Remembering The Fallen: On this day in 1982, HMS Antelope, a Type 21 frigate, became the third warship to be lost in the Falklands War.
HMS Antelope had been on air defence duty at the entrance to San Carlos Bay to protect the beachhead that had been established two days previously when she was attacked by four A4 Skyhawks of the Argentine Air Force. She was hit by two bombs, both of which failed to explode. The ship’s Commanding Officer, Commander Nick Tobin, decided to seek the safety of San Carlos Bay and then summon the help of the Royal Engineers to defuse the two unexploded bombs lodged on board. When she came limping into the bay, it was obvious she’d been damaged. Her mast had been bent over at angle from where one of the attacking planes had clipped it.
After darkness fell, two Royal Engineers, Staff Sergeant James Prescott and Warrant Officer John Phillips were still on board trying to defuse one of the bombs. Three previous attempts to defuse it had failed. The other unexploded bomb could not be accessed because of wreckage. In the meantime, helicopters probed the darkness around the Antelope searching for men in the water or on the deck.
A fourth attempt to defuse the bomb using a small explosive charge actually caused it to detonate, sending a huge fireball into the night sky. The explosion was one of the most iconic and dramatic images of the conflict and is often used in histories of the event. Staff Sergeant Prescott was killed instantly and his disposal partner, Warrant Officer Phillips lost an arm.
The explosion tore a huge hole in the ship’s starboard side from the waterline to the funnel, in effect opening her up like a tin can. The blast started major fires in the engine rooms which very quickly spread out of control. She lost her starboard fire main and all electrical power. Commander Tobin gave the order to abandon ship. The ship continued to burn and explode throughout the night. The following day she was still smouldering but mangled beyond salvation. She eventually broke her back and sank. One crewman was lost, along with the member of the Royal Engineers who tried to defuse the bomb.
Today, we remember:
Steward Mark Stephens of HMS Antelope (on the left in the photo)
Staff Sergeant James Prescott of 49 Squadron Royal Engineers (on the right in the photo)
Staff Sergeant Prescott was posthumously awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the only one awarded during this conflict. Warrant Officer Phillips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
HMS Antelope, pennant number F170, was the second of eight Type 21 frigates for the Royal Navy. She was laid down at Vosper Thorneycroft in Southampton in 1971, launched in 1972 and commissioned in 1975. She was also part of the Silver Jubilee Fleet Review in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The motto of the ship was ‘Audax et vigilans’ which translated means ‘Daring and watchful’.
O hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea. Si vis pacem, para bellum.