HMS Sheffield (D80)

HMS Sheffield (D80)

HMS "Sheffield" (D80) was the second Royal Navy ship to bear the name Sheffield, after the city of Sheffield in Yorkshire. She was a Type 42 Guided Missile Destroyer laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering at Barrow-in-Furness on 15 January 1970, launched on 10 June 1971 and commissioned on 16 February 1975.

The ship was part of the Task Force sent to the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War. She was struck by an anti-ship missile from a warplane belonging to the Argentine Navy on 4 May 1982 and finally foundered on the 10 May 1982.

The sinking of HMS "Sheffield"

British version

At approximately 10 A.M. on the 4 May, HMS "Sheffield" was at defence watches, second degree readiness, as part of the British Task Force dispatched to the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War. "Sheffield" had relieved her sister "Coventry" as the latter was having technical trouble with her Type 965 radar"The Battle for the Falklands", Max Hastings & Simon Jenkins, Pan Grand Strategy, 1983] . "Sheffield" and "Coventry" were chatting over UHF. Communications ceased until an unidentified message was heard flatly stating "Sheffield is hit". The flagship, "Hermes" dispatched the escorts "Arrow" and "Yarmouth" to investigate, and a helicopter was launched. Confusion reigned until "Sheffield"'s Lynx helicopter unexpectedly landed aboard "Hermes" carrying the Air Operations Officer and Operations Officer, confirming the disaster.

"Sheffield" picked up the incoming missiles on her ancient Type 965 radar (an interim fitting until the Type 1022 set was available), and the Operations Officer informed the Missile Director, who queried the contacts in the ADAWS 4 fire control system. The launch aircraft had not been detected as the British had expected, and it was not until smoke was sighted that the target was confirmed as sea skimming missiles. Five seconds later, an Exocet impacted "Sheffield" amidships, approximately 8 feet above the waterline on Deck 2, tearing a gash in the hull. Whilst the other one splashed into the sea half a mile off her port beam. [ [] Turn to page 6] Such was the lack of warning, there was no time to engage in defensive manoeuvres, leading to a change in policy that all ships believing to be even possibly under missile attack would turn toward the threat, accelerate to maximum speed and fire chaff to prevent a ship being caught defenceless again.

The Exocets were fired from two Super Étendards launched from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Naval Air Base. Piloted by Lieutenant Armando Mayora and Captain Augusto Bedacarratz, who commanded the mission. [ [ Argentine Aircraft in the Falklands ] ]

The MOD report into the sinking of the "Sheffield" concluded that; "Evidence indicates that the Warhead did not detonate" [ [ Official MOD report into the sinking] ] . Some of the crew and members of the Task Force believe however that the missile's 165 kilogram warhead did in fact detonate upon impact. Regardless, the impact of the missile and the burning rocket motor set "Sheffield" ablaze. Accounts suggest that the initial impact of the missile immediately crippled the ship's onboard electricity generating systems and fractured the water main, preventing the anti-fire mechanisms from operating effectively, and thereby dooming the ship to be consumed by the raging fire. It is also suggested that the ship's anti-missile radar was incompatible with the satellite communications link which reduced the chance of the Exocet being intercepted, although neither the Type 965 radar nor the Sea Dart missiles carried by Type 42s are particularly well suited to intercepts of low-flying missiles.

After the ship was struck, her crew, waiting to be rescued, sang "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's "Life of Brian". [cite web|url=|title=Icons of England, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"]

The burnt-out hulk was taken in tow by the "Rothesay" class frigate HMS Yarmouth but sank at 53°04'S, 56°56' W on 10 May 1982; high seas led to slow flooding through the hole in the ships side which eventually took her to the bottom. This made her the first Royal Navy vessel sunk in action in almost forty years. Twenty of her crew (mainly on duty in the Galley-area) died during the attack. The wreck is a war grave and designated as a "protected place" [cite web |title= Statutory Instrument 2008/0950 | work=Office of Public Sector Information, 1 April 2008 | url= | accessdate=2008-07-19] under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

The sinking of the "Sheffield" is sometimes blamed on a superstructure made wholly or partially from aluminium, the melting point and ignition temperature of which are significantly lower than those of steel. However, this is incorrect as the "Sheffield"'s superstructure was made entirely of steel. [ [ sci.military.naval FAQ, Part F - Surface Combatants |Section F.7: Aluminum in warship construction] ] The confusion is related to the US and British Navies abandoning aluminium after several fires in the 1970s involving ships that had aluminium superstructures. The sinking of the Type 21 frigates HMS "Antelope" and "Ardent", both of which had aluminium superstructures, probably also had an effect on this belief though these cases are again incorrect and the presence of aluminium had nothing to do with their loss. In both cases, it is likely the ships would have been lost in any event, due to amount of explosives involved in such small ships, though aluminium fires did break out. "Ardent" in particular took a severe pounding, suffering eleven bomb hits, five of which exploded; no ship of her type of any era would have been able to survive such an attack. The fires on these ships did result in one clear change, which was the shift away from the nylon and synthetic fabrics then worn by British sailors. The synthetics had a tendency to melt on to the skin causing more severe burns than if the crew had been wearing non-synthetic clothing. The official report into the sinking of Sheffield, recently disclosed under UK Freedom of Information laws after an extensive campaign by ex-RN personnel, [] severely criticised the ship's fire-fighting equipment, training and procedures and certain members of the crew. [ BBC News | UK |Sunk Falklands ship safety 'poor', retrieved 2 November 2006] ]

Argentine version

"Sheffield" was first detected by an Argentine Navy patrol aircraft Lockheed SP-2H Neptune (2-P-112) at 7:50 AM on May 4. The Neptune kept the British ships under surveillance, verifying "Sheffield"'s position again at 8:14 and 8:43. Two Argentine Navy Super Étendards (3-A-202 and 3-A-203) both armed with Exocets took off from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego at 9:45 and met with an Argentine Air Force tanker KC-130H Hercules at 10:00 hrs. At 10:35, the Neptune climbed to 1,170 metres (3,500 feet) and detected a large and two medium-sized contacts at the coordinates 52º 33 55 South, 57º 40 55 West [,-57.681944&ie=UTF8&om=1&z=6&ll=-53.107217,-61.743164&spn=5.62094,22.148438&t=h map] . A few minutes later, the Neptune contacted both Super Étendards with this information. Flying at very low altitude, around 10:50, both Super Étendards climbed to 160 metres (500 feet) to verify these contacts, but, not finding any, decided to continue. 25 miles (40 km) later they climbed again and, after a few seconds of scanning, the targets appeared on their radar screens. Both pilots loaded the coordinates in their weapons systems, turned back to low level, and after last minute checks, launched their AM39 Exocets at 11:04 from 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 km) away from their targets. The Super Étendards did not need to refuel from the KC-130 again, which had been waiting, and landed at Rio Grande at 12:04. Supporting the mission was an Air Force Learjet 35 as a decoy and two IAI Daggers as the KC-130 escorts [ [ Argentine Account of the role of the Exocet during the War] ] [ [ Argentine Air Force May 4 mission] ]


External links

* [ BBC article about the sinking]
* [ Debunking of aluminium myth]
* [ Official MOD Report into the sinking]

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