Phoenix’s last trip. How “General Belgrano” died for the Falklands

May 2, 1982  Naval history on Earth has changed once and for all. For the first time, a nuclear submarine attacked and sank an enemy surface ship — a whole cruiser!

The cruiser was 44 years old, his name was “General Belgrano”, and he was an Argentinean. The boat was only 13, her name was Conqueror», she was from England.

Islands in ocean

Small islands can sometimes cause big troubles. This happened in 1982 with two patches of land in the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina. The Argentines called the Malvinas Islands. The British, who actually owned them — Falkland Islands.

C XVIII islands belonged to one European power, then another. Above them flew the French flag, then the Spanish. C 1833  Britain controlled the islands. In  April 1982    there their peacefully grazing sheep were attacked by Argentine marines. Argentina was ruled by the ambitious General Leopoldo Galtieriwho decided to take this step of an ideological and demonstrative nature, rather than the practical significance of small islands for big Argentina. In the end, this country, as part of the former Spanish Empire, also had some kind of right to the islands.

But — found a scythe on a stone. The British Prime Minister was the “iron lady” Margaret Thatcher. She quickly shut up her financiers, who said that to recapture the islands — it is expensive. And also to my admirals, who said it was dangerous. By then, Thatcher's own rating had fallen catastrophically due to unpopular measures. And soon Britain faced new parliamentary elections. The cunning Thatcher could not miss such a chance to raise the popularity of the ruling party. As a result, the Falklands turned out to be the center of confrontation between two rulers who were in dire need of a "small victorious war".

Soon, a British squadron consisting of 2 aircraft carriers, 8 destroyers, 17 frigates, 3 nuclear submarines and a large number of “small dishes” entered the course to the south-south-west. Among the submarines was the one   — “Conqueror”.

Alignment of forces

In the early morning of May 2, 1982, “Conqueror” I was doing the same thing as all the previous day — monitored the  Argentine naval formation as part of the cruiser "General Belgrano" and 2 destroyers. The cruiser was built in the USA before the Second World War under the name “Phoenix”. The Argentines who bought it after the war named the cruiser in honor of their national hero. Manuel Belgrano — Argentine general and diplomat XVIII — 19th century. He became famous, in particular, for inventing the current flag of his country.

Manuel Belgrano. Photo: Public Domain

“General Belgrano” was not  the newest ship, but in the entire British squadron, its 152-mm guns had nothing to oppose. Don't let him close to the ships of his unit — and this was the combat mission of Captain 2 rank Christopher Reford-Brown, commander of the Conqueror.

Boat versus cruiser

British Naval Strike Force at the Falklands was commanded by Admiral Sir John Forster Woodward nicknamed Sandy. Every British admiral, if he's worth anything, has a similar nickname. It is a tradition. After retiring, Woodward wrote a memoir, which he called Napoleonically simply: “One Hundred Days.” (One Hundred Days). On board the Conqueror he, of course, was not present, but he knew the commander of the submarine, Christopher Reford-Brown. He served under him when Sandy himself was a submariner.

“Seconds were running, — the admiral wrote in his memoirs about the very moment of the torpedo attack, & nbsp; & mdash; the big cruiser was still sailing at 13 knots. 55 seconds after the shot, the first Mk8 torpedo crashed into the port side of the General Belgrano between the anchor and the first gun turret. The explosion tore off almost the entire bow of the ship. Through the periscope, Christopher Wreford-Brown saw a large, sky-high fireball of explosion.

The Conqueror's acoustician, in a dull tone, as if he was counting sheep, reported: “Explosion!”.. Then followed: “Second explosion!..” The second torpedo exploded under the aft superstructure … The last torpedo sounded different, more distant, more metallic, more clear. One of the escort ships, the destroyer Buchard, later reported that it had received a glancing hit from a torpedo that failed to explode.

On the Conqueror everything listened to the unforgettable impact of the explosions and knew that their torpedoes had hit somewhere. For the first time in 24 hours, the sound of the cruiser's propellers disappeared, and     the ensuing silence, on the sonar remained only an ominous tinkling sound, reminiscent of the sound of breaking glass. This is how the noise of a collapsing large ship is heard on a modern sonar.

A few explanations: the  submarine "Conqueror" there were 6 bow torpedo tubes. At three, the commander ordered the loading of a Mk8 torpedo, which was no newer than the cruiser they had sunk. Another three were more modern Mk 8 “Tigerfish”, controlled by wires. But Reford-Browns relied on the classics.

Together with the cruiser, 323 sailors died, about half of all Argentina's casualties in the war.

The story is different, another Argentine ship, the aircraft carrier Vainticinco de Mayo, built in  1945 in England, would have been hit by a nuclear submarine. However, this would hardly have affected the course of the war. After the death of “General Belgrano” the entire fleet of Argentina was laid up and did not participate in the fighting. The ship's air group operated from airfields on land and achieved considerable success. However, this is a completely different story.

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