Falklands War: Antwerp veteran survived attack on the Sheffield

This week it's exactly thirty years ago that Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands, a British dependency in the South Atlantic. Robert Chambers, who now lives in Antwerp in Belgium, is one of the many Britons sent to the South Atlantic as part of the British navy task force that liberated the islands.

Robert served as a technician aboard HMS Sheffield, the Royal Navy destroyer that was hit by an Argentine Exocet missile. The destroyer caught fire and finally sunk.

Robert Chambers: "In 1982 the HMS Sheffield was involved in a military exercise off Gibraltar. The exercises had been underway for several months and the vessel was in urgent need of repairs. Supplies of food too were down to rock bottom. The order to set sail for the Falklands came as a complete surprise to the entire crew. Everybody expected we would sail home after the exercise, but instead we sailed straight to war."

During the trip to the South Atlantic the HMS Sheffield was prepared for battle. Repairs were urgently carried out and the ship received supplies from other vessels.

"The most difficult moment for the crew was probably the evacuation of the children that were on board. In order to whet their appetite for a naval career the sons of crew members were allowed on board for several months during exercises. The realisation we were going to war made this a difficult leave-taking. Everybody was concerned about what was going to happen."

The conflict between Argentina and the UK escalated when Royal Navy submarines sank the Argentinian battle cruiser General Belgrano. Only a few days later HMS Sheffield came under attack from the Argentinian air force.

"We were carrying out reconnaissance, far from the rest of the fleet. I was drinking tea when the alert was sounded. Fighter jets had fired two Exocet missiles. One ended up in the sea, a second hit us amidships."

Robert believes that something had gone wrong.

"We noticed the missiles too late. When we saw them on the radar it was too late. The ship's emergency pump broke down too. The water pressure installation had been destroyed by the missile attack. It was only several hours later that the captain ordered us to abandon ship."

"I had never expected to get that order during my time in the navy, but I'm pleased I survived safe and sound."

interview: Joppe Matyn