ABANDON SHIP: THE REAL STORY OF THE SINKINGS IN THE FALKLANDS WAR
Having grown up overseas, and been first ‘made’ in the RCN and RAN, I only came to understand the value of this book in reviewing it. I spent the first few chapters puzzling over the book’s purpose and utility. I felt it was addressed to a narrow audience and, though quite readable, it did not seem a likely commercial success. As I’m presently embarked in HMS Medway, I discussed the book with several of the ship’s officers and it was their enthusiastic reactions that unlocked it for me.
First to the details. The book comprises about 300 pages divided into nine chapters. The first chapter very neatly summarises the historical background to the conflict, the political context of the early 1980s, and the conduct of the war. Very nicely managed in just 13 pages. This is followed by a chapter on each of the seven ships lost during the war, arranged chronologically. Each of these uses a similar structure, setting out the background of the ship and Commanding Officer, narrating the operational and tactical factors leading to the fatal attack, the conduct and immediate outcomes of the attack, rounding out with a summary of outcomes.
The book is well researched; the author has employed the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to draw out much new detail. I am no expert on the Falklands War, but I believe he has woven this detail quite well into the broadly accepted historical narrative. Much of the background information on the ships has clearly been lifted from FOST reports and Reports of Proceedings. As an aside, having spent very many hours crafting such reports over the years, it is nice to know they are in fact useful for historians. The narrative is also well supported with useful maps and the 16 glossy photographic pages at its centre help to tell the stories.
Starting out, I was looking for insights to the shape of today’s RN and its performance in more recent campaigns. I wanted to find explanations for the equipment and procedures of today’s Fleet. I was, in short, looking for a ‘so what’ from these stories. Even the final chapter, titled Lessons from the Conflict, is very much about lessons identified and much less about how they were acted on. I eventually realised I was missing the point. Perhaps there is a book to be found in explaining the fit and layout of Type 45 and Type 26 based on lessons from the Falklands, but on reflection I fear this would be terribly dry.
Rather, what makes this book compelling is the human aspect. Some 39 years later, many of the situations leading up to the war and all of the characters in this book remain absolutely recognizable at sea today. And this book very effectively puts their stories into a meaningful context which brings life even to the clipped language of London Gazette citations. The officers and sailors around me have been raised on stories of the Falkland War – the HMS Glasgow damage control poster is right outside my cabin, as one example. Their eagerness to better understand those stories was striking – here is the book’s ‘so what’. Abandon Ship would be enjoyed in every mess afloat, and I assess it would be particularly useful reading before a HODs appointment. My copy is already doing the rounds in Medway.