One Hundred Days is Admiral Sir John (Sandy) Woodward’s account of the Falkland’s War, written with Patrick Robinson. Woodward was commander of the task force which recaptured the Falkland Islands in 1982 following an Argentinian invasion.
Patrick Robinson is an author of fourteen naval-based thrillers as well as non-fiction works. He also co-wrote True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny with Don Topolski. Patrick’s writing skills may make it flow, but the stamp of authenticity, emotion, and the reality of command are Woodward’s.
Tom Clancy’s quote on the cover says it all – “This compelling tale of the battle for the Falklands is the most honest look at command I have ever encountered.” I shall précis a section which I think displays this honesty with razor sharpness. The Argentinians had been seen deploying mines. The task force had no minesweepers. Before entering Falkland Sound he needed to establish whether or not it had been mined. The only way to do this was with a ship.
‘But it would also have to be something cheap and cheerful which I could replace, like a 3,000 ton Type 21 frigate. Like Alacrity. Like expendable Alacrity.’ … ‘I phoned Commander Craig on the voice-encrypted network and said “Er… Christopher, I would like you to do a circumnavigation of East Falkland tonight. All the way around to the south, then north up Falkland Sound and out past Fanning Head to rendezvous with Arrow.” I also told him to come up the Sound very noisily, exploding a few star-shells and generally frightening the life out of the Args. I added, “If you see anything move, sink it, but be out of there and home by dawn, so you’re clear of the land before they can fly.” He was silent for a few moments and then he said,
“Umm, I expect you would like me to go in and out of the north entrance a few times, Admiral. Do a bit of zig-zagging.”
“Oh, I said,” feigning surprise and feeling about two inches high. “Why do you ask that?”
“I expect you would like me to find out whether there are any mines there.” He said quietly.
I cannot remember what I said. But I remember how I felt. I think I just mentioned that I thought that would be quite useful.
He replied, with immense dignity, “Very well, sir.” Then he went off to prepare for the possible loss of his ship and people the best way he could. I shall remember him as one of the bravest men I ever met. This was Victoria Cross material, but, strangely, only if it went wrong.’
In a recent post I mentioned the discussions I have had with friends over the sinking of the General Belgrano. Pages 146 to 153 describe the immense threat that the two Argentinian battle groups posed to the task force. They remained outside the TEZ (Total Exclusion Zone) but were closing rapidly on the task force, zig-zagging as they went. Woodward goes on to describe the difficulty the RN submarine Conquerer would have in tracking Belgrano over shallow banks and the long process of requesting a change to the ROE (Rules of Engagement). Woodward took some calculated shortcuts to make the urgency and danger of the situation as plane as possible to Northwood and the cabinet. ‘Such a breach of Naval discipline can imply only two things – either Woodward has gone off his head, or Woodward knows exactly what he is doing and is in a very great hurry. I rather hoped they would trust my sanity, particularly because there is always another aspect to such a set of circumstances – that is, should the politicians consider it impossible for the international community to approve the sinking of a big cruiser, with possible subsequent great loss of life, I had given them the opportunity to let it run and then blame me, should that prove convenient.’ Woodward says that as Nelson and other admirals know, ‘The speed and direction of an enemy ship can be irrelevant, because both can change quickly. What counts is his position, his capability, and what I believe to be his intention.’
I can’t recommend One Hundred Days highly enough to anyone interested in naval warfare. It’s illustrated with fine sketches made by Woodward at the time.