May Sat 1:0800 Entered TEZ. Acted as Goalkeeper for Invincible.
Today was the first day the Task Group entered the 200 mile Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ), declared around the Falklands and the ship went to ‘action stations’ at around 0900 as Sea Harriers prepared to take off from HMS Hermes and Invincible to make the first strike on Stanley Airfield. I was on watch when we received the signal to take up station ‘close up threat’ on HMS Invincible and act as ‘Goalkeeper’. This was a term I’d never heard before in the context it was being used and wished I had never asked when I found out just what it meant. Plymouth was to take up a position within a couple of hundred yards of Invincible, to the West (up threat) of her, putting ourselves between her (the high value target) and any incoming missiles, in order that the missile’s radar guidance system would lock on to us rather than her, hence acting as goalkeeper, stopping the missile hitting the target. Great!
As the day unfolded events really began to pick up a pace with reports of air battles between our Sea Harriers and Argie Mirages defending the Islands, Exocet missiles detected incoming and at one point being convinced we were under attack from enemy submarines, with several ships reporting sonar contact and confirmed torpedo noise being reported. During this action we fired several depth charge salvos, helicopters were dropping torpedoes and depth charges on the contact and visual sightings of a periscope were reported. My eyes were popping out of my head as we saw water disturbance about 1000 yards off our Starboard bow and what appeared to be a large black shape surfacing.
The submarine had been forced to the surface! The Navigator, who was in control of Plymouth turned the ship hard to starboard and increased speed to full, he was intending to ram it!
It took only a few more seconds to realise that what was surfacing was actually a school of whales, presumably seeking respite from the deafening sound of multiple underwater explosions! Life was becoming just a little crazy.
Mon 3:Morning watch heard about General Belgrano. Quiet day steaming. R/V Antrim and Tidespring. Received mail (my own Wessex delivery!!) R/V Appleleaf and British Esk
I was keeping the morning bridge watch 0400-0800 when we received news that the Argentine Battleship, General Belgrano, had been sunk by torpedoes from a British submarine, presumed to be HMS Conqueror. We were at the same time both excited and saddened; excited because we were now ready to show the Argies who was boss but couldn’t fail to feel for the survivors who would be adrift in the freezing, hostile waves of the same South Atlantic we were experiencing.
It was strange going about our duties that day, rendezvousing with HMS Antrim and RFA Tidespring once again for the first time since we left South Georgia and receiving mail for the first time since leaving Ascension Island nearly a month earlier.
It was quite an emotional moment, while on watch during the helicopter delivery of several bulging bags of mail, that I heard my name mentioned. The Wessex helicopter from HMS Antrim, which had just left Plymouth, having delivered the mail was asking if anyone knew where to find a Sub Lieutenant Ramsden, as they had a bag of mail on-board for him! Having had the pier head jump from HMS Aurora to join HMS Antrim, then to be transferred to Plymouth all within a short space of time, my mail had been accumulating somewhere before being delivered to Antrim, only to find I wasn’t there either! That night I had plenty to occupy my mind, catching up on events at home., with little further thought of those poor fellas freezing and drowning just a couple of hundred miles to the South.
Tue 4:Very quiet all day. 2100 received news of Sheffield. Shattering news! After feeling sorry for the Belgrano we all felt the same about the consequences – WAR. Hope for peace.
It wasn’t long before the Argies retaliated and after a quiet day patrolling the waters off South Georgia we received news during the evening that HMS Sheffield had been sunk by an Exocet missile attack. This was devastating news, unbelievable and inconceivable that a British warship could actually be sunk! Even after the news and events of the previous day, the sinking of an enemy ship didn’t have the same shattering psychological effect as news of one of ours being sunk, morale sank.
The mood was low in every mess deck on-board, I think this was the day we really realised that we were going to war!
During the following two weeks we carried out countless drills and exercises and headed North again to meet up with and escort the armada of Troop carrying ships heading South to join up with the main Task Force loitering in the TEZ, carrying out air attacks at regular intervals.
The sight of so many ships in convoy was certainly impressive, our job was to present an anti-submarine shield and protect the convoy. I certainly learnt the art of anti-submarine manoeuvers, increasing and decreasing speed and altering course at regular intervals to prevent any audacious Argie submarine Captain acquiring a firing solution on us, while maintaining a designated sector area patrol. I remember feeling the wrath of the Captains tongue on one occasion when he came to the bridge where I was Officer of the Watch and asked me if I knew that we were in a submarine threat area? To which I replied ‘yes sir’ and told him I was altering course and speed at regular intervals as per his standing orders. He proceeded to tell me he had just taken a turn around the upper deck and as he walked around the ship, had not been able to discern any change of course or speed and any lurking enemy submarine Commander would have no difficulty in placing a torpedo wherever he wished in our ships side! From that day forward my actions as Officer of the Watch could only ever have been referred to as BOLD! This served as great experience for the future jobs.
We celebrated HMS Plymouth’s 21st Birthday on the 12th May, with cake, free beer and mess games, a welcomed relief from the monotony of intense concentration when on watch and excruciating anticipation when off.
We soon found out we had been tasked with escorting the amphibious assault group all the way in to San Carlos for the landings and would soon find ourselves the lead ship in that assault, providing cover for ships and landing craft carrying the extremely valuable cargo of hundreds of pent up Soldiers and Marines.