My six-penth worth from my memory, as not being there for the worst bits
When all hell broke out we were on STANAVFORLANT alongside in Norfolk Virginia, local press reported as Danae was already at sea she was on her way down there? My wife calls the ship to see if it was true, I asked are you speaking to me and where did you phone? The penny dropped we continued as part of the group but now we were avid BBC World news listeners.
As the group approached Europe we were told we were to be relieved and we would join the relief flotilla to the Falkland’s, our last stop before returning to Guzz was somewhere in Germany for about 48 hours, as we were going a long side there was a big thud, Bridge/Eng.Rm what did we just hit, Eng. Rm./Bridge Germany, no shore leave was given, but the skipper allowed the Rugby team to go for a training run, I had never seen so many people at a training session, phone hunting?
The skipper (a WAFU) very nice chap but a crap driver was relieved by an old Gunnery Officer, when we arrived in Guzz, I have never seen the work rate the dockyard put in they had 2 weeks to prepare us to sail.
Off to Portland for work up, found our sea cat was duff so back to Guzz again, a Tilley drove around the Hoe to try and tell families we were on our way back. One of the guys had a head shaver with him and started to shave anyone that wanted one, luckily I waited until Gib. One guy going home was arrested as his wife called the police about a bold intruder trying to get into her home and her husband had just left for the Falkland’s? Things were sorted and he had another night at home.
Strange things, we did not have any radar, all navigation was done by other means, and every few days there was a tanker on the horizon for refuel, the navigator had to earn his crust, the rest of us were preparing for war, we cleaned and polished regularly, eventually hearing it was all over sometime after we had left Accession Island.
Whilst we were of the Accession Island we were call the action in our shorts and sandals, apparently the Argy civy aircraft used the same Radar frequencies?
Once we arrived we could enter Stanley and anchor off, strange place it was like being transferred back in time to the 1920/30. One of our lads waiting with the rest of us for the liberty boat managed to fall of the jetty, I saw him hit the water, the next thing he was standing next to me dripping wet? That was quick did I really see that? May be the water was so cold when it hit his go-nads he jet propelled back onto the jetty, a pongo store chap saw him and whisked him away, when we next saw him he had a full issue of winter combat clothing?
As we now in the phase of protect and settle the island again I was sent ashore for about a week with a team at a remote part of the island to gather inlet and possible future landing sites, we spent our time walking around the coast taking phots making drawings/sketches of possible areas of interest against our brief. Met lot and lots of Penguins, got chase by a sodding great Sea Lion, we was wondering why none of the penguins were going near the water, when we got close to the water’s edge we soon found out, we went onto someone lunch menu.
Another trip I with a couple of other greenies were landed at the picket Radar site to help a REME convert 2 kitchen units that were designed for both hot and cold kitchen work into one hot unit and one cold unit, by shifting all the cookers into one and all the fridge & freezers into the other. They had a fully functioning bar which was a good. One of the baby tiffs I took with me was getting cold drilling holes from the top of the unit, so instead of dropping to the ground and walking to our cabin, he runs across the accom cabins to ours, nearly got himself shot, the locals were sleeping with the weapons, sensible they did not give us any. That night in the bar we had to perform do to our Tiff waking every one up, we were fed beer and was asked to give a small sods opera, anything to oblige. Next morning we were woke up at silly o clock and told our lift back to ship was on its way, when I asked, he points to a chopper coming in, there he says, shit someone had trashed our cabin thrown all our cloths everywhere and given me a sodding head ache, we just grabbed everything and legged as best we could, then to find out we had been picked up by the mail drop Sea king, a couple of hours on that with a stinking hanger was an ordeal.
Anther coastal walk, most of been OK the first time, we came across an old refrigeration building, initially greeted by man with gun? Once we explained what we were up to he took inside the fridge plant, they had converted one room into a really nice looking bar and had pitched all their tents in the old fridges on the grounds that the buildings were cold (no heating) but at least they were out of the rain, wind, snow.
Playing Rugby at Goose Green was a bit different, the pitch was on an hill with a small dry stream bed through it, next the pitch was a field full of balls, which was sign posted mine filed not clear yet. They also had put 2 cabins into one and made a fantastic bar.
One visit to Stanley we saw an Agri gun mount so we went to have a look, some guy starts to wave his hands at us, shouting that area had not been swept for mines? Now you had 3 matelots, trying to follow each other across the field trying to remember where we had stood on our way out, must have looked like a sketch from dads army, the guy turned out to be a killick steward, he took us into a porta-cabin which was decked out for his boss, a 4 ringer, he made us tea and biscuits, then his boss came, and told us to sit and he joined us.
Many more strange things went on, but I found Stanley and the Falklands a very strange place, from Pongos officers insisting that everyone salute their car, to service bod of any service branch or rank being down to earth helpful and friendly.
People were still getting hurt as the Argis had left mines all over the place, and everyone was still on high alert, I saw the changes over a couple of years, as I did 3 I think back to back trips down there
That brought a lot back Janner. Thanks for posting!
I was a Killick MA in Surgical Support Team 1 at Haslar. When everything kicked off we got bussed down to Guzz to 3 Cdo brigade to join up with the Medical Squadron at Stonehouse. Think the original plan was for us to go down on Canberra but for some reason we got bussed back to Pompey and boarded Hermes for the trip down.
Can't remember much about the trip down. We were in a big mess and got joined by some of the "frog squad" who appeared from somewhere mid Atlantic ... remember one guy has a plastic sack full of rounds and loading magazines ... then a couple of days later they disappeared!
My Action Station was Aft 1st Aid party and we were always conscious that if we did get attacked it would probably come up the arrse end and the day the Atlantic Conveyer got hit we were "Braced" as we'd been told there was an Exocet inbound heading for us!
Once the troops were ashore in Goose Green we got helo'd over to Fearless and transferred ashore to the field hospital set up in the old refrigerator plant ... complete with UXB in the mess area with a big hole in the roof where it came through. Can remember the first "meal" was ships bickies and a couple of squares of chocolate on account that they didn't have the galley ranges flashed up during the day. However with one of the Para field ambulances plus SST1 and 2 and 3 Cdo med Sqdrn after a few days they shipped most of the MA's who weren't "theatre trained" out to the Uganda which was stooging about in a box somewhere off shore as we were more use there. Kit was coming out as an under-slung load so all we had was what we had in webbing and personal weapons ... which got taken off us as we arrived by a friendly Armorer ... glad to get rid of the thing as it was dead weight ... any ammo we had for the things had been left in Goose Green!
We got put in 4 berth cabins in the 1st class section but got told that the "evaps" were playing up so all we could have was 30 secs in the showers ... we'd been ashore a week with no hot water etc ... 30 secs yeah right! What Daps didn't say was Uganda still had a lot of P&O crew on board including the stewards and scran time we went down to the dining room expecting a cafeteria and got faced with a 1st class dinning room complete with menu and waited on hand and foot by P&O stewards! What would you like off the menu?? ... after a week on Pussers hard tack ... start there and work down! Mac n' Cheese with mushrooms never tasted so good.
The kit never arrived ... the helo bringing it out had to ditch it somewhere over the Island as it got caught in an air attack so we got given a Pussers "survivor's kit" ... pair of 8's trousers and one of the old style blue cotton 8's shirts ... razor, soap and a comb!
Working on the wards I can remember the Agry POW's in bed with the covers up to their necks and I think the only word in English they knew was "bun" ... chefs cooked batches of rolls over night which came up top the ward in big trays first thing in the morning still warm and as soon as the smell hit them, heads appeared and all they could say was "bun! bun!".
Worked defense watches 6 on 6 off so the cabins were normally in permanent darkness as at least one of the inhabitants would be sleeping. Can remember the Welsh Guards being brought in off the Galahad and the smell of burnt flesh! Endless round of pain relief, changing dressings and antibiotics. Talking to a chief who had been blinded and describing everything around him (met him in Haslar later and he remembered my voice!).
One of the survey boats that was ferrying the wounded to Uruguay had blue flashing lights and a siren fitted on the bridge which they set off every time they came alongside - God only knows where they nicked them from!
When it was all over we got flown by Wasp onto the Hecate for the run North to Ascension ... hammocks in the forward survey hold straight into a force 10 ... not a good experience but 5 days out of FI got a signal that No 2 son had been born!
Ascension home was in a Tristar which was still in BA colours ... hardly anyone on it and we all had a bench to ourselves ... think I slept most the way back to Brize and bus home to Haslar!
Having pretty much no idea of what was going on ashore. We were told nothing.
How scared the argies were of us. They would lie in their beds with the covers pulled up and the pillow pulled down over their face so only their eyes showed. The lads would try and get the bandies to drop them when taking them to and from theatre.
How amazing our lads were. Always cheerful. Crawling around the ward to chat to their oppo, despite being flash burnt or missing limbs.
The smell. Blood and Flamazine.
Holding a grown man as he cries hysterically in my arms. He has had both his arms blown off and realises that he will never hold his kids in his arms again. ( A tough memory. There’s more to that but I can’t bring myself to write it down)
Feeding Simon Weston and helping to change his dressings. You’ve never seen anything like it in your life. I can still see and smell him now.
Coming home into Southampton, then a journey west to where in a few weeks time I was to celebrate my 18th birthday.
I have to say, much of it is a blur. Some things are as clear as if they happened yesterday. Most of it, I’ve no idea. I wish that I could go into as much detail as Ninja has elsewhere, but I just can’t remember.
For the first couple of days the Victors and the Vanquished lived together in a strange kind of harmony. While the British walked, the Argentines still drove. They still had their weapons. Their senior Officers still hogged the rooms at the Upland Goose.
Rapidly though, the relationship took a more traditional turn. The Argentines were disarmed and dispossed of their vehicles and hotel rooms. General Menendez and his senior staff were taken off to HMS FEARLESS until Argentina formally acknowledged defeat. Menendez wept when told he could not stay with his men. At the same time, it should be noted, his Officers in Stanley were allowed to keep their hand pistols as protection against their own troops.
The 500 or so residents of Stanley who had departed for the duration to the 'Camp' in the interior of the Island, began filtering back. By and large their clapboard homes had been undisturbed by the Argentines.
In London, meanwhile, there was a dawning realisation that , having regained the Island, they now faced having to Garrison them against further attack.
Argentine prisoners were brought to Stanley in groups, each having been searched, their weapons removed. the rule was that they could keep as much of their kit as they could carry. They were set to work for a day cleaning up their mess before being moved to the Jetty to be shipped out each evening.
Brigadier Julian Thompsons end of Battle message to his troops included the following lines quoted from Marlowes 'Tambourlane'
'I'll have you learn to sleep upon the ground,
March in your armour through watery fens,
Sustain the scorching heat and freezing cold,
Hunger and thirst, right adjuncts of the war,
And after that to scale a city wall,
Beseige a fort to undermine a town,
And make whole cities caper in the air.
Indeed, that was how the war had been won.
How it was to be celebrated was a different matter.
"Do not congratulate me Madam. I have lost some good friends" Major General Jeremy Moore recalled The Duke of Wellingtons quote.
156 Days after she left Portsmouth HMS Invincible returned to a tumultuous welcome. Price Andrew was aboard and His mother met him on her personal Barge which returned to HMS Dolphin where the Royal Helicopter was waiting on the Football pitch to fly them back home to Windsor.
In concluding this narrative I wish to remember all those lost during the conflict - as follows
These are my recollections from my time during the Falklands conflict, for those who may be interested. I was reluctant to post them here as my aim is to help those wishing to join rather than bore the life out of them or put them off, but I was asked nicely, so here goes:
The story jumps about a bit and is not necessarily in chronological order because they were sporadically typed and re-typed as they were recalled, thirty or more years after the event. Doubtless there are inaccuracies.
The memories are exclusively mine, the pictures aren’t, and they’re both as jumbled-up as they are in my brain.
I joined my first full sea draft, HMS Argonaut as it came out of extended refit in Devonport, in the first quarter of 1982. As ever there were teething issues but what we didn’t realise was; we would be returning her to Devonport within 3 months for another extensive refit for battle damage repair. After returning to UK we discovered the keel had bowed - damaged by the underwater blast of near-miss bombs that exploded in the water around us. The superstructure welds were splitting away from the deck due to the twisting action of the South Atlantic Ocean swell. We also found 20mm cannon holes on the underside of the propeller guards – damage that was not found whilst afloat.
I joined just in time to undertake FOST (Operational Sea Training) at Portland as the ship was becoming operational, once more. There was no bunk for me in the Stokers mess, so I was accommodated in the Gunners Mess initially (3EA Mess).
Around about this time we heard of the Argentinian scrap metal merchants' antics in South Georgia and eventually the invasion of the Falkland Islands. Like most people my age (19) I wasn’t particularly interested in the news, and like most of the population of Britain, I wondered why Argentina was invading somewhere in Scotland.
Quick as a flash, the buzz spread – we were going South to link-up with the initial task force which was diverted from Gibraltar. A weekend off, store ship in Devonport, then on our way.
It happened so fast, it didn’t really sink–in. My older brother came to the train station to see me on my way. It occurred to me that it must be something serious for my brother to accompany me to the station, we were quite close, but he’d never bothered previously. Maybe he had read the papers. I hadn’t.
Upon return to the ship, the mood was buoyant. There was an air of confidence and excitement. One of the Chefs had got married, rumour had it – to a prostitute. That seemed more significant than the Argentinian stuff at the time. Besides, the consensus was they would bugger-off once they knew we were on the way.
Argonaut and Ardent escorted 3 Commando Brigade & the Amphibious Group which included assault ships Fearless & Intrepid, RFA Stromness, Tidepool and ‘transport’ the passenger liner Canberra (later to be called the Great White Whale or the Rusty C) & MV Elk.
As we travelled South, with much imagined bravado the weather got warmer, the swell bigger.
Gradually we became more focused as we got nearer to Ascension Island. It all became very real on 2nd May when Belgrano was sunk, we heard it on the BBC World Service in stunned silence. That news tune became the theme tune of my experience and it still makes the hairs on my neck stand-up when I hear it today. It sounds like a bygone age now:
We knew there was no going back – we knew the Argentinians would retaliate – we thought by submarine attack. At the time, the general consensus was pity for the sailors who lost their lives. We knew there would be a lot of casualties. We rendezvoused with the initial task group at Ascension Island and joined HMS Ardent in anti-submarine duties around the anchorage – wasting several days chasing imaginary submarines that turned-out to be whales.
When Sheffield was hit by exocet, much as it was a devastating shock and a huge blow, it was not unexpected. The worry & frustration was not so much for ourselves but our families at home who we could not communicate with.
We continued South.
The day before the landings it was, so far as I remember a grey, overcast evening, a huge, rolling swell. As far as the eye could see, there were ships horizon to horizon. The carrier battle group and the amphibious task force looked huge. It looked like a second world war movie - my memory image of this particular night is still in monochrome funnily enough.
On the ship, we were briefed in watches in the junior rates dining hall, by the Captain. He had a map of the islands pinned to a board and described how the task force would steam initially toward Stanley. We were told the SBS & SAS would conduct a “son et lumiere” (his words) as a diversionary tactic, just South of Stanley. The task force would then split . We would jink right, then left, passing between the East and West islands into the amphibious landing area. Our job was to act as Anti-aircraft picket for the amphibious landings at San Carlos, or to make ourselves a target, as we later realised.
Our first enemy contact came early on 21st May, as we turned into Falkland Sound - an Aeromacchi aircraft 'bounced' us firing rockets & cannons, injuring the FDO (our Master at Arms, shot through the chest) and a couple of Gunners on the hangar roof (one lost an eye, the other had shrapnel through his heel). Due to a breakdown in comms the casualties were brought to the Forward Fire & Repair Party Post instead of the First Aid Post. It shames me to say we just stood their aghast at their injuries, frozen in shock, not knowing what to do initially. Eventually the first aid teams & POMA stabilised the guys & a helicopter was called in to evacuate the casualties ashore. The Master at Arms was eventually evacuated, I think, to Montevideo, extremely lucky to have survived.
The PWO(A) made a "sitrep" pipe announcing we had our first casualties, one of whom was the Master at Arms. A raucous cheer echoed around the ship.
Initially, it felt like we were winning. The PWO(A) kept an excellent running-commentary over the main broadcast. We appeared to be hammering the enemy aircraft.
Years later, I spoke with the Commanding Officer of HMS Fearless, now a retired Admiral. He said one of his lasting impressions of the conflict was Argonaut out in the sound steaming full ahead, firing at the aircraft, a huge white wake behind her. She disappeared behind several huge plumes of water, thrown-up by the bombs that exploded in the water around her and it seemed like an eternity before she re-emerged, unscathed, still firing from behind the descending spray, smoke and mist.
Obviously it was a bit different below decks. Those on the upper decks relayed back to us how the battle was going: "If you could see the amount of 'shit' we are throwing up at the aircraft, you would feel a lot more confident..." Inwardly, it didn't feel particularly positive.
The thing I learnt about fear is it is best left unspoken otherwise it is contagious - The stench of vomit hung in the air below decks - the smell of absolute fear.
When the first attack came in, the after seacat launchers, on the hangar roof were damaged together with 3 casualties caused by cannon fire. Below decks, you could hear the aircraft as the jets roared rapidly overhead and the Bofors firing in bursts of four leisurely, but staccato shots. It felt like we were fighting a modern war with out of date weapons.
The Gunners became the heroes of the day. When you pause to think, 200 Ships Company, but only a couple of dozen actually firing weapons & wire-guided missiles (which were more like rockets - too slow to catch out-flying aircraft). One of the killick Gunners was firing a GPMG and he followed the aircraft as it passed-overhead, lifting the weapon out of the mount. He managed to shoot away one of our whip aerials in his enthusiasm. We blamed the bad guys.
Argonaut claimed a shared hit on a Dagger with HMS Plymouth, and claimed to have downed a mirage and an aermacchi with seacat unaided on day one alone. That said, with literally hundreds of people pointing weapons in the same direction, it's without a doubt that many claimed hits were at least duplicated. The tally on the first day of the landings (21 May) over San Carlos, I remember hearing at the time, was 17 aircraft shot down.
One incident I remember hearing was that the flight-deck crew got rather jumpy after the first raid - completely understandable in my book. What didn't help however was the gunners tap-dancing on the deck of the hangar roof to simulate cannon-fire each time an aircraft passed close-by. Much to their delight, the flight deck crew could be seen diving for cover...until the penny dropped. A short, sharp "altercation" ensued.
One evening I had a walk around the upperdeck and was surprised how close we were to land. I thought the islands would just be a blip on each horizon - but there they were right in front of you - within easy swimming distance. You could even see the Royal Marines on the headlands digging-in and establishing defensive positions, should they be required.
As we walked around the decks there were dozens and dozens of spent metallic green-painted metal cartridge cases scattered about the decks. At first we thought they were left by our Gunners, but they were too big to be from hand-held firearms such as GPMGs and too small to be 40/60mm bofor cartridges. It then dawned on us - they were actually 20mm canon cartridge cases that poured out of the wings of Argentine aircraft as they overflew us, shooting at other targets ahead of them.
When the hit came-in, later that day, it happened just as the Casevac helicopter came to the hover to pick-up our injured, we had just passed a brew down to the lads in the Seacat Mag & dropped the hatch, settling back for a cup of tea. Listening to the Command Loop, huddled outside the Exocet Power Room, we could hear the Captain calling "Check" on the weapons systems and the Gunners screaming "They're Argies, they're Argies". The Captain came back - "I repeat: Check, Check..." boom!
The Captain got a DSO.
At the moment of the hit, my plastic mug of tea (two sugars) catapulted upwards as the deck whipped, so everyone got some. At the same time - we had isolated salt water to the heads, a galvanised steel bucket, brim-full of pee landed squarely on the head of one of the stokers. Unlucky.
Ever since that day, 21st May 1982, I've never drunk tea as my preferred hot beverage. Superstition? Maybe... But, I've not been bombed by an Argentine A4 Skyhawk since.
After the hit, there was a total steam failure & the diesel generators could not be started as the High Pressure air system was ruptured. We were in total darkness, two guys entered 3Ea Messdeck & extinguished a small fire. The first, a Killick Tiff, 'Stan', earned himself a mention in despatches.
Simultaneously two of us leaped into the pitch-black 3Ez messdeck, immediately aft, above the magazine, landing knee-deep in diesel fuel. My oppo started knocking the clips off the hatch to get to the lads below. I remember shouting "Indicator Test Plug!" The test plug in the magazine hatch was presumably blocked by debris as it indicated no difference in pressure. There was virtually zero visibility - thick white smoke, but no visible fire above the magazine. We knocked the clips back off the hatch & a solid column of fuel and water spewed about 4 foot upwards. We were in trouble. At the time we didn't realise the compartment was open to the sea & as the ship rolled & dipped in the sea the water level inside was equalising with that outside. Try as we might, working with just miners headlamps to help us see, we couldn't get into the magazine to rescue the guys in there. Later we found out they were pretty much killed the instant the bomb came through. We thought we were sinking & four of us stood on the hatch to close it & shore it up with 4"x 4" timber, helped by the Chippy. The water/diesel in the messdecks increased the ships loll, the force of the liquid actually ripping out bunk & locker fittings, making it lethal as they surged across the half-flooded compartment whilst we plugged splinter holes on the ships side
The bomb, underneath us, struck the full magazine, only four or five yards beneath our action station. The hydraulic pressure peeling the deck back, exploding a Seacat missile warhead in the hoist, killing the two sailors in the weapons handling team. The magazine was flooded by the dieso in the adjacent ruptured fuel tank, miraculously extinguishing the blaze. The bomb bounced off the starboard side of the magazine, exploding a case of 40/60 Bofor shells, then smashed through a row of Seacat missiles, shearing the warheads off, before coming to rest embedded in the side of the last missile in the row.
At the moment of the hit, a young Sub Lieutenant Morgan, ran from the bridge to the foc'sle as the ship ploughed full ahead toward Fanning Head, out of control because the engine & boiler room were evacuated. He slipped the anchor bringing us to a juddering halt. The same guy later dived in the flooded magazine to check whether the bomb had passed clean through – it hadn’t, it was lodged in the magazine. He also sighted the bodies. A very brave chap: he actually had to take off his diving set and pass it through the bomb entry holes first so he could swim after it The next 24 hours were spent trying to strip-out the messdecks whilst we were towed further into San Carlos Bay by a couple of Fearless's landing craft.
HMS Plymouth, our heroes of the hour amidst the action, that evening tied-up alongside us as we anchored, providing us with food and passing air lines to try and get a generator going. Immediately after the hit, Plymouth put herself between the aircraft & ourselves, throwing up a barrage of 4.5" shells, effectively stopping a coup de grâce.
Argonaut was silent, no power, no ventilation noise, battery lighting & you could hear each footfall echoing around the ship. Very eerie. Earlier, the damage repair patrol reported back to the section base, laughingly recounting catching an MEM(L) 'Spider' (name changed to protect the guilty), wearing a miners headlamp in the Switchboard, “reading an adult magazine”.
Several hours later, there was a "metallic hollow click" on the main broadcast, followed by a pause. To a man, we waited expectantly - was it going to be a "Sitrep?". Presumably internal comms had switched it onto battery back-up. A whispered, quizzical deep voice boomed around the ship in a stage whisper: "Spider?" *long pause*..."Spider... we're watching you" came the ominous mystery voice, echoing and hanging in the air.
Muffled pockets of laughter could be heard throughout the ship.
The 1000lb Boiler Room bomb hit the ship at the same time as the magazine bomb. My mattress (green cover) can be seen top right.
The ship was "Full Ahead" on both engines when the Skyhawks struck.
The aft bomb came through on the waterline, flooding the boiler room as the crew escaped. It took away the top of the Turbo alternator (generator), the high pressure air ringmain, split the engine-room/boiler room bulkhead,smashed the High Pressure saturated steam pipe & stopped the "blower" which was feeding air to the port boiler. The boiler imploded & exploded, the casings holding the boiler together. There was a total power failure, all lights were out, but the Chief Stoker managed to plug the hole using a sledgehammer & wooden wedges. It wasn't until the damage repair party shone a battery powered floodlight into the compartment that the Chief Stoker realised he was swinging a slegehammer whilst actually stood on top of the UXB.
The sheet aluminium tail section of the boiler room bomb had separated from the main charge. Later, several stokers cut bits off the sheet metal and made "bomb-shaped" highly polished pendants as mementos, about 2 to 3 cms long. I later ditched mine. Who'd want a bomb-shaped, bloody pendant anyway? I reasoned.
The bomb had the words "A present for Mother England" painted upon it (in Spanish).
Damaged SeaCat missiles in their GRP covers. Aluminium Bofor 40/60 ammo cases behind.
The UXB was lodged, nose first in a Seacat missile, submerged in diesel & could not be made safe.
The task of removal involved plugging the submerged entry hole, recovering the bodies, pumping out, removing the whole missiles, removing the damaged missiles, cutting holes above the bomb, securing the bomb & missile, then cutting a hole in the ships side to hoist it out & lower it into the sea. After that, weld the holes.
Snag is, the welding caused a huge fire because the explosive had leached out of the missiles.
Canteen Flat, looking forward. PO's mess door on the right.
Our action station was on the deck where the photograph was taken. I was number two (firefighter) fearnought-suitman in the for'd damage repair party, with two of the team in the PO's lounge.
When the bomb came in, the deck whipped, but the blast wasn’t felt. There were only minor fires in 3Ea messdeck & the magazine fire extinguished pretty much instantaneously as it flooded & burst the deck upward in 3Ez messdeck. The immediate area filled with thick white acrid smoke but the priority was to get to the source of the fire forward and get the guys out of the magazine aft. The remainder of the damage repair team moved aft whilst two guys extinguished the blaze with extinguishers and a 'dying firemain' as we experienced a total steam & power failure. The two of us who went down to the magazine hatch first, found ourselves leakstopping in firefighting gear - a novel concept. This was after we realised we couldn't get the weapons handlers out of the mag.
3Ea Messdeck after we had stripped-out the bunks and lockers. When the bomb entered the diesl tanks and magazine, the hydraulic pressure burst the decdk upward. The damaged bofor shells & seacat missile in the hoist partially exploded & caught light but it was instantaneously extinguished by the inrush of diesel fuel - an unorthodox way of extinguishing a fire.
The experts state that during an explosion you should open your mouth to equalise the pressure wave and protect your eyes - in reality you instinctively achieve this by screwing your eyes shut whilst screaming an expletive. Job done.
Initially the flooded magazine was open to the sea, the water level inside the ship raising and falling as she rode on the swell, still at ‘full ahead’.
We eventually got the Rover Gas Turbine Salvage pump onto the foc’sle (another later arriving by helicopter from Fearless), with the suction hose lowered two decks through the foc’sle hatch into the flooded magazine directly below. Whilst starting the pump, two of us were winding the turbine like crazy. The noise, perhaps not surprisingly, was like a jet engine, so we didn’t hear the pipe: “Air Raid Red”.
The next thing we saw was a Dagger aircraft no more than 50 foot directly above us flying belly-first on the apex of the arc of a sharp turn, afterburner screaming raw noise at us, empty spent cartridge shells spilling out and literally landing all around us as it cannoned another ship already in it’s sights. Two huge columns of water exploded upwards either side of the foc’sle , completely drenching us with icy water. The two bombs exploded underwater in a kind of stuttered “ba-boom” not 25 yards away on each side. The two of us stood gaping at each other, hair plastered on our heads, soaked through, unable to talk, thinking to myself: “Jeez, that was a bit close”. Jonah, my stoker oppo, on the other hand, was elated: “That was effing brilliant!” he mouthed with no audible sound.
As the whistling hiss of temporary deafness subsided we could hear an angry bloke shouting at us in the distance, getting closer. It was the Chief Stoker who had come up onto the soaked deck, kicking empty cartridge cases angrily out of his path, to find out why we hadn’t started the pump. “Effing stop loafing you two!” He uttered affectionately . Eventually we had two Rover Gas Turbine salvage pumps running in the hope we could pump out faster than the water was coming in, but all they were doing was recirculating the South Atlantic by drawing water through the 3 foot wide bomb entry hole and pumping it out again.
It took 40 hours, without sleep, to stabilise the effects of the damage & contain it fore and aft.
Argonaut anchored at San Carlos after the big hit. A sea king is bringing-in damage control equipment and the Royal Marines landing craft is delivering, welding equipment.
The next job was to plug the holes to the sea, remove as much fuel & water as possible, then hand over to the Fleet Clearance Diving team for the removal of the bomb. The shipwrights from Fearless came over to assist as we needed to cut an evacuation route in the deck of 3Ez mess , the PO's mess above then in the ship's side in the PO's mess. To cut the bomb route we had to strip the messdeck and PO's mess bare - the debris simply being 'float tested'.
Looking from the magazine through the burst bulkhead, into the fuel tanks - a series of holes marked the path of the bomb into the magazine. The hoses were used for the portable eductors for pumpung out.
We recovered the bodies of our comrades from the magazine as we began to pump out the magazine in earnest. They were placed in the paint shop right at the forward end of the ship, later handed over with due ceremony to HMS Plymouth, who did us the great honour of committing them to the deep.
There was a lot of anger and resentment on the lower decks regarding the loss of our shipmates and this flared-up particularly when we recovered the second body. One member of the ships company took it upon himself to "have a word" with the Captain. Perhaps fortunately, he stormed into the empty day cabin rather than the occupied night cabin and was intercepted by the POMA who was also Acting Master at Arms following the guys being shot-up on the flight deck on the day of the landings. Whether the Captain ever heard what was shouted about him I'll probably never know, but we hoped he did.
At the time of recovering our casualties, both our Hong-Kong Chinese laundrymen learned that in the event of an exocet attack, the tactic was to turn the port quarter of the ship to face the incoming missile, to minimise the target area and limit the operational damage potential. Bearing in mind, it this point, we had no fresh water available for things like washing clothes, so it was not vital that they remained in that zone during the daily Action Stations.
The laundry was in the port quarter and needless to say, the laundry staff were understandably perturbed about this. They began a search to find somewhere out of harms way. As luck didn't have it, as no-one had thought to tell the poor chaps, they stumbled into our temporary mortuary. Needless to say, if they were worried before, they were even more worried now.
The Boiler Room crew escaped into the Tech Office directly above, tripping the boilers as they exited whilst the Boiler Room was filled with steam from a burst steam pipe, smashed by the bomb & flooded through the hole in the ships side on the waterline. The Chefs in the Galley managed to haul the Stokers through the escape hatch. One of them was a big lad, who we had always joked wouldn't have fitted through an escape hatch - he did with a bit of steam propulsion to help him on his way, broiling his backside. Everyone in the vicinity swore they felt their ears pop as he emerged.
Later-on the divers took out the whole missiles one by one, whilst the repair party picked up the bits & pieces, rather gingerly and lobbed them overboard. When the divers finished for the day, the magazine was then deliberately re-flooded. The operation took nearly a week, during which we were strafed & bombed on several occasions.
Argonaut Bomb entry route through the ship's side below the waterline, into a diesel fuel tank, through a tank "baffle" and then through into the Seacat missile magazine, striking a missile in the hoist, crushing a couple of cases of 40/60mm Bofors shells, then smashing through a row of Seacats, killing the two guys in the weapons handling team. RIP Able Seaman Iain M. Boldy and Able Seaman Matthew J. Stuart (Killed on his 18th birthday).
Ship’s side (Right) with entry hole. Viewed from within the fuel tank looking aft through the entry route into the magazine.
As the Chippy (shipwright) was cutting a hole in the deck in the PO’s mess an aircraft again strafed us, fully visible through the large hole in the side of the mess. Not surprisingly the Chippy dived for cover but the welding torch set fire to the diesel film that covered everything. The fire took about an hour and a half to extinguish – on top of the diesel flooded magazine with a UXB & damaged missiles under the surface. Nice.
Fan Compartment (above) – one of several compartments gutted by the fire.
The firefighting team I was in had two hoses - a waterwall operator at the front, followed by the firefighter (me) and a team leader behind, driving the team forward. The "waterwall" is literally a flat disk of water emitting at 90 degrees from a fire hose to protect the fire-fighting team. The fire-fighter fires a jet (or more correctly "ragged spay") through the waterwall to extinguish the blaze. As we moved forward in the cramped passageway, the water-wall operator in the lead, was getting pretty hacked-off with me inadvertently bouncing the fire fighting jet of water off his head - I couldn't see him through the spray & smoke & thermal imaging cameras weren't used then. There was fire everywhere, with no discernible source. What we found out later was the explosive had leeched out of the missiles and the film of diesel covered the bulkheads – what we thought were salt crystals were actually explosive, hence the heat of the fire. The light fittings and cable insulation melted onto our heads as we moved forward. The only head protection we had was anti-flash, no comms in those days, the breathing apparatus (ICABA) lasted about 16 minutes, half that when you were breathing like a runaway locomotive with molten plastic dripping on your head. This was accompanied by bloody great blue flashes & resounding bangs as we passed each 440 volt transformer topped-up with water from the water-wall.
To round-off the “excitement” of a fire atop a diesel flooded missile magazine, as we passed the PO’s bunk-space advancing forward, a guy burst out of his section base dispersal point, completely disorientated, shouting rather excitedly, coughing and sputtering, but nonetheless rather pleased to see us. He made me jump out of my skin - wasn't expecting a loony. I grabbed him, pushed him behind us and shouted through the noise of the fire hoses “Follow our hoses out of the compartment”. We carried on. A few moments later he was back coughing and spluttering in my starboard lughole. Jeez, a 50-50 chance of following the fire-hoses in the right direction away from the big “orangey, flickery, hot thing” & he got it wrong! What a pain, can’t he see we’re bloody busy? Probably not. Passing my hose to the team leader, I squeezed past and encouraged him in the right direction literally kicking his butt time and again until he got through the smoke boundary door. Oddly, several years later, I met the guy again, whilst serving on HMS Boxer and he always thanked me profusely when the beer started flowing! Strange chap - my response being: “Anytime you want pointing in the right direction Vic, give me a shout, no worries”.
As I got back with the team, the whistles started sounding on the breathing apparatus and we began to withdraw as a team from aft arrived to take over. In those days, we only had about 8 BA sets & half a dozen spare air bottles. As I exited the door one of the officers, snatched my BA set, demanded a hot bottle change then decided to enter the smoke logged compartment by getting the upper-deck crews to lower him on a rope over the ships side, where he then swung through the hole cut into the ships’ side. As you do – doors weren't good enough for this bloke. His mission was to find out what was happening - he only needed to ask. To cap it off, he exited via the foc’sle hatch and went up to the bridge to debrief the Captain. Presumably, it ran along the lines of: “Erm lots of smoke & fire, sir. Very hot”
Oxy-acetylene bottles on the foc'sle of Argonaut for damage repair. A fire broke out under a pile of welding bottles on the deck, but as the water started boiling-off the deck, we picked them up wearing firesuit gloves and threw them overboard. Amongst the irreverent comments on the soot covered bulkhead were the words "The Titanic was never this good".
Around about this time we had a short visit from some Royal Marines SBS lads who had been in the thick of it. They were merely cross-decking and, now we had power restored, given the opportunity to have a hot shower and hot food by way of sustenance. They looked tired and one or two of them joined us for a smoke, a chance to relax a little. They didn't initially realise we still had a couple of unexploded bombs on board and were surprised how seemingly unperturbed we were about that state of affairs. "Worse things happen at sea, Royal" someone smiled. The special forces lads stated they felt they preferred being able to see the enemy and being able to shoot at them rather than stuck in a tin box, not knowing what was going on outside, with the chance of something crashing through the side at any moment. Until it was actually expressed, I hadn't thought of it this way, but they certainly had a valid point.
A day or so later the Chief Stoker decided he was going to have a play with a Ramset Gun to patch the waterline hole in the boiler room. The plan was to lower him over the ships side, on the end of a ‘man overboard’ strop, dressed in a diving suit, clutching an aluminium deck plate, which he was going to rivet over the entry hole with the Ramset explosive rivet Gun. In hindsight it is advised to use the smallest explosive cartridge first, rather than the biggest. As it was, a few rivets were blasted into the ship, clean through the deckplate & ships side and ricocheted, with a satisfying Cowboy Western movie “ping-ah” around the boiler room several times before the right sized charge was finally found. Enjoying himself, the loon with the ‘gun’ I could picture him tunelessly whistling the opening bars of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly after each ‘ker-bang-ping…ring-a-ding’:
“If an air attack comes in, Lads…” shouted the Chief Stoker, cheerily swinging on his bit of rope, looking upwards to the four of us holding onto him, the rope with a single turn on a cleat: “Just lower me gently into the water”. Next minute, the main broadcast crackled: “Air Raid Warning Red, Air Raid Warning Red” followed by a big splash about six feet beneath the place where the Chief Stoker had previously dangled. We closed the screen door, hammering on the clips to get a bit of steel between ourselves, a brace of incoming aircraft and an angry Chief Stoker.
The focus then shifted to removing the magazine bomb – still “live” with its nose wedged inside a Seacat missile. It was decided to get as many people off the ship as possible during this operation due to the very real risk of explosion
HMS Fearless landing craft, crewed by Royal Marines LC's and killick stoker – lifting-off Argonaut Ships Company.
HMS Fearless Landing craft lift off 75% of Argonaut crew, ferrying them onto HMS Fearless overnight, whilst the magazine bomb is removed from the forward magazine by the Fleet Clearance Diving Team. The remaining quarter of the ship's company (2nd of Port Watch) hoisted-the bomb in a series of pulleys from the flight-deck, whilst the bomb disposal team guided it through a series of holes cut through the ship by the Shipwrights from HMS Fearless. Two people had to stay below in the Boiler Room keeping the starboard boiler alive - the Petty Officer (Phil Phillips) &, as luck didn't have it, myself as a boiler-front stoker. A series of fuel chain tanks linked the boiler-room to the magazine, so if the bomb exploded, we probably wouldn't know much about it. Phil placed a couple of damage control wooden wedges on the deck. "What are they for?" I remember asking, puzzled. "Well, if that thing goes pop, they're my starting blocks- I want a head-start getting out of that hatch before you" smiled Phil reassuringly.
As the bomb was hoisted, the main broadcast (tannoy) was used to control the hoisting team. As it was lowered onto the waterline and the announcement made "Bomb on the water" a 'scare charge' (an explosive 14oz charge similar to a hand-grenade, but twice the size) exploded suddenly, very close by - they were used to deter attack divers planting limpet mines etc. Of a night, all ships protecting the beach head anchored in San Carlos (because the air threat of a night was diminished & limited to inaccurate high level bombing by Argentine Canberra aircraft) & we were potentially vulnerable to attack from divers. I beat Phil to the top of the hatch - no problem.
Meanwhile, whilst we looked inward, licking our wounds, all around us, reports were coming in of other ships being hit. News coming-in wasn’t good. We were losing, it felt.
Ardent, seriously damaged after being struck by several bombs, started to recover but was struck again. We could only watch helplessly whilst HMS Yarmouth went to her aid (pictured).
An aircraft dropping a bomb on Antelope clipped the main mast of Antelope and crashed (I think).
We went up on deck to watch Antelope steam silently into the anchorage, mast askew, black smudge on the ships’ side where the bomb had entered, killing a member of the ships company, but not exploding. Yet. We clapped and cheered her as she anchored-up awaiting the arrival of the Army bomb disposal team.
01:52 Antelope enters the anchorage, 02:16 Antelope SeaCat magazine explodes.
The 500lb bomb detonated whilst being defused by Staff Sergeant Jim Prescott CGM (RIP) Royal Engineers, who had defused Argonaut's boiler room bomb a few days days earlier. Agonaut’s boiler room bomb, after being rendered safe, was man-handled to the flight-deck. Eventually being rolled over the side after coming close to being hit by cannon fire once too often.
The fire on Antelope, following the initial explosion raged all night. We were anchored quite close, still crippled. The Royal Marines again came to our aid in their landing-craft and towed us to about 400 yards away from the blazing ship. They then went on to help lift off the crew from Antelope when the order was given to abandon. Argonauts whaler seaboat lifted-off about 21 of Antelopes crew. Eventuality the seacat magazine exploded and the ship broke in two, sinking the next day.
Antelope - UXB detonates setting fire to the ship. Eventually the Seacat magazine explodes in this well-known picture (it's not the bomb, it's the missiles in the magazine exploding), 400 yards from Argonaut (Still with a 1000lb UXB lodged in our Seacat magazine...). Argonaut actually juddered as the explosive pulse rippled through the water
HMS Antelope the morning after the magazine exploded, before breaking in two, bow & stern upward. Viewed from flightdeck on HMS Argonaut