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Fight for the Falklands: Twenty years on
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
In 1982, Bob Mullen was a 23-year-old sailor on HMS Sheffield. He recalls what happened when the ship and 20 of its men became the first British victims of an Argentinian Exocet missile.

It was the day of the invasion when we found out. The only thing was that as soon as we were told we were going south, everyone thought, why aren't we going north? Aren't the Falklands somewhere near the Shetlands? Just like so many people back at home, we didn't even know where the place was.

When we found out that we would be going to war, there was certainly some shock. But to not have gone would have been like training to be a plumber and then never mending a pipe. It was time to face our fears. That's the way we stayed until things went bang.

I was single at the time and didn't have chance to speak to my parents before we left. My father had served in the Army so he and my mum knew the score. In the first letter I got from them at the Ascension Islands, they kept it simple: Look after yourself.

The first thing that we had to do was rip out the carpets on the mess desks because they were a fire hazard. All the toilet doors came off because they could melt. We stripped the ship down to the bare minimum. Even curtains around the bunks went. All non-essential gear was transferred off at Ascension Islands.

There was a lot of excitement onboard and I don't think we really knew what we were getting into. We thought that we had shown our might and they would bottle out. Then, when on 1 May we crossed over into the Exclusion Zone, we realised this was deadly serious.

The Belgrano

On 2 May I was on watch when a flash signal came in - the most important type of naval communication. I went to grab it as it was passed along and saw that the General Belgrano had been torpedoed. Everyone cheered. "Yes! They've had some!"

But then First Lieutenant Mike Norman walked in as the lads were cheering. "They are sailors like us," he said. "Some hundreds of miles away there's 500 men trying to swim around in the water and stay alive. They could be dead, they could be freezing. And tomorrow it could be us."

In all honesty, we hadn't thought of the lives encased in that ship. To us, the sinking meant one less threat to us. It was just a name.

Attack on the Sheffield

The day of the attack was calm - a good flying day. I was off duty and trying to sleep when the missile hit. There wasn't a bang or an explosion. It was more like a "crump", an alien noise.

Within seconds, black smoke poured in and we were up. We tried to join the fire fighting effort but then thought: "What are we doing down here? We don't know what's hit us, have we been torpedoed?"

We rushed up top and saw the smoke pouring out a hole and we realised that it must have been an Exocet. But at the same time we were relieved because not only was the hole above the water line, the warhead had failed to detonate.

In those first moments I don't think I was conscious of casualties. I saw Chief Mechanician John Strange and Stoker Dave Harrington brought up, very badly burned. Later I saw the body of Dave Briggs who had been overcome with smoke.

But what we all did was break the rules of keeping personal battle dressing back for ourselves - men were taking them out and throwing them where they were needed.

Battle to save the ship

The next five hours felt like 20 minutes. The ship's paint was one of the first things to go overboard because of the risk that it would catch alight. But as the heat began coming up the decks we started throwing out all the ammunition too. Bullets, three-inch rockets, torpedoes, depth charges - all over the side.

During all of this Captain Sam Salt was directing everything. Sam was an experienced captain with loads of respect onboard. He was like our father figure, but we could see the shock in his face.

The only time that I do remember being scared was when there were just three of us in a small machinery room.

The power was off and we could hear creaking and groaning - sounds that the ship had never made before. When we were surrounded by the rest of the ships company, we took courage from each other. But when you were left on your own, that was when your head started playing games.

Abandoning ship

After four or five hours, the decision was taken to get everyone off. The horrible thing about abandoning ship is that everything you own is on that ship. It's like standing outside your house as it burns down. Your whole life is in there.

But, like in many situations in the Navy, there were people taking the mickey, trying to make the best of it.

One of my jobs was to keep watch on the line tying HMS Arrow to us. As the lads jumped across to the Arrow, they were shaking my hand and saying "Bye then, Bob! Nice knowing you!" I'm standing there, looking at this axe, looking at the ships and thinking, why can't we chop it from their side?

So we changed the plan. I jumped and, sod's law, it went wrong and all I could see was the grey wall of a ship's hull in front of me. I managed to grab some deck beading. Crash Evans was on the deck and he leaned over and pulled me up by the collar.

When we returned home, I was embarrassed by how we had been portrayed. At RAF Brize Norton there were cheering crowds as we landed.

In the newspapers we were described as the Sheffield heroes. But we didn't feel like heroes. We had lost our ship.

The only body recovered from HMS Sheffield was that of Petty Officer David Briggs, later buried at sea. The ship eventually sank on 10 May 1982 at 53o04'S 56o56'W. It is now a registered war grave.