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, 25 Jul 2022 01:00
Graham 'Piggy' Trotter recounts his time as a Navy Clearance Driver during the campaign, including the heart-stopping de-fusing of a thousand pound bomb from RFA Sir Lancelot.
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Hello and welcome to a special bonus episode of Battleground the Faulkans War with me Saul David and Patrick Bishop. Today we're going to play an extended interview with Graham Piggy Trotter who was born and brought up in Leicester before he ran away to see at the age of 15. It was, he told me, the best decision I ever made. Fast forward from that time 16 years to 1982 and Piggy was second in command of the Royal Navy's Fleet clearance diving team 3 when it was deployed to the Faulkans. We actually flew, we put all our stuff in a C130, flew to a sentient and then loaded it all on one of the auxiliary ships. Do you remember which one it was? Yeah, it's a better view, it's a better view, a better view. Was that similar to the Galahad and the Tristram? Exactly the same, yeah exactly the same. Yeah I think there were maybe four of those who went there heading down there. We took them bomb off the Sagarahad, the first time you got in San Carlos, North America. We took them bomb off the Sarlans a lot. So those two, the better view and the Tristram, yeah I think it was for you. Tell me a little bit about your memories of approaching the Faulkans, the first time you got close to the islands and what you did then where you were sent then? Well we entered the Faulkans on the 24th of May, sort of two or three days after the landing, the initial landings. We already had a team down there, there was three diving teams down in the Faulkans, team one, two and three. Team one were front line and they went in with the landings, team three were a bad damage repair and they were outside the total exclusion zone until the end and then we were flaked in team three. We went in on the 23rd or 24th, yeah and we went in on the bit on Subedivir and it was absolutely amazing. It was a real really, the water was flat corn, it was all like a lovely summer's day, not a ripple on the water and and and soon as we anchored or the ship anchored, out come the LIC of the fleet team one to give us a diving team one to give us a briefing on what what they've been up to in the couple of days and they've been there for about half hour and we're just wrapping up our little meeting and an air raid came in and all hell went from there. Yeah well tell me a little bit more about that Piggy, what's your memory of the air raid? Well remember everybody saying land the deck, land the deck you know so we all laid on the deck and I remember this chief chief officer engineer officer of the raw fleet of the ship coming around and said don't lay here over the top of the fuel tank so we've had so anybody don't the air raid passed and basically we were so lucky because one of the bombs, one of the Argentinian bombs, it hit the master of the subterranean, the order, I'm on the master of the subterranean, hit the wires for the front crane and just skimmed off into the water with that question so well well here we go. Was it in that raid? I know that one ship, definitely one raw lady ship was sunk that day on the 24th, I can't remember exactly which one it was. As we entered the sandcolds for water and I said it was a fabulous look and day but I could smell the call light and I thought well that's stranded as it went closer into the sandcolds for there was the burning wreck of the the antelope. The antelope that's right okay so yeah so it was the antelope. Yeah and she was hit the day before I think and the there's two raw and engineered bomb disposal and one fortunately unfortunately lost his life the other one lost his arm and of course we knew we were going in to do the same work so that was a bit disturbing. Yeah but funny enough after the air raid has finished we got the message just that the Segella had and the Salanz lot have both been hit and we've gone wrecking them which myself and my OC went to do we went to the gallad first so what sort of trouble she was in. Now the family and the explosion bomb and that landed in a battery compartment with battery assets scattered all around but it's not the sort of thing I was used to when I was working in Portland. But anyway and then without doing anything you know bottom thinking about it obviously we went on to the Salanz lot. Clined up there was a rope ladder at the stern we climbed up the rope ladder and that ship had completely been abandoned. So we got we got into the ship at the back at the back end and the smell we thought what's that smell and we sort of followed our snows trails to the smell and there was still stuff cooking on the on the on the galley ranges and nearly bursting at the fives I think if we'd have been 20 minutes later the ship would have been on fire from it so we managed to knock all the power off to the cookers but there was nothing worth foraging for food so it's all burnt to us isn't it so they were so shaken I suppose by the by the air attack that they left without even turning the galley off. Turning the dinner off the cooks have not turned the dinner off. No it was just burning away well virtually bursting the flame. So anyway we dealt with that and then we found the bomb and the bomb was so easy to find it into the starboard side of the ship and we just followed the trail of the damage inside and you can imagine the damage a thousand pound bomb does it travel in I don't know 300 miles an hour as it clicks through so it had traveled more or less I'd say three quarters of the way through the ship and it came to rest probably a 45 degree angle all covered in rubble but unfortunately it came to rest under a ladder going up to the deck above well on raw Navy ships all ladders have bolts to the top to the bomb you just remove them say not for all fleet or batteries on merchant ship that built in place so we thought what we're going to do here and we come because of the way the bomb was landed at a 45 degree angle facing upwards and the turn wedged up more or less wedged up against the matter we couldn't see the state of the fuse well really technically it's called a pistol a fuse is used as explosives to set the train of exposure and a pistol acts like a spring loaded firing pin so that's a slight but everybody calls them fuses so that's probably the best way to describe them and we come to see now when they're all tail fuse obviously don't want to put a fuse in the nose so as soon as it hits the absolute ship you want to obviously depenitrate the target before it goes off so we can't see the state of the fuse so we thought oh so basically we were we were working out things to do and then it was sort of by this time it was sort of four o clock in the morning and we would okay so we'd take a trip back to the bed of it to catch some sleep and report what we found because that was basically just a wrecking and we'd only just got to bed and there was a call that there was noises heard under the warships under the sound of the warships that were anchored in the in some cast water so my none my next my periodic diary took the boys away to search the bottom of as many ships as it could search and we found nothing so we thought it was a false alarm but this we we had special ways to search ships quickly at the hole and the next day they just they told us well well this is what happened to the Royal Engineers they tried using a device that unscrews the the fuse fuses from the ships and they successfully done it on one of the jobs I did and something called a rocket wrench and basically it's like a cathartron wheel that you've put on the fuse and it unwise it quicker than the firing pin can go forward hopefully but of course there was no way we could get one on and the fuse is on the so gall I had and a solancer lot were really that damage as they tumble through the ship there was no way one of those would fit so after we lost the the antelope through trying that device we were we were really asked if we would try and get it out with that diffuser and it on disposal it's it's basic and it so that's what we plan to do that just before you go on Piggy just to give me a sense of how unusual that is because you know from a rookie like me that that sounds like a ridiculously dangerous thing to do to move something without taking the fuse out well well it was it was it absolutely it was to me had you done it before on anything anything none of us had experienced that none of us thankfully we were able to change the training schedules in after the war and we put a like a unit in the bond disposal schools to represent a warships internal compartments so but you know we were going to be blind now when when the bond leaves the aircraft it's on the back of the fuse it's got like a little propeller and the propeller has to turn a thread 11 times and then after after it's turned 11 times then it should become on that gives it chance to leave the aircraft before it arms itself obviously well so what we did I got I did my backing basically different it sort we wedged the bombing so it couldn't move we really wedged it in tight and I laid on top of the bomb with a torch and I borrowed a toothpick from the dental department on H. Westfield H. and they did trepid bomb block bickerships and trying to dig away to see if that if I could see how many turns it moved but there was no way there was no way so it was a case of okay what we're going to do now so and the next plan was okay we'll take it it was easy to go up a deck not one of the officers cabins out and put like a patio door on the outside of his cabin and then do rigging rig up what we call shear legs and and transfer it by chain voice sort of around the to the outside of the ship and our right to the seabed and pray and that's what we did and that the our operation from when we started to pick the stuff out the back of the fuse until they actually lift in it took 22 hours wow so it was a long time and of course we this ladder have to be burnt away at one stage and we are not experiencing welding and burning so very kindly sent over a couple of chats technicians from the fearless who were experiencing and bought their burning equipment so we covered the bomb with the blankets fear not blankets doused it down with water and it and the org is now almost started cutting down and he got I suppose four foot above the bomb and he turned his torture off and said piggy I can't do anymore I'm too scared I said come on you're with you I'm with you he said I can't do anymore so I said right there I went to the officers bar which because this year was abandoned got two great big glasses of wood rum took it back I said George with me after 3123 it only carried on burning and cleared it all the way wow but it bit of Dutch carries that literally well that's what it was that's what it was and so what happened then the ladder was cleared away it previously before we started the ladder not not me at the the officers coming out and put me a patio door my lads were rigging sheer legs on the outside so we got chain hoist from the ship he was plenty of of them on there and you know the the helicopter stops you see the people are in the orange stops that go around you waste we I've got two of those and secured it to the nose of the bomb and one to the tail end of the bomb and we put a chain hoist and gently gently hoisted it up oh baddest time I've sent George back to his ship George the Berlin Baltic right leaving me now George so we hoisted it up very very slowly got nearly to the top of the deck I wanted to be on and a bit of the chain hoist slipped and you can imagine the sockets and the look between is it going to go is it going to go but no it didn't and so we were actually trying to keep it in the handle it did land the up you know the 45 degree handle and we actually got it out there we didn't keep the handle on it the right handle but we did the job yeah amazing and it is it some you know in retrospect you look back is it definitely going to go off with its slips or it because it's like as you were saying before it slightly depends where at the point at which the fuse is doesn't it yes and with the fuse being that damage yeah you didn't you don't know so it could be fractions from the point at which it's going to go off and anything can get it to that point that's the problem is it and we think that's happened that happened with the Royal Engineering the supper guys the surviving one's now a friend of mine was we think that's our and because they didn't want yeah try to try the same technique with the other is it like Clee Piggy that even if you you and the guy your guys have been had been doing the other one the same outcome would have happened or would you have used it no absolutely yeah it wasn't so it's just it's fake really isn't what bad luck or whatever you want to call it yeah did you get quite some philosophical is one way of putting it you know did you just kind of trust to to what will be will be and that's sort of work because it it not everyone would be able to do it exactly what you think okay is this is it's my it's my wife's going to be covered insurance wise and and uh my little but what I did do is the guys who are chucked with me are picked that they were all the single the single guys though your wife might have been glad to see the back of you uh actually my other however we just celebrated our 50th wedding all right so she definitely would have been seen glad to see the back of me now yeah just out of interest um was she exact was she aware of what you were up to down there Piggy because obviously it would have been pretty nerve wracking for wouldn't it well um she knew that some bond disposal guys the BBC had put out the bond disposal guys have been killed one have been killed and there but the BBC did say they were they were well mentioned it so she knew I was all right and they had somewhat of a link wise organization so uh my headshed of the diving branch and he was known as the superintendent diving his wife phoned my wife um to say there are all right yeah okay so she was all right for the first that she knew that there was a TV interview done done on Bernie Brood who was my OC uh by I think it was would it be Hannah or Hannah yeah could have been yeah it was down there wasn't it yeah of course but they they were probably they they promised that it wouldn't be shown until after hostages had finished and they did so and that's when my name was first mentioned uh I didn't do the interview I sent my boss I don't know but come on Bernie you're gonna be okay and just just to be clear the the the bomb you were clearing was was on uh Lancelot or Gallagher I can't remember you you you and we we were tasked with two yeah and uh so Bernie was my boss uh because there's a lot more rigging involved with the Lancelot bomb no one I've just told you about um I was a lot more experienced in that type of work okay Bernie had just been on a detachment just uh Diego Garcia and with the sort of I'm honest basically so so you know so we decided that he was going to do the gallagher bomb although we we we basically helped each other but when the actual removal started to take place when one of his had moved away so we we actually did the gallagher bomb first the bomb with the battery acid everywhere and that landing quite noisely so to speak under a hatch way and above the hatch way was a ship's crate so that was uh apart from getting burnt with it with the battery acid bottle burning um that was you know so the plan was to do that and if that worked then we'd move to the Lancelot and do that which is exactly what we did okay so the Lancelot one is the more complicated more difficult job of the two uh what it works the more lengthy job yes yeah yeah the more lengthy job and once we were we were told at first we were working on them just at night time when the air raids were coming in but I guess they were getting a bit desperate for the ship back so we went around the clock around the clock for the 22 hours nonstop yeah I mean it's ironic really isn't it uh when you look back uh not your fault of course but unintended consequences it then goes round you know with the terrible accident that happens um you know in in in fitsroy both gallagher had and Lancelot I mean if they weren't available maybe maybe they wouldn't have sent those guys around by sea who knows I think Bernie felt it more my boss felt it bit more because he told and sweating together but my family to be hit again yeah yeah and catastrophically the second time of course it's interesting do you um just just to be clear the timing of this is as you say just a few days after the initial landings um and there were a number of reports actually both Royal Navy ships auxiliary ships merchant ships of bombs not exploding you explain the business of the of the of the spinning of the fuse it has to get more than the certain number of turns turns I think you said 11 didn't you 11 if my mother moved 70's so is the point then Piggy which has often been suspected um that they were dropping them too low and they weren't having time to arm well I think the most angry time I spent there and Bernie my boss and the other diver's since speaking to them is the BBC put it out on the world service that that was the the theory and after that we started losing ships why would they be stupid enough to do that I mean it's it's almost beyond belief isn't it it is that we can't believe it and and we we were we were in Ajax Bay uh by the field hospital and uh when in fact that's where we were living most most of the most of all because we got off the off the ships because when we first got there they said oh come on the fearless well we're there the other time uh the other diving team on the fearless so we said hey look this you got all your eggs in one basket and and Chris meet your daughter Taska said well where do you want to go we said over there pointed to Ajax Bay which we did and while we were doing uh all the uh what while we were doing all the reckeys and that of the um of the bombs uh my team moved all our equipment to Ajax Bay so we got in decided to go and have some uh some some chow some food and we're in a building and we got hit in the building fire bomb we got but I don't know I'm laughing I mean I know well it's great I like the sense of you somewhat dark sense of you like yeah yeah yeah someone so unfortunately we lost some raw marines at the end of the building and um there was uh one three bombs hit the building and we thought there was three others handgun off but a drop and and handgun off so um one one exploded as I hit the building and two hit the side of the building and they were smaller they were French 500 bound bombs with different fusion system and um but they're all entangled in the in the in the refrigeration plants in the in the units so our biggest concern then was the patience that it was in the field hospital so um along with that every other spare soldier sailor Airman there we built a blast wall between the compartment where the the two bombs were that hadn't exploded and the actual part we're using was the hospital and we slept slept to reassure the patience uh we slept next to the the blast wall how long how long did it take to diffuse those ones and what was that tricky oh we left them there that was done after the conflict had finished the bike whoever I suppose the RF well you let the the other team come in and do that Joe what was the what would you describe the number two team was it uh number one yeah number one yeah now I think the RF did that that Joe after okay after it was all out of the surrender and we moved we all moved around to Stamry any any any any any other um uh very nerve racking moments like they like the uh the Tristum did you have I think not quite as nerve wrecking although still nerve wrecking when when the Argentinian surrendered we found out where they're laid their sea mines and we had trawlers down there that were converted into minesreapers and they they were out uh we'd already move around to what Stamry was like they were out and they had um nobody recognized the mines that were being swept so early my my oh suit uh flew out and was lowered onto one of the trawlers and he didn't recognize this mine so he contacted me my radio in Stamry and uh he said can you come out I don't recognize this I said we'll describe it and for what he described I didn't recollect anything and I he said can you bring all the confidential books or the pictures of the of every every mine we knew so we got out there and the the last one the swept that this somebody in UK said it if you don't recognize it we want to recover it well used to with bargains you destroy it in situ you know shoot should arrive for Laddick as you see involved all to the next flows of georgia but no we we want that on back so and it was it was a buoyant mine I'm not like a ryan ryan mine another one you see at the seaside with um make it put your commons in it was a buoyant mine but the trouble is it had uh the one you see at the seaside they've used it uh they've got the swit the homes the swit shores well this one had a chemical holds which predominantly was used by Germans in World War II so we felt oh crocky how we're going to exploit this because we would have to exploit it um so basically that was a lot of thought um I had the mind warfare people make me like a raft and what it was you know the cargo pallets you get that delivers food big lots of food to the ships one of those with a life boy ships life boys tied up inside it and then the 50 gallon oil drum cut in half length ways so we like a made a sledge for the mind to sit on to drag it out the beach because you can't exploit a mine in water you've got to do it alone so uh and so with the help of all the spare crew of this of the droller we've got them all the birthing ropes of the droller join them all together and we we sort of uh sunk this the raft as we called it underneath the mine secure the mine on it and then dragged it up the beach and then you know by using the crew with a great big long rope and then we sent them back to the droller hunt where the early and I and a couple of other guys got over the work and that and so you you I just you've got to really you've got to break the fire in train so that's how removing the detonator removing the main charge or or removing the also when I look for two sets please there would be uh the booster charge so it goes the firing the firing mechanism is the detonate the booster charge which sets off the main charge it goes so so we to get to it you have to undo the base plate and we took all the bolts off part two and I put the teeniest little drop of plastic explosive on the last two with a electric detonator went to the side of the field and bang so these two last nuts blew up we blew them off because we can imagine with a buoyant mine there's so many places you can put prevent stripping equipment booby trapping so that's how we got the base plate and then we tossed the coin and Bernie lost so I said you're going to remove the debt so but there's a sequence of actually go through and everything's recorded so when Bernie'd go sort one fallen his unused doing step one of the pre set plans and two step two and we'd retire so if it went if it went off we'd know next time if we had to do it we wouldn't do it oh hey we don't move on so so anyway bit late for the guy who's uh of course yeah yeah yeah of course what what what sort of explosive powders does a mine like this have I mean what what sort of way are we talking in terms of explosives you're talking about I would six with that one a swan trying to say that's seven or a pound maybe okay thank you but I'll come to the punch line in a minute because we anyway Bernie and he threw his arms up and he says I can't find that he shouted me I can't find the debt I went in I said okay then what we'll do then we've taken that top cover off and we'll remove remove the primers did the keep ring for that and it was welded in place so there was no way anyway we did find we did find the debt in the end and uh we you know we uh remove the debt probably all back together I took it back to the drawer or hoisted it on the deck because it was perfectly safe then and it came back it was it was coming back to England anyway after about three weeks of maybe in home back to UK I got a phone call from the headshed saying can you go out with McFallow's the my other the number two the other three and give it a certificate serious certificate to come back in to UK you like to Gibraltar to do it so we met the ship in Gibraltar and soon as Mixor it this my uh thing he said that's British I said what I said nice got hurt so he said that's that he said I reckon he said that's definitely British because if you look at the thread it's with thread oh no the different between with the thread or any of that of this thread and it turned out to be British and we we'd sold it to the Argentinians after World War One oh my god oh and of course all the publications I thought well we never see them again so all the World War One audience that thought we've never see again uh had been removed great stories so the truth of the matter is you you both well you and the rest of your team and your boss all risked your lives for something that if they know it was British they you wouldn't have been asked to bring it back of course would you uh not the mine no no but it you know there are times when the people above you say you've got to do that for instance if an i r a bomb was put out so in a hospital then it becomes the you know the patients are more valuable than you as an eo do it you know the operatives it's more important than your life you know that's so I know you were quite rightly awarded a gallantry medal for the forklands was that specifically for the Tristium or for all your work that you did there Piggy and I was specifically for the Salanzloff uh Lanzloff sorry I keep saying Tristium it's the Lanzloff yeah of course um and if if if if I was a choose I'd say I deserved it more for the mine however the uh the conflict was over and everybody was in a rush to go and so it wasn't really recorded you know you said that you you I know with typical modesty you kind of rather rushed over the the kip crucial bit which is getting the detonator out was it you actually did that as opposed to your both no that was burning the boss okay that was burning that I planned the operation yeah he went in and and uh he couldn't do it at first yeah he couldn't find it at first but he he went on the other side of the field I went in I couldn't find it uh after about half hour and we were both what you know so we've got no chat he said well I'm gonna have one more look we were thinking about saying oh it went off accidentally and uh so he only just went yeah and held this you know bit of a two book which which contained the detonator yeah and that was the distinguished service metal just to just to get it correct yeah which is the second highest after a victory across isn't it or was at the time yeah it's one one of the highest ones yeah one below I think yeah in my counterpart in uh flicks in its diamond team one um I was chief barely off so he was a he was a one officer at that time so he got the DSC from the job he did yeah because that that that generally goes to officers and warrant officers officers yeah well not not since John Majors time as prime minister's because he equalized a lot okay yeah yeah so so there will be no more distinguished service metals ever issued there was two two third our people in the first gold war two divers you know our divers in the first in the first gold war but since then John made a stop to it also everybody gets the same time well that was chief petty officer Graham Piggy Trotter giving a quite extraordinary personal testimony of his time in the forklens as a naval clearance diver including the astonishing act of gallantry removing a live one thousand pound bomb from the rfa salance a lot for which he was awarded the distinguished service metal do join us next week for another extended interview with a veteran of the forklens campaign goodbye