‘We want answers!’ Falklands veteran fury over French secret that could have saved dozens

Iain Dale hits out at French over Falklands ‘kill switch’

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In 1982, during the height of the war between Britain and Argentina over the disputed Falkland Islands, many lives were lost by both sides. Now British veterans are calling on France to explain why the information was not shared as to how to disable Exocet missiles saving dozens of lives in the process.

Commander Mike Norman, who was second-in-command of the ill-fated HMS Sheffield says it would be “terrible” if the French had held back such vital information from its ally.

The former Royal Navy officer saw 20 of his shipmates lose their lives when an Exocet missile hit his ship causing the vessel to burst into flames on May 4, 1982.

A further 26 personnel died in similar attacks on other British ships during the conflict at the hands of Argentina’s “deadliest weapon”.

A report last week detailed how the Exocet missile may have been fitted with a “kill-switch” capable of disabling the highly effective projectile.

France however has denied such technology was fitted to its equipment supplied to Argentina.

In a flurry of reverse engineering, British scientists had to dismantle the missile to work out whether anything could throw the Exocet off course once fired.

Former members of the Government are now calling for the French to “explain themselves”.

Joining the calls are Norman Tebbit and David Mellor, who went as far as saying the French were “not telling the truth over the matter.”

Commander Norman, who was a First Lieutenant at the time of the strike joined other surviving crew members to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the incident.

Speaking of the reports he said: “If it was true and they didn’t tell us how we could disarm them, I think it would be terrible, frankly.

“That was the one single weapon the Task Force was really worried about.”

When asked about whether former French President Francois Mitterrand held back information, he said: “I would certainly be interested in that. Absolutely.”

Speaking to The Telegraph of the terrifying moment the Exocet hit the HMS Sheffield, Commander Norman said: “I was overcome by smoke.

“I was below decks when the missile came on board and I was choking.

“And I had to lead everybody out of the ops room, where the missile came in very close to, to get to the upper deck.”

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The merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor was also sunk by an Exocet, with the loss of 12 lives.

The French government has so far failed to issue any response to the growing questions about Exocets.

The missiles were made by the French firm Aerospatiale and fired from French-made Super Etendard jets flown by the Argentinian air force.

Calling for the inquiry, Lord Tebbit, who was Employment Secretary at the time of the conflict said: “It really wouldn’t do the French any harm to explain themselves as to why they thought it was not appropriate to tell us about this.”

Sir Geoffrey Pattie, who was defence procurement minister during the conflict said: “If there were any restrictions on what the British were being told by the French at the time, I think it would be helpful – for historical accuracy if nothing else – for them to reveal that.”

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Remembering the incident on the 40th anniversary, Commander Norman ended by saying: “I think to myself, well, what contribution did Sheffield make to the war?

“Well, two missiles were fired, one missile hit us and the other one fizzled out.
“And there was only a stock of five air-deployed Exocets that the Argentinians had.

“So I guess you could say at the cost of 20 lives, we got them to use two missiles.

“There were a lot of lessons learned for ship design and materials in ships, which burned terribly badly.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “France is one of the UK’s most important European allies.

“The record shows that France supported the UK during the Falklands conflict and we have no evidence to substantiate this allegation.

“French and British soldiers have served alongside each other all over the world for many decades, including in the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan.”

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