Sailing into Dire Straits

FALKLANDS 40

In this exclusive article, Lord Ashcroft presents two incredible accounts from sailors at the sharp end of Argentine air attacks off the Falklands nearly 40 years ago

On April 5, 1982, three days after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, British forces were ordered to sail to an overseas territory 8,000 miles away. Days before, with the Argentines en route, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher discussed that eventuality with her defence chiefs, including Sir Henry Leach, the First Sea Lord. She asked bluntly: “If the invasion happens, precisely what can we do?” Leach was calm and considered: “I can put together a task force of destroyers, frigates, landing craft, support vessels. It will be led by the aircraft carriers Hermes and Invincible. It can be ready to leave in 48 hours.”

This force eventually comprised 127 ships: 43 warships, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and 62 STUFT merchant vessels (Ships Taken Up From Trade) such as the giant Canberra and Queen Elizabeth 2, both requisitioned as troopships. Codenamed Operation Corporate, the liberation effort was under way. When they set sail, there was a chance that war could be avoided.

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