Think Defense on Atlantic Conveyor


Categorie: David Axe, History, Latin America, Royal Navy |
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Atlantic Conveyer

Atlantic Conveyor. Via Think Defense.


She was the big ship that could — until she couldn’t. In early 1982, Atlantic Conveyor was nothing special: a mere civilian container ship belonging to the Cunard Line. Then, on April 2, Argentine troops invaded the South Atlantic’s Falkland Islands, long a British territory. The U.K. Royal Navy quickly assembled a task force around two medium aircraft carriers with Harrier jump-jet fighters. The task force include 40 commercial vessels pressed into wartime service, including the 15,000-ton Atlantic Conveyor.

In just 10 days starting April 16, Atlantic Conveyor was modified to carry munitions, helicopters and spare Harriers, as well as a single operational Harrier launching from the helicopter pad for air defense. Thus equipped, Atlantic Conveyor sailed south with the task force, aiming to reconquer the islands.

On May 25, off the Falklands coast, two Argentine Super Etendard fighters attacked, striking Atlantic Conveyor with two Exocet missiles. “The attack was devastating,” Think Defense recalls. Twelve men died and the ship and much of her cargo were lost. Now, 29 years later, Think Defense has a fascinating summary of the ship’s impressive wartime service, along with many photos.

Atlantic Conveyor‘s story is one of innovation and adaptation by a stretched Royal Navy and courage from the vessel’s crew. But it’s also a warning: a properly armored and defended amphibious ship might have survived the Argentine attack and fully protected her crew. As the cash-strapped Royal Navy decommissions ships and planes wholesale — including both remaining carriers and all the Harriers — it’s worth remembering what can happen when a deprived navy must make do in the face of a determined enemy.


7 Responses to “Think Defense on Atlantic Conveyor

  1. Fincher says:

    The dangers of using a ship built to commercial specifications in a war zone do seem to have been forgotten.

  2. Prestwick says:

    They served their purpose none the less in the circumstances. Sometimes they need to be used and even when Britain’s maritime power was at its zenith during the Great War they still pressed merchant and passenger ships into service.

    Its a miracle that the Ocean liner SS Canberra, Car ferry Norland and QE2 managed to survive San Carlos though!!

  3. Thanks for the link David

    I am not sure armour would have protected her but there seems little doubt that better protection, either organically or from others, would have.

    There just wasn’t enough air defence to go around, maybe that is the biggest lesson, without control of the air everything you do is at great risk.

    Prestwick, the QE2 did not operate in San Carlos

  4. Prestwick says:

    Sorry Think Defence, I was half way through a night shift keeping the world financial system from having a hiccup and decided it’d be a great idea if I tried to name every civilian ship that happened to sail near to the Falklands in 1982.

  5. Hi Prestwick, I have just re read my comment and it seemed rather abrupt, must apologise for that.

    The whole merchant marine effort in 1982 is truly a fascinating subject, the speed at which they put together, loaded and despatched the ships south was mind blowing. I had a great comment on the article from one of the people in charge who mentioned that over 40 civilian ships were involved in the operation, everything from the QE2 to a tugboat.

    The best story I ever read though was about a man named John Leake who was an ex soldier but had left the Army and was serving on HMS Ardent as her NAAFI manager (NAAFI is a civilian organisation that sells food on military bases and ships, a bit like a PX I guess)

    When HMS Ardent came under sustained attack in San Carlos he stopped selling sausage rolls and manned a machine, his actions were credited with downing an Argentine Skyhawk and he won the Distinguished Service Medal!

  6. Prestwick says:

    No problems! I shouldn’t really comment during night shifts because I don’t think I make much sense :)

    There was a great story from someone in 3 PARA on SS Canberra who thanked the rather camp stewards for keeping up morale with such hilarious instances like when one dropped a tray of drinks at the start of the voyage and exclaimed “oh my! Danger money already!”

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