Monday, May 3rd 2004 - 21:00 UTC

“General Belgrano” had orders to attack the Task Force

The controversy over the sinking of Argentine battleship “General Belgrano” on May 2, 1982 by the Royal Navy nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror, in the single action of greatest loss of life during the short lived South Atlantic conflict, again emerged on the 22nd anniversary.

The Argentine press published alleged internal secret documents of the Argentine Navy indicating that effectively the "General Belgrano" and its two destroyer escorts, "Piedrabuena" and "Bouchard" were preparing to engage the British Task Force from the south east in a double pronged action combined in the northwest, with the deadly Argentine fighter bombers to be launched from the carrier "25 de Mayo".

So far, the standing story has been that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered the sinking of the Argentine battleship outside of the exclusion zone with the purpose of neutralizing a truce and negotiations sponsored by then Peruvian president Fernando Belaúnde Terry.

However according to these new documents exposed by the Buenos Aires press, the "Belgrano" and its destroyer escorts had been inside the exclusion zone with the purpose of sinking Royal Navy units, although the combined action with carrier "25 de Mayo" had to be aborted because of adverse climatic conditions.

The Argentine press speculates that British intelligence effectively knew Argentine Navy intentions because together with the "help from Chile and United States satellites" they intercepted communications and therefore the order given to HMS Conqueror to sink the "General Belgrano" anticipating any Argentine plans.

According to the alleged secret naval messages between the three units of the flotilla and the Argentine Navy Task Force command the mission was to effectively "materialize the threat and gauge reaction, sailing along the following rout (with specific EZ positions). Remain minimum time necessary in the EZ, adopting possible submarine countermeasures. Finalized the job, report results".

This message from Commander Task Force 79, Admiral Allara was received by the three vessels April 29, 15:30 hours. That evening and the following destroyer captains Horacio Grassi and Washington Barcena met with Captain Elías Bonzo on the "General Belgrano" to talk about how to organize the incursion into the EZ.

A second secret message this time from Captain Bonzo, calls on Grassi and Barcena to again meet in the "General Belgrano", May first 10:00 hours to consider: sonar operations in the EZ; in case of hydro phonic contact (submarine detected) how to proceed and weapons to be used in contact situation.

This means the Argentine Navy was aware of the existence in the EZ of at least one submarine but according to naval sources mentioned in the article, "the extremely cold conditions of ocean waters made it virtually impossible to have an early detection".

Other "reliable and unidentified" naval sources indicated that contrary to original versions the two destroyers, immediately after the attack on the "General Belgrano" returned to the scene fully illuminated to search for survivors.

The old former American battleship that had survived Pearl Harbour in 1941, under Argentine flag went down May 2, 1982 at 16:01 hours after having been hit by two torpedos from HMS Conqueror in southeaster fringe of the EZ.

Out of a total crew of 1,093, the "General Belgrano" lost 323 sailors, the major single loss of life in the 1982 conflict.

Recent attempts to locate the sunken battleship have been so far unsuccessful.

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