Defense Minister Jorge Taiana led a commemorative event today marking the 41st anniversary marking the sinking of the ARA “General Belgrano” — an Argentine submarine downed by the nuclear submarine HMS Conquerer during the Malvinas war.
“In this ceremony, we honor the fallen, the survivors of the Belgrano, and all those who gave ample demonstrations of heroism in their rescue,” Taiana said during the event in Punta Alta, Buenos Aires province.
He said that “it’s an occurrence that we cannot forget and must always keep in mind.”
“It’s our commitment, that sooner or later and through diplomatic channels, to recover our Malvinas, Georgias, and South Sandwich Islands that have been illegally occupied by British forces since 1833,” said Taiana.
The UK refers to the Malvinas as the Falkland Islands, although this name is strongly contested by Argentina.
The event unveiled commemorative plaques to honor the 323 people who died on Belgrano. 770 crew members survived the two torpedoes, as well as a storm and the low temperatures of the South Atlantic waters.
It was the biggest naval tragedy in Argentine history.
The day before the attack, the Belgrano had received orders to patrol the waters south of the Malvinas along with two destroyers, Piedrabuena and Bouchard, in an area outside the 200-mile military exclusion zone that had been imposed by the United Kingdom.
There was a calm atmosphere on board the Belgrano, with much camaraderie between the 1093 crew members — prior to the war they had mostly done fight drills and abandon-ship exercises. They would come to be crucial to save valuable minutes and save the lives of many.
The Belgrano was a 13,5000-tonne ship made in the US and disposed of after World War II — it had survived Pearl Harbor. It didn’t have sonar to detect the presence of other submarines, which is why it was unable to identify the threat of the Conquerer in time. It had followed the Belgrano for 30 hours over 400 miles.
The Conqueror received the order to attack at 16:02 on May 2 1982 and shot three Mark-8 torpedoes: the first hit the engine room and the second destroyed the bow. The third missed its target and exploded 100 meters away a few minutes later.
The attack surprised those on board. The rafts were already assigned and prepared to accommodate groups of 20 crew members and equipped with supplies — fishing equipment, water, and first aid kits.
A fierce storm whipped against the rafts the rest of the afternoon, throughout the night, and into the morning of May 3. Huge waves, winds of up to 120 kilometers per hour, and a thermal sensation of between -10 and -20 °C put the survivors to the test for between 20 and 43 hours.
793 crew members were rescued from the freezing waters of the South Atlantic — 770 survived.