Everything a Royal Navy vessel uses comes to it courtesy of the RFA, especially if that vessel is in the middle of a shooting war. During that southern hemisphere autumn of 1982, it was the RFA's duty to keep the Fleet at sea.


 

Everything a Royal Navy vessel uses comes to it courtesy of the RFA, especially if that vessel is in the middle of a shooting war. During that southern hemisphere autumn of 1982, it was the RFA's duty to keep the Fleet at sea.

 

They refuelled and re-supplied the destroyers, frigates, aircraft carriers and landing ships of the Task Force, under the minute to minute threat of bombs and missiles from the Argentinean Air Force whose professional capabilities have long been underestimated by many commentators to this war, watching from the safety of their arm chairs.

As well as supplying the ships around the Falklands, they forged a supply chain 8,000 miles long. It's links were the ships and men of the RFA and Merchant Navy, and it says something about the material of which it was made that the chain was never broken during those months of conflict and its long drawn-out aftermath.

Reproduced from "No Sea Too Rough, The Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the Falklands War", with kind permission of the author, Mr Geoff Puddefoot.

John Nott's 1981 Defence White Paper had ordered sweeping cuts to be made to the Royal Navy's surface vessel establishment, particularly the sale or scrapping of its two remaining aircraft carriers. The RFA were also to be hit hard by the cuts. Both Tidespring and Tidepool, the two fast fleet tankers, were to be disposed of as well as Stromness, the last of the excellent Ness Class store ships. Tidepool, in fact, had already been sold to the Chilean Navy and was on her way to her new home when the war broke out.

RFA Stromness

RFA Tidespring Falklands

 

RFA Stromness RFA Tidespring

RFA Tidepool M.V. Conveyor

RFA Tidepool and mv Atlantic Conveyor

In addition to the ship losses, over 1,000 RFA men were to be made redundant and it is a little ironic, to say the least, that the first of these redundancy notices began to drop through letter boxes on 2nd April, just as desperate telephone calls were being made from Empress State Building in London (Royal Navy Supply and Transport Service [RNSTS] and RFA Headquarters), summoning those very men back to their ships. It says something for the quality of the men who belong to the service that not only did every man report to his ship, but the switchboard at Empress State Building was deluged with calls from men on leave and even some who were retired, many demanding to be sent to sea at once.

Reproduced from "No Sea Too Rough, The Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the Falklands War", with kind permission of the author, Mr Geoff Puddefoot.

Sir Galahad weighed anchor at 02:00 Zulu on the 8th, anchoring in Port Pleasant sometime after first light, at 08:00 local time (approx 12:00 Zulu), about 3 cables (600 metres) east of Sir Tristram and a mile from Fitzroy, the 150 mile trip having proved uneventful.

The weather was bright and sunny with the hills around Port Stanley clearly visible and the single remaining LCU and Sir Tristram's Mexeflote were both loaded with ammunition and waiting for the tide to turn. There had been six LCU's working in the anchorage the previous day but four had returned to Intrepid and the other one was making a run to Goose Green to collect 5 Brigades signal vehicles.

Those responsible for the off-load from Clapp's staff, Majors Todd (RCT) and Southby-Tailyour (RM), immediately boarded Sir Galahad in order to get the Guardsmen ashore as soon as possible.

Discussion became heated as a number of alternatives were considered but finally it was decided that the LCU would unload its ammunition and move as many Guards as possible round to Bluff Cove, along with their heavy equipment which they were understandably reluctant to be separated from, although Major Southby-Tailyour has made it clear elsewhere that he would never have allowed such a move in daylight.

At noon the LCU was alongside Sir Galahad but Lt Colonel Roberts, commanding 16 Field Ambulance and senior ranking officer, insisted that his unit should go first. An hour later, the last of the medical team was ashore but now another snag appeared. The LCU's ramp had been damaged on the last trip and couldn't be lowered to allow the heavy equipment to be loaded via Sir Galahad's stern doors. Tragically, it was decided to leave the troops aboard while their heavy equipment was off-loaded by crane.

Five hours had elapsed since Sir Galahad dropped anchor and in that time the Argentinean troops on Mount Harriet, ten miles away, had signalled the mainland, with the result that the Argentinean Air Force was on its way.

One group bombed HMS Plymouth in Falklands Sound, but the jets were too low, none of the bombs exploded and Plymouth escaped with superficial damage.

HMS Plymouth

HMS Plymouth

The five Skyhawks of the remaining group had been given the location of the LSL's at Port Fitzroy, which is an inlet to the north of the settlement, while the tow vessels were actually in Port Pleasant, to the south.

Finding Port Fitzroy empty and being low on fuel, the jets swept out south over the sea to return home, and while making a rising turn, the leader's wingman caught a glimpse of the LSL's.

Simply tightening their turn brought them in line with the ships and the Skyhawks swept in to the attack, three attacking Sir Galahad, while the two remaining went for Sir Tristram.

Aboard the LSL's, the aircraft were sighted and heard about 17:15 Z. ‘Action Stations' was immediately piped but barely seconds later, the aircraft struck.

Sit Tristram was hit by two bombs, both on the starboard side towards the stern. One went straight through the ship without exploding while the other burst inside a compartment, killing the Bosun Yu Sik Chee, and a crewman, Yeung Shui Kam, and buckling the steel wall of the tank deck. There were soon fires in the steering flat, above where there were several pallets of ammunition, and forward, close to a quantity of ammunition and explosives.

The three Skyhawks attacking Sir Galahad were slightly higher and consequently their bombs developed a more vertical trajectory. One went through an upper deck hatch and deflagrated, causing a massive fireball which swept through the tank deck were the Welsh Guards were waiting to disembark. The second exploded in the galley area, killing the butcher instantly and wounding several other crew members, whilst the third burst in the engine room, killing Third Engineer Officer Andrew Morris.

 

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Falklands RFA Sir Galahad

RFA Sir Galahad after being attacked

Reproduced from ‘No Sea Too Rough, ‘The Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the Falklands War', with kind permission of the author, Mr Geoff Puddefoot.

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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