Royal Navy veteran recalls his ship HMS Coventry sinking, 40 years on from Argentine attack

A veteran of the Falklands War has said ‘not a day goes by’ that he does not think about his experiences of the conflict, 40 years after his ship, HMS Coventry, was attacked and sunk by Argentine jets.

Christopher Howe, now 65, from Ewerby, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, was a Petty Officer on board HMS Coventry.

The Royal Navy destroyer was hit by Argentine jets on May 25, 1982. 19 crew members were killed and another died of his injuries a year later.

Mr Howe suffered 27 per cent burns in the attack: I’m here to tell the story, and 19 shipmates aren’t. I’ve learned to deal with it.

An aerial view of the Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Coventry. Picture: PA Wire

‘There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened then, you can’t help it.’

He recalled the moment he realised the ship was about to be hit.

‘I remember turning to the captain at the time and saying: ‘We’re about to get attacked by…’,’ Mr Howe said.

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Falklands 40: Headlines from The News, Portsmouth on May 25, 1982
Christopher Howe, a veteran of the Falklands War, who has said 'not a day goes by' that he does not think about his experiences of the conflict, 40 years after his ship, HMS Coventry, was attacked and sunk by Argentine jets. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

‘I’m not sure if I actually finished my statement when there was this thud, followed by an extreme heat and a fireball rolling around the ops room.

‘My life just slowed down completely in slow motion.

‘The next thing I know, I’m waking up in an ops room that’s tilting. My arm was on fire, most of my clothes had been blown away completely, and I was in a lot of pain. There was a lot of thick, acrid smoke.’

HMS Coventry was conducting training in the Mediterranean when war broke out, and was quickly retasked to the South Atlantic.

‘We were immediately given our sailing orders by Admiral Sandy Woodward,’ Mr Howe recalled, adding: ‘I remember, distinctly, the feeling around the ship when it was very quickly realised that we weren’t going home for Easter leave.

‘The word around the ship was we won’t be going south long. We will be doing a 180 degrees and heading north very shortly because there’ll be a diplomatic solution.

‘And I think everybody, to a man, really didn’t believe we wouldn’t be going south for more than a couple of days.’

Diplomatic efforts between the UK and Argentina failed, and British personnel were tasked with retaking the Islands.

Ahead of May 25, HMS Coventry was stationed to the north of the Islands.

The crew received word that two Argentine Skyhawk jets were leaving the Argentine mainland, heading for the Falklands.

Three bombs struck the ship, two exploding on impact.

Mr Howe managed to make it to the ship’s upper deck, by which point the hull was tilting considerably to one side. The decision was then made to abandon ship.

‘I remember then being told by the captain to leave the ship, and it was just a case of sitting on the ship’s side and siding down,’ Mr Howe said.

He was taken to the hospital ship SS Uganda, and his injuries treated.

Like many veterans of the conflict, Mr Howe’s mental health has suffered: ‘I used to have a lot of silent periods when I went into my own. I don’t know where I went, I was thinking of what had happened. Why was I lucky? Why did I escape? Why did 19 of my shipmates lose their lives?

‘They made a sacrifice. And as we say, ‘we gave our today for your tomorrow’’.