HMS Dragon honours the fallen of Glamorgan

One Welsh warship honoured another as HMS Dragon paused in the grey wastes of the South Atlantic to reflect on sacrifices made by British sailors in the cause of freedom.

The Portsmouth-based destroyer stopped over the spot where her forebear, HMS Glamorgan, was hit by an Argentine missile nearly 33 years ago, some 20 miles off the coast of the Falklands.

Leading tributes during a service of remembrance for the 14 sailors killed was Paul Engeham, in 1982 the staff communications officer aboard Glamorgan, a County-class guided missile destroyer, also based in Portsmouth.

The entire ship’s company of HMS Dragon reminded me of the special bond between all sailors at sea and I am truly honoured to have remembered my shipmates in such company.

Paul Engeham, veteran of HMS Glamorgan

Both ships were designed to shield the Fleet from air attack, both carry Dragons on their ship’s badges – and, in HMS Dragon’s case, also on her bow as a giant motif. And both ships are inextricably bound with Wales – Glamorgan with her namesake historic county, Dragon with the Welsh capital, her affiliated city. 

Dragon’s crew gathered on the Type 45 destroyer’s flight deck to pay their respects before Mr Engeham cast a wreath into the ocean.

“We lost some really good men that day and I shall never forget the bravely and fortitude of all onboard to get the job done and return to the front line,” said Mr Engeham. “It was a real privilege to pass over the spot where HMS Glamorgan was hit. It seemed fitting to do so in a ship which, like Glamorgan, is at the forefront of Naval technology in her time.

“The entire ship’s company of HMS Dragon reminded me of the special bond between all sailors at sea and I am truly honoured to have remembered my shipmates in such company.”

Because Glamorgan didn’t sink unlike other ships bombed or struck by missiles during the six-week conflict – six Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and merchant ships were lost – her former crew often regard her as the war’s ‘forgotten warship’. Just two days before Argentine forces surrendered, Glamorgan was called upon to provide fire support for the Royal Marines of 45 Commando storming Two Sisters to the west of the capital Stanley. Having completed her mission, the destroyer began to move away from the coast to rejoin the task force – only to be hit by a land-based Exocet missile.

The impact destroyed the ship’s Wessex helicopter in the hangar and the blast killed 14 men. But had the Exocet struck three inches lower, it would have exploded in Glamorgan’s main missile magazine – and the resulting explosion would have torn the ship apart. As it was, crew fought for three and a half hours to save Glamorgan, flooding compartments, melting wardroom spoons for welding, using sacks of potatoes to improve stability, while firefighters ignored ammunition ‘cooking off’ to tackle the raging blazes. The ship subsequently returned to Portsmouth for repairs and continued to serve the Royal Navy until she was sold to the Chilean Navy in 1986.

HMS Dragon is three months into an Atlantic and Pacific patrol which so far has taken her to the Caribbean, Panama, Chile and now Britain’s dependencies in the South Atlantic.