T H E O P E R A T I
O N S R O O M
The ship joined HERMES and INVICIBLE a week after leaving Gibraltar; inevitably, being in company with the two carriers, the Gloom Room boys were working a two watch system much earlier than the rest of the Ship's Company.
The journey South was used to refine procedures and become familiar with the other ships in the Task Force. We set up the "War Office", the fount of all buzzes terrifying and true, frightening and false. SOO and SCO pinned up the charts, made their flags and markers and prepared for paper action.
A sunny respite was taken at Ascension when all that was black. was painted grey and final touches were made to suntans. We estimated two weeks at Ascension awaiting the Amphibious forces; after a day we set off South again and within hours a periscope (?) was sighted and the realities of the situation were dawning on us.
No submarine was detected but Soviet and Argentine surveillance confined. The Russians used their large Bear aircraft and the Argentines employed Boeing 707; as they approached the carriers they were escorted off by Sea Harriers. But these were highlights in an otherwise monotonous routine - there were daily exercises but nothing to delay the plod into the ever increasing cold of the Southern Atlantic.
The Roaring Forties produced some rough weather; for the benefit of TV we closed HERMES and increased speed to generate some spray and to "take it Green" * So much so that the First Lieutenant snapping away with his camera in the shelter of the Bridge Wing was drenched by a wave that came over the top of the Bridge! Much delight and amusement for those within the Bridge.
Helicopters were flying round the clock transferring stores and personnel from the RFAs and it was a sad incident involving a SeaKing 4 that, nonetheless, demonstrated the thoroughness of Portland Training. The aircraft had, unbeknown to any ship, flown into the sea just after dusk. The pilot sitting in his dinghy had released a red flare as we passed him about a mile away. "Red Flare Green 90" yells the OOW, ASWD deep in a long watch reverie comes to with a start "Take TCMs" he bellows. (Torpedo Counter Measures, in an ASW Exercise the firing of a torpedo by a submarine is signalled by a Green Flare).
We were involved in the search for the ditched helicopter and its crew for some time, eventually handing over to HMS YARMOUTH. Only the pilot was saved, nothing was found of his crewman, our first casualty of operation.
As we approached the 200 mile zone we received the great news that South Georgia had surrendered and the Submarine Santa Fe had been destroyed with no loss of life. "We' 11 wrap this up and be on our way to Singapore via Simons town in no time" thought the optimists.
May 1st and battle commenced, well for some; ships were despatched inshore for bombardment and to chase a possible submarine. We stayed in our usual station close by the HERMES. Some aircraft were shot down (Argentinian that is) and ships were attacked and slightly damaged and both sides withdrew to think about it. In the Ops Room we listened to fighter pilots and the bombardment ships some 100 miles away, it hardly seemed real; more like the games at DRYAD.
The warmongers amongst us were thirsting for action and the chance came on 9th May when we went inshore with HMS COVENTRY to lay a missile trap for Argentine aircraft and to bombard Stanley. The weather was cool and overcast with poor visibility and although COVENTRY fired 3 Sea Darts the results seemed inconclusive. Late in the day a helicopter was detected by the radars and was confirmed as an Argentinian Puma helicopter; we pointed this machine out to COVENTRY who destroyed it with a Sea Dart. We watched the event on the Seawolf TV system in Black and White, it all seemed so unreal.
We returned on the llth but there were no aircraft the weather was awful and we rejoined the Carriers with nothing on the score sheet. It seemed to us then that we would spend the rest of the war following HERMES' bulk around, mainly in persistent fog. We followed her to Pebble Island and later we followed INVINCIBLE to Beauchene Island, and back.
20th May and we joined the Ships taking the troops to San Carlos; another eventful day, far more quiet than an exercise. By daybreak on 21st, 3 Commando Brigade were streaming ashore and the escorts were waiting for the expected air attacks. Never having been under air attack before nobody knew really what to expect; and then they arrived "Air Raid Warning Red, Aircraft in the Sound" became a familiar call. We operated in the Sound, in San Carlos Waterway, off the coast and towards the Western Islands. All the daylight hours were spent at Action Stations waiting for the aircraft; the weather was perfect for them we saw the ARDENT, ANTELOPE and COVENTRY go under and yet in the gloom pressing buttons watching it on radar and TV, listening to the radio circuits and the gunfire it hardly seemed possible. Even with COVENTRY'S SAd survivors littering the decks the truth of what was going on was hard to believe; even when the bombs were so close on the TV that they were out of focus and filled the screen and the dreaded words "Take Cover" we all ducked the wrong way. The TVs are on the starboard side but the bombs were coming from the port side, we all ducked to port away from the TV!
With COVENTRY sunk and a huge hole in the Flight Deck we were withdrawn back to follow HERMES, feeling guilty about leaving the others behind in San Carlos. But for all their success the Argentine Air Force seemed to have had enough, their attacks on the ships became very infrequent and were from high level - very inaccurate. Perhaps we had all stood our ground long enough to make them back off and search for easier prey.
The rest of May passed, June and Surrender Day, we still followed HERMES * Then release from the Task Force and homeward bound, still following HERMES.
Each air raid seemed to be over in minutes. In fact we often closed up at Action Stations for several hours at a time and were amazed when it was all over that time had passed so quickly. The next account is of an airraid as heard in the Operations room.
And the weather was
A. S. W
The references to a multl threat environment points up the Ops. Room's involvement with threats above, on the surface, and underneath the sea. The next poem comes from the men concerned with the threat from under the sea:
THE REASON WHY
Within this small dit There is sadness and
It's about the TAS Division
Making their decision
Whether it is a submarine or whale
Or another bank of shale
Now the subs got away we think
But poor whale, he we did sink.
It was not for thirst of blood
For he could have been a sub.
Because of his size this innocent bystander
Is exactly the same as a Two-Oh-Niner.
The characteristics of his echo below
Show that of a submarine, you know,
So chances could not be taken;
The whale's life had to be foresaken.
By taking poor Moby's life away
BROADSWORD was sure to fight another day