Falklands 40: Portsmouth marks 40 years since 'miracle' of task force set sail to retake islands

FALKLANDS heroes who set off to war as young men have told how the trauma of what they witnessed during the conflict 40 years ago ‘never goes away’.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 5th April 2022, 4:55 am

Veterans have today been speaking out about their horrors as Portsmouth marks a major milestone in its critical role in the war.

Forty years ago today, a huge naval task force and thousands of military personnel set sail from the city to make the 8,000-mile trip to liberate the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

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Chief Petty Officer Alan 'Sharkey' Ward is one of the navy's longest serving sailors and took part in the Falklands War. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 230222-08)

It would be a battle that they would ultimately win, 74 days after the islands were invaded.

But it would be one that would claim the lives of 255 British heroes and leave scores more either horrifically injured or suffering from painful hidden traumas that would plague their lives for decades to come.

Chief Petty Officer Alan ‘Sharkey’ Ward was among those left with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time at war.

Then a 21-year-old marine engineering mechanic, Alan was serving in survey ship HMS Herald – which had been converted into a hospital ship for the Falklands War.

RFA Sir Galahad ablaze after the Argentine air raid on June 8, 1982, at Bluff Cove near Fitzroy settlement on East Falkland. Photo: Martin Cleaver/PA Wire

The vessel and its crew helped to treat mutilated soldiers, who had been horrifically burned during the bombing of RFA Sir Galahad.

‘The smell of burning skin stays with you for the rest of your life,' said Alan, 60, of Copnor. ‘I’ll never forget the screams first thing in the morning. It was called the 9am screams because they didn't have morphine and things like that to treat the wounded. It was awful

‘You get the best training in the world in the navy… but it doesn’t prepare you for the after-effects of war.’

Retired Sergeant Mark Gibbs, formerly of West Leigh, was part of the team of 60 Royal Marines who were stationed in Stanley when the Argentines invaded on April 2.

Retired Royal Marine Sergeant Mark Gibbs, formerly of West Leigh, was defending Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, when the Argentines invaded. He was was of 60 British troops to surrender to the overwhelming force. Picture: Sarah Standing (170451-8688)

He was captured and forced to surrender and feared the Argentines would execute him on the spot in an experience that left him with PTSD.

Speaking of the horrors of the war, Mark – now aged 62 – told The News: ‘It’s always there in the background. It never goes away.’

Portsmouth played a Herculean role in getting the enormous task force of 39 ships – including Falklands flagship, aircraft carrier HMS Hermes – ready.

Chief Petty Officer Alan 'Sharkey' Ward said the horrors of the Falklands War will never leave him Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 230222-01)

Thousands of dockyard workers were mobilised in order to achieve the impossible, despite having been told hours before that they were all going to be made redundant amid swingeing defence cuts.

Dean Kimber, of Milton, was a 17-year-old apprentice fitter working on diesel submarines at the dockyard at the time.

Now head of asset management at Portsmouth Naval Base with BAE Systems, he said the experiences he had in 1982 will stick with him for life.

‘Without a thought, people marched back up the brow of a ship and got on with what the nation needed,’ he said. ‘There were some guys who never went home. They worked on it for days on end.

‘That showed something about the mentality and attitude of the people of Portsmouth. Not everyone would have done that.’

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson hailed the achievement 40 years ago as ‘a miracle’ that ultimately led to victory in the Falklands.

HMS Hermes leaving Portsmouth in 1982 for the Falklands War

He added: ‘A lot of people who worked so hard had just been made redundant and yet they worked miracles. They got the task force to sea and achieved work that should have taken weeks in days.

‘Without that there is no way that the task force could have set out. There’s no way that the message to say “you cannot invade other people’s countries and get away with it” could have got out there without them.’

:: The News has today released a special 40-page supplement commemorating the Falklands War. To order a copy, click here.

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Dean Kimber, of Milton, was a trainee apprentice working at Portsmouth Naval Base when the dockyard was called into action to prepare a task force of almost 40 ships to head to the Falkland Islands. He now works for BAE System at the naval base.
HMS Hermes leaves Portsmouth Harbour, bound for the Falklands, and cheered on her way by a flag-waving crowd