Margaret Thatcher was accused of seeking to "dismantle" the Royal Navy leaving Britain's defences dangerously exposed, less than a year before the invasion of the Falklands, according to papers made public for the first time today.
Baroness Thatcher became embroiled in a bitter row with the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, over her government's planned defence cuts, files released by the National Archives under the 30 year rule show how
Leach was later to convince Lady Thatcher she should send a naval task force to re-take the Falklands from the Argentines, but in the spring of 1981 he was furious over what he described as her "unbalanced devastation" of the armed forces.
"I note with regret but understanding that the tightness of your programme precludes your seeing me personally as requested," he wrote in a stinging note to Lady Thatcher.
"I am confident however that you will at least spare two minutes to read this note from the professional Head of the Navy before you and your Cabinet colleagues consider a proposition substantially to dismantle that Navy."
The government's plans would, he said, mean cutting the Navy's anti-submarine warfare carriers by a third, halving the destroyer-frigate force, and abandoning its anti-air warfare capabilities altogether.
Leach concluded: "We are on the brink of a historic decision. War seldom takes the expected form and a strong maritime capability provides flexibility for the unforeseen. If you erode it to the extent envisaged I believe you will foreclose your future options and prejudice our national security."
The files also include a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, to Defence Secretary John Nott urging him to not axe the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Endurance, warning it would send the wrong signal to the Argentinians at a time of tension over the Falklands.
"Unless and until the dispute is settled, it will be important to maintain our normal presence in the area at the current level," he wrote.
"Any reduction would be interpreted by both the islanders and the Argentines as a reduction in our commitment to the Islands and in our willingness to defend them."
His appeal was, however, rejected and the Endurance was less than a month from being withdrawn from service when the first Argentinians landed on south Georgia in March 1982.
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