Seaweed - this is an excellent review and I agree with you about this book. Its pace and writing style are so good that I stayed up and read it in one go. It is a first class account of the Falklands War (one of the best that I have seen) and a cracking read , both in general terms and in detail. I reckon that all politicians should be told to read it if they are to make decisions about the RN and maritime matters. The immediacy and edge of the text brings the conflict to life and - like you - I found that it was full of absolute gems about the war and about life at sea in the early 80s. The anecdotes are very funny and I thought that the characters of the personalities are very well described. The description of one day in San Carlos Water is the best I have seen in print.
I think that the book deserves to become a classic, like the Spitfire book, First Light, by Geoffrey Welham. What I found interesting is that the content is not just about Fleet Air Arm matters, but takes a much broader, analytical view about other dimensions of the conflict. Some of the judgements will encourage historians to take a fresh look at some of the more familiar incidents.
Your very judicious and comprehensive review needs wider circulation - you should put it (minus some technical detail) on the Amazon website, so that the compelling message from this book - and the picture it gives of the RN at war - receives the widest attention from the pubic - and the establishment, those making decisions about the future of the RN. Well done to you for a great review.
And a reviewette from the March edition of Navy News - I'm with Seaweed. An excellent book. I'm a big fan of Adm P - he was always interesting to interview for he not only gave good soundbites but backed them up with some excellent analysis.
“I am starting this diary because I suspect we might be embarking on an unusual deployment.”
Thus did Lt Chris Parry make his first entry on April 1 1982 as he and his HMS Antrim shipmates pondered the prospect of sailing to the South Atlantic.
In recording his feelings – published 30 years later as Down South: A Falklands War Diary (Penguin, £20 ISBN 978-06709-21454) – the author was immediately breaking regulations. Personal diaries might fall into enemy hands... “What a load of cobblers!” Parry fumed.
In 1982, Parry (pictured right) was the observer of Antrim’s Wessex helicopter – known as Humphrey. He would go on to eventually command HMS Fearless and the UK’s amphibious task group, eventually retiring just a few years ago as a rear admiral.
In his later career (and outside the RN too), the author became well-known for being ‘forthright with his opinions’.
Rewind 30 years...
On April 2 he was rudely awakened at 5.15am by the captain’s secretary who wanted to know if he spoke Spanish.
“Have they invaded the Falklands, then?”
The secretary stonewalled.
“Don’t be a tosser, Jeremy! Have they invaded or not?”
They – the Argentinians – had, and Parry was in no doubt about what to do: kick them out, although most aboard the destroyer were convinced that there would be lots of “huff and puff politically” resulting ultimately in the islands being handed over to Buenos Aires.
There was indeed plenty of political bluster, but Antrim found herself in the first action of the campaign to oust the invader, beginning with South Georgia.
‘Humphrey’ found the Argentine submarine Santa Fe on the surface off the remote island and – after some debate deciding whether the boat was or wasn’t HMS Conqueror (it wasn’t...) – the Wessex closed in for the kill.
“What a moment! Every observer’s dream to have a real live submarine caught in the trap with two depth charges ready to go!”
The charges lifted the boat out of the water, before she began careering wildly.
“I was momentarily disappointed that the submarine was not sinking, but at the same time worried about what it must have been like for those inside.”
The Santa Fe was crippled. Further damage was inflicted by Wasps firing rockets and she limped back to King Edward Point, where she was abandoned. By the day’s end the entire garrison on South Georgia had surrendered – prompting Mrs T’s famous “rejoice, rejoice” remarks outside No.10.
The news was relayed to Antrim as the ship’s company dined.
“It was a dazzling moment, to be part of history, if only for a few hours.”
He lamented the lacklustre orders of the day and “wooden signals” from senior commanders urging the men on which failed to live up to the spirit of Nelson. The exhortations were, he decided, “tosh”: Use Henry V for heaven’s sake...
At times Parry found the experience of war exhilarating. “It is edgy stuff but I would not want to be anywhere else right now. I have to admit to an intense thrill. This is serious man’s business and it feels great.”
At others – notably when Antrim was in the middle of ‘bomb alley’ during the landings at San Carlos – he “felt vulnerable and isolated – it all became very immediate and personal.” One of his shipmates, holed up in the tiller flat – an emergency steering compartment deep in the bowels of the ship’s stern – threw a wobbly, so was given a companion to keep him sane.
His ship was fortunate – she was hit by a bomb which failed to detonate.
Welcome to the Unexploded Bomb Club, the Aldis lamp on HMS Glasgow flashed.
Thank you, but I did not apply to join, Antrim flashed back.
Antrim survived – no thanks to the BBC, whose World Service helpfully broadcast why so many Argentine bombs failed to detonate. “You have to wonder whose side the BBC is on,” Parry fumed in his diary. “Surely someone at the BBC has to recognise that this is not a game.”
Mind you, some Army officers – “typical Ruperts,” Parry observed – evidently thought it was a bit of a game too. “We are not going to be fighting,” a couple of archetypal hooray Henrys told the naval aviator (they also made the mistake of thinking he was a corporal...).
Parry exploded: “Listen you ******* idiots, while you’ve been drinking and sunning your way down here, better people than you have been fighting and dying for over a month.”
Despite being the last truly British conflict, and one which would have been lost without a Navy, accounts from Senior Service participants still remain rather thin on the ground.
So Chris Parry’s very detailed account plugs an important gap – and its contemporaneity adds to its authenticity. His education and background as an historian – he quotes Shakespeare, Marcus Aurelius, John Dryden, William Blake – make the author a particularly good observer, with at least one eye on posterity.
He used the long passage home to chew over lessons – most of which remain relevant 30 years later: the need for fixed-wing carriers, the need for something to counter sea-skimming missiles, the need for overseas bases, better media handling, the potency of hunter-killer nuclear submarines (“They frighten the fuzzies”), the need for a British sense of humour.
Above all, the Falklands was a salutary lesson from history: too often armies are geared up for the wrong war – the French, for example, lost in 1940 because they expected a repeat of the Great War...
Having spent a generation facing the Soviet bear, Britain was thrust into an unexpected conflict. “We were prepared for war,” one Army staff officer told the author, “but not this bloody war.”
Still, Britain triumphed and the Falklands were liberated from the junta’s yoke. “There are no silver and bronze medals in war,” Parry observed. “It’s the gold medal or nothing. You can’t share that podium – Nelson stands alone on his column.”
With the war won, Chris Parry and his shipmates contemplated the future of the islands they had helped free.
“The general mood was that the Args would continue to snipe at us even after we have captured Stanley, so some sort of force will have to stay down here for a few years.”
Three decades on, ‘some sort of force’ remains and the diplomatic rumbling over the Falklands persists.
Unlike my boss Scouse. When I released the T10K control, instead of calling 'Bruiser Loose' he screamed '**** Me' to range control. Newbie!!! What could I expect!!!! (HWI deliberately told me to select the Stbd missile.) :toothy3: