'Majestically Awful Sight': Loss Of HMS Antelope In Falklands War

The Type 21 frigate was destroyed as an unexploded Argentine bomb triggered while ordnance disposal experts tried to disarm it.

It is 39 years since Royal Navy frigate HMS Antelope was destroyed during the Falklands War, in May 1982.

She now rests about 80 feet below sea level in San Carlos Bay in the Falklands, several hundred miles from Argentina's east coast.

Sitting upright, almost snapped in two, is the shattered hull of the frigate, torn apart by a series of explosions after bomb disposal experts triggered an unexploded device, in turn detonating the ship's magazine.

Antelope's White Ensign is replaced by visiting Royal Navy dive teams when they are in the area.

The day before the explosion, the Type 21 frigate had come under ferocious Argentine air attack as she stood guard at the entrance to San Carlos – the focal point of British efforts to liberate the Falklands.

One Argentine aircraft was shot down – it struck and bent the main mast – while two 1,000lb bombs buried themselves in the ship.

They failed to explode but killed Steward Mark Stephens.

On 24 May 1982, as bomb disposal experts tried to disarm the explosives, one of the bombs detonated, killing Staff Sergeant Jim Prescott and seriously injuring one of his colleagues.

HMS Antelope shortly before she sank in San Carlos Bay (Picture: Royal Navy).

The explosion which ensued that Sunday evening provided one of the most terrifying, yet enduring images of the conflict – "a majestically awful sight", wrote Royal Marine Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who was watching from the bridge of HMS Fearless.

Flames flared and died down. Spotlights from helicopters drifted across the water.

Landing craft buzzed about, ferrying Antelope's crew to safety.

Antelope's horrific demise provided one of the iconic images of the conflict.

It was "the loudest bang I ever heard," recalled Chief Petty Officer Robert Shadbolt, who was standing by the hangar door at the time of the explosion.

CPO Shadbolt peered over the ship's side: "The most horrendous fire was raging," he said.

Electric cables flapped about, arcing.

Firefighters tried to tackle the blaze but the blast had knocked out the fire mains.

Commander Nick Tobin then ordered his men to abandon ship.

Watch: The Falklands War explained in three minutes.

The fires raged uncontrolled, reaching the Sea Cat missile magazine – mercifully after the last sailor had left the frigate.

Her back broken, her bow and stern pointing in opposite directions at sharp angles she finally slipped beneath the waters for good.

Last year, Royal Navy sailors on HMS Forth deployed to the Falkland Islands to commemorate the sacrifices of British personnel during 'Landing Day' in the 1982 conflict.

Personnel took part in a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the anniversary in San Carlos Bay, near where HMS Antelope was sunk during the conflict.

Cover image: HMS Antelope smoulders as she sinks in San Carlos Bay (Picture: Royal Navy).