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PRELIMINARY BRITISH OPERATIONS (Parts 20-30)

Part 26. HMS SHEFFIELD SUNK

WEEK SIX, Falkland Area Operations 3rd-9th May 1982

RFA's Fort Grange and Fort Austin

on to 27. 5th Infantry Bde sails on QE2

 

Summary of Main Events

CVBG - CV Hermes, Invincible; DD Glamorgan, Coventry, Glasgow; FR Alacrity, Arrow, Brilliant, Broadsword, Yarmouth; RFA Fort Austin, Olmeda, Resource; with SBS and SAS

1. Argentine patrol ship Alferez Sobral damaged 70 miles north of East Falkland island (3rd)
2.
Argentine aircraft lost near Stanley - [a11] Aermacchi MB-339A (3rd), [a12] PNA Skyvan(3rd/4th)
3. 'Black Buck 2' - second Vulcan raid on Stanley (4th)
4. Two Super Etendards launch Exocet (4th)
at:
5. SHEFFIELD hit at 52S, 57 (4th) , sank at 53S, 57W on 10th
6. British aircraft lost at Goose Green - [b4] Sea Harrier (4th)
7. British aircraft lost at 53S, 57W - [b5, b6] Sea Harriers (6th)
TEZ - extended to within 12 miles of Argentine coast from Friday 7th May
8. Argentine intelligence trawler Narwhal damaged 60 miles SE of Stanley (9th) and later sank
9. Argentine aircraft lost off South Jason Island - [a13,a14] Skyhawks (9th)
10. Argentine aircraft lost at mouth of Choiseul Sound - [a15] Army Puma (9th)


 

Midnight on Sunday 2nd as patrol vessel "Alferez Sobral" searched for the crew of the downed Canberra [a8] to the north of the Falklands, she was detected by a No.826 Sea King. Fired on, the helicopter called for help and from a range of eight miles, "Coventry's" Lynx fired two of the new Sea Skua missiles, followed shortly by two more from "Glasgow's" Lynx. Badly damaged and with eight crew dead, the "Sobral" was escorted into Puerto Deseado two days later, but the Canberra's crew was never found. Later in the day one of two MB-339A's of CANA 1 Esc returning to Stanley from a patrol to the south east, crashed in bad weather near the airfield killing the pilot [a11], and that night, a PNA Skyvan [a12] at the airfield was badly damaged in another bombardment by "Glamorgan", "Alacrity" and "Arrow". Then early on Tuesday morning, the same Vulcan as before attacked the runway in "Black Buck 2".

With the Argentine Navy's return to port, the British Task Force established control of the surrounding seas, but it would be weeks before air supremacy was achieved. As a foretaste of events, the first ships and aircraft were lost in combat on Tuesday 4th. Most of the TF.79 ships were returning to port by Tuesday and "25 de Mayo" disembarked her aircraft. Although submarine "San Luis" stayed out a few more days, the rest of the Navy kept well clear of the British nuclear subs. However to the south of the Falklands a number of ships joined in the search for "Belgrano's" survivors with most of them returning on Wednesday. Then to confirm control of the seas, Britain extended the TEZ on Friday and warned Argentina that any warships or military aircraft found more than 12 miles from their coast were liable to attack.

By late Tuesday morning (4th) the CVBG was 70 miles to the south east of Stanley. Aware of the Exocet threat, frigates "Brilliant" and "Broadsword" with their point defence Sea Wolf stayed in close to the carriers. Near them was a screen of three RFA's, further out a second one of "Glamorgan" and three more frigates, and then twenty miles ahead, the three type 42's including "Sheffield" with their high altitude Sea Darts. Finally towards the Falklands, Sea Harriers of No.801 flew CAP and at this time investigated a number of possible air contacts. efore then a CANA Neptune had picked up the ships by radar and two Super Etendards of 2 Esc took off from Rio Grande each armed with an Exocet AM.39. Refuelled by a Grupo 1 Hercules, they flew in at low altitude, popped-up for a radar check and released the missiles from 20 to 30 miles. One of the Exocet may just have missed "Yarmouth", but the other slammed with hardly any warning into "Sheffield" soon after 11.00 am. Hitting amidships, the warhead did not explode, but the impact and unused fuel started uncontrollable fires. Badly damaged and with little power, frigate "Arrow" soon came alongside to assist and "Yarmouth" stood by. Captain Salt's crew fought gallantly to save their ship, but with 20 men dead, the order to abandon was given that afternoon. With the wounded already on board "Hermes", "Arrow" took off most of the 260 survivors and "Sheffield" drifted for four days until "Yarmouth" was ordered to pull her clear of the TEZ. Taken in tow by Sunday, "SHEFFIELD" finally sank next day not too many miles from where she was hit. The survivors later returned to Ascension on tanker "British Esk".

Shortly after "Sheffield" was hit, three No.800 Sea Harriers from "Hermes" attacked Goose Green airstrip with CBU's and retard bombs. Little damage was done, but one aircraft was hit by Skyguard-directed 35mm Oerlikon fire and crashed killing the pilot [b4]. With the threat from Exocet, the carriers now moved further away from Stanley, and there was little activity over the next few days, but that did not prevent further losses. On Thursday morning (6th), two No.801 Sea Harriers on CAP were sent to check a radar contact and just disappeared without trace after presumably colliding in the poor visibility [b5,b6]. With the carriers down to 17 Harriers, their next action took place Sunday morning (9th) when two No.800 aircraft left "Hermes" to bomb Stanley. Stopped by cloud cover, they detected intelligence trawler "Narwal" on the way back and were given permission to attack by control ship "Coventry". Strafing failed to stop her and the high-altitude fuzed bombs were dropped, one of which hit without exploding. With the trawler at a standstill, Nos.820 and 846 Sea Kings flew an SBS party some 150 miles to capture her, but before arriving, two more No.800 Sea Harriers attacked and further damaged "NARWAL" with cannon fire. The SBS boarding went ahead, but next day she sank in tow with one crewman dead.

Returning to Saturday evening, and with the Task Force back on the offensive, frigate "Alacrity" bombarded the Stanley area as "Brilliant" and her Lynx entered the north end of Falkland Sound to intercept any supply ships. Meanwhile "Coventry" and "Broadsword" had moved closer to Stanley with the unenviable job of tempting out Argentine aircraft. Late Sunday morning, "Coventry" fired three Sea Darts at distant aircraft, including a Hercules on a supply run to Stanley, and apparently missed. However around this time, two Grupo 4 Skyhawks were lost [a13,a14]. They may have been hit by the Sea Darts or alternatively crashed in low visibility on their way to attack the two ships. Whatever the case, one of them was later found on South Jason Island. Then in the afternoon, as an Army Puma headed out over Choiseul Sound to search for "Narwal", another Sea Dart fired at extreme range brought her down with the loss of all on board [a15].

 British Gallantry Awards included:

HMS Sheffield - rescue work
Lt Cmdr J S Woodhead (post DSC) RN
PO MEM(M) D R Briggs (post DSM)
PO Medical Asst G A Meager (QGM)

 
 
     
Captain L E Middleton RN,
commanding officer, HMS Hermes
(both Courtesy - RNAS Yeovilton
  Lieutenant Commander A D Auld RN,
commanding officer No 800 NAS,
embarked on HMS Hermes
     
     

 Argentine Super Etendards firing Exocet on 4th May

 

 HMS Coventry firing Sea Dart at the Argentine Puma,
shot down over Choiseul Sound

from the Art of Daniel Bechennec

 
 
 

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