Falklands landing craft tragedy remembered 40 years on

Topic: PeopleRemembrance Storyline: 4 ASRM

Personnel from across the Services, veterans and members of the Falklands community joined the Royal Navy’s Landing Craft community in remembering ‘the forgotten victim’ of the 1982 conflict.

Landing Craft (Utility) Foxtrot Four was the last Royal Navy vessel lost in the six-week war in the South Atlantic, attacked on the same day – June 8 – as the more well-known tragedy of Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram and the 200 casualties they suffered when bombed.

But in the Royal Marines and Royal Navy’s Amphibious Warfare community, the loss of the 30-metre-long craft, with four Marines and two Sailors, resonates to this day.

A memorial service is held every year by 4th Assault Squadron Royal Marines, aboard the UK’s amphibious flagship – currently HMS Albion – to mark the tragedy and honour the men lost.

Ahead of the impending 40th anniversary commemorations of the conflict, the memorial on Bertha’s Beach in the Falkland Islands, dedicated to the memory of the crewmen was revamped ahead of a Service of Remembrance, and a wreath laid at sea from HMS Forth, the Royal Navy’s permanent guardian of the Islands.

HMS Forth made the short voyage from her base in the islands to the spot where Foxtrot 4 was attacked late on June 8 1982 – near the mouth of Choiseul Sound about four miles southeast of Bertha’s Beach on East Falkland.

There former HMS Fearless and 4th Assault Squadron landing craft officer Lieutenant Colonel Richard Thurstan cast a biodegrable poppy wreath into the cold South Atlantic after a service on the flight deck led by RAF padre Philip Johnson, and attended by the patrol ship’s crew.

Forth then several more miles out to sea to the spot where the landing craft was last seen in 1982 following valiant efforts to salvage her, and the Still was piped in memory.

“There is nothing at the site – no wreck on the sea bed. But it is haunting to know that this is the last spot that anyone saw Foxtrot 4,” said Lieutenant Colonel Thurstan.

LCU F4 was one of four landing craft assigned to HMS Fearless with 4 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, designed to land commandos and their kit ashore… which they did from the moment the campaign to re-take the Falklands began with the landings at San Carlos on May 21.

But the large landing craft also saved many lives. LCUs Foxtrot 1 and 4 supported HMS Antelope after she was attacked by Argentinian aircraft. The coxswain of Foxtrot 4 ignored orders to stay away from the fire-ravaged HMS Antelope after an unexploded bomb detonated. The rescue of many crewmen from HMS Antelope by the craft, under difficult conditions, earned Foxtrot 4’s coxswain Colour Sergeant Brian Johnston RM the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.

He never lived to collect it. On June 8 the craft was ferrying Land Rovers from Goose Green to Fitzroy to support the final push on Stanley and help bring the war to an end.

Moving slowly in open waters, she proved easy prey for Argentine aircraft. A 500lb bomb dropped by a Skyhawk destroyed the wheelhouse and stern section of the boat, killing six crew.

Despite efforts to take the stricken boat in tow, she was eventually cut adrift. The following morning Foxtrot 4 was nowhere to be seen. The wreck remains unlocated to this day.

A memorial was subsequently erected to the lost crewmen on Bertha’s Beach – which remains a popular site with British personnel stationed in the Falklands.
Four decades on and thanks to money from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, and selfless work by Landing Craft coxswain Sergeant Dan Langley RM, Lieutenant Colonel Thurstan took a new memorial plaque to the site, dedicated by the RAF padre in the presence of islanders and veterans on the day after Forth’s memorial service.

There is nothing at the site – no wreck on the sea bed. But it is haunting to know that this is the last spot that anyone saw Foxtrot 4.

Lieutenant Colonel Thurstan