The Sub War
During the Falklands war, British submarines were the first warships to reach the islands and began to enforce the Exclusion Zone around them. Of these vessels, H.M.S. Conqueror (Arrived 16th April) was the one to gain fame, becoming the first nuclear powered submarine to sink an enemy ship in combat. The diesel powered Oberon/Porpoise class H.M.S. Onyx (Arrived 28th May) served in a patrol area along with the two Swiftsure submarines: H.M.S. Spartan (Arrived 12th April) and H.M.S. Splendid (Arrived 19th April). As well as patrolling against Argentine submarines, these warships kept the Argentine carrier in dock, along with most of the Argentine Navy. Of those ships and submarines which made sorties against the Task Force, the British submarines prowled for Argentine ships outside the Total Exclusion Zone.
On 12th April, a 200-mile Maritime Exclusion Zone came into operation around the Falklands, this being changed to a Total Exclusion Zone on 30th April. Any Argentine vessels found within the zone were liable to be sunk without warning. The 26th April saw helicopters from the destroyer Antrim, the frigates Brilliant and Plymouth attack, damage and force the Argentinean submarine Santa Fe to run aground and surrender.
On the afternoon of the 1st May, H.M.S. Conqueror sighted the cruiser General Belgrano, a World War 2 US-built warship lacking sonar, and its escort of two Exocet-equipped destroyers, which were a pre-eminent threat to the task force. The 2nd of May saw the War Cabinet clear the Conqueror to remove the Belgrano from the theatre. H.M.S. Conqueror fired a pattern of torpedoes from around 2,000 yards and scored two hits. The Argentine cruiser sank rapidly thereafter, although her escort did try to sink the Conqueror with depth-charges they were unsuccessful. The loss of one of its most prestigious units probably caused the Argentine Navy to recall its other units, including their only aircraft carrier, the Veinticinco de Mayo to port.
Argentine submarines continued to pose a threat to the task force, but no successful attacks were carried out. Although some confusion during the landings did include sightings of possible torpedo tracks, no attacks were confirmed. The fleet's helicopters provided constant anti-submarine cover; a task for which they were designed with the Royal Navy's anti-submarine role being pre-eminent within NATO.
All Submarine images are curtsey of Andrew Arthur who runs H.M.S. Andrew, a virtual encyclopedia of the Royal Navy since the 1930's until today, and onwards...