We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
The missiles, made by French firm Aerospatiale, were fired by Argentina in the 1982 war. Its attack on destroyer HMS Sheffield, which killed 20, took place 40 years ago yesterday.
British top brass suspected they contained a “kill” switch that could be operated remotely – but France denied the feature existed.
Veterans said yesterday that they were not told about the possibility at the time. Then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was said to be “furious” France had sold the weapons to Argentina.
Simon Weston, 60, an ex-Welsh Guard who was severely burned in the bombing of logistics ship Sir Galahad in the conflict, said: “If they did do a dirty on the Sheffield, shame on the French.”
“We are not in a position to be telling the French who they can and can’t sell arms to. But I would be hugely disappointed in the French because of what Britain had given them in the way of support only 40 years previous.”
“I would be very very disappointed. The French have always done their own thing.”
Chris Howe, who served on destroyer HMS Coventry that was sunk on May 25 1982, said of the switch claim: “That was not intelligence we had then. But nothing would surprise me.
“We would have loved extra information on the missiles. But none was forthcoming.”
The Exocet blitz on HMS Sheffield came two days after Navy submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives.
An Argentine diplomat in the US claimed in 1982 that the destruction of HMS Sheffield was “justified after the massacre”.
Exocet strikes also sank the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor and severely damaged the destroyer HMS Glamorgan.
Admiral Lord West, the ex-First Sea Lord who skippered doomed frigate HMS Ardent in the war, told the Daily Telegraph he had heard of an Exocet kill switch, but added that Britain was reportedly denied access to the technology.
He said: “I was told that the French were very helpful in terms of letting us see the flying of Mirages and the Super Etendard [French-built fighters used by Argentina]. They did give us a certain amount of material about Exocet but I was also told there was a mechanism within it so that foreign people couldn’t fire an Exocet at a French ship without them being able to do something to mean it wouldn’t be able to hit.”
Bob Seely, a Tory MP and former Army captain who sits on the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said: “If Exocets contained an on/off switch, the French should have shared that with us. If it turns out that information was withheld, that would be one of the most shameful episodes in Anglo-French relations.”
Aerospatiale has denied that Exocet kill switches existed.
The anniversary of the Sheffield attack was marked yesterday by the unveiling of a sculpture of a ship breaching a wave at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Comment by Saul David
IF revelations about Frenchmade Exocet missiles’ secret “kill switch” are accurate, it would be one of the most shameful episodes in Anglo-French relations since Marshal Petain surrendered unilaterally to Germany in 1940, leaving Britain to fight on alone.
The anti-ship missiles cost the lives of 20 British sailors when, 40 years ago yesterday, HMS Sheffield was fatally damaged in an Argentine air attack during the Falklands War. It sank six days later.
A further 26 servicemen perished in subsequent attacks on the merchant vessel Atlantic Conveyor and HMS Glamorgan.
France has long been portrayed as Britain’s “greatest ally” during the Falklands conflict, notably by the then defence secretary John Nott.
There is some truth in this. President Francois Mitterand’s government supported the United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned the Argentinian invasion and called for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal.
It also agreed not to supply Argentina with any of the outstanding Exocet missiles or Super Etendard jets it had already paid for.
It also said it would give Britain as much technical information as it could about French-made weapons in Argentinian hands.
But new claims that details of a “kill switch” that would disarm Exocets being used against France or its allies were not forthcoming – perhaps the greatest assistance that could have been given to our forces – are deeply troubling.
Admiral Lord West – who in 1982 commanded the frigate HMS Ardent that was sunk by Argentinian bombs – said the French “were making a lot of sales of Exocet and if the people they were selling them to found out that there was a way of defeating it, they would not have been happy”.
Yet the arms company that made Exocet – Aerospatiale – was run by none other than President Mitterand’s brother Jacques.
So if France really had been our staunch ally, the president should and could have pressured his brother to admit a capability that would have saved British lives.
Now France needs to come clean about this for the sake of history, future relations with Britain and, most importantly, the families of the victims who deserve to know the truth.
Saul David co-hosts the Battleground:The FalklandsWar podcast with Patrick Bishop.
Source: Read Full Article