Sir John ‘Sandy’ Woodward was the commander of the South Atlantic Naval Task Force that sailed to the Falkland Islands to reclaim them after the Argentine invasion in April 1982. Though Woodward had a naval history that centred on submarines, his pedigree was such that he was given the command of Britain’s most powerful naval fleet in decades.
Woodward was born on May 1st, 1932. He joined the Royal Navy in 1946 just as the Cold War was starting. Submarines were to have a major part to play in naval strategy during the Cold War and it was in the Submarine Service that Woodward made his name. He was given his first submarine command in 1969 – the hunter-killer ‘Warspite’. Woodward moved through the ranks with due speed recognition of his ability – and in 1981 as a Rear Admiral, became Flag Officer First Flotilla. One year later, Woodward was given command of the Task Force that was to transport troops south to the Falklands.
During the journey south, Woodward told a BBC correspondent:
“I am not in favour of blowing peoples head off. However as a loyal servant of the government, if I have to blow peoples heads off, I’ll do it in the most efficient and effective way I know.”
The early loss of ‘HMS Sheffield’ was a serious blow to the Task Force, as the destroyer had seemed to be the perfect ‘minder’ to the carriers ‘Hermes’ and ‘Invincible’. The loss of the ‘Sheffield’ showed Woodward – even if he needed showing – just how vulnerable the ships of the Task Force were. The loss of even more ships in San Carlos Bay led to the government in London ordering that no more naval ships were to be lost. Therefore, when the ‘Sir Galahad’ and ‘Sir Tristram’ moved Welsh Guardsmen to Fitzroy, both ships had no Royal Naval protection. The result was an air attack on both ships with over 50 men being killed. Such were the constraints that Woodward had to work under. ‘Sandy’ Woodward was knighted for his leadership in the war.
After the war and up to his retirement from the Royal Navy in 1989, Woodward held a number of senior naval posts including being Flag Aide-de-Camp to the Queen.