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Obituary: Sir Henry Leach

Admiral Sir Henry Leach
Image caption Admiral Leach had the Navy running through his veins

Former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher has paid tribute to the man who led the Royal Navy at the time of the Falklands War, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach, who has died at the age of 87. The BBC's defence and security correspondent Nick Childs looks back at his life.

Baroness Thatcher called the former First Sea Lord "an outstanding military commander".

He is widely credited with having persuaded her that it was possible to recover the Falklands by sending a naval task force.

On 31 March 1982, Admiral Leach returned to his office in Whitehall from a visit to Portsmouth to find intelligence about an impending invasion.

He went in search of Defence Secretary John Nott and was told that he was with the prime minister in her office in the House of Commons. He hurried to Parliament.

Despite being in the splendid uniform of the First Sea Lord, his path was initially barred by a police officer.

When he was finally ushered in to Margaret Thatcher's office, he found the mood of the prime minister and her aides rather gloomy.

When asked if it was possible to recapture the islands, he replied that not only was it possible but that if Britain did not send a task force "in another few months we shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little".

His intervention transformed the mood of the meeting.

It might have been very different.

The year before, Admiral Leach had clashed with the government, and particularly the defence secretary, over major cuts to the navy, including the planned sale of the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible to Australia.

At the time, the First Sea Lord considered resignation. In the aftermath of the Falklands, many of the cuts were reversed, including the sale of Invincible, which played a prominent part in the task force.

Old fashioned courtesy

Admiral Leach had the navy running through his veins.

He was also known for his charm and old-fashioned courtesy.

His father was a Royal Navy officer, and was captain of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales both in its encounter with the German battleship Bismarck, and when it was sunk by Japanese aircraft in the Far East in December 1941 and he lost his life.

Henry Leach was stationed in Singapore at the time, and had a drink with his father at the officers club there just before the battleship sailed.

He never saw him again. But two years later the younger Leach found himself in charge of one of the main turrets on the battleship Duke of York when it sank the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

It was a significant factor in the Falklands campaign that the government had as its chief military adviser the likes of Admiral Leach, who had experience of action in World War II.

He anticipated that ships would be lost in the campaign to retake the islands, as indeed they were.

But Sir Henry Leach was revered in Royal Navy circles. And the Navy's fleet headquarters building in Portsmouth is named the Henry Leach Building.

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