MEM(M)1 Mark Offord

The Opening Phase

The origins of the Falklands War are lost to me. How far back can we go to find the definitive catalyst, as this is my narrative, I’m going to try. I know that in December 1981 Davidoff, an Argentinean scrap merchant, was landed at Leith , South Georgia, without the necessary permission not protocol for a sovereign Dependency. He ought to have reported to the customs house at the whaling settlement of Grytviken. A minor diplomatic flurry was reported in the broadsheets and then forgotten. Davidoff had in the meantime left the island, however by March 1982 he was back, but this time with a gang of workmen and some Argentine soldiers. They ceremoniously defaced the signs warning of unofficial entry and raised their own national flag. this act was followed by further diplomatic feather ruffling and HMS Endurance, the ice patrol ship was dispatched from Port Stanley. The Argentine warship and the marines left Leith on 21st of March, but workmen stayed to remove the bounteous scrap that remained at the deserted whaling complex. While they were at their work the Argentinean Navy carried out exercises as a bluff to cover their real intent.

On the 27th of March RFA Appleleaf, homeward bound from Curacao was diverted to Gibraltar and two days later RFA Fort Austin was ordered South to replenish HMS Endurance, Appleleaf was to restore at Gibraltar then head South. Thus began the British part of what became known as the South Atlantic Conflict. Semantics aside, it turned into very much a war for both sides Meanwhile the Royal Marines of HMS Endurance were landed at Grytviken just around the cove from Leith, and quickly prepared defensive positions. They also kept a covert eye of the Davidoff gang. By 1st of April it was plain as a pikestaff that the Argentineans were going to invade the Falkland Islands and Dependencies. Over 1000 marines landed at Port Stanley to take on the small detachment of Royal Marine Commandos and the local defence volunteers. The result was inevitable-the governor and some Royal Marines found themselves holed up at Government House after having inflicted rather more casualties on the enemy than was the converse. In a report relayed much later Sunday Times recounted the dialogue between an English speaking Argentinean officer and the Royal Marines holed up in the Governors Residence. ” Sir Rex Hunt, you are an honourable man. Your position is surrounded. To prevent further bloodshed I call on you to surrender” An unknown Royal Marine, after a few seconds replied in quite un-diplomatic terms “Fuck off you spick bastards “Rex Hunt did the best thing in the circumstances and surrendered. The British PWs were humiliated in the media and then were flown to Commodoro Rivadavia en rote for the United Kingdom. They quickly did a U-Turn and came back with the Task Force.

Surrender of Royal Marines Governors Residence

At Grytviken Lt. Keith Mills R.M was also called on to surrender but he declined the invitation. One load of Argentinean troops landed by helicopter, but on the second journey the Puma came under sustained rifle and machine gun fire and crashed near the whalers cemetery opposite King Edwards Cove. (It is still a tourist attraction)The warship Guerrico sailed into the cove, was also raked with small arms fire and was hit by an 84mm Carl-gustav anti tank round below the waterline along with a number of 66mm LAWs and 1200 rounds of 7.62. The Guerrico beat a retreat and took little part in the unfolding proceedings. Keith Mills realized that, although there was a stalemate, it would be in the best interests of his men to surrender. Terms were agreed and the marines were taken on to the Bahia Paraiso.

ARA Guerrico

Easter Leave

My ship HMS Brilliant was along with what appeared to be half the Fleet and a good part of STANFLORANT exercising in the Western Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic. The two week exercise was bisected by a weekend at Gibraltar and at ENDEX we were to head North to Devonport and Easter Leave. the warm spring weather was quite invigorating after a dank, damp and dreary Devon. At mid-point to the imaginary war we came alongside the South Mole of Gib dockyard and tied up.

 

Due to vast number of ships alongside we did not get power supplied from the dockyard generators and so had to keep our own diesels running. On a gas turbine powered ship this is not too much of a problem, but still means that more stokers than is usual in harbour have to keep watches. The ‘Off Duty’ watches were granted leave and down by the brows they swarmed. Gib is a wonderful run ashore. The pubs are legion, well stocked with British beers and ciders and are, gloriously open all day and most of the night. ( This was before the relaxation of the licensing laws in Britain).There are also the same fast food outlets to be found at home, so that after consuming a prodigious amount of beer, Jolly Jack could further fill his face. The only downside is the complete absence of available totty. Gibraltarian girls could only be seen chaperoned, during the evening promenade. The Ship’s Company, HMS Brilliant really tried on that Friday and Saturday. On Saturday night , of all the malefactors arrested ashore by the Provost, RMP’s and the Shore Patrols-about 60 in total, 90 percent were brought back to Brilliant. On Sunday 28th March we sailed. Putting to sea on a Sunday was an unheard of event and the phenomenon was put down to Flag Officer Gibraltar’s refusal to have us there any longer. That was a bad buzz.

South

Our Captain, John Francis Coward , tried to keep us informed and we were told we were heading for home. On 2nd of April we began to head South and rendezvoused with HMS Battleaxe. We took a great deal of ammunition from her including a number of Seawolf missiles that were lashed down in their containers in the 1 Deck passageways. WE also lost our Number 2 Dhobeyman but Number 1 remained. He was a credit and became instrumental in pursuading many other Dhobeymen to stay with their ships. His reward was a BEM. Many years later it was reported that he had been refused British Citizenship and was to be removed to Hong Kong even though his wife and children were British. The decision was reversed after the intervention of Admiral Sir John Coward DSO, RN.

Rendezvous with HMS Battleaxe

As we made our way to a meeting point at some place called Ascension Island the ship was worked up for war as were other ships in our group. These were HMSs Glasgow, Sheffield, Coventry, and Arrow. To conserve our food and extend our range food was rationed. Training continued with large scale damage control exercises along with NBCD- we didn’t know if they had chemical or biological weapons so erred on the side of caution. We in the Engineering Department practiced machinery breakdown, known as Macky Breaks’. The Royal Marine Detachment perfected abseiling from the Lynx onto the upper deck of a moving warship with the intention of capturing the aforementioned vessel, sometimes in the dark. Pete Parry, the chief shipwright and his merry men devised a swivelling bracket to hold the GPMG steady in the doorway of the Lynx. the adaption came from a pair of office chairs .As the period of rationing lengthened and the priority of stores changed the NAFFI was also forced to begin with restrictions. Sweets, nutty to the Navy ,were rationed to 3 pieces per man per day and form this arose the story of the Black Magic Kid. One of ship’s nutty fiends, fearing that his lowered calorific intake might be detrimental to his health decided that a box of chocolates would count as one ‘piece’ and got them ! Later on in the war the canteen was reduced to only two commodities, Polo Mints and Cigarettes. The Naval Surgeon on board, always known as Doc, was in his own way trying to prepare us for horrific casualties and their treatment. He would fill the Junior Rates Dining Hall with all and sundry and project battlefield first aid and surgery, shot literally in Viet-Nam, on to the cinema screen. I didn’t realise that something as small as an Armalite round could do so much damage to the human frame or that blood could flow as from a split hose. I didn’t get the connection between jungle and naval warfare, either. The Doc’s specialisation was also a boon for us-he was a pathologist !We also went into defence watches. This is the routine where 50% of the Ship’s Company are on watch at any one time, it also means that nobody ever gets a full stretch of sleep. In the six hours off watch there is not enough time to do everything that one would wish to such as eat, sleep, read or write letter, it was usually the sleep that was denied. As soon as action stations was called everyone would be up and at their place of duty and if this coincided with your off watch, so be it. At Action Stations the watertight integrity of the ship was increased by closing all doors, vents and hatches and in an NBCD scenario the citadel within the ship could be pressurised to keep out any nasties .On 11th April we reached Ascension Island for three hectic days of reallocation of stores and the embarkation of fuel, lubricants and food. Ironically the frozen beef we brought on board was marked as of Argentinian provenance!

HMS Glasgow Sheffield and Coventry Ascension Island

The Deep South

We sailed on Olympus engines at twenty-five knots, the idea being to throw a screen as far South as quickly as possible to show our resolve and to add weight to the diplomatic pas de deux. United States General Al Haig was reportedly shuttling between the erstwhile protagonists. On 12th April the British Government declared a 200 mile Total Exclusion Zone ( TEZ ) around the Falklands and anything that moved therein would do so at it’s own risk. Our little group remained a few days ahead of the main force and when Operation Paraquat was announced we were to be star turn. The handle given was ‘Paraqueet’, but a typographical error early in the chain of command has lent to posterity the name of a poison, rather than a colourful bird, for the re-capture of South Georgia. On 22nd April we were hived off to join HMSs Plymouth and Antrim along with RFA Tidespring, close to this sub-Antarctic island. The weather was atrocious. There is no joy in ploughing into the teeth of a Force 9 gale, even the strongest of stomachs feel queasy. The most debilitating aspect of such foul weather is the exhaustion brought about by the mind telling the body to maintain perpendicularity, whatever the angle the ship might be. Two days later we reached a meeting point with Tidespring and RAS’d fuel. The weather had calmed somewhat, but the temperature had dropped spectacularly. We were warned that there was a submarine threat in this area, and the fact that most of us not only worked below the waterline, our accommodation was too, did not endear us to the news. The general mood was that after a bit of sabre rattling the Argentinians would back off. We could not see them, with their third hand navy and outmoded air force, coming out to do business in great waters. On the other hand one of the most pored over tome was ‘Jane’s’.

Rejoice

Paraquat was to be a special forces operation that almost failed before it had begun. SAS troopers were landed on Fortuna Glacier, but the weather was extreme, even by South Georgia standards and they were forced to be evacuated. This was not without incident. The infiltration of more of the brave men of Hereford by inflatable also caused concern as three of the four Gemini’s outboard engines failed and the boats drifted alarming distances before rescue by helicopter. The Argentinians added some spice by sending out long range reconnaissance flights this far. At one point, on 22nd April a C-130 Hercules came within ten miles of HMS Plymouth and RFAs Tidespring and Brambleleaf, but happily did not detect them.

At 07:00 on 25th April, closed up on watch at the Ship Control Centre ( SCC ) was; Debbie Reynolds-Chief of the Watch, Ray Britt-POMEM of the Watch, Dave Howe was LMEM of the watch and the stokers were Cappy, Corky and myself. At 09:00 the submarine Santa Fe was detected as she left Cumberland Bay after having dropped reinforcements and stores to the enemy garrison at Grytviken. 

 

 

 

She was spotted by the crew of Antrim’s Wessex, but remained surfaced, later declaring they were in fear of air dropped homing torpedoes. This was a bit of a mis-judgement as the helicopter was bombed up with depth charges-antiques of Second World War vintage, old but effective. One of Brilliant’s Lynx helicopters was patrolling to the north of the island armed with Mark 46 Homing Torpedoes. Plymouth’s Wasp was on her flight deck armed with the AS 12 missile, and as yet an unaccepted, weapon system.The Wessex dropped her ordnance around the submarine which damaged it enough to prevent a controlled dive. The Lynx released the Mark 46, but this was ineffective, whilst the door gunner of the Wessex loosed of belt after belt of 7.62 ball at the target. The Santa Fe had, by now, turned around and was attempting to get back to Grytviken. The Lynx’s gunner also had a go at the target, with Chippy’s handiwork standing up to the test. Plymouth’s Wasp had taken off and was on her way but was beaten to it by Endurance’s Wasp, which fired two AS 12 missiles. One was a hit, the other a close miss. Endurance’s Wasp returned to mother, rearmed and was back on station before Plymouth’s Wasp reached the area. Again there was one hit and one miss by the Endurance aircraft. Plymouth’s Wasp fired one AS 12 which hit the hapless submarine about the waterline. She had moved close enough inshore for the attacking helicopters to come under small arms fire from the troops in Cumberland Bay. The Santa Fe was run alongside the old whaling station pier and took on a dangerous looking list .As the submarine was spotted we were called to Action Station and remained on watch in the SCC. The Engineering Officer turned up just as the Captain ordered both Olympus engines to be started and engaged with 100% throttle applied. The Engineer suggested 95% be the upper limit but was out ranked by someone muttering that as it was his ship, he could do what he bloody well liked with it. I was ordered down into the After Engine Room ( AER ) to keep a close eye on the main gearbox oil pressures and bearing temperatures. Sitting between these huge gearboxes in the heat and the noise I felt comfortably safe but wondered what would really happen should we be torpedoed. Whilst we raced along the gearboxes shuddered as the propellers alternatively plunged into and then, momentarily, lost contact with the sea. In machinery spaces induction loop headphones were worn which kept us in contact with what was going on elsewhere .Once the Santa Fe had gone alongside, it was decided to capitalise on these events and attack the garrison with the SAS, SBS and Royal Marines who were available. These troops were landed by the ship’s helicopters under a barrage of Naval Gunfire Support ( NGS ) from Plymouth and Antrim. Brilliant didn’t possess a gun of sufficient calibre to join in. The Argentine garrison quickly ran up the white flag but were less than enthusiastic about revealing the anti-personnel mines that they had laid. This reluctance to co-operate was overcome by initially having a couple of enemy walk around in suspect areas. To this point there was only one serious casualty, a submariner who lost a leg during the attacks on his boat. The surrender was formally taken in the Captain’s Day Cabin on HMS Antrim from a seriously unsavoury character called Capitan de Corbet Alfredo Astiz. A loophole in International Law left the British no alternative but to repatriate him to Argentina. The Swedes were very keen to get their hands upon him. The Santa Fe, it was decided, was to be moved away from the jetty, which was still in use, normally by British Antarctic Survey ships. This led to a very regrettable incident on the submarine. A conning party from the crew was put on board, guarded by Royal Marines. The Royals were given explicit instructions as to which valves could be operated and those which were forbidden. It was a precaution against the vessel being scuttled in a shipping channel. The submariners were also warned off about the consequences of touching proscribed equipment. As the boat was being moved something caused the Argentinian Captain to order one of these forbidden valves to be operated. We could only speculate that being a well trained professional, the sailor acted instinctively to his Captain’s order. As he handled the valve, the Marine in that section of the boat ordered him to stop. The sailor ignored the Marine and was shot dead. Our Doc did the post-mortem ( I told him he’d come in handy ), the cause of death was pretty clear and a Court of Enquiry was convened. The Royal Marine was found to be not responsible for what, in effect, a monumental communication cock up.

All Out War

On 28th April we left South Georgia with a few more passengers and their kit. The members of the special forces came and went throughout the war and slept where they could find space. Some camped out in the Engineer’s Office with big downy sleeping bags on fold up scratchers. At around midnight, every night, it was the duty of one of the on watch stokers to collect the following days machinery log sheets. These were stocked in a large steel and very noisy cupboard in this office. The following happened only once, after which other procedures were put in place. The detailed stoker trotted up to the darkened office and sneaked in. He negotiated the shadowy, recumbent figures, and silently made his way to the target. Without warning, he was gripped by the throat from behind and gently told to fuck off. To refuse would have been impolite. We remained in Defence Watches and Darkened Ship routine was stuck to. This has two benefits; it reduces external light sources and preserves night vision for those who were required to go onto the upper deck. Given that the weather was pretty awful most of the time, full foul weather clothing, lifebelts and safety lines were required, also. I was in the Quarterdeck airlock when the watch on deck had to go out to lash down some equipment that had been battered adrift. As soon as they had exited the door they were engulfed by a ‘Green One’, the door was quickly banged shut and the lifelines gripped fiercely. Once the sea had subsided the door was opened and there was palpable relief that they were still there, bruised and very wet.

HMS Hermes

We joined the Main Carrier Group on 29th April and our very welcome guests were cross decked to the carriers. Our paths were to cross again, but in less auspicious circumstances, later in the conflict. We replenished our dangerously low fuel reserves from one of the RFA tankers and also received mail. The following day we heard that one of our SSNs was to sink the Argentine aircraft carrier 25 de Mayo and that RAF Vulcans had bombed the runway at Stanley. This attack was followed by the fleet’s Harriers going in to bomb, also. At daybreak, Brilliant was detached with HMS Yarmouth on a submarine hunt to the north-east of East Falkland . Very promising contacts were made, which were dealt with using Yarmouth’s Limbo Mortars, her Wasp, armed with depth charges, our STWS and Lynx armed with Mk 46 Torpedoes.
During the day we went to Action Stations a number of times as we were receiving reports of enemy aircraft taking off from their bases on the mainland. They were chased off by our CAP.
Searches and attacks went on until darkness, when we broke off and headed back to the main group. Our tally for the day was a pair of whales. Sadly, their signature on sonar is similar to that of a submarine. The torpedo Petty Officer gained the sobriquet ‘ Wolf Pack’.
The high speed cruises made to and from the Main Group were powered by the Olympus engines, which were notoriously thirsty. The ‘Tankies’ had the devil’s own work to keep them supplied with fuel. The provision of fuel on a warship is a little more complicated than just having a large tank supply all four engines. Admiralty Dieso, and not aviation fuel as reported in the media, powered the gas turbines. The dieso was kept in the storage tanks and transferred to the engine ready use tanks as required, via centrifuges that polished the fuel of contaminants. The maximum rate at which dieso could be centrifuged was very close to the demand of the Olympus engines at full tilt. To complicate the equation the ship’s trim had also to be maintained by balancing the fuel levels across the ship.
As we rejoined the Main Group it had become evident by the probing of the Argentine air force that they were actively searching for the vulnerable carriers. The Type 22 frigates in the group, us and HMS Broadsword were put to goalkeeping duties protecting Invincible and Hermes. It was an accepted fact that the only effective defence against an air launched Exocet was the Sea Wolf missile system, which only the Type 22s were armed with. It was rumoured that this missile could take out a shell in flight.
During these, very early, stages of the war Action Stations was being called many times during the day as each threat materialised and then faded. This caused quite a bit of uncertainty, but a routine was put in place which quickly ironed this out. As soon as the threat was perceived the ship was called to Action Stations and stayed in that state throughout the hours of daylight. The Argentineans couldn’t fly at night, apparently. If on watch when the general alarm was sounded I remained at the SCC. If off watch, I closed up at the After Damage Control Section Base as part of the main fire party. Fearnought suit and breathing apparatus, par for the course. The difficulty of either, getting this kit of smartish or swimming with it did cross my mind. As the section base closed up the doors would come off of the Damage Control lockers and the equipment checked off. The portable pumps were tested, fire-fighters dressed, checked and communication established between HQ1 and the section bases. Once the basics had been completed we lay down, waited and did what Jack did best during DC Exes, smoked, ate, read and chatted. Loud farting ( Eddie Driver ) was usually followed by the riposte, will you fuck off, nothing has come inboard, yet (Ed Sheperd). Guffing is not recommended in a Fearnought suit, the only exit is via the neck! During one air attack, No.1 Dhobey, who was sat forlornly on a closed hatch, wrapped in a Pussers’ blanket, asked me where the best place to sit was? My glib reply was that if I knew that I’d be there first. I felt rotten about it later as I could see that he really was wilting with the tension and I could have tried to buck him up.
During particularly active periods of action, the Skipper would give us a running commentary as events unfolded and apologised at one point for nearly getting us bombed. On Sunday 2nd May the main part of the enemy fleet were about 200 miles north-west of us. Their carrier was being shadowed and was to be sunk as soon as aircraft were launched from her. Luckily for her there was not enough head wind for her aircraft to get airborne. Whilst the weather was reasonably calm we RASd with Olmeda, taking dieso and avcat ( fuel used by the Lynxs ). We went to Action Stations as ‘intelligence reports suggest that aircraft have taken off from Commodoro Rivadavia, heads up west’. At 23:00 the General Belgrano was hit by torpedoes launched from HMS Conqueror. We would have preferred it to have been the carrier and thought little of it, assuming that their damage control and survival skills were similar to our own-they weren’t and this reflected in the death toll of their sailors.
3rd May. Very rough weather, no ops.
4th May. A pair of Super Etendards armed with Exocet missiles successfully attacked HMS Sheffield. We went to Action Stations as soon as the news reached us. The general consensus was that this was now a real exped with guns and that casualties could be expected on both sides. The damage to the Sheffield initially caused a lot of confusion as imaginary torpedo tracks had been reported and surface contacts were made by the ships in the immediate area. These turned out to be large rocks.
Further rough weather followed, but by the 8th May it had eased enough for Brilliant to be sent up to the northern entrance of Falkland Sound to patrol, and for HMS Alacrity to bombard enemy positions around Port Stanley . We made noisy demonstrations near to Port Howard to divert the enemy from the preparations being made to tow the Sheffield out of the TEZ.
The following day we teamed up with HMS Glasgow to make one of the successful ‘Type 64’ teams that patrolled the ‘Gunline’. The Type 22 would protect the Type 42, whilst she laid down Naval Gunfire Support ( NGS ) with aid of a Royal Artillery spotter ashore or aloft in a Lynx. Two days later we were again on the gunline with Glasgow whose schedule began before daylight. At around 12:45 we detected an air attack developing towards us from the north-west. We’d completed one bout of NGS and so had our heads up. Glasgow’s Sea Dart loading system went u/s as did their gun, which had performed seamlessly all morning. Our Seawolf locked onto the attacking Skyhawks, two missiles were launched, two of the enemy planes were hit and the third jinked into the sea. The fourth dropped a 1000-lb bomb which bounced off the sea and skipped over Glasgow’s hangar. A second attack developed but the Skyhawks in this group weaved whilst tracking towards us. This comprehensively confused the Sea Wolf which wrapped it’s claw in and went into ‘Park’ mode. During the course of these attacks the Skipper was gracious enough to give us the benefit of his panoramic view from the Bridge, detailing the range, bearing and time to contact with the enemy. As the Bofors began its rhythmic thump, thump, thump we knew they were bloody close. The attacking Skyhawks’ bombs bounced over us, one of which entered Glasgow’s After Engine Room, passed through her and out the other side. During it’s passage, the ironmongery, took out part of the HP air ring main, the Tyne intakes and ruptured a dieso tank. The noise as the 3000 psi exploded from the main must have been terrifying. The engineer closed up down there must have thought he’d gone to meet his make. Thankfully, no one was injured in body. The attack was not pressed home and the Skyhawks made off, however, the Group Leader was shot down by his own troops near to Goose Green. Glasgow’s damage control teams made temporary repairs and we headed back to the main group together.
My memories of this day are really quite vague as I was off watch until the loud explosions of the Seawolves being launched along with the general alarm being sounded dragged me out of my sleep. The routine is simple, roll out of bed, roll up the sleeping back and stow it away. Overalls on and up the ladder to the After Section Base, anti-flash gloves and hood on, followed by the Fearnought suit and breathing apparatus. Air on, mask on, air off to check face seal, hand up to indicate satisfaction and then finish tightening straps and making comfortable. I can only remember one of the day’s attacks. As I lay on the deck outside the sickbay door, nothing much was being said, everyone must have been wrapped in their own thoughts, stretched out on the 2 deck flat, apart from Dave Howe who preferred to sit bolt upright on a portable pump starter between the ‘phonebox’ and the bulkhead. The running commentary and the sound of the Bofors firing increased the personal tension. The gut churning was broken by the sounds of ordnance exploding around us. The ship lifted slightly from the shocks and we were immediately up and ready for action. The damage control teams combed compartments for action damage whilst the fire team waited to be called upon. It was at this point that all the hard work in training and exercising that the Royal Navy does was vindicated, everyone knew exactly what they had to do and got on with it in a quiet professional manner.
In the few seconds leading up to the bombing runs by the Skyhawks I said a few words to my Maker. I didn’t ask to be spared, simply that if I was wanted upstairs I’d come willingly, but please don’t let me be maimed and survive-kill me instead. There were a few moments during the war when I thought it unlikely that I’d reach my 21st birthday. If I could have dug a trench in the steel deck outside the sickbay I would have done so.
A third group of Skyhawks was detected and by this time Glasgow’s Sea Dart was back in commission as was our Seawolf, but only in mandraulic mode. The attack didn’t develop as they declined to take us on and flew off.
We re joined the main group and during the following day RAS’d in a Force 9. At around this time the Argentineans had managed to feed a line to British Independent Radio to the effect that we’d been torpedoed and were sinking. My mum heard this and was, understandably, having a rough time of it. The weather was really bad for a couple of days but by the 15th it had cleared enough for us to patrol the southern end of Falkland Sound. The Lynx went up to do a recce of Fox Bay but was chased off by anti-aircraft fire. It returned to the ship and we sailed back to rendezvous with the main group, which we reached around dawn. The Skipper briefed us that the landings were to take place on or about the 20th May.
As it got dark on the 17th May we closed up with Invincible for a fast passage to the west. The ship was darkened as usual, the radars ceased transmitting but the Gollies stayed glued to their passive ECM, listening for enemy transmissions that might indicate they’d spotted our unusual activity. Once both ships were well clear of West Falkland , a Sea King took off into the blackness and continued on a westward track. Brilliant and Invincible turned around and retraced their wakes back to the main group. The Sea King was later found burned out on the mainland, the crew and passengers having made their way to Chile , apparently.

 

 

The Amphibious Stage

21st May. The day of the landings. We had spent the previous night steaming out to meet the landing group and once met, turned around and made our way back. It was a brilliant starlit night, as clear as a Southern sky can be. This gave us something to talk about, namely the reaction of the Argentine Air Force once they discovered our intentions. Brilliant was in the second wave with Canberra, Norland, Stromness, Plymouth and Fort Austin. Plymouth led the way in whilst we ushered at the rear. At ten minutes past midnight we entered the Sound and remained under the cliffs of West Falkland. Plymouth was also in the Sound to provide anti-aircraft fire along with us. As we sailed up the Sound groups went onto the upper deck to have a look at the terrain being fought over. The clarity of the weather was the salient point and the phrase ‘ once the fuckers wake up the shit’ll hit the fan’ wasn’t challenged. Once the enemy realised that this wasn’t a feint the air attacks began. The First Lieutenant, Lee Hulme, took control of the CAP after the Antrim had been hit. During the day there was a two hour lull when men and materiel was landed unmolested. As the air attacks restarted the CAP was vectored onto the enemy. A group of aircraft was detected at long range on our radar and Harriers were sent to deal with them. Six others were not spotted and went on to attack Argonaut, badly damaging her. Brilliant was stationed off Doctor’s Head when three Daggers appeared at the entrance to the anchorage. Antrim, Plymouth and Intrepid all fired Sea Cat missiles that missed. Our Seawolf radar failed to see the attackers due to the ‘clutter’ created by the high ground around us. One Dagger was engaged by Broadsword’s Sea Wolf and survived to drop its’ bombs at us whilst firing its’ thirty millimetre cannon. The shells hit the ship in a stream that led from below the waterline upto 1 Deck. The damage was inflicted to the Sea Wolf system, Exocet launching system and the sonar. All were out of action. The shells had damaged the spirit and beer store, the ops room, an electrical distribution centre ( EDC ), the GWS 25 ( seawolf ) control room and the officers’ heads. Fergie the PO Cook moved seconds before a large lump of shrapnel ploughed into the spot previously occupied by him. Des Desmond acquired a shrapnel parting, Harry Markham narrowly escaped emasculation when the rolled up immersion suit that hung from his belt deflected the shrapnel downwards into his legs. Five men were injured during this attack. The moment we were hit the blanket searches began and all compartments opened and searched for damage. Reports were relayed back to the Damage Control Centre in HQ1. The holes were quickly plugged by the forward damage control team with soft wood bungs. Perry Mason went into the EDC that had been damaged and inadvertently touched a live 440V shredded cable. The shock punched him out of the compartment with a loud ‘ aaarrrhhhh’ and he quickly found himself lashed up in a Neil Robinson stretcher, the first aiders thought he’d lost the plot due to the stresses of the morning! As soon as he could relate the reason for this unusual behaviour he was released and offered a coffee in the wardroom ( first aid post ). He later on said that he was shaking so much most of the coffee went onto the deck. Lee Hulme was also injured but continued to vector CAP onto the enemy incursions. The group that attacked and badly damaged Ardent was followed by a further wave that was detected. Lee Hulme vectored the Pebble Island CAP to intercept. All three of this wave were shot down by our Harriers. The final air attack of the day came to nothing. At about 5 pm we left the Sound and steamed to King George’s Bay on West Falkland to insert the Green Death. The SAS/SBS were usually landed from the RIB which was cox’d by Leading Seaman Robbie Gould and, according to the Skipper, was a more than willing volunteer as a bottle of rum always awaited his return. Once Robbie had returned we swung around and sailed back to the Sound. The Skipper made the announcement that we were going back into Bomb Alley even though our Sea Wolf was out of action, as we were a good deterrent and a boost to morale for the troops ashore.On the Second day of the landings we were again positioned opposite Doctor’s Head, but this day was surreally quiet as there was bad weather over the mainland and the enemy couldn’t take off. ( not imbued with the Battle of Britain spirit, obviously ). At around dusk the enemy managed one sortie, but it didn’t come anywhere near us. During the night, along with Yarmouth we transited Falkland Sound and moved towards Goose Green to prevent any further covert reinforcement of the garrison there. We came upon the Falkland Island Company ship Monsunnen, which had been requisitioned by the enemy. Yarmouth put up a star shell that surprised the crew so much that they ran it aground, scrambled over the kelp and the rocks and ran away. Monsunnen was left where she lay and we parted the ways with Yarmouth, and headed back to the Carrier Group. We remained on goalkeeping duties the following day but there was little trade for us. The greenies ( electricians ) worked all out to repair the damaged cable runs that had disabled the Sea Wolf, Excocet and 2016 Sonar. At about 7 pm a Harrier crashed into the sea and was fully armed. The resultant explosion gave the impression to the other ships in the group that we had been hit by a torpedo and blown up.

HMS Antelope

The ships still in the Sound had been given a pasting, the Antelope had been hit and exploded, giving the most momentous photograph of the war. She sank the following day.
HMS Coventry

Coventry was hit by bombs on the 25th May, which rent a huge gash in her side causing her to flood and then roll over in a matter of twenty minutes. Broadsword took a bomb which skipped through her flight deck, into the Avcat Handling Room and then out the other side. Heaven only knows how an Avcat fire wasn’t started .At 3:30 pm we went to action stations and again I was on watch in the SCC when it was reported that an Agave radar emission had been detected. Agave was the radar fitted to Exocet carrying Super Etendard aircraft. Two of these planes had taken off from Rio Grande and were in-flight refuelled from C-130s before carrying on to attempt an incursion against our fleet. They flew extremely low to evade our radar screen but had to pop up for a look-see, hence the radar emission that was picked up by the Gollies. The Etendard pilots detected a target and fired their missiles at 3:38 pm and then turned onto a reciprocal bearing. Chaff was fired and Brilliant went into some high speed manoeuvres to attain an effective firing position. Our Sea Wolf tracked the missiles that were attracted by a cloud of chaff, through which they flew, as they emerged, their on board radar picked up an echo from Atlantic Conveyor and they changed course towards her. We initially thought that we’d been locked onto and at that moment Cappy and I dived behind the Engine Control Panel, room for one, not enough for two, it was a tight squeeze. The Conveyor was hit in the port quarter, however, the warhead failed to explode. The motors continued to burn propellant that started crippling fires which quickly took hold of the heavily laden ship and sealed her doom. We later picked up some survivors. As the ship burned her munitions could be heard below decks cooking off.

Atlantic Conveyor

An Interlude

We were ordered to the repair area, which was about 200 miles to the east, to meet Stena Seaspread, a fully equipped maintenance ship that had been taken up from trade ( STUFT ) Our holes were welded up properly after transferring fuel and other liquids to the opposite side to bring the damaged areas above the water line. The Sea Wolf was brought to almost 100% efficiency. It was a blessing that the Marconi Engineer who was on board elected to stay with us as we sailed south, We also came out of defence watches for a well earned rest. Mailed was delivered.

Stenna Seaspread

Los Endos

On the 9th June we were detailed off to sail to South Georgia to escort the merchantmen that were carrying stores for the troops ashore. The weather deteriorated again and we found ourselves in Force 9 seas. Another of our tasks was to stalk the nightly C-130 re-supply runs into Stanley. By 13th June Port Stanley was surrounded by a combined force of soldiers and marines and to prevent further casualties General Menendez was asked to surrender, which he gracefully agreed to. At sea, we remained in a high state of readiness, simply because we didn’t know how the forces on the mainland would react, even though those on the islands had thrown the towel in. A few of the ships’ company blagged rides ashore for a look round, whilst the rest of us debated our relief time and the duration of the passage north. During this period there was a dreadful accident at Stanley airfield. A parked Harrier somehow loosed off a sidewinder into a group of Welsh Guards. Having suffered the attack on the Sir Galahad these poor me endured another avoidable tragedy. We were relieved on station, turned about and headed north. We remained in defence watches until we were well clear of extreme range of the Argentine air force. As soon as we could we opened all doors and hatches, and sucked air through the ship via the machinery space exhaust fans. Beer was issued once again and the flight deck was used for Sods Operas, horse racing, barbecues, village fetes and film nights. At Ascension Island the advanced leave party was flown off and a load of men just out of training joined us to take their places. At a suitable point during the passage the Skipper held a service of Remembrance on the flight deck. After prayers he read out the names of all the casualties. We later received a signal with details of the casualties from which I learned that two men from my basic training class had died on the Glamorgan. On the day we were due to enter Devonport the two LPDs, Intrepid and Fearless were planned to drop off their marines, and so we naturally thought our entry up the Hamoaze would be a low key affair. Procedure Alpha was called and the ships’ company lined the upper deck in Noz ones ( best rig ). Geoff Scraton and I were on the flight deck and discussing a good run ashore that night ( BR had gone on strike so getting home would be difficult ). We moved slowly into the Sound, the LPDs towered above us as we passed, and as we emerged around Drake’s Island we met the welcome. I was bowled over by the thought that so many people wanted to see our return. We were escorted by everything that could float from Penzance to Poole, tugs sprayed great arcs of water into the air whilst sirens sounded and klaxons klaxed. As we rounded Devil’s Point the crowds came into view and I was humbled into silence, staggered at the reception. Everywhere that overlooked us was thronged with cheering crowds waving flags. Welcome banners were strewn across all available vertical surfaces. The one that stood out, in my mind, was the large white sheet with the single word ‘ THANKS’

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