A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.
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Mon, 23 May 2022 01:00
After British successes in landing troops on the Falkland Islands, the Argentinian air force strike back, sinking two British ships with their bombs and French-built Exocet missiles. Saul posits a new theory about the fate of the supply ship Atlantic Conveyor, raising the possibility that it was deliberately sacrificed by British high command in order to save their tactically vital carriers.
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Hello and welcome to the Battleground Podcast. I'm Saul David and today Patrick Bishop and I will be talking about one of the most tragic days of the Falklands campaign for the British 25 May 1982. When the Type 42 destroyer HMS Commentary and the Supply Ship Atlantic Conveyor was sunk by Argentinian bombs and exoscept missiles respectively. Now just to recap four days earlier as we've heard in previous episodes, troops were successfully landed at St Carlos War to everyone got ashore without incident and so there they are they're waiting for the next step to move on. They desperately need the supplies which are on board the 15,000 ton container ship Atlantic Conveyor and what they really need are the heavy lift Chinook helicopters and the Wessex helicopters and also on board of course our tons of ammunition equipment to build an airfield, sea harriers and RAFGR3 harriers which will massively augment the defensive airpower will have which of course is an absolutely key element in the success of the operation and also very important tenth for thousands of troops. At the moment they're out in the open and the longer the campaign goes on, the worse their physical condition is going to get so the tenths are often forgotten very important. Now the 25th of May has huge significance for the Argentinians it's their national day that marked the start of their revolution in 1810 which led ultimately to independence from Spain. It's a big day these things have great to symbolic importance and indeed on some of the ships people were pointing this out and saying look they're going to have to do something today you know national private will demand it so we've got to be extra alert. The Air Force were setting their sights on this day to avenge the sinking of the Belgrano and also to have a huge boost to national morale by sinking one and hopefully two of the aircraft carriers the Hermes and the Invincible they are absolutely the core of the air defenses and they are of course at the center of the carrier battle group which was then to the northeast of the Faulkner Islands. Now a series of air strikes and the Argentinian mainland were planned but the initial raids were not successful. Two Mirage Three Jets being chased from Faulkner's sound by sea areas were actually shot down by sea dark missiles fired from the anti aircraft destroyer HMS Coventry. Now the significant thing about the commentary it's getting a lot of work at this point because it's the only survivor of the original three anti aircraft destroyers. Sheffield we heard about with Sunc on the 4th of May and Glasgow since then has been badly damaged so the commentary is getting a lot of work and on the 25th of May it's acting as forward picket with the frigate HMS Broad Sword and they are based roughly 10 miles north of Pebble Island which is just to the north of West Falkland. Now after this initial success Coventry later shot down a third aircraft, Rapier batteries much maligned also claimed one and the frigate HMS Yamath another it seemed at this stage as if the worst was over. Well that at about two o clock having decided against moving position to avoid any retaliatory attacks the air raid running suddenly went off on board Coventry. Now it's Skipper David Hark died very popular with his men sent the crew to action stations and ordered the ship to increase speed and suddenly from the direction of Pebble Island came two Skyhawks attacking at almost wave height they come in very very low to keep under the radar and they veered from Coventry's anti aircraft cannon fire that they're sending out this this hope they hope sort of imperceptible curtain of cannon fire and headed for its its escort ship the Broad Sword which was armed with the modern sea wolf short range ship to missile systems so the sea dart you've got to remember is the long range missile system the sea wolf is the close in short range system unfortunately the computer which is you know it's it's it basically the targeting tool it was unable to distinguish between the two targets so close to coming so close together and it was unable to get a lock as they call it so a single bomb tumbled out of the aircraft hit the starboard side of the ship and bounced out astonishingly it seems to us layman through the flight deck destroying the links helicopter which was sitting there but it failed to explode the sea wolf now actually mostly get a lock on the second pair of Skyhawks closing in but the aim is dismay as he prepared to fire Coventry swung across Broad Swords bow David Hark I could order the ship starboard turn I that's a turn to the right to present the smallest possible target to the incoming aircraft and he was expecting Broad Sword to kind of maneuver in order to avoid him the sea wolf was unable to fire and watching all this was able semen martin buster brown busters his nickname a radio operator who was serving as a lookout on the bridge and he told us what happened next my primary role was in the ops room I used to lay as with the warfare officer and the fighter controller we were group of guys we compiled the air picture for the command on the day in question a 25th of May we were stationed along with the top 22 frigate HMS Broad Sword about 10 to 13 miles north of pebble island and we were acting as a deterrent basically any aircraft which would appear we would engage and hopefully shoot down and on the 25th of May which happened to be the Argentine national day we've been quite successful during the day we shot down two earth re aircraft but unfortunately they targeted us at the end of the day now the afternoon watch which which I kept we I think we would say we engage with we won aircraft we went off watch I went back down to the mess I was listening to music and the last track I listened to was all Kestra Manu is an adark track called souvenir we went to action stations I went to the bridge which was my off watch action station and we just then waited we didn't have to wait very long the first wave of aircraft a pair came in from the starboard side they open fire with their 20 millimeter cannon we engaged in with 4.5 inch gun and small arms fire they directed their attack towards HMS Broad Sword delivering one aircraft delivering its payload to simply damaging the delinx helicopter which was ranged on Broad Sword's flight deck another bomb miss missin and exploding in the sea seconds or minutes later I was looking towards the island and noticed two other aircraft coming closer and rapidly I heard the optimum call out for alarm aircraft the lead pilot I believe open fire with his cannons and hitting us down the port side they flew overhead I'll consider bellies of the aircraft as they flew over it was a deathly silent the signal was a third as the as the bombs exploded from down below the bridge she was filled with smoke and the captain appeared and he had a flash burn to his face he went to the call on the bridge and went down on his knees he was assisted by members of the crew the ship gallantly to list quite quickly I then decided it was time to get off the ship I went down the ship side and as I was going down the ship side I heard I'll go see one of the guys in trouble so I swam out to him and out to be one of the guys and down the mess so I grabbed hold of him swam with him to the live raft helped to recover him and later on in fact it was October 22 I received a commendation for bravery from the commander in chief Abel St John Fieldhouse for my actions yes sadly we lost 19 that day with another guy dying of his injuries 12 months later well that was Abel Seaman Martin Brown describing the dramatic moment that Coventry was attacked by seahawks what I find particularly chilling about that story actually is a sort of cold blooded way in which he tells it his heart must have been thumping and it must be an utterly terrifying experience to realize you know as he puts it that the ship is crippled and you know it's almost certainly going to go down yeah and very flat and you know people respond to these things in different ways some people when they're reliving the memory see it in very vivid colors other more analytical and try to look at what actually happened in what sequence all of them of course we've gone over it over and over again in their heads wondering what might have happened might what might have gone differently what they might have done to avoid fate but I think you get a feeling here that once that bomb hits you the first bomb hits there's that's it it's kind of game over yeah and also very very self effacing I think that account because you know he's he describes getting in the water and the first thing he's doing is actually thinking about helping someone else not saving his own life and you know what we often hear this is this is a reaction to extreme danger but it's you know it's really instructive to hear it's not just a question of every man for himself and I suppose that's all about the tea the team work that gets developed when you're part of a crew that gets on well with each other yeah no that that was it was rather touching the way that he he just described you know an act of great herrrorism in this completely sort of modest way but that's you know that's very much the kind of spirit of the of the navy I think okay so we've heard from from an able seamen but let's actually hear from commentary skipper David Hartdike who was in the operations room when the attack occurred the next pair turned up from different directions and came straight for me and got through to fight to spite all our defenses we thought we had a contact on our sea dart long range but I mean it just wasn't coping with low level and the first missile went straight into the shore north forkline we used the four five inch gun both as machine guns even anyway the pair got through and three bombs went inside the ship and traveled deep down inside the ship they came in just above the water level or a bit higher perhaps and then went right down inside the ship and of course flying at low level they then go up at the last minute and saw lob the bomb such that it does fall from my height and goes through the decks so it does maximum damage between decks one bomb didn't go off but two did and so it really took out the senior elements of the ship the ops from team senior people including me we were disabled really but doing anything and the after section damage control also were taken out so there we were with the ship so turning over I mean internally you know six smoke and fire flooding everything no communication nothing and you were in the ops room David and knocked out for a while or unconscious for a short time I never move from my chair but when I came round you know I could sense the devastation of the whole compartment and people were actually on fire and a lot of thick smoke and I personally couldn't see any way out because the ladder behind me my traditional route was destroyed and to the left that's where the bombs came in really impossible and I therefore didn't know how I could get out but anyway somehow if I myself out in clear air on the starboard side that door was free and then I climbed up saw twisted ladders and got on the flag deck then to the side of the bridge by that time it's full of smoke and I just saw the ship's company abandoning ship and it was a young element of the ship I mean such as the training and the discipline morale and all the rest of it they just got on hardly word to spoken and I saw this happening I never gave the order to abandon ship very orderly and calm hardly word was spoken but this time the ship was beginning to turn over and so we could only get the life rafts out on one side of the ship so immediately there was a shortage of space in fact it is a miracle to me in just thinking of it now that 280 of us got out of the ship and most of the other skull by the blast of the bombs so it was a remarkable rally and we filled the life rafts to over over full with those sufficient space so we were all pretty quickly floating in life rafts around the ship as we saw it turn over David how did you yourself get down to the life raft well when I watched this abandon ship and everybody diving in going to life rafts and although shortly before I said I came up to you from nowhere and help you put on my survival suit you know to protect me from the freezing sea it was a very brave act and I told him to get off because he should have gone but anyway there I was he kindly help me and then I just walked down the ship side the starboard side but then was nearing towards the horizontal and stepped in the water and swam a short distance to the life raft so I was the last one in one life raft and therefore when the helicopters came to rescue us all I was the first out and winched up by helicopter and taken to HMS Broadsord so that was my escape but it was extraordinary thing that the life rafts on the starboard side eventually ended up on the port side of the ship and were caught underneath the ship that was coming out down on top of them and my life raft which I just exited was actually sunk it got spiked by the missile launcher there's a missile still on the launcher the sea dock and they ended up in the water again and one sailor even climbed back on board which actually was probably about to blow up any of the use of I so our nightmare didn't stop all these for the ship's company and their life rafts they were not safe they were being tracked underneath the ship coming on top of them but anyway they all escaped my picked out of the water by boats or my helicopter so I had a hot bath in the middle cannings cabin and then went to a brief way out on the bridge and all you could say was I'm very sorry David I couldn't say anything and then I got winched or from went to an IFA in Fort Linsan and then to eventually to another IFA and eventually to QE2 in South Georgia and presumably one of your biggest concerns David quite apart from the loss of some of your crew was what was happening at home because the one of the problems is when when these ships get sunk is that there's a sort of general thing goes out a ship's been sunk but they don't actually specify who's been sunk and certainly nobody knows if who are the casualties so presumably your main concern was getting information back to your family well it was I have to admit the whole point of me I'm going to speak to Bill Cunningham the bridge to at least show my face as alive because I knew that would get back to Sandi Woodwood and into your home but yes it was unfortunate in hindsight the the name of Coventry was not mentioned because our wives and families back home had no idea which ship it was and in fact when I was taking to this IFA in Fort Linsan I sat with the master of this IFA having a brandy within we heard the ten o clock news you'd be seeing world service saying it destroyed being sunk and actually I didn't believe it was my ship at that time search for the state housing anyway so the family's back home suffered somewhat yeah how did your family actually find out get get the news well friendly man was actually on the staff at Northwood until actually ring up my wife and say that he knew I'd divide but then my wife had all the pressure from the wives of my ship's company ringing her up saying what's the news what's the news is it Coventry is my husband's wife etc so there are and me my wife was very much central to trying to provide information and she was fed it eventually from the likes of our friend in Northwood and elsewhere I mean that's a rather more dramatic account lots of very powerful details in there the idea of people being on fire and he himself of course is kind of looking at all his instruments nor the rest of it he's down in the in the control room he's actually slightly of one remove until the bomb hits and then there's this feeling that you often get from such accounts of kind of miraculous moments when everything seems terrible there's no way out and then suddenly there is a way out something happens and you're breathing clean there again but I also was really struck by that description of walking down the deck and into the sea I mean it's a real I don't know people would perhaps remember the great wartime movie in which we serve which was made by Noel Coward and it was based on the on the experiences of Louie Mountbatten on his ship HMS Kelly in the Mediterranean but it's very much like those sequences of people splashing around in the water and climbing on border being hauled on border a life raft and also because you've got to have forgotten about the survival suit detail in those South Atlantic waters you're not going to survive more than a couple of minutes they are incredibly cold and so that obviously was a great life saver yeah and again a great act of of generosity and terrorism which he acknowledges a crew member who clearly you know what might have just thought about himself and got into the sea actually stopped to help him and one of the details he didn't mention there but I know about having read his book is that his hands were very badly burned from from the explosion next to the operations room and he was struggling as a result of that to use his hands to get on his survival suit so you know I don't think it's going too far to say that that that sailors generosity and her as a might have might have helped save his life the other thing that struck me Patrick is this slightly mad idea they had at the time at the MOD to announce that a ship had been sunk but not say which one so you've got the double whammy here not only does every you know every civilian who's got a serving member of the family and the Royal Navy and the South Atlantic not know if they're involved in that sinking you also don't know which of the casualties if you're if your cobbentry which of the casualties actually refer to you and and of course it was the job as we know both in in infantry units and also in in naval ships of the senior officers wife to effectively look after the family members of the rest of the battalion of the rest of the crew and in this case she was the one who had to tell some of those crew members when she find out the bad news that their loved ones wouldn't be coming back yeah that's just something else that perhaps we will look at later on but the role of of those back home I mean I think it is a kind of time on a job of the of the unit commanders wife to actually deal with all her fellow wives who were sitting nervously at home listening to the news wondering what the hell's happening to their men folk and the obviously did a did a great job here so it's good it's good that you know she's she's been given proper place in the story there is one other little aspect that I think it might be worth mentioning Patrick I'm not sure David will appreciate this but I'm going to anyway and that is his daughter is Miranda Hart the sort of comedian and TV writer and actress and it's fascinating she was about 10 years old when this happened at school and one of the teachers comes up to her and says listen Miranda you know how you feeling today assuming that she's heard from her mum that the commentary has been saying well actually she hasn't been told anything you know her response is because apparently she was always very sort of you know a child who was always slightly concerned about her health and she said well actually I'm feeling very well apart from a minor sniffle and she was delighted that the teacher that she made the effort to ask how she was doing great little story okay so let's get back to you know the the consequences and the consequences were horrific a total of 19 members of countries crew were killed that day and many more badly wounded many more badly burned including of course heart dyke not seriously injured but injured by the flash fires it might interestingly enough all of ended very differently if the sea harriers that were overhead at the time on the cap overhead had been allowed to engage enemy planes over the ships as Lieutenant Commander Tim Gage told us a few days later when HMS Coventry was attacked and as it were as it as it happens sunk she was attacked by Skyhawk aircraft and I was leading one of two pairs of aircraft on combat appertral we were called in by one of the ship's radars to to try and chase the attacking Skyhawks but we were quite a long way away and although we were significantly faster than the Skyhawk aircraft particularly coming down from from medium or high level I think we would have probably got a sidewinder missiles off and in amongst the Skyhawks before they dropped their bombs but we would have been well inside the missile engagement zone and so our doctrine at the time was if the ship could was never to enter that zone there would the expression was take it with birds and that was the signal that the ship would engage with its own missiles in the event the sea wolf missiles weren't able to lock onto the aircraft so that bombs actually were dropped and exploded and Coventry was sunk. So that was Lieutenant Commander Tim Gage explaining why he couldn't interfere when he'd spotted the Skyhawks attacking Coventry what makes it particularly poignant is the fact that David Harpdike was asked by his fighter controller on board when the Skyhawk attack was underway if he wanted a carrier to intervene this is what he told us. We were controlling two carriers most of the time and direct them to obviously the threat coming towards them close the range they're on their own with a sidewinder missiles very effective too so I had these two airplanes which were closing in as fast as they could the threat coming to me and my fighter controller was extremely sharp and I just saw him two or three days ago and we both reminded ourselves of that instant he stood up to be conspicuous and taught direct to me across you know the table as it were the plotting table and said what do you do with his carriers and of course by that time I air missile controller said you got Lockhart and I don't think he had actually and of course a low target was a very long shot indeed so I had that split second decision aircraft controller on me as to what we do with the carriers and then we thought it wouldn't quite get there on time and then we were fearful of shooting them down and getting in our way of our missiles or what we might be tempted to do so I said call them off and hope that broadsword might be our sort of last ditch defense and that was awful decisions you made in seconds you've got to meet the reminder and actually on hindsight I think that anybody influencing me and what I think that my thought was afterwards was that actually the CIA is alone would have put the fear up the Argentinians minds because they were being lethal and so effective I think that would have been enough actually to deter probably the threat coming in but that's hindsight it's one of those classic split second decisions Patrick isn't it he acknowledges now incredibly honestly I think with the benefit of hindsight that he probably should have called the carriers in and they might have saved the ships I mean it's quite an admission but of course he was operating under you know under the pressure of the moments and who's to say that his decision might have turned out differently if the C dart had actually taken out one of those planes yeah well we will never know but it's yeah it's interesting he he he thought that the deterrent effect of the the C carriers would be enough for the attackers to veer away and I can see that because they are they realize now that if it's the context between them and the C carriers they're probably going to come off worse I mean even though numerically we're at a huge disadvantage we are definitely in when there's actually a confrontation we're going we're going to overpower them more and so that that may be the case it might have been the case but we'll level know the answer to that one I mean we realized from the from the comments by David Hartdike how shaken he was even at the end of the day he didn't actually realize he was so out of it he didn't actually realize that it was his ship that had been hit and of course the shock fell by all the survivors of these sinkings is really quite extreme and we get a sense of this from the comments made to us by Dave Watkins the coxen of the landing craft Fox trot 3 which helped to ferry some of the survivors from Broadsword to a fleet auxiliary ship that day so we disappeared out get a night again one of you in the Broadsword and took all these guys again coming down nets and God knows well in states of undressed and so on and so on and so forth back onto our boat and I can it's a memory of six of me because my the mechanical engineer I had at my boat was scanning these people coming down the ladders and down the ropes and that to see if there's anybody he knew because obviously the Navy in the mechanical engineer branch quite a small branch you know so he's looking around and seeing if there's any new but these guys are coming down you can see in the faces the absolute horror of what they had experienced and all this sort of stuff and we took them from near to one of the RFAs for them to be looked after properly so all these little things all kind of meld into one big experience you know and so some of it good and some of it bad now the drama of that day unfortunately was far from over in part two we're going to discuss the extraordinary possibility that the supply ship of lenteconvair was sacrificed to save the carrier hermys the content of part two is based on detailed research conducted by doctor Gordon Brooks originally conveys doctor but latterly a respected research scientist we have also incorporated anonymized extracts from his personal story by modeling the actions of the British vessels doctor Brooks conclusively demonstrates that conveyor was sailing in close company with hermys during the Argentine Exocet attack of 25th May 1982 rather than being on a way into San Coloss water to offloader helicopters as is often assumed he has also shown the Argentine Exocets were heading for hermys until the last moment when they veered towards conveyor which had been turned the wrong way by hermys and became the larger target doctor Brooks's conclusion supported by the decision makers of the day expert witnesses and reviewers of his research is that conveyor's turn was the result of a low level misunderstanding occurring in the heat of the moment rather than any deliberate action as you'll hear in part two i come to a different conclusion if you want to decide for yourself you can find a link to doctor Brooks's research in the episode notes welcome back in part one we heard about the grim fate of hms commentary on the 25th of May 1982 now we're going to discuss the controversial circumstances that led to the sinking of the container ship Atlantic conveyor so at 736 on May the 25th Michael Williams is the principal warfare officer on the frigate hms ambuscade which was acting as the final line of air defense for sandy woodwoods carrier battle group which was 17 miles northeast to the Forkland Islands detected the approach of two Argentine aircraft coming from the northwest as an estimated range of only 35 miles immediately told woodwoods flagship the carrier hermys which was sailing on a slightly divergent course two miles to the east and aware of the danger the skipper of hermys ordered full power that kept on the same southerly course now the aircraft were two French built super etondar strike fighters armed with exoset missiles that had taken off from Rio Grande on the Argentinian mainland two hours earlier woodwood had been informed of their departure by British special forces team observing the airfield from the mainland but as soon as the maximum flight time of the jets had passed he assumed the danger of an attack was over in fact and benon to the British at that time the Argentinians had developed an inflight refueling capability that could extend the range of the attacking aircraft having flown a lengthy dog leg to the north of the Forklands at extremely low altitude and maintaining radio silence the planes then popped up as they called it that's immediately going into a steeper scent to activate the radars and they were now in a perfect position to attack hermys the pilots both experienced veteran this one was called Robert Kirillovich and the other Hector Baraza they could see three targets on their radar to the large and one smaller naturally they selected the largest hermys that's that's their target for the day and launched their rocket propelled anti ship exoset missiles their French designed that armed with 165 kilogram wallheads and they can be launched from the air to distance it will quite a long distance is at this point there are only 30 miles away from the ship and the missiles then skimmed the waves just 50 feet above the water at a speed of more than 700 miles an hour so it would only take them less than three minutes to get on target where that the exosets were coming Michael Williams ordered the ambuscade to fire chaff that is small strips of metal designed to disorientate the exosets by presenting them with alternative targets to lock on to captain lindley middleton the skipper of hermys did exactly the same and at the same time he ordered a tight turn to starboard so that it's bowed face the incoming missiles and presented as smaller target as possible now this is a chilling moment for middleton he's got 2000 people on board roughly and he knew what had happened to the destroyer hms sheffield which would been crippled by a single exoset missile earlier in the conflict and the loss of hermys along with half the task force airpower of 40 or so sea areas might be fatal for the campaign now the third vessel noticed by the Argentinian pilots bristler 15,000 ton container ship SS Atlantic conveyor which had also been sailing south a mile behind hermys we heard in the earlier episode about how the conveyor had offloaded a sea harrier sort of brought south a few days earlier the plan for the 25th was for the conveyor to head to san colos water off to dark and offload the rest of its vital equipment and stores which included of course the heavy lift chinook helicopters aviation fuel ammunition and tents but unlike ambuscade and hermys it had no military radar capability and no chaff its ability to avoid incoming missiles was entirely pendant on instructions from hermys now what happens next is the subject of heated debate the conventional story that we've always heard up till now is that the Atlantic conveyor was hit by exosets because it was a defenseless merchant ship in the wrong place at the wrong time and heading for the forked an islands there'd be much talk on the journey south about what the chaffless conveyor might do to avoid the dreaded exosets eventually it was agreed with woodwoods approval i might add that and i quote here she should turn her stern to the missiles to make her a smaller target this would have the added benefit of using her heavy stern ramp to act like armor plating the conveyor skipper Ian North who was nicknamed captain bird zone on account of his beard was having a beard with some off duty helicopter pilots when the crisis unfolded he respects the bridge expecting hermys to confirm the direction of the attack so he could then change course as per instructions but unbeknownst to him conveyor was at this point almost stern on to the incoming missiles and already in the best defensive posture that it could take but an order came through from hermys on the over the tactical channel saying immediate execute turn port to zero 40 zero 40 degrees now that's a direct order to turn the ship onto a course that instead of making the the conveyor a smaller target would present not her stern to the incoming missiles but rather her entire port side so what happens next well having passed through ambuscades chaff the missiles appeared to angle to their left towards woodwoods flagship i mean we have eyewitness accounts that indicate this on hermys bridge at the time a look out remembered and this is a significant quote i saw a white hot glow on the horizon i shouted a warning to the bridge although i'd never seen an exorcet i knew what it was the missile was coming towards hermys suddenly it brought to the right and hit Atlantic conveyor she went up in a big pool of smoke so it appears that after losing their lock in ambuscades chaff the exorcets search for a new target which left them with a choice between hermys bow on trailing chaff and conveyors they're left exposing her port side which was of course a result of following those instructions they picked the conveyor as the larger part target and moved towards her recent research leads me to conclude that the conveyor was deliberately sacrificed to save hermys the exorcets had hit the conveyor's port quarter stopping our engines and spilling burning propellant through the open cargo decks that ignited everything in its path the ship quickly filled with acrid black smoke which was sucked into the ventilation system and spread around the ship and onto the decks hampering the work of the damaged control parties the crew fought a heroic but ultimately futile battle to save the ship while conveyor's escort the frigate hms alacrity came alongside to use hoses to fight the fire but the flames continued to spread and conveyor's upper deck was soon cut in two by a pool of thick black smoke two officers one wearing breathing apparatus tried to rescue a badly wounded mechanic who was trapped in the engine room and screaming in pain but they were driven back by the heat and smoke and any thoughts of trying again were ended by an order from the bridge to seal all hatches to the cargo decks by the time the order to abandon ship was given the decks were so hot that souls of crew members shoes were starting to melt and the hull was glowing red and filled with jagged holes where exploding munitions had shot debris through some of the crew were rescued by helicopters from invincible one of which was copilot by hr h prince andru many climbed down a rope ladder and jumped the last few feet into the icc only to discover that their once only survival suits were rapidly filling with water most were saved by their inflatable vests and eventually got into life rafts and were picked up by hms alacrity yeah but for all that they were the lucky ones 12 of the crew didn't survive the attack including the skipper Ian North who was last seen in the water trying to reach a life raft a few days later the conveyor's burnt out hulks bitten to and sank that was the first British merchant ship to be destroyed by enemy action since the second world war now of course this news is met with complete dismay on the fortnighters themselves by the by the commanders by everyone everyone knew that there was not nearly enough helicopter left to move troops forward in a in an easy fashion and Jeremy more major general Jeremy more who by now has arrived to take command of the whole land operation will come on to that later on but he described it as the most serious loss of the war no doubt about that but it was not a fatal blow as it might have been if one of the two carriers had been sunk instead so the question we need to ask Patrick is we've already alluded to it was conveyor sacrifice to save hermys and win the war now Gordon bricks although he presents some very important evidence as as we already explained what he thinks now is that the order the 040 0 order that was given to conveyer was actually a mistake and that what they were actually intending to do is to say turn 0 4 to port not quite the same as 0 4 0 but turn 0 4 to port and that actually would have brought if if that had been the intention that would have brought the conveyor onto the correct bearing with its stern two but that was not the order that was given we know from the court have been quarried that it was 0 4 0 and more importantly Patrick the order was turn port immediately two and the two is important because it means when you when you put two in an order like this you're going to move on to a bearing and not a number of degrees for which you you are expected to turn this is long and involved I know but it's a very important distinction so my conclusion having looked at all of the evidence is that actually either wood or middleton or the two of them between them are having agreed beforehand in such an emergency that they were prepared to sacrifice the conveyor and there are two revealing comments wood would make after this event that would back up that theory the first was in his post battle war diary that's written straight after this engagement and he writes and I quote using merchant vessels as spare targets probably not such a good idea unless they have chaff it's not a direct admission but it's an illusion to what he might just have done and the second comment and I think this is just a significant was actually a admission in his war memoir 100 days that if the occasion had demanded it he would have been prepared to sacrifice any ship for hermys he writes in the most brutal terms I could afford to lose a big merchant ship or even a tanker a whole lot more than I could afford to lose a carrier so there's the evidence for the prosecution Patrick what's your feeling about all of this and also you know let's talk a little bit about how serious was the loss of the conveyor as we've already said this is this is a very serious thing indeed the logistical strain on the operation is already enormous because you've got five brigade have landed it turns up they're not going to just be sitting in in the rear areas they're going to take part in the attack that's a big subject will be coming on too later and all this movement movement a men movement of guns movement of ammunition and movement of all sort all military supplies is very dependent on helicopters now this godsend of the arriving big lift helicopters that genuix and the extra west Texas have it's now gone it's gone down to the bottom of the south Atlantic so this is this is a real blow to to how the operation proceeds but I think in terms of what was this deliberate sacrifice of the Atlantic event but I don't think that that's the case at all I think it's typical fog of war you've got millions of decisions being taken in very short spaces of time tiny decisions big decisions big decisions can go just as wrong as any anyone of the tiny ones and I think those quotes that you mentioned from from Woodwood don't really settle the thing one way or the other of course it's not a good idea to have merchant vessels without a chaff defenses but you know this is all very last minute it's just thrown into the mix they can bear um scrubbing around for looking for for ships that can go south so stuff like that was bound to happen I think a bigger question actually is why it was sailing in daylight why it didn't sort of stay out of exoset range until darkness and come in it may be that there just simply wasn't enough hours of darkness to get it in another cover of darkness but I'm always a bit wary about this these uh the idea that you could formulate something that to an extent as a conspiracy in extreme circumstances when at the unexpected is happening the whole time so I think it's um it's as usual uh cock up Trump's conspiracy on this one okay so the jury's still out on this one but what what is not in doubt and I think we need to stress this Patrick is that and the order was acknowledged as I say well the court of inquiry uh that the order that was given to conveyer whether it was deliberate or not did lead almost certainly to uh conveyer making itself a bigger target and therefore was that the cause uh for the missiles diverting as we've heard from the eyewitness account on Hermes at the last minute um uh just leaving that speculation out there okay one other aspect we need to consider we talked last episode about the revelation recently or at least the accusation that the French had had this defeat device which if they'd given to us might have allowed us to uh not use chaff or or any of the other methods we tried to use to to defend against the exoset we we literally would have had a box of piece of equipment uh to press a button and the exosets would have would have dived harmlessly into the sea now we've got a bit more evidence for this now because uh in the last week or so there's been a revelation by a man called Pierre Razzou who's a former French defense official who claims that in 1982 uh this electronic countermeasure as I've just outlined did exist uh why didn't they give us the information um his response to that was president meteorol was unwilling to share the technology with Britain because it would be like and this is his quote giving the keys to your safety or neighbor it's not done Razzou expanded on that and said it is because we were and still our competitors in the arms industry and Francois meteorol knew that if he had handed over the plans in full then the British would have let it be known the world over again Patrick what's your feeling about that because lives were lost to exosets could they have been saved yeah well I think we've got to look at the broader picture of Anglo French military relations going back centuries uh the fact that we were allies in the first world war and for the first bit of the second world war I think um is is a bit of a kind of aberration normally we're at each other's throats of course there was another occasion uh in the Crimean War where we were allies but uh normally where kind of um when it comes to wars we're we're either fighting each other or we're on different sides and I think this the Faulknern sort of um put the French in a bit of a kind of conflicted position they sort of know that we ought to be the good guys but somehow they fight it quite hard to treat us like that so I think in terms of the possibility of that happening yeah it is it is possible um but on the other hand I mean there's some completely um contradictory story emerged about in 2005 I think it was when this is a bit strange but uh meteorol was in the habit of going to a psycho analyst twice a week and the psycho analyst as far as I can see breaking uh his uh professional code wrote a book uh ten years after Mietron's death describing how um Mietron came to just after meeting Margaret Thatcher in May and a date in May just after the Sheffield have been sent actually and said that uh Mietron unburdened himself to the psycho analyst saying um at this woman you know it's extraordinary woman uh I can't I really can't be doing whether she she's telling me now that she's going to nuke Boehner's areas um unless we hand over the codes for the exosets um and he said well what can I do in the circumstances there's some various colorful phrases about uh being this um woman with a kind of manic island mentality would rather provoke a nuclear war um then give up a few islands which are inhabited by three hairy sheep you had a great turn of phrase on Mietron when it came to to Margaret Thatcher everyone remembers uh his brilliant description of her as having the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe I think he actually quite fancy to her in a strange way on Mietron um anyway so who knows but uh yeah I think I think it's uh within the bounds of possibility I think it's it is uh distinctly plausible that they wouldn't wouldn't have had it over the codes for the state of reasons yeah it's poignant as net of course for for you know we we must stress the stories we're telling today are an awful lot of um sailors both civilian and and military lost their lives that day so it's a it's a poignant story I think and well worth us covering now I think it's also worth mentioning uh that in her you mentioned Margaret Thatcher well she wrote about this day and actually described the evening afterwards as a consequence of the losses reported to her that day as one of the worst nights of the war she was actually concerned uh she'd heard reports that invincible had been sunk as well so it was only once you finally uh knew that one of the Ecroch Carreza not been sunk uh that she cheered up a little bit uh the following morning she also realized that the vast majority of both crews had survived um David Hartdike talked about 280 of his crew getting out and he was inordinately proud of the calm professional way that they'd managed that and actually without even orders from him normally it's the skipper who says abandon ship actually they're taking it upon themselves or at least some of the junior officers had um but in Margaret Thatcher's mind she's often portrayed as you say the iron lady you know this really tough heartless character not a bit of it you get a real sense of how powerfully she was affected by uh the loss of life in these two sinkings she she tells the house of commas the next day and I think genuinely our hearts go out to all the families who had men in these ships we in Britain know the reality of war we know it's hazards and dangers we know the task which faces our fighting men they are now established on the fork the nines with all the necessary supplies and although they are faced with formidable problems in difficult terrain with a hostile climate their morale is high well we'll find out what happens next in the next episode when things take an unexpected turn this is the hugely controversial battle of goose green we'll discuss whether or not it needed to be fought and what happened in the battle itself so join us next week goodbye