Air Attack! HMS Sheffield Hit and Later Sinks – Part 2

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HMS Sheffield (D80)

A recently declassified report from the British Ministry of Defence claims the crew was poorly trained and badly led. Not what one would expect from the Royal Navy. To make this even more important, HMS Sheffield was the first Royal Navy warship to be sunk by enemy action since World War Two.

Shortly after the missile struck, dense black smoke began to fill the ship. Officers quickly lost control of the situation. According to the report, “the control of firefighting and other activity after impact lacked cohesion.” Even worse, “it was not clear where Command of the Ship was located, the control of personnel un-coordinated…”

HMS Sheffield (D80) on fire after being hit by an Exocet cruise missile during the Falkland Islands War, 4 May 1982.

The fires continued to spread as did the impenetrable black smoke and after the fire came close to the magazine storing the Sea Dart anti-aircraft missiles, the Captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. Two Royal Navy ships were standing off from HMS Sheffield and rescued the crew. The ship continued to float in perfect trim for two more days while the fires continued to burn, completely destroying everything within the hull.

Twenty brave men died, most because of incompetence by XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (redacted in the report). Quoting now from the official report:

There were some shortcomings in the performance of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX which contributed to the ship’s failure adequately to counter the attack.

Nineteen lines of text which follow in the official report, which tell us where the shortcomings in performance were, have been redacted. With the reduction in numbers of Royal Navy ships in the decades after World War Two, its good to know HMS Cover Your Ass is still afloat. The entire report can be found online.

For those who vaguely remember something about the ship burning because of speculation that the superstructure or portions of it were made of aluminum, that is not the case. Only steel was used in the superstructure.

[Images courtesy of Naval Warfare.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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