Government must heed words of task force leader

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It is entirely possible that Admiral Sir John ‘Sandy’ Woodward is the last truly heroic Royal Navy leader.

With the savage cuts imposed on the senior service, will we ever see the like again of the man described by defence secretary Philip Hammond as a ‘fighting admiral’?

Like Nelson at Trafalgar – the most famous of those fighting admirals – Adml Woodward pulled off the seemingly impossible.

In 1982 he was put in command of a naval task force, sailed it 8,000 miles to the south Atlantic and cemented the platform from which British forces could retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders.

He was a no-nonsense, blunt-speaking commander, the sort you need in a war, and during the journey south he told a BBC correspondent: ‘I am not in favour of blowing people’s heads off.

‘However, as a loyal servant of the government, if I have to blow people’s heads off, I’ll do it in the most efficient and effective way I know.’

The Royal Navy owes him a huge debt of gratitude. Were it not for him and his leadership in the Falklands, the navy might have faded into obscurity as a late 20th century irrelevance.

He proved Britain did indeed need a proper navy – well-equipped with manpower, capital ships and aircraft.

So, it was sad he spent much of his latter days campaigning against the swingeing cuts which have left the navy without an aircraft carrier for a decade.

He said last year: ‘It’s not the navy I joined at the age of 13, or that I served in during the Falklands. I accept change, but not serious change for the worse. If you are a naval professional, then a navy without an aircraft carrier and the right aircraft on board is comparable to the Swiss navy.’

He warned if the Falklands were seized by Argentina again, it would be impossible to win them back. ‘We could not retake the Falklands. We could not send a task force or even an aircraft carrier. If we had been in this state in 1982, the Falklands would be the Malvinas.’

Words which could come to haunt us.