HMS Conqueror (nickname "Conks") was a Churchill-class nuclear-powered fleet submarine that served in the Royal Navy from 1971 to 1990. She was built by Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. She is the only nuclear-powered submarine to have engaged an enemy ship with torpedoes, sinking the cruiser ARA General Belgrano with two Mark 8 torpedoes.
At 15:57 on 2 May 1982, Conqueror fired three 21 inch Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes (conventional, non-guided, torpedoes), each with an 805-pound (363 kg) Torpex warhead. While the Conqueror was also equipped with the newer Mark 24 Tigerfish homing torpedo, there were doubts about its reliability. Two of the three torpedoes hit the General Belgrano.
One of the torpedoes struck 10 to 15 metres (33 to 49 ft) aft of the bow, outside the area protected by either the ship's side armour or the internal anti-torpedo bulge. This blew off the ship's bow, but the internal bulkheads held and the forward powder magazine for the 40 mm gun did not detonate. None of the ship's company were in that part of the ship at the time of the explosion.
The second torpedo struck about three-quarters of the way along the ship, just outside the rear limit of the side armour plating. The torpedo punched through the side of the ship before exploding in the aft machine room. The explosion tore upward through two messes and a relaxation area called "the Soda Fountain" before finally ripping a 20-metre-long hole in the main deck.
There was no fire after the explosion, but the ship rapidly filled with smoke. The explosion also damaged the Belgrano's electrical power system, preventing her from putting out a radio distress call. Though the forward bulkheads held, water was rushing in through the hole created by the torpedo and could not be pumped out because of the electrical power failure.
The Belgrano sinking after being struck by two torpedoes fired by HMS Conqueror
The ship began to list to port and to sink towards the bow. Twenty minutes after the attack, at 16:24, Captain Bonzo ordered the crew to abandon ship. Inflatable life rafts were deployed, and the evacuation began without panic.
There was some controversy surrounding the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano. The sinking also became a cause célèbre for anti-war campaigners (such as Labour MP Tam Dalyell). Part of the reason for the controversy was that early reports claimed or suggested that approximately 1,000 Argentine sailors had been killed in the sinking.
In later years, some sources asserted that the information on the position of the ARA General Belgrano came from a Soviet spy satellite that had been tapped by the Norwegian intelligence service station at Fauske, Norway and then handed over to the British; Conqueror had been shadowing the Belgrano for some days, so this extra information would have been unnecessary.
The sinking occurred 14 hours after President of Peru Fernando Belaúnde proposed a comprehensive peace plan and called for regional unity, although Thatcher and diplomats in London did not see this document until after the sinking of the Belgrano.
Diplomatic efforts to that point had failed completely. After the sinking Argentina rejected the plan but the UK indicated its acceptance on 5 May. The news was subsequently dominated by military action and it is not well known that the British continued to offer ceasefire terms until 1 June.
The 323 men killed inside the ARA Belgrano represented exactly the 50 percent of deaths of Argentina in that war.
Eventually in 1994 the Argentine Govermente recognized the cruiser as a legitimate target and withdrawn all legal actions.
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