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

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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 Argentine jets.

Christopher Howe, now 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 told PA: “I’m here to tell the story, and 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.”

Royal Navy – HMS Coventry
HMS Coventry (PA)

“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 Mediterranean when war broke out, and was quickly retasked to the South Atlantic.

Falklands War – HMS Coventry
HMS Coventry during the Falklands War (PA)

“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 (in the) … amphibious landings,” Mr Howe said.

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

Later that day, 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.

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 years on. 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, and 649 Argentine personnel.

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