ARA General Belgrano

The ARA General Belrgano will go down in history as the first ship sunk in anger by a Nuclear-Powered submarine.

ARA General Belgrano was a warship that was originally constructed as the USS Phoenix in 1935, and launched in March 1938. The vessel survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and was decommissioned from the US Navy after World War II in July 1946. Phoenix earned nine battle stars for World War II service. USS Phoenix was sold to Argentina in October 1951, with another vessel, for US$7.8 million. The ship was renamed General Belgrano after General Manuel Belgrano, who fought for Argentine independence from 1811 to 1819. The Belgrano was outfitted with the Sea Cat anti-aircraft missile system, between 1967 and 1968.

On 2 April 1982, military forces from Argentina mounted amphibious landings on the Falkland Islands. The event marked the beginning of The Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. After Argentina landed on the Falkland Islands, Britain launched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Argentine Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault. The conflict ended with Argentina surrendering on 14 June 1982. The islands remain under British control.

The war lasted 74 days. It resulted in the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen. On 30 April 1982, the ARA General Belgrano was detected by the Royal Navy nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine HMS Conqueror. The ship was located just outside the British-declared Total Exclusion Zone of 370 km (200 nautical miles) radius from the islands. The British decided the war ship was a threat and on 2 May 1982, the Conqueror fired three 21 inch Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes, each with an 805-pound (363 kg) Torpex warhead. Two of the three torpedoes hit the General Belgrano. One of the torpedoes blew off the ship’s bow and the second punched a hole in the side of the ship and exploded in the aft machine room.

Twenty minutes after the attack, Captain Bonzo ordered the crew to abandon ship. In all, 323 people were killed. Argentine and Chilean ships rescued 770 men in the water from May 3 to May 5, 1982. The vessel became the only ship ever to have been sunk in anger by a nuclear-powered submarine and the second sunk in action by any type of submarine since World War II. The first was the Indian frigate INS Khukri, which was attacked by the Pakistani Hangor during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. There was a public controversy surrounding the sinking, but in 1994 the Argentine government conceded that the attack was “a legal act of war.”

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