How an Aircraft Carrier and a Submarine Hunted Each Other During the Falklands War
On the afternoon of April 30, 1982, the War Cabinet of Prime Minister Margret Thatcher transmitted a message to three Royal Navy submarines in the South Atlantic—designating the carrier Veinticino de Mayo a priority target to be hunted down and destroyed.
The Argentine carrier—ironically, of British origin—posed an unpredictable threat to the Royal Navy taskforce commencing amphibious operations to retake the disputed Falkland Islands following their seizure by Argentinian troops on April 2, 1982.
The ensuing nine-day game of cat-and-mouse between British submarines and the anti-submarine aircraft onboard the Veinticinco is recounted in A Carrier at Risk by Mariano Sciaroni, who compares interviews with Argentine sources with Reports of Proceedings filed by British submariners to shed new light on a formerly obscure subject.
Sciaroni’s book not only serves as a primer for the anti-submarine tactics and technology of the time, but features many maps plotting day-by-day movements of the combatants and numerous photos and color illustrations depicting the vessels and aircraft engaged. Sciaroni also captures the routines and human foibles of wartime life at sea, such as quarrels over stocking snacks in the pilot ready room and fearful crewmen sleeping at their stations in life vests.
The Veinticinco Races for the Coast
By May 1982 three British hunter-killer submarines in Task Force 324 were patrolling exclusives zones around the disputed islands. The older Churchill-class Conqueror hunted south of the Falklands, while more modern and quieter Swiftsure-class attack subs Splendid and Spartan patrolled northwestern and northeastern quadrants respectively.
All three 5,400-ton nuclear-powered submarines could sustain up to 26-30 knots without needing to surface for air and were armed with Mark 24 Tigerfish acoustic homing torpedoes with a range of 13 miles, and World War II-vintage Mark 8 torpedoes designed to fire in a straight line. As the Tigerfishes were unreliable versus surface targets, the short-range Mark 8s were preferred.
The nuclear-powered Courageous and Valiant and the diesel-electric Onyx would arrive later in the conflict.
British intelligence had compromised the Argentina Navy’s Swiss Crypto AG encryption systems and intercepted Argentine plans for a combined carrier strike and surface attack. Aided by CIA spy satellites, the Royal Navy had a general idea of the Argentinian carrier taskforce’s positions but lacked precise coordinates.