“I’m angry… they were sitting ducks… we’ve got parts of the truth but we haven’t got the full truth”.
The words of Mike Hermanis, who was on the Sir Galahad as 48 people died when it was bombed in the Falklands War.
Newly declassified documents reveal confusion, delays and missed opportunities to move them to safety.
The UK government said it is confident in the “findings and recommendations” of the 1982 Board of Inquiry.
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Mr Hermanis, 60, from Newport, was aboard as a 19-year-old Guardsman when it was attacked in June 1982.
“I got hit as we were going through the galley, to get out into the open. Five minutes before, I was downstairs talking to the guys from the rugby team, Clifford Elley and Simon Weston, Andy Walker, boys who were in mortar platoon, mates of mine,” he said.
“Five minutes later they’re gone, they’ve either been bloody blown apart or burnt to a bloody crisp – it’s horrendous, you know, it sticks in your head”.
Family members of those who lost their lives, and survivors of the attack, are calling for the remaining classified documents to be released.
Mr Hermanis said he and his friends have had to listen to “lies” about the regiment and the attack for the past 40 years.
“What really hurts is that this has happened to us, and then to add insult to injury, the memory of our men and us has been rubbished”.
What happened to the Sir Galahad ?
In April 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory in the south-west Atlantic, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a taskforce to take them back.
By the end of May, British troops had made successful landings to the far west of Port Stanley near Goose Green, and to the north, closer to the capital.
However, Argentina refused to surrender, and so in June another brigade which consisted mainly of Welsh and Scots Guards were sent to open up a southern flank.
But things started to go wrong.
The Scots Guards were dropped off by the Royal Navy on to landing craft five hours from shore, and were almost hit by another British ship. Worse was to come for the Welsh Guards.
First, some of their landing craft failed to show up, and the regiment was separated on their way to Bluff Cove.
The remaining soldiers were put on a civilian ship, RFA Sir Galahad, where they became easy targets for Argentine jets.
On 8 June 1982, the Sir Galahad was packed full of ammunition, fuel and soldiers, including hundreds of Welsh Guards.
In what became one of the most controversial moments of the Falklands War, it was bombed by Argentine jets – killing 48 men, including 32 Welsh Guards.
The Sir Galahad was an undefended Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply vessel and not an armed Royal Navy ship. There was no single greater loss of life in the conflict.
An official inquiry, held in private just after the war, found the tragedy was not down to “error” but down to the “ordinary chances of war”.
Despite this, for four decades some people have blamed the Welsh Guards for not leaving the ship earlier.
However, the recently declassified documents, including testimony from the captain of the Sir Galahad, reveal the soldiers were taken to the wrong place, at the wrong time, on an undefended ship that received no warning about the attack.
Karen Edwards, 67, who lost her brother Steve Newbury, and who also worked at the Welsh Guards headquarters, said she has been waiting four decades for the “truth”.
Ms Edwards said: “All I want now is for the truth to come out. I’m fuming, absolutely fuming.
“He needn’t have died, that’s the worst part about it, they needn’t have died, none of them,” she said.
“There’s a different story to what we were given. The story we were given was that the battalion was at fault, and we thought the battalion was at fault. But obviously not.
“I would like these documents opened now – is there a reason they can’t show them?
“I’m 67. By the time they’re open I’m not going to be here.
“They were right not to get off the boat if that’s what they were ordered, but why weren’t they given warnings of these aircraft coming in? They just left them there like sitting ducks.”
Former Welsh Guards officer Crispin Black said “the screaming, and smell of burning flesh” will remain with him forever.
The former intelligence adviser in the Cabinet Office, who survived the bombing, said the Welsh Guards were right to not leave the ship in the hours before the attack as they were in entirely the wrong place.
In his new book about the attack, Too Thin for a Shroud, he said the new documents right the wrongs of the past four decades.
“I feel angry – I feel very sad. A lot of our soldiers were killed that day, a lot of people wounded, not just Welsh Guardsmen, the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy, a whole host of them, Army medics who were injured or killed in the most horrific way,” he said.
“To realise the stories that have been put about aren’t true at all, or are missing key facts, is something I found very depressing.
“When you take those things cumulatively, and other things in the book, you can’t just say, these were the chances of war.”
Documents including testimony from the captain of the Sir Galahad, Philip Roberts, redacted sections of the original inquiry and maps held at the National Archives in Kew, London have been declassified.
The original inquiry recognised the Welsh Guards were ordered to Bluff Cove and ordered to not be separated from their equipment.
In his testimony, Capt Roberts also said he was originally ordered to take the Welsh Guards to Bluff Cove
However, when an opportunity arose for the Welsh Guards to leave the ship, it was in a place called Port Pleasant, which meant the troops, who could have been fighting within hours, would have been dropped in the wrong place and separated from their equipment.
Mr Black said it was the right decision not to the leave the ship at that point.
“We wanted to go to that war, very strongly. We were prepared to risk our lives,” he said.
“And even if you take then view that it was ‘the chances of war’, make it the chances of war, don’t try and blame the Welsh Guards for what happened to us.”
The documents lay bare a series of avoidable delays that led to the troops not getting off the ship.
Testimony from Capt Roberts shows smaller boats, known as Landing Craft Utility (LCU) that could have removed the Welsh Guards were gone for hours at a time, and then further “commandeered” to take vehicles ashore before the troops.
In his report, written 10 days after the Sir Galahad was attacked, Capt Roberts said: “The LCU returned to pick up the Welsh Guards to take them around to Bluff Cove as previously arranged, however it was commandeered… to take three Land Rovers, four trailers, plus some of his field ambulance to Fitzroy settlement”.
There was then a further delay because a loading ramp on the Sir Galahad malfunctioned. Not long after, the ship, now in broad daylight and unprotected, packed full of munitions and troops was attacked by Argentine jets.
In his testimony, Capt Roberts said the ship received no warning and was “taken completely by surprise”.
He said: “My immediate reaction was to rush to the starboard wing of the bridge to assess the damage, and already the starboard was covered in billowing black smoke”.
Another document shows the Sir Galahad did not benefit from the kind of surface to air missile protection that other forces had. Other documents about the attack are not due to be released until 2065.
“All the documents should be declassified, this is 40 years later. This is like hiding a document about D-day in 1985, it’s crazy, I think they should come out,” Mr Black said.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The loss of RFA Sir Galahad due to enemy action was a tragedy. The sacrifice made by those onboard will not be forgotten and we remain grateful to all the armed forces personnel and civilians who bravely served in the Falklands conflict.
“A Board of Inquiry was convened in 1982 to investigate the loss of RFA Sir Galahad. We remain confident in its findings and recommendations.”
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