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War Patrol The Falklands - HMS Onyx

Source: The Submariner 03/2004

HMS Onyx was on a visit to Plymouth when the summons came. Her Commanding Officer had just arrived at his home nearby when the telephone rang with orders to take his submarine back to Gosport. He would not be back for another 117 days.

Onyx sailed on 26th April and travelled on the surface for the journey south. For a long time it was believed that they would get no further than Ascension Island before some political agreement would be reached.

On arrival at Ascension Island, the Task Force's staging post in the middle of the Atlantic, Onyx hit trouble. They had to change a large number of cylinder heads on one of the diesel engines after it had over sped. The engineer actually shut it off by throwing his jacket over the air intake. Also a small hole in one of the external fuel tanks had to be repaired, as no trail of oil could be left behind. This was done by the XO, who also was a ship's diver He very courageously spent a long period in the open sea, over the side in oily water in a rubber suit which gradually deteriorated in the oil trying to patch a metal blanket over it.

As Onyx neared her destination she spent more time dived to avoid detection and in the end, around half the entire period of her "cruise" was carried out submerged. There was little time for relaxation, although she was able to stop for the traditional ceremony as she "crossed the line" of the Equator.

Onyx had a double role, as well as adding the submarine deterrent, she could also be employed in reconnaissance and "cloak and dagger" operations, taking periscope photographs of enemy installations and likely landing areas for small groups of Special Forces. Onyx was better suited for this as she could move closer inshore where her silence of operation afforded her extra protection.

At Ascension Island, she picked up yet another cargo of SAS/SBS men trained in the clandestine arts of sabotage ashore for a series of operations. The crew worried about them every time they left, as it wasn't always the Onyx who picked them up again.

It was not very pleasant getting them on and off it was generally very difficult to see or hear anything at all and it was just a question of gritting your teeth and hanging on and having faith in your navigation and not being put off when it was blowing a Force 12 and pouring with rain.

One of the biggest problems was the navigational information available. The charts for this part of the globe were mainly signed by one Captain James Cook over 200 years ago. The give away was where the distance between the soundings of the seabed got to be five or ten miles apart. Onyx hit one rock that James Cook missed which put a bit of a dent in the front end of the submarine.

After the news of the Argentine surrender at Port Stanley, Onyx did not begin her return journey until the end of July and then was slowed down by trouble with a main engine. The trip north after crossing the equator was made on one engine. The evening before entering harbor, Onyx anchored off the Solent.

The next morning the windlass used to pull up the anchor seized and Onyx had to leave the anchor and cable behind on the seabed. During the conflict the submarine had performed outstandingly well. 20,000 miles where logged and she was met with cheering crowds.

At the next Submarine Old Comrades Association dinner, the Commanding Officer was presented the Efficiency Shield for the year by Flag Officer Submarines


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