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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.
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on 5 January 2014
I bought the book after reading the comments and have to agree with some of the reservations that have been discussed.

Whilst the story of operation barmaid is definitely an interesting insight into submarine operations during the cold war, you get the impression from the beginning of the book that this really does play second fiddle to the political discussions over the sinking of the Belgrano.

Cleary Prebble sides with those who believe that the sinking of the ship was not acceptable and too much of the book is dedicated to his personal journalistic investigations and frustrations in this area; especially the story of the diary kept by one rather unremarkable sailor who is painted as a hero for essentially breaching navy protocol. I wouldn't have minded too much if the view was balanced but Pebble's lack of military tactical knowledge combined with very selective references gives a wholly one sided view (doesn't even quote the Belgrano's Captain who has a very clear view on the subject). By all means read the book if you're interested in this period but some basic Google searches are needed to make up for the missing information and provide a much more balanced view
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on 30 December 2012
In a nut shell this book is about three different parts of Conqueror's history:
1) The Falklands - Which is very interesting and detailed, but doesn't reveal anything new.
2) The Political fallout of the Government's lies and their shameful attempt to cover them up by smearing some of the crew/civil service.
3) A top secret cold war operation that took place just after the Falklands war.
All three sections are interesting, the middle section probably being the most intriguing regardless of the fact it has little to do with the sub itself.

Overall a very good book. I just wish there were more details on the cold war ops, but as the author pointed out, many of these are still covered by the official secrets act.
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on 15 October 2012
An utterly fascinating book about the UK submarine which sunk the Belgrano but also snaffled a Soviet towed sonar array from behind an unsuspecting Polish 'trawler'. Not much of the Belgrano stuff is earth-shatteringly new but it is both detailed and well-written.

What was very new, at least to me, was the towed array larceny which seems close to impossible but which apparently did happen.

It's a pity that the description of the two major events sandwich a seemingly-endless rehash of the debate about where the Belgrano was sailing when she was torpedoed told in a one-eyed, utterly judgmental way. Could have been written by Tam Dalyell.
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on 20 March 2014
The apparent "untold" story fills a few pages in reality, the story is vague and the author has no proof, barring a few chats with some blokes in a pub.
The rest covers the well known story of the sinking of the Belgrano, the subsequent political ramifications and various legal battles that followed. This is not untold or a secret.

As a member of the media the author clearly wanted to write about the Belgrano, being a subject where a little hyteria and scandal can be whipped up. Clearly he was far more interested in the ifs buts and maybes of the Belgrano incident than writing a decent account of military history. Maybe he should read some Max Hastings books and reconsider any future projects he may have.

I cannot recommend.
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on 26 October 2012
It was good to see a book of this type published and exposing some of the heat of the Cold War that we subamriners operated in during the 70's and 80's.

I served on the Conqueror during all three of the Barmaid operations so I can say with hand on heart what was written, however sparse regarding Barmaid is truthful.

What I did not know about because he had left the RN was the way Sethia was being treated, so the exposure of the tricks and nastiness that he was exposed to were of interest and form part of the overall story.I hope a few politicians might read the book and hang their heads.

This book is well written and within the limitations the author had to work under, he cannot offer a bibliography or references as the people who spoke could still potentially be tried under the OSA and the logs are still 'missing'.

Secrets of the Conqueror: The Untold Story of Britain's Most Famous Submarine
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on 17 October 2012
An interesting read which finally throws some light onto British cold war Submarine operations and a welcome addition to a few other books such as "Blind mans buff" and the fascinating "Silent War" by John P. Craven. The operations described here actually interested me a great deal more than the actual Belgrano incident and all of its' subsequent fall out. Politically, the book does no favours to the government of the day and does much to illustrate the mood and feeling of the time. All in all, a good book that is well worthwhile for any cold war student and a rare glimpse into the less publicised world of undersea operations.
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on 3 November 2014
This is potentially a superb book, and the first half was gripping and factual. The latter half gets the reader bogged down in politics and doesn't even present a balanced view - the author seems to be more intent on discrediting the British government than in reminding the reader of Britain's obligation to the Falkland Islanders. Some excellent recounting of Conquerers exploits ruined by some very poor renditions of Britain's politics in the 1980s.
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on 18 October 2012
This book comprises three main sections:

- The sinking of the Belgrano
- The lies told about the sinking by the conservative government of the day, the subsequent cover-up and the efforts of various people to uncover them
- The extraordinary tale of the captured towed-array sonar

The story of the sinking of the Belgrano was interesting, but there's not much new detail, if any.

The story of the lies and cover-up seemed endless and takes up a large proportion of the book. Again, not really much new - we always knew the conservatives had lied about the location, direction and other details of the Belgrano, but as others have noted, she was a clear danger to the task force and arguably a legitimate target. Who really cares after all this time about the motives and prevarications of the government? The minutiae of who kept what diary and showed it to whom was frankly not very interesting.

As for the towed-array sonar story... hmmm... I asked a friend who was an officer on one of the other boats that was part of the task force in the South Atlantic and it was the first he'd ever heard of it. As he said, "difficult to prove or disprove, but..." In other words, there was a healthy dose of scepticism in his response. He was there, part of the tight-knit community of submariner officers, and he clearly found it difficult to believe that he'd not have heard something about such a coup. As for me - I think I'd have found the story more credible if the author had attempted to explain how it might have been done, in more detail. Where would the 2km cable be in relation to the submarine as it approached to cut it? Underneath? How deep? How would they have "wound it in"? Plenty of questions to be answered which would have (to me) made this section much more interesting. Perhaps someone else will take this up.

The layout of the book (at least on the Kindle) made it somewhat confusing too - for example, the extensive quotes are neither put in quotation marks, nor in italics or some other format to indicate that it's not the author's words. I found this distracting and irritating.

The author's descriptions of some of the officers' hijinks denigrate (for me at any rate) the professionalism of officers of the Royal Navy. Would I want characters like that in charge of a nuclear submarine? I'm sure that officers do get up to mischief, but the implication in at least one place is that they must have been drunk on duty. I can't see that.

So all in all, I was disappointed in this book.
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on 29 July 2014
The only new piece of information disclosed was OPERATION BARMAID.

This book mainly centres on the Officer who kept a private diary of events from the sinking of the ARA BELGRANO to 'BARMAID', (against the rules) and his fight against the Official Secrets Act who wanted to prosecute him for 'leak of information' to Politicians and the media.

If you expected a 'No holds barred' disclosure of the Falklands War and/or 'Cold War' actions involving submarines, you will be disappointed and will have to find out the information elsewhere.......
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