LONDON (AP) — Adm. John “Sandy” Woodward, who led the Royal Navy task force during the 1982 Falklands War, has died. He was 81.
In announcing his death on Monday, Britain’s defense ministry did not give a cause. But the BBC said Woodward died after a long illness.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Woodward “was a truly courageous and decisive leader.”
“We are indebted to him for his many years of service and the vital role he played to ensure that the people of the Falkland Islands can still today live in peace and freedom,” Cameron said.
A career sailor who joined the navy at 13 and rose to command submarines, Woodward was in charge of the naval force dispatched by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher after Argentina seized the South Atlantic islands, home to some 2,000 British residents, in April 1982.
Britain retook the territory 10 weeks later, after a war that killed 649 Argentines, 255 British troops and three islanders.
One of Woodward’s most contentious decisions was the sinking of the Argentine warship General Belgrano, killing 323 of its crew. It was a turning point in the war, but the attack was controversial because the ship appeared to be leaving the British exclusion zone when it was sunk.
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II after the war, Woodward later published a book about the conflict, “One Hundred Days.”
He had recently spoken out against cuts to Britain’s armed forces, which he said would make it impossible for Britain to recapture the Falklands if they were invaded again.
First Sea Lord Adm. George Zambellas said Woodward had been “undaunted by the challenge of fighting a capable enemy over 8,000 miles from the U.K., in the most demanding and extreme of weather conditions, and against uncertain odds.”
Woodward was later deputy chief of the defense staff before taking up a ceremonial post as flag aide-de camp to Queen Elizabeth II.