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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Barrow yard’s ships helped win Falklands War

BARROW shipyard made a winning contribution to the Falklands War – although ships from the town fought on both sides of the conflict.

Four ships and four submarines built at what was then Vickers in Barrow help saved the day for Britain and win back the sovereign Falklands Islands from Argentina.

But two Type 42 destroyers, the first built by Barrow workers, and the second which was provided with materials and technical support from Barrow but built under licence in Argentina and then trialled in the UK just six months before the war, fought for the Argentines, putting British ships including our own Type 42s at risk.

The first of class Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield, which was built in Barrow, became the first British ship to be sunk in the war after it was hit by an Exocet missile.

The two most crucial vessels in the British “Operation Corporate” Task Force to the South Atlantic were the aircraft carriers, HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes, both built in Barrow.

Without them and their precious cargo of pilots – Sea Harrier jump jets and Sea King anti-submarine helicopters, one of which was piloted by Prince Andrew – it would have been mission impossible.

HMS Invincible was cut up in a Turkish scrapyard last year after being anchored in reserve for five years. But the incredible survival story of HMS Hermes continues to this day. She was laid down in Barrow in 1944 as the Second World War still raged. But with Allied victory, the hull was sidelined.

It did not enter the Royal Navy until 1959, by which time it incorporated some of the most modern developments in aircraft carrier thinking, including an angled flight deck, the newest radar, mirror landing systems and other innovations.

It was the flagship in the Falklands Task Force despite being so much older than the brand new HMS Invincible.

Hermes was sold to India in 1987, along with British Sea Harrier jets. It became the INS Viraat – which translates as “giant” and is still the Indian Navy’s flagship. It is expected to sail on until 2020 – twice the length of the normal life expectancy of such a ship.

Ships in the task force included the locally-built Royal Navy Type 42 class destroyer HMS Cardiff. Twenty sailors were killed and many wounded when Sheffield, its sister, sank. There was disbelief at the shipyard.

Official yard historian Tony Salter-Ellis said: “I was at work when it happened. The news went round the yard like wildfire. It was felt very keenly at all levels in the yard.

“People felt extreme sadness because of the loss of life and because it was one of ours. What happened in the Falklands was closely followed by people in the yard and the losses were felt.”

Despite Sheffield sinking there was pride that the yard’s ships and submarines were doing the business. Mr Salter-Ellis said: “There was obviously a sense of pride and satisfaction that the vessels we had produced were being used for the purpose they were intended, to protect Queen and country and islands which were British. We were proud to make a contribution.”

Playing a deadly game beneath the waves of the South Atlantic were four Barrow-built nuclear nuclear-powered submarines, HMS Courageous, HMS Valiant, HMS Spartan and HMS Splendid.

Working with them to keep the Argentine navy scared and boxed in at port was Birkenhead-built, Churchill class submarine HMS Conqueror.

It became famous for finding and sinking the Argentinian (ex-USA) battle cruiser, Belgrano, with the loss of 323 lives.

Belgrano could have lobbed heavy shells miles across the sea threatening the UK capital ships, Hermes and Invincible.

Although not built in Barrow, the retired diesel-powered submarine Onyx was bought for the town as a yet-to-be-opened submarine museum and is anchored in Buccleuch Dock.

It was the same Oberon class of boat as some others built in Barrow.

Onyx played an important “sneaky beaky” role in the Falklands moving Special Forces around.

Ironically, ships built or designed in Barrow were also fighting for the enemy. They were British-designed Type 42 destroyers, ARA Hercules , completed in Barrow in 1976 and ARA Santisima Trinidad, completed in Argentina in 1981 when she voyaged to Britain for sea trials and training with Sea Dart missiles.

They played an important role in the initial invasion of the Falklands and then supported the task force led by the Argentine carrier Veinticinco de Mayo (May 25), named after the date of the 1810 Argentine war of independence against Spain.

Scared off after Belgrano’s sinking, the ships hid in port.

Hercules is still in the Argentine navy while the Santisima Trinidad is laid up in reserve for spares.

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