Thursday, 24 May 2012

A diary brought to life

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)

In my last post I mentioned a diary that I had been working on, and I’m pleased to say that this is now available as a Kindle download, entitled Falklands: Voyage to War, a kind of record of history as the events of that time unfolded.
This short and nasty conflict between Britain and Argentina took place in 1982, thirty years ago, but its echoes are still rumbling on even today with more sabre rattling by the Argentine government over ownership of these lumps of blasted heath sticking out of the South Atlantic.
            The facts of the conflict are well established and quite well-known by most people who lived through this period. What this book does is explore a secondary, but still extremely important, aspect of this event.
The reality is that Britain was extremely lucky to win. Our warships were ill-equipped to combat the modern weaponry, and in particular the sea-skimming missiles, with which the Argentine air force was equipped, as is confirmed by the number of vessels that we lost during the conflict. Our two capital ships, the Invincible and the Hermes possessed no form of close-in weapon system that could engage such missiles, and nor did any other vessel that we could deploy. It was rather as if the architects who were responsible for designing Royal Navy warships were building them to fight the kind of battle that was being fought thirty years ago, and had no clue about the type of combat scenarios likely to be encountered in more modern times.
Tactical errors were made during the conflict itself, and the British forces were finally victorious largely through sheer determination and a dogged commitment to reclaim a tiny part of the world for the United Kingdom, rather than through inspired leadership or superiority in weaponry.
Against this backdrop, work on the second of the CVS-class aircraft carriers – HMS Illustrious – was being carried out at a frenzied pace at the Swan Hunter yard in Newcastle, work which included the provision of proper defensive systems suitable for modern warfare, the first time such weapons had ever been fitted on a Royal Navy vessel. The book is the diary of the first six months in the life of that ship, beginning with the day she sailed from Newcastle, carrying a large number of Swan Hunter staff who were essentially still building the vessel, through the work-up and sea trials phase carried out in the Portsmouth and Portland sea areas. And then it describes the voyage down to the South Atlantic to relieve Invincible on station in the Falkland Islands, and the various operations carried out during that time.
The book is written from the perspective of the Air Staff Officer – who was also the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer – on board the ship, and is a very candid exploration of the triumphs and tragedies which took place during that six-month period.
            And it is a sobering thought that if the Argentine government made a serious attempt to reclaim the Islas Malvinas again, and were able to gain air superiority over the Falkland Islands, there is absolutely no way in which we could do anything about it. Because, due to a succession of bizarre decisions and staggering incompetence on the part of the British government, incompetence which goes way beyond what you would normally expect, we now have no aircraft carriers capable of operating fighter aircraft, and in any case no fighter aircraft to act as an air group.
The good news – if you can call it that – is that within about a decade or so, we might have another aircraft carrier operational, and it’s faintly possible that we might even have one or two aircraft that we can operate from it.
            So as long as the Argentinians are prepared to wait for at least ten years before they make any other hostile moves towards the Falkland Islands, then we’ll be able to take them on once again and give them a proper drubbing.
            Assuming, of course, that Britain, like the rest of Europe, isn’t bankrupt by then.

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