British fleet sails for Falkland Islands
In one of the most remarkable mobilisations in history, just three days after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands a fleet of ships tasked with retaking the territory was able to set sail from Britain.
For once the bitter political differences of the 1970s and 1980s were set aside. Michael Foot , the Labour Leader, supported the action to take the islands back and restore the British administration there. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced to Parliament on April 3 1982 that they would indeed be taken back, and that plans were already in hand for a naval force to be despatched to the region - Operation Corporate, the recapture of the Falklands, had been set in train.
Warships then based in Gibraltar had in fact already been mobilised and despatched to the South Atlantic. But the main fleet left British ports on April 5 1982. This included the assault ships Intrepid and Fearless; the aircraft carriers Hermes and Invincible which were to be so important in the conflict to come; and the ships needed to provision and support such a force coming from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Merchant Navy.
The reasoning behind such an urgent despatch has been debated since the event. The main body of ships would follow in due course, with well over one hundred used in the Falklands conflict in the final tally. But sending a fleet that included some of the Navy’s most powerful vessels so rapidly surely sent a signal to General Galtieri, the Argentine leader: Britain would not accept the loss of the islands. Of course the sooner the fleet could get to the region the better, but given that it had more than 8,000 miles to sail the difference in terms of Argentine preparedness was minimal.
The fleet set sail with much waving of flags and television coverage. The usual predictions of rapid success – for once to prove correct – were made in the newspapers. When the war ended (though war was never officially declared), four naval vessels had been lost, and so too had various support craft. But the British Navy had again proved it was a force to be reckoned with against an Argentine enemy far stronger than the public at the time realised.
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