By Thomas Harding, The Telegraph Defense Correspondent. The following article referred to the major naval incident of the Falklands’ conflict was published Monday 26 December. Top secret papers are set to prove that the warship ARA Belgrano was heading into the Falkland's exclusion zone when it was sunk in May 1982, and not heading back to port as the Argentines claimed.
For decades debate and recrimination has raged over where the ship was heading when it was torpedoed by a Royal Navy submarine.
Britain received international criticism following the sinking after the Argentine Junta announced that the warship had been returning to its home port and was outside the 200 mile exclusion zone imposed by Whitehall.
But Major David Thorp, who spent 34 years working as a signals expert in military intelligence, has disclosed for the first time that he was asked to carry out a trawl of all the intelligence on the sinking at the direct request of former PM Margaret Thatcher a few months after the end of the war.
He was ordered to compile a report for the Prime Minister called “The Sinking of the Belgrano” that has never been published. From his own signals intercepts and those from other Government agencies, he proved that the Argentine cruiser was heading into the exclusion zone.
Major Thorp was in charge of a top secret signals interception section hidden on the amphibious warship Intrepid as it steamed with the Task Force. Around Ascension Island, 4,000 miles from the Falklands, his team began picking up naval communications sent.
The report states that in late April 1982, they intercepted a message sent from naval headquarters ordering the ARA Belgrano and its escorts to a grid reference within the exclusion zone and not back to base as the Argentines later claimed.
The ARA Belgrano was sunk by two torpedoes fired by the hunter-killer submarine Conqueror on May 2 with the loss of 323 lives a number of miles outside the exclusion zone.
“For some reason they decided on a rendezvous point still within the exclusion zone,” Major Thorp said. “Whether they were trying to raise a thumb at us I don’t know. At the time I thought it was strange thinking why didn’t they go straight into port?”
In his new book, The Silent Listener, Major Thorp wrote: “The findings of my final report stated the destination of the vessel was not to her home port as the Argentine Junta stated but the objective of the ship was to relocate to a prearranged RV within the exclusion zone.”
Despite the report being read by Mrs. Thatcher she never disclosed the information either in Parliament or elsewhere possibly because she did not want to reveal Britain’s eavesdropping capabilities.
But during her infamous BBC exchange with the schoolteacher Diana Gould who confronted her on the sinking Mrs. Thatcher made an intriguing reference to the report saying: One day, all of the facts, in about 30 years time, will be published. Mrs. Gould died earlier this month.
In recent years the Argentine navy has accepted that the sinking of the Belgrano was a legitimate act of war.
In his book, that was cleared by the security services, Major Thorp also discloses for the first time how the British code-cracking operation gave the force a significant advantage.
Shortly before the Battle of Goose Green, Lt Col “H” Jones, the commander of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, boarded Intrepid after hearing about the eavesdroppers through SAS colleagues.
“That morning we had picked up 10 grid references on intercepts and H looked at the map and realized that they were his own troops’ locations. He said “bloody hell we are sharing the same hill as the enemy’”.
“He wanted to know the strengths and weaknesses of the Argentines, then we looked at caliber of people on ground and he came to the conclusion that perhaps 600 Paras were worth 1,500 Argentines.”
The intelligence gave the commanding officer the “peace of mind” to start the battle that would lead in his own death, a posthumous Victoria Cross award and ultimately victory in the campaign.
(*) ARA Belgrano is the former USS Phoenix, a light cruiser, Brooklyn Class. She survived Pearl Harbour, was decommissioned in 1946 and sold to Argentina in 1951, and was first named “17 de Octubre” or Loyalty Day in the Argentine-Peronist calendar.
She had a displacement of 9.575 tons (empty) and 12.242 tons (full load); length 185 meters; beam 18.8 meters and draft 5.9 meters. She could make 32,5 knots and had a complement of 1.138 officers and men. ARA Belgrano had capacity for two helicopters and was carrying one when she went down.