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1982: Argentines destroy HMS Sheffield
The British ship HMS Sheffield has been hit by an Argentine missile fired from a fighter bomber.

It is not clear how many of the 268 crew have perished.

The sinking has shocked the British nation and foiled any possible diplomatic solution to the current dispute over the Falkland Islands between Britain and Argentina.

The ship caught fire when a French-made Exocet missile penetrated deep into HMS Sheffield's control room. The blaze caused a poisonous smoke and most of the crew abandoned ship.

A major rescue operation has been launched in the South Atlantic as relatives thousands of miles back in the UK wait for news of their loved ones.

The 4,100-ton destroyer was struck as it carried out a scouting mission off the Falkland Islands, although its exact position is a secret.

Announcing the news on television, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence Secretary, Ian McDonald, said the ship was "in the course of its duty within the total exclusion zone around the Falkland Isles".

Two missiles were fired by a Super-Etendard fighter bomber. One missed but the other scored a direct hit and ignited a fire.

The Exocet missile is designed to skim the sea to avoid radar detection. It has its own radar that guides it to its intended target.

The attack follows yesterday's sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano. An Argentine diplomat in the United States said the destruction of HMS Sheffield was "justified after the massacre that the English have done shelling our men and our ships".

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HMS Sheffield on fire in the South Atlantic
HMS Sheffield caught fire after it was hit by an Exocet missile

Reaction from the United Nations to the HMS Sheffield sinking

In Context
Twenty men died and a further 24 were injured in the sinking of the HMS Sheffield, the first British warship to be lost in 37 years.

It was the first of four Royal Navy ships sunk during the Falklands War. The others were the frigates Ardent and Antelope and the destroyer Coventry.

The Royal Fleet Auxillary vessel Sir Galahad and the British Merchant Navy ship Atlantic Conveyor were also lost.

After a bloody land battle, Argentine forces surrendered to the British and peace was declared on 20 June.

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