Atlantic Conveyor

The incredible story of merchant ship transformed into an aircraft carrier and accidentally sent to her destruction

The Conveyor's Last Voyage - Part Four

Continuing the summary of the Atlantic Conveyor's Falklands service:

Part I: From Conversion to Ascension

Part II: Ascension to Falklands Exclusion Zone

Part III: The Argentine Exocet Attack of 25th May

Part IV: The Return Home <This page>

Analysis of the Exocet Attack

Above - Burial service (Source: Author)

British Tay

Although Conveyor's survivors had been made very welcome on board the rescuing frigates, Alacrity and Brilliant, their dark mood was soon casting a shadow over what were operationally-ready vessels. On the morning of 26th May, the survivors were transferred to Hermes where they gathered on the flight deck for a multi-denominational burial service.

Later, they were transported by helicopter to the tanker British Tay which was about to head north. As it was still hoped stores could be rescued from Conveyor's hulk air engineer Ken White was briefly held behind to map out where particular goods might be found.

The sparse accommodation available aboard British Tay was immediately swamped by the newcomers who had to make-do as best they could. Although everyday essentials like underwear and toothbrushes were in short supply, the men did their best to entertain themselves on the passage to Ascension.

Atlantic Conveyor survivors on board British Tay heading for Ascension Island (thanks to Nige Phillips)

If you would like to help identify crew members then please go here.

Part-way through, a mail drop was received which included redirected letters from loved ones back home. One wife writing before Conveyor was hit said how pleased she'd been to hear that all the requisitioned merchant ships were now on their way home. In a second letter, she related how she'd been unable to find out anything about her husband's whereabouts since being told he'd survived the attack a week earlier.

The arrival of mail coincided with a signal from the MoD asking for the names of volunteers who were prepared to go back to the front line. In the event, no one put their name forward, which the doctor thought was probably the right decision all round. In his view, the Conveyor's old crew needed rest and recuperation before facing the trauma of war again.

The night before the Tay arrived at Ascension, her crew threw a party for their guests and virtually everyone ended up the worse for wear. One crewman suffered particularly badly after having decided to take a swim in the ship's swimming pool, only to find it empty of water. He was strapped up by the medics.

On reaching Ascension, there was a debriefing about what was known about the Exocet attack that had claimed Conveyor. The take-away message was that she had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Exocets had flown around until they'd found a chaffless vessel to home in on.

There was also talk of financial loans and information given about claiming for gear and personal effects lost on the ship.


On 7th June, Conveyor's surviving crew members were greeted by their loved ones at Brize Norton. The media were there to film the reunions and interview any prepared to speak of their experiences.

Sadly, unsympathetic reporters only really seemed interested in hearing about how close crewmen had been to the Exocets' blast and how they felt about it.

The ship's Public Relations Officer (the doctor) draped his British Tay dry swimming casualty in a coat and steered him away from the cameras in case anyone pounced on the unfortunate man to find out the gory details of his embarrassing 'war wound'.

A typical [Atlantic Conveyor] survivor

Afterwards, when the PRO spoke to the BBC, his words were entirely drowned out by the yells of his two-month-old daughter who was probably quite shocked to find a bearded man of the sea entering her life. Bizarrely, the moment was caught by a cameraman snapping pictures through a bus window and the resulting image took on a life of its own, later to be used by C4 to represent a typical survivor.

Unlike for other ships, there was to be no hero's return for Conveyor’s crew.

On 21st June, the MoD convened a Board of Inquiry to look into the reasons for Conveyor’s loss. The purpose was to discover what more could have been done to save the ship after she had been hit.

More than a few survivors, already burdened with their own traumas from the sinking, found the experience particularly insensitive.

Safe to say, despite officialdom looking around for people to blame for the tragic loss of ten of Conveyor's twelve helicopters (3 Chinooks + 6 Wessex V + 1 Lynx ) and vast quantities of stores, once the Exocets had spewed their burning propellant amongst the flammable materials and munitions of the container ship's open-decked' belly, the ship had been doomed.

It was a matter of luck that the smouldering forward magazine hadn't caught and broken the ship's back much earlier.

Above - Extract from the Daily Mail reporting the Conveyor survivors' return to Brize Norton.

Note: The false story of the ship having been caught on her way into San Carlos Water overnight is already starting to take hold. It will subsequently be used in many media articles and documentaries, such as (Source: author)

On 1st July 1982, a service of remembrance was held at Liverpool Cathedral for those who died on Conveyor and in the surrounding waters. She'd been a Liverpool ship and the city wanted to remember one of their own.

This year (2022), services were held at the Liverpool Pier-Head memorial and at the cathedral on the 40th anniversary of the ship's loss.


Part I: From Conversion to Ascension

Part II: Ascension to Falklands Exclusion Zone

Part III: The Argentine Exocet Attack of 25th May

Part IV: The Return Home <This page>

Analysis of the Exocet Attack

Above - Conveyor memorial at San Carlos on Falkland Islands (Source: Peter Mosse)

Left - Artistic view of the Conveyor memorial by Chris Bolton