During the Falklands War any ships found in the British exclusion zone were ripe for attacking. The SBS were heading out to apprehend an enemy trawler when they discovered it had already been bombed and strafed by RAF Harriers.
The ARA Narwal
The ARA Narwal was a fishing trawler that the Argentinians had equipped with technology and sensors so that it could conduct ELINT (electronic signals intelligence) missions. The British were conducting air patrols around the Falkland Islands ever since they arrived after the invasion by the Argentinian forces. During these air patrols British forces first saw the Narwal patrolling on 29th April 1982.
On 9th May British Sea Harriers left HMS Hermes and headed off to fight. The Harriers were dispatched with a mission to bomb Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, but the bad weather – it was winter – caused them to abort. Low cloud isn’t ideal for bombing raids for obvious reasons.
It was during the return to HMS Hermes that they spotted the Narwal vessel. The pilots were in luck because Narwal was patrolling in the British exclusion zone and this meant she could be attacked. The pilots requested permission from above to attack and it was granted.
The Sea Harriers from Fleet Air Arm 800 Naval Air Squadron thought it was best to use a 1000lb bomb to destroy the vessel. Now, the thing with the 1000lb bombs is that they need to be dropped from a certain height to ensure they arm in time before reaching their target.
The Sea Harriers were flying low in the Falklands War. I think because the Argentinians had the sea dart missiles on board their ships, the same as us, and they were not a great defence against low flying targets.
The Harriers were flying below the recommended height when they dropped the bomb. It failed to arm in time and therefore didn’t explode. It still caused some heavy damage to the vessel though and the before the Harriers returned to base they saw their opportunity to finish it off. Fl Lt Morgan and Lt Cdr Batt, the pilots for this mission, flew in low and strafed the Narwal with 30mm guns.
The impact of the bomb killed one man, the boatswain Omar Alberto Rupp. The British buried Rupp at sea on 10th May 1982.
Enter the Special Boat Service
The SBS had two boarding party’s in the area that were patrolling in Sea Kings. The British frogmen decided to capture the ship. With the helicopters hovering low to the ship, the SBS fast roped down and boarded the vessel. The operators maritime boarding skills were being put in to action this time as they flew down the ropes and on to the deck.
Here is a video showing some fast roping, it’s an awesome way to get on to a ship.
The British troops cleared the ship and didn’t need to kill any enemy so a job well done. They took off all the men, including the body of Omar Rupp. The bomb had injured a few men badly. Captain Juan Carlos Gonzalez from the Argentine Navy’s information service was also on board and captured, being released after the war was over.
Special Boat Service operators collected intelligence to take back during their time on the ship. They took the orders which when examined, proved that she had been shadowing the British ships, presumably relaying intelligence back to the Argentine military. The attack was justified.
As for the ship, it was taken in tow. The next day the vessel was damaged too badly to prevent it sinking. The boat crew had put out a distress signal and the Argentinian’s had sent a helicopter to attempt to recover the crew. HMS Coventry, the destroyer in the area took out the helicopter with a Sea Dart missile that killed all three men on board.
It was a crucial British victory in the Falklands War. The Narwal could have sent back some vital information that resulted in many British deaths so it was a good win.