General Belgrano A Casualty Of Falklands War
By James Donahue
The British Navy’s decision to sink the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano and the killing
of 368 members of the ship’s crew during the Falklands War in 1982 has remained a controversial issue.
The aged 10,650-ton ship, formerly the USS Phoenix and a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor in 1941, was sunk by the HMS Conqueror, a nuclear-powered submarine that torpedoed it in the midst of the strange skirmish
between England and Argentina over which country possessed the Falkland Island just off the South American coast.
In spite of its age, the 608-foot-long cruiser was considered a threat to British naval forces because
of her 15.6 inch long-range guns and the anti-aircraft missiles she carried.
The conflict began when Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland island chain, long a declared part
of the old British Empire. When a British task force responded the Argentine Navy ordered a fleet of ships to take positions
around the islands. The General Belgrano, accompanied by the destroyers Piedra Buena and Bouchard was on patrol when the Conqueror
The submarine fired three conventional torpedoes and two of them struck the cruiser. One hit and blew
off the ship’s bow but the forward bulkheads held. The second torpedo struck amidships, punching through the side before
exploding in the aft machine room. The blast tore upward through two messes and ripped a hole in the main deck. The blast
also damaged the ship’s electric system and made it impossible for the ship’s pumps to pump out the incoming rush
of water or the crew to even put out a radio distress call.
The cruiser began listing to port and was bow down in the water. Twenty minutes after the attack,
when it was obvious that the ship could not be saved, Captain Hector Bonzo ordered the crew to abandon ship on inflatable
The two escort destroyers were aware of a submarine in the region and were busy dropping depth charges.
Because there was no radio contact, and because of their distance away from the cruiser, they were unaware of what had happened
to the Belgrano.
In the end, Argentine and Chilean ships rescued 770 men in the scattered rubber rafts between May
3 and 5. The rest of the compliment of about 1,000 sailors perished in the attack.
Although the wreck has never been found, the area where the Belgrano sank was classified as a War
Grave under Argentine Congress Law. In 1994 and Argentine government conceded that the sinking of the Belgrano was "a legal
act of war."
The Belgrano had been in service for the Argentine Navy from 1951 until it was sunk in 1982. It was
launched in 1935 as the USS Phoenix, survived the Pearl Harbor attack and saw action in the Pacific theater during World War
II before being sold to Argentina.
She holds the distinction of being the only ship to have ever been sunk in anger by a nuclear-powered
submarine and the second ship sunk in action by any submarine following World War II.
The ship was named after Manuel Belgrano, considered the founding father of Argentina.