Excerpt from pp. 40-2, Chapter 2, Mobilization and Deployment, describing first deployments of British forces:
. . . Military and civilians worked through the nights to ready the fleet and load supplies. On the evening of Sunday, 4 April, the first surface ship departed the United Kingdom. The sea-going tug Typhoon headed south without any fanfare. The next day, just three days after Thatcher’s decision to send British forces south, and exactly as Admiral Leach had promised her, the first ships of the task force left the shores of England bound for the South Atlantic. Frigates HMS Alacrity and HMS Antelope led the way from Devonport to link up with four of the six LSLs that were ready to sail and which carried about 400 troops apiece, including all but a handful of Commando Logistic Regiment. Two of the LSLs had loaded and sailed from Marchwood, and the other two from Devonport. In days ahead, the remaining two LSLs would join the flow south, one from Belize and the other from Gibraltar. Sailing down the Portsmouth channel shortly before 1000 hrs the following day came the carriers Hermes and Invincible, producing a particularly inspiring piece of theatre for the deployment, sailors lining the decks and saluting, chase boats below buzzing around the big carriers. It was a beautiful sunny day. Lining the banks of channels leading to open waters were thousands of apprehensive yet inspired British citizens waving the Union Jack. It was indeed a day to be proud.
Most would not see the real rush that was occurring still behind the scenes to get these and other ships underway, even though they might have noticed Wessex helicopters shuttling supplies aboard the two carriers as they headed down the channels to sea. On the deck of Hermes were eleven Sea Harrier jets and eighteen Sea King helicopters, an impressive display for citizens on the banks. The on-deck display of aircraft was not simply to impress the populace. The aircraft carrier’s hangar had become so jam packed with cargo, including 200 tons of ammunition for marines, that there was no room left inside the hangar for aircraft.
The remainder of the Land Force, in what would become the first wave of the troop deployment, left British shores in the next forty-eight hours. Fearless, which would be the home of Commodore Michael Clapp for the duration, sailed from Portsmouth on 6 April; Stromness, carrying rations for 7,500 men and 350 more marines, sailed just after dark on 7 April from Portsmouth. Brigadier Julian Thompson and his staff helicoptered to Fearless on 6 April as she passed Portland. Canberra, the first ship taken up from trade, would follow from Southampton with more marines and all of 3 Para, a total of 2,500 troops, on 9 April, which was Good Friday and less than sixty hours since she had disembarked 1,500 cruise passengers at Southampton. The ship, soon to be nicknamed the Great White Whale, was overloaded by a whopping 10,000 tons. At Southampton dock before departure, she was sitting in the water thirteen inches below her maximum legal load limit. The owners, P&O, contacted Department of Trade inspectors, who promptly came down to the dock, painted new lines on the sides of the ship, and issued a new loading certificate. Accompanying Canberra was MV Elk, another STUFT, packed with thousands of tons of ammunition, much of it loaded regardless of compatibility guidelines. There was no automated listing of the cargo that had just sailed. Loading authorities had forwarded cargo manifests to DOMS before departure. Now an ordnance officer on 3 Commando Brigade staff carried the single copy of the consolidated cargo manifest. That list would become indispensable in weeks to follow.
It had been a fast-moving few days for Thatcher’s government, the MoD, the services and British industry. As Major General Nick Vaux, then the Lieutenant Colonel commanding 42 Commando, so aptly stated years after the war, ‘It was the beginning of a bold, unorthodox deployment, urgently driven with decisive political direction and sustained by constant adaptation to the changing circumstances.’ Never in a century full of wars and conflicts had a country pulled together so fast to protect its interests, with no prior planning and under such unclear circumstances. The rest of the world, and certainly Argentina, marvelled at Britain’s resolve. No country in the world, not even the United States, expected the British to dispatch a force so quickly. No one knew that Thompson’s commanders were still waiting for gridded maps of the Falkland Islands. Few outside high circles in the military realized that before the last ship in the first wave departed, one of the most important of them was already breaking down at sea. The carrier Invincible had sailed from Portsmouth with only one of her propellers turning. She now needed a new starboard main gearbox and had stopped in the Atlantic away from sight of land. Such a repair would normally take place in a dockyard. There was no time or desire to limp back to England after such a glorious departure. Repairs took place at sea after necessary equipment arrived by helicopter from the dockyard. Many more challenges would follow, but the British had produced an incredibly impressive show of force in short order. They now had to decide what to do with it.