- Malvinas: la odisea del submarino Santa Fe
An odyssey it was, although perhaps not on the Greek epic scale. The Argentine submarine Santa Fe was deployed on a reinforcement mission to South Georgia in mid-April of 1982, after Argentine forces had invaded and occupied the Malvinas (Falklands) on April 2. She was a World War II vintage, guppy-class boat of U.S. origin (the USS Catfish) which the Argentines acquired in 1971. The author reminds us continuously how old and unreliable she was, which made her [End Page 625] voyage through contested waters patrolled by British nuclear submarines all the more anxious. Mechanical and equipment problems were constant. The author speculates that the mission verges on suicide. The Santa Fe made it to Grytviken in South Georgia with its troop of reinforcements, only to be discovered and attacked by British helicopters. With her conning tower fatally punctured and taking on water, she settled in the harbor and the crew was forced to join the Argentine land forces on the island in surrendering to British commandos and marines on the 25th of April. The South Georgia campaign was a sideshow, but important in that it secured the British eastern flank at sea before their invasion of the main Falklands islands.
The Santa Fe was the first major Argentine casualty of the war. Bóveda uses her baptism of fire as a metaphor for the whole of the Argentine forces in the war. The crew is brave, the officers gallant, but the mission doomed. We get to know the men well and the action is non-stop and literally minute-by-minute from the first orders to prepare to sortie, through the climactic battle to internment as POWs in Uruguay to the return home. Perhaps the Santa Fe fared better than most of the Argentine forces. She was lost (after British attempts to raise her extending into 1985, she was scuttled in deep water), but she at least accomplished her mission. That can't be said of most of the Argentine forces after April 2.
Bóveda is a competent Argentine journalist who has published in some reputable journals. And, he's done his homework. He offers a fairly thorough bibliography of sources in both Spanish and English and has done some documentary research. As a journalist, he's keen on interviews and has collected as large a set as I've seen, including all the Argentine naval principals as well as the British commanders of the marines and commandos in South Georgia. The publisher is well-regarded also. This volume is the tenth in a series on the Malvinas War, most of which, understandably, focus on events prior to the British landing in San Carlos on 21 May. One does not expect to see much Argentine coverage of events subsequent. In sum, this is a decent chronicle of an early operation in the Falklands/Malvinas war.
All the more the pity, then, that Bóveda adopted an intriguing and entertaining but troubling narrative device for his account—he invented a fictional crew member to be the first-person narrator of events onboard the Santa Fe. He explains that he did this in order to give us the feel of combat. And, it does add drama to the account. But, any historian is properly troubled by this. Introducing patent fantasy into an historical account is risky at best. At worst, it provides reasonable grounds to dismiss the story entirely. Bóveda needn't fear the worst; the basic story is well-known within the small circle of Falklands scholars and is supported by other accounts. But, do we believe every piece of dialogue, every moving account of combat, every emotional recollection? His desire to animate the story so as to give proper homage to his compatriots is understandable, even admirable, but it makes for a good yarn, not good history. Still, it's a good read and tells a story that...