Friday, May 24, 2019

Fullbore Friday

Your ship may have been designed to fight one type of battle, but as history shows, you will be asked to fight the battle at hand.

Your enemy will do things you will not expect. Luck will be a fickle lady; favoring you at one moment, spitefully coming after you the next.

When it comes to face the enemy, the economies of peace time will haunt you. As is true in the modern era, those who will never fight on your ship will not give you enough weapons to defend yourself or engage the enemy. You will improvise and pray that you have enough redundant systems to at least give you and your crew a fighting chance.

Your people will do extraordinary things and fight in ways and situations you would not have contemplated months before - but now faced with the battle at hand, see clearly how important they are.

We reference the experience of modern combat at sea, and how it will repeat lessons of centuries of naval warfare, of the Royal Navy and Argentinians in The Falkland Islands War. It is time to take a snapshot of one unit, then then 9-yr old Type-21 Frigate, HMS ARDENT (F184).

First a pull quote from Admiral Woodward's 100 Days;
By now another formation of Skyhawks, this time navy aircraft, had made a big swing around the Sound, swept over the land and, having cleared the Port Howard area, were heading, at sea-level, straight towards ARDENT. They were positioned right on Commander West’s six o’clock (stern) away from the arc of his 4.5” gun, as the British frigate made its way up to the North-West Islands to join YARMOUTH. Three of them made the attack together. ARDENT could bring her Seacat to bear, but the launcher refused to fire. That left just his 20mm Oerlikon guns and two other machine guns to open fire.

Everyone who could help did. Lieutenant-Commander John Sephton, the Lynx helicopter pilot and his observer Brian Murphy, were up above the flight deck, Sephton with a Sterling sub-machine gun and his assistant with a Bren gun, both blasting away at the Skyhawks. But the situation was hopeless. The Argentinians dropped nine bombs, three of them hitting ARDENT, two exploding in the hangar, the third failing to explode after smashing its way into the after auxiliary machinery room. The bomb that hit the hangar wreaked havoc, blowing the Seacat launcher, which was positioned on top of the hangar, into the air, only to crash down on to the flight deck killing Commander West’s cheerful supply officer, Richard Banfield. The blast also killed Lieutenant-Commander Sephton and Brian Murphy and one other crew member.
Commander West would a few decades later be Lord West. Let's go back to a 2007 article for another view.
In the operations room, Gough checked to see what weapons were still functioning. The news was not good. The main 4.5 inch gun was not responding, the Sea Cat missiles were gone and all that was left were the machine guns on the upper decks. He went down to the stern to assess the damage.

"It was very bad," he said. "There were fires in the hangar, there were people on the flight deck injured, and people trying to fight the fires." Gough returned to report the damage to West.

With the ship already listing, a second wave of Argentine aircraft attacked. Again, the stern of the ship bore the brunt of the attack. Enticknap heard the "brace" warning over the Tannoy and looked frantically for somewhere dry to lie down.

"I put my hands over my head and there was another thumping big bang and I don't remember anything after that. I must have come to some minutes after and the whole of the place was filled with black, acrid smoke. Clearly we had taken a big hit. I tried to get up and couldn't."

Enticknap, who was later awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal, was pinned down by a piece of debris and his left hand was shattered. "There was lots of noise around me. People were crying out; you wouldn't think that some people would call for their mum, but they do."

He was saved by Able Seaman John Dillon, who won the George Medal for his efforts. Dillon dragged the debris off Enticknap's back and the pair made their way through the smoke towards a narrow gap in the side of the ship, crawled through, put on their life jackets and jumped into the water. They were picked up later by a helicopter.

In the most detailed account he has ever given of the sinking of the Ardent, Admiral West described how his ship was torn apart. "Between decks, when you get hit by a bomb it's an absolute shambles," he said. "The noise is huge. It feels like a great fist grabbing the ship by the stern and bashing it onto the water.

"And the areas where the bomb actually goes off, fires are raging, water is pouring in, people get very disoriented. It was really very unpleasant and it went on for quite a long time."

Twenty minutes after the second attack, a third wave of Argentine aircraft delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce. By the time the attack ended, the ship had been struck by at least 14 bombs, though not all exploded. The ship was listing heavily to starboard, the steering was gone and the bulkheads were in danger of giving way.

"You get to the stage where you have to make a decision," West said. "Do you go on if you are going to lose more people? And is the ship actually going to keep going or not? I made the decision that the ship was going to sink - and that was a very hard decision. I was very loath to make it." He gave the order to abandon ship.

But he made sure he was the last to leave. "People started getting off and I didn't really want to leave but I was dragged down to our bows and I was dragged off and I said: 'No, you two have got to go first' and I stepped off as the last one, which was really very, very hard. I was heartbroken."

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