It was with considerable pleasure and some concern that I discovered my book One Hundred Days was thought to warrant a full article in your October issue of the SUBMARINE REVIEW. In the light of what was said there, some explana-tions are plainly due.
Firstly, as the reviewers recognized, the book is a personal memoir rather than a definitive historical work. I’d go further than that — it is definitely NOT an historical work. it is a personal memoir, with about half the memories deliberately left out for good reasons of taste, security, and legality. It is impossible to write history so close in time and place to the event. The laws of libel forbid it, for a start. But also as I learn more about what went on around me from year to year, I begin to realize how wrong I was even to have claimed in the preface that “I probably knew less than half of it.” That, I discover without surprise, was a major exaggeration.
Critics of what I have left out, put in, said the wrong thing about, not said the right thing about, should try to remember that the book was only intended “to reveal what went on in my mind throughout those weeks .. .” As a consequence, things that went reasonably satisfactorily often get only scant mention simply because they had no need to exercise my mind at the time. And things I didn’t know about, weren’t going to get thought about. The book itself just might be worth looking at to see what it did leave out, what it is that the offshore com-mander didn’t have to worry about in that situation, what should be taken as read, what was done for him by others as well as what was delegated and how that was done. There are several obvious areas.
For submariners, the glaring omission was the effectiveness of the submarine force. But it did no more and no less than I expected. They sent the Argentinean fleet home on Day Two. There wasn’t very much more to say after that without risking bathos. My worries and irritations about the control of SSN’s in open ocean operations with very little ASW opposition pale into insignificance by comparison — though there were clear lessons to be learned, albeit no new ones.
For aviators by contrast, I failed to sing the praises of the Sea Harrier anything like enough — and that aircraft greatly exceeded our expectations in every area of its use, versatility, reliability, and effectiveness. Whereas the SSN’s just did what any right·thinking submariner knew they would all along, cleared the sea and then helped at the edges, “reaching the parts that others do not” as the advertisement says – hardly any need for hot debate about that, I’d have thought.
For the Blackshoes, I perhaps failed to underline with sufficient clarity the sacrifices surface forces are likely to have to make in this kind of operation. Vulnerable is an adjective air forces and armies like to use for ships, entirely forgetting that without them there’d be little need for an army or an air force other than for home defence. The Falklands War demonstrated again the kind of price that has to be paid in ships and people when amphibious operations are undertaken in the face of significant opposition.
So none of these interests received their due — no apologies, it’s not what the book was about.
I do have to agree that the paucity of maps and chartlets, data tables and the like is fair criticism on behalf of the serious student – they will be found, with variable accuracy, in the many books which have tried to write the history. There is incidentally, an official naval history in process, which will provide a very much better chronology of events — but even this will lack the sort of data required for those unfamiliar with British naval capabilities.
On the larger canvas, I am clear that Operation Corporate can stand as one useful example of what seapower can be about today. And it represents just about the limit of what Britain can do on her own. Sir John Nott, the British Secretary of State for Defence at the time, still dismisses it as an anomaly of history. But it is worth remembering that it was he that was dismissed shortly afterwards. The glaring omission in capability at this level was, of course, the lack of a large aircraft carrier. It was undoubtedly this lack which caused the U.S. Navy to be less than sanguine about the prospects, and understandably so. But again there is a lesson; if you don’t have a sledgehammer, (to coin a phrase) use your head!
On another tack, the operation told us quite a lot about how to limit the extent and level of conflict. The British government was’ very careful to avoid taking the battle to the continent, and despite the many temptations, refrained from aggressive acts inside the twelve mile limit from the shores of Argentina.
And again though less usefully, it told us something about what nuclear weapons are NOT for. Yes, a nuclear bomb on BA would have settled the matter – no, it wasn’t even the remotest possibility at any time, whatsoever. I am left wonder-ing just what degree of force majeure is allowable to democra-cies these days; perhaps minimum force has already taken its place?
But these matters verge on the What-ifs – not very helpful, I find. Add a NIMITZ to my Battle Group and the balance shifts enormously. Put four Exocets into her, and it could weU change back. Provide the Argentineans with one SSN at sea no better armed than CONQUEROR, and again the whole balance shifts. No, you have to take the scenario as it actually hap-pened and beware of extrapolating to suit the argument of the week. The fact is that if you want to project power overseas for whatever purpose, you are going to need sufficient forces to give a reasonable chance of victory. To provide that across a range or scenarios, you are going to need a wide range or naval capability, lack of any one part of which can ruin your day — but what is new, we have known this for centuries.
And anyway as the reviewers so rightly judged, it is the people who provide the skills and determination without which technology is useless. On The Day War Breaks Out things will not be exactly what you expected — nor what you planned into your hardware. The tools provided by technology will need rapid adjustment to suit; only the people on the spot can effect this. And even they can only do that for you if you have brought them up the right way — if they are, as you say, The Right Stuff.
It’s worth my adding, on the non-professional net, that the wives have found the book a good read – so I suspect that whatever it is to us, the professionals, it is something else for those with no particular interest in naval affairs.