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an account by CDR Peter J Mosse (Captain January 1982 - September 1983)


20 + YEARS ON.....

To our Families:

"What did you do in the FALKLANDS, Daddy?" (We did not have any Wrens at sea!). "I was in AMBUSCADE, she was a Type 21 Frigate, the fastest and sleekest you ever saw, and we were proud of her." "Yes, Daddy, but what did you do?"

We had seen it all on TV that weekend: some wanted to go, others would rather not. Nevertheless from deep in dry dock we stuck the ship back together again and in some secrecy prepared to embark the heaviest load ever carried by one of those ships, so big that Naval Constructors had to work overtime to make sure we did not topple over or break her back. It was a flightdeck full of ammunition to replenish the magazines at Gibraltar, emptied by the first wave of the Task Force in their hurried departure.

We arrived at Gibraltar on Easter Monday 11 April for 3 weeks Guardship duties, to be followed by work up and a hectic programme around UK, saturated by the dearth of ships left by the operation in the South Atlantic. Guardship we were, but predictably we soon got orders to go further south to Ascension Island, working up with Portland staff on the way and quickly adopting warlike habits. Breaking radio silence in vain to seek professional help, the Doctor, in the Navy only a few weeks, was the first to meet the challenge: he had to perform a tricky operation on a hand which had serious blood poisoning, successfully saving it and possibly the sailor in the process.

We therefore never said our goodbyes, but you would not know it for all the enthusiasm everyone had. But the second night out it all became real when we heard that SHEFFIELD had been hit by Exocet, and over half of us mustered at the Church service that Sunday.

AMBUSCADE was a featureless grey by the time we reached Ascension because we had painted out all distinguishing marks. We did not want to give the enemy gratuitous information and we had heard there was a submarine about. Guardship there was also short lived and after briefly enjoying the delight of meeting ANTELOPE, another of the Type 21 Club, we sailed south together to join the Task Force on 14 May. Now it was the Flight's turn to show their mettle in a double engine change, after first making a forced landing ashore and then repeating their act with the other engine when they returned on board again!

The weather had by now begun to challenge us all, sharpening up seamanship, ship handling and sealegs alike, but none more than the Engineers. We had to make best speed to get to the Task Force in time for the landings which were imminent. Our two Olympus engines were fastest at over 30 knots but were too thirsty, so we had to go flat out at about 19 knots on the two economical Tyne engines to make the distance to the next tanker. When a Tyne suffered "catastrophic failure", therefore, we had problems. First we had to let ANTELOPE go ahead and lose her Satellite Communications with the outside world, including the Task Force, but more importantly we would be dangerously low on fuel before we met the tanker.

We made the rendezvous with the tanker with half the safety allowance of fuel left, just upright thanks to the ballast of all the extra stores low down in the ship. But in the prevailing Force 10 gale the risk of capsizing became serious, as we were still unable to fuel because the tanker's rig was defective! After lolling around over night while the returning SHEFFIELD's crew (sic!) helped to fix the rig, we had no option but to ballast 20% of our fuel tanks with salt water and by the time we eventually fuelled we had just 10% fuel left. By nightfall we were at last on our way again, 80% refuelled and the Stokers volunteered to scrub out the now contaminated tanks so that we could top up properly next time. Missilemen, Sonarmen and Electronic Warfare (EW) experts saved our skins later on but it was the Engineers that won that early day.
We joined the Task Force on the 21 May, with the landings in progress, awakened from our "excommunication" by the sound of ARDENT on HF radio in the heat of the anti-air battle. There was no Exercise briefing, no massive OpOrder, just copies of signalled shorthand OPGENs passed to us by EXETER. We fought instinctively from our training, a tribute to the PWO system and the new Warfare branch. Training was ongoing, from the Captain down to the most junior sailor and we learnt new lessons every day. The fortitude of people was remarkable, humbling trust, no complaints, excitement, bravery, continuous activity and physical pressure from the weather and fatigue.

We had learned how much we needed news, and devised new and better ways to disseminate information within the ship, to keep everyone involved and to temper the plentiful but sometimes misleading bulletins on the BBC World Service. We learned to balance the need to be alert for extended periods with people's physical needs to enable them to do it. Text book solutions were not always the answer. Morale was paramount: better to be 90% alert for 100% of the time than 100% for 90% of the time and risk getting caught out. We therefore made strategic improvements to physical comfort, such as occasionally reinstating chips on the menu when there was a lull and minimal fire risk from the deep-fat fryer!

Decisions had (and have) to be made on the best information at the time, these days with as much justification written down as possible because afterwards everyone wants to know why: then, many were to find this out the hard way long afterwards. Strain breaks through in a minority, however expert or tough they are, and you have to expect it, recognise it and know how to deal with it. Peace time practice and procedure did not prepare us for it then.

Ours was an exciting war - it was for everyone, but not one that drew much attention or that many will remember except for us, but that does not matter. We took part in almost every facet of the campaign, each was tested and we all owe our lives to the teamwork and spirit of each individual AMBUSCADE man. Reminiscences are endless: the loss of ARDENT so soon after our arrival, navigating the unfamiliar narrows of Falkland Sound for the first time and later the minefield, losing all but a single engine and limited to a minimum speed of 10 knots, the night we nearly lost a swimmer of the watch, the two Exocet attacks when our EW lookouts provided that vital first warning to the fleet, the noise level in Ops room during the first attack, the silence after our own escape as we searched for the casualties of ATLANTIC CONVEYOR instead.

Twice the Sonarmen found and chased the submarine lurking under the force hoping for a shot at INVINCIBLE (enemy torpedo HE does not sound like a flatulent whale!), night after night the Missilemen fired hundreds of rounds on Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) missions with precision, boats crews picked up urgent supplies from air drops, the aviators flew special forces ashore, the Weapons Engineers stayed up all day to keep the 4.5" gun serviceable, others would be up all night replenishing stores from a storeship - all in heavy seas, with stabilizers long since broken and in conditions quite unacceptable in peacetime. And, having won our spurs in those first few days, we always had to rush back to take up our daytime EW picket station on the screen. Built for NGS, able to engage two targets at once, the climax came on the night of the final advance on Port Stanley when we fired 228 rounds (6 tons of HE) in support of 2 Para, taking out two gun emplacements along the way.

While serious, the later notorious cracks in the ship's frame and the criticism of aluminium did not bother us. We had to live (carefully) with the cracks in those horrendous seas, but we later blessed the aluminium because it gave us our acceleration, high speed and endurance, and enabled us to be better armed and equipped than any other ship of our size. A brief word is always difficult, but perhaps the odd story may stir one or two to remember what was achieved. This was the sailor's war and AMBUSCADE did indeed do her bit.

"Yes son, that's what I did. We fought a good war; we returned safely and I'm proud of it!".
P J Mosse


CDR Peter J Mosse Captain HMS Ambuscade January 1982 - September1983 My Falklands photo selectionr )

 
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