SS Atlantic Conveyor
|Builder:||Swan Hunter, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom|
|Launched:||25 August 1969|
|Identification:||IMO number: 6926036|
|Class and type:||Container ship|
|Length:||695 ft (212 m)|
|Beam:||92 ft (28 m)|
|Speed:||23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)|
She was hit on 25 May 1982 by two Argentine air-launched AM39 Exocet missiles, killing 12 sailors. Atlantic Conveyor sank whilst under tow on 28 May 1982.
Atlantic Conveyor was a 14,950 ton roll-on, roll-off container ship owned by Cunard. She was built along with six other container ships, each named Atlantic .... and sailing under different national flags for different companies.
Along with her sister ship, Atlantic Causeway, Atlantic Conveyor was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence at the beginning of the Falklands War through the STUFT system (Ships Taken Up From Trade). Due to the short timescales, the decision that the ship was not "a high-value unit", and a controversy over whether arming auxiliaries was legal, Atlantic Conveyor was not fitted with either an active or a passive defence system.
The ships were used to carry supplies for the Royal Navy Task Force sent by the British government to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentine occupation. Sailing for Ascension Island on 25 April 1982, Atlantic Conveyor carried a cargo of six Wessex helicopters from 848 Naval Air Squadron and five RAF Chinook HC.1s from No. 18 Squadron RAF. At Ascension, she picked up eight Fleet Air Arm Sea Harriers (809 Squadron) and six RAF Harrier GR.3 jump jets.
One Chinook of B flight No. 18 Squadron RAF left Atlantic Conveyor to support operations on Ascension. With the aircraft stored she then set sail for the South Atlantic. On arrival off the Falklands in mid-May, all of the Harriers were off-loaded to the carriers; the GR.3s going to HMS Hermes while the Sea Harriers were divided amongst the existing squadrons on Hermes and HMS Invincible. With the additional aircraft on Hermes a Lynx HAS.2 helicopter was flown and parked on Atlantic Conveyor on 20 May 1982.
On 25 May 1982 (the same day as the loss of HMS Coventry) Atlantic Conveyor was hit by two AM39 Air Launched Exocet missiles fired by two Argentine Navy Super Étendard jet fighters. The mission was led by Corvette Captain Roberto Curilovic (call sign 'Tito'), flying Super Etendard 0753/3-A-203, and his wingman, Warship Lieutenant Julio Barraza, (call sign 'Leo') flying in 0754/3-A-204 — both from 2da Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque.
Both Exocets struck Atlantic Conveyor on the port quarter of the ship. There are conflicting accounts on whether the warheads exploded after penetrating the ship's hull, or on impact. Witness Prince Andrew reported that debris caused "splashes in the water about a quarter of a mile away". Due to the presence of both fuel and ammunition that were stored below decks, the incendiary effect of the unburnt propellant from the missiles caused an uncontrollable fire. When the fire had burnt out, the ship was boarded but nothing was recovered. While under tow by the requisitioned tug Irishman, Atlantic Conveyor sank in the early morning of 28 May 1982. Six Westland Wessexes, three Boeing Chinooks, and a Westland Lynx were destroyed by fire; only one Chinook, squadron identification code Bravo November, was saved. The loss of these helicopters meant that British troops had to march on foot across the Falklands to recapture Stanley.
Twelve men died in Atlantic Conveyor, including the ship's master, Captain Ian North, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The ship was the first British merchant vessel lost at sea to enemy fire since World War II.
The first aircraft to rescue survivors was a Royal Navy Wessex V of 845 Naval Air Squadron, call sign YD, piloted by Lieutenant Kim Slowe RN. YD had just launched from Atlantic Conveyor, to carry out a check test flight, when the ship was hit by the Exocet. YD picked up one survivor from the sea and then picked up a further 13 survivors from the forward deck of Atlantic Conveyor. A Sea King helicopter of 820 Naval Air Squadron from HMS Invincible, piloted by HRH Prince Andrew, picked up the remaining survivors. He said that the incident "was an experience I shall never forget ... horrific". All the survivors were taken to HMS Hermes.
The ship's replacement was built on Tyneside.
Techniques to defeat anti-ship missiles
A dangerous task carried out by Sea Kings was to act as decoys, to deflect sea-skimming missiles away from surface ships. This was achieved by hovering close to the ship and as the radar seeker could not resolve targets in azimuth, the ship/helicopter combination appeared as a single target. If the helicopter was not too high the missile guidance system would aim for the centroid of its apparent target and hopefully pass between the two. Prince Andrew at one point flew his helicopter as an Exocet missile decoy. Chaff rockets aim to seduce a missile with a similar technique by increasing the apparent length of the target.
The size of the ship's radar cross section (RCS) was too great to allow chaff decoys to be effective and their employment would have been unlikely to have affected the outcome. It has also been claimed, incorrectly, that the hull of the ship acted as a decoy against a subsequent Exocet attack.
The vessel carried a Merchant Navy crew of 33. This included 12 officers (master, chief officer, second officer, third officer, radio officer, chief engineer, second engineer, two third engineers, fourth engineer, electrician and purser), 10 petty officers (bosun, four mechanics, two first cooks, second cook and baker, second cook and second steward) and 11 ratings (five seamen, three greasers and three assistant stewards). Of the 12 men killed in the sinking of Atlantic Conveyor six were from the Merchant Navy, three from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and three sailors from the Royal Navy.
As the last resting place of the remains of those who died, the wreck is designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
The officers' bar on M/V Atlantic Conveyor, built 1984 in Swan Hunter, Wallsend is named "The North Bar" after Captain Ian North.
- Charles Drought – N. P. 1840 The Loss of the Atlantic Conveyor (2003) ISBN 1-901231-41-0
- Board of Inquiry into the Loss of SS Atlantic Conveyor
Notes and references
- Board of Inquiry into the Loss of SS Atlantic Conveyor
- Designation under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 by SI2008/950, Office of Public Sector Information, The National Archives. Retrieved 17 July 2008.
- Evans, Michael (11 December 2007). "Legal fears left Atlantic Conveyor defenceless". The Times. London.
- "Argentine Aircraft in the Falklands". Britains-smallwars.com. Archived from the original on 23 February 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
- Chant, Christopher (2001). Air War in the Falklands 1982. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-84176-293-7.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- "Prince Andrew talks of Falklands horror". Glasgow Herald. 14 November 1983. p. 2.
- "British Aircraft lost - Falklands War 1982". www.naval-history.net.
- Royal Air Force (2010). "Royal Air Force CH47 Chinook 'Bravo November'". Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
- Southby-Tailyour, Ewen (2016). Exocet Falklands. Pen & Sword. ISBN 978-1-78346-387-9.
- "Information about all types of conveyors". Conveyor Site.
- "The Helicopter Museum".
- Target Detection by Marine Radar, John N Briggs, IEE
- Insight Team Sunday Times (1982). War in the Falklands: the Full Story. The Sunday Times. ISBN 978-0-06-015082-2.