Albion remembers landing craft heroes

The dry wood-panelled lined well dock of Britain’s flagship HMS Albion became the fitting setting for a service of remembrance to six landing craft crew killed 37 years ago.

While tragedies such as the loss of HMS Sheffield and Coventry and the bombing of RFA Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad are seared into the memories of most Falklands veterans – and the wider naval family – in the small landing craft fraternity, it is the events of June 8 1982 which continue to resonate.

For three weeks, coxswain Colour Sergeant Brian Johnston and his five RM/RN colleagues in large landing craft Foxtrot 4 from assault ship HMS Fearless – Albion’s predecessor – had given their all in the campaign to liberate the Falklands from the Argentine junta.

With other craft from Fearless and her sister Intrepid, C/Sgt Johnston had ferried marines and their equipment ashore at San Carlos.

Foxtrot’s 4 coxswain laid his craft alongside the Antelope and began to both fight the fire and take off survivors.

Foxtrot 4 was still in the vicinity when frigate HMS Antelope came under enemy air attack. One of the bombs which struck the Type 21 frigate failed to explode… but subsequently detonated during attempts to defuse it.

The explosion and resulting fires provided some of the most gruesomely iconic images of the 1982 conflict. More importantly, it meant Antelope’s crew needed rescuing.

Foxtrot’s 4 coxswain laid his craft alongside the Antelope and began to both fight the fire and take off survivors. As the fire grew more intense, C/Sgt Johnston was ordered to break off his rescue mission.

He ignored orders and continued to take survivors – 100 in total – aboard his craft before finally pulling away to safety.

His deeds that day earned the Royal Marine the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. He never lived to collect it. On June 8 the landing craft was attacked and sunk by Argentine aircraft in Choiseul Sound. All six crew were killed.

Ever since, a service of remembrance has been held by 4 Assault Squadron RM on whichever ship it’s assigned to – currently HMS Albion, leading the UK’s two-month deployment to the Baltic as flagship of the new Joint Expeditionary Force naval task group.

In addition to the commemoration, Albion is home to landing craft Foxtrot Juliet (J for Johnston).