How France helped both sides in the Falklands War
In his memoirs, former UK Defence Secretary Sir John Nott describes France as Britain’s “greatest ally” during the Falklands War. But formerly secret papers and other evidence seen by the BBC show that was not the full story.
Before the war, France sold Argentina’s military junta five Exocet missiles.
At the time, few suspected that the regime’s longstanding claim on the Falklands would lead to war, and the sale went largely unnoticed. But when in May 1982 these Exocet missiles were used to strike Britain’s HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor, with the loss of 32 British lives, near panic ensued in London.
At the start of the conflict, France’s left-leaning president, Francois Mitterrand, had come to Britain’s aid by declaring an embargo on French arms sales and assistance to Argentina.
He also allowed the Falklands-bound British fleet to use French port facilities in West Africa, as well as providing London with detailed information about planes and weaponry his country had sold to Buenos Aires.
Paris also co-operated with extensive British efforts to stop Argentina acquiring any more Exocets on the world’s arms market.
But Mitterrand’s policy of supporting Britain provoked dissent among some senior officials in the French foreign ministry.
In a stinging memo dated 7 April 1982, France’s then ambassador to London, Emmanuel de Margerie, described British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “Victorian, imperialist and obstinate”. He went on to add that she had a “tendency to get carried away by combative instincts”.
In another document entitled The Falklands: Lessons from a Fiasco, senior French official Bernard Dorin accused Britain of “superpower arrogance” and claimed the country had shown “profound contempt for Latinos”.
Behind the scenes, actions were speaking louder than words. In what would appear to be a clear breach of President Mitterrand’s embargo, a French technical team – mainly working for a company 51% owned by the French government – stayed in Argentina throughout the war.
In an interview carried out in 1982 by Sunday Times journalist Isabel Hilton, the team’s leader, Herve Colin, admitted carrying out one particular test that proved invaluable to Argentinian forces.
“The verification process involves determining if the missile launcher was functioning correctly or not. Three of the launchers failed. We located the source of the problem and that was it. The rest was simple.”
The BBC made efforts to contact Mr Colin to request an interview, but received no response. The French company he still works for, Dassault, told us that after 30 years that it was unable to confirm whether or not it had authorised the work his team carried out in Argentina at this time.
But it is now clear that, thanks to tests they carried out, the Argentinians were able to fire Exocets at British forces from three previously faulty missile launchers.
so french missiles hit the british ship and killed seamen..
“Sir John Nott describes France as Britain’s “greatest ally” during the Falklands War”
a small example of playing both sides..