Put on Hold, Missile Sank British Ship

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From Times Wire Services

A telephone call during the 1982 Falklands War by the captain of the British frigate Sheffield prevented it from operating its anti-missile defenses against an Exocet missile attack by an Argentine warplane that sank the ship with the loss of 20 crewmen, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

A spokesman, confirming a report in London’s Daily Mirror newspaper, said the Sheffield’s captain, Commodore James Salt, was making “an urgent operational call” to navy headquarters near London when the missile hit.

“There’s no dispute about the ship transmitting at the time of the attack,” the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The electronic countermeasures equipment was affected by the transmission. Steps have been taken to avoid a repetition.”


He refused to disclose the exact nature of the call.

The Mirror quoted Salt as saying the telephone communications system was on the same frequency as the Exocet’s tell-tale radar signal, and its lower noise level meant the ship could not hear the warning signals given off by the missile in the May 4, 1982, attack.

No Evasive Action

The paper said the call prevented the Sheffield from taking evasive action.

It quoted Salt as saying: “We were expecting an Exocet attack, but we had to use the phone to London because there’s an awful lot of things to talk about and not all the (British) ships had the satellite communications system.

“I feel very guilty about what happened. It was an appalling coincidence. But one has to be philosophical about it or you wouldn’t be able to go on.”

No disciplinary action was taken against Salt or his crew for the sinking of the Sheffield.

Salt now has a shore job with the Royal Navy. He is chief of staff to the fleet commander-in-chief.

Argentina sent troops to the Falkland Islands, off its southeast coast, on April 2, 1982, and captured the lightly defended British colony. British forces recaptured the islands in a 74-day war in which 255 Britons and 712 Argentines were killed.