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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
'I survived the Belgrano'

Jose Luis Ferreira was just 17 when, on 2 May 1982, he found himself on board the General Belgrano. On that day, the aged vessel was destroyed by torpedoes fired from the British submarine Conqueror, and sank without trace. Now 37, this cheerful man told the BBC of his experience during the shipwreck, something that changed his life forever.

On the day of the attack I was just finishing the 1200-1600 watch. I was inside the cannon area with seven or eight others, waiting to be relieved, so we could go and rest. The first torpedo hit the stern, the machine room. It was a very loud noise, much louder than thunder. Everything shook. The power cut out, it was dark, and I noticed a particularly strong smell of gunpowder.

Two minutes later the second torpedo shot away fifteen metres of the cruiser's prow. Our bedroom disappeared. If we had exchanged watch on time, we wouldn't be alive today.

Beside me I remember there was a very young sailor on his first voyage on the Belgrano and a petty officer with some 20 or 25 years' service who knew every inch of the vessel. When the attack got underway, the lad said: 'Aeroplanes, aeroplanes'. And the old sea dog corrected him: 'No, it's a torpedo. Keep still because there'll be another one'.

Exclusion zone

We froze, not really understanding what was going on. We had just started to relax after leaving the exclusion zone. I saw a half-naked petty officer covering himself with a blanket. He was quite badly burned. He had been injured while having a shower.

That was one of the first things that had a real impact on me. Everything was silent as we awaited a third torpedo. Everyone stayed put, trying to find out what was going on. The radio operators were calling. I saw whirlpools around the ship, which meant we were not moving.

The Belgrano had been rendered useless. There was a big commotion as the crew tried to get into position for the lifeboats. We were each assigned to one. We heard a lot of shouting, people trying organise the proceedings or search for their friends. Some were sobbing in panic.

Abyss

When we went up on deck to get to the lifeboats, I saw an amazing thing: where the 15 metres of the prow of the Belgrano had been, there was instead a great abyss.

It was then that I realised many people had died. I registered that quickly and coldly. Everything happened so quickly. I lived every second. I meant to get out alive, I didn't want to die. I had an advantage in that I wasn't wounded or burnt or naked.

The lifeboats were made of rubber and inflated on landing in the water. We jumped into them. The ship was listing, making whirlpools and the wind was pushing us against it. We had to row madly so as not to crash into the sharp metal edges that had been left after the explosion.

Panic

Just then I saw something else that really had an impact on me. The anchor chain began to tense. Then it broke. The anchor fell onto a lifeboat. It was like squashing a snail. Nobody got out of there alive, not even a shred of rubber. Then our lifeboat burst and began to deflate. We had to throw ourselves into the sea.

I tried to kick off my boots and swim towards another lifeboat. On the way I came across a friend who couldn't swim. I don't how he managed to be on the Belgrano. Then he started panicking and shouting: 'Help, help'. At that moment there was a big black stain on the water. They had thrown the cruiser's oil containers into the sea to avoid a fire. It was difficult to hang on to the lifeboats as they were slippery.

The lad who couldn't swim was covered in oil, he was so desperate, he kept going under. When I managed to get on to a lifeboat I helped to rescue him. But he couldn't stop crying and shouting and I was afraid that he was going to push the rest of us over the edge.

I saw the Belgrano disappear into the water. An officer said: 'Don't look.' He was trying to spare us being left with that image of the ship, but it was too late. I saw it keel over and that was it, our “mini-city” had gone. The silence was deafening. There we were in the middle of nowhere: just water and sky. It was a cold evening, cloudy. It began to get dark.

Crying

We started counting our numbers. Everyone called out his name. One of my superiors was next to me, a military man of some 40 years' service who had been very strict and had reprimanded us if our hair was untidy or we were unshaven.

Here he was, crying and repeating the same words: 'We're all going to die'. At one point, a doctor who was on board gave him a clout to calm him down. The man didn't say another word. I thought to myself: 'And these guys are the military?'

At times, people prayed or sang or tried to strike up a conversation. Someone would ask which division they belonged to and what job they did. The conversation might last five minutes then cut off.

Numb

We couldn't sleep, because everyone knows that if you go to sleep in the cold you don't wake up again. Our legs became so numb we could hardly feel them. We resorted to urinating on each other as a means of keeping warm. We didn't eat. The lifeboats only came with first aid kits containing fruit pastilles, sugar lumps, sweets, chewing gum and water purifying tablets. As we didn't know how long we were going to be adrift, we tried to resist as long as possible.

The next day nobody wanted to pray or sing or speak. We were hoping that death would come and that it would all be over quickly. Some hours later we heard the foghorn of the ship that came to our rescue and everything changed very quickly.

People started celebrating, eating the rations and drinking the water we'd been saving. Since then I feel that everything in life is transient and I have to enjoy every moment to the full.