Missiles Inbound! Then the Computer Crashes. And It’s Not A Game.

On 12 May 1982, green blips made by Argentine fighter-bombers appear on the radar scope of British destroyer HMS Glasgow. The British and the Argentines are engaged in battle over the Falkland Islands. As the enemy planes came closer, the commander of the HMS Glasgow orders his Sea Dart anti-aircraft missiles fired. Nothing happens. Salt has corroded a micro-switch on the missile battery.

A starboard view of the British Type 42 class destroyer HMS Glasgow (D-88) underway during exercise Distant Drum on 19 May 1983. (Official US Navy Photo)

Override the computer and fire manually, he orders, but the operator cannot get the computer to respond. Frustrated, the weapons officer hits the launch button, saying to himself, please work, please work. It does not.

Main battery commence fire, the commander of the HMS Glasgow orders. Finally something works and the 4.5 inch gun takes the planes under fire while a nearby Royal Navy ship acquires the enemy aircraft on its radar and lets fly with her Sea Darts. Between the fire of the two British warships, three of four attacking Argentine planes are “splashed,” as was said in World War Two. (That is, they crashed into the ocean.)

Immediately a second wave of Argentine fighter-bombers comes roaring in. Aboard HMS Glasgow, the 4.5 inch gun jams. Moments later, the entire computer system crashes. This system controls all the weapons and almost everything else on the ship. Sailors on deck open-up with their manually operated machine guns. Several crewmen rush from below and begin firing rifles at the planes. A bomb hits the HMS Glasgow. Incredibly, it does not explode but it does cut through the ship and create two immense holes. Seawater starts pouring in, fire breaks out.

While the crew manages to save the ship, dozens of British sailors perish, mainly from smoke inhalation. They were brave men fighting to restore international law against the military thugs who then ruled Argentina. And in what is probably a first for the modern age, they died because the main computer crashed.

HMS Glasgow returning home to Great Britain after the Falklands War. The black stripe is an identification mark. The ship was scrapped in 2009.

[Source: To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur Herman. Images courtesy of Wikipedia and HMS Glasgow & Association.]

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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: http://charlesmccain.com/

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