Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

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Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#1 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Apr 18, 2022 4:06 pm

Interesting article in The Independent (full article copied) for those who can't view it.

HMS Endurance.JPG

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long ... 58041.html

Captain Nick Barker

Nicholas Barker.JPG
"The official UK government line was that Argentina’s invasion in April 1982 came as a complete surprise. The lone navy officer to raise the alarm was deemed a ‘loose cannon’ for his troubles, writes Liam James..."

The decision was taken in 1981 to end Britain’s naval presence in the South Atlantic. Given the sum total of that presence was a small ice patrol vessel named HMS Endurance, this decision might have seemed an insignificant part of the defence review that year which condemned around a fifth of the royal navy’s warships.

But the South Atlantic is home to the Falkland Islands, a British archipelago that had long been the subject of a bitter territorial dispute with nearby Argentina, and in choosing to scrap its lone ship based in the region Britain had signalled that it would not, seemingly even could not, fight to defend its claim to the islands.

The captain of the Endurance, Nicholas Barker, recognised this and warned London that minds in Buenos Aires were turning towards taking the Falklands by force. Within a year Argentina had invaded, starting a conflict in which nearly a thousand people were killed.

Captain Barker campaigned to save his ship and stop the war, going on to be highly critical of the British government after the invasion. His stance cost him his career – Endurance ended up remaining in service longer than he did – but he maintained that the Falklands conflict of 1982 was avoidable up until his death 15 years later.

Endurance condemned

At the start of 1981, John Nott took up the role of defence secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government with a brief to make enormous savings in the military budget.

Britain was in a sorry economic position but was planning an expensive military overhaul to meet the threats of the day – the government had its eye on a new nuclear weapons system, Trident, that was being touted by the US, for instance. There was a need to free up money from somewhere and Nott was convinced the navy was the most appropriate target of cuts that were ordered for that June.

He lined up nine of Britain’s 59 frigates and destroyers and one of its three aircraft carriers for decommissioning, among others. Endurance, a ship of modest combat strength that was used for conducting scientific surveys in the ice-topped waters of Antarctica, was added to the list to spare losing another prime battleship. Besides its scientific work, Endurance was otherwise valuable to the British state as it gathered intelligence and carried out diplomatic functions around South America. Even so, Nott’s mind was set on decommissioning the ship.

The people of the Falklands were disturbed. As Capt Barker put it, Endurance was “a symbol of British presence in the South Atlantic and the one and only reassurance to the islanders that Britain, 8,000 miles away, still cared”.

Now Britain had decided to scrap this key guarantor of their security at a time when the military government that ruled Argentina was growing frustrated due to a lack of progress in long-running negotiations over ownership of the islands – known in Buenos Aires as Las Malvinas.

On hearing of the plan to scrap Endurance the islanders wrote to the then foreign secretary Lord Carrington to say: “The people of the Falkland Islands deplore in the strongest terms the decision to withdraw HMS Endurance from service. They express extreme concern that Britain appears to be abandoning its defence of British interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctic at a time when other powers are strengthening their position in these areas. They feel that such a withdrawal will further weaken British sovereignty in this area in the eyes not only of Islanders but of the world.”

Carrington himself was against Nott and lobbied him unsuccessfully to reconsider, as did several others in both houses of parliament.

Endurance was set to be withdrawn from service on 15 April 1982, two weeks after what came to be the date of the Argentinian invasion.

In the summer of 1981, Endurance was in Britain for maintenance works before setting off on what was planned to be its final voyage. Sandy Saunders, a crew member from 1980 to 1982, says everyone on board was sure there would be a conflict over the Falklands within a year or two.

He recalls Capt Barker’s efforts to warn London that scrapping Endurance would prove to be a grave error: “He lobbied all who would listen to try to get the message across that in Argentina he had been told by several senior Argentine officers that the ‘Malvinas’ was a common subject for discussion and how they were going to persist to get leaseback or any method imaginable to gain control of the islands.”

Leaseback was an arrangement favoured by London whereby sovereignty of the Falklands would be granted to Argentina but the British administration familiar to the almost entirely British population of the islands would continue to hold power for at least a couple of generations. It was similar to the later “One Country, Two Systems” principle that was at least agreed to be a condition of the British handover of Hong Kong to China.

While Capt Barker was dashing around London trying to catch an attentive ear, the junta, or military government, in Argentina was impatiently waiting for yet another round of negotiations after Britain failed to get approval for leaseback from the Falklands population. The frustration of the Argentinians was apparent to many in London but Nott still did not consider changing course.

Captain Barker, in a posthumously published memoir of his naval career, said that “John Nott was a hatchet man” who was not concerned with the views of those in the forces he had been appointed to chop up. “He had the advantage of being able to rely on powerful political allies and the civil service. None of them had much respect for the intellect of senior serving officers,” he said.

After the captain failed to raise alarm that summer, Sandy said, he “was told ‘to return to his ship and get on with being commanding officer or resign his commission’.”

The ‘final’ voyage
The Endurance sailed south from Portsmouth in October of 1981 for what was thought to be the last time.

The trip was scheduled to run like so many previous. On the way to the Falklands it stopped off at Madeira, Rio de Janiero, the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo and the Argentinian ports of Buenos Aires and Bahia Blanca.

At the last stop, Sandy recalls, the Endurance crew crossed paths with the Argentinian warship General Belgrano. The two crews played football against one another and Endurance won 5-2, in the first match at least.

Sandy said: “I turned up with the rugby team the next day and was told, by a suave lieutenant commander with slicked back hair and a public school English accent that ‘there will be no rugby’. So, we had [another] kick around on the grass in front of the stadium and went home (moral) victors.”

Within a year Britain had sunk the Belgrano, killing 368 crew members in what remains its most controversial act of the conflict.

After Bahia Blanca, Endurance sailed on, arriving in the Falklands early in December before setting off again on trips around the South Atlantic. Encounters with the Argentinian navy were far from uncommon. Just months before Argentina invaded Britain’s territory, the armed forces of the two countries were glad to make each other’s company.

Sandy says an Endurance trip to the neutral Antarctic island of Marambio at the same time that 40 visiting Argentine soldiers were being flown in was “a very sociable event”. “The guests were picked up by their Chinook, piloted by a man who had been drinking on board, a very skilful operation.”

From Capt Barker’s position though, it was clear something was amiss.

In War Stories, a BBC documentary from the early 1990s, Capt Barker recalled: “This year things were different.” A portside meeting in Buenos Aires in November gave him an early sign that he had been right to expect a shift in the Argentinian position.

He said: “I swapped ships’ itineraries with my Argentine opposite number, Captain Trombetta. He told me he was going to Antarctica but three weeks later he showed up illegally on the British island of South Georgia.

“He lied to me. Why? I reported this to London.”

The landing on South Georgia – an island a few hundred miles to the west of the Falklands that was also claimed by Argentina – caused a diplomatic stir. Britain had commissioned scrap metal merchant Constantino Davidoff to work on the island but had not approved his mode of transport: an Argentinian navy vessel. The British ambassador to Buenos Aires complained to the junta but little more was done as Britain was keen not to escalate while tension over negotiations was high.

In January, Capt Barker had an encounter on Argentina’s closest base to the Falkland Islands, Ushuaia, that left him in no doubt the diplomatic situation was soon to devolve. He said: “I was snubbed by the Argentine base commander. His deputy said they had been ordered not to fraternise with the British.” The captain said he was warned by a friendly pilot that a war was coming, a warning he relayed to London.
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Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (2)

#2 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Apr 18, 2022 4:07 pm

Five days later the Endurance was in Punta Arenas in Chile, a country friendly to Britain that was locked in its own territorial dispute with Argentina. There, Capt Barker said “my Chilean naval friends told me about the Argentines’ intention to invade the Falklands. Once again I reported all of this to London but there was no response.”

The government in London was soon faced with a diplomatic crisis when Davidoff returned for a second work trip to South Georgia, again transported by the Argentinian navy. Endurance was sent to investigate. Capt Barker was sure it was nothing less than an attempt to establish a permanent Argentinian naval presence in the island. The landing took place on 19 March, just under two weeks before the invasion of the Falkland Islands. Britain’s official line is that the government did not know an invasion was coming until the last minute.

Had Capt Barker’s warnings been ignored as they were in the summer? Lord Luce, the foreign office minister responsible for the Falklands at the time, claims the warnings never reached the right people.

Unfortunately, the material that could remove doubt from the matter is inaccessible. While most of the government’s Falklands war records were declassified in 2012 under the 30-year rule, Capt Barker’s archives remain closed pending a now long-overdue review by the Ministry of Defence.

Critical captain
After the war began Endurance docked in the Falklands, later returning to sea where it fought against Argentinian forces. It forced the final Argentinian surrender of the war on the small island of South Thule on 17 June. Nott’s decision to scrap the ship was overturned and it served until 1991.

Shortly after the war was over Capt Barker gave an interview to the press in which he said that Britain had given Argentina a “green light” to invade. On returning to Britain he was ordered to keep quiet and toe the line in public but his reputation for being difficult was already firm.

One of his sons, Ben Barker, reflects: “I think he was quite literally seen as a loose cannon after the war. The navy didn’t seem to know what to do with him. I think they wanted him out of uniform and away from naval establishments.”

The captain gave evidence to the Franks inquiry, the government review that went on to find that neither Thatcher, Nott nor anyone else in power could have foreseen the invasion. Capt Barker said it was “a whitewash, another Whitehall farce”. He left the navy in 1988 and retired to northeast England, having spent his final years of work as a diminished figure in the service. Thousands of miles away, however, he had the reputation of an honourable defender who had tried his best to stop the war, only to be left standing alone as it began.
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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#3 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Apr 18, 2022 5:19 pm

Captain Nick Barker's Obituary

Well worth reading - Nick Barker. Beyond Endurance: An Epic of Whitehall and the South Atlantic Conflict .

Foreward by Sir Rex Hunt...
By SIR REX HUNT CMG FORMER GOVERNOR OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS Forewords are usually written after reading the book, but I wrote the following in 1982 when Nick Barker was in mid-career in the Royal Navy with a fine record behind him and glittering prospects ahead. Nevertheless, it is I think a fitting introduction to the autobiography of a truly courageous and outstanding man. * * * I am writing this in the guest cabin of HMS Endurance. The Argentines have surrendered and we are steaming along the East Falklands coastline from Stanley where twenty-one British ships now lie peacefully at anchor, to Fitzroy, where Sir Galahad was mortally hit and Sir Tristram severely damaged by Argentine bombs a few weeks ago. I last sat here in December, 1981, on a memorable trip to South Georgia, recalling with my wife happy memories of previous voyages on board Endurance, There were carefree incidents like snowballing on the upper deck as we nudged our way through the spectacular Le Maire Channel; the Chief Bosun’s Mate dressed up as one of Shackleton’s men off Elephant Island; skiing on Deception Island; stuck in the ice off James Ross Island; drinking beer with the Senior Ratings. But that was another world. So much has taken place since then. On 12 December, 1981, the night after our arrival at St Andrew’s Bay, I trapped my finger in the cabin door and lost a nail. In less time than it took to grow a new one the Argentines occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, the British assembled a task force and transported it 8000 miles across the ocean, recaptured South Georgia, landed at San Carlos, marched across East Falkland, recaptured Stanley and sent over 10,000 Argentines packing. This fine ship – which was about to be cast aside by the Ministry of Defence – put paid to an Argentine submarine, knocked down two helicopters, damaged a corvette and took the surrender of the garrisons at South Georgia and Southern Thule. Not bad for an ‘unarmed’ merchantman on her last trip!

I was, of course, delighted that HMS Endurance earned a reprieve. I can, however, understand that some people might think that her Captain went to inordinate lengths to guarantee her continued commission. Something less than engineering a full scale Argentine invasion might have served to prove his point! But one has to admit that, like everything else about Endurance, it was done with great style. And, unlike her illustrious predecessor, she survived to tell the tale. The Captain of the Santa Fe apparently had the opportunity to determine otherwise and perhaps for sentimental reasons decided not to deliver the coup de grâce. The man whose name is synonymous with the first Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton, died on board the Quest in Grytviken Harbour on 5 January, 1922. His ‘Number One’, Commander Frank Wild, described how they took him to the hospital and placed him in a room they had shared seven years before. The next day they carried ‘The Boss’ to the little church situated at the foot of snow-covered mountains. There they said goodbye ‘to a great explorer, a great leader and a good comrade’. ‘The Boss’ whose name will now be forever associated with the second Endurance is Nick Barker. Although there is no longer the opportunity to win the first of Wild’s accolades I imagine his Number One, Mike Green, would confirm the other two. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that Nick does not qualify for all three, for I remember exploring uncharted seas off James Ross Island and being filled with admiration at the coolness on the bridge as the seabed suddenly shoaled from 40 to 9 metres. The only people having kittens were myself and the television team – landlubbers all and lacking in sang froid and the Nelson Touch. All 1 could think of was Bill Stephens, the Marine Engineering Officer, who explained that he had to stop the engine before putting it into reverse. So, with Endurance the days of exploration are not over. I shall never forget the anxiety we felt for Endurance during those days at the end of March, 1982. We knew the Argentine fleet was at sea; we did not know where. We did however know that Endurance was heading west towards us from South Georgia. We dearly longed to see her return, of course, but with hindsight I am heartily glad she did not make it. Another day and she would have been there. I do not think she would have stopped the invasion but she would have tried and would almost certainly have been sunk with considerable loss of life. As it was, she returned to South Georgia and thus began what must have been one of the strangest hide and seek games in military history. We all have reason to be grateful to Nick Barker, not only for successfully conducting the campaign to save his ship from the Whitehall axe, but also from the Argentine Navy. Thanks to him Endurance endures. Wild said of Shackleton: ‘Of his hardihood and extraordinary powers of endurance, his buoyant powers of optimism when things seemed hopeless, and his unflinching courage in the face of danger I have no need to speak.’

If Wild had been alive today I am sure he would say the same about ‘The Boss’ of the second Endurance. I salute Captain Barker and all who sailed with him.
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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#4 Post by FD2 » Wed May 25, 2022 10:47 pm


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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#5 Post by Fox3WheresMyBanana » Wed May 25, 2022 11:16 pm

I was asked to review a book on engineering ethics for a University course. I did some background research on the first four examples of engineers who spoke up before accidents happened. All four of them, though completely vindicated by events and being held up as examples of what to do, were fired on trumped up accusations, and were blackballed and never worked in the industry again. I pointed out my research to the Faculty Head. He picked another book. I don't know which, as I wasn't asked to review any more. A year later they found an excuse to not renew my contracts.

"Complete surprise, my arrse!", as Jim Royle would have said.

But this problem is as old as time
" I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."
..as Cromwell said in 1650, in an attempt to end the Third part of the English Civil War. It failed, the Scots failed to consider that they were wrong, and thousands of Scots died at the Battle of Dunbar or in the aftermath.

https://www.olivercromwell.org/Letters_ ... er_129.pdf

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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#6 Post by Pontius Navigator » Thu May 26, 2022 7:13 am

I can't remember the exact quote but:

"It is the job of the intelligence officer to give the commander the information he needs, not the information he wants."

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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#7 Post by FD2 » Sun Jun 05, 2022 10:55 pm

TheGreenGoblin wrote:
Mon Apr 18, 2022 5:19 pm
Captain Nick Barker's Obituary

Well worth reading - Nick Barker. Beyond Endurance: An Epic of Whitehall and the South Atlantic Conflict .

Foreward by Sir Rex Hunt...
By SIR REX HUNT CMG FORMER GOVERNOR OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS This fine ship – which was about to be cast aside by the Ministry of Defence – put paid to an Argentine submarine, knocked down two helicopters, damaged a corvette and took the surrender of the garrisons at South Georgia and Southern Thule. Not bad for an ‘unarmed’ merchantman on her last trip!

If Wild had been alive today I am sure he would say the same about ‘The Boss’ of the second Endurance. I salute Captain Barker and all who sailed with him.
I don't want to be critical of Sir Rex Hunt but he has unfortunately fallen for the press line after the Santa Fe incident. Endurance had a large contingent of the press onboard and after the South Georgia engagement with Santa Fe the press were told that Tony Ellerbeck and his AS11 or 12s had attacked the submarine and it had high tailed it into the harbour and was in danger of sinking. Thus the cleared press reports back to the UK attributed Tony with causing the near sinking. In fact the missiles had merely blown a hole in a non-metallic section of the fin and blown the leg off one of the matelots on deck.

The damage which caused the captain of Santa Fe to rush to shore was caused by Antrim Flight's two Mk11 depth charges exploding either side of her and springing plates and seals sufficiently badly to cause serious flooding and a race to get alongside the jetty before she sank. The Antrim press release was sent and issued too late to counter the Endurance releases and the Antrim Flight crew had to be content with 'also ran' coverage. If memory serves correctly the Wasp missile attacks (Endurance and Plymouth Flights) and the torpedo attack by a Type 22's Lynx had no significant effect on Santa Fe's seaworthiness but I stress that this doesn't demean the courage and spirit of their crews and indeed of Captain Barker and Endurance's exploits 'down south'.

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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#8 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Jun 06, 2022 3:55 am

FD2 wrote:
Sun Jun 05, 2022 10:55 pm
TheGreenGoblin wrote:
Mon Apr 18, 2022 5:19 pm
Captain Nick Barker's Obituary

Well worth reading - Nick Barker. Beyond Endurance: An Epic of Whitehall and the South Atlantic Conflict .

Foreward by Sir Rex Hunt...
By SIR REX HUNT CMG FORMER GOVERNOR OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS This fine ship – which was about to be cast aside by the Ministry of Defence – put paid to an Argentine submarine, knocked down two helicopters, damaged a corvette and took the surrender of the garrisons at South Georgia and Southern Thule. Not bad for an ‘unarmed’ merchantman on her last trip!

If Wild had been alive today I am sure he would say the same about ‘The Boss’ of the second Endurance. I salute Captain Barker and all who sailed with him.
I don't want to be critical of Sir Rex Hunt but he has unfortunately fallen for the press line after the Santa Fe incident. Endurance had a large contingent of the press onboard and after the South Georgia engagement with Santa Fe the press were told that Tony Ellerbeck and his AS11 or 12s had attacked the submarine and it had high tailed it into the harbour and was in danger of sinking. Thus the cleared press reports back to the UK attributed Tony with causing the near sinking. In fact the missiles had merely blown a hole in a non-metallic section of the fin and blown the leg off one of the matelots on deck.

The damage which caused the captain of Santa Fe to rush to shore was caused by Antrim Flight's two Mk11 depth charges exploding either side of her and springing plates and seals sufficiently badly to cause serious flooding and a race to get alongside the jetty before she sank. The Antrim press release was sent and issued too late to counter the Endurance releases and the Antrim Flight crew had to be content with 'also ran' coverage. If memory serves correctly the Wasp missile attacks (Endurance and Plymouth Flights) and the torpedo attack by a Type 22's Lynx had no significant effect on Santa Fe's seaworthiness but I stress that this doesn't demean the courage and spirit of their crews and indeed of Captain Barker and Endurance's exploits 'down south'.

Thanks for the correction FD2. I certainly didn't know that. As you say, great determination and courage showed by all parties and services, but there is nothing better than the truth and facts in the place of myth, particularly myths born of the misguided missile of press conjecture or sloppy, or wishful, reporting.
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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#9 Post by FD2 » Mon Jun 06, 2022 5:11 am

I thoroughly recommend a read of Chris Parry's account of his time down south as Flight Observer in HMS Antrim Flight, entitled 'Down South', which also includes an account of landing the SAS on the west side of South Georgia on a glacier and retrieving them again, an operation which accounted for the loss of two Wessex 5s. The excellent flying skills of Flight Commander Ian Stanley certainly saved lives up there on the glacier in the atrocious weather conditions. It also contains some of Parry's personal opinions on Endurance's people which are of interest, as well as operations against the Argentinians when Antrim rejoined the task force off the Falklands.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Down-South-Falklands-War-Diary
In 1982 Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) Chris Parry sailed aboard destroyer HMS Antrim to liberate the Argentine-occupied Falkland Islands. Parry and his crew, in their Wessex helicopter, were soon launched into action rescuing an SAS party stuck on a glacier in gales that had already downed two others. Soon after they single-handedly pursued and fatally wounded a submarine before taking part in terrifying but crucial drop landings under heavy fire. Down South is a hands on, day-by-day account of war fought in the most appalling conditions by men whose grit and fighting spirit overcame all obstacles.

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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#10 Post by Boac » Mon Jun 06, 2022 7:09 am

The opening part of 'Sea King Down' by Mark Aston et al covers the SAS side of the South Georgia op and is a harrowing tale. The 'down' bit refers to the sad loss of the Sea King in which Garth Hawkins, an RAF FAC I had had a few beers with in Belize, was sadly lost. https://www.raf.mod.uk/news/articles/ra ... h-hawkins/

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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#11 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Jun 06, 2022 9:56 am

I think I posted this on the Navy Wings thread, but this is still publicly available on that site...

Apposite to this thread as well, I think.

Helicopters in the Falklands

HeliFalklands.JPG
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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#12 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Jun 06, 2022 9:56 am

This article was also interesting.

Falklands Experience

FalkSub.JPG
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Re: Argentina’s Falkland Invasion a complete surprise? (1)

#13 Post by TheGreenGoblin » Mon Jun 06, 2022 11:33 am

TheGreenGoblin wrote:
Mon Jun 06, 2022 9:56 am
I think I posted this on the Navy Wings thread, but this is still publicly available on that site...

Apposite to this thread as well, I think.
Lt Cdr Tony Ellerbeck DSC was Flight Commander aboard HMS Endurance in the South Atlantic when he suddenly found himself at the sharp end of an escalating conflict.
He witnessed the Argentinians put ashore the first landing party on South Georgia, he dropped Special Forces onto the island in response, and conducted three attacks in one of the Wasps on the Argentine submarine ARA Santa Fe using AS-12 missiles; this was the first time ever a guided missile fired in anger by the Royal Navy.
I found Tony Ellerbeck's memories particularly poignant, not least because he became a friend of the captain of the Santa Fe, who he had known before the commencement of the war, sharing an ongoing rugby-based friendship long after military hostilities had ceased.
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