Imagine having to operate in the unforgiving South Atlantic for several months.

Excerpt from Chapter 6

Excerpt from pp. 112-4,  Chapter 6, D-Day and the Struggle to Build up Logistics, describing challenges of getting logistics ashore in the Falklands:

. . . When daylight arrived the next day, bringing with it initially more clear skies and calm weather, fears were rekindled about Argentine pilots returning to attack units in the San Carlos area. Weather elsewhere was preventing planes from returning from the mainland, though. With some of the highly vulnerable and visible targets now safely at sea, Clapp’s ships continued their cordon defence of the anchorage as Harrier pilots flew combat air patrols. Units maintained surveillance from surrounding hills as men worked to get Rapier air defence systems in place. In the BMA at Ajax, members of Commando Logistic Regiment’s Ordnance Squadron worked to offload landing craft shuttling supplies ashore from the LSLs in the anchorage. Members of the Medical Squadron supplemented by medical teams from other services hurried to convert the filthy meat packing building into a small hospital. As leaders determined how to divide the plant into areas to accommodate the triage and care of casualties, others stacked boxes and hung blankets to create partitions dividing treatment areas. Outside, men prepared survival positions in case of continued air attacks and cut blocks of peat from the rocky soil to reinforce the walls of the building. A sign soon hung over its door proudly proclaiming that it was ‘The Red and Green Life Machine’, named for the colours of paratrooper and commando berets worn by many of its occupants and capturing the proud inter-service spirit developing. Surrounded by thousands of tons of supplies, the refrigeration plant would present a good target for Argentine pilots. It would make an even better target if highlighted by the red crosses required for protection as a medical facility under the Geneva Convention. The Regiment therefore decided not to identify the refrigeration plant as a medical facility. They had no reason to believe the Argentines would honour the Geneva Convention anyway, despite mutual agreement to establish a Red Cross box for Uganda and Bahia Paraiso, since Argentina was not a signatory of the Geneva Convention.

By the afternoon of 22 May, Lieutenant Colonel Hellberg aboard Sir Galahad still had not managed to get ashore. Movement assets remained heavily taxed. Adding to his frustrations, Hellberg now discovered that he would not control any movement assets transporting personnel, supplies and equipment from ships to shore, not a single landing craft, mexeflote or helicopter. Having dedicated movement capability was at the core of the Regiment’s operating procedures. Commodore Clapp required units needing transportation assistance to submit requests for movement to his headquarters on Fearless for approval and allocation of assets, which was in keeping with amphibious doctrine. The Regiment had been accustomed to relying on its own four-ton trucks during exercises in the past to distribute supplies. This was quite different now. Watercraft and helicopters were the only means of getting supplies to where they needed to go. Consequently, the centralized control of transportation, understandable though it was, added to friction that had been building in previous weeks. Land and naval forces did not have a common understanding of amphibious operations. This was becoming particularly true when it came to matters of logistics around San Carlos. Frustrations would grow in the days ahead.

As unloading continued in the anchorage on 23 May, Argentine fighters arrived again in numbers. Pilots penetrated Clapp’s defences and shifted focus to the highly vulnerable, mostly unarmed, logistics ships. Skyhawks first entered the anchorage area from the south-east at about 0930 hrs, dropping bombs on several of the logistics ships. Daggers followed, and then more Skyhawks. Pilots succeeded in scoring direct hits on the LSLs Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad and on the newly arrived Sir Bedivere. Miraculously, none of the bombs striking the three LSLs detonated, even though others, missing and falling harmlessly into the water between the ships, did explode. In fact, one of the two bombs hitting Sir Lancelot skipped off the water first, entered and passed through the LSL’s superstructure, re- entered the water on the other side and still did not detonate. Considerable damage nevertheless resulted as 500lb or 1000lb bombs passed through or lodged in logistics ships. When it was all over, Galahad was beached and on fire, and Lancelot was still anchored but likewise on fire. Both had been hit twice by bombs that caused significant damage even though they failed to detonate. The British refloated Galahad the same day. Demolition experts worked frantically and ingeniously to defuse and remove bombs. In the case of Galahad, for instance, they eventually craned an unexploded bomb over the side of the LSL into an inflatable craft filled with cornflake packets for cushioning, before dumping it in deeper water. Once bombs were removed, repairs could start. Damage to Bedivere was minor, but Galahad would be out of action for a week and Lancelot for nearly three weeks. It was a serious setback for the logistics build-up ashore. As Lancelot underwent repairs she would revert primarily to being a helicopter-refuelling platform, until engineers established refuel capability on land.

Logistics ships were not the only ones to suffer severe damage that day. Skyhawks struck Antelope with two 1,000lb bombs, and once again the bombs failed to detonate. Casualties were evacuated to the Red and Green Life Machine in the BMA. As some evacuated crewmen huddled on banks at Ajax Bay, explosions broke the night silence as defusing efforts failed, killing a demolition expert and others and splitting Antelope in half. By morning, her bow was protruding skyward out of the water. . . .

<< Back to the Table of Contents