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Man who sunk Belgrano to retire

By This is Devon  |  Posted: June 23, 2010

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THE South Devon man who sunk the Argentine navy cruiser General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives in the 1982 Falklands War is to retire as Paignton Zoo's manager and administrator.

Chris Wreford-Brown who was Commander of the Royal Navy nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror when it went to the South Atlantic to reclaim the Falkland Islands and gave the order to fire the fateful torpedoes which sank the cruiser, has worked at the zoo for 15 years.

In a career spanning 30 years Mr Wreford-Brown, who lives in the South Brent area, commanded the frigate HMS Cornwall, the diesel sub HMS Opossum and the nuclear subs HMS Valiant and HMS Conqueror.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the 90-day patrol in the Falklands campaign.

He retired from the Royal Navy in 1995 and began work at Paignton Zoo. He is now due to retire in August.

Mr Wreford-Brown has always declined to discuss the operation publicly but in 2002 he gave an interview for a TV programme on the history of submarines.

In the interview he said he was sad that the sinking had to happen, but it was one of the consequences of war, and he was thinking of vessel versus vessel rather than of the individual.

The British Government had imposed a 200-mile total exclusion zone around the islands and any ship entering it would be fired upon.

Admiral Sandy Woodward, in command of the Task Force, said warships could not be allowed to come close enough to the exclusion zone and fire into it without some response.

He asked for permission to change the rules of engagement and was given the order to attack the Belgrano and its escort ships.

The 9,500 ton, 600ft long Belgrano was capable of 32 knots and had fifteen 6in guns, missiles and helicopters.

Mr Wreford-Brown told the programme: "Having got that signal we realised the attack was on, and so we very rapidly went to action stations.

"I manoeuvred the submarine into an attacking position from a range of about 1,800 yards.

"In fact we got slightly closer than that and I actually fired at 1,450 yards.

"We heard, distinctly heard, the three torpedoes discharge, heard them run up on our sonar sets, and then there was silence.

"We had worked out it would be about 47 seconds until one of them hit, and it was almost exactly that when he heard through the hull the distinct noise of an explosion.

"I'd put the mast up just before that and I was able to see a flash of smoke and flame from the Belgrano which confirmed the torpedoes had hit."

Two destroyers in the Belgrano escort rescued many sailors as they took to life rafts.

Mr Wreford-Brown went on in the programme: "It was some time later that what had happened sank in and it was obvious by then there was serious loss of life.

"I think my personal feeling about that was one of sadness, that it had to happen. But that is what happens if you go to war."

Although 323 of the crew died another 770 were rescued.

His zoo job as director of finance and human resource is now being advertised with a salary of around £50,000.

In recent years his responsibility has expanded to include Living Coasts at Torquay, and Newquay Zoo — all part of South West Environmental Parks Ltd, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Whitely Wildlife Conservation Trust.

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    Willie, Torbay  |  June 24 2010, 12:40AM

    What a proud achievement sending 323 men to their deaths just to secure Maggie Thatcher her election win. Well done the Herald Express for reminding us of this. Now we all read about 300 of our Armed Forces being wasted in an winnable conflict in Afghanistan to save a Yank Presidents neck.. that guy is even more unpopular that Bush in the States, and he has now control of our boys....great.

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    Anon, Local  |  June 23 2010, 1:26PM

    Well HE you obviously can't take critisism!!! Did I get too close to the truth with my comments on the quality of this story??

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    Anon, Anon  |  June 23 2010, 1:14PM

    Well done again HE for sensationalising a story!! Would it have been too boring to have done a story on his many achievements at the zoo?? It is after all where he is retiring from and not the navy. You make it sound like he sunk the Belgrano because he was bored, and not because as a serving member of the armed forces, he was obeying orders. Do things correctly or not at all.

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