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HMS Coventry veteran recalls his ship sinking, 40 years on from Argentine attack

HMS Coventry veteran recalls his ship sinking, 40 years on from Argentine attack
Christopher Howe, à présent 65, was a Petty Officer on board HMS Coventry when the destroyer was attacked by Argentine jets in the Falklands War

A veteran of the Falklands War has said “not a day goes by” that he does not think about his experiences of the conflict, 40 years after his ship, HMS Coventry, was attacked and sunk by argentin jets.

Christopher Howe, à présent 65, from Ewerby, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, was a Petty Officer on board HMS Coventry.

The Royal Navy destroyer was hit by Argentine jets on May 25 1982. Nineteen crew members were killed and another died of his injuries a year later.

He suffered 27% burns in the attack, and spoke to the PA news agency to mark 40 years since the ship was hit.

He told PA: “I’m here to tell the story, et 19 shipmates aren’t. I’ve learned to deal with it.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened then, you can’t help it.”

HMS Coventry (Pennsylvanie)
HMS Coventry (Pennsylvanie)

He recalled the moment he realised the ship was about to be hit.

“I remember turning to the captain at the time and saying: ‘We’re about to get attacked by…’,” Mr Howe said.

“I’m not sure if I actually finished my statement when there was this thud, followed by an extreme heat and a fireball rolling around the ops room.

“My life just slowed down completely in slow motion.

“The next thing I know, I’m waking up in an ops room that’s tilting. My arm was on fire, most of my clothes had been blown away completely, and I was in a lot of pain. There was a lot of thick, acrid smoke,” Mr Howe recalled.

HMS Coventry was conducting training in the méditerranéen when war broke out, and was quickly retasked to the South Atlantic.

HMS Coventry during the Falklands War (Pennsylvanie)
HMS Coventry during the Falklands War (Pennsylvanie)

“We were immediately given our sailing orders by Admiral Sandy Woodward,” Mr Howe recalled, ajouter: “I remember, distinctly, the feeling around the ship when it was very quickly realised that we weren’t going home for Easter leave.

“The word around the ship was we won’t be going south long. We will be doing a 180 degrees and heading north very shortly because there’ll be a diplomatic solution.

“And I think everybody, to a man, really didn’t believe we wouldn’t be going south for more than a couple of days.”

Diplomatic efforts between the UK and Argentina failed, and British personnel were tasked with retaking the Islands.

Ahead of May 25 1982, HMS Coventry was stationed to the north of the Islands, serving as a distraction from the amphibious landings that were taking place on the mainland.

“We were there to be a missile trap for any incoming aircraft trying to get a clear run down to San Carlos Water to attack the ships taking part (dans le) … amphibious landings,” Mr Howe said.

HMS Coventry pictured listing to one side after being hit (Michael Dilucia/PA)
HMS Coventry pictured listing to one side after being hit (Michael Dilucia/PA)

The sky was blue and the sea calm on the morning of May 25 – “perfect visual targeting conditions” for Argentine pilots, according to Mr Howe.

Plus tard ce jour-là, the crew of HMS Coventry received word that two Argentine Skyhawk jets were leaving the Argentine mainland, heading for the Falklands.

The crew worked out that the jets would likely reach the ship shortly after 6pm. They were correct, and HMS Coventry was hit.

Three bombs struck the ship, two exploding on impact. In the operations room, Mr Howe was trapped underneath some desks.

In that moment he pictured his wife and children, “and I said ‘no I’m not ending my life here’.”

He managed to make it to the ship’s upper deck, by which point the hull was tilting considerably to one side. The decision was then made to abandon ship.

I said ‘no, I’m not ending my life here

Christopher Howe

“I remember then being told by the captain to leave the ship, and it was just a case of sitting on the ship’s side and siding down,” Mr Howe said.

He was taken to the hospital ship SS Uganda, and his injuries treated.

Like many veterans of the conflict, Mr Howe’s mental health has suffered.

“I used to have a lot of silent periods when I went into my own. I don’t know where I went, I was thinking of what had happened. Why was I lucky? Why did I escape? Why did 19 of my shipmates lose their lives?” Mr Howe said.

“I take some pleasure from the fact that awareness is there 40 des années plus tard. We must never forget.

“They made a sacrifice. And as we say, ‘we gave our today for your tomorrow’,” Mr Howe added.

The 10-week Falklands War claimed the lives of 255 British personnel, three civilian Falkland Islanders, et 649 Argentine personnel.