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1982: British sub sinks Argentine cruiser

VIDEO : Housewife grills Thatcher over Belgrano attack

Argentina's only cruiser, the General Belgrano, has been sunk by a British nuclear submarine in the South Atlantic.

It is the first serious attack on the Argentine navy by the British since the conflict over the disputed Falkland Islands began last month.

The second largest ship in the Argentine navy was struck by two Tigerfish torpedoes from HMS Conqueror. It is thought there were about 1,000 men on board.

British helicopters also sank a patrol boat and damaged another using Seaskua air-to-surface missiles.

According to sources in Buenos Aires, at least five Argentine warships have been taking part in the search for survivors throughout the day.

"I sincerely hope it will not be a long and bloody conflict"

John Nott, Defence Secretary

Chances of anyone being found are limited with reports of 30-foot high waves and icy conditions.

The Belgrano, an old World War II ship, was reported to have been severely damaged this morning. News that she had actually sunk came as the Defence Secretary, John Nott, was answering questions from journalists this afternoon.

The Belgrano was outside the 200-mile total exclusion zone at the time of the attack and Mr Nott was asked whether the bombing was therefore justified. He replied: "The General Belgrano was a threat to our men and therefore it is quite correct that she was attacked by our submarines."

Mr Nott said the past week had been a successful one for British armed forces, but that the overriding aim was a peaceful and lasting settlement.

"I sincerely hope it will not be a long and bloody conflict," he added.

Earlier today, the government announced the next stage in the military build-up.

The QE2 has been called into service - she is due back at Southampton at midnight tonight - as well as two ferries and a container ship.

They will be used to carry 3,000 infantrymen.

In Context
The sinking of the Belgrano saw the loss of 368 lives. Although reports at the time said Tigerfish missiles had been used, it was in fact older Mark 8 torpedoes that sunk the ship.

The Argentineans retaliated by sinking HMS Sheffield killing 20 men.

The sea battle continued for many more weeks, then turned to the land. Argentine forces finally surrendered and peace was declared on 20 June.

The Belgrano sinking was the most controversial event of the Falklands War. Many people, both inside and outside the British Parliament said it was an unnecessary use of force - the ship was outside the exclusion zone and apparently sailing away from the Falklands.

A few months later, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was famously grilled on national television by a British housewife who said that the bombing ensured a halt to peace talks being brokered by the UN and the Peruvian Government at the time.

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