The Falklands War.

Ninja_Stoker

War Hero
Moderator

Argonaut ablaze.

The fire lasted about an hour and a half. The forward bomb evacuation hole, a rectangle cut into the Petty Officer’s Mess, can be seen just underneath the Exocet mounting, with fire-hoses draped down the ships’ side. The First Lieutenant climbed down a rope on the outside of the ship and swung himself into the PO’s mess to assess the blaze. Just forward of the Exocet, the SeaCat missile launcher can be seen with two live missiles nearside.

Just aft of the exocets, I think that's actually me, opening the foc'sle hatch so we could see what we were doing below decks. We then lifted the blisteringly hot oxygen & acetylene welding bottles stored on the focs'le and rolled them over the side.



After opening the foc'sle hatch, the ship was enveloped in smoke. In retrospect, not such a good idea.
 

Ninja_Stoker

War Hero
Moderator

Victory markings on an Argentine Skyhawk for the sinking of 3 British warships during the 1982 Falklands War, the Argonaut, Antelope, and Ardent. Except Argonaut wasn't sunk.
 

Ninja_Stoker

War Hero
Moderator
Back to "normality".

We eventually got steam up in the unaffected starboard boiler and were able to steam out toward the repair ship, Stena Seaspread, outside the TEZ, to the East of the islands. Frankly, they were brilliant. They could not do enough to help. The ship's company (crew) were largely RN and they were staggered by the damage and frustrated they were not fighting also. Had they asked at the time, I'd happily have offered a swap draft.

Eventually we started steaming North toward Ascension Island and home. The war still had a week or so to run, but the daily air threat to shipping was gone, or so we thought. We had steamed East a long way, out of the reach of the aircraft. One evening we were unexpectedly called to action stations at the rush - that sound of the main broadcast alarm still bloody haunts me as it jars on my nerves, casting my mind back. That, and the pervasive smell of diesel fuel. We had spent days wading around in the stuff and I swear it actually gets absorbed into your skin. I could still smell it after I got home for several days, no matter how much I washed.

The main broadcast crackled to life: "Air Red Red, Air Raid Red". We trudged rather than ran, utterly dejected after thinking we had finally, finally escaped with our lives. We hadn't. This was it. People could be heard retching with fear again. "Agave radar detected, sixty miles, closing from the West". No-one spoke, we didn't need to. We knew - Exocet. The ship went into a juddering turn to place the port beam toward the threat, we leant over with the ship, much as if riding pillion on a motorcycle sidecar, leaning the other way - getting the weight over the imaginary wheel. Odd that, never really thought about it, but you do just that on a ship at speed.

Then, completely unexpectedly, "Target splashed". The relief was phenomenal. Disbelief, dumbstruck, instant joy. Beer was needed.

What actually happened, I cannot fully recall, but believe the Etendard aircraft popped up for a radar sweep to acquire a target and a Type 21 frigate (Arrow?) was almost underneath, had the presence and speed of reaction to fire off a 4.5" shell, hit the target, the next round jamming in the breach. Jammy or what?

After that, we continued to arc North. One thing I do recall was the report - HMS Plymouth hit by several bombs. To a man, we wanted to go back to assist. Plymouth were our saviours, we owed them one. As it happened help was closer to hand so we continued North reluctantly.

Next thing to happen to me was better than winning a million pound lottery and luckier than being only a few yards from a bomb that should have killed many of of us...about a quarter of us had our names drawn out of a hat as we approached Ascension. We were being flown home! Advance leave party, with only a day's notice. It hadn't even occurred to me but the ticket was priceless.



We disembarked on a mexifloat, blinking in the tropical sun, just a grip permitted for baggage. It was unreal. The VC10 also had some of the casualties from HMS Sheffield and Coventry, who were already on the aircraft.

On the flight, a group of us from the North had decided we would hire a minibus between us so we could get home. Obviously there was no communication with home, so we would arrive unannounced at 02:00 at RAF Brize Norton, have a kip until the car hire shop opened and be on our way in the morning.



A cheer went up as we landed and the pilot announced they hadn't missed the runway this time. We taxied toward the terminal, dead of night. The casualties were taken off first. In the building there were people, lots of people. Hundreds of people waving and cheering, cameras flashing. What?! It's 2am, no-one knows we are coming home.

As we entered the building, the base commander welcomed us all back in the terminal and said those fateful words "As far as I'm concerned, you've now cleared customs, lads". There was a resounding "bastard" muttered in unison. The Naval Regulators had warned us all not to buy any booze at Ascension as it would be confiscated upon arrival. The RAF, bless 'em, couldn't have cared less. Bugger. Seen off.

The group of Northerners got our bags and huddled together ready to make our exit through the waiting crowds and find somewhere to wait for the Hire place to open. The crowds would've been for the casualties, and rightly so.

Wrong. As we entered the arrivals hall, one by one the lads saw people they knew and peeled-off. And there, stood in front of me, unbelievably, was my Mum, tears streaming down her face. All she had seen up to that point were casualties, bless her, and I wasn't one of them.
 
A great read NJ. My relief on Coventry, Phil Fisher, had flash burns when she was hit. But I didn't find out until the local press did a story about survivors leaving Haslar in a White Rolls Royce. Being a Gunner and an NBCD(Q) I really don't know how I would have reacted, but you guys delivered. R.I.P. to all those who are still on patrol.
 
A great read NJ. My relief on Coventry, Phil Fisher, had flash burns when she was hit. But I didn't find out until the local press did a story about survivors leaving Haslar in a White Rolls Royce. Being a Gunner and an NBCD(Q) I really don't know how I would have reacted, but you guys delivered. R.I.P. to all those who are still on patrol.
Flash burns were the most odd thing to see. If they had been wearing it properly, then you had a kind of mask of purple raised skin on their face. It changed shape depending on whether they had put their 'nosebags' down or even relaxed anti flash completely. Many had also taken their gloves off and their hands were burnt.

Men shuffling along dark corridors like zombies. Hands covered in plastic bags, with fluid and white cream sloshing around inside, held out in front of them. Faces smeared in white cream to ease the burns and to help them heal. :(

Funny what jogs your memory
 
Flash burns were the most odd thing to see. If they had been wearing it properly, then you had a kind of mask of purple raised skin on their face. It changed shape depending on whether they had put their 'nosebags' down or even relaxed anti flash completely. Many had also taken their gloves off and their hands were burnt.

Men shuffling along dark corridors like zombies. Hands covered in plastic bags, with fluid and white cream sloshing around inside, held out in front of them. Faces smeared in white cream to ease the burns and to help them heal. :(

Funny what jogs your memory
Don't know about jogging memory ... the smell never goes away!
 

Ninja_Stoker

War Hero
Moderator
Just to add as a postscript, the following auction house descriptions make for interesting reading.

Our Chief Stoker was awarded the DSM which was later sold as a medal group for £65,000 at auction: https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/catalogue-archive/lot.php?department=Medals&lot_id=210073

The two Army chaps that defused Argonaut's Boiler Room Bomb, were awarded a CGM (posthumous) and DSC after moving on to the ill-fated Antelope the next day. The medal groups were sold for £95,000 and £120,000 respectively:

https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/catalogue-archive/lot.php?department=Medals&lot_id=210072
https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/catalogue-archive/lot.php?department=Medals&lot_id=213656

Overall it illustrates the rarity of the awards issued in a conflict that lasted just 74 days.
 

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