Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Conqueror vs. Belgrano

Looks like the beginning of a fascinating series of extracts from the upcoming book "The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Volumes I and II" being printed in the Times Online. Here's a description of the sinking of the Argentine light cruiser General Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix) by HMS Conqueror:

"Captain Chris Wreford-Brown on Conqueror had begun May 2 expecting to be following the Belgrano into the exclusion zone. He had been surprised by its change in course and remained uncertain as to which direction his quarry was intending to move for some time as it skirted the exclusion zone, perhaps aware of its vulnerability should it stray inside, and stayed some 18 miles to the south but still moving east. When Conqueror returned to periscope depth at 1400 GMT to receive and transmit signals, it reported on the change of direction to the west. Conqueror, however, had been suffering for some time with communication problems as a result of a damaged wireless mast (the crew had thought it might be necessary to withdraw to get the mast changed). Initially all Wreford-Brown understood was that the rules of engagement had changed: exactly how was unclear. He was aware of an order cancelling a previous order to attack (the original from Woodward — which he had not received) and that there appeared to be a new order to attack. Conqueror remained at depth until his instructions were clear. Now he was “absolutely certain”.
"By the next transmission, at 1710, they were understood and this was reported back along with an intention to attack. Wreford-Brown chose the old Mk8 torpedo, in service since 1932, because as an impact weapon it had a better chance of penetrating the cruiser’s armour and anti-torpedo bilges. At 18.57 Conqueror attacked at a range of 1,400 yards. Two hits were observed, although three explosions were heard. By 19.30 the initial report of the attack had been transmitted. This gave the cruiser's position, course and speed when attacked, adding “successfully attacked Belgrano. Two hits with Mark Eights. Evaded to east”. The evasion was necessary because within a few minutes they were being attacked in turn with depth charges. From 20.52 to 21.03 more depth charges were heard.
"On board the Belgrano some 200 men had been killed by the initial explosion, with fire spreading because doors and hatches had been left open. Another 850 took to life rafts as the cruiser began to sink. It sent out no signal of its own asking for help. The harsh weather and heavy sea conditions battered the crippled vessel and reduced the chances for survival of the crew as they abandoned ship. It took a day before the first survivors were picked up. In all 321 men of the Belgrano lost their lives.
"Militarily this had exactly the effect required: the Argentine Navy did not venture out again. Politically it caused Britain damage, for the scale of the attack appeared disproportionate and the circumstances suggested that Britain was not following its own rules. After the war this led to claims that the attack had been ordered by the Prime Minister to make sure that there was no peace settlement. In fact the diplomatic fallout from the attack led the British to take peace initiatives much more seriously than before. The conspiracy theories were always wide of the mark. The Belgrano was sunk not because the British Government was confident in an inevitable military victory but because there was a serious risk of defeat."

As I've mentioned before, this is the only known case of a nuclear submarine sinking an opposing vessel during wartime.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sinking of the Belgrano outside the exclusion zone: forever to be known as

"Britannia waives the rules"

6/28/2005 7:06 AM

Blogger CDR Salamander said...

Bravo Sierra. Valid targets. Well executed.

Bubblehead, the quote Militarily this had exactly the effect required: the Argentine Navy did not venture out again. is one of the big lessons of the power of a submarine in naval warfare in the modern age.

Another favorite is the effect of the Pakistani sub PNS Hangor on the Indian Navy during the '71 Indo-Pakistan War.

But then again, the Indians did get the PNS Ganzi in return.

See, any excuse to review one of the least discussed, but in my mind, most interesting post-WWII naval conflicts. Subs, carrier airstrikes, shore attacks by missle has it all.

COMPACFLT - call your office.

6/28/2005 8:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was assigned to a CG of similar vintage several years before Belgrano went down. During the ship's decom I was departmental inserv coordinator. Given the material condition of our ship I can make a guess about the Belgrano, which would not have had such measures as PMS in place. Modern torpedoes aside things like inoperative armored hatches (the manufacuterers of critical componants for these had ceased operations at the close of WWII), deterioration of WT door and hatch gaskets and general degradation over time (my guys chipped through the side of the ship slightly above the belt armor where water ahd accumulated in the Marine head for years) and a 150 soft patch on the main drains would have crrated huge DC problems even from a fairly minor penetrating hit. I don't know what Argentenian maintnenance procedures are like but based on experience with other foreign transfer programs I would guess that Conqueror could have fired the duty .45 from the sail and caused havoc.

6/28/2005 12:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duty .45 on a Brit Boat? I don't think so! I don't know about British SSN's But back in 1984 when we went to sea on the HMS Revenge, Their Boomers had no small arms what so ever on board! None! The Royal Marines provided all the shore security.

6/28/2005 8:06 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Closing to 1500 yards and firing a 1930's vintage torpedo! This was not only a case of submarine attack but since an exchange of fire occurred, actual combat.
It would appear that the ASW Frigates knew the sub was there and had some kind of firing solution on it. The Conquerer did have to take evasive action and chose to break off. We don't know if they resumed trail or left the area, but the ASW Firgates did raise a few hairs on the back of the Conquerers neck! Any time there is an exchange of fire, it's combat! If the enemy had no means of shooting back (As in the US subs launching Tomahawks, it is not.

6/29/2005 5:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being that the Brits hate handguns, thier boats don't carry any. If however they did see fit to issue pistols, they would issue a 9mm Brownig P-35 AKA Browning Hi Power. For the P-35 is the current issue sidearm of the Emprire

7/03/2005 1:42 PM

Blogger Zoe Brain said...

Re : Mk 8*** (the full name, meaning Mk 8, 3rd major revision). It was used because it was ultra reliable, and has a honking big warhead.

A 3-shot spread was what doctrine required, spacing equal to half a ship's length. To get two hits (one bow, one just aft of centre) and one near-miss( to stern) indicates a very good firing solution, and a very switched-on crew.

The alternative was the Tigerfish torpedo, a new weapon in the inventory in 1983, which was optimised for anti-submarine work. Notoriously unreliable at the time because it was so new, and costing a huge amount of money.

7/05/2005 8:34 PM


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