Fatal Falklands day

Over the past few days [the 40th anniversary of Operation Corporate] a number of opinions have been expressed in the media as to the circumstances surrounding the tragic loss of RFAs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram in the Falkland Islands.
Lt-Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour RM Commanded the Task Force Landing Craft Squadron in 1982 and has written on the subject.
DefenceSynergia (DS) has the kind permission of Ewen Southby-Tailyour to publish his letter in full. We do so, not because there is a difference of opinion, but because in a very real sense the failure examined illustrates the dire military consequence in lives lost when ‘Joint’ training, doctrine and command and control, all aspects that DS has written about in a contemporary setting, are undermined whether through single service rivalry, ignorance of doctrine or lack of money to train appropriately in peacetime! 

Here is what Ewen says:

SIR, It saddens me to take issue with two brother officers, but history must not be tampered with by 40-year-old hindsight (Features, April 2).

Lt-Col (then) Michael Rose should not comment on the findings of the Board of Inquiry (at which I was an observer) on the loss of Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, for he was not in the naval chain of command. Nor was he privy to the decisions that had to be made for the forward deployment of the logistic ships – thanks entirely to the Army’s 5 Brigade allowing itself to be overstretched along the south coast. Indeed, he muddled the overall chain of command through the use of his own communications direct to the UK, thus bypassing the senior commanders in the field under whose command he ostensibly was.

Lt-Col (then) John Rickett was not on board Sir Galahad on June 8 1982 and thus has no first-hand knowledge of events that fateful morning.

On my arrival on board, I noticed that Sir Galahad was not only full of vital munitions but was also carrying two companies of the Welsh Guards. I immediately found two guards ­officers and offered them and their men a lift ashore – a mere cable away. This was declined, as they wanted to go to Bluff Cove – where Sir Galahad, a 6,000-ton ship drawing 13ft, simply could not sail.

They also refused to embark their men in a landing craft half-laden with ammunition. I argued that Sir Galahad was laden with considerably more explosives and that I would take them to Bluff Cove that night, after the bulk of the logistics had been offloaded.

I emphasised the danger both ships were in and suggested the guardsmen must get ashore for their own safety. Then they could either wait till dusk for their nautical lift to Bluff Cove or walk. They refused to move.

Astonished at this unprofessional attitude, I gave a firm order to disembark, but they would not accept such an instruction from a Royal Marines major (then the equivalent rank to an Army lieutenant-colonel). Appalled and disgusted, I went ashore to find a more senior army officer. In the meantime, the ammunition and field hospital were disembarked.

Brigadier Rickett has explained that “problems with the landing craft” were to blame for the guardsmen remaining on board. This is wrong and a lame excuse for his men refusing to get off in the first instance. When they did, at last, decide to go ashore at Fitzroy, the landing craft’s bow ramp suffered a glitch, but this has never affected any offloading from a logistic ship.

In summary, I would like to quote Maj-Gen Julian Thompson: “Amphibious operations are not an activity suitable for part-time participants.” Therein lies the fundamental cause of so much that did not go quite according to plan during the Falklands campaign.

Lt-Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour RM
Commander of the Task Force Landing Craft Squadron, 1982
Ermington, South Devon