New book coming out, focusing on the Ships that sunk.


This looks like a promising read, looking at the sinks, the hows and whys, hopefully with detail.

On my list to get.

When Argentinian forces invaded the Falklands in April 1982, the British government responded by despatching a task force to the Atlantic to wrest back control of the islands. The resulting war saw modern weapon systems tested in combat for the first time, to tragic effect. In the aftermath, official documents were released, but many were heavily censored, and others withheld altogether, so that a full understanding of those events could not be gained. Drawing from recently declassified and previously unpublished reports from the official inquiry, Dr Paul Brown details the true story behind the dramatic events that led to the loss of six British ships - HMS Antelope, Ardent, Coventry and Sheffield, RFA Sir Galahad and SS Atlantic Conveyor - as well as the controversial sinking of the Argentinian cruiser ARA General Belgrano by HMS Conqueror.


Sounds promising. I assume that it will cover some of the things like the needs for a naval task group to have air defence - probably organic, with Airborne Early Warning, and for exercises involving using carrier based aircraft as a task group weapon to be regular events.


I used a summary of this book, and an old BBC Horizon documentary from YouTube to start a thread dedicated to the technical aspects of the ship losses in 1982 - including things like the need for Airborne Early Warning, exercises using fighters as task group weapons, better radars, CIWS and so on. However, it was hijacked by a certain poster.

Old BBC documentary about the defence of the Falklands task group - technical aspects


BTW the summary was from here.

ARA Belgrano

Like all the subsequent chapters of the book, the descriptions of what it is like to be on a ship after being hit can be distressing but the stories are mixed with uplifting stories of bravery and selflessness. The book further lays to rest the disingenuous accusations that the Belgrano posed no threat to the Task Force at the time but was ordered to be sunk so “Mrs Thatcher could have her war”. Her Captain, Héctor Bonzo, an honourable man, always accepted that his ship was fair game and was part of a plan to attack the British fleet. Further reading: Sink the Belgrano, by Mike Rossiter, Secrets of the Conqueror by Stuart Preeble (2013) and Hunter Killers, by Iain Ballantyne (2014).

HMS Sheffield

The crew of HMS Sheffield have faced strong criticisms over inaction and lack of preparedness by the BOI, Paul Brown and others. Things certainly did go wrong, performance was not as it might have been but there were big flaws in the Type 42 destroyers that were not the fault of their crews. As we wrote when the full BOI was published in 2017, Unless you were aboard HMS Sheffield between 14.00 and 14.04 on 4th May 1982, you can never know precisely what happened or what it felt like to be on the spot. Despite the supposedly reliable evidence of the board of enquiry, we should exercise caution when passing quick judgments on the actions of men on the frontline decades ago. The Shiny Shef was the first British ship to take a serious hit and lessons were rapidly learned. Further reading: One Hundred Days, Sandy Woodward (2012).

HMS Ardent

Like HMS Sheffield, HMS Ardent was poorly equipped for her task and but her loss demonstrated the crew’s courage under sustained attack. The most dubious claim repeated in Brown’s book is that Ardent could have been saved, despite a significant list and major fires, the crew did not make a thorough enough examination of the leaks in her hull. This smacks of a theoretical classroom exercise and fine margins at best, not a real-world scenario taking into account the state of traumatised crew and a heavily damaged and burning ship that had taken multiple bomb hits. The story is vividly described from a more personal perspective in Through Fire and Water by Mark Higgit (2007).

HMS Antelope

The chapter on HMS Antelope’s short war is perhaps where there is most really new material. It reveals that she was rather poorly prepared to be sent South with persistent unresolved weapons defects and a lacking adequate operational sea training time. After initially being employed on escort duties away from the main action, the ship was not especially well prepared or equipped for the rigours of San Carols (‘bomb alley’) and officers were heavily criticised by the Board of Inquiry for their actions after being hit by bombs that did not explode. However none were accused of negligence, the CO Captain Nick Tobin was awarded the DSC for exemplary leadership and courage, Commodore Clapp described the ship’s company as “a superbly motivated and gallant crew”. The Army bomb disposal effort was extremely brave but encountered problems that were poorly communicated and outside help should have been sought which might have avoided the bomb detonating and killing one of the EOD personnel.

HMS Coventry

The sinking of HMS Coventry is a more complex story than the previous losses. The ship had been well prepared and had already proved herself in action, shooting down aircraft as she was designed to do. She had taken up an exposed position and in company with HMS Broadsword were acting as a ‘missile trap’. The Sea Wolf of HMS Broadsword was intended to provide close-in defence while Coventry’s Sea Dart would take out aircraft at longer range. The trap was initially effective but in the heat of battle, manoeuvring mistakes put Coventry across Broadsword’s weapons arc, allowing the attacking aircraft to get in close and hit the ship with at least 3 bombs. Arguably the RN needed an air defence destroyer with both point defence and area air defence missiles on a single hull (ultimately achieved in the Type 45 design). [Sea] Harrier jets that could have intercepted the attackers were also hauled off by Coventry due to over-confidence in missile systems. Coventry’s war is brilliantly described in a personal and more detailed way in Four Weeks in May by her captain, David Hart-Dyke (2007)

SS/MV Atlantic Conveyor

The loss of MV Atlantic Conveyor, a large merchant ship hastily converted for use as a stores and aircraft transporter, to Exocet missiles has proved controversial over the years. It is hard to agree with Brown’s conclusions as he makes too much of her lack of chaff and self-defence weapons and a communications failure that might have allowed her to turn her stern protected by a tough steel ramp to the direction of the incoming missiles. Furthermore many believe she was deliberately placed as a sacrificial screen for the aircraft carriers. The conversion of the ship in 10 days did not allow time for military communications, decoys and weapons to be fitted and a crew suitably trained and worked up. Such a delay would have prevented her from playing her most vital role – delivering Harrier reinforcements to the task force. Even if she had received chaff launchers it is doubtful they would have seduced missiles away from such a large target and the plan to align her stern precisely with an incoming missile seems optimistic.

RFA Sir Galahad

The destruction of RFA Sir Galahad (and severe damage to RFA Sir Tristram) is a classic example of the fog of war when a whole series of small mistakes combined together lead to disaster. Paul Brown does a good job describing the inter-related events and decisions that led up to the attack. There is no single culprit to blame but it is an object lesson on the need for clarity of command structures, communications and discipline between multiple formations and services in action together. The aftermath of the attack on Sir Galahad was particularly harrowing but many heroic and selfless actions followed. The full context of why two virtually unarmed auxiliaries ended up in a forward position without air cover is explored more fully in Amphibious Assault Falklands by Mike Clapp and Ewen Southby-Tailyour (2012).

As for the documentary: