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We did well to sink the Belgrano, says submariner 40 years after the attack in the Falklands War

The former deputy commander of the Royal Navy submarine that sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano defended the controversial attack today in an interview on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the shipwreck.

Vice Admiral Sir Tim McClement, now 70, was second-in-command of HMS Conqueror when the ship fired two torpedoes at the ship on May 2, 1982, during the Falklands War.

The attack killed 323 Argentine sailors and controversy has raged ever since, with critics arguing the ship had strayed from Britain’s declared 200-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands.

But, speaking to BBC Radio 4, the now-retired Vice Admiral McClement defended the attack on the ship.

He said: ‘In my opinion it was definitely not a crime and it was the right thing to do. [General Leopoldo] Galtieri had invaded the island where the British lived in peace and their independence was brutally threatened.

‘It was our duty and responsibility to recover the islands for them. They started the war, it was our duty to evict them. They were a threat and needed to be dealt with, and that was exactly what needed to be done.

The Belgrano was sunk by the Royal Navy four weeks after the start of the 10-week conflict with Argentina, which erupted after troops from the South American country invaded the Falklands, on the orders of dictatorial leader General Leopoldo Galtieri.

The former deputy commander of the Royal Navy submarine that sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano defended the controversial attack today in an interview on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the shipwreck.  Above: The Belgrano is shown when she sank on May 2, 1982

The former deputy commander of the Royal Navy submarine that sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano defended the controversial attack today in an interview on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the shipwreck. Above: The Belgrano is shown when she sank on May 2, 1982

HMS Conqueror fired two torpedoes at the ship on May 2, 1982, during the Falklands War.  Above: The crew of the Conqueror are seen after returning to Scotland after the war.  She was commanded by Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, 36.

HMS Conqueror fired two torpedoes at the ship on May 2, 1982, during the Falklands War. Above: The crew of the Conqueror are seen after returning to Scotland after the war. She was commanded by Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, 36.

The attack killed 323 Argentine sailors and controversy has raged ever since, with critics arguing the ship had strayed from Britain's declared 200-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands.  Above: Front page of the Daily Mail after the sinking of the Belgrano

The attack killed 323 Argentine sailors and controversy has raged ever since, with critics arguing the ship had strayed from Britain’s declared 200-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands. Above: Front page of the Daily Mail after the sinking of the Belgrano

Speaking of the moment HMS Conqueror opened fire, Vice Admiral McClement said: “When we heard the first explosion and the captain reported seeing smoke from the aftermath of the Belgrano, there was an instant cheer on board the submarine because we had done the job that our Government had successfully entrusted him.

‘[It was] followed almost instantly by dead silence as we all thought our own thoughts.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, the now-retired Vice Admiral McClement (pictured in 2014) defended the attack.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, the now-retired Vice Admiral McClement (pictured in 2014) defended the attack.

‘mine were [that] there were more than 1,000 sailors aboard the Belgrano doing exactly the same thing, the job that their government had entrusted to them. They were a long way from home and the sea was cold.

When Justin Webb was asked in an interview if Argentine sailors “needed to die,” Vice Admiral McClement insisted that they did.

‘Yes, they did, unfortunately. War is brutal,’ she said.

‘The Argentines had two task forces, one the Belgrano to the southwest and the other their aircraft carrier to the northwest of the islands.

“And they were both a threat to our carriers and if either of those groups had come through and damaged one of our carriers, it would have been the end of our ability to recapture the Falkland Islands.”

On the question of the exclusion zone established by the United Kingdom, Vice Admiral McClement said that he later discovered that the British government had told the Argentine government on April 25, 1982 that it would deal with any Argentine forces deemed to be a threat. .

They were then given seven days notice to heed the warning. That alert period expired on May 2, the day the Belgrano sank, Vice Admiral McClement said.

And he added: ‘In fact we had detected the Belgrano on May 1 but they did not allow us to sink it because the seven days had not expired?

The Argentine government later said that the sinking of the Belgrano was an acceptable act of war, but that did not stop angry critics from arguing that Margaret Thatcher’s government was wrong to attack the ship.

In 2011, it became known in a book that the Belgrano had, in fact, been sailing towards the British exclusion zone when it was attacked.

The book, by Major David Thorp, revealed details of a previously top-secret report that was written after Mrs Thatcher called for a “full and thorough investigation” into the sinking of the Belgrano, amid pressure from lawmakers. the opposition in Parliament.

Major Thorp wrote the original report after receiving ‘every conceivable document, file, report and note relating to or contained in Belgrano’s name’.

In his book The Silent Listener, he wrote: “Shortly after the UK announcement of the exclusion zone, the Argentine Navy headquarters notified its warships, possibly for the purpose of regrouping, of a rendezvous point ( RV) preset.

HMS Conqueror sank the General Belgrano (pictured) on May 2, 1982. The Argentine government later said that the sinking of the Belgrano was an acceptable act of war.

HMS Conqueror sank the General Belgrano (pictured) on May 2, 1982. The Argentine government later said that the sinking of the Belgrano was an acceptable act of war.

Image of the sinking of General Belgrano after being hit by two torpedoes fired from HMS Conqueror

Image of the sinking of General Belgrano after being hit by two torpedoes fired from HMS Conqueror

The crew of HMS Conqueror line up on deck on their way back to Faslane by way of Gare Loch on the Clyde.  They raise the skull and crossbones from the command tower to indicate their participation in the sinking of General Belgrano

The crew of HMS Conqueror line up on deck on their way back to Faslane by way of Gare Loch on the Clyde. They raise the skull and crossbones from the command tower to indicate their participation in the sinking of General Belgrano

“When the coordinates of the RV were plotted on a map, the actual location, although east of the Falkland Islands, was within the 200 nautical mile exclusion zone.

‘A considerable time before the Conqueror fired her torpedoes, my analysis revealed that General Belgrano had been instructed to change course and head in the direction of the RV within the exclusion zone.

“The findings of my report indicated that the destination of the vessel was not its port of origin as stated by the Argentine Board, but that the purpose of the vessel was to relocate to a pre-established RV within the exclusion zone.”

Major Thorp’s report was never revealed by Mrs Thatcher during her time in office because she did not want to reveal the extent of Britain’s ability to intercept enemy radio and electronic signals.

The book was authorized for publication by the security services.

On the BBC’s Nationwide television programme, Professor Diana Gould questioned Mrs Thatcher about the sinking of the Belgrano.

During an exchange of fire, she dismissed Ms Gould’s claims that the ship was moving away from the British exclusion zone.

The attack on the Belgrano marked the first loss of life in the Falklands conflict. But two days later, Argentina responded with a missile attack on the British destroyer HMS Sheffield, killing 20.

The naval battle continued for many more weeks, then the conflict moved to land before the Argentine forces finally surrendered and peace was declared on June 20, 1982.

A total of 255 British servicemen were killed and a further 775 wounded. Argentina lost 649 men, while 1,657 soldiers lost their lives.

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