Top critical review
65 people found this helpful
on 15 January 2013
I have few quibbles with the first 138 pages of the book which were factual and interesting. The next 40 pages are devoted to a tedious blow by blow account of Tam Dalyell's crusade against Margaret Thatcher, making me cross enough to vent my opinions. With these reservations on a very readable book, I have reduced my rating from 4* to 3* hoping Mr Prebble will read them.
Firstly, the whole Barmaid operation was fascinating and news to me. The supreme ship-handling skill of Commander Wreford-Brown deserves recognition but one wonders why the MOD allowed any details to be published. The Russian Navy is the same as that under the USSR and to hear that we had stolen the towed array from an AGI in the Barents Sea and possibly from within their territorial waters will not go down well at all. The Russians have long memories.
Chapter 16 exposes the disgraceful way the 'Media' acts and was an eye opener. Regarding defamation, the fact that when World in Action is faced with legal action for wrongly defaming an innocent person, the Lawyers ask 'Is he rich?' and if the answer is 'No' then they worry less. The Mail-on-Sunday's bullying tactics and the attempt to 'secure their costs' are distasteful. Stuart Prebble may regard himself as a distinguished journalist and fearless exposer of the truth. He also gives the impression in page after page that his 'left of centre' views are correct and to be admired. With reluctance, he accepts (page 147) that the electorate disagreed with him both in 1983 and 1987.
Prebble quotes statements by Admiral Sir Terence Lewin on page 210 '...adamant that there was no discussion or knowledge of the peace plan when the decision was made' and on page 212 '...the feeling in the War Cabinet and certainly within the military, by 25th or 26th April, that a negotiated settlement was not on.' Lewin, an outstanding naval officer and as straight as a dye, had served throughout WW2 and knew as much as anyone alive about naval warfare. What he stated should be believed and given far more weight than those of lesser mortals.
I was serving on board HMS Fearless at Ascension Island at the time and it was obvious to me that we were in for a fight and we knew that the Argentinian Navy and Airforce were formidable opposition. We sailed from Ascension on May 8th with three warships shepherding the whole Amphibious force for our 3700 mile passage to the landings. Fearless and Intrepid were armed with just Seacat missiles and Bofors guns while Antelope had a 4 inch gun. Belgrano with her fifteen x 6 inch guns and her Exocet armed destroyers would have been overwhelming opposition and should not be so under-estimated (page 122).
On May 1st the Task Force entered the 200 mile total exclusion zone with the Veintecinco de Mayo group to the north and the Belgrano group to the south, both circling just outside it. The Veintecinco de Mayo actually tried to launch her aircraft to attack Hermes and Invincible but there was inadequate wind over the deck. It was vital to take the opportunity to sink Belgrano while Conqueror was in the trail. Admiral Woodward sent the signal telling Conqueror to sink the Belgrano on Sunday morning May 2nd. He was not authorised to give this order and CinC's staff took it off the broadcast before Conqueror had a chance to see it. Admiral Fieldhouse sped off to Chequers to attend a hastily organised War cabinet; by 1300 Admiral Lewin had gained approval from the Prime Minister to sink the Belgrano and by late afternoon she was torpedoed. Considering the complexity and its importance this was a fast sequence of decision making. Prebble scorns this by saying on page 109, 'Though it plainly seemed a matter of urgency to Woodward, equally plainly it did not seem a matter of urgency to anyone else'. This is just rubbish.
It is sad indeed that after 30 years, Prebble still doesn't 'get it' despite all his research. He fails to understand the urgent need when the Task Force entered the TEZ to confront the Argentinian navy when we had the chance. What mattered was the position of Belgrano due south of the TEZ and the fact that Conqueror had the chance to attack her, and the opportunity could not be ignored since it might not rise again. Her course at the time was irrelevant as were the so called Peruvian initiatives. She was not sailing away from the Task Force but parallel to the edge of the TEZ. We hadn't assembled over 100 ships to poise in the South Atlantic, with time fast running out for the landings. The country would not have forgiven Margaret Thatcher if she had failed to win. She was not motivated by a wish to get re-elected but by a determination to do the right thing for the country. Sinking Belgrano sent the Argentinian Navy packing, saving many British lives including possibly my own.
Sethia. The book describes a strange young man, bright and talented but unreliable and he probably left the RN at the right stage, unlikely to conform sufficiently to advance far. I have admiration for his determined pursuit of the 'Mail on Sunday' for defamation, and sympathy for his conclusion on page 225 that many will still believe he took the logs, as (like me) they missed his successful court action.