Wednesday, 30 May 2012

30 May 1982, A life changing day.

This is going to be a long entry.  Right a quick dit about Sea Dart first.  The missile is an area defence weapon unlike Sea Wolf which is point defence.  It was fitted to all the Type 42s and Bristol.  It worked by following a tracking radar (909) and was generally quite successful.  This would be a good and bad thing as far as this day goes.....

Log book Entry:  ESM AEW 1.30 hours
                         ESM AEW 2.30 hours
                         Scramble for jammer guard .30 minutes night

The first sortie was uneventful.  The second sortie wasn't. Nor for that matter was the third.

So 6000 feet, way up ahead of the main force. Behind us in a line, on picket duty were three ships.  Andromeda was to the north, Exeter in the middle and Avenger to the south. I can remember cruising along eating Peanut Treats and arguing with Bob about the shapes of various clouds.  His mind was always more obscene than mine but it kept us laughing and passed the time.  On several occasions a Sea King turned on his radar and gave us palpitations but all seemed routine.
Suddenly, with no warning, all hell broke loose.  The Orange Crop started beeping with a strange radar which was clearly 'Handbrake'. We immediately called the controller in Hermes and gave the bearing which was to the South of us.  At the same time one of the ships also called the radar and confirmed our alert.  The Task Force went to Action Stations at the code word 'Zippo One' and started firing chaff and doing everything they could to defend against Exocet attack.
We had done our job, there was nothing else we could do as we were far too far away to deploy the jammer. We had already decided what to do next - run away!  We knew it was possible that the Argies would have escorts for the Etendards and that we could get caught up with them.  The only thing an unarmed helicopter could do was hide.  I accelerated up to our max speed of 150 knots and headed for a nice big fat Cumulus cloud back towards the force.  We never got there.  Suddenly a continuous tone screamed out from the Orange Crop, Bob immediately recognised it as a 909 radar lock on.  He looked over his left shoulder and uttered those immortal words 'shit they're firing at us.'  I banked the aircraft hard left and looked.  I actually saw the smoke trail of a Sea Dart coming at us.  I still have the odd nightmare about it.  I knew we were dead.  To this day I have no idea if what I did next saved our lives but in an instinctive reaction I pushed the cyclic stick fully forward.  We dived.  We pulled out at about two thousand feet amazed we were still in one piece just in time to see a long streak of flame on the horizon.  I have no idea how fast we went but I'm certain that I broke the world speed record for a helicopter by some significant margin - even though I will never be able to claim it.  Just a little shaken, we realised that it had all suddenly gone quiet on the radio.  To the north I could see a ship with smoke pouring out of it and flashes of something.  We gingerly went to investigate.  It was Exeter and it was only smoke from her funnels and the sun glinting on her radars.  Slowly everyone checked in and it was clear no on had been hit.  We went down to Avenger where a Wessex 5 had had the presence of mind to hide behind her bulk and then we saw some dye in the water.  On investigation we saw the remains of an aircraft and an ejection seat with a body still in it, sinking.  The dye was from the survival kit in the seat.


Later we got the full story.  The Etendards had come in from the South, fired one missile and turned for home.  They were accompanied by four A4s.  Two were shot down by Exeter.  The Sea Darts we had got in the way of were in fact aimed at them and the wreckage in the water was one of them.  Avenger claimed to have shot down one Exocet with her 4.5 inch gun.  It seems petty unlikely and maybe they saw the flames of the crashing A4s as I suspect we did.  However one Exocet definitely locked on to Andromeda.  They had the 'eyewater' radar of the missile on their own ESM and were tracking it with the Sea Wolf system.  What's more, some of the crew on Exeter actually saw it crossing their stern and heading for Andromeda.  Everyone had hit the deck and were praying that Sea Wolf would do its job when the missile ran out of fuel and fell into the water just outside Sea Wolf engagement range.  Relief was tempered by annoyance that we hadn't proved the system against an Exocet for real.  So when we got back there was bugger all sympathy for us! And rightly so I guess.  Oh and in Exeter they knew all about us and that we were in the way of their firing solution on the A4s but quite rightly they fired anyway............
Footnote:  Some years after the war I heard that the two surviving A4 pilots claimed to have bombed HMS Invincible.  Sorry but that is just not possible.  There is a plethora of evidence that they actually bombed Avenger and missed but irrespective of all the smoke and mirrors that time throws up, I can absolutely say that I saw a streak of flame in the sky ahead of me as I pulled out of my dive and in the same position a few minutes later I saw the remains of a downed A4 sinking in the water.  This was within two miles of Avenger.  This provides an absolute datum. The four A4s were together and having lost two of them to one ship's Sea Dart the remaining two would have to have flown another twenty miles to reach Invincible which even at five hundred miles an hour would have taken several minutes.  In the main Task Force surrounding the two carriers were a number of warships.  Each carrier always had a permanent 'goalkeeper', normally a type 22 or Andromeda because we had Sea Wolf.  Then there was HMS Bristol with her Sea Dart plus  other Type 42's and of course Invincible herself with her own Sea Dart.  There were several Leanders and Type 21s with the less effective but still capable Sea Cat as well as at least one DLG.  Most of these ships also had 4.5 inch guns as well as small arms.   So these two A4s would have to have flown through a barrage of missiles, guns and small arms and bearing in mind one Type 42 was able to shoot down two of them within minutes what chance they would have got anyway near one of the carriers?  Then they would have to have turned around and run the gauntlet back out.  They were clearly very brave pilots but no one could have survived a trip into the Task Force for twenty miles and back out again however brave they were.

So we got back on board for tea and no medals.  Everyone was a little rattled, to the extent that that evening Bob and I broke our no drinking rule.  After all the Argies never attacked at night.  I can clearly remember watching the film Jaws 2 in the wardroom and starting in on my second whiskey when the bloody Actions Station alarm went off, quickly followed by the command 'Scramble the Lynx'.  We had agreed that the word 'Scramble' meant get airborne as fast as possible, no checks no paperwork just get off the deck.  We always left the aircraft in a state to allow this.  As I ran down to the flight deck they fired the chaff rockets on the deck above my head and I thought the world was ending there and then.  Then as I got to the aircraft I tripped over a lashing and almost knocked myself out on the nose of a warshot Sea Skua.  However I scrambled in and started making switches.  I knew the No2 engine was a bit difficult to start and so put the engine control lever a bit further forward than normal to help it before flashing around the cockpit to try and get other systems on line.  Just as Bob climbed in, the flight staff started gesticulating wildly at the port engine.  The normal maximum start up temperature was 720 degrees - it was past 950 and going up.  I retarded the lever back to its normal position.  Apparently the exhaust  flames were quite spectacular.  I looked at Bob.
'Shit I've burnt out the number two.'
'Well is it still working?'
I scanned the gauges.  'It all looks OK now, hang on,' and I accelerated it to get the rotors up to full speed.  The Lynx has a feature that allows you pull half power in negative pitch to stick the aircraft to the deck.  I pushed the lever fully down and the engine responded normally.
'It looks good Bob and anyway we've got two of the things.'
He nodded and we launched.  It was only when we got to two hundred feet and settled a little did we both realise we hadn't even strapped in.  After all that it turned out to be a false alarm.  One of the ships officers told us later that it was less than 3 minutes from the alarm going off to us getting airborne, despite all our little mishaps - isn't adrenalin a wonderful motivator?
That night as I tried to get to sleep I remember thinking that we had come pretty close to not making it and nearly all the problems had been caused by our own side.  What the hell was going to happen next?  It wasn't a particularly encouraging thought.

Argie A 4s.  Four came in - two left.  One of the standing jokes and the time was 'What's the difference between an A4 and a JellyTot? Answer:  Nothing they both last about 4 seconds'.  To be fair their pilots were generally pretty brave even in they couldn't distinguish between a frigate and an aircraft carrier.

POSTSCRIPT:  18/01/2013

It seems this entry is now generating quite a bit of interest in Argentina judging from the hits it is getting - me posting about it on several Naval History forums might have something to do with it.
Whilst I can understand the Argentinian point of view, there do seem to be some people who even when confronted with facts want to ignore them and still to this day vehemently argue that in fact Invincible was hit and even sunk.  There is even an argument that after she was 'sunk' we either rushed Illustrious down to pretend it was Invincible or the Americans built us a replica!!  Part of it was that she wasn't seen after the surrender for a while.  - Simple, as she was staying down there until relieved, she was sent North 'to the Sun' for a week to do some maintenance and have a little break.  I know as we escorted her.
So to reiterate to all Argentinians who read this - I saw the whole raid.  The one Exocet missile fired locked on to Andromeda and splashed short.  Two A4s were shot down.  Two A4s bombed Avenger a Type 21 frigate and missed.  One forumite asked why we took no photos? - having just avoided being shot down ourselves and not sure for some time whether a ship had been hit - the last thing we were going to do was take photos to scotch stupid conspiracy theories thirty years later.  However here are a couple I did take which might help:

This is my version of a famous conspiracy theorists photo.  We were in 'Formation One' ie all line astern with Andromeda leading.  This was after the war.  HMS Bristol is astern of us and - surprise behind her is an aircraft carrier.  Now Illustrious was still in UK when this was taken and even the Americans couldn't have made a replica in a matter of weeks!!

This my 'fun in the sun' photo of - Oh its an aircraft carrier!  Of course I can't prove when it was taken but I promise it was after the war!!


Well this is getting fun, the Forum that's reading this is at:
Unfortunately I don't speak Spanish and Google doesn't translate that well. However, one poster has some spookily accurate information.  He gets it mostly right except for some reason thinks we had a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) fitted and also were painted in  low vis colours.  Both are wrong - you will see in my photos that the aircraft stayed dark blue - as all the Lynx did, they only introduced grey after the war.  Also, as I describe in earlier posts we actually had an I Band Exocet jammer fitted - code name Hampton Mayfair (I never knew this name at the time only found out later).  Oh and its Aberporth in Wales not Albertport in Scotland!!!  Read the blog - I've absolutely no need to make things up.
There is also debate about how we managed to out fly two Sea Dart without overspeeding the rotors or flaming out the engines.  Well firstly the missiles weren't actually fired at us, so almost certainly my attempt to break the world speed record wasn't necessary - but I didn't know that at the time!! Also, diving a helicopter will not overspeed the rotors as long as some power is kept on with the collective lever and ditto the engines.
Hey guys - talk to me - it was over thirty years ago, I've got nothing to hide.  There is a comments section at the end.  get in contact and we can discuss it.

1 comment:

  1. I was in Invincible that day. It was interesting. As we were safe to the south our revered T.22 Goalkeeper was deployed elsewhere. Fore the first time in the deployment our Sea Dart system had failed and was down. And the approaching Argie aircraft were clearly tracked on our radars. Why they did not have us visual at about 25 miles when the raid suddenly west away from us, we will never know. Having turned west the aircraft met up with Exeter and Avenger and encountered a spot of bother...while LJC was attempting to create a sonic boom by diving a Lynx....
    Much later it was learned that the Argie raid was navigating by an INS carried in an Etendard, which had been pre-programmed with co-ordinates based on the latest info from the Argie Westinghouse radar at Stanley, which tracked the Sea Harrier's movements. Fortunately, the SHAR pilots had been briefed to asty low after take off and head west about 50 miles before popping up on the Argie radar screen. Reverse procedure for recovery. I don't know whose idea it was originally, and the SHAR crews protested quite strongly, as it reduced their time on CAP. But we were reduced to our "Close-in weapons system" a motley collection of Ship's Company armed with SLR.s and GPMGs positioned around the ship, and that deception on take-off and recovery undoubtedly saved a lot of lives that day.