The sinking of the ARA General Belgrano during the Falklands war of 1982 was one of the more controversial engagements of that conflict.
Argentine ground forces invaded the British Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982 after more than a decade of increasingly inflammatory argument over sovereignty. The British Government’s response was to declare a 200-mile Maritime Exclusion Zone around the islands whilst a task force was deployed to the region. Argentina, of course, this being war, didn’t comply and the British Government upgraded the Exclusion Zone to Total meaning that any ship or aircraft entering the zone could be attacked without warning. The message being sent to Argentina by the British Government was unequivocal,
On 2 May 1982, even though Belgrano was operating outside the exclusion zone, after receiving certain intelligence, the British Government decided the warship posed such significant threat to British Forces that Conqueror, a hunter-killer British nuclear submarine, was ordered to attack. Three high impact torpedoes were launched and the Belgrano sank with the loss of 323 lives. A further 772 men were rescued by Argentine and Chilean ships.
The Belgrano is a small but interesting example which supports the axiom, whatever goes around, comes around.
The cruiser was launched in Camden, New Jersey, as USS Pheonix in 1938, built to a largely British design. In 1941, she was the only ship to survive the Japanese destruction of Pearl Harbour which was the immediate cause for the USA to join Britain and her allies in World War II. After notable and illustrious service in the Asiatic Pacific conflicts and the liberation of the Philippines, USS Phoenix was sold to Argentina in 1951. In 1956 she was re-commissioned and re-named, The General Belgrano.
Nothing in war is neat and tidy and certainly isn’t fair and as a Human Being I hate everything about murderous conflict, but as a husband and father, I know that if my family was physically threatened by anyone, individual or country, I would do everything in my power to eliminate the source of that threat. I would like to think I had explored every alternative before resorting to violence but, from experience, I know there isn’t always the time or mental capacity to do so. I also cannot help a part of me hankering for that brand of gentlemanly bravado prevalent in boyhood comic books such as Commandos, Victor, and Warlord where Right and Wrong are easily identified and Right must always prevail. Where heroes demonstrate the kind of chivalry that always seeks a “fair fight” and deplores a situation where sophisticated modern weaponry is deployed from a state of the art submarine against a veteran of the sea equipped with fifty-year-old canon and only two (British) Seacat missiles resulting in the death of so many sons of Argentinian mothers.
On the other hand, from a strategic perspective, the sinking of Belgrano played a decisive role in ending that particular war sooner rather than later.