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The loss of Sheffield

HMS Sheffield on fire
HMS Sheffield on fire

Sheffield was a Type 42 destroyer and part of the main surface task group deployed at the beginning of May 1982 east of the Falklands in support of British operations to retake the islands from the Argentineans.  At this point there had been a certain amount of military activity on both sides.  Royal Navy ships had bombarded enemy targets ashore, the airfield at Stanley had been attacked from the air, both by land-based aircraft operating at range from Ascension island and by carrier-borne Sea Harriers.  On 2 May, the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano had been sunk by the submarine Conqueror.

The Argentines clearly wanted to retaliate and to do so they used the most capable weapon in their armoury, the air-launched Exocet missile carried by Super Etendard aircraft.  This approached the task group at low-level before going to higher altitude to gain radar contact on British ships.  One was selected as a target and, despite detection by ships in the group, found Sheffield.

The missile hit the ship centrally causing widespread disruption and fires.  There were 20 deaths.  Despite several efforts the ship could not be salvaged and she sank a few days later.