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Fight for the Falklands: Twenty years on
Introduction
My war story
Guide to the conflict

'I saw Sir Galahad burn'
Falklands map
The first day

The Argentine military's lost cause
My war story


Sir John Nott
Carlos Escude
Mark Shurben-Browne
Ruben Rada
Sir Rex Hunt
General Menendez
Jose Luis Ferreira
Bob Mullen
Augusto Bedacarratz
Sir John Nott was UK Secretary of State for Defence during the Falklands War.

I must confess that I wasn't much aware of the Falkland Islands before the invasion.

Of course I knew that we had some Royal Marines there, but I had to remind myself as to where the Falkland Islands were when the scrap merchants landed on South Georgia.

I had a huge great globe in my room in the Ministry of Defence and I went over to it to rediscover the geographical position of the Falklands. I was a bit horrified to see how far away they were.

On the day that we first heard that the invasion was a possibility I was in the north of England.

I came back [to London] that evening - this was on the Wednesday before the invasion on the Friday and the officials came over to the Ministry of Defence to give me a briefing and to my horror they showed me some intercepted signals.

These signals made it quite clear that an invasion was planned for the Friday. I asked to see Margaret Thatcher straight away.

We were all appalled. Our first reaction was how we could avoid this crisis diplomatically and a message was composed for Reagan.

We were concerned with how we could avoid it by further discussions and negotiations.

Impressed

The chief of the naval staff had heard that I was over in the House of Commons and he came across to get hold of me.

He was full of confidence that he could get a task force to sea the following week. Margaret Thatcher was tremendously impressed and so was I.

When I was alone with her later in the evening I expressed my scepticism about the possibility of such an exercise. It was 8,000 miles away and we didn't have proper land- based air cover.

But within 24 hours, 48 hours, the chiefs of staff had looked at the position and come to view that this was viable proposal.

The risks were very great, but they thought it could be pulled off and by that time my confidence was returning.

It was remarkable achievement that the fleet was put to sea at that speed.

Resignation

The first few days were very hectic. I flew down to Portsmouth to see the task force being prepared, but the famous occasion was the Saturday debate where the whole House of Commons was baying for the blood of the government for allowing this to happen and I was the fall guy really.

They all set about me with screams of 'resign, resign' and then we had a meeting of the Tory Party upstairs and that went badly for Peter Carrington, the foreign secretary.

When I heard that he was resigning I offered my resignation too because although I had had nothing to do with the negotiations with Argentina, it was after all British territory and it had been invaded by an enemy.

So to some extent I was seen to be responsible. I didn't feel responsible, but I then offered my resignation, which Margaret Thatcher turned down.

She was at her very best [during the war]. She showed great courage and great determination. The circumstances were very difficult.

Pressure

Of course it was difficult and dangerous for all the soldiers and sailors and airmen who went down there. We didn't have a dangerous time, but we had a very difficult time.

Internationally it was very difficult. We had enormous pressure for us to settle and agree a deal and Margaret Thatcher stuck at it and just managed to fight it out.

We had our war in Whitehall just as the soldiers had their war down in the South Atlantic.

Most of the negotiated terms that we were offered by every conceivable country, led by the Americans, would have been seen as a surrender in this country.

We never managed to get anywhere near a negotiated settlement.

I didn't feel in any sense triumphant after [the war] was over.

'Amazing episode'

I was just hugely relieved that it was finished. We lost a lot of people, a lot of people were wounded and many were disabled, that was a great tragedy for them, but they should feel proud and the Falkland Islands should feel proud that they'd all brought about this result.

The Falklands did do a great deal for this country. After the Second World War everybody saw this country as being in decline.

This was a tremendous achievement and it definitely revived the self confidence of the nation. It was an amazing episode in our history.

I went to the Falklands fairly soon after the war. I saw some of the islanders and went to visit some of the battlefield sites.

I inaugurated the cemetery at San Carlos. That was a really emotional day. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining over the water there and it was really very sad.

I shall never forget it.

Sir John's autobiography, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, is published by Politicos Publishing.