• Mark Kahn

H.M.S. Coventry and Atlantic Conveyor - the Falklands War


Remembering The Fallen: On this day in 1982, the Type 42 destroyer, HMS Coventry, and the container ship, Atlantic Conveyor, were both sunk in the Falklands War. This day was one of the blackest days for the Task Force and an all-out onslaught was expected by the Argentine Air Force. This day was also Argentina’s independence day. Following the landings at San Carlos on 21 May and having endured several air attacks, the British decided they needed to have earlier warning of incoming raids. HMS Coventry was teamed up with the Type 22 frigate, HMS Broadsword to do this. They were deployed close to Pebble Island to the north of Falkland Sound, the stretch of water separating East and West Falkland. They were also to act as a decoy and draw any attacking Argentine aircraft away from the other ships in San Carlos Bay. At first it seemed to work. Two A-4 Skyhawks were shot down earlier in the day by Sea Dart missiles attributed to the Coventry. The two ships then came under attack from four more A-4 Skyhawks that attacked in two waves. They all flew so low the Coventry’s radar could not detect them. Of the bombs released by the first two, one bounced off the sea, went straight through the Broadsword’s flight deck without exploding, although it did destroy her Lynx helicopter. The second pair of A-4 Skyhawks went straight for the Coventry. The Broadsword by this time had reset her radar and was ready to engage the attackers. However, the Coventry at the last minute taking evasive action changed direction which brought her into the Broadsword’s line of fire which prevented her from firing at the attackers. Seconds later the Coventry was hit by three bombs, two of which exploded on impact, bringing flood and fire to the hapless destroyer. She sunk within half an hour with the loss of 19 men. Another crew member, Paul Mills, died of his injuries less than a year later. HMS Coventry, pennant number D118, was the fourth ship of the Type 42 Class of destroyers. She was laid down at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead in 1973, launched in 1974 and commissioned in 1978. Like her sister ship, Sheffield, that had been sunk three weeks before, she and her crew also established close links with her namesake city. The Coventry’s contribution to the campaign in the South Atlantic was considerable. She was the first ship to use the Sea Dart surface-to-air missile in anger. Her Lynx helicopter was also the first to use the new Sea Skua sea-skimming missile in anger when on 3 May 1982 it attacked and damaged an Argentine patrol vessel that had entered the Total Exclusion Zone. The other ship to be hit on that day was the container ship, Atlantic Conveyor, owned by Cunard and registered in Liverpool. She’d been requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to carry extra RAF Harrier and Royal Navy Sea Harrier jump jets, Chinook and Wessex helicopters for the Task Force. On this day, she was hit by two air launched Exocet sea-skimming missiles (the same weapon that destroyed the Sheffield) causing fires to break out that became uncontrollable and causing the ship to be abandoned. Fortunately, all the Harriers and Sea Harriers had already joined their squadrons on the two aircraft carriers with the task force. Unfortunately, all the helicopters, except one Chinook, had been destroyed. This was the most significant logistical loss as it meant the British troops would no longer have the crucial air transport they needed. Instead they would have to march from one side of East Falkland to the other to recapture the capital, Port Stanley. Whilst under tow, the Atlantic Conveyor sank three days later, with the loss of 12 men, including her master, Captain Ian North. Of these, six were from the Merchant Navy, three from the Royal Navy and three from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Today we remember:

From HMS Coventry:

(The first four named are shown on the top row in the photo, left to right)

Acting Weapons Engineering Mechanic (Radio) 1 J K Dobson Weapons Engineering Mechanic (Ordnance) 1 I P Hall Marine Engineering Mechanic (Mechanical) 2 S Tonkin Marine Engineering Artificer (Mechanical) 1 P B Callus Marine Engineering Mechanic (Mechanical) 1 F O Armes Acting Chief Weapons Engineering Artificer J D L Caddy Acting Petty Officer Catering Accountant S R Dawson Petty Officer (Sonar) M G Fowler Lieutenant R R Heath Laundryman B K Kye P Mills (died of his injuries a year later) Acting Weapons Engineering Mechanician 1 D J A Ozbirn Lieutenant Commander G S Robinson-Moltke Leading Radio Operator (Warfare) B J Still Marine Engineering Artificer 2 G L J Stockwell Acting Weapons Engineering Artificer 1 D A Strickland Able Seaman (Electronic Warfare) A D Sunderland Acting Cook I Turnbull Acting Weapons Engineering Artificer 2 P P White Weapons Engineering Artificer (Apprentice) I R Williams Si vis pacem, para bellum.

From Atlantic Conveyor:

(The first four named are shown on the bottom row in the photo, left to right)

Captain I North, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Radio Officer R Hoole Air Engineering Mechanic (Radio) 1 A J Anslow Leading Air Engineering Mechanic (Electrical) 1 D Pryce Seaman C S Chan Bosun J B Dobson Chief Petty Officer Writer E Flanagan Mechanic F Foulkes Steward D R S Hawkins Mechanic J Hughes Seaman P Ng Mechanic E N Vickers The Atlantic Conveyor was the first British merchant ship to be lost at sea due to enemy action since the Second World War.

O hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea.

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