VETERANS who survived the sinking of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War have defended their crew’s actions after a damning report into the tragedy was revealed.
And they have warned the release of the document could now push traumatised sailors, still haunted by the tragedy, to breaking point with fears many will face a resurgence of mental health problems.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer sunk after it was hit by an Argentinian Exocet missile on May 4, 1982, claiming the lives of 22 on board.
But a report into the disaster by a board of inquiry found a number of errors in how the incident was handled, The Guardian claimed yesterday.
During the attack, the report said Sheffield’s anti-air warfare officer had left the operations room for a coffee, while his assistant was having a toilet break.
The heavily-redacted document was critical of the fact the ship was not placed into ‘action stations’ – an emergency state of response which rallies all the crew to designated areas on the ship.
But outraged sailors from the doomed ship have hit back, claiming the findings were ‘misrepresentative’, branding them an ‘insult to the heroes of that day’.
Petty Officer Guy ‘Tug’ Wilson was among the survivors and said families had been left horrified by the report in the national newspaper.
The grandfather-of-one has already been on a six-week course to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder and said more of his friends might have a reoccurrence of their PTSD.
‘There were heroes on that day who have just been ignored,’ said the 66-year-old of Paulsgrove.
‘This report has been a real kick in the teeth for so many of us.
‘I’ve had PTSD because of that day. Lots of the lads have. This report is now going to bring all of that back.
‘If these fellows go off the rails now they’re going to go straight back to where they started; the drinking, the anger the paranoia could all come back.
‘The report is condemning the crew for being useless and untrained. That’s rubbish. There were heroes on that day who haven’t been mentioned.’
Chris Purcell is another one of Sheffield’s crew and has also been battling against PTSD. The veteran, of Fratton, was an Able Seaman at the time and said the crew did their best to combat the fires and intense heat, which melted the soles of sailors’ boots as they were doing so.
But he said Sheffield was fortunate not to lose more of its crew.
‘There’s nothing more we could have done,’ he said. ‘We did our utmost with the amount of time we had to react in.
‘But if we had been at action stations more people would have died. People would have been running from their mess decks to get to their action stations when the missile came in.’
He too now fears for the mental health of some of the ship’s company.
‘There are people still suffering with PTSD and these things bring it all to light again,’ he said.
No member of the ship’s company ever received any reprimand for their role in the Sheffield disaster.
The report claimed there were ‘critical deficiencies’ in the firefighting equipment on the Type 42 destroyer.
But PO Wilson said all the equipment was ‘checked daily’ by trained engineers and that on that day, the missile had damaged the ship’s firefighting system.
He added mistakes ‘may have been made’ but he said: ‘Nobody knows how they’re going to act when they’re in war. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to burn to death or freeze in the south Atlantic – at least an explosion would be quick.
‘You can’t imagine the stress people were under. I’m proud of how everyone reacted.’