France and the missile in the Falklands War: did Paris lie to London?

MPs have called for an inquiry into whether France misled the UK over missiles that killed more than 40 British sailors during the Falklands War.

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The French-made Exocet missiles “allegedly contained technology to disarm them,” the Daily Mail said, but then-French President François Mitterrand “denied the existence of such a feature.” Argentina hit three Royal Navy ships with Exocets during the 1982 conflict, two of which – HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor – sank.

In a public appeal timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the attack on HMS Sheffield, senior MPs yesterday called for an inquiry into “what the French government did or did not share with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher” and “whether the missiles had can be remotely disabled,” the Mail reported.

Deadly Attacks

The attack on HMS Sheffield resulted in the first British casualties of the war. The destroyer was sent to the Falkland Islands before being hit by an Exocet missile launched from an Argentine aircraft on May 4, 1982.

Twenty of the 281 crew members on board died in the attack and another 26 were injured, most of whom suffered burns, smoke inhalation or shock. Only one body was recovered and the wreck is designated a protected war grave.

The Atlantic Conveyor was a British merchant marine ship seized during the conflict. It was hit by two Exocet missiles on May 25, 1982, killing 12 sailors.

The third ship hit by the French-built missiles was HMS Glamorgan, another destroyer hit on June 12, 1982. The Exocet was fired from an improvised land launcher, killing 14 sailors.

“Critical Intelligence”

The anniversary of the “fatal attack” on HMS Sheffield has fueled calls for answers to “if France lied to the UK”, The National reported.

Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Defense Committee, told The Telegraph that asking what France knew “warrants further investigation”.

“As we look to future battles, we must learn from past events, and that includes how we work with allies and how we share critical information,” he said. “It would certainly have been groundbreaking if France had decided to share this characteristic of the Exocet.”

Liam Fox, a former Conservative Defense Secretary, said the government in Paris should be “open and honest” about the information shared with London during the war.

Bob Seely, a Tory MP and former army captain who sits on the Special Committee on Foreign Affairs, said: “If Exocets had an on/off switch, the French should have told us that.

“If it turns out that information has been withheld, it would be one of the most shameful episodes in Anglo-French relations. We owe it to the families of the deceased and to history to find out the truth.”

appeal to allies

France publicly supported Britain’s right to defend its territory against an Argentine invasion. As a result, British officials appealed to their “long-time military ally” for information on how the “missiles worked and whether they could be deactivated,” according to the Mail.

Experts in the UK believed that “the missiles contained a kill switch,” information they gathered “by examining previous versions bought by the army,” the newspaper added. But the gun’s manufacturer, French company Aerospatiale, “denied that the kill buttons existed.”

President Mitterrand “had no trouble convening the heads of Aerospatiale” because his brother Jacques “ran the nationalized company,” said Gordon Rayner, associate editor of The Telegraph. Which begs the question, “Have the French protected their arms industry, despite the cost of an ally?”

Some believe the government in Paris “wanted the Exocetes to prove their effectiveness in combat,” meaning the information was withheld to “sell more of them to military powers around the world.”

Forty years later, “Mitterrand, Thatcher and many of the key figures in the conflict have passed away,” Rayner added. “But the questions they left behind demand answers.” France and the missile in the Falklands War: did Paris lie to London?

Fry Electronics Team

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