Day of trepidation, and pride in ship's crew

It was Tuesday May 25, 1982, Argentina's national day, when the enemy would want to make its presence felt. A day heavy with trepidation .

Captain David Hart-Dyke, commander of HMS Coventry, remembers thinking that if they survived this day, they would survive the war.

  Without warning, four Argentinian Skyhawks screamed out from behind land cover, and seconds later at least three 1000lb bombs tore through the decks of Coventry.

`The Argentinians were losing the air battle and we knew that this was going to be their last push,' he recalled.

Ironically, because of Coventry's role of protecting the British Task Force carriers and to draw enemy fire, he also knew that the odds were stacked against them.

The Portsmouth-based Type 42 destroyer was specially fitted to listen to the Argentinians and had Spanish interpreters on board.

From his command position in the operations room, Captain Hart-Dyke had been able to hear President Galtieri and Foreign Minister Costa Mendez talking. `I could also hear the pilots in the air talking to each other and conversations about who they were going for.'

But nothing could have fully prepared him for the mayhem that would ensue later that afternoon when his ship became caught up in the eye of the high explosive storm.

Without warning, four Argentinian Skyhawks screamed out from behind land cover, and seconds later at least three 1000lb bombs tore through the decks of Coventry, destroying her computer room and damage control nerve centres.

Fires started, she took a heavy list to port and sank within 15 minutes with a loss of 19 of the ships' company.


HMS Coventry sank in 15 minutes with the loss of 19 lives

Captain Hart-Dyke said: `The main decision makers had been taken out. The heat and light was intense. The flash gear I wore was burned off me. People's clothes had caught on fire.

  'I can remember being given a brandy on RFA Fort Austin, having just been fished out of the water, when I heard the news that a ship had been sunk on the BBC World Service.'

`I made my way up to the deck and I was amazed at what I saw. There were sailors, many young, who were just acting without orders to organise the evacuation - just going about their duty in a very calm and orderly fashion. It's something I'll never forget. I felt very proud.'

Captain Hart-Dyke was the last to leave the ship. He literally walked down her side to the water, and it is believed his life raft was punctured by the super structure as Coventry rolled over.

`Eventually the air battle stopped and it was getting dark and I was picked up by a helicopter,' he recalled. `I can remember being given a brandy on RFA Fort Austin, having just been fished out of the water, when I heard the news that a ship had been sunk on the BBC World Service.

`I didn't believe it - although I was the commanding officer of that ship which had just been sunk.'

Captain Hart-Dyke, now aged 57, admitted that it took him at least two years to get over the trauma of the Falklands war. He remained with the Royal Navy for a further eight years and was involved in a warfare advisory role, largely responsible for evaluating lessons learned in the South Atlantic.

And, in an almost cathartic sense, he lectured at university seminars and wrote about battle stress and war and its effect on people.

`You have to believe that out of a disaster comes good. There are some people who are strengthened by it and end up doing remarkable things, but then there are others that fall apart and cannot come to terms with their new lives.'

As a navigation specialist and veteran of previous marine conflicts, he still maintains that no other navy in the world could have achieved what the British did in the South Atlantic.

He had headed for the Falklands convinced it was a war with no prospects of a clear victory. Afterwards, with hindsight, he believes it may be remembered as one of the greatest maritime operations in our time.

Captain David Hart-Dyke left the Royal Navy in 1990 and now works as a chief executive of a City of London livery company. He lives in Hambledon with his wife Diana, and the couple have two daughters, Miranda, 24, and Alice, 21.


Civilians who lived and died on ship

The men and women of the Royal Navy have traditional Chinese laundry skills to thank for keeping their white and blue uniforms ship-shape.

The Royal Navy recruits civilians from Hong Kong to run laundry shops on-board ship.

But the reward of running a floating business - which earns them enough to retire after several years - means they run the same risks as the crew.

The first grave dug in the Falklands was a temporary resting place for Kyo Ben Kwo - laundryman in HMS Coventry - who was one of two Chinese laundry workers who died.

Battles
Main Menu