Ships Diary: Introduction

 

Rod Morris

This is Somerset Tue 20th March 2012

There was one word you did not want to hear in the operations room of a warship operating in the total exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands in the late spring of 1982 - "Handbrake".
Let me explain. The Royal Navy had two aircraft carriers (HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible) operating 40 Harrier fighters which formed the sum total of our ability to engage the 120 aircraft of the Argentinian Air Force. If we lost a carrier, we lost the war. Each of the aircraft carriers had a "goalkeeper" in the shape of a Type 22 Frigate.

HMS Hermes was paired with HMS Broadsword, while HMS Invincible had the ship on which I was serving, HMS Brilliant. It was the job of the "goalkeeper" to move up alongside their carrier and to engage any incoming missile with our 'Sea Wolf' missile system. If we failed in that task then we would take the consequences.

The main threat to the carriers was from an AM 39 Exocet Missile launched from an Argentinian Air Force Super Etendard fighter-bomber operating out of Rio Grande Air base in Patagonia. The "Super E" would fly east from its base, fast and very low to avoid radar detection to the "in range" distance from the task force. At this stage the Argentine pilot would have to gain altitude, switch on his I-band radar and have just a couple of sweeps to provide the missile below him with the information required. He could then launch the Exocet (the French word for Flying Fish) and head home for a well earned steak chimichurri in the officers' mess. In the darkened operations rooms of the task force the two sweeps of the I-band radar would be detected and the message would flash round the task force - "Handbrake!" This meant that an Exocet missile had been launched and would be with us quite shortly.

May 25 is Argentina's national day and it is also the name given to their aircraft carrier Veintecino De Mayo. It was clear that on such a day the Argentine Air Force would come out to engage us and so the task force was on heightened alert. One crucial thing the Argentines did not know about was the Special Air Service presence watching their air bases and providing the Northwood HQ with information about aircraft taking off from them; these reports were then sent to the task force. Onboard HMS Brilliant that day we were operating in our usual goalkeeper mode close to HMS Invincible. Our Commanding Officer was the softly spoken Submariner Captain John F Coward - who not only commanded HMS Brilliant but also commanded the respect and absolute confidence of his ship's company. The Captain came onto the main broadcast shortly after breakfast and said "D'ye hear there, captain speaking, we have received a report from the flagship that Super Etendards have taken off from Rio Grande Air Base and we can expect some trade in the near future, so I think it best at this stage that we proceed to action stations" The action stations buzzers then sounded and we made ready.

It was a bright, clear, sunny day and the ships of the task force were all locked down at the highest state of readiness. Watertight doors and hatches were closed to prevent fire and flood spreading. Anti-flash hoods and gloves were worn. Guns were manned. War-shot missiles were on the launchers. Sea Harriers were patrolling the skies in Combat Air Patrols. We were as ready as we had ever been.
"Handbrake!" The call went out. Exocet release had been detected. Chaff rockets were fired from the warships to confuse the radar of the incoming missiles. The captain came onto the main broadcast again, calm as ever and said "D'ye hear there, captain speaking, Exocet release has been detected and missiles are in the air so I think it best at this stage for those who can to take cover as best you can".
We waited. And waited. The main broadcast then crackled and Lieutenant Iain Shepherd spoke "D'ye hear there, navigating officer speaking, missiles visual" Two AM 39 Exocet missiles were doglegging their way through the chaff clouds seeking a target. They then found one. "D'ye hear there, navigating officer speaking, the missiles are now heading for Atlantic Conveyor". The Exocets slammed into the largest and most vital of merchant vessels in the taskforce, carrying the Chinook helicopters that were going to enable the Royal Marines and Paras to move onto Port Stanley.

I watched the fires in Atlantic Conveyor engulf the ship. We took some of the survivors onboard with the majority of them saved by the frigate HMS Alacrity. I remember an RAF wing commander climbing the rope ladder on our port side. He stepped on deck, gave an extremely smart RAF salute and said "permission to come onboard, sir". The Merchant Navy purser of the Conveyor came down to the wardroom wearing a Michelin man suit, which he unzipped, stepped out in immaculate uniform and asked when the bar would be open.

The sailors in my department formed the first-aid parties and I will never forget the sight of an old Atlantic Conveyor chef being comforted by Junior Assistant Cook John Batterby, still 16 and the youngest Royal Navy sailor in the task force.

Atlantic Conveyor went down with the kit we thought we needed to win the war. The Royal Marines ashore at San Carlos were asked by an embedded reporter how they would get to Port Stanley now. "We'll yomp it" was the reply - the rest is history.

HMS Brilliant returned to Devonport to a rapturous welcome on July 12, 1982. The two aircraft carriers were never hit. I returned to the Falkland Islands in HMS Brilliant the following year and deployed again in HMS Euryalus in 1987.
This article is dedicated to my good friend Lieutenant Dick Nunn DFC Royal Marines, whose grave is in the military cemetery at San Carlos.

 

 

Laon Hulme

BEING AT THE RIGHT PLACE

It has been said that we are all the sum of our experiences, training and capabilities - to which my dear Wife, Karen (later to be "link wife" for all BRILLIANT's in the Portsmouth area), would add:
If one then 'finds' oneself in "the right place at the right time" to be able to "make a difference"
this is probably part of a 'Great Plan'.

To appreciate how HMS BRILLIANT - a one year old, Sea Wolf armed, ASW frigate - was able to conduct vital Sea Harrier fighter control force defence duties on 21 May 1982, the day of the landings in the Falklands campaign, is a story of team work, training and true fighting spirit - which started much earlier…..

I have never understood why some liken a modern ship's Operations (Ops) Room, with its glowing screens and its highly trained warfare specialists - all communicating in (generally) hushed tones through headsets with boom microphones, to be a "Gloom Room", for this is where the action is in a Royal Navy which is all about power projection and the international influence this brings.

As I sought to specialise, those responsible for my training recognised that I had a talent for exercising three dimensional aircraft control (both fixed and rotary wing) and I soon found myself working with highly professional aircrew whose prime purpose was to project that power.

After qualifying as a fighter controller (FC), consolidation of my air control skills was conducted in the aircraft carrier HERMES and the destroyer HAMPSHIRE before being given the ultimate accolade of being trusted to help train later FC qualifiers as the School of Maritime Operations Course Officer. Subsequently, after qualifying top of the last (ever) long "D" (Direction / Air Warfare) course, I became Operations officer of NEWCASTLE, then a "brand new" type 42 destroyer, before being appointed as the Staff Warfare Office to Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) and directly responsible for the effective functioning of all surface ship's Operation Rooms.

Then selected for a First Lieutenant appointment and advised that my air warfare experience would 'steer' me to a Type 42 destroyer I was amazed to take a call in FOST's Ops Room from Captain Coward, a nuclear submariner, who asked me directly if I would be his second in command in the "brand new" BRILLIANT, an Anti Submarine Warfare Frigate whose only air-defence capability was the point defence weapon system - Sea Wolf.

My being "at the right place at the right time" in the Falklands Campaign effectively started then.

SUBSEQUENT EXTRACT - XO's WAR DIARY
15 Apri l 1982
We are all wearing Identity discs and Geneva Convention ID cards.
We could not have had a better preparation for this.
We are a finely tuned fighting machine that will cause the Argentineans a lot of trouble.

I could not be happier with John Coward in command.
His single-mindedness of Aim in preparing and driving the ship is most heartening.
He has a shrewd ability and judgement and we are all very much as one in wanting to act boldly and with daring.



 

STEVE TINNEY Ex POMEM(M) HMS BRILLIANT.

 


I had taken early Easter Leave plus some Re-engaging Leave from HMS Brilliant when the Falkland Islands were invaded. The ship was exercising off Gibraltar and I was enjoying my time off, I had just started to decorate my sons bedroom whilst he was away on a school skiing holiday.
The BBC News had just announced that Argentina had invaded the Islands and I like many other people was trying to work out where they were. I also managed to convince Carol (and myself ) that there was no way I would be recalled as Tug Wilson was onboard in my place hence the reason for taking early leave. I thought I would end up in Drake as a general dogsbody. How wrong could I be.
Tug had just been promoted to PO and the boss what him to gain some experience onboard as a senior rate, I bet he wished he had left the ship on his promotion!
I returned home after a visit to my in-laws, to find a note from the Regulating Department HMS Drake requesting my presence at the Reg Office ASAP.(or words to that effect). As I walked into said Reg office I was greeted by an RPO with words "you can bloody well shave that off for starters they will be using gas down there" " That's very comforting to know" was my reply. After that encounter everything went at full speed, I was told I would be flying out from RAF Lyneham to the Asscension Islands to rejoin Brilliant.
There was some other lads off the ship who were home for various reasons and we would all be travelling up by train on the 10th April. Pony Moore was the one person I can remember vividly from the time we got on the train to the time we arrived at Asscension.(He couldn't wait to get down there and kick some Argie arse!!!!) ( I think kick was the word he used???)
The 10th of April was my Wedding Anniversary and to say it was one of the worse days of my life would be a major understatement. As I climbed out of the taxi at Plymouth Railway Station, I hugged Carol and tried so hard not to breakdown in front of her, we(like so many others) did not know if we would ever see each other again. I turned around and just kept walking without looking back, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
We arrived at RAF Lyneham late that evening and made our way to the Movements Office where we told we might be going but then again we might not, we then told to go to the NAAFI and report back in two hours, on our return we were told we would be flying out the next day by Hercules. I had a restless night and was glad to get on the plane, we took off on timeand stopped off at Gib, West Africa before touching down on Asscension 19 hours later (not recommended very uncomfortable)




Chris Latham: 11 April, Island Blockade


I wish I could tell you more about what's happening but I really don't know anything. There's so many rumours flying around, but no-one, not even the Captain, really knows. We've just got to wait, keep our fingers crossed, and hope everything will be alright. As for what I think will happen when we get down to the Falklands I can't say. It seems hard to believe we'll go to war over it all, and when this blockade of the islands comes into force on Monday (tomorrow) something may be sorted out then. I hope so. I don't want to be away from you for any longer than I have to, and the sooner this is all sorted out the better. I'm a bit apprehensive about the coming weeks, not knowing what will happen, but I'm not panicking. The worst thing is being away from you and worrying about our wedding.

Mark Capitano


The photo of me and my youngest brother Matthew is extra special. This is because when I joined up aged 16 he was only 8 and unfortunately my parents had just divorced. Over the next few years, I was away a lot of the time, despite this we were very close. When we came home from the Falklands I don?t have to explain the emotions everyone felt but this picture explains it all for me. The Day the ship was hit, the shells hitting and the shrapnel exploding reminded me of someone trying to shoot the red star out of the middle of a white card at the fairground. 50 Ball bearings in a machine gun and it was over in seconds. It was only the smell of cordite that kicked us into action. LMEM Randy Randle had us ready outside the electrical distribution center where smoke was coming out. I was at the front in my BA when he opened the inspection hatch in the bottom of the door and I started to crawl in. Fuck that I shouted there were four to six inches of water even though we were above the waterline and sparks were flying everywhere> LMEM (L) Ged Stone pushed in took off his anti flash glove licked is hand and patted the top of the water ?Its OK Capi?. Thinking back I should of pushed him in first, I didn?t have time to think I trusted him 100% and fired in. A burst hot water pipe which if I recall PO MEM Ray Britt isolated. I was brought back down to earth when I looked out of a hole in the ships side and I could see a big white ship maybe with a big red cross on her. Then felt a right tit trying to plug a perfectly round hole with a softwood cheese wedge.



David Breen


The Marconii Boffin you refer to was Mr David Breen. He was almost the only person who really understood Seawolf down to its software writing. He was with us for trials before Springtrain when the Falklands problem blew up. He took very little notice but by the time we left Guz heading South he was interested and wanted to come. ( I agreed entirely , he was immensely valuable to us.) However we soon got a signal from the Mod saying that if he was still on board he was to be landed at Gibraltar without fail. We replied that we needed him and that he wanted to stay, so he was staying. We received a resounding blast in reply and were told to land him immediately. Well, OK we landed him immediately with a big empty bag and a long list of Sea Wolf spares with instructions to rejoin at Ascension. He did. He was one of the most important members of the crew during the operation and re programmed the Sea Wolf software several times. If it had not been for him the ting would never have taken on a singlke aircraft. He virtually lived in the Ops Rm. He was up the mast in terrible weather from time to time and was in the Ops Rm when a shell passed between him and the Chief GI ( It finally came to rest in the officers heads and seriously disturbed Lt Harry Kewish minding his own business.) He was decorated by the Queen..

An account of a dive to replace a stern marker buoy (1983) by G.MacLeod


The Gemini was loaded from the stern of HMS Brilliant with divers and diving equipment. A short trip to the remaining buoy marking the bow of HMS Antelope which lay in 25 meters of cold San Carlos water. Descended as a pair, the bow coming suddenly out of the gloom. Light sediment had already coated what was left of the upper deck. The gun pointed skyward in a last act of defiance. The bridge was just a shell, which disappeared into the melted-out depths of the ship. Mast and radar bent at an awkward angle.

Nothing remained of amidships but twisted burnt debris, regaining form again at the flight deck, which had a 4-inch crack running its length.

And to the stern and the job in hand to replace the stern marker buoy, all the time knowing that there were bodies, fallen sailors in a compartment just below us.



A couple of memories from Rod

21 May - Falkland Sound - under attack - Bridge crew taking cover when Junior Assistant Cook John Batterby (all of 16 years) strolls onto the bridge with a fanny full of oggies, looks out the window and asks the oow "are those Mirages or A4s?"

25 May - back out at sea at action stations having been told that Exocet Release had been detected (Handbrake called) lying on the deck outside the Captain's cabin with Bob Davidson - and the Navigating Officer (Iain Shepherd) coming on the main broadcast saying "d'ye hear there, Navigating Officer speaking, missiles visual" - Bob and I felt we didn't really want to hear that - but then the Navigator followed up with the news that the missiles were heading for Atlantic Conveyor and , to our eternal shame, we both smiled with relief.