31 Jul 20

The author is a lawyer who specialises in insurance and commercial matters, but his qualifications also include a Master’s degree in Strategy and Geopolitics and a post-graduate course in Contemporary Military History at the Argentine Army’s Military Academy.  He is a Lieutenant in the Army Reserve whose interest in the South Atlantic War was first stimulated when he attended a lecture given by Almirante Enrique Pico who had commanded an Argentine Navy destroyer in 1982.  He had previously thought, like many others, that after the sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano the remaining Argentine ships had rapidly sought sanctuary in port and the Admiral’s story came as a surprise to him.

Some years later his interest was further stimulated when he met Capitan de Fragata Enrique Fortini who had flown S-2E Trackers from the aircraft carrier 25 de Mayo and his subsequent research led to the publication of this short but informative book.  Its 72 pages include an interesting bibliography and source notes but no index; a number of colour and black and white photographs complement the text and there are colour maps and scale drawings of ships and aircraft.  Both British and Argentine names are used to describe places.

The book is effectively divided into a number of elements; the outbreak of war between Argentina and the UK, the basics of anti-submarine warfare and the equipment available to the Argentine Navy, British strategy and a day by day account of the carrier squadrons’ attempts to counter RN nuclear submarine operations between 3 and 8 May 1982.  The section on anti-submarine warfare describes both theory and the equipment available to the Argentine Fleet Air Arm in May 1982 together with its tactical use, most of which was a long way from being ‘state of the art’.  The Argentine Navy had never expected to fight an opponent equipped with nuclear submarines and had no training or doctrine to help it do so.  The S-2E Trackers were bought second-hand from the USN without any operational training or instruction in the use of equipment and the Sea King anti-submarine helicopters, whilst purchased new from Sikorsky, were committed to a wide range of operational tasks including the movement of troops and stores which limited both the time that they were available for ASW and aircrew skill levels.  Neither the carrier’s operations officers nor the aircrew had been able to prepare for a war against sophisticated opposition and they did remarkably well with the equipment they had.

Sciaroni obtained details of the relevant RN submarine operations by the interesting expedient of demanding them under the UK Government’s own Freedom of Information Act. Despatches, reports of proceeding, log entries and lessons learned were all duly provided and are listed in the Bibliography.  The day to day description of operations is fascinating and includes both sides’ detection of targets that were thought to be probable submarine contacts at the time. However, post-war analysis has shown that neither British nor Argentine submarines were in the relevant positions so the actual identity of some of these contacts remain a mystery.  Any warfare specialist will find this to be an interesting account of a recent conflict at the dawn of the current information/digital age that had not been anticipated with both command and tactical aspects being given due attention.  Both sides had to fight with the weapons they had immediately to hand, not those under development that they would have liked to deploy.  It is also worth mentioning that 25 de Mayo was a near sister-ship and contemporary of the RAN’s last carrier, HMAS Melbourne, and operated an air group of A-4Q Skyhawks, S-2E Trackers and Sea King anti-submarine helicopters.  Thus, her potential operational capability closely matched that of Melbourne and Fleet Air Arm readers will find a comparison of her operations with their own recollections to be of interest. Overall, this is a well-researched book about an aspect of a recent war that has not, until now, received the level of attention that it deserves.  I thoroughly recommend it to a wide, professional naval readership.