Falklands War: How Argentine Junta unleashed ‘hell and fury’ on HMS Sheffield

Falklands: Historian says Belgrano ‘was legal’

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It has been 40 years since the sinking of the warship during the Falklands War in 1982. The vessel was first detected by Argentine aircraft on May 4 1982, more than a month into the conflict. Two Argentine Navy jets, both armed with Exocet missiles, took off from Río Grande naval air base after Argentine forces had been practicing combat tactics against their own ships. On May 10 1982, the ship was eventually downed after being struck by the jets while airborne.

Speaking to the BBC recently, one survivor of the attack who was onboard HMS Sheffield recalled how the Argentine forces sank the ship.

Andy Stephenson, who was serving on the vessel named after his home city, admitted that when he was deployed, he didn’t even know where the Falkland Islands were.

When he was sent to fight, he recalled how the crew were instructed to write a final letter back home.

He said: “For the first time ever you didn’t know if you were coming back.

“It was a really morbid letter and it was weird to write but we were all convinced on board it would be sorted diplomatically.

“You grew up very quickly once you are sleeping fully clothed in action dress ready to go.”

As the stress of being a potential target mounted, Sheffield, a type-42 destroyer, was tasked with protecting aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and was “at the front of any action”, according to Andy.

He added: “At action stations on a warship you are getting a running commentary from the captain on the bridge. ‘Missile released coming toward us… 50…40…30 miles.’

“And you tense up but then one of our Seaharrier planes took out the missile and you carry on as normal.

“Those situations were worse then when the missile hit.”

Two days before HMS Sheffield was initially targeted, British troops were in a state of jubilation after Argentina’s General Belgrano was sunk.

Andy continued: “I can remember the elation and cheering at what we had done.

“Then came the flipside. That’s when you start to battle with yourself… I can’t believe I am cheering the loss of life – but that’s war.”

Andy then recalled how, two days later, Argentina’s men “launched hell and fury” in response to the sinking of their flagship vessel.

He added: “There was an almighty blow-out and then I was sucked back into the mess, I heard no bang,” he says. “I came to, didn’t know what happened but the mess door was blown off.

“Then the strangest five or six hours of my life happened.

“Out from the mess all the bulkhead doors were open and black pungent smoke was slowly coming towards where we were. We all hit the deck as there was a six-inch gap of clear air”.

Andy and his colleagues soon realised they had come under attack.

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He continued: “I was confronted by a perfect blue, flat sea, blue sky and this massive burning hole in the side of the ship where the missile came in but we were still afloat.”

Then came the time to get off the ship: “The sensible people formed an orderly queue and climbed on to the hangar roof and then jumped across to HMS Arrow alongside”, he said.

“What silly-chops did… I thought the ship was going down so I ran across the flight deck, I had lost all sense of fear and danger, I needed to survive.

“I ran across to the edge of the ship and as I went to leap to Arrow I slipped and, doing a Superman impression, I just caught her rail but was dangling between two ships.

“They came together and started to crush my legs but a wave took them apart and a guy got hold of me and dragged me over.”

Andy made it off the ship in which 20 of his crewmates were killed. The losses included Andy’s friends and messmates.

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