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Last Updated: Friday, 1 June 2007, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Surviving a Falklands 'suicide' mission
By Leesa Rumley
Producer, Sea of Fire

The destroyer, HMS Coventry was one of four Royal Navy warships sunk during the Falklands conflict 25 years ago this week.

Now, the captain and crew tell their story for the first time.

HMS Sheffield on fire in the Falklands War on 4 May, 1982
HMS Coventry's sister ship, HMS Sheffield was hit 4 days into the war
"It's like a game of chess. You've got to give up some pieces to get checkmate in the end. I was one of those pieces," says Captain David Hart Dyke.

He was in command of HMS Coventry when at the height of the Falklands conflict, she was ordered to lure enemy bombers away from the British troops landing in San Carlos Bay.

The captain knew it was a suicide mission: "I realised why we were doing it. If necessary, we were the sacrifice rather than other ships which were more important. And that's war. You've got to take risks to win."

Battle 'horror'

When Coventry was first ordered to join the British task force - sent to the South Atlantic after Argentina invaded the UK overseas territory - her crew were convinced that the unrest would be resolved by the time they reached the South Atlantic.

Some of the men had no idea where the Falkland Islands were and wondered why the Argentines had invaded Scotland.

I just sat in my office and cried
Sam MacFarlane
Just four days into the conflict, they began to understand the true horror of what they faced. The crew helplessly watched their sister ship HMS Sheffield burning on the horizon after it had been hit by a dreaded Exocet missile.

Sam MacFarlane had recently transferred from the "Shiny Sheff" and remembers how his heart was in his mouth as he anxiously looked at the list of survivors. "I just sat in my office and cried. I don't mind admitting it. I just felt so bad."

But the men soon became more battle-hardened.

HMS Coventry brought down more aircraft than any other ship during the Falklands War.

While other ships were sunk around them, they felt invincible. But their success was not going to last.

Under attack

On the afternoon of 25 May 1982, the Argentines took the bait and sent waves of Skyhawks to specifically take out the Coventry.

Peter Bradford, who was 19 years old at the time, recalls casually sitting in the torpedo magazine at the time.

"I was looking through a NAAFI catalogue and I was looking at a lawnmower, thinking that with all the money I've saved, I could buy one of those and cut my grass when I get home."

I hope to God I'm never, ever that scared again
Peter Bradford

Oblivious to the danger, he went up onto deck, armed only with his camera "to get some action shots".

He was terrified to see waves of planes approaching, and clouds of machine gun bullets as the Coventry threw up a wall of ammunition to fend off the attack.

Bradford admits: "At that point my war started. I've never been so scared in my whole life. And I hope to God I'm never, ever that scared again".

Three bombs hit the Coventry. Two of them exploded. The ship was crippled and rapidly filled with water, turning over at an alarming rate.


Below deck, Sam MacFarlane saw his best friend Chris Howe with most of his clothes blown off, his flesh horrifically burnt.

Captain Hart Dyke
Captain Hart Dyke cannot remember how he got out
Sam helped Chris negotiate a maze of smoke-filled corridors and shattered ladders.

Sam explains: "Everyone was scrambling up the wall and I just manhandled, kicked, cajoled, shouted at, loved him to bits, cuddled him, got Chris up to the next level."

Captain Hart Dyke was trapped in the Operations room, slowly suffocating on the choking black smoke.

He had resigned himself to die: "I was surprised how calm I was about it. I was actually wondering who was going to mow the lawn in my absence."

Even now he has no idea how he escaped, but he eventually found himself on the upper deck, watching spellbound as his ship's company calmly evacuated the ship.

"I was probably the last to leave. I actually walked down the ship's side which was almost horizontal by that time and jumped the last two feet into the water."

In less than 20 minutes, the ship had completely capsized. Nineteen men were tragically killed.

Yet remarkably, the remainder of the 300 strong crew made it to safety. They returned home on the QE2 to a heroes' welcome.

Their ship remains at the bottom of the South Atlantic.

The captain and crew of HMS Coventry tell their story in Sea of Fire on Friday, 1 June, 2007 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.

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