Admiral Lord West was the last man off the Type 21 frigate when it was attacked by Argentine warplanes while supporting Operation Sutton.
He told Daily Star Online he had to be “dragged off the bow” by his crew as HMS Ardent foundered off the Falklands on May 22, 1982.
The Royal Navy hero said the sinking of his ship changed him – and described the pain of losing 22 members of his 199 man crew.
HMS Ardent’s sacrifice however helped British forces to establish a beachhead on East Falkland.
Daily Star Online is looking at their story ahead of Armed Forces Day next week.
The day is a celebration of all aspects of the British military, from the heroes of WW2 to the current forces keeping Britain safe.
“As the captain you are responsible for them, they are your boys”
Admiral Lord West
Lord West – then a commander in the Royal Navy – told Daily Star Online: “The worse thing was I was leaving a ship I was responsible for, and that I had lost 22 of my crew.
“As the captain you are responsible for them, they are your boys, you know?
“We had done our duty, we had done the bombardment, and we had shot aircraft down – it was a very hard decision.
“There is no doubt it comes back again at night, I still have nightmares about it, and some of the lads had suffered PTSD.
“When you are a bombed and surrounded by fire, it is quite a thing in your life.”
HMS Ardent was bombarding the Argentine airstrip at Goose Green in support of Operation Sutton.
Waves of Argentine aircraft then began to sweep overhead and attack them at around 5.40pm.
Lord West’s ship was then strafed by three warplanes – which managed to land three bomb hits on the frigate.
He told Daily Star Online the ship’s anti-air capabilities couldn’t fend off the enemy planes as they were designed for “fighting the Soviets in the Atlantic”.
“We knew we were going to be a position close to the shore where our anti-air capabilities weren’t optimised,” he said.
Lord West told Daily Star Online: “When we came under attack people were frightened, particularly those below who decks as you can’t see anything and there is lots of noise.
“But there is that camaraderie, people make jokes, chat to each other, everyone knows each other and life goes on.
“You are well trained, you know what you are doing and everything runs like clockwork.
“Once you get major damage, there are fires, alarms and you can’t move between compartments – things get a lot of difficult.”
HMS Ardent was then struck three times with bombs – blowing up one of the missile launchers its onboard helicopter, a Westland Lynx.
With the hanger ablaze, the power systems damaged, and being almost defenceless – the ship headed for Port San Carlos.
Argentinian forces swung back however and struck her with another two bombs, sealing the ship’s fate.
Fires were raging across the ship’s stern and she was listing heavily in the waters of the Grantham Sound.
Lord West says it was then when he was finally convinced to abandon ship.
“It is a very difficult decision, you get advice from people and basically I was told our power was gone, the torpedo magazine was about the explode, and none of my weapons were operating,” he said.
“We had to abandon ship so no more died.
“And it is difficult as the ship is your grey mistress.”
HMS Yarmouth came alongside the take off survivors – with Lord West being the last man to leave the deck.
He told Daily Star Online: “I didn’t want to go and they had to drag me off as I thought I should stay there.
“All the people who survived feel guilty, and you think ‘what if I had done this’.
“Three years on from the sinking I probably had a nightmare every night.
“I thought I was ‘normal’ again but my wife said I was different. I had minor PTSD.”
HMS Ardent would continue to burn and eventually sink the next day at 6.30am.
Lord West – who later became First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff – was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership on HMS Ardent.
And he still keeps in touch with his crew, with them having a reunion every year on the anniversary of her sinking with the HMS Ardent Association.
Losing his men weighed hard on him, but it was the parents who suffered the most at the lose of the young men – with the average age of those on board between between 22 and 24.
“Mothers and fathers are never going to get another son,” he said.
Everyone at the reunions helps each other, and he hailed them as “wonderful people”
- Royal Navy
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