Last Voyage

Atlantic Conveyor's Last Voyage

  1. Taken up from Trade

2nd April, 1982

Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands (FI) over which it had long claimed sovereignty.

6th April

Mrs Thatcher, the British Prime Minister set up a War Cabinet with the intention of liberating the islanders as soon as practically possible. Whilst the British government sought a peaceful resolution through the United Nations, they tasked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with preparing a plan to recapture the islands by force. Any military solution faced huge logistic difficulties. Invasion forces would have to be transported some 8,000 miles and provided with air support whilst undertaking operations against soldiers who were dug in and covered by aircraft and ships operating from nearby bases on the Argentine mainland.

14th April

The MoD took the Cunard container ship Atlantic Conveyor up from trade (referred to as a STUFT ship). She was to be converted into an aircraft ferry capable of carrying mothballed Harrier jump jets to the warzone. Her fore and aft decks were strengthened, so they could fly aircraft on and off.

16th - 24th April

Conveyor was moved to Devonport Dockyard to complete her conversion. Thought was given to using her as prison ship later in the campaign if the invasion proved a success.

Containers were stacked along Conveyor's sides to provide aircraft stored on deck with shelter from salty cross-winds. Giant rubber bags were fitted inside these to hold aviation fuel for the embarked aircraft. A makeshift magazine was created forward and filled with tons of cluster bombs and other munitions which could be lifted to flight deck level by a newly-fitted hoist.

A crew of experienced civilian volunteers was assembled to sail her, whilst the military provided aircrew, technicians and medical staff. Life-rafts were attached to Conveyor's superstructure to complement her two lifeboats and a mini-hospital and first aid posts were improvised using equipment ripped out of old ships.

Once the work was complete, men from nearby establishments were turned out to help fill Conveyor's hollow decks with stores needed for the war effort.

Left and top: First aid cabinet and operating table in 'hospital' ripped from old warships.

Right: Life rafts fitted to superstructure where possible and equipment being loaded into Conveyor's storage decks.

25th April

Conveyor was anchored out in Plymouth Sound where 5 Chinook (18 squadron) and 6 Wessex V (848 squadron) heavy-lift helicopters were embarked.

Then came a trial landing of a Harrier jump jet onto her forward flight deck. The media had been surreptitiously informed that Conveyor might be able to fly the Harriers off for raids and defence like a real aircraft carrier, and turned up to film her departure.

Conveyor' sailed with the veteran mariner Captain Ian North as her master with 30 volunteer Merchant Navy crew, 36 military assigned to the ship as Naval Party 1840 under Captain Mike Layard, flight crew, and members of the Mobile Aircraft Repair Transport and Salvage Unit (MARTSU).