Falklands Conflict 1982
An RFA Merchant Seaman's Story .
The RFA have supplied our Royal Navy (and allies) for over a century - they carry everything from ammunition to troops - oil to foodstuff and become RN Reserve in the theatre of war. They assist in anti drug running and preventing piracy. The RFA is manned by highly trained, professional, civilian crews committed to the defence of this country - prepared to take up arms to do so. Given the Queen's Colours in 2008 for their tremendous yet often unnoticed achievements, we should not forget many RFA members have died in the defence of the UK. They are the very backbone to the RN - without the RFA they would go nowhere!
I served with the Merchant Navy RFA working in the engine room during the Falklands conflict (Operation Corporate) and have a collection of memories and photos someone might be interested in.
My best mate was Michael Griffiths ( Taffy) Who took some of these pics, Recently found after 27 years ! Lived in Australia for twenty years moved to the good old USA now back in Oz.
As the story goes, or bits that I can remember, I joined the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary ) Tidepool in North or South Shields Can't remember which ! these ships are front line supply ships refueling and replenishing Royal Navy ships at sea ( RAS ). She was undergoing a refit before sailing to Chili with a skeleton British crew and the rest being Chilean. The ship was sold along with HMS Norfolk to the Chilean Navy - so a "run job" take the ship to Chile and a flight back to UK maybe a month or two. Little did I know I wouldn't be getting home for another 8 months!!!
We left Shields and started our journey across the Atlantic to Curacao, Netherland Antelies, just as an interest the ship sails through the main street in Curacao passed the Queen Emma pontoon bridge which opens to allow shipping through !
(HMS Bacchante 1ST Commision. Keith Henley)
Quite a sight a ship dwarfing the houses.
We had an adventure or two ( Happy valley anyone? cough erm...another story. ) and headed through the Panama Canal. We were two days from Valporiso when we recieved the order to about turn, drop off the Chilean crew and recrew with some of our own lads, and of course refuel with mostly aviation fuel for helicoptors. By then we had heard that the Agentinians had invaded the Falkland Isles .
So fueled up and ready to go, to what none of us really knew. I don't think we expected it to be the war it was. I previously had sailed on the RFA Olna for eight months doing the Persian Gulf patrol so I knew these ships and the work involved.
Off we headed to meet up with the rest of the 'Task force' that had been assembled and was on its way past the Ascension Isles, a stop off supply point on the way south. We headed back up to Ascension took on board some Marine Commandos & Fleet Air Arm Helicopters etc...
When we reached the Islands amongst other things one of our jobs was to take fuel in through the sound to San Carlos Bay soon to be nicknamed ' Bomb Alley ' Where our Marines and fleet air arm helicopters left us, I referred to it as " running the Gauntlet " and off load it into large floating tanks.
We were attacked and bombed on many occasions doing this and I remember on one occasion Taff going to refuel the emergency fire pump at the forecastle ( the sharp end ) on his way back without warning we were attacked and he was sprinting towards us on the flying bridge over the tank deck, being followed by a Skyhawk. Reaching the end of the flying bridge he and the Chief Steward collided and ended up in a heap and were pulled in slightly shaken up, the Chief jockingly accusing Taff of tripping him up ! That kinda brought things home for both Taff and me.
My station was in the engine room looking at various lengths of wood and quick drying cement to be used to plug any holes in the event of a bomb coming in and not going off, alot of these bombs were being dropped at low altitude, the wrong speed and would if it hit you make a hole in the ship but not explode, I remember in 'bomb alley' the feeling during the air raids knowing above you were being bombed and shot at but not able to see what was happening, but you still do what you have to do, now even today I get a feeling of claustrophobia in certain situations.
RFA Sir Bedivere, Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot hit by UXBs, but Lancelot scores hits with Bofors and machine guns on a Skyhawk and a Mirage. RM "Blowpipe" section aboard Sir Bedivere claims a probable victim. RFAs Fort Austin, Tidepool and Stromness all near missed by 1,000lb bombs. RFA Sir Galahad’s bomb removed, ship patched up and returns to TRALA (Tug, Repair And Logistic Area) to start work again
The Task force had suffered several casualties by this time Antelope, Ardent, Sheffield and Coventry and I will never forget the low feeling at these times. The troops had taken some prisoners from Goose Green and surrounding areas and were transporting them ashore.
I remember listening to the advancement of the troops over the ships radio
and hearing from various visitors who came on board, the agony of the battles and the loss of life, until the eventual liberation of Port Stanley.
The end of the war
This by no means includes all my memories but is a very brief outline of what part the RFA and others played in the South Atlantic Campaign. We were one of the last ships to leave sailing around south America, Tierra del Fuego, and then after a war, several collisions with our own ships, also a New Zealand ship the Rangatira had a little bump with us and a battleship losing control of her steering gear and ramming us! http://www.ambuscade.org.uk/am_Incidents_Tidepool.htm
we left the Tidepool very bruised and battered in the hands of the Chilean Navy.
Finally arrived back home in Edinburgh on 16th aug 1982 my 23rd
RIP Brothers still on patrol we will never forget them.
This page is not about the rights or wrongs of the Conflict or the politics just dedicated people doing their job and I have the greatest of respect for all those involved who all have there own stories.
As class super I was present in Chile in August 1982 when the ship was handed over to the Chilean Navy, becoming ALMIRANTE JORGE MONTT, and I brought the ship's company home. I can confirm TIDEPOOL took part in the Falklands with distinction, and her Falklands Battle Honour is held in the RFA Association Archive, a nationally recognised museum situated in Northumberland.
Mark Knopfler Brothers in Arms