reviewed by Ken Cox and Tom Maloney
“One way and another it was emerging as a pretty good plan of operations. And somehow, we would manage to keep it, almost to the day.”
The plan was Admiral Sandy Woodward’s blueprint for Operation Corporate, the British campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentine forces in the spring of 1982 Working backwards from the latest date the weather and endurance of Royal Navy forces could support the land battle, Woodward and his staff devised a plan to neutralize the Argentine Navy and Air Force, put the landing force ashore, and support the British Army and Royal Marines in their fight to recapture the Islands. And keep the plan they did; 8000 miles from the United Kingdom, with marginal forces for the task, with no airborne early warning and greatly outnumbered in the air, Admiral Woodward and his men skillfully executed an amphibious campaign that many observers believed was certain to fail. The story of Operation Corporate vividly demonstrates the great virtue of setting the objective, making a plan for success, and then sticking to that plan regardless of the adversity encountered in its execution.
One Hundred Davs is Admiral Woodward’s gripping tale of his one hundred days as the Falklands Battle Group Com-mander. His book may be a harbinger of how naval forces — originally designed for global warfare — will be employed in regional conflict One Hundred Days is particularly thought-provoking for those in the submarine community who are now struggling with submarine roles and missions in the post-Cold War world. One can easily find in this work a number of important lessons learned in the areas of politics, doctrine, training, motivation and maintenance philosophy. In the reviewers’ opinion, Admiral Woodward made a wise choice to select as his collaborator an author who is neither a naval historian nor has a military background. As he explains in the Preface, “… it made the entire project more onerous, in that I would be permitted to take nothing for granted on behalf of my readers.” His choice and the consequent unburdening to Patrick Robinson paid big dividends in the depth and lucidity of the work.
This decision would appear to be characteristic of this officer who in his own words, “…was one of a dying breed of officers who had effectively been in dark blue uniform since leaving preparatory school at the age of thirteen” and rose during a forty-three year career to the rank of admiral through a combination of talent, shrewd judgment and wise mentors like Admirals Squires, Herbert and Tail Like General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, he choose his sponsors well, notwithstand-ing the underlying friction between Admiral Woodward and the late Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse related in the narrative. Woodward’s experience in a career spanning the period from the close of World War II through the entire Cold War offers an interesting example for naval officers now enmeshed in the transition to the post-Cold War era. Interestingly, Woodward makes the point that he was not a volunteer for submarines and made some of his career decisions accordingly.
Woodward’s memoir covers in considerable detail the Royal Navy’s role in Great Britain’s improbable, yet inevitable involvement in the Falklands War. Improbable in that few expected that a Navy rich in history and tradition, designed and trained to counter the Soviet threat in northern waters would experience what may have been its last hurrah against a brave, but professionally second-rate opponent, and would win by a nose through a combination of military skill, esprit de corps, guts, and often unreliable technology. Britain’s involvement in the Falkland’s War was inevitable, as one quickly appreciates from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Foreword to the book. In her words, “The issue, from the start, was one of purest principle. Foreign governments all over the world waited… for our reaction. But the British people, everywhere, knew there could only be one answer.”
In making this answer there was a remarkable coincidence of national will and the good fortune that the Royal Navy had a task force in being, at-sea and more or less ready for war. The Royal Navy was not quite yet on the shelf, training with simulators and awaiting reconstitution. Had the Argentine junta waited six months to a year longer, the British spirit may still have been willing, but the wherewithal lacking, a casualty of Mr. John Nott’s defense cuts. As it was, ships being deactivated were reloaded and sailed south to the Falklands, providing the thin margin required for victory. Admiral Woodward states that, at its inception, a number of “competent organizations” suspected that Operation Corporate was doomed. Among these naysayers were: the United States Navy, the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott.
From the submariners’ perspective, the minimal treatment given to the British submarine involvement in the war is surprising. Other than describing HMS COURAGEOUS’ action against ARA BELGRANO – including Woodward’s energetic actions to precipitate the attack – and relating the disagreement over who should control the submarines, the on-scene battle group commander (Woodward) or Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM), the author essentially ignores the presence or impact of the British submarines. Admiral Woodward describes his frustration with his inability to use HMS COURAGEOUS against the Argentina aircraft carrier, ARA VEINTECINCO DE MAYO, and while he indicates that he was doubly irritated when FOSM was proven right, he does not share with the reader why FOSM’s decision was correct. Nowhere does he give the Royal Navy submarines credit for their work in intelligence and early warning or their use in special warfare. For some reason, the facts that submarines were the first ships on station in the Falklands, among the last to leave, and that a diesel-electric submarine participated were omitted. Perhaps these omissions generally relating to intelligence matters and special forces result from security considerations. Indeed, the very limited coverage of intelligence and eli considerations throughout the book cannot be accidental. For completeness, and from the submarine-associated readers’ viewpoint, Woodward’s views on the effectiveness of submarines in tactical intelligence and special warfare missions would be of consider-able interest today, when the submarine’s role in regional conflicts is hotly debated. One also wonders whether or not serious consideration was given to establishing a submarine blockade of the Argentine coast, or if this strategy was too aggressive for even the Iron Lady.
Even granted that the Argentine Air Force posed the most evident and immediate threat to the British task force, the ASW threat to the force is given surprisingly short shrift This makes an especially interesting contrast to the oft-repeated warnings in contemporary journals and forums of the disaster nearly visited upon the Battle Group by a single diesel-electric submarine. Admiral Woodward generally denigrates the skills of the Argentine submarines, especially ARA SAN LUIS, indicating that her commanding officer would not have passed a British PERISHER (Prospective Commanding Officer’s Course). Nevertheless, there is a persistent discourse through-out the book on the wlnerability of his two “floating airfields” to submarines, as well as to other threats including aircraft, mines and commandos. It is interesting to speculate what the potential impact would have been had the Argentine submarines been armed with Exocet missiles as were their aircraft and surface ships.
A particularly germane issue is the unreliability the Royal Navy experienced with their latest and best weaponry such as Sea Dart and Sea Wolf. The weapons systems’ inability to discriminate or lock on to targets and the missiles that failed to launch due to frozen microswitches and jammed doors, gives one pause to think how the same weapons would have per-formed in the North Atlantic against the adversary for which they were designed. Was this is the result of the difficult conditions under which the conflict was waged, or an endemic problem of material readiness due to limited resources or maintenance philosophy? Based on our experience with the Royal Navy, the reviewers suspect the latter. Indeed, one senses a bit of a modem day “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today” flavor in the recounting of the weapons systems’ failures and shortcomings. For instance, quoting Woodward on “poor old CONQUEROR” failing to receive the signal to attack ARA BELGRANO, he states: “They had, unfortunately, a very dicky radio mast that kept going wrong… ” As an interesting aside, Admiral Woodward brings in the issue of Britain’s decision to trim conventional naval forces for Trident; an issue that directly related to the planned sale of HMS HERMES and HMS INVINCmLE, which would have made the Falklands’ affair moot In light of the current world situation, it is intriguing to speculate whether the Trident decision is one that Britain will regret.
Jointness and Public Affairs, particularly face-to-face dealings with the press, are addressed appropriately. Admiral Woodward’s self-admitted lack of appreciation of the ways and capabilities of other elements of his joint command, with special mention of special operations forces, is an important lesson for current and future naval officers who may be called upon to lead joint or combined operations. While not jointness in the current sense of the term, it is informative to learn how many of Woodward’s Band of Brothen, the captains of the frigates, destroyers and carriers, were former submarine commanding officers or from the Fleet Air Arm. Admiral Woodward himself had at one time been the captain of the ill-fated HMS SHEFFIELD, which understandably figures significantly in his narration of the campaign. In most cases, he gives great credit to these officers for the professional skills and experience they brought to their surface commands from their respective backgrounds. Perhaps, it is not too far-fetched for the shrinking U.S. Navy to consider employing its officers across the union lines that have formed over the past three plus decades.
The British Press gets well-deserved rough treatment, especially for the release of information on impending task force or troop movements that many believe contributed to British casualties. One wonders about the efficacy of the Royal Navy’s censorship system which had- probably for the last time in history — total control of the means of communications from the scene of the action. Admiral Woodward condemns the Press as not being on “our” side during the conflict, and for their self-portrayal as fearless seekers and tellers of truth, consequences be damned. He cites the fact that, early in the war, Argentine bombs had not exploded on impact, but this was to change later in the conflict, presumably after a press announcement. He also credits the BBC with announcing to the world that the Amphibious Group had joined up with the Battle Group, and later tipping off the Argentines that an attack on Goose Green was imminent. (Shades of the Japanese resetting their depth charges in the Second World War after a public U.S. pronouncement that U.S. submarines were operating below them.) Woodward relates that, after the conflict, the Argentine generals and admirals admitted that they gained ninety percent of all of their intelligence from the British Press!
Particularly striking in Admiral Woodward’s very personal commentary is his realization that after all his years as a serving officer, he was for the first time confronted with decisions that were truly life and death in implication. This is not a point to be missed by officers who are reared in a world of technological excellence, shipboard examinations and competitive exercises. As Lt-General Sir John Winthop Hackett stated at the Lees Knowles lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1962: ‘The essential basis of the military life is the ordered application of force under an unlimited liability. It is the unlimited liability which sets the man who embraces that life somewhat apart…. ”
Although not intended by the author, Americans can take a powerful message from Woodward’s account of a narrowly-won campaign fought half-way around the world from the mother country. One forms the image of a once-formidable Navy, the victim of short-sighted budget cuts, unable to sustain deployed naval forces through the austral winter, forced into a risky strategic plan with few alternatives, and winning by a whisker against a Third World opponent armed with mainly obsolete equipment and a few modem weapons. Could this be the image of the future for America? With the prospect of unre-strained cuts in the U.S. defense budget, the United States Navy could be headed toward a similar fate by the tum of the century unless the message of the Falklands, and a somewhat similar signal from the Persian Gulf, are understood and acted upon by those setting national priorities.
The book’s major shortcoming is the paucity of chartlets, maps and data tables; the reader is left wholly on his or her own in picturing the location and formation of the opposing forces, their number and movements, and in understanding the basic capabilities of the major combatants and their weapon systems. The reviewers were quickly forced into Jane’s and other references in order to follow Woodward’s concerns, plans and decisions. Special AAW defensive schemes such as the Type 42ffype 22 combination which Woodward referred to repeated-ly make little sense without a minimum of background informa-tion. Understanding the Battle Group’s support to the British Army and Royal Marines fighting ashore was impossible without reference to basic maps of the land battle in other sources. We recognize that One Hundred Davs is a personal memoir rather than a definitive historical work; nonetheless, a more generous use of illustrations would greatly benefit both the casual reader and the serious historian, especially in an edition published for an American audience generally unfamiliar with British ships and weapons. The editors can readily eliminate this annoying deficiency in future editions, thereby materially improving an otherwise outstanding personal account.
While Britain’s battle to recover the Falkland Islands may have been viewed as “A damned close run thing,” to borrow the oft-used quote attributed to the Duke of WeUington after the battle of Waterloo, Admiral Woodward’s memoir wins by an English mile as a unique and bold exposition of the inner thoughts, doubts and trepidations of a submariner thrown by history into a campaign with few precedents, and unlikely to be repeated. One Hundred Davs provides us with a vivid and important reminder that naval battles are n~t won by high tech weapons, but rather by the professional skills, courage and steadfastness of sailors and their officers who, as Admiral Woodward tells the reader, go together into battle. As we in the United States, in the aftermath of the Cold War and the low loss – high tech victory in the Gulf, fashion a smaller Navy equipped with great emphasis on sophisticated smart weapons, we would do well to heed the valuable lessons Admiral Woodward has offered.
Captain Thomas Albee, USN(Ret.)
Rear Admiral Henry C..Bruton, USN(Ret.)
Captain John F. Campbell, USN(Ret.)
Lieutenant Commander Delbert A. Sexton, USN(Ret.)
Commander Jesse Z. SChultz, USN(Ret.)
CDptQin Robert D. Thompson, USN(Ret.)
Commander Peter Cremer Thursby, FDR Navy(Ret.)