HMS Sheffield (D80)

HMS Sheffield (D80) was the second Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 ship to be named after the city of Sheffield
Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough of South Yorkshire, England. Its name derives from the River Sheaf, which runs through the city. Historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and with some of its southern suburbs annexed from Derbyshire, the city has grown from its largely...

 in Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

. She was a Type 42
Type 42 destroyer
The Type 42 or Sheffield class, are guided missile destroyers used by the British Royal Navy and the Argentine Navy. The first ship of the class was ordered in 1968 and launched in 1971, and today three ships remain active in the Royal Navy and one in the Argentinian Navy...

 Guided Missile Destroyer
Guided missile destroyer
A guided missile destroyer is a destroyer designed to launch guided missiles. Many are also equipped to carry out anti-submarine, anti-air, and anti-surface operations. In the U.S...

 laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering
Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd
In 1994 VSEL was subject to two takeover proposals, one from GEC and another from British Aerospace . VSEL was willing to participate in a merger with a larger company to reduce its exposure to cycles in warship production, particularly following the "Options for Change" defence review after the...

 at Barrow-in-Furness
Barrow-in-Furness is an industrial town and seaport which forms about half the territory of the wider Borough of Barrow-in-Furness in the county of Cumbria, England. It lies north of Liverpool, northwest of Manchester and southwest from the county town of Carlisle...

 on 15 January 1970, launched on 10 June 1971 and commissioned on 16 February 1975.

An explosion during construction killed two dockyard workers and damaged a section of hull which was replaced with a section from an identical ship, ARA Hercules
ARA Hércules
ARA Hércules is a Type 42 destroyer of the Argentine Navy or Armada de la República Argentina.She was transformed into a multi-purpose transport ship with Pennant Number B-52 and commissioned to the amphibious force in 1999.- History :...

, being built for the Argentine Navy. The ship was part of the Task Force sent to the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War
Falklands War
The Falklands War , also called the Falklands Conflict or Falklands Crisis, was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands...

. She was struck by an Exocet
The Exocet is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Hundreds were fired in combat during the 1980s.-Etymology:...

 air-launched anti-ship missile
Anti-ship missile
Anti-ship missiles are guided missiles that are designed for use against ships and large boats. Most anti-ship missiles are of the sea-skimming type, many use a combination of inertial guidance and radar homing...

 from a Super Etendard aircraft belonging to the Argentine Navy
Argentine Navy
The Navy of the Argentine Republic or Armada of the Argentine Republic is the navy of Argentina. It is one of the three branches of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic, together with the Army and the Air Force....

 on 4 May 1982 and foundered on 10 May 1982.

Argentine version

Sheffield was first detected by an Argentine Naval Aviation
Argentine Naval Aviation
The Argentine Naval Aviation is the naval aviation branch of the Argentine Navy and one of its four operational commands...

 patrol aircraft Lockheed SP-2H Neptune
P-2 Neptune
The Lockheed P-2 Neptune was a Maritime patrol and ASW aircraft. It was developed for the United States Navy by Lockheed to replace the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura and PV-2 Harpoon, and being replaced in turn with the Lockheed P-3 Orion...

 (2-P-112) at 7:50 AM on 4 May. The Neptune kept the British ships under surveillance, verifying Sheffields position again at 8:14 and 8:43. Two Argentine Navy Super Étendards (3-A-202 and 3-A-203) both armed with Exocets
The Exocet is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Hundreds were fired in combat during the 1980s.-Etymology:...

 took off from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego
Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego
-External links:* * * *...

 at 9:45 and met with an Argentine Air Force
Argentine Air Force
The Argentine Air Force is the national aviation branch of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic. , it had 14,606 military and 6,854 civilian staff.-History:...

 tanker KC-130H Hercules
C-130 Hercules
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin. Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport...

 at 10:00 hrs.

At 10:35, the Neptune climbed to 1170 metres (3,838.6 ft) and detected a large and two medium-sized contacts at the coordinates 52º 33 55 South, 57º 40 55 West map. A few minutes later, the Neptune contacted both Super Étendards with this information. Flying at very low altitude, around 10:50, both Super Étendards climbed to 160 metres (524.9 ft) to verify these contacts, but, not finding any, decided to continue. 25 miles (40.2 km) later they climbed again and, after a few seconds of scanning, the targets appeared on their radar screens. Both pilots loaded the coordinates in their weapons systems, turned back to low level, and after last minute checks, launched their AM39 Exocets at 11:04 from 20 to 30 mi (32.2 to 48.3 km) away from their targets. The Super Étendards did not need to refuel from the KC-130 again, which had been waiting, and landed at Rio Grande at 12:04. Supporting the mission were an Air Force Learjet 35 as a decoy and two IAI Daggers as the KC-130 escorts

British version

At approximately 10 a.m. on 4 May, HMS Sheffield was at defence watches, second degree readiness, as part of the British Task Force dispatched to the Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located about from the coast of mainland South America. The archipelago consists of East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands. The capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland...

 during the Falklands War
Falklands War
The Falklands War , also called the Falklands Conflict or Falklands Crisis, was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands...

. Sheffield had relieved her sister Coventry
HMS Coventry (D118)
HMS Coventry was a Type 42 destroyer of the Royal Navy. Laid down by Cammell Laird and Company, Limited, at Birkenhead on 29 January 1973, she was launched on 21 June 1974 and accepted into service on 20 October 1978 at a cost of £37,900,000.She was sunk by Argentine Air Force A-4 Skyhawks on 25...

 as the latter was having technical trouble with her Type 965 radar. Sheffield and Coventry were chatting over UHF
Ultra high frequency
Ultra-High Frequency designates the ITU Radio frequency range of electromagnetic waves between 300 MHz and 3 GHz , also known as the decimetre band or decimetre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten decimetres...

. Communications ceased until an unidentified message was heard flatly stating "Sheffield is hit". The flagship, Hermes
HMS Hermes (R12)
HMS Hermes was a Centaur-class British aircraft carrier, the last of the postwar conventional aircraft carriers commissioned into the Royal Navy.-Construction and modifications:...

 dispatched the escorts Arrow
HMS Arrow (F173)
HMS Arrow was a Type 21 frigate of the Royal Navy. Built by Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, she was completed with Exocet launchers in 'B' position.-Falklands War service:...

 and Yarmouth
HMS Yarmouth (F101)
HMS Yarmouth was the first Modified Type 12 frigate of the Rothesay class to enter service with the Royal Navy. From her commissioning in 1960, she performed in numerous roles, including the Third Cod War and the Falklands War....

 to investigate, and a helicopter was launched. Confusion reigned until Sheffields Lynx helicopter unexpectedly landed aboard Hermes carrying the Air Operations Officer and Operations Officer, confirming the disaster.

Sheffield picked up the incoming missiles on her outmoded Type 965 radar (an interim fitting until the Type 1022 set was available), and the Operations Officer informed the Missile Director, who queried the contacts in the ADAWS 4 fire control system. The launch aircraft had not been detected as the British had expected, and it was not until smoke was sighted that the target was confirmed as sea skimming missiles. Five seconds later, an Exocet
The Exocet is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Hundreds were fired in combat during the 1980s.-Etymology:...

 impacted Sheffield amidships, approximately 8 feet above the waterline on Deck 2, tearing a gash in the hull. The other missile splashed into the sea half a mile off her port beam
Beam (nautical)
The beam of a ship is its width at the widest point. Generally speaking, the wider the beam of a ship , the more initial stability it has, at expense of reserve stability in the event of a capsize, where more energy is required to right the vessel from its inverted position...

. Ironically, the Exocet missile which hit Sheffield did not detonate, but the missile severed the high-pressure fire main onboard, and the resultant fire caused by burning propellant ignited diesel oil from the ready-use tanks in the Engine Room, and other inflammable materials used in the ship's construction. These fires burned unchecked for a number of days after the ship was abandoned.

The Exocets were fired from two Super Étendards launched from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego
Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego
-External links:* * * *...

, Naval Air Base. The aircraft were piloted by Lieutenant Armando Mayora and Captain Augusto Bedacarratz, who commanded the mission.

Such was the lack of warning, there was no time to engage in defensive manoeuvres, leading to a change in British policy whereby any RN vessel that suspected it might be under missile attack would turn toward the threat, accelerate to maximum speed and fire chaff
Chaff (radar countermeasure)
Chaff, originally called Window by the British, and Düppel by the Second World War era German Luftwaffe , is a radar countermeasure in which aircraft or other targets spread a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminium, metallized glass fibre or plastic, which either appears as a cluster of secondary...

 to prevent a ship being caught defenceless again. The codeword used to start this procedure was "handbrake", which had to be broadcast once the signal of the Agave radar of the Super Étendard was picked up.

Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

 report into the sinking of the Sheffield concluded that: "Evidence indicates that the warhead did not detonate". Some of the crew and members of the Task Force believe however that the missile's 165 kilogram warhead did in fact detonate upon impact. This was not the case, as an Exocet is filled with a delay proximity fuse, and is designed not to detonate on impact. But irrespective of this the impact of the missile and the burning rocket motor set Sheffield ablaze. Some accounts suggest that the initial impact of the missile immediately crippled the ship's onboard electricity generating systems, but this only affected certain parts of the ship, which caused ventilation problems. The missile strike fractured the water main, preventing the anti-fire mechanisms from operating effectively, and thereby dooming the ship to be consumed by the raging fire.

After the ship was struck and her crew waiting to be rescued, S/LT Carrington-Wood led the crew in singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is a popular song written by Eric Idle that was originally featured in the 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian and has gone on to become a common singalong at public events such as football matches as well as funerals.-History:Whilst trying to come up...

" from Monty Python
Monty Python
Monty Python was a British surreal comedy group who created their influential Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC on 5 October 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series...

's Life of Brian.

Over the next 6 days from 4 May 1982 onwards, some 5 inspections were made to see if any equipment was worth salvaging. Orders were issued to shore up the hole in Sheffield's starboard side and tow the ship to South Georgia .

However, before these orders were effected the burnt-out hulk had already been taken in tow by the Rothesay class frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

 HMS Yarmouth. The high seas that the ship was towed through caused slow flooding through the hole in the ship's side. This was the cause which eventually took her to the bottom. The ship sank at 53°04'S, 56°56' W on 10 May 1982. This made her the first Royal Navy vessel sunk in action since World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Twenty of her crew (mainly on duty in the galley area) died during the attack. The wreck is a war grave
War grave
A war grave is a burial place for soldiers or civilians who died during military campaigns or operations. The term does not only apply to graves: ships sunk during wartime are often considered to be war graves, as are military aircraft that crash into water...

 and designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986
Protection of Military Remains Act 1986
The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom which provides protection for the wreckage of military aircraft and designated military vessels. The Act provides for two types of protection: protected places and controlled sites. Military aircraft are...


The sinking of the Sheffield is sometimes blamed on a superstructure made wholly or partially from aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

, the melting point and ignition temperature of which are significantly lower than those of steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

. However, this is incorrect as the Sheffields superstructure was made entirely of steel. The confusion is related to the US and British Navies abandoning aluminium after several fires in the 1970s involving ships that had aluminium superstructures. The sinking of the Type 21 frigate
Type 21 frigate
The Type 21 frigate or Amazon-class frigate was a Royal Navy general-purpose escort designed in the late 1960s, built in the 1970s and that served throughout the 1980s into the 1990s.-History:...

s HMS Antelope
HMS Antelope (F170)
HMS Antelope was a Type 21 frigate of the Royal Navy that participated in the Falklands War. Her keel was laid down 23 March 1971 by Vosper Thornycroft in Woolston, Southampton, England. Budget costs for this class were £3.5 million but actual costs exceeded £14 million...

 and Ardent
HMS Ardent (F184)
HMS Ardent was a Royal Navy Type 21 frigate. Built by Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland. She was completed with Exocet launchers in 'B' position...

, both of which had aluminium superstructures, probably also had an effect on this belief though these cases are again incorrect and the presence of aluminium had nothing to do with their loss. In both cases, it is likely the ships would have been lost in any event, due to the amount of explosives involved in such small ships, though aluminium fires did break out. Ardent in particular took a severe pounding, suffering eleven bomb hits, five of which exploded; no ship of her type of any era would have been able to survive such an attack. The fires on these ships did result in one clear change, which was the shift away from the nylon
Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers known generically as polyamides, first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station...

 and synthetic fabrics then worn by British sailors. The synthetics had a tendency to melt on to the skin causing more severe burns than if the crew had been wearing non-synthetic clothing. The official report into the sinking of the Sheffield, recently disclosed under UK Freedom of Information laws after an extensive campaign by ex-RN personnel, severely criticised the ship's fire-fighting equipment, training and procedures and certain members of the crew.

External links

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