Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Hampshire Vice Admiral defends sinking the Belgrano

Vice Admiral Sir Tim McClement
Image caption Sir Tim says the Belgrano was taking part in a "pincer" attack on British aircraft carriers

Thirty years after the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War, a Hampshire man who was second in command of the submarine that attacked it has said it was "the right decision".

The sinking of the Belgrano was the first attack on the Argentine navy by the British during the Falklands conflict.

Vice Admiral Sir Tim McClement, who is now chairman of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, said not taking action against the Belgrano could have led to the loss of British aircraft carriers.

"There were three Argentinian task groups: one to the south west of the islands, the Belgrano group; one to the west, destroyers and frigates; and one to the north west, their aircraft carrier.

"They were thought to be doing a pincer movement against our two carriers. If we had lost one of those carriers then that would have been the end of our ability to retake the islands," he said.

Peace plan

Although the sinking of the Belgrano was celebrated by British tabloid The Sun with the notorious headline "Gotcha", the decision to fire was criticised by anti-war campaigners.

The Belgrano was outside the 200-mile total exclusion zone at the time of the attack and was sailing away from the Falklands. It had 1,000 men on board, of whom 368 lost their lives.

The Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was questioned over the military action by Gloucester woman Diana Gould on the BBC current affairs programme Nationwide.

Ms Gould claimed the actions of the British navy had derailed a peace plan being brokered by the UN and Peruvian government at the time.

Sir Tim said he was not aware of any Peruvian peace plan when the attack took place.

"I don't know what the government was doing because I was down in the South Atlantic," he said.

"Militarily, when you are faced with the facts Admiral Woodward was faced with, the decision to sink the Belgrano was absolutely the right thing to do."

'Pin drop'

Sir Tim described the atmosphere on board as the crew realised the two Tigerfish torpedoes from HMS Conqueror had hit their target.

"The instant reaction was a cheer because we'd done our job professionally, and then within seconds you could have heard a pin drop.

"Everyone had their own thoughts about sinking a ship with 1,000 people on board, fellow sailors doing a job that their government had charged them to do.

"It was a long way from home, the sea temperature was just above freezing and the weather was picking up."

Sir Tim said he believed the tensions between Argentina and Britain would continue over the Falkland Islands for the foreseeable future.

He said: "The Argentinians still want to retain the islands, the islanders still want to remain British, there will be sabre rattling and that won't change while each government has a different view.

"It might well escalate but we must stand firm ... the people on the island wish to remain British and that's their choice."

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