Helen Parr

Could the bombing of Sir Galahad have been prevented?

Aided by documents in the National Archives, Crispin Black challenges the view that the Welsh Guards were to blame for the Bluff Cove disaster

Survivors of RFA Sir Galahad (smoking in the background) are hauled ashore at Bluff Cove. [Alamy]

The Welsh Guardsman Simon Weston is the most recognisable face of the Falklands war. He was terribly burnt when the Guards were bombed while waiting on the RFA Sir Galahad on 8 June 1982. He later became a national figure, talking openly about the difficulties of recovery, and working for burns victims and injured veterans. His portrait by Nicky Philipps hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

It was an honour the Guardsman would have preferred to avoid. The story of the Welsh Guards in the Falklands war is that of the bombing. It was the single biggest loss of British life in one episode in the Falklands, probably in the post-1945 period. Forty-nine men were killed, 38 of them Guardsmen. Crispin Black was a second lieutenant with the Guards on the Sir Galahad that day. His book describes the terror, disbelief and peculiar calmness as cannon fire and tracer came directly towards the men on deck. Bombs dropped and the intense heat set off explosions while men struggled and helped each other to escape the fires. Black saw a sergeant, the skin of his face detached: ‘Instinctively and lost for words, I asked if he was all right. Instinctively he responded that he was fine.’ He testifies to the men’s bravery, including one Hong Kong Chinese sailor, Chiu Yu Nam, dressed in an asbestos suit, leading ten men to safety in ‘horrific circumstances’. Many survivors were haunted by that day for life.

Many of the survivors of the disaster were haunted by that day for life

Black’s aim, however, is not to remind us of the horror of bombs. He is angry that the Welsh Guards have been blamed for what happened. The familiar story is that the Guards, better suited to ceremonial duties, underprepared and freshly arrived in a combat zone, did not understand the urgency with which they should disembark their vessel and remained like ‘sitting ducks’ until the Argentines attacked.

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