B O M B A L L E
Y - D A Y O N E
Falkland Sound North 21st May
During the latter part of the assault, BROADSWORD' s job had been to escort the LSLs, SIR TRISTRAM etc and protect them from the two S209 submarines of the Argentine navy. Once the landing ships had entered San Carlos Water, BROADSWORD returned to Falkland Sound to sweep the area just in case the submarines were lurking there ready to attack the landing ships at anchor. We found nothing, so as dawn was breaking BROADSWORD took up her air defence station in the South with BRIILIANT, PLYMOUTH, YARMOUTH, ARGONAUT, ARDENT, ANTRIM and the undefended FORT AUSTIN. At 1020 the ship went ot Action Stations and the Lynx was launched to carry out a surface search of nearby coves to establish whether there were any lurking patrol craft which might attempt an attack. The crew found nothing and returned safely after one hours flying. Sea Harriers were more lucky and two of them found some Argentine helicopters towards the southern end of the Sound. They attacked with cannon and shot down one Chinook and one Puma. Back on BROADSWORD everyone was looking at the sky awaiting the inevitable air raid. The day was crystal clear with bright sunshine - a total contrast to the previous day. The weather had certainly favoured us on the 20th but it changed sides and favoured the Argentines on the 21st. Initially it was peaceful not unlike summer holidays in the Western Isles. The only thing that told you otherwise was the sound of Antrim's guns as she pounded the shore. Suddenly this was all to change. A lone Aeromacchi appeared and attacked FORT AUSTIN, dropping bombs but fortunately not with any degree of accuracy. Still it acted as a warning and sensibly FORT AUSTIN moved into the more secure anchorage alongside the assault ships, then all hell let loose. The air was filled with attacking aircraft, mainly Mirage and Skyhawk, and the battle raged for over six hours. Every ship in the sound came under attack that day.
ANTRIM battling bravely fired her Sea Slug at some attacking aircraft but the odds were too great and she was hit by bombs and rockets around the flight deck. Fortunately the bombs did not explode which was just as well because one passed through the Sea Slug magazine. However the damage was sufficient to put her Sea Slug and Sea Cat systems out of action so all she could do was to sit out the rest of the day. brilliant's turn came. next. She was hit by cannon fire and one shell passed clean through the Operations Room damaging important cabling which severly affected her Sea Wolf system. Sea Harriers were fighting the bravest air battle since The Battle of Britain. A handful of airplanes were having to fly repeatedly from their carriers 150 miles east, yet were taking on and beating the faster Mirage and Skyhawk. One flew over the top of the ship and fired a Sidewinder at a departing Mirage which dipped and crashed into the hillside when hit. BROADSWORD was striving to get Sea Wolf away but the close proximity of the land was preventing the system from operating correctly and the opportunities to launch the missiles were scarce. However when it did strike it was a spectacular success. Unseen by most, a group of four aircraft attacked from low over the hills. Fortunately Leading Seaman Ball, the missile aimer on the forward system, saw the incoming aircraft on his screen and fired a missile in the TV Mode. It was a tremendous achievement, steering the missile towards nothing more than a black dot on the screen. Many people on the flight deck, who were looking in that direction, didn't see anything until the missile exploded under the aircraft's port wing. It was a good ob that the flight deck team saw this for it alerted them to the attack and enabled some of them to engage the other incoming aircraft with gunfire while others took cover in the hangar. Two delta shaped silver Mirages winged over, flew round the stern and attacked the port side with 30mm cannon, strafing the hangar and the flight deck. Shrapnel bounced around the hangar injuring several of the flight but mercifully no one was killed. This action brought it home that we were at war. A second attack on the BROADSWORD was met with withering fire from the starboard battery. Cannon shells burst into the ship's side, one narrowly missing Sergeant Leslie as he slipped trying to direct fire at the escaping aircraft, and a piece of shrapnel ripped through the windproof jacket of Seaman 'Oscar' Whild. Several other members of the battery who were armed with SLRs were also hit by shrapnel. The battle went on. ARGONAUT received two direct hits from bombs and again they failed to explode. One landed in her main magazine leaning on live Sea Cats and other ammunition! Crippled, but not dead, she limped into San Carlos Water to better shelter.
Still the attacks went on with no sign of them dying away. The Harriers were managing to knock some out of the sky but because they were heavily outnumbered inevitably others got through. Although the escorts were suffering badly they were achieving their aim of protecting the beach-head and equipment was still being landed and the positions ashore were being consolidated. The last attack of the day proved to be the saddest of all when a combination of Skyhawks, Mirages and Aeromacchi's attacked HMS ARDENT. They bombed her hangar and flight deck killing most of the Flight and causing her to list to starboard. Her weapons were crippled and she was heading out of control for the shore so she dropped her anchor.
The aircraft attacked again splattering the flight deck where the doctor was attending a dying man. The doctor was blown overboard but remained conscious and was picked up by BROADSWORD where he recovered after being treated for exposure.
HMS YARMOUTH came alongside the stricken ARDENT and took off the survivors to end a sad but successful day. 17 aircraft had been destroyed by Harriers and the escorts while a Lynx had quietly disposed off an oiler hiding in a cove. Darkness came and with it safety-at least for the next few hours. Tomorrow would be different because we all hoped the Rapier Batteries would be established to give the ships and the beach-head added protection.
Extracts from QUANTITY NOT TRANSFORMED INTO QUALITY by Alexandr Kotlobovsky. (Mirage and Dagger fighters in the Falklands War)
HMS Ardent Association
Through Fire and Water
by Mainstream Publishing the book about Ardent's story starts in Amsterdam
in December 1981 and follows the crew through to the ships sinking on 21
May 1982 and beyond.
Written by Mark Higgitt, a relative of Ardent survivor Andy Cox, the book explores the people that made HMS Ardent the ship it was. A happy and professional ship that provided such a powerful display of Naval Gunfire Support cover to the landing troops that the ITN reporter Michael Nicholson was moved to say:
must pay tribute, public tribute, as certainly the troops would wish us
to, to the crew of 'Ardent', the frigate that went down, sunk last night.