Admiralty 'ignorance led to loss of Falklands warship'

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THE DESTRUCTION of HMS Sheffield with the loss of 20 men during the Falklands war could have been avoided, according to the commander of a squadron of Sea Harriers defending the vessel.

In a book published yesterday which attacks Admiralty 'confusion and arrogance', Commander Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward, who was in charge of 801 Squadron, alleges that two aircraft were wrongly diverted from a defence patrol, allowing an Argentine jet to launch an Exocet attack on Sheffield. The commander further alleges that a section of his report detailing the incident was removed from Ministry of Defence files in London.

Sea Harrier Over the Falklands (A Maverick at War) lists a number of incidents in which Commander Ward says he ignored 'stupid' orders given by the Admiralty Flag - the battlegroup staff.

Yesterday, he said senior officers 'did not understand, nor did they try to understand the first line of defence . . . the Sea Harrier aircraft and its weapons system'. He went on: 'Because of their ignorance of fighter air matters, they misused the assets on many occasions and they caused confusion during 4 May (1982) which led to the unnecessary attack on the Sheffield. What I am saying is that if they had done it the professional way, if they allowed the right people to get on with the job without interfering . . . the Sheffield incident would not have occurred.'

He also says ship losses in San Carlos Bay could have been averted if the Harriers had been used properly. 'My squadron was used properly because I insisted and, on occasion, refused to accept orders, but the Flag's directive to the other squadron (800 on HMS Hermes), was that they should sit above San Carlos at altitude, wait until the enemy had been through the ship targets and catch them on the way out,' he said.

'The Admiral (Sir John Woodward) states in his book, One Hundred Days, that this was so they could swoop down like hawks on to the tails of the enemy as they left the target area. I was absolutely amazed when I read it. We occasionally got instructions that were just beyond belief like, 'Don't use your radar', which I totally ignored.'

On the day Sheffield was sunk, Commander Ward said a Command Air Patrol (CAP) of Harriers had been deployed to protect HMS Sheffield, Glasgow and Coventry. 'The Admiral's staff sent the CAP aircraft 120 miles away to look for surface targets . . . Not long after they left their station, the Etendard (fighter aircraft) came through and bombed the Sheffield. Throughout the war, we never had one occasion where enemy aircraft came through a CAP position.'

Commander Ward said that a number of years later, when he was at the Ministry of Defence, he referred to his report of the war and found that the pages relating to the Sheffield incident had been removed. A request for their reinstatement was refused.

Sea Harrier Over the Falklands (A Maverick at War) by Commander 'Sharkey' Ward; published by Leo Cooper; pounds 15.99