‘I fired the first shots against Argentina in the Falklands War’

MEMORIES Above, Rear-Admiral Chris Parry at his home in Drayton. Inset, the crippled submarine Santa Fe.  Main picture: Malcolm Wells (120547-581)
MEMORIES Above, Rear-Admiral Chris Parry at his home in Drayton. Inset, the crippled submarine Santa Fe. Main picture: Malcolm Wells (120547-581)
A soldier with the 4th Mechanised Brigade is pictured engaging the enemy during Operation Qalb in Helmand, Afghanistan. PPP-151019-121639001

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AS HIS Wessex III helicopter swooped above South Georgia in the fog, Royal Navy flight observer Chris Parry picked up the blip on his radar that he’d been longing to see.

At last, it was not another iceberg – it was the Argentinian submarine Sante Fe.

The crippled submarine Santa Fe.

The crippled submarine Santa Fe.

After having it confirmed that the enemy was in sight, the 28-year-old sprung into action and dropped two depth charges on the boat – instantly crippling the vessel.

That fleeting encounter, 30 years ago today, saw the lieutenant from Drayton, Portsmouth, write his name into history as the first Briton to engage Argentina in the Falklands.

It was also the first time a helicopter had bombed a sub.

He said: ‘It’s every flight observer’s dream to have a real live submarine caught in the trap with two depth charges ready to go.

‘We got over the top and I saw the conning tower of the submarine.

‘We moved over the top and I released both depth charges. One bounced off the casing, the other one went alongside and blew the aft end out of the water.’

Wasp helicopters from HMS Plymouth and HMS Endurance then joined in the attack on the stricken sub.

The Rear-Admiral, who retired in 2008, said: ‘The ones from Endurance were not told to enter the action.

‘We got Plymouth’s Wasp in initially and then Endurance’s came in and fired off as many as they could.

‘It was “get your name on the score sheet” time and that annoyed me actually. It ended with one Argentine Petty Officer losing his leg which was totally unnecessary.’

With Santa Fe out of action, 79 Royal Marines and Special Forces were landed from HMS Antrim to take South Georgia back from Argentina.

Rear-Adml Parry, who recently published Down South, his diary from the Falklands War, said: ‘Once the troops were ashore we started the bombardment.

‘It seemed unreal.

‘We had just disabled an enemy sub and now we were offering gunfire support for real.

‘It was like a scene from the Second World War.’

The 22 cold and hungry Argentine troops based on South Georgia soon surrendered and 87 men from the Santa Fe were also captured.

The invaded territory was once again under the British flag and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told journalists to ‘rejoice’.

However, the operation had in fact started off in chaos.

On April 21, Rear-Adml Parry’s helicopter and two from Antrim were instructed to land 16 SAS troops on the Fortuna Glacier in what he called ‘the worst flying conditions I’ve ever seen’.

Twenty-four hours later, the SAS operation turned SOS as a blizzard swept in and they had to be evacuated.

The rescue saw two of the Wessex helicopters crash and Parry said his had a ‘near miss’ with an ice ridge.

But – one-ton overloaded – they managed to finally get all the SAS troops, pilots and air crew safely back to Antrim.

Parry said: ‘It could have been a disaster right at the start of the war.’