Total Pageviews

Thursday 12 May 2022

Aftermath and Reminisces

 All the adulation of the homecomings had subsided by the time I returned home. But I was wrong as I was asked to attend a presentation at the Town Hall in Hedon in October. The Mayor at the time H.V. Suggit MM, JP had decided to give a tankard to all those from the town he had served in the Falkland conflict.

This is me receiving my tankard from Henry Vie Suggit who had a wet fish shop in Hedon. However years later I have discovered that he was a war hero himself. Having signed up and being at the retreat to Dunkirk when he was wounded and captured. One fit again he managed to escape 5 or 6 times, a couple of times on the run for a couple of weeks at a time!

Initially when I was home I was told that United Towing and Salvage Co. Ltd. had received my CV and application but at that moment they had no vacancies, but they would keep me on file. After about a month I was invited to King William House in Lowgate, Hull,  for an interview. I was offered the job and told that to be at King Billy at 23:00 on a Friday at the end of October to catch the coach down to Brize Norton. Now my previous company was one of the premier shipping companies in the country ans you were expected to travel to and from ships in smart gear. I turned up at 22:45 in jacket and tie, and there was nobody else there!. I thought I had the wrong day or something other than the fact that there was a coach there. I should have known as at 23:10, when the pubs chucked out the crew started arriving in drips and drabs, and we boarded the coach. A headcount was done and one was short. It was the Captain. A few minuets later this bloke that looked like Captain Pugwash with a Scouse accent climbed aboard and off we set.

King William House, the company headquarters at the time, as it was in 1982.

Everybody slept it off on the way down to the plane. Once at Brize we filled out all the forms that the RAF require and had breakfast before being boarded on a VC10 and off we flew to Dakar in Senegal. We weren't supposed to be there diplomatically or something as we were parked as far away from the terminal as possible and allowed to stretch our legs whilst they refueled the plane. Once re-boarded we took of for Ascension Island, landing just as it got dark.

RAF VC10 at the start of the Falklands conflict

We were shown to some tents with beds in and I remember the 'bathing facilities' as they were the odd sink and a long bench with holes in with no divisions between them. After not much sleep, and pretty early we were roused and ushered into a canteen for a full English breakfast before being trucked to the airfield where we were ushered up the after ramp of an Hercules transport plane. It was full of cargo, there were engines, post bags and loads of other unidentified things. Along either was along bench of what looked like camping chairs with seat straps. There was practically no leg room! The load master talked us through the flight. Once we got up in the air we would be allowed to move and find a spot where we wanted among the stuff aboard. Eventually we got the signal that we were free to move about. The veterans of this flight had bought sleeping bags and adjourned to the stern ramp which had loads of space but was very cold. If you were lucky you could lie on the mail bags and hope it would be soft. It never was! The one place you didn't want to be close to was the one toilet that just had like a shower curtain round it. The flight would be 12 hours, thirteen if unlucky. Even longer if everything was against you! The in flight catering was a cardboard box with a couple of sandwiches, a chocolate bar, and apple and that was about it. There was a boiler for hot drinks too. Sleep was next to impossible, and the time dragged. The highlight was when the plane was engaged in mid air refueling.

Not my picture, but we were allowed to watch the procedure. The plane had to arrive over Stanley airfield with enough fuel to be able to fly to Chile in case the weather made it not possible to land. This was the old airfield that had been bombed by the Vulcan bombers in the conflict. Some of our crews were unfortunate to have reached half way to Stanley then had to return to Ascension because of problems. The next day the left again only to be diverted to Chile due to weather, and then the following day fly on back to Stanley.

We landed in the late afternoon and there was a general melee, and as I hadn't got as clue what was going on I felt a little helpless. That is until I saw my suitcase being loaded into a Land Rover and being driven off! Quick enquiries garnered that it wasn't the right Land Rover, so I managed to grab another driver and off we sped to overhaul it before it disappeared completely. Fortunately it stopped at a rapier battery site not too far away and I recovered my case. By the time I had got back to the airfield the rest of the crew had gone so I cadged a lift down to the harbour and then waited for a boat to come alongside to take me out to the anchored Salvageman off the pier.

The Salvage tug 'Salvageman' off Stanley.

I dropped my case on the deck and skipped over the bulwark and made my way to the bridge. There I reported to the 'Old Man' and was just telling him the story of the case, when the bloke I was relieving came up and said he was off, taking the boat I had come off in. Not a very long handover. After saying goodbye I was back on the bridge when all the alarms started sounding. It was my first time on the ship and didn't know where anything was, or how to cancel the alarm. I was told it was a fire alarm from the engine room workshop, and as the Mate it was my job to sort it out! I grabbed a radio and tried to find my way to the right place. This was helped by the smoke and several people heading in the same direction. Once there I could see a man looking pretty blackened round the edges, but walking and talking. After establishing there was no fire we went up to the bridge and did our best with the burns to his hands and face, and then sorted out a boat to take him over to a nearby warship with a doctor aboard. Later we heard the full story. The injured man was one of the RN radio people aboard. He was in the workshop busy sawing the 4.5" shells up to make souvenirs. The shell itself is full of blue cordite granules and these he tipped into a bucket to dispose of over the side later. All would have been well other than the fact that he was smoking as he was doing this! He was lucky as he flicked his ash off and it dropped into the bucket of cordite!! Luckily it was an open bucket and as it wasn't contained it didn't explode but just flash off searing and burning his clothes and exposed skin. We were all very lucky it seems.
It turns out our job at that time was provide a platform for the RN divers to go down to the wrecks of the HMS Antelope and Ardent and recover all the secret and dangerous stuff they could. They were bringing up the 4.5" shells from the main gun. These were then taken ashore and blown up. Some obviously were taken for other purposes. I seem to remember they were taking about 12 and blowing them all up together. They were stopped from doing this many as the explosion was causing damage to wrecked freezer plant on the west shore of San Carlos that was being used as an hospital. You can see in the above photo how the projectile part has been cut off. The brass shell bodies are crushed due to the pressure at the sea bed.. The buoy is one that we found drifting and had come from an oil rig off the Argentine coast.

This is me and one of the RN radio team ashore burning secret documents using the ships boat, and doing a bit of site seeing too.

I did several trip to the Falklands on the Salvageman and United Towing's other tugs Yorkshireman and Iraishman, and later Euroman too. I think I must be the only man that has served in the Falklands on four ships that are inscribed on the war memorial in Stanley, the three tugs and Lycaon. The duties were varied, Here we are towing a floating hotel 'Safe Dominia' that had been brought down by a semi submersible vessel and was to be used as floating barracks.

In 1985 I joined the Salvageman in Soth Georgia where the ship had been contarcted to assist with the raising of the Argentine submarine in Grytviken Harbour after being attacked in the conflict. It was a great job, and a fantastic chance to visit a part of the world I would otherwise have little chance or in the normal course of work. Here the the British Antarctic Survey vessel Barnsfield is passing us in Grytviken Harbour.

A look back towards the whaling station with Salvageman alongside from close to Sir Ernest Shakleton's grave.

The graveyard can be seen in the distance in this photo. The submarine has been made watertight and has been injected with water and it has come to the surface at last. We were eventually to tow her out to see and sink her in 2000 mtrs of water.

Salvageman alongside near the slip way way whales were dragged up and sliced and diced to go into the boilers to make oil. Everything was pretty intact at the time.

I grew to love that ship and I was so sad when it was sold and I had to leave the company that I'm not ashamed to say, I cried. The only other ship that happened was when I had to leave the Patroclus, one of the most beautiful ships ever built, a class of eight. They were the peak of perfection just before the boxes of tankers and container ships took over. I sailed on the Priam and Patroclus and had some fantastic trips on them.

The object of my other bout of tears. I had some lovely runs to the Far East and back on this vessel and a six month round the world trip on the Priam. It might as well of being a cruise as we had so much fun and with a great crew too. Definitely the good old days.

Tuesday 3 May 2022

They think it's all over! It is now.

 The official War Zone started just south of Ascension Island and for us in the Merchant Navy we started earning a war bonus. Vessels were staged for leaving Ascension in some sort of order that they may be required. The Royal Navy ships went down first along with their replenishment vessels, followed by the 'invasion fleet' with the assault ships and passenger liners with the troops, along with their support vessels. The RN ships were fully stored with ammunition etc. Their support ships had their first resupply and we were carrying the next lot.

When we left the anchorage at Ascension we went on to 'war' watches. This meant that no longer did I have the bridge and wheelhouse to myself during the day, and just a lookout and myself at night. Now there was a gaggle of people to keep me company! There were four lookouts, one on each side looking ahead, and another two looking astern, one on each side. There was a signal/radio man, a couple of messengers and odds and bods that I'm not sure what they did, other than stop me walking from bridge wing to bridge wing easily! The bridge kettle also seemed to permanently on.

It was the day after we left for the South that I had my biggest shock. It was a beautiful day, flat calm and one of those days where you would normally hang about on the bridge wing soaking up the sun. I was on the 12 to 4 watch just doing the normal things when suddenly one of the forward look outs screams out the bearing of a low flying aircraft to st'bd!! I very nearly had to go and change my trousers as it was such a shock and so unexpected. However we had had reports of ships being bombed by transport planes from Argentina rolling bombs out of the rear ramp. However I was reassured when the bit of training we had kicked in and I dashed over to the wheel, (I can't remember now whether we were in autopilot as we normally would be, but as we were in a war zone I suspect that the wheel would have been manned), banging the general alarm button on the way. I gave orders to alter course to aim the ship directly at the threat and waited for developments. The Lt. Cmd and the Captain were still on the way up when this massive plane passed right over head, seemingly at just above mast height. It was an RAF Nimrod reconnaissance plane!! It gained height went round us again and waggled its wings before heading off to Ascension. It took my heart a little longer to calm down, but it was reassuring to know that we were being watched over.

Nimrod plane from just after the conflict as it is rigged for in flight refueling and has sidewinder missiles under the wing for self defense.

As we headed further south the weather got colder and rougher. Ships were arriving but obviously no landings had taken place as the political and diplomatic battle was still ongoing. As there was nowhere for us to wait in a port or an anchorage we were directed to an area of ocean to the north of the Falklands and just outside of the TEZ (Total Exclusion Zone). It was originally designated the TARA (Tug and Rescue Area). That is one thing I found we had to get used to very quickly; everything was referred to by their initials and never using full words. It took ages to understand what the hell they were talking about half the time!). It was later re-designated the TRALA (Tug, Rescue and Logistics Area). In this big circle of sea we were given a 5 mile radius bit to remain in at all times. This is where the boredom started, just going up and down trying to find the most comfortable direction that reduced the rolling and pitching in the sometimes heavy seas. This wasn't always possible and I remember being called out of my bunk in the evening to go and try to capture some 1000lbs on wooden skids that had broken loose and were careering around the tween deck, threatening to punch a hole in the ship's side. A gang of us managed to lasso them one by one as they slid past, and get them lashed up securely.

Luckily the first skirmish of the Falklands Campaign was the retaking of South Georgia on 26th April. We were ordered to head further south and ended up anchoring of Stromness whaling station, in Stromness Bay on the north coast of South Georgia.

The whaling stations on the island are marked in red. Leith, just north of Stromness in the whaling station where the Argentinians went ashore to remove all the scrap and raised the Argentinian flag. An event that was the spark for the whole conflict.

Whilst here the weather was often dense fog, but I well remember one occasion that we received a message that an inbound helicopter was coming to us. We had no helideck, and as can be seen from the photos we had lots of masts, derricks and aerials that made working with helicopters challenging. It was dense fog at the time, we couldn't even see the heavy lift derrick midships. We could hear the helo and it got closer and closer and eventually we could see it just off the port bridge wing. It slowly drifted closer and closer until in had one wheel on the rail. The door opened and a couple of sacks were thrown out and they departed. This was our mail!! We were used to getting mail once or twice in a three month trip, but when we were a Navy party I was receiving mail from the UK two days old!! That just shows the importance given to mail and morale. The helo was only very small, as Westland's Wasp from HMS Endurance I seem to remember. She was the RN ice patrol vessel.
Whilst at anchor we had several vessels come along side us so we could transfer our stores to them. I remember some of the requisitioned Hull trawlers coming alongside. The five had been taken on as minesweepers etc and were manned by RN crew.

HMS's Junella, Northella, Farnella and Pict taken from HMS Codella.

we also transferred cargo using helicopters using long lines so that they could remain above the masts etc but still hook on to pallest etc to lift them to other ships. We also had the RFA Blue Rover alongside.

RFA Blue Rover alongside our st'bd side. Our most popular request was for 4.5" shells. These are used by the Roayl Navy by their deck guns and were being used to bombard the Argentinian positions ashore, prior to any landings. Later, once troops were ashore we were getting requests for the army artillery shells too. You can see that the weather wasn't too clear on this day either.

At some stage there was a scare that Argentinian planes had the capability to reach South Georgia and attempt to bomb shipping so we were ordered to put to sea and hide in the icebergs! There were plenty of small icebergs to get amongst, but other that an echo on a radar it would be very easy to discern our ship from an iceberg as they have 4/5th under water so will drift very slowly compared with us! Still it broke the monotony.

We were soon back in Stromness Bay and here you can see the whaling station at the head of the bay. One night we received a message that a ship would be coming alongside to take on supplies from us. It had been snowing and as I was on watch I had to call the crew out to sweep the hatches so that I could open them up. They refused to turn iout. No amount of persuasion by me would get them moving so I had to call the Chief Officer. They wouldn't cooperate with him either so he had to call out the officers and others to rid the hatches of snow so we could get on with the work. The REME soldiers did everything else. I can not now remember what their problem was but it shows that not everybody was as dutiful and keen to serve as we may think in time of war.

Looking at the picture in close up you can see the tanks where the whale oil was stored along with fuel for the whale catchers and the base. You can also see one of the Hull trawlers alongside the small jetty there. There were catchers up on a slip and to the right the beach was littered with propellers for the catchers as they must have had many damaged when working in ice. The station and beaches were also littered with sea elephants.

As the landings at San Carlos were secured and the troops advanced it was our time to move up so that the supply lines were reduced. We returned to the TRALA and then one evening we assembled with some other ships, names of which I can not now remember, were put in a convoy and in darkness we made our approach to San Carlos Water. I was grateful for our training in convoy station keeping and we approached the entrance to San Carlos. It was a tense time and it was interesting to see how different people coped differently with it. I was on the bridge in the pitch black. as we approached the turn into the haven there were several reports of an enemy warship ahead. They had mistaken a patch of lighter rock on Fanning Head as it really did look like a warship until we moved further up and changed aspect. I have a memory of an explosion high in the sky as an Argentinian plane was hit by a missile but looking at the records there was no account of one being 'downed' at the time. We anchored in San Carlos, off the Cold Store that was used as the forward hospital just after the landings. It was Monday 14th June 1982. Later that day the Argentinian Troops on the Falkland Islands surrendered.

The land fighting had finished, but we were constantly getting air raid warnings as the Argentinian air force kept making dummy runs etc to the edge of the exclusion zone and then veering off. The speed of the planes meant that even with 200 miles to the edge of the TEZ we still wouldn't get much notice if they did enter.

 A few days later we were ordered to move round to Port William, the bay next to Stanley Harbour. We anchored there, and there we remained for ages. Except we had one more trip back round to San Carlos to go alongside the tanker 'Scottish Eagle' that was moored there and received ships alongside to take bunkers. I must say our Capt. Lawton didn't do too much damage when he went alongside. We had watched several ships cause damage to both vessels as they tried to get alongside. Big ship masters were very unused to close quarters ship handing as they would normally have a pilot when this was required. Little did I think that in less than ten years I would be a pilot and chucking big ships around on the Humber for a living.

Once topped up we returned to Port William and a monotony of anchor watches and listening out on the radio. I did get ashore once to have a wander around Stanley for a few hours, and we often had small vessels come alongside giving stores, water etc. Most of these would be the Salvageman, Yorkshireman and Irishman of United Towing. As they were from Hull and to break the monotony I would put the ladder down and go for a cup of tea and a chat. This is when I heard that they may be recruiting. The traditional Merchant Navy was dying on its feet and it was only a matter of time before we were all made redundant. It was seemingly the sole topic of conversation aboard, which didn't make the time pass any quicker! I sent in my CV from the Falklands.

We also provided Rand R for people based around the islands who had no proper facilities such as pilots, rapier battery troops etc. They would come and have a hot shower and a night or two of a comfy bed and being warm with regular food and a few beers and a different face to talk to. Eventually we heard that we were to be relieved and the new crew arrived on 22nd August and the next day we joined the MV Norland for a five day passage to Ascension were we would transfer to a VC 10 for a flight to Brize Norton. The Norland was very beaten up, she had been acting as the ferry between Ascension and Stanley since the surrender and was looking the worst for wear. However the crew were great and looked  after us well. There was even a concert party with a comedian and dancing girls for those aboard.

Message received on the MV Lycaon just before we left for home.

When we flew into Brize Norton there were no big welcome ceremonies as I'm pretty sure we were the last people to be relieved following the surrender. My eldest brother and his family lived close by and they cam to meet me. I can't remember how I got home, whether it was a hire car or what. Thus ended a great adventure, or so I thought.