Conveyor's Last Voyage
From Merchant Ship to Aircraft Carrier
Following her requisition by the MoD on 6th April 1982, Atlantic Conveyor underwent an emergency two week refit during which her fore and aft decks were strengthened into flight decks.
Aviation fuel filled containers were stacked along Conveyor's sides to provide her charges with shelter from salty cross-winds whilst a makeshift forward magazine was created and filled with tons of cluster bombs and other munitions which could be lifted to deck level by a newly-fitted hoist.
An experienced civilian crew 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 created 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.
Although the purpose of Conveyor's conversion had been to create a specialist aircraft ferry, the required modifications had in effect transformed the ship into the semblance of an aircraft carrier.
This notion of Britain having suddenly acquired a new capital unit was leaked to the press shortly before Conveyor sailed and reinforced by the landing and launching of a Harrier from her foredeck in Plymouth Sound. It was hoped that the exaggeration of Conveyor's capabilities would add to pressure on the Argentinians to withdraw their invading forces from the Falkland Islands. The story certainly prompted the Soviets to send huge 'Bear' aircraft to photograph Conveyor's decks and monitor her progress south.
Task Force Helicopter Carrier
Three weeks after sailing, Conveyor rendezvoused with the British Task Force operating off the Falkland Islands and flew off all her Harriers to the real aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. This gave the fleet sufficient air power to support troop landings which commenced immediately afterwards.
Atlantic Conveyor had completed her mission as a jet ferry, but her flight decks had proved their worth and, rather than being sent off into a safe holding zone, Conveyor was adopted into the heart of the fleet where her heavy-duty helicopters were used to move stores, spare parts and munitions between the ships. For a few days, the illusion became reality when even senior naval officers started referring to Conveyor as Britain's third aircraft carrier.