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Fight for the Falklands: Twenty years on
Introduction
My war story
Guide to the conflict

'I saw Sir Galahad burn'
Falklands map
The first day

The Argentine military's lost cause
My war story


Sir John Nott
Carlos Escude
Mark Shurben-Browne
Ruben Rada
Sir Rex Hunt
General Menendez
Jose Luis Ferreira
Bob Mullen
Augusto Bedacarratz
Twenty years ago this weekend, Augusto Bedacarratz was the pilot who fired the Exocet missile which sank HMS Sheffield in the Falklands War. It was the first British ship to be sunk during combat since the Second World War. Twenty British sailors were killed and a further 24 injured. Now 58, Bedacarratz says it was just chance that he headed the mission.


Click here to read the story of a survivor


"I would say to the relatives of those who died on the destroyer Sheffield that I am very sorry to have been one of those who caused them such very great pain.

"On 4 May, we had been awakened early with the order that we had to carry out the task for which we had been prepared for four weeks. A scout plane which had taken off at five in the morning had already detected the target. The two pilots on duty at that time were Lieutenant Armando Mayora and myself. We quickly got ready to leave."

Tension

The Argentine pilots belonged to the Search and Attack Naval Squadron, which used French Super Etendard planes and had a base in Río Grande city, in the Tierra del Fuego province in the south of Argentina.

It was, says Bedacarratz, impossible on that day to think about anything else but the tension of the situation.

“We worked in silence, totally concentrating on what had to be done. There was so much to prepare there was no time for fear or anguish, in spite of the fact that the operation was extremely dangerous and we had never before fired Exocet missiles."

Once the two Super Etendard planes had taken off, in bad weather, the pilots did not speak to each other until they detected on the radar the formation of the British ships, 20 nautical miles away, well out of sight.

“That's when we broke the silence, we exchanged information and I gave the order to fire," he says. "The missile I was carrying set off four seconds after I had pressed the button. This gap was terrible for me, it seemed an eternity. Mayora had not heard my order, but when he saw that I had fired the Exocet, he fired his."

Everything happened quickly for the pair. Bedacarratz says he felt almost mechanical, with only one thing in mind.

"After pressing the button, we didn't stop to think of the deaths we could cause. It's not that we were insensitive; we were just trying to complete a mission, to get rid of a ship that was causing us problems. It wasn't anything personal against anyone."

Risky manoeuvre

Straightaway they forgot about the missiles. They turned round and attempted to get back to base. But before that, in order to confuse the enemy, they flew at maximum speed and 15 metres above the sea in the direction of the Antarctic - an extremely risky manoeuvre.

"When we got back to base, we were very well received," Bedacarratz says. "We celebrated the technical success of the mission, because we managed to launch the Exocets. We didn't know for sure if we had hit the target. It was likely that we had, unless the British had intercepted the missiles. We received confirmation quite a while later. We hoped the vessel had been sunk without loss of life.

"If I am asked, I don't know exactly how many people died and how many were injured. I prefer not to think about it."

No hero

He says he did not consider himself a hero, and still doesn't. "I maintain that our success was a technical one, because we managed to employ a system of missiles. We tried to carry out something for which we had been trained and to act professionally."

Unlike many of those who took part in the war, he says his personal life has hardly changed since. For him it's almost as if he never took part.

"I'm still the same, but with a different job."


Click here to read the story of a survivor