ON THIS DAY: 1982: 20 die as HMS Sheffield destroyed by Argentina in Falklands War

HMS Sheffield ablaze on May 4, 1982.
HMS Sheffield ablaze on May 4, 1982.
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It was one of the darkest days in Sheffield's history.

For on May 4, 1982, at the height of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina, HMS Sheffield, the Royal Navy warship named after our city, was blasted by a missile, killing 20 personnel and injuring 24 others.

Sheffield was the first British warship to be lost in 37 years - and she was the first of four Royal Navy ships sunk during the conflict.

Hit by a missile fired from an Argentine fighter bomber, the ship had 268 crew aboard at the time of the attack and it wasn't until 10 May that the ship finally foundered.

The ship caught fire when a French-made Exocet missile penetrated deep into HMS Sheffield's control room. The blaze caused a poisonous smoke and most of the crew abandoned ship.

A major rescue operation was launched in the South Atlantic as relatives thousands of miles back in the UK waited for news of their loved ones.

The 4,100-ton destroyer was struck as it carried out a scouting mission off the Falklands, which Argentina had invaded and claimed as their own weeks earlier.

Announcing the news on television, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence Secretary, Ian McDonald, said the ship was "in the course of its duty within the total exclusion zone around the Falkland Isles".

The attack followed the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano. An Argentine diplomat in the United States said back in 1982 that the destruction of HMS Sheffield was "justified after the massacre that the English have done shelling our men and our ships".

It was the first of four Royal Navy ships sunk during the Falklands War. The others were the frigates Ardent and Antelope and the destroyer Coventry.

The Royal Fleet Auxillary vessel Sir Galahad and the British Merchant Navy ship Atlantic Conveyor were also lost.

After a bloody land battle, Argentine forces surrendered to the British and peace was declared on 20 June.

HMS SHEFFIELD: A HISTORY

* HMS Sheffield was the second Royal Navy ship to be named after the city of Sheffield.

* She was a Type 42 Guided Missile Destroyer laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering at Barrow-in-Furness on 15 January 1970. She was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on 10 June 1971.

* After the ship was struck and as her crew were waiting to be rescued, Sub Lieutenant Carrington-Wood led the crew in singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

* Over the six days from 4 May 1982, five inspections were made to see if any equipment was worth salvaging. Orders were issued to shore up the hole in Sheffield's starboard side and tow the ship to South Georgia.

* However, before these orders were effected the burnt-out hulk had already been taken in tow by the Rothesay-class frigate Yarmouth. The high seas that the ship was towed through caused slow flooding through the hole in the ship's side. This was the cause which eventually took her to the bottom. The ship sank on 10 May 1982.

* The wreck is a war grave and designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

* The official report into the sinking of the Sheffield, disclosed in 2006 under UK Freedom of Information laws after an extensive campaign by ex-RN personnel, severely criticised the ship's fire-fighting equipment, training and procedures and certain members of the crew.