ARA General Belgrano

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USS_Phoenix_US_Navy_cropped.jpg
The Belgrano as she was in 1941 as the USS Phoenix passing Battleship row at Pearl Harbor

The ARA General Belgrano was an Armada República Argentina cruiser sunk with significant loss of life in a controversial incident during the Falklands War. It was the only ship ever sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine in wartime. (The name had earlier been used for a 7,069-ton armored cruiser completed in 1899).

Contents

General History

She was built as USS Phoenix (CL-46), the sixth of the Brooklyn-class light cruisers, in New Jersey by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation starting in 1935, and launched in March 1938. She survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She was decommissioned from the US Navy (USN) in July 1946, and sold with another of her class ( USS Boise) to Argentina in October 1951, for $7.8 million. She was renamed the 17 de Octubre after an important date for the political party of the then president Juan Perón. He was overthrown in 1955, and in 1956 the vessel was renamed the General Belgrano (C-4) after General Manuel Belgrano, who had fought for Argentine independence in 1816.

Falklands War

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The sinking of the Belgrano was celebrated with one of the most famous headlines in history from the right-wing newspaper The Sun. This headline was only used on the early editions after the backlash against it prompted the editors to tone down the later editions.

In the early phase of the 1982 Falklands War, much of the Argentine navy had avoided any conflict. The General Belgrano had left Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego on April 26, 1982 with two destroyers, the ARA Piedra Buena (D-29) and the Bouchard (D-26) (both also ex-USN vessels), as Task Group 79.3. On the 29th they were patrolling the Burdwood Bank, south of the islands. On the 30th she was detected by the British nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine HMS Conqueror. The submarine approached over the following day. Although outside the British-declared Total Exclusion Zone of 320 km (200 nautical miles) radius from the islands, the British decided that the group was a threat. After consultation at Cabinet level, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, agreed that Commander Chris Wreford-Brown should attack the group. At around 16:00 on May 2, Conqueror fired three conventional "straight running" Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes, each with a 800 lb (363 kg) warhead, two of which hit the General Belgrano and severed her bow. The cruiser was abandoned at 16:24, May 2, 1982, with the loss of 323 of the Argentine crew. The other two ARA destroyers, lacking anti-nuclear-submarine defenses, dispersed lest they also be attacked, one to the northwest and the other in a southerly direction. The survivors of the cruiser suffered greatly over the next 40 or so hours, before being picked up by ARA vessels and a Chilean ship from May 3 to May 5, 770 men in all being recovered.

Controversy over the sinking

Although the sinking of the Belgrano was a military success, controversy appeared immediately with some people claiming that it caused the Argentine military government to harden their stand. Some details of the action were later "leaked" to a British MP, Tam Dalyell, by a senior civil servant, Clive Ponting, resulting in the unsuccessful prosecution of the latter under the Official Secrets Act.

In 1983, Margaret Thatcher appeared on a live phone-in show on BBC, where a viewer grilled her about the sinking, claiming that the ship was already west of Falklands and heading towards the Argentinian mainland to the west. The viewer also claimed that the Peruvian peace proposal must have reached London in the 14 hours between its publication and the sinking of the Belgrano, and the escalation of the war could have thus been prevented. In the following emotional exchange, Thatcher would not answer the first claim, but denied the second. After the show, Thatcher's husband Denis lashed out at the producer of the show in the entertainment suite, saying that his wife had been "stitched up by bloody BBC poofs and Trots" [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1518975.stm).

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 9,575 tons (empty) 12,242 (full load)
  • Length: 608.3 ft (185 m)
  • Beam: 61.8 ft (18.9 m)
  • Draft: 19.5 ft (5.9 m)
  • Speed: 32.5 knots
  • Complement: 1,138 officers and men
  • Armament:
    • 15 6-inch (152 mm) guns,
    • 8 5-inch (127 mm) AA guns,
    • 40 mm and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns,
    • 2 British Sea Cat AA missile system (added 1968)
    • 2 helicopters

See also

pl:General Belgrano

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