THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN
HMS BRILLIANT BREAKS THE 100 DAYS AT SEA MARK
Argentinean bombs meant for the Devonport-based frigate, HMS
Brilliant, ricocheted off the sea and bounced right over her.
That escape came on May 12th when HMS Brilliant, the
first British warship to sail for the South Atlantic, was
operating close to the Falkland Islands.
She went on to escape serious
damage in "bomb alley" after the British landings at San Carlos,
although she was hit be cannon shells from an Argentinean jet.
which was accepted into service in April, 1981, had been at sea
for 107 days and nights when she returned from the South Atlantic
to a hero's welcome.
She was the first surface ship in
the Royal Navy to break the 100 days at sea barrier since the
Second World War. Her other Falklands 'firsts' included being the
first ship to use the Lynx helicopter and the Sea Wolf missile in
Captain John Coward commanded the
Type 22 frigate during the Falklands campaign and was awarded the
DSO. Six of his ship's company were Mentioned in Dispatches. Her
laundryman, Mr. Kang, from Singapore, was awarded the BEM.
was ordered to sail from Gibraltar on March 28th. Her voyage south
from Ascension Island was made at breakneck speed.
She strained against the weather
and came through with flying colours.
was detached from the group of ships she was with to steam at full
speed to South Georgia. Her two Lynx helicopters were much needed
after two Wessex helicopters, which had been carrying SAS troops
on operations in South Georgia, crashed.
As she raced to join HMS Antrim,
HMS Plymouth and HMS Endurance for the operation
to seize South Georgia back from the Argentineans, there was a
very real threat from an Argentinean submarine known to be in the
The decision was made to locate and
destroy the enemy submarine and it was to play into British hands
in a most unexpected way.
As HMS Brilliant closed
with South Georgia, the presence of an enemy submarine was not her
only preoccupation. A number of satellite reported indicated
icebergs and brash ice in the area. She could not slow her dash
towards Grytviken and Captain Coward could not use radar because
it would have given his ship's position away.
Her Lynx helicopters were launched
at first light as she closed the coast and two hours later came
the staggering news that the Argentinean submarine, A.R.A. Santa
Fe, had been spotted on the surface leaving Grytviken.
Beside her helicopter's, Endurance,
Antrim and Plymouth all had their aircraft up searching for the
submarine. "They descended on the submarine like a swarm of bees,
dropping everything they had", said Captain Coward.
A Wasp helicopter dropped small
depth charges, one of Brilliant's Lynx dropped a homing torpedo
and the other strafed the submarine with machine-gun fire.
Santa Fe's captain had turned back
for Grytviken in his stricken boat. The bridge was damaged and he
was conning her through the periscope. As she beached alongside in
Grytviken, her crew abandoned her and later Brilliant's diving
officer, Lt. Chris Sherman, went down to place a charge to disable
the submarine further. Once the Santa Fe was out of the picture
the submarine threat was removed and the Army commander decided
the he would not wait a minute longer to go ashore. The ships
formed in a line under the towering glaciers of Grytviken and
started what must have been the first British Naval bombardment
since World War II. Captain Coward said : "The noise was
incredible. It was multiplied because Grytviken had towering
vertical mountains coming down into the sea. Every shell burst was
accompanies by a hundred echoes. It must have put the fear of God
into the Argentineans".
Brilliant's helicopters ferried
ashore parties of SAS men, who had earlier been cross-decked to
the ship. Soon the white flag was flying over Grytviken and the
Argentinean commander was offering his surrender over the VHF
Four days later, HMS Brilliant
sailed from South Georgia to rejoin the carrier battle group which
was approaching the Total Exclusion Zone (T.E.Z). A few days later
she was detached for hush-hush operations close inshore.
May 12th saw her close to the
Falklands with the Type 42 destroyer HMS Glasgow, which
had been ordered to bombard Argentinean positions around Port
began shelling, but the British radars soon detected enemy
aircraft approaching. HMS Brilliant positioned herself
between HMS Glasgow and the threat and prepared to fire
the first Sea Wolf missiles used in a real attack.
Twelve Skyhawk jets were broken
into four waves for the attack and the Sea Wolf missiles destroyed
two in the first wave. A third plane crashed into the sea taking
evasive action and the fourth turned away after dropping bombs and
was thought to have been shot down by Argentinean fire over Port
The second wave of Skyhawks managed
to release some bombs. One went through the engine room of HMS
Glasgow. It entered the starboard side and shot out of the port
side - without exploding !
Three bombs meant for HMS
Brilliant bounced over her after ricocheting off the sea. One
went over the flight deck, one between her masts and one bounced
over the bridge.
The bomb in Glasgow had been close
to the water line, but she was escorted back to the main group of
ships where repairs were put in hand.
On May 19th, HMS Brilliant
recovered eight SAS men, who survived when their helicopter
ditched. Tragically, 21 of the crack regiment died in that crash
just two days before D-Day and the British landings at San Carlos.
Lt. Cdr. Morris, Brilliant's S.O.
recalls the early hours of D-Day as being sunny, calm and you
could see sheep grazing on the hillsides of Falkland Sound. Then
the Argentinean planes started to come in. It was a day of savage
air attacks against the British ships. The Devonport frigate
HMS Ardent, was sunk and other ships damaged.
When HMS Antrim was
damaged, HMS Brilliant took over control of the defending
Sea Harriers and her First Lt., Lt. Cdr. Hulme, directed the
British planes in many successful engagements.
Captain Coward moved from a
position in Falkland Sound into the neck of the anchorage to
improve close in air cover. This had two effects, it improved air
defence of the anchorage, but it put the radar in the shadow of
the land which was only a matter of yards away. Techniques had not
yet been developed that were successful for using Sea Wolf under
these conditions, so once again, close in defence fell back to the
Mark I eye ball and the Bofors and machine-guns.
A Mirage jet attacked Brilliant
with cannon fire and shells swept up her starboard side. One shell
penetrated the operations room and three men had to be transferred
to the hospital ship SS Uganda with slight injuries.
Some electrical compartments were
damaged, but Capt. Coward said his engineers managed to get the
systems working again by nightfall.
left 'bomb alley' on May 25th to rejoin the carrier group. It was
Argentine's national day and a day for massed air attacks on the
British ships. HMS Broadsword, Brilliant's sister ship
was hit, the destroyer HMS Coventry, was sunk and the
container ship Atlantic Conveyor was hit by an Exocet
missile. The container ship was about 4½ miles from Brilliant and
the warship picked up 24 survivors.
Lt. Cdr. Morris said that the
Atlantic Conveyor's older men look very cold and very shocked, but
one of her officers had a survival suit on. He came into the
wardroom, unzipped the suit, stepped out in full Merchant Navy
uniform and asked when the bar opened.
From then until the Argentinean
surrender on June 14th, HMS Brilliant was engaged in
convoy duties before she started the 8,000 miles voyage home.
Captain Coward said the campaign
had been a fine vindication of HMS Brilliant's design.
"The ship's company demonstrated the thoroughness of modern naval
training," he said "I have no worries about any of them at any
time, If they had any worries, they certainly never showed them."