28.06.22 The Clerk

A Falklands update – the final chapter

The Argentine Forces occupying the Falkland Islands surrendered to the British Land Force on 14th June 1982. As the white flags were appearing over Port Stanley HMS PLYMOUTH was steaming at speed towards the capital in company with three other warships. Their magazines were full of 4.5-inch ammunition and, under the tactical command of Captain David Pentreath, CO of the PLYMOUTH, their orders were to support the Land Force as it made its final assault on Stanley.

As you will read in Rear Admiral Henderson’s speech, reproduced elsewhere in this edition, the Ship’s Company of HMS PLYMOUTH greeted the news at first with a sense of dismay quickly followed by a strong sense of relief. Dismay that the PLYMOUTH would not “get her own back” for the significant damage sustained in an Argentine air attack on 8th June but relief that no-one else would have to die and that “it was all over”.

The shooting may have been over but the consequences of the short, sharp conflict would take years to recede, and of course with Argentina still claiming the islands as their own, it is a legacy situation that is likely to endure for many years to come. However, in practical terms, once the shooting had stopped, consideration could be given to returning home.

But there was still a job to be done.

Although many of the ships involved in the fighting were released over the coming weeks, a task force remained on station for some time and on 1st July 1982, then Rear Admiral Derek Reffell took over command from Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward, flying his flag in the command ship HMS BRISTOL.

During the conflict, HMS HERMES had been the flagship and at the time she was also the affiliated warship of the Coachmakers’ Company. Between 1974 and 1976, as a Captain, Derek Reffell was the CO of HMS HERMES. He became a Liveryman of the Coachmakers’ Company in 1976 and went on to serve as the Master Coachmaker in 1998, by which time he had become Admiral Sir Derek Reffell, KCB.

Another Coachmaker who was very much involved in the aftermath of the Falklands Conflict was Freeman Colonel Mark Blatherwick MBE GM. He spent eight months serving as Senior Ammunition Technical Officer Falkland Islands (SATO FI) at the end of hostilities, in the rank of Major. His responsibilities included the clearance and rendering safe of any unexploded ordnances (UXOs) on the land, including munitions, booby traps, Argentinian Defensive Positions, downed aircraft, mines, and the like, whilst the Royal Navy Divers dealt with anything in the water. During his time in theatre he also commanded the Falkland Islands Ammunition Depot and oversaw the management of all UK ammunition stocks held.

As an example of the dangerous work that the men of the various ordnance disposal teams had to do, the following piece was posted on social media recently and relates to the work carried out by Royal Navy Clearance Divers in the aftermath of the attack on HMS PLYMOUTH on 8th June 1982.

On this day in the Falklands in 1982, a unit of Royal Navy Clearance Divers from Fleet Clearance Diving Team 1 (FCDT1), Fleet Chief Petty Officer (Diver) FCPO(D) Mick Fellows with Leading Divers (L/Ds) Tony Groom and Billy Evenden, were deployed to give explosive ordnance disposal assistance to HMS Plymouth anchored on fire off Fanning Head. Plymouth had come under intensive Argentinian aircraft attack and was hit by four bombs that failed to explode but caused extensive damage: one bomb had bounced off the flight deck, detonating a helicopter deployed depth charge and starting a fire, and one went straight through her funnel and two more caused extensive damage to anti-submarine mortars bombs in the mortar handling compartment and bent the armed centre barrel of the Limbo mortar launcher.

Damaged mortar bomb fuses were exposed and in a volatile condition with explosive filling and detonators scattered around the compartment floor. Two Sea Cat missiles on the port side launcher had fuel sections damaged by enemy cannon fire prohibiting safe operational use.
As it was not possible to evacuate the crew during the damaged mortar bomb and missile disposal operations the ship’s company was mustered on the forecastle, as far away from the mortar handling room as possible, in survival suits and inflated lifejackets. The ship’s wire guardrails were lowered to ensure a quick exit.

The exposed electrical circuits in four damaged mortars were separated and insulated, explosives scattered around the compartment collected, and the weapons stropped then lifted from their racks employing a chain hoist. With the two leading divers on the upper deck, the damaged mortars were pushed and manhandled through the Argie bomb entry hole then hoisted to the upper deck employing a tackle. The four mortar bombs were then gently lowered to the seabed on rope tails.

The damaged Seacat missiles were physically lifted off their launchers in a single man operation by the FCPO(D), as their explosive stability could not be determined, slung in a made-up a rope strop and lowered over the ship side into the sea. The render safe and removal operation took four hours.
The bomb-damaged Limbo mortar launcher, with an anti-submarine weapon still inside the centre barrel, was made safe and repaired by Fleet Clearance Diving Team 2 (FCDT)2, based on the Stena Seaspread, the following day.

Another proud, albeit not recorded, day in Royal Navy Clearance Diver history.

In late June, HMS PLYMOUTH was released from the Task Force and ordered to sail home in company with HMS GLAMORGAN, a County Class Destroyer that had been hit by an Exocet missile on the night of 10th June 1982. Whereas PLYMOUTH had sustained significant damage, she had been lucky that only five members of the ship’s company had suffered serious injury and they all survived and recovered. GLAMORGAN on the other hand sustained significant damage and 13 fatalities. The effect of the fatalities on the GLAMORGAN was a stark contrast to the mood in the PLYMOUTH as we steamed home.

There is so much more that I could tell you about our unexpected adventure in the South Atlantic but I have other tasks to perform and another Livery Year for which to prepare. Instead I’ll leave you with some smiley photos taken in late June and early July.

The first is of the Ship’s Company of the PLYMOUTH, taken as we sailed north before arriving at Ascension Island on the way home. Just like the “Where’s Wally?” series, see if you can spot the young and recently clean-shaven Sub-Lieutenant who now sits at this keyboard.

The second photo is of the homecoming to Rosyth in late July 1982; a happy day indeed.

The following day, our Captain handed over command to his relief, Captain Mike Cole, and the final photo was taken in Rosyth Dockyard as the officers of HMS PLYMOUTH prepared to say farewell to their much respected and, as the years passed I am proud to say, much loved Captain David Pentreath CBE DSO Royal Navy. Traditionally, when ships were moored in harbours, as a mark of respect following the handover it was the officers who would row the outgoing Captain ashore. In the modern era, ships now go alongside more often than not so other means of saying farewell are adopted. See if you can spot the wally.

In conclusion, there is one more thing that I would like to draw to your attention. On Friday 10th June 2022, in his lunchtime radio show on Radio 2, Jeremy Vine discussed the Falklands Conflict 40 years on and invited members of the public to call in with their stories or recollections. In 1982 Matthew Bradshaw was the nine year old son of Chief Marine Engineer Mechanic (CMEM) John Bradshaw, who at that time happened to be the Chief Stoker of HMS PLYMOUTH. As the Chief Stoker, Bradshaw senior was a leading figure in the damage control work that helped to save his ship on 8th June 1982.

Now almost 50 years of age, Bradshaw junior called into the Jeremy Vine Show to tell his story of the Falklands Conflict through the eyes of a nine year old boy living in Dunfermline waiting for news of his father and his ship.

If you follow this link and start listening from the 1 hour 30 minute point you will hear what he said: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0017v40

However, I warn you, it is searingly honest, extremely powerful and incredibly brave of him to share it with millions of listeners given that until now he has never felt able to share it with his father. I have since put Matthew in touch with the charity Never Such Innocence which, as you already know, works with Service children helping them to understand and cope with the effects of conflict, I hope his tale can help others to realise that they are not alone.

Make sure you have a box of tissues handy.