Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

The Drakensberg in Buenos Aires

An Argentine-South African Naval Encounter

The South African Ship Drakensberg sailed into Buenos Aires last month as part of the sea phase of ATLASUR VIII, a naval exercise involving ships from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and South Africa. Mr Tony Leon, former Leader of the Opposition and currently South African Ambassador to Argentina, was picked up by the ship-borne Oryx helicopter and landed on Drakensberg to observe the sail into Buenos Aires’s harbour. Mr Leon served in the SAN aboard President Pretorius in 1976.

Above, Capt Andre de Wet (OC, Drakensberg), H.E. Mr Tony Leon (S.A. Amb. to Argentina), V Adm Carlos Madero (Arg. Navy), and Capt Charl Coetzee (Chief of Staff).

In the morning, senior South African Embassy and Naval personnel paid homage to Admiral Guillermo (William) Brown, the Irish-born founder of the Argentine Navy at the monument to him by the Libertad building.

This post was published on Sunday, January 9th, 2011 4:06 pm. It has been categorised under Argentina Military South Africa and been tagged under , , .
James McEwan
9 Jan 2011 6:55 pm

Hmm… the Argentines HAVE ventured out to sea since ’82?

Xander Fraser
9 Jan 2011 11:51 pm

Well, not in any meaningful sense….

Regardless, they would receive the same treatment as in 1982 were they to venture towards a certain set of islands, military cutbacks in Whitehall or not.

Unfortunately, the Argentine Armed Forces share in the lamentable and laughable South American pastime of comic-opera uniforms and Latino posturing, and a tendency towards unleashing their militaries upon the civilian population. Armies from this region of the world can cut about well enough in dress uniform, and parade about for the mamas to swoon over, but don’t expect them to actually fight.

David Alllen
11 Jan 2011 11:26 pm

I must take gentle issue with Xander Fraser’s snide remarks re: the fighting ability of Argentine soldiers in the Falklands. Most of the Argentine army on the Falklands were conscripts, yet they put up a suprisingly robust defence when the exceptionally well-trained and entirely professional British army began their land assault to re-take the islands. Mr. Fraser needs to read the accounts of British soldiers who fought there and study of the history of that war. It might cause him to revisit his words with some shame. Few in the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment, or the Scots Guards would dismiss the Argentine’s fighting abilities so sneeringly. It is quite wrong to think the campaign was a push over. To suggest that is to malign the well-documented fighting abilities of not only the Argentines whose lives were so fecklessly squandered by the Galtieri dictatorship, but also of the splendid British armed forces who had to fight very hard, particularly in the early stages of the land campaign, to defeat them.

Xander Fraser
12 Jan 2011 10:50 am

In response to David Allen:

I’m afraid you have taken me up wrongly. I was taking issue – not sneering – at the culture prevalent in most South American militaries whereby Ruritanian uniforms and macho chest-puffing is tolerated and encouraged, along with political interference. This culture does not foster a professional atmosphere, but rather an army not fit for purpose. Strutting and dangerous imbeciles such as Alfredo Astiz, Major Patricio Dowling of Falklands infamy, and Col. Mohamed Alí Seineldin and his Carapintadas nationalist thugs are examples of what I mean.

That is not a comment on the fighting abilities of Argentine soldiers, marines, sailors, or airman of the Falklands War period, with which I am quite familiar, both in an academic capacity and personally (I was on active service with the SADF in SWA/Namibia at the time, and had a number of friends, and a cousin, serving with the British Task Force in ’82). I fought against Angolan Communists, Cuban ‘volunteers’, and Namibian ‘freedom fighters’ among others during my time in uniform, so I don’t need to be taught the old axiom of ‘respect your enemy’ by someone who I suspect has not served in uniform, particularly in an active capacity. As a more recent aside, I personally developed the utmost respect for the Salvadorean contingent who displayed great courage during fighting in Najaf, Iraq in April-May 2004, and contempt for the Spanish, who disgraced themselves.

In future might I suggest that you actually read what I write as opposed to merely reacting?

David Allen
12 Jan 2011 2:31 pm

“Armies from this region of the world can cut about well enough in dress uniform, and parade about for the mamas to swoon over, but don’t expect them to actually fight.” I think it is the “don’t expect them to actually fight” that caught my attention. How does this jibe with Xander’s assertion that he wasn’t casting aspersion on the fighting capabilities of Argentine troops? Unless, of course, they are not South Americans. Xander then does something he accuses me of doing. He jumps to conclusions. Note, ” so I don’t need to be taught the old axiom of ‘respect your enemy’ by someone who I suspect has not served in uniform, particularly in an active capacity.” Er, wrong again, ou maat. While he was Rambo-ing about fighting off the nasties in Angola and Namibia, I was throwing up for South Africa. I was a sub-lieutenant in the South African Navy and was awarded the Pro Vomitorium Medal with Dramamine clusters for the most spectacular mal de mer ever recorded on both the SAS Haerlem and the SAS President Pretorious.

Xander Fraser
12 Jan 2011 3:58 pm

“While he was Rambo-ing about fighting off the nasties in Angola and Namibia, I was throwing up for South Africa. I was a sub-lieutenant in the South African Navy and was awarded the Pro Vomitorium Medal with Dramamine clusters for the most spectacular mal de mer ever recorded on both the SAS Haerlem and the SAS President Pretorious.”

Thanks for the clarification old man (I’ll forego reviving my poor command of Afrikaans, as I was only ever a poor soutie…). However, whilst your quoted post clarifies your own position, it also confuses me somewhat, as it doesn’t explain – in light of your own service – your tolerant attitude towards the military peacockery I have outlined.

I suppose it could be said that the South American military tendencies I highlight – which you accept as facts whilst not opposing as I do, am I right? – don’t really matter in peacetime, but my problem with them is that they make a mockery of the profession of arms and leave Argentina – or indeed any country – utterly ill-prepared for actual war; that is the point behind my saying “don’t expect them to actually fight”; the military culture which fosters the bad practices I have highlighted renders its soldiers almost unable to fight. As such, the tenacity in defence displayed by the badly-led, badly-acclimatised Aergentine conscripts in the Falklands was in spite of the military culture from which they came. On top of this, they were ‘led’ by either incompetent martinets, or Dirty War psychopaths.

Whilst I was a Parabat, I can’t say I ever encountered any Rambo-esque tendencies among fellow troepies – if there were, then I’m pretty certain that any NCO worth his salt would have stamped it out immediately. That kind of carry-on is as bad – if not worse, as it can be fatal – as the posing I have spoken of. Of course, I was far too innocent and serious a young soldier to start throwing shapes, so to speak! Regrettably, I never had anything to do with the SA Navy (which seems to have been heaps of fun on the basis of your own post…), but I recall that the Marines had a good reputation.

Now, let’s start comparing scars…

David Allen
12 Jan 2011 6:52 pm

I am afraid, Xander, that I am long past the stage of comparing the size of mine to the size of anyone else’s. I served, I vomited; you served and you were in the operational area. I honour that service, and do not mock it. I am teasing you for your stereotypical opinions about the South American military

My father fought the Germans and the much scorned Italians in the second world war. If there were any Axis forces that laid themselves open to peacockery (great word, by the way) it was they. Nevertheless, my old man was always quick to point out that every time he mixed it up with Italian fighter pilots over the skies of North Africa, – not as often as he did against the fearsome Luftwaffe, admittedly – they were very good. Indeed, it was he who at an early stage in my young life urged me to exercise caution when judging an opponent, using the Italian pilots he had fought against as an example. Something about books and covers comes to mind.

Seeing the disintegration of the South African National Defence Force under the new dispensation- in particularly the army – does not incline one to point fingers at other risibly comic opera armies. Coming from a family with a long military history mostly but not exclusively serving South Africa, (and if you want chapter and verse I am quite happy to send it on to you) I deplore and am saddened by the joke it has become. Point fingers at them first, I say. They are ours.

Xander Fraser
13 Jan 2011 10:54 am

Dear David,

I agree wholeheartedly with the views contained in your post. I must confess that my ‘contempt’ for certain aspects of military culture in South America is partly mocking, whilst tinged with seriousness. I don’t know where I first heard the term peacockery, but it always struck me as very appropriate in describing the pantomime soldiering I so dislike.

Your father’s experiences in relation to the Italians during the Second World War reflects what I have heard of their Air Force (and also their artillery and paratroopers). My own grandfather served in North Africa with the Indian Army, but spent most of the period 39-45 in the Far East, in the end chasing the remnants of the Japanese 28th Army around Burma. He despised them for their barbarism, but respected them for their courage and skill.

I have actually posted elsewhere – in relation to the three brothers passing through basic training with 5 SA Inf Bn. I think – on the sad demise of the SANDF; I barely recognise it as the SADF I served in what now seems a lifetime ago.

Thankfully, I saw the writing on the wall and headed for the exit in 1990 while still young enough, and have only been back briefly once (I doubt I will ever go back again). ‘Change’ was needed, if only because the Total Onslaught nonsense couldn’t be sustained, but not what has been done and allowed to happen since 1994.

I will excuse a lot if any military is professional in ethos, culture, and outlook – unfortunately, it would be difficult to apply any of those criteria to the SANDF. It’s not a coincidence that I have met and worked with large numbers of expat Saffas over the last number of years; that Afrikaans is the most widely-heard foreign language after English on the streets of Baghdad is telling.

David Allen
13 Jan 2011 1:43 pm

Thanks, Xander. More power to your elbow. Thanks too Andrew, for having such a great site. Your interests are as catholic as your faith.

13 Jan 2011 7:21 pm

“We won because the argentines run out of planes before we run out of ships.”

Admiral Sir John Forster “Sandy” Woodward, who commanded the British Naval Force in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War.

Xander, your comments do come as moronic and childish, no matter how much you try to backpedal. Apart from the best pilots Argentina had excellent commandos, read “No Picnic” from the British commandos to know about it. Argentina did not have good ships so it would have been stupid to go out and get destoryed by a nuclear sub (that would have been peacockery right?). One of the conventional Argie subs did manage to damage one of the Brit aircraft carriers though. In any case in 1982 the Brits have overwhelming militar superiority and on top of that they had the help of the USA and Chile.
Your comments show not only ignorance but are also out of touch because since early XX century war has become more and more a techno-dependent activity where courage and honor are mostly absent. The Falklands was maybe the exception to the rule on a long list of XX century satanic bestialities in the sense that both sides showed restrain. During WWII he have the Brits mass-murdering children, women and old people in Dresden, Hamburg, etc; the Red Army raping 50000 women in Berlin alone. These horrible sins will have to be paid, in this or in the other life. Britain seems to have already started to paid as she is erasing herself from the face of earth culturally and biologically, who are they going to blame now that there are no Nazis around? Anyway, these days war it is just about some bureocrat with uniform pushing some buttons and killing civilians form 10000 km away. This applies especially to the homosexualized USA military.

James McEwan
13 Jan 2011 10:37 pm


Would you rather we had used harsh language against the Nazi regime.
Guernica, Rotterdam, Belgrade, Warsaw, Coventry, Oradour-sur-Glane, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Auschwitz.


Xander Fraser
14 Jan 2011 11:29 am

To H.A.

Oh dear, you are an ignorant and unpleasant individual aren’t you? I wasn’t trying to backpedal sweetie, as I didn’t need to; rather I merely clarified and expanded upon my points – which I stand by – in an enjoyable exchange with my fellow South African, David Allen.

The Argentine commandos during the initial Argentine seizure of the islands were competent to the extent that they achieved their aims against an outnumbered and outgunned British garrison; interestingly, they, unlike the British, suffered casualties. Argentine pilots during the Falklands War were undoubtedly brave and skilful men, but as to whether they were ‘the best’ as you claim, you should weigh the fact that they were operating from the Argentine mainland, whereas the RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots were operating from HMS Invincible – which was not damaged by an ‘Argie sub’ as you claim; perhaps you are one of the anti-British imbeciles who bought the frequent Argentine claims that the Invincible was sunk multiple times during the war?

The British Task Force did not have overwhelming military superiority as you claim – they were outnumbered and did not have the abundance of heavy weaponry available to the Argentine garrison on the Falklands.

You are also wrong in respect of the Argentine Navy – clearly you have not heard of the ARA General Belgrano, the 1930s vintage cruiser which was sunk on 2 May. Doubtless you are one of those who regard its sinking as a ‘war crime’.

You are also clearly unaware of the assistance provided to Argentina by Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, the USSSR, and even Israel (which left its aeronautical advisors in situ).

So courage and honour are largely absent from warfare since the early 20th century? Did the voices in your head tell you this or are you truly one of nature’s idiots? Not alone is that statement factually incorrect, it also slanders and dishonours the actions of countless men and women of all wars of the last century.

Inevitably, you show your true colours in your final dozen or so lines of incoherent blather. Interesting that you have bought into the Dresden-as-war-crime mindset, as this was initially peddled by Goebbels et al., who knew a good story when they saw it. Your evangelizing rhetoric is only surpassed by your come-to-Jesus hypocrisy, all nicely wrapped up in a spittle-flecked blanket of bigotry. Tell me, do you advocate the picketing and dishonouring of the funerals of US service personnel because of the “homosexualized US military”? I ask because certain so-called Christians do.

And to end, you treat all and sundry to this spacious nonsense:

“Anyway, these days war it is just about some bureocrat with uniform pushing some buttons and killing civilians form 10000 km away.”

This tells me two things – you allow yourself to be informed by the Anti-War Brigade, and you have clearly never been next or near a battlefield. Why don’t you ditch the weird combination of religious fundamentalism and leftist ideology, and have a nice lie down in a dark room before you hurt yourself?

I’ve been at war my dear, and I can tell you that it is wildly different to the distorted view you have. The rhetoric of a clapped-out ideology, accompanied by bigotry masquerading as religious belief is no replacement for experience.

David Allen
14 Jan 2011 1:42 pm

I am no expert on the facts of the Falklands War, which I am delighted to say the British won so professionally, but I remember being outraged when I learned that the South African government had supplied the Argentines with Exocet missiles. Or am I wrong in this memory? One is getting old, y’know.

David Allen
14 Jan 2011 5:20 pm

Oh, dear H.A. You are charmingly anachronistic, aren’t you?

Let’s mention some fighting men who were or were believed to be homosexuals. Every member of the Theban Scared Band, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Col. T.E. Lawrence DSO (Lawrence of Arabia), General Sir Hector “Fighting Mac” MacDonald, Lt-Col Michael “Mad Mick” Calvert, DSO, Croix de Guerre, Silver Star (US) and various other European decorations and orders. There were rumours about similar leanings in Gordon of Khartoum, Montgomery of Alamein, Claude Auchinleck, and Lord Mountbatten (called by some of his staff – behind his back -in a manner of speaking- “Mountbottom”) None of these was American, and all of them outstanding fighting men. When his homosexuality was revealed Hector MacDonald committed suicide. Mick Calvert received a court martial, was driven from the army and died a sad alcoholic.

Interestingly, the Afghan Pushtun men are not only enthusiastic warriors but enthusiastic paedophiles, as reveled in today’s Daily Telegraph. John Masters in his wonderful autobiography, “Bugles and a Tiger ” (which I recommend to anyone interested in military history) tells of a popular Pathan song that begins, “There is a boy across the river with a bottom like a peach…”

Even someone as testosterone soaked as you know that most of the men and most of the women in the armed services of the United States are not homosexual, any more than most of any population anywhere are. Whether a man or woman is homosexual these days anywhere, let alone in the military, really doesn’t matter as long as they bloody-well do what they are supposed to do.

And as you seem prone to jumping to conclusions, before you dash off a sniggering email questioning my sexuality, I should confess I am old fashioned in that department. Married (35 years) with two adult children. But if you think I am hiding a shameful, proclivity, gimme a kiss and I will tell you.

PS. Oh, and tell us your name H.A., or are you ashamed of it?

David Allen
14 Jan 2011 5:22 pm

Ahem! See last post. “Theban Scared Band” =”Theban Sacred Band”.


14 Jan 2011 6:44 pm

@ James McEwan,
We already know how bad the Nazis were. There is one Hollywood movie and a TV “documental” every month to remind us about it. Meanwhile the crimes of winning sides somehow are not well recorded on history books. As for payback, well, you sink to the level of the Nazis and their crimes against the Slavs and others. Don’t desperate, you will get yours in due time.

14 Jan 2011 6:45 pm

@ Xander Fraser,
Looks like I touched some nerves there.
I stand by my facts on the Falklands war. You don’t seem to know better than me. I am not really impressed with your alleged military CV and your “experience”. This is the internet pal, personal issues cannot be proved. I could parrot about being in Vietnam, but for what?
Your style is unique in the sense you manage to sound hysterical and patronizing at the same time, a psychological achievement in itself. For that, and for the simple reason that you ignore my points, I don’t feel I have to address your over-the-top tirade.
I admit that it would be rather hard to discuss with someone who denies the firebombing of Dresden was a war crime though.

14 Jan 2011 6:56 pm

@ David Allen,
You are reading my post too fast and jumping to conclusions. If you are informed with the current situation in the USA the homosexualization of the armed forces started relatively recent with Clinton. Obama has now catalyzed the process. Certainly the majority of people are not homos, but now the environment in the armed forces will become increasingly weird, kind of UC Berkeley.
Homosexuality should be kept in the private sphere. That is the best I can say about contra natura behavior. The Bible is quite clear about it. Now it is being pushed in the public sphere as a role to follow. The military are just the last to find itself on the receiving end of this offensive. These days Christian institutions in the UK are not allowed by the government to deny babies to homosexual couples who want to adopt. These are problems are just the tip of the iceberg in homosexualized societies, thus I am not sure what are you trying to show with this list of alleged homosexual military personnel. They acted in environments that were not homosexualized. They were the exceptions to the rule, and probably tried to keep their issues in the private sphere.
“David Allen”, I am not afraid of saying my name. Rather the contrary. I follow the axiom that winning a discussion in the internet is like winning the Olympics for idiots. Thus the impersonal mode is better to avoid raising hysterics like Fraser. In internet blog comments everybody is nobody. I could be “Henry Allerton”, “Horace Anderson”, or “Hiram Atkinson”. You could be “David Allen”, “Daniel Attenborough”, or “Dean Ackeson”. Take your pick.

Andrew Cusack
14 Jan 2011 7:37 pm

The comments having strayed rather far from subjects relating to the Drakensberg‘s visit to Bs.As., I am closing the comments thread for this post.

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