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Chapter Fifteen HAIG'S SHUTTLE CONCLUDES Operation Paraquat On 25 April Britain did use force. The decision to retake South Georgia had been one of the first made by the War Cabinet. Politically, it had the advantage of demonstrating resolve, reinforcing domestic morale and strengthening Britain's diplomatic position. South Georgia was not a negligible asset in itself: in terms of the exploration of Antarctica it was even more important than the Falklands. The attack was made on military advice. The senior commanders were concerned about morale, and an early victory could provide a psychological benefit. They also saw advantages in gaining access to a deep-water harbour, and in denying this to the enemy, who might eventually use it to mount operations against British forces from the rear. The advice given to the Government was that the recapture of South Georgia should be comparatively easy: the Argentine garrison was small and lacked air support. Sufficient forces could be dispatched to the Island to overwhelm any likely defences. Within the Ministry of Defence there was a contrary view that it would make far more sense to press on to the Falklands without diversion of effort and unnecessary expenditure of scarce resources. There were 800 miles between South Georgia and the Falklands - plenty of sea in which a small detachment might find itself vulnerable to submarine attacks. The terrain itself was forbidding. There is no such thing as a risk-free military operation: a 218 Haig's Shuttle Concludes disaster could have the opposite political effect to that intended. Even after the political decision had been taken and central planning completed , there was still pressure from some senior officers within the task force to abort the operation. Just as one of the first military operations approved by the British War Cabinet had been the recapture of South Georgia, one of the first decisions taken by the Junta had been to make no serious effort to defend it. As we noted earlier, concern as to the magnitude of the British military response required that future defensive efforts concentrate on the Falkland Islands. On completion of the Argentine occupation of South Georgia naval units involved had been ordered to withdraw. Only a small number of troops were to be garrisoned on the Island, with minimum support and material. Should Britain decide to attack, little could be done by way of defence. It was too far from the Argentine mainland to provide air cover. This was even more emphatically so for the South Sandwich Islands.* From 19 April on, after Haig's warnings, the Junta had been expecting some sort of military action. Although Haig had said that an attack could take place as early as 20 April, on that day the Junta's military staff advised that 25 April was more likely. An attempt was made to discover the whereabouts of the British fleet using aerial reconnaissance . The Argentine Air Force had been obliged to improve its aerial reconnaissance using Boeing 707 320-Cs. It was not easy. When a Boeing first encountered the task force south of Ascension on 21 April it was intercepted by a Sea Harrier and the mission had to be abandoned . None the less it had seen enough to know that the task force was entering American waters, as defined by the Rio Treaty, and had begun to divide. Argentine planners concluded immediately that the British were planning to retake South Georgia. On 24 April it was reported that two destroyers and a tanker were near the Island. The Joint Chiefs of Staff assessed that an attack was imminent. * Interestingly no consideration appears to have been given at any time to the removal of the very small Argentine garrison on South Thule, which would have been a comparatively easy exercise, if necessary just using Endurance. 219 Compromises On 7 April Captain Brian Young, the Captain ofthe destroyer HMS Antrim, had been put in charge of a 'forward combined force' to re-establish a presence on South Georgia. Named Operation Paraquat , the relevant orders were signed by Admiral Fieldhouse on 12 April. There was a need to issue them quickly. They were too long and too sensitive to send by radio and if they were to be dropped to the relevant elements in the task force in time it was necessary to take account ofthe maximum operational range ofa Nimrod aircraft. In London the Army was concerned that the Navy had taken only one company of the Royal Marines...


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