Sad memories of day of two war tragedies

HMS Coventry - pictured 10 minutes after being struck by Argentine forces
HMS Coventry - pictured 10 minutes after being struck by Argentine forces
Picture: Amanda Morby

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THIRTY years ago today, 31 men lost their lives when Argentina bombed two ships in the Falklands War.

Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Coventry and requisitioned container ship SS Atlantic Conveyor both came under enemy fire with tragic results.

Coventry was ordered to the north-west of Falkland Sound to act as a decoy to draw Argentinian aircraft away from San Carlos Bay.

At first, the trap worked with one enemy Skyhawk shot down north of Pebble Island by a Sea Dart missile.

But the attacks continued throughout the day and as dusk fell, the warship came under fire from four low-flying aircraft which dropped their deadly loads.

Coventry’s commanding officer Captain David Hart Dyke, 72, of Hambledon, recalled: ‘It was black, with people on fire.

‘I was momentarily stunned and came round seconds later.

‘By the time I got up it was all happening. I walked down the ship’s side – it was almost horizontal at that point.’

The ship was eventually hit by a bomb and as it sank Capt Hart Dyke was the last to leave the ship.

David, who suffered facial scars from the fires, only just managed to survive the destruction of the ship, while 19 out of 190 of his men died.

Derek Kimber, 68, of Gosport, who served as a Chief Petty Officer weapon engineer, said: ‘There was no chance we could’ve saved her.

‘She had been blown apart and our fire main had been taken out.

‘I pretty soon realised the seriousness of the situation – the ship went right over on her side.

‘But there was no panic, we just followed our training and got all the life rafts off.’

The Atlantic Conveyor was hit by two Argentine Exocet missiles, killing 12 sailors.

Controversy remains over why the merchant ship was not fitted with either an active or a passive defence system.