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1982: Dozens killed as Argentines hit British ships

Dozens of men are feared dead in the seas around the Falkland Islands after the container ship Atlantic Conveyor and the destroyer HMS Coventry were hit by Argentine missiles.

HMS Coventry managed to destroy two Argentine Skyhawk planes with Sea Dart missiles. Another wave of Skyhawks hit her four times with 1,000 bombs. She capsized, losing 21 of her crew.

An explosion and a fireball swept through the operations room. The ship listed to port and the crew and wounded made their way to the upper decks from where they were rescued.

It is thought the Atlantic Conveyor, owned by Cunard, was mistaken for the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes.

She was attacked by two Super Etendards which fired French-built Exocets like the ones that sunk the Coventry's sister ship HMS Sheffield on 4 May.

One of the eight men still unaccounted for on the container ship is her master, Captain Ian North.

Bill Slater, Managing Director of Cunard, said he was a "remarkable man... very well known in the industry generally and this is typified by the messages of sympathy we've received from all over the world".

Two Exocets were fired at the Atlantic Conveyor.

Only one struck home but it was enough to damage the ship seriously.

The Defence Ministry hopes some of the supplies carried by the Atlantic Conveyor can be salvaged.

All the Harrier jump jets aboard have been flown off and some of the helicopters and other supplies could be saved because the vessel is still afloat and upright.

There are now 43 British merchant ships serving with the task force. Cargo vessels and tankers for fuel and water form a conveyor belt of supplies between Britain and the South Atlantic.

Three passenger ships have also been taken over as hospital and troop ships.

The operation is costing the government around 5m a week, employing 2,000 members of the Merchant Navy.

In Context
The Atlantic Conveyor eventually went down with the loss of 12 men, including its commander Captain Ian North. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The vessel's troop-carrying Chinook helicopters, key equipment necessary to re-capture the islands, sank with the ship.

Without them, the British troops were forced to march to take their first major objective - Goose Green.

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

More than 900 people died in the three-week war - 655 Argentines, 255 British troops and three Falkland islanders.

The Falklands War gave a huge boost to Margaret Thatcher's popularity. She won the general election the following year with a massive majority and remained in power until 1990.

Although the two nations have made peace and relations are harmonious, Argentina still retains its historic claims to the "Malvinas" and Britain maintains an expensive and large garrison there.

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