Penelope in company with Bristol, Andromeda, Minerva, Active and Avenger sailed from Devonport to the South Atlantic. The group was the first reinforcement for the 'Operation Corporate' Task Force and would be joined later by Cardiff and RFA Olna.
The passage South was fast and the ship successfully negotiated everything from intensive weapon training to the perils of King Neptune's Court. Penelope found herself facing the rugged and uninviting terrain of Ascension Island, Anchored just long enough to embark some last minutes stores, ammunition and to receive some welcome mail.
A popular spectator pastime during this brief stopover was provided by an abundance of a species of small black fish, in response to any bait they would appear in their hundreds and like piranhas had a voracious appetite and turned the sea into a boiling cauldron. Relaxation was short lived though and soon it was off south again, closed up at defence watches and proceeding firmly on a war footing. During the trip the climate changed dramatically from average UK spring, to a freezing cold South Atlantic winter. On the 21st May brought the welcome news that UK force had landed and established a bridgehead at San Carlos.
On 22nd May an 'Argy' Boeing 707 provided the first encounter with the enemy. The long-range reconnaissance aircraft appeared on the radar screens, 'Action Stations was sounded for the first time in anger. Sea Dart missiles from Bristol and Cardiff engaged the aircraft, but they were fired at extreme range and the Boeing escaped to fight another day. On 23rd May, the strain on the machinery of the sustained fast and long passage finally proved too much when the lub'' oil pipe fractured in the engine room and the ship was forced to slow down. However the engineers were quickly in action and in a matter of hours Penelope was under way once more at high speed towards the Total Exclusion Zone.
By 25th May, the effects of the South Atlantic winter began to be felt. The temperature dropped dramatically. There was no steam heating in the ship, a-ploy that encouraged everyone to wear three or four layers of clothing. Refuelling at sea became a more hazardous evaluation as the sea roughened. News of the loss of Coventry and the Atlantic Conveyor reached the ship and provoked an atmosphere of shock, anger and resolution. Sonar contacts became more frequent over the next few days, mostly caused by marine life and ships wakes. It's a sad aspect of anti-submarine warfare measures taken by some ships that the South Atlantic whales suffered the devastating effects of torpedoes and depth charge attacks. Early in the morning of the 27th May, the Carrier Battle Group appeared on the horizon. At lunchtime we went to Action Stations, in response to our first 'Air-raid Warning Red' in the T.E.Z. Fortunately the only casualty was lunch. Later in the day Penelope's Lynx helicopter had a busy time transferring stores embarked at Ascension Island for other ships. Stores distribution was to become a real problem as the operation continued.
By the 29th May, brought worsening weather, blizzards and gale force winds gusting up to 85 knots, and a tea time scare when an unidentified aircraft was detected 40 miles to the north of the force. Presumed to be a reconnaissance plane it departed without any action. The evening Penelope detached from the Battle Group with Fearless and Minerva to the Amphibious Objective Area in the east Falkland’s. Progress was thwarted by gearbox trouble but repairs were quickly effected. The main task was to escort our damaged sister ship Argonaut out of San Carlos Water. She had been hit while supporting the amphibious landings and for several days had lived with an unexploded bomb in her Seacat magazine.
On returning to the Carrier Group on the 30th May, the Lynx helicopter had just departed to Hermes as an air raid closed force. Enemy aircraft attacked and one, 'Super Etendard', probably fired an Exocet missile. One of the accompanying aircraft was shot down as it attempted to bomb one of our type 21's. Later in the day another air-raid warning was called but the aircraft failed to close on the force. Later we learned that the Argentinean 'Junta' claimed to have hit Invincible during these raids. The nightly role of convoy escorts continued with transits inshore waters of the Falklands and on the 1st June, as a return was made to the Battle Group, Penelope clocked up her 10,000 miles, since leaving Devonport.
Penelope adopted the role of Battle Group Post office. On the 1st June, and 2nd June, on being detached for air-drops Ursula and Vera, sailing to the north-east of the Falklands to rendezvous with the RAF Hercules from Ascension Island. These Hercules were providing an air-bridge ferry of essential stores to the Task Force. As well as the stores, also collected was the new C.O. of 2nd Para, Lt. Col.Chaundler, who parachuted in from 1500 ft, - not the 25,000 reported in the press. The ships company were disappointed when the Colonel's dog failed to arrive in the next drop! Later the Colonel transferred to Hermes then onto FEARLESS, and by evening was ashore with his troops. Back with the Battle Group on 3rd June, life seemed to mean going round in ever decreasing circles. Once again stores were despatched, the ships refuelled (a frequent and tiring necessity) the weather continued to be unfriendly, carriers continued to be intent on savaging poor frigates. However life in the Task Force was always unpredictable and Penelope was detached for 3 days to go into San Carlos Water Bomb Alley, slipping quietly in after day break on 4th June, to start what was to be the routine for the next 13 days - not the 3 days as previously thought. From sunrise to dusk the days were spent at full action stations and the nights at defence stations usually running; fast convoys of troops and supply ships back and fourth to their landing areas. There were frequent 'Red Alerts' and it became clear that the Argentinean's were making a determined effort to blitz San Carlos Water and the precious chain of merchant ships. Food was rudimentary and had to be nibbled at one's place of action, such delights as BAMPS, (Bomb Alley Meat Pies) and tinned sausages kept the ships company going. Many 'Red' warnings were caused by eye level bombing runs aimed at the troops en-route to Stanley which passed over San Carlos and we were in company with Exeter and she spectacularly splashed a high flying aircraft with a Seadart missile.
Night operations proved equally exciting, every night an escort was provided for convoys from San Carlos out to an R/V and then return with another convoy. On several nights fast passages were made south through Falklands south and east to Port Fitzroy area an escort to Fearless and Intrepid. The 8th June, was a particularly black day. Having escorted the troop ships taking the Welsh and Scots Guards bound for Bluff Cove over several nights it was a sad blow to learn of the heavy air attack on the Welsh Guards and the many dead and wounded in SIR Tristram and SIR GALAHAD. That day also, enemy aircraft passed over Falkland Sound on their way to Bluff Cove came across Plymouth and bombed her just before she was able to reach the safety of San Carlos Water. She hove in sight around the headland belching smoke, although both ourselves and Avenger offered assistance she quickly got the fires under control, she was very lucky having been hit by 3 bombs and by cannon and rocket fire. On the 8th June, Penelope's helicopter also had a narrow escape. While conducting a reconnaissance of the Pebble Island area it twice came under small arms fire. When at action station in San Carlos Water and under direct threat of air attack the helicopter would automatically be launched in record time on receipt of a 'green' from the bridge and fly towards land where it would hover until the attack was over. This tactic-avoided damage to a valuable asset and achieved instant S.A.R. (Search and Rescue), readiness should the ship have been hit.
On the night of 9th June, Penelope sailed to one of the northern islands in the West Falklands for a 'Special Operation’, slipping back into San Carlos at dawn. It was during these nights around the Falklands that we saw much evidence of the artillery action and fierce fighting ashore with the sky continually illuminated by flares and gunfire. The 10th June also saw a high incidence of 'Red' warnings as the Argentinean Air Force once again turned their attention onto San Carlos. Luckily good 'Combat Air Patrol' cover by Sea Harriers managed to keep them at bay.
Refuelling became a more routine event as in San Carlos Water it was carried out along side the resident tanker. All very well until air raid warning 'RED' was called, being next to a tanker in a situation like that was far from ideal. The 14th June 1982, just before the final event! that led to the capture of Stanley will probably be the most talked about day of Penelope's involvement in Operation Corporate. Early that morning several enemy aircraft accompanied by the Exocet missile carrying Super Etendard had flown from the mainland to attack our troops surrounding the town and harass the British shipping. As they opened to the Northeast they spotted Penelope underway with a merchantman in company heading east. A missile was seen to have been launched and those on the upper deck saw its menacing red glow descending from the launch aircraft to skim at wave-top level towards the Penelope. Thanks to the first class reaction by all concerned including some violent manoeuvring which produced a very high-indicated speed Penelope avoided being hit. It was a most sobering experience. The merchant man who would not have known at the time the finer points of the dire danger threatening, observed Penelope's dramatic missile response to the threat and signalled - "We enjoyed the fireworks display".
News of the Argentinean surrender came later that day giving Penelope the claim to be the last ship to come under air attack during the Falkland Operation. Port Stanley was our next immediate destination, a welcome change of scenery. President Galtieri resigned on the 17th June, apparently causing jubilation among the Argentinean prisoners in SS Canberra, and later that day Canberra sailed with 5,000 prisoners, bound for Argentina and a frosty reception.
The following weeks were spent in Port William and Stanley. In this relatively quiet period the ship was able to send parties ashore to stretch legs and view Stanley. The scars of war were very apparent and the sheer volume of the Argentine ammunition and equipment surprised everyone. The helicopter was kept busy over the next few days, transferring men and stores into Stanley. Everyone did not welcome the Lynx, when it chose the Brigadier's front lawn, as a landing site the reception was definitely not courteous. Such language!
Two projects were undertaken during the week. First was to assist the newly appointed QHM (Queens Harbour Master), to establish his organisation ashore and secondly to salvage and re-float the Argentine patrol-boat RIO ICVATO which our Lynx had attacked and damaged previously. An interesting find had been made on the 20th June, as our anchor was weighed to move berth. Instead of recovering one anchor, up came two. The second, which had become snagged in the cable, was of the old sailing ship type and a fine antique. Discussions continued all week but failed to find a solution to the problem of getting the trophy to Plymouth. Reluctantly it was returned to the sea, its position marked carefully in the hope of returning one day to salvage it.
As the ships of the Task Force began to move homewards, it seemed that the spirit of the Flying Dutchman was coming home to roost, with Penelope seemingly cursed to sail the Southern Seas forever. The ship sailed on the 24th June for a patrol of the West Falkland Islands. In some ways this was a break from the grip of Port Stanley authorities where, for a nation who has recently 'returned an empire' there were some remarkable demonstrations of empire building. Most notable of these was the appearance of RAF Stanley, rising Phoenix-like from the ashes only to find its feed flight hampered by the reluctance to land Hercules aircraft.
After an absence of 27 days Penelope rejoined the Battle Group on the 1st July, for one day, having originally been detached for 3 days. Throughout the war only one casualty had been suffered and that was 'self inflicted' by our own Medics!, L/Stwd Alan Kipps, suffering from an appendicitis was transferred by air to Canberra where he was treated surgically. Of our ship's company he was the sole person to see Argentina when Canberra returned her prisoners.
Since the now seemingly far off days of the war there has been much hard, yet interesting, work often on lonely patrols as a picket to the west of the Falklands sometimes in the most atrocious weather conditions. There has of course been the compensation of also seeing the scenery and inspecting the wide and picturesque bays and inlets. To the civilian population has gone help to assist them to recover from the Argentinean occupation. This has taken several forms from providing basic essential stores to flying children across the island to Stanley to school, and in one instance delivering a plough by helicopter from the far side of East Falkland to the extreme west of West Falkland. No offer was made to transport the horse! Rather agricultural flying as one aviator put it seeing the ship's helicopter fly over head with the plough under-slung.
On the 17th August 1982, two noteworthy events were achieved. Since sailing from Plymouth, 100 days at sea had elapsed and on that same day Penelope celebrated her 20th Birthday.