‘It was an awful loss – but what we did freed Falklands’

The sinking of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Ardent on 21 May 1982. No fewer than five bombs had struck Ardent's hangar and flight deck area and 22 lives were lost.
The sinking of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Ardent on 21 May 1982. No fewer than five bombs had struck Ardent's hangar and flight deck area and 22 lives were lost.
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HE stood alone, exhausted and emotional aboard his burning warship, HMS Ardent.

Despite reluctantly giving the order to abandon the frigate as it threatened to explode, Commander Alan West refused to go himself.

‘I had to be dragged off,’ he told The News as he cast his mind back three decades to a ‘kaleidoscopic day’.

At midnight on May 21, 1982, Ardent charged into the Falkland Sound ahead of a 4,000-strong landing force.

Her job was to act as a decoy to protect the troops from being attacked as they landed in the San Carlos inlet.

By dusk, 22 of Ardent’s sailors had been killed after taking on wave after wave of Argentinian air attacks. West, who went on to be head of the navy and now sits in the House of Lords, recalled: ‘We were first tasked to provide fire support to special forces who were doing a dummy raid at Darwin so the Argentinians didn’t know where the landings would be. We were bombarding the airfield as well to stop them launching aircraft to attack our ships.’

As Ardent fired 150 salvos on her own, outside the protection of other British ships and aircraft, it wasn’t long before she was targeted.

An Argentine Pucara aircraft closed in, but turned back after the frigate fired a SeaCat missile into its path.

Then the warship was ordered into the open waters of Falkland Sound to draw the fire of any Argentine planes flying towards San Carlos from the south. As the troops began to land, Ardent was a sitting duck.

A Skyhawk jet caught the ship by surprise and dropped two 1,000lb bombs which failed to explode. A further 16 attacks followed, taking out most of the ship’s defences, her Lynx helicopter and flight crew.

Lord West said: ‘It was very ferocious fighting over several hours. The air raids started getting heavier and heavier. It was getting pretty hairy.

‘Then the last raid came in – this time Argentinian Navy A4Q’s – and they left my stern badly damaged.’

Fires raged above and below decks as Cdr West dropped anchor at Wreck Point.

‘It was quite clear the ship was going to explode,’ he said, ‘We had lost power and firefighting ability so reluctantly I made the decision to abandon ship.’

As dusk fell, 155 men clambered aboard HMS Yarmouth. Ardent later exploded.

But the plan had worked. Ardent’s sacrifice meant the soldiers and Royal Marines made it ashore unharmed and ready to retake the islands.

Lord West said: ‘Although it was an awful loss, what we did enabled the Falklands to be freed from a tyrannical regime. I’m immensely proud of my people who went down there and did what they did.’