Page 1

and thc TALKLAI{D

I6LAND6

During

", Ttre First World War, The Second World War ; and the 1982 Conflict

Supplement to Newsletter

No.37


The Argentinian dispute with Britain over Sovereignty of the Falkland Islands reached a climax in the spring of 1982 and resulted in a conflict of arms that could not have been anticipated a month or two earlier. The short term outcome of that crisis is well known to us all, although the longer term implications will take many more months to be determined.

This conflict became the third occasion in this century that the geographical location of that group of Islands caused a disruption of the solitude normally experienced by its"peace-loving community of less than two thousand people.

In one way or another the Harrison Line has participated on each of those three occasions by assisting, in some small way, with the logistical requirements needed to preserve the inalienable rights of the Islands inhabitants to democracy, freedom and self-determination. Within the following pages we tell the story of our involvement with the Falkland Islands during those unfortunate times. The South Atlantic is an area with which our Company does not normally trade and where our ships are seldom seen.

Thos. & Jas. Harrison Ltd.

NOVEMBER 1982


Thc Ialkland Islands THE COUNTRY, HISTORYand PEOPLE The Falkland Islands consist of two large and about 200 small islands, with of about 4,800 square miles, (about two thirds the size of Wales), lying in the South Atlantic, 400 miles north-east of Cape Horn and some 300 miles from the mainland of South America. Although the Islands lie on the edge of the Patagonian Continental Shelf, there is no stratigraphical connection between the Falklands and the nearer parts of the South American mainland. The Islands were discovered by Captain John Davis of the "Desire" it 1592 and named by Captain John Strong of the "Welfare" in 1690. There were no native inhabitants. ln 1794 de Bougainville took possession of the Islands in the name of King louis of France and established a settlement at Port Louis. At about the same time the British Admiralty despatched Captain John Byron to the Falkland Islands to select a suitable site for a settlement and a base. Byron landed at Saunders Island and took possession of this and all neighbouring islands in the name of King George III. Spain had long regarded the South Atlantic as her particular sphere of interest and strongly resented the settlements established by the two other great powers of the day, France and England. It 1767 the French withdrew in favour ofthe Spaniards who established a garrison there. A strong Spanish force expelled the British settlement from Port Egmont and this action brought the two countries to the brink of war, but eventually, after protracted negotiations, Port Egmont, by a Treaty between Spain and Britain, was restored to Britain. The British settlement was withdrawn in 1114 but a plaque was left as a mark of possession. In 1810 the Spaniards who had used one of the Islands as a penal settlement administered from Uruguay, abandoned them. Thereafter they became the.southern base for the British and also the American sealing and whaling industry with as many as 1,000 English seamen working in the Islands each year. The population, which approximates to that of the Scilly Isles, numbered 1,9 57 at the time of lhe 197 2 census and, of these, 7 8% w ere born in the territory and no less than 97% were British subjects; almost all of English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh descent. Many Falkland Islands families have been Islanders for six or seven generations. a

total

area

THE ARGENTINE CLAIM The Argentine claim to sovereignty is based on the claim to be the successor of Spain. The interest of what was then called "The United Provinces of La Plata" commenced in 1820 with a visit by a single ship. In 1828 the dictator Rosas attempted to take over the Islands and authorised a settlement by sending a small garrison of soldiers in 1829 . These were deported and their fort destroyed in 1 83 1 by the United States corvette "[rxington", following seizure of three American sealing vessels. The Captain of the "kxington" declared the Islands free of all government. Britain had protested at the action of the Buenos Aires Government in purporting to license a settlement and in 1832 despatched H.M.S. "Clio" to the Falklands in

I


order to re-assert British Sovereignty. British occupation has remained to this day without interruption and has established a unique island community where no previous indigenous population existed. It was not until nearly 30 years after the British re-settlement in the Islands that Argentina occupied the mainland of South America in these latitudes and established sovereignty there against Chilean opposition.

Vbrld \[ar I -

6 6.lntaba 1914

With the outbreak of War in August 1914, the Admiralty assumed responsib-

ility for all British

ships and started by commandeering certain vessels to assist in

fuelling our warships and depots around the world. One such vessel to be requisitioned that month was Harrison Une's INTABA. Mr. E. Carter Braine, who retired as Vice-Chairman of Harrisons in 1963, remembers the INTABA as "the best of the fleet of small passenger ships that we took over from the Rennie Line in 1911". A vessel of 4,832 gross tons, she had been built in 1910 and was purchased by Harrisons in l9l2 for !.72,073. Captain J.W. Watling commanded her from the day she left the builders yard until he retired in 1924, (he died thirty years later at the age of 9 l), and in 1914 the Chief Officer was a man named Mowatt - both were Rennie men. INTABA remained in naval service for the duration of the war and at one time served as the "Q4", a U-boat decoy ship. Towards the end of 1914 however she was required to take a full cargo of coal to Port Stanley to bunker one ofthe battle cruisers that the Navy had despatched to the South Atlantic to avenge the losses that we had incurred at Coronel in November of that year. Bunkering and the availability of coal were to play a distinct role in the outcome of the subsequent Battle of the Falkland. Islands.


INTABA,4832 g.r.t. built 1910; purchased from Rennie Line in 1911. Re-sold May 1927 to Hong Kong owners and renamed ENGLESTAN;re'sold 1929 to Bengal & Burma S.N.Co. of Rangoon;re-sold 1950 to Scindin S.N.Co. of Bombay; sold for scrap in August 1952; arrived Ghent January 1953. S.S.

Apparently the INTABA was at Port Stanley for a long time, during which Captain Watling, (who was a most interesting character with the appearance of an fuchbishop, according to Mr. Carter Braine), and the Islands Governor became great friends;they went for long walks together almost every day. The events that led up to the battle and the resultant action that took place on December 8th produced a decisive victory for the British, inasmuch as it marked the end of a definite phase of the war at sea. As a result, German cruiser warfare collapsed and, outside the narrow seas, England held undisputed control of the ocean trade routes around the world.


\ilcrld \[ar II -6 6 6tratc6rst T9M In the late spring of 1942 the Ministry of War Transport ordered the Harrison Line vessel STRATEGIST to the Mersey, to load a full cargo for Port Stanley. This comprised a complete camp of Nissan huts and equipment to house three thousand troops who were to be garrisoned on the Falkland Islands. STRATEGIST sailed from Birkenhead on May 21st for Freetown, where she arrivedonJune l5thandafterspendingthreedaysthere,takingonbunkers,sheleft for Port Stanley.

built 1937; soW in March 1957 to Hansa Line of Bremen and renamed SCHONFELS; re-sold to Hong Kong shipbreakers in February 1963. S.S. SZR,47E'GIST, 6,286 s.r.t.,

4


Two and a half weeks later, on July 6th, the vessel arrived safely at her destination and spent nearly a month discharging her cargo. She finally sailed from Port Stanley on August 2nd,1942. During this voyage the ship's complement included Captain A.G. Peterkin; 2nd Officer F.R. Hickin; 3rd Officer J.P. Brown and Chief Engineer T.H. Corkhill. The Chief Officer at the time was Mr. J.L. Curle who retired from Harrisons as Master in

t966. In freely admitting that "much gin has passed under the bridge since those happy days" to cloud the memory of forty-years ago, Captain Curle recalls what he does remember in the following anecdote:-

"For a while, one of World War Two's best kept secrets was that of s.s. STRATEGIST's voyage to the Falkland Isles. As Chief Officer, I was not aware of our destination until three hours before sailing, when four Royal Mail vans arrived alongside and discharged four hundred bags of mail; each and every one ofthem was distinctly labelled "Port Stanley, Falkland Islands". For one member of the crew, namely the Troop's cook, it was a world's record for the shortest voyage. We sailed from the Alfred Basin and before we had entered the Mersey, he was dead. It was not, I hasten to add, the thought of having to cook for three hundred in the Lascar's galley that gave him heart failure, but a surfeit of broached Navy rum, a tight tie and an overwhelming desire to sleep! The object ofthis voyage to the Falklands was to garrison the Islands because, if those "naughty Japs" had managed to close the Panama Canal, the Islands would have become an important bunkering area. So off we went, loaded to the scuppers with a complete camp for three thousand troops, plus three hundred Royal Engineers neatly stowed in No. 4 'tween decks, "Bung up and bilge free". The powers that be were sending us there in the summer time so that there would be plenty of daylight; only it was their summer in the Northern Hemisphere and not the Islanders'! The voyage to Freetown in convoy was devoid of any alarms and excursions apart from one or two minor incidents. For instance, at 0415 one morning, orders were given to "commerlce Zig-Zag 15". I had a passing thought at the time, that if Adolph Hitler had only left us alone, we would have won the war for him, for one third of the convoy zigged, one third zagged and the rest "kept straight on to the end ofthe road!" Then there was the soldier who had the audacity to go down with appendicitis. The dining saloon was turned into an operating theatre and, from various escort vessels, we mustered two Surgeon Captains R.N., one Major Surgeon R.A.M.C. and a Harley Street Specialist. Freetown bound, there was so much gold braid delving into that poor chap that he just dared not die. Rumour had it that he was sewn up with gold thread. Surprise, surprise - he lived to tell the tale. From Freetown we proceeded independently and it was not long before the Officer in charge of the Troops came to me with a problem. I quote; "How the hell can I give a defaulter three days confinement to barracks on a bit of solid in a million square miles of liquid?" We overcame that problem by introducing chipping hammers and scrapers to all defaulters and, in no time at all, I had the best kept, rust-free decks in the Fleet. For their amusement the Troops built a swimming pool about two thirds of 5


the way down the starboard side on the aft well deck, which, when filled, gave the ship a permanent ten degree starboard list. We rigged a greasy pole - a deep tank derrick hoisted nearly vertical, well greased with soft soap and tallow - to be climbed "starkers". The reward for getting to the top was a bottle of beer. This exercise was painful to some but amusing to many others. The Royal Navy had been sent out to escort us into Port Stanley but unfortunately this escort, in the form of the WILLIAM SCORSBY, a very small survey vessel, missed us and returned to port twenty four hours after we had arrived. There is no point in boring you with an account of the terrain and climatic conditions for you have seen enough on the "wretched box", but you can take it from me that to feel it is much worse. The Lighters used in the discharge ofour cargo consisted of three old dismasted sailing vessels, the last of the Uverpool Pilots' sailing cutters and Shell's SAN CASTRO. The latter was one of the Maracaibo/Curacao Mosquito Fleet and her Master was the Pilot for Port Stanley (a nice soft number for the duration!) According to one of my Ordinary Seamen, the prison was well worth a visit because the Governor's wife used to bring him cream cakes for his a-fternoon tea. The Post Mistress also deserves a mention; she used to entertain two or three members of the crew each evening to dinner and a piano recital, at which she was no mean performer. Once again, I would like to thank all the nine hundred and eighty people of Port Stanley for the kindness shown to all the crew members of the STRATEGIST. One final thought; I am a Cockney born and bred but I will never be half as British as those Falkland Islanders".


The

At.ntinc Conflic;mvAotrcnomcr L}BZ

On the 19th March a dozen Argentinian scrap-metal workmen, hired to dismantle a disused whaling station, landed without British consent at Leith, South Georgia and hoisted the Argentine flag. On April 2nd Argentine troops invaded the Falkland Islands. Ten days later two British nuclear-powered submarines arrived off the Islands - the first vessels of what was to become a large Task Force of British war and merchant ships operating in the area. On May I st, an American peace mission ended in failure and our Vulcans and Sea Harriers bombed the airfields at Port Stanley and Goose Green. The following day the Argentine cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO was sunk by a torpedo. Two days later H.M.S. SHEFFIELD was hit by an Exocet missile - she sank on May 10th. On May 21st, British troops landed near Port San Carlos and the British flag was raised again in the Falkland Islands but H.M.S. ARDENT was sunk. Two days later H.M.S. ANTELOPE was badly damaged and,on the 25t\H.M.S. COVENTRY and the Cunard containership ATLANTIC CONVEYOR were lost (the latter sank on the 3lst). On May 28th, British paratroopers captured Goose Green and by the month end our troops were only 12 miles West of Port Stanley, at Mount Kent. They took Fitzroy and Bluff Cove on June 6th but on the 8th the R.F.A. vessels SIR GALAHAD and SIR TRISTRAM were bombed and strafed. On the 13th our troops routed the Argentinians on Tumbledown, Mount William and Wireless Ridge. On June 14th the Argentine forces surrended. Just six short weeks after the first exchange of fire we had gained an important victory for democracy but at a cost of 255 British lives. A further 711 of our men had been seriously injured and we had lost 2 Type 42 Destroyers, 2 Type 22 Frigates, 6 Sea Harriers, 2 RAF Harriers, 2 Chinooks, 4 Sea Kings, 2 Wessex, 4 Gazelles and one Commando helicopter as well as a converted roro/container ship and had incurred damage to a few other war ships. Argentinian Army and Air Force losses were even worse.

THE MERCHANT NAVY,S ROLE At the height of the operation, over 50 merchant ships were acting as troopships, hospitalships, aircraft ferries, floating repair facilities, mine counter-measure mother ships, minesweepers, ammunition carriers, and water-carriers - apart from the tankers and the general cargo requirements. They were all manned by civilian Seafarers - men and women who volunteered to go South to face unknown dangers and there has been unqualified praise for their conduct. Sadly, sixteen members of the Merchant Naly lost their lives from SIR GALAHAD, SIR TRISTRAM and the ATLANTIC CONVEYOR. Other merchant vessels had near misses, not least those who were ordered into San Carlos Bay;one tanker survived an unexploded bomb. The tugs and trawlers were required to operate close to the Islands and several merchant ships were involved in rescue operations from stricken naval vessels. One tanker, with accommodation for 30, carried 300 survivors from H.M.S. SHEFFIELD to Ascension Island. As the Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, said in the House of Commons; 1


"The Country owes a great debt to the Merchant Navy". Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, Commander, Falkland Islands Task Force, was more precise in his choice of words; "I cannot say too often or too clearly how important has been the Merchant Navy's contribution to our efforts. Without the ships taken up from trade, the operation could not have been undertaken - and I hope this message is clearly understood by the British Nation".

ENTER M.V. ASTRONOMER Three days after the ATLANTIC CONVEYOR was hit by an Exocet missile, on Friday May 28th, the Ministry of Defence contacted Mersey Chambers seeking information about the ASTRONOMERS'S schedule. She was in fact, due in Felixstowe from the Caribbean that evening and shortly after she docked five gentlemen from the Ministry and the Royal Nary boarded her to assess her suitability for conversion to a helicopter carrier and service with the Task Force in the South Atlantic. Within two hours they had made up their minds that she should be chartered and arrangements were made to discharge the entire ships cargo of full and empty containers. This was accomplished in thirty-six hours and ASTRONOMER sailed for Devonport at 0600 on Sunday 30th, where she arrived the following day. The next morning conversion work started in earnest. At times there were up to 500 men from the dockyard engaged in the process of transforming the ship into a helicopter carrier and repair facility. A landing platform and hangar were constructed on the forward l20ft of the fore deck; Replenishment at Sea gear (for fuel and water) was installed; satellite and other communications equipment was fitted;spare cabins were altered and Portacabins put aboard to accommodate extra personnel; additional cooking facilities were installed; Oerlikon guns were fitted pn deck either side of the funnel and "chaff chuckers", (to deflect missiles), were added on the aft end ofthe bridge deck; several containers of stores and equipment were loaded and the vessel was fuelled with gas oil only. Amazingly,within six days all these jobs were completed and on Monday 7th June she was ready to sail South. Captain Bladon takes up the story from there:THE VOYAGE SOUTH After leaving Dock No. 10 in Devonport we proceeded to bunker at Yonderberry in the River Tamar. Capacity bunkers were taken and we sailed at 1830. Compasses were adjusted going down the river and at 1930 ASTRONOMER anchored in Plymouth Sound to load helicopters. The ftrst helicopter to approach was a Wessex 5 which hovered alongside the flightdeck to port. The F.D.O. asked permission for it to land and the F.D.O.A. (Flight Deck Officer's Assistant), who was in the wheelhouse on radio, turned to me and asked me to allow it to land on. Knowing nothing about helicopters I said that surely the pilot was the man to decide, but was told that the Commander of an Aircraft-carrier was the only person allowed to give permission for the aircraft to land or take-off. So there I was holding the proverbial can again! We took 5 Wessex,4 Scouts and 1 Chinook before it became too dark for flying and it then took until midnight to de{lade the Chinook and get it into the hangar


ASTRONOMER sails out of the Naval Dockyard at Devonport on June 7th. ready for receiving the remaining helicopters the next day. I was told that it was the lust time a Chinook had ever landed on a ship's deck. We sailed at 0100 June Sth to rendezvous with the R.F.A. BLACK ROVER to practice as RAS (Replenishment at Sea) and met up with her at 0700 off Portland Bill. We steamed 270o at 10 knots and with the R.F.A. approimately 200 ft. on our starboard side connected up two fuel pipes and the fresh water hose. The RAS was completed at 0805 and with the weather calm and the sea smooth I stopped the engines and we drifted in Lyme Bay whilst taking on the last Wessex and the remaining two Chinooks. It takes up to three hours to de-blade a Chinook, so it was 1400 before we set off for Freetown. My instructions were to avoid dense traffic areas and stay out of sight of land. Ushant was passed at 30 miles. On board at sailing we had a complement of 116 men, comprising 34 ship's crew, 53 R.N., 2l R.A.F. and 8 Army personnel. The Naval doctor was very busy handing out sea-sick pills but fortunately the weather was kind and we only had 5 cases of sickness. Mealtimes were a bit chaotic on the first day but Mr. Eady soon had things organised properly and running smoothly - even to second helpings. After sampling some Navy meals from H.M.S. DRAKE in the dockyard, it was no wonder they ate as if food was going out of fashion! Whilst RASing with the BLACK ROVER I happened to look up to the House flag to see how the wind was and noticed an enormous red flag flying from the port yard. On top in black lettering was written M.V. ASTRONOMER, underneath there was a shilor with a telescope scanning the heavens and beneath that again was written "H.M.S. INCREDIBLE". I asked the Senior Naval Officer about it and he 9


explained that the men really thought it was incredible that a container ship run bv 30 "Merchies" could become the best fed, best accommodated and best Aircraft Carrier in the Fleet! The passage from the Channel to the Canaries was quite calm and our time was fully taken up with organising Fire Party Musters, Emergency Stations, Man Overboard stations and Action stations. We carried out those drills at all times of the day and night. Gunnery practice was held daily and everyone on board took part. Firing the chaff rockets from the bridge was most impressive;one could see the enormous blobs of chaff floating down the radar screen. One of the Army pilots who had been on the ill-fated ATLANTIC CONVEYOR said that the Exocet rocket that hit her was fired at INVINCIBLE but her chaff confused it and it locked on to the CONVEYOR. Not many ships had chaff rockets so it was comforting to see them work. The Oerlikons seemed to be exactly the same as the ones we had on the NOVELIST in 1945 - very noisy with a strong kick;we all ended up with bruised shoulders. We were all supplied with gas masks, "once only" suits, anti-flash gear and emergency bandages. The "once only" suit is a one piece plastic suit to be worn if going into cold water. The anti-flash gear is the most uncomfortable apparel to wear especially in the tropics. We were also told not to wear nylon clothing since it melts and causes severe and unnecessary burns. During the afternoon of Saturday June 12th Horse Racing was organised on the flightdeck and an enjoyable time was had by all but especially by my crew. They walked away with f,40 winnings, f l6 of which they donated to the South Atlantic Fund. On Sundays we had Church Services which were quite well attended. On Sunday June l3th, in the afternoon, we had a Kite Flying Competition. I was elected one of the Judges. The Army Air Corps Pilots won impressively with a Kite 16' x 12'which stayed in the air for about an hour. The evenings were occupied.(if one was not doing some duty or another),with lilm shows, ucker competitions, chess competitions and a regular quiz. I'm afraid we M.N. types touched a raw spot there; out of the first 5 General Knowledge Quizzes of 20 questions, the ship's team won four. One week it was the Chief Cook's team; the Ops room, where the papers were marked, is next door (Owners rootn) and it was gratifying to hear the doctor shouting "M.N. cooks have beaten the Wardroom". Two of the ships Engineer Officers beat the Wardroom team at Uckers (Ludo) and two ex-Harrier Pilots were beaten on the T.V. game called "Attack", so we kept our end up!

Shortly after we left the Channel, the R.A.F. put canvas covers on the Chinooks and I remarked that they looked like three Yogi bears at an "It's a Knockout" course. Next day the R.A.F. had eyes and noses painted on them and had even fitted them with boots; any Russian spy ships must have wondered what we were carryingJ Once off the main shipping routes we proceeded without steaming lights or radar and with the ship blacked out. It certainly increased the vigilance ofthe lookouts and was good experience for those brought up in the Radar era. We crossed the line on Tuesday l5th but because we were on Defence Stations the actual ceremony of "Crossing the Line" took place on the Monday alternoon. I was elected to be Judge again. There were about 35 poor souls who had not been South before. After being found guilty by me they were held in a chair and covered with the vilest concoction I have ever seen, mock shaved and then dumped into the ship's pool. A11 concerned were given certificates by Neptune. 10


The next day a Chinook was bladed up and tested and at 1300 we commenced Defence Watches; double lookouts with Guns

armed and manned.

At

1400 the

Chinook took off for a practice

flight and I had discussions with the pilots about the wind speed and direction. We found in the trades, with the wind 2-3 points on the port bow, that the wind across the flight deck was from the Starboard beam up to about 20 feet from the port bulwarks and this change of wind R.& R. on Saturday afternoon - Horse Racing direction could be awkward, so at on deck under the watchful eye of 3 'Yogi bear' the pre-flight briefing I said I would Chinooks. reduce the ships speed and direction to suit their requirements. I reduced speed until the wind force was registering 20-22 knots on the bridge and the pilot said he was happy with that. Three take-offs and landings were tried which were most successful and all three pilots were most apprec. iative of the efforts to maintain a reasonably steady platform. That was our first night on Defence stations; the ship completely blacked out, no steaming lights, no Radar and the bridge packed with people dressed like trees, carrying their gas-masks,

"once-only" suits and bandage packs on their belts - it was difficult to get about. To me, the R.N. system for look-outs seemed most peculiar: each man, one to port, one to star-

board spent 30 minutes with binoculars glued to his eyes scanning the horizon. He then handed over to another man and they worked 30 minutes about. The strain on the eyes was tremendous. On Wednesday the l6th June at 1430 ships time, we crossed Lat.7o00's in Long.l40 41'W which put the stup wtucn ship l11 in the ottlclal official

Anonymous faces practice liring the s3 oerlikons

War Zone and therefore on full alert. A route to Ascension Island to make contact with the Naval Authorities and plan our stay in port. I was rather taken aback when the S.N.o. came to see me on the bridge to tell me he was flying off, and asked "Would I be alright till he got back"! We arrived in Clarence Bay at 1800 and berthed alongside the Tanker ALVEGA to take full bunkers. This task was completed at midnight and I asked permission to stay alongside until 0600 which was granted. At 0600 we moved off and shifted anchorage down the coast llA miles to S.W. bay, to load "a few" pallets of 11


urgently required stores. We commenced "vertrepping" (vertical replenishment) at 0900 Thursday l7th, using the shit's crane to transfer pallets of sleeping bags, tents and many other items badly needed by the troops. Because the Services personnel were unused to stowing cargo I kept the anchor watch on the bridge whilst the officers stowed and supervised the stowage of the cargo. Once I had accepted a "few pallets" they seemed to find all sorts ofurgently needed cargo and I had to call a halt on Friday morning

at 0900 because by then, the flightdeck was nearly covered with cargo and we still had over 10 tons of mail

to load. We managed to get the cargo down into Bay 26, stowed neatly and secure, with the mail on top so that it could be sorted per ship whilst at sea. We didn't know then that we had mail for all the Services in the Task Force and 66 ships! On the Thursday afternoon, whilst we were loading, a strange ship passed by, heading North, about 8 miles off. This was identified as a Russian Primorye A.G.I, class surveillance ship; he had been steaming around Ascension for a few days and on Friday morning, when we sailed, he approached to approximately 5 miles and passed down the Starboard side, obviously very interested. We wondered what head scratching took place in the Kremlin at the report of a container ship with a big box at the front with two enormous green bears sticking out. From then on we were a completely darkened ship; no steaming lights and no radar and full alert defence watches. It didn't take long for the weather to get cold since we had been ordered to steam South to a Latitude of 50o S and then alter course to the West. I pointed out to the S.N.O. that the Northerly iceberg limit at this time of the year was also 50o S and it would be imprudent to be proceeding at anything near full speed in the vicinity oficebergs since radar does not always pick them up downwind. He got on to C.inC. Fleet and we received permission to alter course at 42o S. Although quite cold, no ice was seen but the Loading stores at Ascension Ishnd

S.N.O requested that I commence zig-zag patterns in daylight hours. I had difficulty explaining that we

could not honour our E.T.A. and ag-zag as well, so we zigged and zagged zagged one day only and then then tne Argentrnlan suomarlne menace

FullAlert on the bidge

ru*

, t2


fooling submarines but when it was rigged and ready to go the general opinion of us "Merchies" was that it would not last an hour at 17 knots, so it was not tested; we only had one set so decided to keep it for the real thing.

At dawn on the 26th June we sighted the fleet accompanying H.M.S. HERMES which consisted of about 15 ships. I was instructed to take up station at three quarters of a mile, 4 points on the starboard quarter of the EBURNA, a tanker, and just ahead of HERMES. The weather was fine with little swell so we broke out the crane and commenced bringing the mail out of the hatch. A list of the ships in TRALA, (Tug Replenishment and Logistics Area), was given to us and the mailwe had sorted out at sea was brought up and "vertrepped" to the respective ships. The ASTRONOMER soon resembled a jam pot in summertime;Wessex, Lynx, Sea Kings and Scouts allbtzzing on and off. We also had 40 tons of Harrier spares for HERMES and they went winging their way off. I nearly had a fit when a Sea King with a box of spare helicopter blades as its underslung load started to swing fore and aft and threatened to knock its own tail off but the pilot stopped the swinging by going close to another helicopter on the deck of HERMES. Altogether an exciting day. Whilst keeping station in convoy and altering course l80o to maintain the fleet in the TRALA zone, HERMES came quite close to have a look at us; she has always looked so big but from ASTRONOMER she didn't look nearly as impressive. I imagined the Commander on the bridge looking up at us and wondering what things were coming to. I received numerous communications from various Naval Depts and was rather amused to see that copies of the letters are sent to Commander, HERMES and Commander,INVINCIBLE but to Master, ASTRONOMER. At the time it reminded me to get my cap badge sewn on to my woolly oonnttl, mail and stores were transferred by 1400 and I was given permission to detach from the fleet at 1430. From there to Port Stanley was only 160 miles and speed was adjusted to arrive there at first light in order to proceed through the minefields that had been laid off the entrance to Port William Sound. Being too deep for Port Stanley we entered Port William Sound at 0500 on Sunday, June 27th and were ordered to a berth in the Inner harbour. By sight and radar it was far too crowded for me and I told the Queens Harbour Master (aHM) that I required a berth for a 670 ft.long ship drawing 28 ft;he replied that he was a "Pongo" (Army) and it didn't mean a thing to him how big the ship was so I picked berth L 5, 6 cables North of West Tussac Island and dropped anchor there.

*

Vertrepping stores to H,M.S. HERMES in the

TRALA. 13


HELICOPTER SUPPORT VESSEL The first day on station was spent receiving representatives from all three Services to see what we had in the way of cargo. Of course, they didn't come together and when shown the mass of sleeping bags, tents and healy arctic clothing that we loaded at Ascension, (because it was desperately needed), they all stated that it was' the last stuff they wanted. One or two showed interest in the containers for living in. The two remaining Chinooks were bladed up and the last one flew off on the 29lhJune,to their base at San Carlos. It was rather sad to see the R.A.F. depart; they mixed well and were willing to turn their hands to anything, stowing cargo, the

lot and were always cheerful. Two Officers and I were invited to a "Pub Lunch" that day on board H.M.S. AVENGER - the guard ship for that week. Mr. Cameron, Mr. Eady and myself presented ourselves on the hangar roof to be winched into a Lynx helicopter; we couldn't use the flight deck because a Wessex was being bladed up. Never having flown in a helicopter before we were all a little apprehensive, if that's what one cails shaking like a leaf but we all thoroughly enjoyed the flight and the luncheon. Most of the Masters of the Merchant Ships were there and it was very interesting to chat with them. We stuck out like sore thumbs; the invitation stated working dress and everyone was dressed in what I call "Army & Navy Store" jerseys and shoulder straps, whilst we three were in "proper" uniform. The journey back was quite pleasant; at 150 ft. the ships look so small and the Harbour quite, quite different compared with the view from the bridge. On Wednesday 30th June the weather worsened and at 0100 I decided to put to sea but we lost the starboard anchor in the process, (this was retrieved in the middle of July). The swell outside the harbour was quite heavy and, with the vessel rolling 30o, some of the Naval party were not very happy at all. However, once clear of the minefields, we put the stabilisers out and spent the next 30 hours patrolling the North Coast of East Falkland Island. Since we could not use steaming lights we were soon in company with another 5 echoes and it was daylight before we found that the anchorage had been vacated by most ships and ATLANTIC CAUSEWAY had also lost an anchor; it was reminiscent of the patrol up and down the Firth of Clyde in heavy weather. We all returned to our anchorages on Thursday morning and although a slight swell was left we "vertrepped" stores all day to Naly Point and the airport and at about 1600 the R.and R. (Rest and Recuperation) parties arrived in Scouts and Wessex.

Up until the time that we arrived at our destination short term plans for the ASTRONOMER had'not been made known to us. Various rumours were circulating; either we were to become a helicopter support ship and repair facility for about two months or we were to return home after completing discharge of our cargo in about two weeks. But on our second day at anchor two damaged Wessex helicopters were landed aboard so it looked as though the former idea might prevail. By the end of the first week in July this was confirmed when we heard that the ATLANTIC CAUSEWAY and CONTENDER BEZANI(the other two c6ntainer ship/helicopter carriers remaining with the Task Force),would soon be returning home. We would remain as the only merchant vessel of the type in the area for the next few weeks. The helicopter repair amd maintenance team (MARTSU) were soon receiv-

t4


ing damaged and corroded aircraft, (for the sea air plays havoc with the magnesium plating), and they require a lot of repair work done on them. Having had the opportunity to "poke" around one in the hangar, the plating appears paper thin and very fragile. The workshops in the containers, which formed the hangar, contained a most comprehensive assortment of machinery and equipment to repair and replace bits on, mainly, Wessex but other types "drop" in for survey, service and repair, and when the airfield ran out of fuel, they dropped in on us for a fill up from our bowser. We remained at anchor in Port William Sound for many days but once a week we went alongside the C.P. ship FORT TORONTO to fillup with fresh water. She had 30,000 tons of Southampton tap water on board to supply the Fleet but even that ran out eventually. We were encouraged to use our osmosis plant in Port but I resisted; two other ships were using theirs

but the Surgeon Commander of the UGANDA said they would not use harbour water to A distil by any means and went to sea to make their supplies. I reckoned t MER) was good for UGANDA!

busy day on deck in Port llilliam Sound

Morale aboard remained excellent throughout. No doubt this was aided by a mail service which was very good, all things being considered. Even when the airfield at Port Stanley was closed for repairs letters were delivered to the ships from England in just about a week. Radio reception was not too good though. The area must be one of the most barren that I have ever come across; for two or three days at a time we could not get the BBC at all, then on odd days it was quite good. Oddly enough it was difficult to get Argentina on shortwave but some of the lads managed to listen to football commentaries from there. The BBC news at midnight (GMT) was the only one that was readable - this was taped, typed out and put on the notice boards. Some crew members also tuned into the BBC relayed by the Falklands Radio Service between 1830 and 2130 each evening but we were told that the operator ashore had not quite got the frequency stabilised and it wandered about a bit. Newspapers were delivered once a week, so we weren't too badly off for news and,at the end of August,new broadcasting equipment was set up at Port Stanley,which improved things dramatically. One of the items broadcast every night was the timetable of the Islands Air Service. This had been performed by two Beaver aircraft prior to the invasion but the fugentinians had made both aircraft unservicible. After the surrender this service was carried out by our Services, using helicopters but this became rather a drain on the resources of the three Services, not only in machines but in pilots, (who were flying on average about l4-15 hours a day), and I know now that from the time the engines are started to the time of "shut down" it demands maximum concentration and

l5


alertness to stay flying. However, during the conflict quite a bit of Argentine equipment was captured including one or two helicopters. One "Puma" helicopter was taken on board INVINCIBLE and, in their off-duty hours, the air mechanics repaired it and made it serviceable again, even to giving it a coat of bright red paint and this helicopter commenced the new Falkland Islands Air Service. The timetable was broadcast each evening and in some cases the number of parcels to be delivered to each "camp", (as the outlying farms are known), was given. One evening the schedule was put out and times of landing at different air strips stated but one air strip must have had a reputation for bad time-keeping because we were told "the parcel will be left with a stone on top of it to stop it blowing away should the flight not be met" - so much for the "Rat Race"! Conditions ashore were so atrocious for the troops that we were asked if we could land containers from the ship when they became empty, to be used as accommodation. I agreed to this so long as they made use of the Portakabins first because these were already fitted out with bunks etc., and electric heaters and most ships had them. It was a simple lift for a Chinook. The weather from early July blew from the South West force 3 to 4; quite cold weather with heavy snow showers. It certainly was not as cold as Amsterdam or Hamburg in the winter but it wasn't very pleasant living in a tent. I also offered the facilities of the ship to these men; initially we took about 30 people from the R.A.F. and the Army each night.The poor devils were in a bad way when they came on board but they had a bath or shower, a change of clothing, an evening meal, a couple of beers maybe and a film, then a warm bed. We sent them off after breakfast, to the cold muck again but feeling much better. By the middle of August we were bed and breakfasting up to 128 persons per night and had served over 23,000 meals since the voyage had begun with neither a problem or complaint from my excellent crew. We were determined that by the end of the voyage the reputation of the ASTRONOMER and the Harrison Line would be second to none. The Commanding Officer later thanked me for the ship's hospitality and told me that whenever the name ASTRONOMER came up on the notice board for R. & R. they were besieged with applications. Having so many people on board bathing and washing their clothes made a big difference to our water consumption and on some days we were using 50-60 tons. Our first rendezvous with the water tanker was on Monday July 5th, and we were slotted in as first customer that day. There was no swell running in the harbour but the wind was S.E.'ly force 6 with blustery snow showers and we had to have water; so off we went. The ship behaved beautifully, (tfrank God for the bow thruster),

and we soon tied up and had water flowing in. With our GM of 3.3 metres we tended to roll more than the FORT TORONTO and even though she had fenders 6 feet in diameter we came close to her superstructure once or twice but fortunately never touched. After taking 380 tons of water we let go and returned to our berth. Our weekly visits to the tanker also gave us the opportunity to change films occasionally. Berthing seemed to attract helicopters and only once did we have peace and quiet, (that was when bunkering alongside the SCOTTISH EAGLE in Berkeley Sound); at all other times there were Chinooks or Wessex landing on and creating one hell of a din, making it difficiult to communicate over the walkie-talkies.

t6


Taking bunkers from SCOTTISH EAGLE in Berkeley Sound

nrr*

r*"

The first couple of weeks were spent "vertrepping" mail, stores and spares ashore and bringing engines back for repair. The weather was bitterly cold with quite a few snow storms and strong winds but every morning the flight deck was brushed clear of snow ready for "ops". It didn't take long for the flight deck crew to rig up the forklift truck with a cargo pallet rigged as a snow plough and the deck was cleared in half the time. The flight deck crew were certainly the most active and happiest group of the Naval party, on deck all day in all weather; as soon as a heli-

*,"JJ;'jri:Tr'"L"ll.tff,i:'5ff3Y* "t

lads ran out to it unu ou, staying they charged out with chocks for the wheels and lashing strops and between landings they usually shifted cargo off the deck and occasionally they played deck golf with their earthing sticks. An earthing stick is used to make the firit contact with the underslung strop when "vertrepping" to release the static electricity from the helicopter; one end is a light chain which trails on the deck to completelhe circuit. A chinook can give quite a powerful shock and one of the Loadmasteri was thrown to the deck when he caught hold of the hook before contact was made with the stick. On Sunday July I lth, at 1930, the Guard Ship H.M.S. ACTIVE reported that a Gemini dinghy had been missing for about three hours and asked all ships to check that it was not alongside, visiting. The dinghy had last been seen near York Island which meant that, with the wind blowing S.W.'ly at force 4, it would drift down the harbour past ASTRONOMER.I asked the Guard Ship if we could break the black-out and use the searchlight in an attempt to locate the boat and occupants and permission was granted so we commenced sweeping the harbour. With a sea water temp. of 30 C and air temperature of -2o C, survival time was given as 40 minutes in a "Once only suit". After 1% hours searching we caught the boat in the beam of the searchlight and guided a Wessex and tug to the boat but sadly there was no one in it. Later we heard that one Royal Marine was missing. Chinook about to lift a l4tessex off the 17 deck; Mount Low in the background.


one beautiful calm night, (there were not many), we wele anchored at the inner william anchorage when in urgent message was sent over the VHF from the QHM that a soldier was in Port Stanley Hospital with a severe nose bleed which required special tape to cure the bleeding. Ourihips hospital had been converted into a kander .iu5 op.*ting theatre but our Doctor wis ashore at the time so the Petty Officer M-A' was tuined to and he rummaged about until he found some of the required tape' QHM was informed that we had it but the problem was how to get it to the hospital since- ^ it was nearly midnight and there *eti no helicopters and boats wele very scarce. H'M'S' APOLLO sfarted to get their Lynx crew together and we started to break out accomm' odation ladders and our boat, but an army work boat from Port Operations was handy and it came alongside. The 3rd Mate handed over the package at the bottom of the accommodation ladder and the boat seemed to crawl away ashore.It all seemed to take so long, but in all only 40 minutes passed from the time of the request to delivering the taie to the hospital. I was amaied to learn that ASTRONOMER was the only ship in the Harboui to carry a supply ofthat particular tape - a lucky "Pongo". COASTAL SI.]RVEILLANCE SHIP During the first week of August ASTRONOMER was out at sea making fresh -days. During this time we took the place of H.M.S. LEDBURY and were water for four appointed coastal Suiveillince ship. we were "tasked" to patrol an area just East of the minefields off the Port and were required to report a1l echoes or ships sighted' on the evening of the 5th August we sighted a ship's echo on the radar and reported it to the Harbour Master. It turned out to be a Polish trawler with a sick *- on board in need of medical attention. The ship identified itself as the ODRA but he could not understand the instructions given to him by the Harbour Master to pass safely through the minefields, so I offered to guide him through. This we did and at 2130 his sick seaman was taken off by tug inside the harbour and taken to hospital. We then took the trawler back to sea and off our "patch". It was a bit hairy at timesbut we discovered that the trawler's compass was reading l0o out. The foll' owing day the barometer was down to 965 mbs with the wind blowing Force 10-14 wherlwe came across four ships. It was rather difficult to identify them in the weather prevaitng but with the aid of our Naval Party we did and consequently le-p9,rted them ty nurJto the Harbour Master. Next day we received a rocket from SNOFI (Senior Naval Officer, Falkland Islands) who said we should report them as "friendly T.F. units", not by name. once back in Port william, (for once in those weeks it was not blowing a gale) we discharged two containers and took an empty one back on board. We still iad25 x 40ft. full containers to dischargefrom Devonport plus about 400 tons of breakbulk cargo loaded locally for safekeeping and about 40 tons of Arctic clothing that had beenloaded at Ascension. The Army did an excellent job,working day and night in atrocious weather,transferring cargo from ship to shore on their Mexe'floats (b"arges),but since they had no secure space left ashore they used ASTRONOMER and BALTIC FERRY as lock up warehouses. At about this time one of INVINCIBLE'S Sea Kings landed on to refuel before setting off across the sea to rejoin and the rumour flashed around the ship that Prince Andrew was in the left hand seat; so maybe at last we had a "first". There


cannot be any other Harrison ship to have had a Royal Prince drop in by Helicopter. I was taken for a flight around East Falkland Island by the Army Air Corps and I must say it was an unforgettable experience. For three hours we saw most of the battle areas and the cemetery at San Carlos; well cared for, all the stones whitewashed, the brass plates gleaming in the sun a sun they would never see again. They were all of a similar age to my Sons and it was a saddening experience. We literally dropped in at a lonely farmhouse at Salvador Settlement and were invited in for tea. A beautiful home, everything one could see was of British manufacture, even to M. & S. curtains. During the flight I had noticed that practically every farm had two or three Nissan huts in use, so I explained to the farmer that one of our company's ships had brought them to the Islands during the last war. He told us that after the war the Nissan huts were sold off to all comers for f,100 each, including contents. His father bought three which are now used as barns and a garage. A11 that I saw were brightly painted and looked to be in excellent condition. The farmer told me that the Forces had become quite organised in their search for fresh food and he had sold them live sheep but that they had great difficuity getting the sheep into a net to be taken into Port Stanley as an underslung load on a

helicopter! During the voyage Messrs. Dobson, Jardine, Eady and Hughes took lots of photographs to supplement my poor efforts with the ships Polaroid. To operate a Polaroid on the Flight deck with even a little wasp whirring away, pulling tabs and film out and trying to get the film under your arm to develop because of the cold weather, one or two of the Flight deck crew thought I was going into a fit. Bits of paper etc., flying about are not appreciated by helicopter crews. On one occasion a wessex landed on to have his nose cone changed and the pilot stayed to lunch. over lunch I asked if it would be possible to fly around the ship for ten minutes to take some photographs of her at anchor. Mr. Dobson complained though that the Wessex exhausts pass close to the door and sometimes one gets a blurring; after three months on a helicopter ship we got quite choosy! Whenever we entered or left the Harbour there were groups of curious people wondering what we had in the containers up forward. The first time we went alongside FORT ToRoNTo for water, the Master asked me what I had up there and was flabbergasted when I told him. Everyone thought the hangar roof was for landing on. we did use it for winching people on and off when the flight deck was foul but it was not strong enough for landing on. outward bound I overheard a conversation between the chinook pilots about damaging the deck of the ship if they came down heavily. I assured them that it would not harm the ship but it certainly would not do the helicopter any good. When I was flown across to the AVENGER for lunch I was rather taken aback to see painted on the hangar roo{ in letters 5 ft highr"Fly Crab Airways". Obviously 18 Squadron up to their pranks. There were also the makings of an R.N. reply which I dare not quote here! During the last two weeks in July and the first two in August we had more than our fair share of gales. we rode out two in the outer harbour at Port william with both anchors down;the wind speed rose to over 105 knots, which is as high as the anemometer registers. The CEDARBANK and STRATHEWE both broke out of the ground and the SAXONIA lost her anchor and cable. With the most vicious looking

t9


metal mangling rocks I have ever seen only 800 ft. from the stern, it tended to make one yearn for the sunny Caribbean again. In a quiet spell between blows we ran short of water so I requested permission from the QHM to proceed to sea to make some more. During that time we also performed Coastal Surveillance Patrol duties and directed three Polish trawlers through the minefields as well as intercepting a Russian tanker on his way to bunker a fishing fleet to the South; at least that's what he said. There must have been some

connection between my typewriter and the barometer for, every time I sat down to type, the glass started to tumble. The weather in the South Atlantic is not as predictable as in the North; it must be the South American Continent and Antartica that produce the prolonged furious Westerlies no wonder it was regarded as an An "A" class frigate anchored ahead achievement to get round the Hom in of LYCAON, LAERTES, GEEST PORT , FORT TORONTO & G.A. sail; I take my hat off to them. WALKER in Port William Sound For the information of the statisticians, by the middle of August,(some seven weeks after arriving at the Falkland Islands),ASTRONOMER had anchored 20 times, berthed alongisde other ships 6 times, repaired and serviced 14 Wessex and landed 995 helicopters. At this time Lt. Cdr. R. Gainsford, our original S.N.O., flew home for leave before joining the Oman Navy and was replaced by a Lt. R. Bevan. We also changed Doctors'

MORE..SICK BIRDS,' After the mid August gales,(two of which we weathered out at sea making fresh water on Coastal Surveillance),we anchored in a different spot; Berkeley Sound. With the combination of a hangar ort deck and our draft, once the wind reached Force 6 or over the ship sheered about, sometimes up to 50o either side of the wind. Even dropping the other anchor underfoot did not stop her to any great extent and in the Inner harbour of Port William Sound one was never more than two cables from those vicious rocks. (It states in the "Pilot" that the holding ground is good but I rather think that what was good holding ground for men of war and survey ships is not so good for the ships of today, especially of the size and windage of ASTRONOMER). One night the RANGATIRA, BALTIC FERRY and ST. EDMUND were all adrift in the inner harbour and there is barely 3-4 fathoms of water in there. The CEDARBANK had a little skirmish with the tug YORKSHIREMAN putting a hole in the "YORKIE'S" starboard side. However, we were happily cruising and patrolling the North Coast at the time of this "excitement", as the Naval Party calls these incidents. Having completed our Patrol and the QHM unable to give us a safe berth in harbour I decided to try Berkeley Sound and in I l-12 fathoms of water it was quite good,with very little swell,being reasonably sheltered from the West. I required 20


shelter, with no swell, so that the MARTSU (Mobile Aircraft Repair Transport Salvage Unit) team could carry out some heavy maintenance work on the helicopters, gearboxes, etc.

For our patrol work we receive a"B.Z." from H.M'S. BRISTOL, the ship flying Rear Admiral Reffell's flag.B.Z. is Well Done in the Navy and we were requested to wear theB.Z. badge of office for the day. This is an aluminium plaque on a chain with B.Z. engraved upon it. We subsequently found out that the Russian tanker RIJEKA had slipped through the outer screen and our interception was the first anyone knew of its presence in the vicinity. Another "Task" that I agreed to perform was to escort SIR BEDIVERE from Port Stanley to Port San Carlos. She had suffered complete Gyro failure and the Master had no faith in his magnetic compass. (I wonder what old Captain Vincent, the examiner, would have to say about that?) The QHM wanted me to lift a work boat onto the deck, escort the BEDIVERE, discharge the work boat at San Carlos and pick up a "sick" one, and return it to Port Stanley. Unfortunately this task was delayed by another gale but after it blew itself out we completed the job and returned to Berkeley Sound for some peace and quiet. We had not been anchored long before we received a signal to be at San Carlos at 0900 the following morning to receive a Lynx gearbox, by "vertrep", from the FORT GRANGE.To send a ship of our size 80 miles to San Carlos to collect a gearbox weighing roughly 2000 lbs, which could easily be underslung on a Wessex or Sea King, seemed a bit odd but H.M.S. BRISTOL said they wanted to make sure we got it on board so we left at 0400, picked up the gearbox and had returned by 1500' At 2200 we were instructed to rendezvous with H.M.S. BIRMINGHAM at sea to receive her very "sick" Lynx which could not fly far. We weighed anchor at 0530 to make our rendezvous and steamed alongside the "BRUM". She adjusted to close to 600 ft and the Lynx was flown across the icy stretch of water - with no oil in its gearbox-to be landed on our deck by a very pleasant young man, Lt. Wyman' The helicopter pilots are a first class bunch; some are only 19 years old but they can After that we had to stop certainly handle their machines.

to receive her maintenance team with all their tools and equipment. This was carried out by whaler quite safely, although BIRMINGHAM had a devil of a job retrieving their boat. We proceeded back to Berkeley Sound to anchor and enjoyed a few peacefulwindless days

working on the helicopters. Unfortun' ately, the new gearbox that we got from the FORT GRANGE for Lt. Wyman's Lynx was also faulty and we pulled his leg about his "bird" not flying. But it was gratifying to see the change in him and his maintainers after a week on board ASTRONOMER. Dawn rendezvous with H.M.S. BIRMINGHAM After redelivering BIRMINGHAM's Lynx, fully repaired and with a Harrison Line flag container sticker neatlY

2t


applied to the underside

ofits

nose, clear

ofthe radar, we received the Lynx from

was supposed to take 5 star rating for services the ASTRONOMER'S 8. Obviously took 6 days but actually had been passed around the fleet for with each Lynx came 8 maintainers for recuperation. The change in appearance of people who had been on "full alert" for months after a few days of peace and quiet and a few nights of relaxing sleep was quite on end dramatic. The strain must have been tremendous and it showed but no one begrudged them a thing and when they left ASTRONOMER they were different men. on Thursday the 19th August we were visited by Rear Admiral Reffell who

rl.M.s. SoUTHAMPTON for similar repairs and servicing. This

spent 30 minutes on board inspecting the haniar and our facilities. He seemed very impressed and was most complimentary. I was pleased when he spoke to a couple of my crew and asked if they had any complaints. They replied "No Sir", standing to attention as near as possible - you can't really tell with all the heavy weather gear on. On three occasions Admiral Reffell invited all ships Masters to a curry lunch on board BRISTOL but each time it was blowing a gale and few turned up. I apologised for not attending but he said he understood perfectly - that the harbour was not really fit for large ships.

A SPELL ASHORE The following day the weather was calm with a glassy sea so I decided I had better see Port Stanley before leaving the Falklands. I was whisked away

in

a Wessex, was

in town in ten

minutes and spent the next two and a half hours strolling around. It was very dirty underfoot but I was told it had been cleaned up a lot since the Argentines left. A most interesting few hours.

I courdn't

reave

without

Real4dmt{fr! Reffelknsp:cts therhelicopter repair

having a can of beer in the "Globe", which is the grottiest pub you evel saw;but everyone goes there. I had a chat with QHM and SNOFI there,who told me that ASTRONOMER was definitely due to depart on November 1st. However, following the Admiral's visit we were subsequently visited by the Staff AEO and then the AEO from ILLUSTRIOUS inspected our facilities, so the prospect of further employment as a ship helicopter repair facility seemed on the cards. All the BIRMINGHAM maintenance men said it was wonderful to work on a stable ship. I met a pilot off INVINCIBLE whilst ashore. It was his first trip ashore since leaving the U.K and it was really amazing that I should have met him in a pub in the Falklands. After I was introduced and as soon as the ASTRONOMER was mentioned he said "that's a Harrison ship". I agreed and he told me his Fathel was a Licensed Waterman on the Thames, living in Gravesend. He knew all our river pilots, Pat Potter in 22


Trinidad and many more. We had quite a natter and he then offered to fly me back so he could tell his Father he had landed on the ASTRONOMER. It was a most interesting encounter since he had taken part in all the air actions and he described how the Argentines found the SIR GALAHAD and SIR TRISTRAM by accident after they had been beaten off from San Carlos Sound by our defences; they carried on down the Sound, turned to Port and sighted the unprotected ships at Port Pleasant where they set upon them.

SIR GALAHAD became a War Grave and SIR TRISTRAM was towed into Port Stanley, her bridge structure completely collapsed, where she was used as a store ship in Stanley Harbour, but was rather an embarrassment to the Harbour Master. She was moored alongside the jetty at Naly Point, which is a good concrete structure. The other two berths, Government Jetty and Public Jetty, had all but collapsed after the gales and heavy usage during July and August. One jetty, which was an oid sailing ship wreck, with the masts and spars used to connect it to the shore , had completely collapsed, making berthing space very sparse indeed. The Mexe-floats had to run their bows ashore to get cargo off, and there was not a crane available with a lifting capacity over 5 tons. If the heavy cargo was not on wheels, it had to be lifted by Sea King or Chinook. The whole affair was a wonderful exercise to our three Services, and an eyeopener for them on how sophisticated Merchant Shipping is today in order to remain competitive. We had to bring our containers on to the deck, unstuff them and make up pallet loads to be llfted by crane on to the Mexe-float. By working with the crew of the Mexe-float we managed to organise it so that we put the container on the float, put our fork-lift on board and unstuffed the boxes that way. When I asked if they had trailers on which we could land the containers so that they could be towed away to the discharge site, I was told there was not a trailer on the island. We were by no means the only ship with containers. By the end of August we had put ashore I 5 containers for different purposes, some for use as "lock-up" stowages, some for living quarters. The last six forty'foot unlts were spread all around the harbour as accommodation for the Rapier site crews. Their sites were on the hills surrounding the Port and they had a particularly hard time due to the weather. I was told that they were livlng in 40 gallon drums and of course during the black-out they could not even have a fire at night.In some locations they could not walk about to keep warm either, for fear of mines. The airport, as they call it, re-opened on the 28th August as predicted. Considering the weather conditions we experienced, the Royal Engineers did a magnificent job, working 3 hours on and t hours off. The runway is now flt to take Phantoms and Hercules but not commercial jets; apparently the ground is too soft to accept airllners, and there was talk of constructing a completely new airport at Fitzroy. At the end of August we had our 1000th landing on the flight deck and a bottle of "Task Force beer" was handy to give the pilot. We were all expecting the winner to be our friendly Wasp who did the mail run at 1630 every day, but 1o and behold a Sea King from INVINCIBLE dropped in to refuel on the way back to his ship so he got the prize and well deserved it was too.

THE JOURNEY HOME It was now apparent that ASTRONOMER was likely to remain in the South 23


Atlantic for

a further period and in the first week of September we heard that we were to be relieved. The new crew were on their way out from the U.K. so it was decided to replenish oil, water and stores so that they could take over a full ship. Arrangements were made to go alongside FORT TORONTO for water and SCOTTISH EAGLE for oil and whilst taking the water we received a supply of Main Engine lub. oil, delivered to us from the G.A. WALKER, with the kind assistance of the Royal Marines and their craft H.M.S.

TANGO

1.

When the NORLAND arrived at San Carlos on September l3th, with our reliefs on board, they received a typical Falklands welcome. It was blowing force 12 from the West, with low cloud and occasional showers, making the Islands look really bleak. The ferry came round to Port Stanley A Wessex eye view of ASTRONOMER on two days later and we arranged for the a quiet day. five Senior Officers to be transferred to us as soon as possible in order to achieve a proper handover. With so many people to disembark it was late afternoon on the l5th before Captain B.W. Jones and his colleagues arrived by Wessex, wide-eyed at the changes to the ship. Next day we weighed anchor and went into Port William to take water again from the FORT TORONTO. Whilst there the new crew came aboard from one of the Tango class landing craft, their gear was lifted off by the storing crane and my crew put their gear aboard the craft" The change over was complete in an hour. On completion of watering we left for Berkeley Sound, anchoring again at 1530 with Captain B.W. Jones now in Command. I gather we all sounded rather strange to the reliefs; we had had three and a half months ofgetting used to Navaljargon and abbreviations and they were all aghast at the gobbledegook we were uttering but I have no doubt that they soon learnt to understand it. The next morning after breakfast we started to assemble on the Flight deck with our gear to await our Wessex which was to take us to the NORLAND. All the Naval Party Officers and Petty Officers were there to see us off. It was a sad and emotional farewell for they were an excellent crew. One of our "own" helicopters, Xray Echo, took us across the narrow strip ofbarren land separating Berkeley Sound from Port William Sound and as if it was not sad enough to be leaving the ship, we saw an old comrade of ours, the SAXONIA, aground on the North side of the Sound. The wind was still blowing from the West at force 9. On arrival on the Flight deck of NORLAND we were ushered into the Snug Bar where we were interviewed by Sgt. Major McKenzie. We had to assure him that we were not carrying any Argentinian guns or ammo. Al1 the M.P.'s had gone ashore and it was their job to search our effects for these items. The Officers who had boarded the day before had secured a section of alleyway on "B" deck on the port side; the rooms all had Harrison Line flags on the doors. I was lucky and had one to myself but

24


everyone else doubled up. The room was clean but had no bedding or soap and I was adivsed to get hold of the 2nd Steward and rig the room out before doing anything else. I managed to see the Purser who promised to organise things. In the meantime I attended a meeting of Senior Officers where I met the Master of the NORLAND, Captain D. Wharton, S.N.O. Lt. Cdr. L Hughes, the Master of ST. EDMUND ANd SCNiOT OffiCErS Of thE STENA INSPECTOR, AVELONA STAR ANd RANGATIRA as well as Senior Officers of the Army units. We were more fortunate than our reliefs; they came down with a complement of over 900 - we were only 450. The object of the meeting was not only to make each other's acquaintance but to organise our respective groups into cleaning gangs allocated to different parts of the ship. This did not go down very well with the crew of ST. EDMUND and RANGATIRA at all. NORLAND had both anchors down with the wheel manned and one engine steaming slow ahead. The Master wanted to sail as soon as possible but we had to wait for some engine spares and for the Chinese crew from SIR BEDIVERE. The latter were at the airfield and ready to fly home but were transferred to the NORLAND at the last minute to do the laundry. Later on one of their group was seen regularly walking about with a bulky canvas bag. Apparently they had a gambling school going on in the lounge; you could sit in on this if you possessed 9500 - I was told that thousands changed hands every day. Lunch was quite an experience. We lined up to be confronted by two stewards in T shirts and jeans; one sniffing and wiping his nose on his hairy arm. There was an enormous steel tureen containing the "soup of the day" which looked like congealed brown wallpaper paste with lumps of monosodium glutomate in it. A choice of two dishes was available and "smash" with everything. This was quite well cooked and, quite obviously the galley staffwere good but the serving staffleft a lot to be desired. Following a few complaints at our daily meetings,things improved. After lunch we all assembled in the Forward lounge and were addresed by Major General Jeremy Moore. Considering the weight of duties that must have been the lot of the Commander of I-and Forces, we greatly appreciated his taking time off to thank the Merchant Service for our co-operation and invaluable help throughout the campaign. He bade us farewell and wished us all a good leave. He left us with the impression of being a hard, fit and determined man and I heard one man say that he was "bloody glad I wasn't in the Argentine Army". We sailed from Port Stanley at 1830 on Friday, September l7th, just as it was getting dark. It seemed strange to steam down the harbour as an onlooker. It was still blowing hard and very cold. With a good following sea and breeze the anchor lights of ASTRONOMER, twinkling in the black of night in Berkeley Sound, soon "dipped" and I became a passenger. For the next few days the weather remained cold with a very strong SSW'1y breeze and heavy swell. The stabilisers worked very well so it was not uncomfortable, although the ship creaked very loudly and the whole structure seemed to be "working" just beneath my pillow. Still, since I had four bunks to choose from, I found a quiet one. Our alleyway was supposed to be in the care of one steward, but he was rai'ely seen doing anything but walking around carrying a plastic garbage bag,so we all looked after our rooms, showers etc., and kept the alleyway swept and tidy. I even 25


remembered how to fold my sheet and counterpane and set it down neatly on the bunk, just like in my Cadet days; Mr. Eady pronounced it not a bad job "with respect"! As is usual with the Services, it was not long before Sports and Recreation Comrnittees were set up. Football and volley ball teams were organised. It was 5 a side lootball, and games were played in the car deck each afternoon. Our reliefs Southbound had won the Footbail League and did well in the volley ball but we were knocked out in the semi-final of the Football by a big strong army team who looked like the S.A.S. in squaddies clothingl We did quite well in the volley ball and excelled at Dartsi it was all very friendly and enjoyable. As we approached Ascension Island, arrangements were made for our flights home. At first we were all flying together in a V.C.10 but these planes were in short supply, so it had to be a l{ercules. We had heard of the hair-raising re-fuelling exploits of these planes on their way to Port Stanley; because of the difference in speed the Hercules goes up to 30,000 ft. and into a dive, catching up the Vulcan tanker, connecting up and passing fuel whilst speeding towards the sea. It is said that on one occasion two planes were only 5000 ft. from the briny when they had to break off. Still, the "Herc" was said to be very reliable, if cold and noisy, and we soon found

out. We reached the Island on the 27th and heard that five of our crew would

fly

that day and the remainer on the following night. Having been flown to Wideawake Airfield by Wessex we were searched again in a rubber blow up hangar, and briefed; the Hercules would be cold at the back, warm at the front, noisy in the middle and cotton wool would be necessary for the ears. For the next two tense hours we drank the tea urn dry and trod a well worn path to the toilet tent but at 0100 we were taken out to the plane. The back door was still down lor cargo operations and our gear was stowed on the door, covered by a net.lt looked suspiciously as if we wele to fly with the back door open, but fortunately not and we were soon clalnbering aboard and settling in, lacing fellow passengers with our knees only 4 inches apart. Seat belts on, iiferaft instructions, Elsan toilet half way up the back ramp, cotton wool in our ears and we were off, climbing rapidly to i 5000 feet. It certainly was noisy and conversation was out of the question. Cardboard boxes were passed around containing a good inflight meal - not plastic food as served by most airlines. The dimmed lights were about 12 ft. above us which made reading difficult, so most of us tried to sleep but this was difficult without disturbing one's opposite or adjacent neighbours. Most of us managed to cat-cap in between dressing and undressing,as the l,oadmaster adjusted the temperature when checklng the equipment in the hold. It was certainly a great relief to land at Dakar and stretch our legs. We were told to keep a low profile and not wander about too much for fear of embarrassing the SenegalGovernment by our presence. Clouds olsmoke arose from behind a warehouse in the morning air as the first puffs of cigarettes were taken for 5 hourqsince smoking was forbidden on the plane. When reboarding the aircraft we were taken aback to see a loadmaster with a "pony tail" hairdo;we thought we had left all "those" behind on the ferry but she turned out to be a genuine article, a most efficient lady Loadmaster. The next nine hours of the flight proved to us that the Hercules reaches parts of the body that no other aircraft can. A doze, a look round, try and find a part of your bottom that you had not sat on before; its no wonder paratroopers jump willingly 26


a relief when the pilot told us we were only an hour away from R.A.F. Lyneham and what a difference in the scenery as we descended; after 3% months ofbrown grass and barren rocks and hills, the approach over beautiful rolling green fields with proper trees was marvellous. After a nice smooth landing we were quickly through Customs and were ushered into a room reserved for ASTRONOMER wheTe our wives and relatives were waiting. The banners arrived a little late but there were a few and we were pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by Sir Thomas and Lady Pilkington and Mr. & Mrs. Rosselli, who presented us each with an engraved tankard as a most treasured memento of our involvement with the Task Force, together with some beer to put in it. I had been blessed with excellent Officers, a very good crew and most of all a fine,well found ship.

from these things. What

{.{<**.

One

ofonly 36 tankards, specially

engraved

for Messrs. T & J, Harrison, for

preseitati6n to the 34 members ol the $ew that volunteered to serve aboard m.v. ASTRONOMER during the italktand Ishnds con!'lict. The renwining two have been retained in Mersey Chambers and Charente House. 27


Havtng been transported by coach from Liverpool, Captain B.W. Jones and his relieving crew flew from R.A.F. Brize Norton, by V.C.10, on September 2nd, to Ascension Ishnd, where they transfeted to the NORLAND for the voyage to the Falkhnd Islands. The NORLAND arrived at Port Stanley via San Carbs Water, on the 1Sth Septmber and the transfer of men and effects took place during the next two days. Captain Jones assumed Command of ASTRONOMER from C,aptain Bhdon on the 1 6t h aft er which the relieved crew joined the NORLAND and sailed North the next day. The ferry returned to Ascension on September 26th and &ptain Bladon's crew flew home by Hercules transryrt to R.A.F. Lynelwm on the 27th and 28th. The majority anived home on Tuesday 28th, iust 16 weeks after leaving Devonport. rri :::i

rrr:.,

irtriitffiiii-

j:ii;:j:iti.!:i!:rii:illil

i:,,ar:li,:,1,,l:r

Relatives waiting

for the crew to disembark from the Hercules at R.A.F. Lyneham

on Tuesday, September 28th.

THE HOMECOMING To greet the men home, Harrison's arranged for two coach loads of relatives to travel to Wiltshire from Liverpool, whilst others came by car. Although the plane was a little early and the coaches were late a rousing welcome was given the returning crew and a private room was set aside for the gathering. Sir Thomas and Lady Pilkington, Mr. & Mrs. Rosselli, Captain M.D.R. Jones and Mr. Dick Knock were also on hand and a ceremony took place when each member of the crew was presented with an ASTRONOMERiFALKLAND ISLANDS beer tankard, specially produced for the Company, in recognition of the services performed by our volunteers who served with the Task Force in the South Atlantic. Messrs. Greenall Whitley donated two cases of Champion pale ale to christen these tankards. Subsequently, Captain Bladon presented the Liverpool and London Offices each 28


with an ashtray, fashioned from 105 mm shell bases which had been fired by British troopsduring the attack on Port Stanley. The ashtrays had been prepared a6oard the ASTRONOMER with a Falkland Islands coin inserted in the centre of each.

Captain Bhdon looks a little tired but

Radio Officer F.D. Farthins turns awav as C.p_O. D. Coogan is about to be wblcomed h6me bv the Chairman, Catering Officer A.D, Eady is ne"xt in-

hap.py, having returned home safely and collected his tankard from Sir Tho'nms

Pilkinston

line.

Motorman W.O'Bien shakes hands with Sir Thomas while others wait in line,

21d!-nS. G.W. Ellis collects his mug from Sir Thomas Pilkington while StewaVd S. Ellis looks on.

29


Chief Cook his

K. llakerleY

receives

iouvenir, followed by J, Donaldson,

Assistant Cook, and 3rd Engineer

M. Kavanagh.

P.

Littlewood, Seamtn Grade 1 accepts

l. Brown, Seaman Grade moves on and F, BerrY, Motortun his mug as

awaits his tum.

C,P.O.D. Coogan makes off with a case of Champion ale to celebrate the oicaion.'Capt. M.D.R, Jones is to the left of Sir. Thomas.

30

I


Chief Officer R.J. Dobson dispkys his tankard to his admiring lilife and his Mother

We should like to thank the following for allowing us to use their photographs in

this

booklet:P.H. Rosselli Capt. J.B. Mitchell Capt. H.S. Bladon R.G. Knock R.J. Dobson

N.A. Jardine L.H. Hughes S. Green.

3t


Our Ialkland Volunteers WetakethisopportunitytopaytributetotheHarrisonLineofficersand

she was seconded to the Ratings, who volunteerii to *un tfre ,q.S1RONOMER when in the war zone until arrive Falklands Task Force. ertrrlrlrr the vessel did not finally the action at sea in when time a at after hostilities had ceased, thlse men volunteered incurred' been had losses British heavy peak and the South Atlantic was at its

Master

Chief Officer 2nd Officer 3rd Officer

H.S. BLADON R.J. DOBSON

N.A. JARDINE J. MURRAY

Catering Officer

A.D. EADY

Radio Officer

F.D. FARTHTNG

Chief Engineer 2nd Engineer 3rd Engineer 3rd Engineer

R. CAMERON

4th Engineer

lst Electrician lst Electrician

G.W. ELLIS M. KAVANAGH

R. MILNE A.R. GARGAN S. GREEN L.H. HUGHES

Petty Officer Motorman J. FITZGERLAND W.O'BRIEN Motorman Grade I F. BERRY Motorman Grade I

Carpenter

D.W. JEFFERY

Chief Petty Officer D. COOGAN

I Seaman Grade I Seaman Grade I Seaman Grade I Seaman Grade II Seaman Grade II Seaman Grade II

P. LITTLEWOOD

Chief Cook Chief Cook 2nd Cook

K. WAKERLEY M. ROSTRON S. ARMSTRONG J. DONALDSON

Seaman Grade

J' BROWN M. HI']NT J. ROWLANDS I.D. GI'IY

A. BOWEN T. O'LEARY

Cook Cook \{. GEORGESON A. BOWYER 2nd Steward S. JOHNSON Steward M. BURROWS Steward S. ELLIS Steward

Assistant Assistant

*d<*

IntheHouseofCommons,onJunegthlgs2,SirDavidPriceM.P.sponsored tr,.rouo*ingmotionwhichreceivedthesupportofoveronehundredMembersof Parliament.

..ThatthisHousesalutesthemenandwomenoftheMerchantNavyserving of life among British Sea' with the Task Force in the South Atlantic; mourns the loss i*.rt i, upholding the democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders and of the intern-

ationalruleoflaw;andreaffirmstheimportancetothedefenceoftheNationofa strong and prosperous Mercantile Marine"' a/


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No37 Supp Falklands  

Harrison Line news letter No37 Falklands supplement.

No37 Supp Falklands  

Harrison Line news letter No37 Falklands supplement.

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