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SBS sail South on HMS Conqueror

In response to the invasion the British dispatched a Taskforce to recapture them under the codename Operation CORPORATE. Visibly the taskforce consisted of warships and troopships. Invisibly it included five nuclear powered attack submarines (SSNs) and one diesel-electric submarine (SS) for special operations.

Being faster than the surface ships the SSNs arrived in theatre first (they travelled at around -28-29 Knots constant). In fact, two set sail before the actual Argentinian landings. The five SSNs were;

  • HMS Splendid, a Swiftsure Class SSN, set sail 1st April commanded by Cdr. Roger Lane-Nott

  • HMS Spartan, a Swiftsure Class SSN, set sail 1st April commanded by Cdr. James Taylor

  • HMS Conqueror, a Churchill Class SSN, set sail 4th April commanded by Cdr. Chris Wrenford-Brown

  • HMS Valiant, a Valiant Class SSN, set sail 2nd May commanded by Cdr. Tom Le Marchant

  • HMS Courageous, a Churchill Class SSN, set sail 12th May commanded by Cdr. Rupert Best

Initially the plan involved using the SSNs to get Special Forces (SBS and SAS) to the Falklands as fast as possible, and 6 SBS joined HMS Conqueror at Faslane before she set off. This involved loading about 6 tons of equipment (weapons, ammunition, explosives, inflatable boats, breathing apparatus, canoes and possibly diver propulsion devices) into the torpedo room the already heavily laden submarine.

2 SBS flew ahead to Ascension Island which was about half way between Britain and the Falklands where they would join either HMS Spartan or HMS Splendid.

The use of SSNs to land Special Forces was not popular in some sections of the Submarine Service and naval planners as it detracted from the submarines’ primary missions of sinking enemy ships and ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance).

The Churchill class nuclear submarine HMS CONQUEROR with HMS ANTRIM (left) and HMS PLYMOUTH (right) during the transfer of an SBS party from the submarine to PLYMOUTH on around 26 April 1982 (© IWM FKD 49)

Soon plans were changed and 6 SBS were cross-decked to surface combatants, and 2 SBS plus the SAS (and later 3 SBS) instead travelled south on surface ships. This did delay their arrival but freed up the SSNs to hunt for the Argentinian Navy. Meanwhile a single diesel-electric submarine, HMS Onyx (S-21), was sent south to support Special Operations.

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