will be highly valuable.

With the war over and Antrim heading home, there was time to look back and include a half-dozen `lessons learned' each day. Detail apart, the main one is that the Royal Navy must always practice and be prepared for all-out total war and not let any fudges creep in, let alone any corner-cutting like the use of artificial fibres in action dress, a dishonourable derogation of responsibility on the part of some fool apparatchik in the MoD with horrifying consequences. Si vis pacem para bellum.

Straight from the horse's mouth as it were, this book is an absolutely vital reference for any future historian of the Falklands conflict. It is a treasure trove of operational, tactical and technical detail, particularly for those who have traded the wardroom armchair for one that doesn't slide about any more. `Down South' will appeal to all who are wearing or have worn a blue suit - there's a fair amount of roughers that can hardly escape mention - and I feel sure the story will interest most who have worn khaki or whatever the current pretty pattern of combats is. My only gripe, and a minor one, is that I wish the publishers had stumped up for an index.

But just remember this is not an entertaining novel - it is the narrative of a ship and her people with their lives on the line.
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on 22 February 2012
This is an astonishing day by day account of the Falklands conflict kept by a young officer in the Fleet Air Arm, highly educated, well trained and sailing to test his vocation in one of the most hostile environments on earth. As he nears the South Atlantic you can feel the tension rising and he soon gets the chance to prove his mettle, dropping SAS troopers on a glacier in an Arctic gale and having to return, three times, 24 hours later in a terrifying blizzard which had just downed two accompanying aircraft, to rescue them. The book catches the uncertainty, the camaraderie, the fear and the courage to overcome it that make war compulsive reading. Chris Parry reflects on friendship, loss, honour and patriotism. Though a junior officer he was never frightened to offer an opinion and the fact that his opinion more often than not turned out to be right explains why he now writes as a Rear Admiral. This is a moving and inspiring book which shows that the call to arms can speak to the highest and best in human nature.
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on 10 April 2012
I served in HMS Antrim with Chris Parry during the conflict, and am very impressed with his diary. Chris was an inspiration to all of us at the time, and I am not surprised that he went on to reach flag rank. So much nonsense has been written, especially about the South Georgia operation, and I am so glad that the record has been put straight particularly concerning the contribution made by HMS Endurance on the cripping of the Argentinian submarine Sante Fe. I did wonder whether the book would appeal to people without a naval background, but my non-military brother-in-law enjoyed reading it, though he found the constant acronyms a bit tiresome. There is a comprehensive glossary, though. A thoroughly good read, and a bargain at 12 quid.
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on 24 February 2012
Chris Parry's Down South offers an exceptional insight into the workings of the mind of a bright young officer, eager to discover his true potential in exceptional circumstances, during a historic moment in time. Parry's writing style is very engaging and fluid, the prose descriptive, and the diary's narrative is peppered all the way through with amusing anecdotes, poetry, quotes and prayers. I particularly enjoyed the stories about the people Parry was sharing his life with at the time - his respect, fondness and admiration for them is evident - as well as his reflections on what should be learned from the Falklands War experience.
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on 3 April 2012
I served on HMS Antrim during the South Atlantic campaign and kept my watches on the flight deck as one of the SMAC 19/233 helo handlers (many ex-RNers will have had the cold, wet pleasure, I'm sure) appointed from the ship's company as distinct from the flight itself, so I spent the time in close proximity to Parry. I can certainly vouch for the accuracy of the book as regards the events, the "feel" of the ship and the high morale that was maintained on board during the period. Obviously (as with all historical events), my view of how certain things panned out differs but that's neither here nor there.

Interestingly, a friend of mine was looking for more insight into Antrim's campaign when Parry's book was (somewhat fortuitously) published. I purchased copies for both of us and read the whole thing over a weekend, accompanied occasionally by a rather splendid Dalwhinnie 15 year old malt (I rarely drink rum these days!)and a very good read it proved to be.

He captured succinctly the view of Antrim's ships company regarding the Army second wave that arrived on the QE2, it was quickly apparant that they had been very isolated on their trip south and appeared to be quite taken aback by the battle damage the ship had received. His point that they viewed themselves initially as garrison troops was also accurate (although to be fair, this changed rapidly on arrival in the FI, vis the performance of the Scots Guards on Tumbledown).

My only minor quibble with the book is the point that (Captain) Brian Young comes across as an, at times, slightly querulous character in need of Parry's advice, this is very much at odds with the view of majority of those who knew him during the campaign or after his RN service. Perhaps this is Parry putting a hindsight point of view on it but it does come across as "bigging himself up" to some extent.

Otherwise a well written and accurate view of Antrim's campaign. The lessons learned sections were interesting, no-one who was down there would have disagreed, certainly on the paucity of decent anti-aircraft weaponry (particularly close-range cannon)...our view of Sea Cat at the time; "useful against Stukas". Speaks volumes really.
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on 9 August 2012
An interesting insight into the role played by the helicopter pilots of the Fleet Air Arm. The glacier rescue of the SAS from the Fortuna Glacier was an epic of courage, determination and sheer flying excellence. As a "Brown Job" on the ground, whether in Northern Ireland or The Falklands, I always thanked Fate when a Fleet Air Arm pilot showed up because I knew if it could be done, it would be done: heroes all. Chris Parry has added an important angle to the history of the Campaign. I recommend this book to anyone who wonders how the Royal Navy and, in particular, the Fleet Air Arm operate: an excellent insight.
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on 29 February 2012
Chris Parry's book is one of the very best I have read on the Falklands Campaign. What makes it so valuable and unique is that it is based on his detailed war diary/personal log that he kept virtually on a daily basis throughtout the campaign. It is an incredibly human story and I found that I was learning new insights into the campaign and the characters and background on every page.

He was only 28 at the time and a Lieutenant Fleet Air Arm Observer and his writing style is quite humourous and cutting frequently which I found refreshing.

This is a fast-paced, no holes barred narrative and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone from the most demanding naval hostorian to those with little/no knowledge of the Falklands Campaign but who wish to know more of what happened 30 years ago.
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on 10 May 2016
Only Three Stars? Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges described the Falklands conflict as ""The Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb," which whether you agree or not is likely to upset those on either side who took part in the conflict. Bravery and sacrifice amongst fighting forces of any nation is separate from how history and the wider world see those conflicts and anyone at the sharp end is not going to be that interested in "The Bigger Picture" whilst others are trying to kill them? Chris Parry's book is a very readable account of the specific actions of the many helicopter crews and technicians that operated in the conflict and based upon his journal it's a good record of the chronology of events. He portrays the sense of urgency and thinking on the hoof that obviously enabled the Task Force and in that it does reflect upon the state of our defences in this post Cold War era of cuts. All that is fine but quite why Chis found it a good idea to insert bits of Shakespeare and Poetry into the telling sat rather awkwardly IMO? The other aspect that jarred to me was his somewhat unnecessary harping on about attitudes and politics of those living under Thatcher in the UK which I found naïve and uninformed. I think it was an old RAF saying? "If you haven't got a sense of humour, you shouldn't have joined". Finally the anti-climax of the end of hostilities is made obvious when towards the end of the book Chris devotes most of his daily accounts to "What is Needed" from a military viewpoint. I don't quarrel with his opinions here and they were obviously as he recorded them, but I can't help feel that they'd have fitted into the book better as part of an Epilogue or Appendix. He captures the risks and hardships of operating in hostilities in the South Atlantic very well but the excursions into other areas just jar a bit.
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on 16 February 2012
I received this book this week and read it straightaway. I agree with Niall Ferguson's assessment. This book is a gripping, highly readable and enjoyable account. What makes it so compelling and page-turning is its engaging style, the sheer wealth of authentic contemporary detail and its acute descriptions of human behaviour, reflected in words that were written at the time, not after the conflict, as with so many accounts of the Falklands War. If you want to get an accurate, intimate view of what life was like in a warship during the conflict, with revealing insight into what made people tick and what they thought at the time, this is THE book to read.

The narrative contains detail and close-up analysis that I have not seen recorded in other books on the subject, including new evidence about key operational decisions and reactions to international events as they unfolded. It has good descriptive accounts of the better-known actions and other episodes of the conflict, including some very graphic descriptions and impressions of what I thought were already well covered events, and contains a host of really funny anecdotes and telling asides about personalities and incidents.

Not just for history or military buffs, but for the general reader, the book is a very enjoyable, absorbing read which puts the reader in the forefront of the action, both within the ship and its helicopter and within the larger context of the conflict. It is also an important, contemporary historical and social resource, which does not suffer from the distortion of hindsight or retrospective rationalisation.
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on 3 April 2012
This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in the Falklands War of 1982.

Chris Parry recently found his diary of the conflict - and it's this fact, that it's a diary, written at the time, that makes it so very interesting and gives it an authenticity that it might not have were it written now.

Lieutenant Parry (as he was then) was an observer in HMS Antrim's Wessex III helicopter (which aircraft is preserved today in the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton). He planned and executed the initial attack against the Argentinian submarine Sante Fe in South Georgia with depth charges, damaging the vessel so severely that it was beached and abandoned, and also took part in the rescue of the SAS party that was stranded in extreme weather conditions during the initial, abortive, attack on the Argentine troops who had taken control of the island.)

Although HMS Antrim was the recipient of a (British-made) Argentine Air Force delivered bomb, it failed to explode and the ship continued to take part in the campaign to the very end.

Parry's viewpoint is unique in that he offers a very personal, detailed description of his own activities during the conflict, while, as an officer, he had enough knowledge of the wider campaign to give context to what he and his companions were up to. Fascinating too is the window onto the day to day activities of the officers and sailors (whether at actions stations or not).

Very highly recommended.
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