Thatcher sought to ‘dismantle’ Royal Navy

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Less than a year before invading the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher was accused of seeking to “dismantle” the Royal Navy – so leaving Britain’s defences dangerously exposed.

Files released yesterday show the Prime Minister became embroiled in a bitter row with the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, over planned defence cuts. Sir Henry was later to convince Lady Thatcher she should send a naval task force to re-take the Falklands – but in the spring of 1981 he was furious over her “unbalanced devastation” of the armed forces.

“We are on the brink of a historic decision,” he warned. “War seldom takes the expected form, and a strong maritime capability provides flexibility for the unforeseen. If you erode it to the extent envisaged... you will foreclose your future options and prejudice national security.”

The files also include a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, to Defence Secretary John Nott, urging him to not axe the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Endurance, as it would send the wrong signal at a time of tension.

His appeal was rejected, and the Endurance was weeks from being withdrawn when Argentina invaded the islands in March 1982.