GALAHAD 1

 

Sir Galahad entered Fitzroy on 8 June just after 0800 hrs local time, to the surprise of some of the Welsh Guards whose understanding was still that they were being taken directly to Bluff Cove. Out of the six landing craft that were in the anchorage the day before, four had returned to HMS Intrepid in order to speed the supply situation at San Carlos, one had gone to Goose Green to fetch 5 Brigade’s sorely needed signals vehicles, and only one, named Foxtrot One, was left unloading the ammunition from Sir Tristram. There was also a Mexeflote, a kind of powered pontoon raft which was used for unloading stores to the beach, but both this and Foxtrot One were both nearly fully loaded with ammunition crates. The commanders in charge of unloading the ships at Fitzroy knew that the 350 Welsh Guards had to be off the ship as soon as possible in case of air attack. It was suggested that the Guards could sit on top of the stores on the Mexeflote pontoon and be on shore within the hour.

The Guards Company Commanders were not keen on this as it meant they would have to march 5 miles to Bluff Cove and they were unwilling to weary their men unnecessarily, and all their heavy equipment would have to be left on board, with no guarantee of it being delivered to Bluff Cove in the near future. A compromise was then reached and the landing craft was made available to run the Guards to Bluff Cove, along with local tractors for the heavy equipment and a local 20 foot cutter. As this was being discussed,and 846 Squadron Sea King was airlifting the Rapier units ashore, which was to take a total of 18 lifts. Foxtrot One came alongside Sir Galahad at noon in order to start embarking the Welsh Guards, but the Commander of the 16 Field Ambulance, the senior ranking officer there, said that the Guards had already had a chance of disembarking and it was vital that the leading echelon of his unit should have priority. Twelve men and nine vehicles of the medical unit were then transported ashore which took another hour to do. On the last trip, the loading ramp of the landing craft was damaged, so the heavy equipment of the Welsh Guards could not be loaded at Sir Galahad’s stern doors. Instead it was decided that the equipment would be loaded on to the craft by crane, an incredibly slow process, before the men were taken off the ship. By this time Sir Galahad had been sitting in Fitzroy for 5 hours, largely due to misunderstandings and a lack of communication. Sir Tristram had now been unloaded, but was also still in the harbour. Argentinian observation posts on Mount Harriet had been watching the ships and reporting their presence all that time. A reaction was inevitable, eventually eight Skyhawks and six Daggers took off from the mainland and headed toward the ripe target. The British forces at San Carlos were warned of the raid, probably by a submarine patrolling off Rio Grande, but again due to the communications difficulties the warning did not reach the Sir Galahad. The stage for tragedy was set.

Three of the Skyhawks and one of the Daggers had to return to base after experiencing technical problems but the rest carried on, going to low level as they approached the islands, the two formations splitting to fly around Lafonia north and south about in order to attack Fitzroy from different directions. The Dagger formation found HMS Plymouth in Falkland Sound however, steaming to carry out a bombardment of Argentine positions on Mount Rosalie, and decided to attack her. Plymouth was hit by three bombs, but again the fusing problems of low level releases meant that none exploded. The impact of the bombs detonated a depth charge and started a fire which caused much superficial damage, injuring four men and killing one more. One of the Daggers was slightly damaged in the attack. At Fitzroy the five remaining Skyhawks from Grupo 5 de Caza fell upon the anchorage with almost complete surprise, the units ashore had finally received a warning, but there was no way of passing it to the ships. The Royal Marine gunners on the ships managed to engage the aircraft, and one Blowpipe shoulder launched missile was fired, but failed to find a target.

Three Skyhawks attacked Sir Galahad and two attacked Sir Tristram. The air defences were ill prepared for this strike; the two Sea Harriers that had formed the Combat Air Patrol to the south were now in pursuit of the Dagger formation and the operational Rapier sites were mainly covering the 5 Brigade Headquarters and the new supply base, not the anchorage. Unfortunately the Rapier site covering the anchorage to the east, the direction from which the Skyhawks attacked, had been damaged in transit and a spare part was just being landed by Sea King as the attack came in. This tragic combination of circumstance was to cause the single largest British loss of life of the campaign. Two bombs hit Sir Tristram, one passing straight through the ship without exploding, the other exploding in a small compartment killing two Chinese crewmen. Sir Galahad suffered far, far worse. Three bombs hit the ship, one passing through a hatch hitting the tank deck, one hitting the engine room and galley and the last burst in the officer’s quarters. The bombs did not explode as the term is commonly understood, they all deflagrated, the casings smashing open on impact, and the contents burning rapidly rather than detonating. The bomb that hit the tank deck caused most of the casualties, for that was where most of the troops were concentrated, along with twenty tons of ammunition and a large amount of petrol, which became an inferno. A least 45 men died on that tank deck, and 150 were injured and burned, many of them very seriously.

Immediately helicopters came in and started to take the injured off the ship. Foxtrot One was already alongside, protected by the bulk of Sir Galahad from the explosions and began taking wounded aboard. The Mexeflote pontoon also moved in, and some of the survivors got away on it. Although no-one was controlling the rescue, the Sea Kings of 846 and 825 Squadrons, the Wessex from 847 and a Gazelle from 656 Squadrons all co-operated with the surface vessels in perfect harmony. The wounded were taken at first to the Fitzroy landing site, before a shuttle of helicopters started taking them to Ajax Bay and then on to the hospital ship Uganda, who received 159 casualties this day. Captain Philip Roberts was the last man to leave the ship some forty five minutes after the attack, which due to the heat of the inferno, was left to burn itself out. Sir Galahad was towed out to sea later in June and sunk as a war grave. Forty-eight men died in the ship, thirty-two of whom were Welsh Guardsmen.

Roll of Honour

RFA Sir Galahad
Royal Fleet Auxiliary

* Electric Fitter Leung Chau
* 3rd Engineering Officer Christopher F. Hailwood
* 2nd Engineering Officer Paul A. Henry, G.M.
* 3rd Engineering Officer Andrew J. Morris
* Butcher Sung Yuk Pai

1st Battalion, Welsh Guards

* Lance Corporal Anthony Burke
* Lance Sergeant Jim R. Carlyle
* Guardsman Ian A. Dale
* Guardsman Michael J. Dunphy
* Guardsman Peter Edwards
* Sergeant Clifford Elley
* Guardsman Mark Gibby
* Guardsman Glenn C. Grace
* Guardsman Paul Green
* Guardsman Gareth M. Griffiths
* Guardsman Denis N. Hughes
* Guardsman Gareth Hughes
* Guardsman Brian Jasper
* Guardsman Anthony Keeble
* Lance Sergeant Kevin Keoghane
* Guardsman Michael J. Marks
* Guardsman Christopher Mordecai
* Lance Corporal Stephen J. Newbury
* Guardsman Gareth D. Nicholson
* Guardsman Colin C. Parsons
* Guardsman Eirwyn J. Phillips
* Guardsman Gareth W. Poole
* Guardsman Nigel A. Rowberry
* Lance Corporal Philip A. Sweet
* Guardsman Glyn K. Thomas
* Lance Corporal Nicholas D. M. Thomas
* Guardsman Raymond G. Thomas
* Guardsman Andrew Walker
* Lance Corporal Christopher F. Ward
* Guardsman James F. Weaver
* Sergeant Malcolm Wigley
* Guardsman David R. Williams

Army Catering Corps

* Lance Corporal Barry C. Bullers
* Private Albert M. Connett
* Private Michael L. Jones
* Private Richard W. Middlewick

Royal Army Medical Corps

* Lance Corporal Ian R. Farrell
* Major Roger Nutbeem
* Private Ken Preston

9 Independent Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers. These men were actually members of 3 Troop, 20 Field Squadron, 36 Engineer Regiment. 3 Troop was temporarily attached to 9 Para for the Falklands conflict.

* Corporal Andrew G. McIlvenny
* Sapper Wayne D. Tarbard

Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

* Craftsman Mark W. Rollins
* Lance Corporal Anthony R. Streatfield