April 28, 2017

How the world learned about the Falklands War

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Penguins on the Falkland Islands. Land mines placed by the Argentines are still present today (source)
The Falklands War was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It began on April 2, 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in an attempt to establish the sovereignty they had claimed over the islands. The invasion had caught prime minister Thatcher by surprise, and even though the war was short, it turned out to be a deadly one.
I was still at a very young age but I remember it very well. It was probably the first time I heard about the existence of the Falkland Islands. I have been fascinated by the archipelago ever since, for its geographical location, for its remoteness, for its subantarctic character and rugged nature, and for the major role the islands play in the operations of the British Antarctic Survey.

In March of 2014, then still with my novice licence and PD7MDJ callsign, on 10m SSB, I managed to work Bob McLeod VP8LP located in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. It was my first contact with the Falkland Islands, and I was ecstatic! You can listen to a recording of the contact here at my SoundCloud page.

I didn't know then about the major role Bob McLeod had played at the beginning of the war as the only news source on the Falkland Islands, as the only link with the outside world. It was Bob McLeod who with his ham equipment first confirmed that the Falkland Islands had been taken over by Argentina, and who via ham radio provided BBC journalist and fellow ham operator Laurie Margolis G3UML in the UK with the scoop. Margolis broke the news on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme that same day. The fascinating story, as found on the BBC News site, can be read below, or you can find the original article on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6514011.stm.

Stanley, Falkland Islands (source)
There seems to be circulating on the internet a tape recording of the radio communications during the war of VP8LP with the UK. According to this forum http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=96066, the recording here is a recording of the actual QSOs with Bob McLeod on April 2nd, 1982, the day of the invasion. Intelligibility is poor at times, unfortunately.

My radio friend Alan from the UK told me he remembers during the conflict that the UK Government contacted all UK hams and gave them a phone number to call if they heard Bob or any other Falklands hams on the air. He also told me that during the war the UK Government had set up a broadcast station on Ascension Island to broadcast to the area, because the BBC World Service wouldn't allow itself to be used for any propaganda purposes in case this affected its reputation for impartiality. The Media Network programme with Jonathan Marks did a feature about Radio Atlantico del Sur, as the station was called, which can be found here in the Media Network Vintage Vault.

The Falkland Islands is IOTA SA-002 and forms a separate DXCC entity. Bob McLeod's wife Janet McLeod also is a ham operator and holds callsign VP8AIB. I managed to work her in late 2014 with the special callsign VP8AIB/100, commemorating the WWI Battle of the Falklands.
How BBC man scooped invasion news
By Laurie Margolis
BBC News (April 2, 2007)

Walk down London's Portland Place, heading south from Regent's Park towards Regent Street,and you come to a kink in the wide road.

Immediately ahead of you is the plush Langham Hotel, very expensive and also one of the most haunted buildings in London.

To your left, BBC Radio's headquarters at Broadcasting House. This busy location, on the northern edge of London's West End, was the focus of the way the story of the Falklands invasion unfolded exactly 25 years ago.

Back in 1982 I was a BBC journalist and also an amateur radio operator - I still am. That means I have a call-sign - G3UML - and some expertise in long-distance short-wave communications.

At the very end of March, 1982, I was working on the Golan Heights, hearing on the BBC World Service a bizarre story about Argentine scrap metal merchants taking over the British dependency of South Georgia.

Invasion claim

I returned to London on the morning on 2 April, and went into Broadcasting House to work on a documentary. I was met by scenes of near panic in the radio newsroom.

The Argentines were claiming to have invaded and taken over the Falkland Islands, the 2,000-strong British colony off the south-eastern tip of South America.

Argentine soldiers took control after a few hours' resistance

The newsroom had Argentine claims, but nothing else apart from a laconic message from the Cable and Wireless station on the Falklands - "we have a lot of new friends".

At that time the Langham Hotel was a dreary BBC office block and, in a dusty, junk-filled attic room - number 701 - the BBC's own amateur radio club had a shortwave transceiver. With a big aerial on the roof, it worked pretty well.

My senior editors wondered if there was any way I could contact the Falklands through amateur radio. Nothing else was working. It seemed a possibility. The remote nature of the islands meant that radio was important, and for the small population there were a lot of radio amateurs down there.

'A true scoop'

So I took up a vigil in room 701, listening carefully across the 14, 21 and 28 megahertz bands for anything from VP8 - the international call-sign prefix for the islands.

And about six hours later, I struck gold. On 21.205 megahertz at 1600 London time, that rather distinctive accent, a bit West Country - a Falkland Islander.

And what a story he had to tell - a true scoop, an exclusive of the greatest magnitude.

The voice was that of Bob McLeod, and he lived in the settlement of Goose Green on East Falkland. His call-sign, I realised, was VP8LP but he was anxious that it shouldn't be used. I have much of what he said that day recorded on an old-fashioned audio cassette.

"We have now been taken over. The British government still denies it but they have no contact I believe with the Falklands, and this is probably why they are still denying it.

"But we have been taken over. There is an aircraft carrier and I believe four other boats - I don't have the details on them - but they do have heavy armoured vehicles in Stanley, details I don't know, and quite a number of personnel.

"They landed approx 0930 GMT this morning in landing craft and stormed the capital Port Stanley and have taken over the government office, they landed with heavy armoured vehicles.

"We're now under their control. They are broadcasting that all local people will be treated as normal. Fairly peaceful in Stanley at present time."

Foreign Office call

The Argentines had still to reach Goose Green and so Bob was able to transmit his bombshell.

He was getting information from local radio, which broadcast a commentary as the invasion developed early that morning, and then carried on, under Argentine control, transmitting messages of reassurance. The islands' VHF radio network was also buzzing with the story as it developed.

By then my dusty attic was busy with BBC TV crews and newspaper people who'd been told it might be a good place to be.

I went onto the Radio 4 PM programme at 1700 London time with an account of what I'd been told. A few minutes later I was rung by the Foreign Office, who understood I'd been in touch with the Falklands and wondered what they were saying. I gave them a bit more of Bob.

"Damage we don't know, shooting around a very rough guess approx two hours. Three deaths of Argentineans [sic] in the Falklands, one believed to be very senior.

"The English marines and local defence forces - we have no information. Took over Government House, and then taken over all of Port Stanley. And I believe they shot up the Cable and Wireless transmitting station.

"Helicopters flying around Stanley. 500 personnel in Stanley, and aircraft carrier believed to be carrying 1,500. Flying Hercules aircraft, one has come in."

It clearly made an impression. Within an hour the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, was on his feet in the House of Lords confirming a massive British humiliation.


QSL cards from Bob and Janet McLeod

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