[DW58]The following article refers to John Nott, the Conservative Defence Secretary in 1982
John Nott's Story
By Harold Briley
(Falkland Islands Newsletter No.81, May 2002)
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Revelations of the conduct of the 1982 War are contained in a book by the British Defence Secretary at the time, Sir John Nott. He tells his version for the first time of the tensions in Margaret Thatcher's War Cabinet, of his feud with the head of the Royal Navy, of how British agents denied Argentina supplies of the feared Exocet missile, and how France advised on ways to counter the missiles. The book's title 'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow' derives from a controversial BBC television interview which he angrily quit when accused of being only a transient politician.
Falklands Navy Chief faced dismissal
He reveals that the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, who persuaded Margaret Thatcher that the Falklands could be re-taken from the Argentines, when the Ministry of Defence advised they could not, was on the verge of being sacked or resigning a few months earlier for campaigning against Nott's proposed Navy cuts, including the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible and the Antarctic vessel HMS Endurance. The book says both Mrs Thatcher and Deputy Prime Minister Willie Whitelaw were outraged that he was undermining Nott's authority and said 'he must go'. But Nott successfullly dissuaded them not to blight Leach's distinguished forty year career.
World-wide plot to block Argentine Exocets
Nott reveals that France and President Mitterand "were in many ways (Britain's) greatest allies". The most formidable weapon in Argentina's arsenal was the French built Super Etendard strike aircraft and Exocet missile which sank some British ships. Nott writes: "As soon as the conflict began Hernou (French Defence Minister) got in touch with me to make available a Super-Etendard and Mirage aircraft so our Harrier pilots could train against them before setting off to the South Atlantic. The French supplied detailed technical information on the Exocet, showing us how to tamper with the missiles.
Britain launched a clandestine international plot to block supplies to Argentina. "A remarkable world-wide operation then ensured to prevent further Exocets being bought by Argentina. I authorised our agents to pose as bona fide purchasers of equipment on the international market, ensuring that we outbid the Argentineans. Other agents identified Exocet missiles in various markets and covertly rendered them inoperable, based on information from the French. It was a remarkably successful operation. In spite of strenuous efforts by several countries, particularly the Israelis and South Africans, to help Argentina, we succeeded in intercepting and preventing the supply of further equipment to the Argentines."
Belgrano sinking 'justified'
On the controversial torpedoing of the cruiser Belgrano, Britain, as well as declaring the 200-mile total exclusion zone around the Falklands, warned Argentina this was 'without prejudice to the right of the UK to take whatever additional measures may be needed in its exercise of the right of self-defence, under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter'. On April 23rd Britain sent a warning to the Argentine Government and published it internationally, declaring 'Her Majesty's Government now wishes to make clear that any approach on the part of Argentine warships including submarines, naval auxiliaries or military aircraft which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of British forces in the South Atlantic will encounter the appropriate response.'
The Argentines did not similarly warn Britain before attacking the Royal Marines' barracks near Stanley. "It is often forgotten that the only reason why we had not suffered loss of life to the Marines in the initial assault by Argentine forces was that following our receipt of the intercepted Argentine signal to invade, we instructed the Marines to abandon their barracks at Moody Brook and disperse themselves around the Island." Nott says he is astonished that anyone should consider the "momentary compass bearing of the Belgrano's passage to be of any consequence whatever .... She was sunk in international waters in strict conformity with the warnings that we had given - and for us to have taken any other decision, given her threat to the Fleet, would have been a serious dereliction of duty on our part."
"Shocked by terrible loss of life"
"I was shocked when I heard of the terrible loss of life, and I regret it deeply .... That was the consequence of a war we did not initiate .... This incident did in fact save many British lives. If we had been forced to contend with an aggressive Argentine navy as well as the courageous Argentine pilots, things might have been different .... Admiral Anaya, the most aggressive member of the Argentine junta and more than anyone responsible for the conflict in the first place, decided to keep the Argentine surface fleet in port following the sinking of the Belgrano. By neturalising the whole of the Argentine Navy, our decision proved to be correct and fully justified."
The Task Force Commander, Admiral Sir John 'Sandy' Woodward, had also been given rules of engagement enabling him to attack the aircraft carrier Veintecinco de Mayo wherever he found her. A British submarine did detect her but as the land campaign was nearly over, it was decided not to sink her.
Chile's "importance very great"
Nott writes that South American countries declared their support for Argentina, with the single exception of Chile, "whose importance, with its long-standing rivalry and fear of Argentina, was very great .... If we had been able to use a South American airfield, even for a diversion in an emergency, it would have made the whole operation easier .... We wanted to use (Chile's) airfields for stationing our Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft so they could hunt down the Argentine submarines, which were a real threat. They would also have been valuable to monitor the movement of the task force .... We had no satellite coverage at all of the South Atlantic .... I don't think we ever expected the Chileans would allow us to station aircraft on their soil, though we tried to do a deal. We were never successful, but in several respects the Chilean link proved very valuable to use."
"Splendid Weinberger and Pentagon"
Criticising the US State Department and President Reagan for their Latin American sympathies, Nott sarcastically writes: "I wondered if Reagan knew where Europe was .... The State Department was dominated by the Latinos, who saw President Reagan's Latin American policy going down the drain."
By contrast he strongly praises US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the Pengtagon. "Weinberger was splendid from the outset. Ignoring the jealousies and rivalries in Washington, he ordered his staff to give maximum and urgent support to the British. We needed additional fuel supplies in Ascension, which the Americans supplied with their tankers. Valuable weapons, in particular the Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, supplemented and upgraded the capability of the Harriers, and a host of other incremental stores were all forthcoming without cost ever being mentioned."
Thatcher "courage and obstinacy"
Nott disagrees with Margaret Thatcher and many Americans who claim Britain could not have recovered the Falklands without American support. "I believe the decisive factor was Mrs Thatcher's firm and immediate decision to retake the Islands, despite the impressive military and other advice in the Pentagon to the contrary .... We could have succeeded without US logistic and equipment back-up though the operation would have been infinitely more extended and hazardous .... It took weeks of determined diplomacy before the White House wholeheartedly declared itself on the side of the British .... Congress and American public opinion had come down heavily on our side. By doing so, it destroyed the support of the South American dictators for Reagan's anti-Communist crusade in Central America."
Praising Margaret Thatcher's leadership, Sir John Nott writes: "She had more courage and more obstinacy than a man .... She shut her mind to the risks of conducting such an adventure eight thousand miles away .... In the last resort, it was a woman's war - and the woman in her won."
'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow' by Sir John Nott, Politicos, London, 2002