I joined HMS Protector as an AB UW3 at Southampton in August 1962. What a glorious first year I had on board her. Especially down in the ice and later going through the Panama Canal on the way home via Bermuda. The Bay of Pigs incident changed all that for a short period, as we had two Westland Whirlwind choppers and a Detachment of Royal Marines on board. They flew patrols until we were released to steam on to Bermuda.
We refitted at Portsmouth Dockyard and the new half of the crew joined us. During the refit, I wondered why a depth charge rack was fitted to the Port aft end of the net deck. I was informed that we would be carrying out seismic operations with them when we got down South. Then we stored ship. I never saw so many explosive charges stored on board a ship. Again I was told, for use down South.
We sailed for Port Stanley, arriving there some time in November. We were to operate with the Royal Survey Ship John Biscoe to carry out seismic operations South of Drake Passage. Prior to this I was detailed Weapons Party. I looked after the Asdic Dome the depth charge racks and worked with the Gunnery Ratings on the 4 inch, Orlekons and the 4x2 Pdr. Saluting Guns.
The Weapons Party were detailed to assemble the electrical contact wires which would connect the armoured power cable to the explosive charges. We commenced doing this very early in the morning of the 6th December. We worked on the forward Port side of the net deck whilst assembling the wires into the watertight bungs prior to them being fitted to the charges.
The method of detonating the charges was by dynamo exploder, this was operated by the Chief O.A. The connection to the Port and Starboard. charges was made by inserting a 3 pin plug into a 3 pin socket. Each side had its own plug and socket. The dynamo exploder was connected to both sockets.
Each plug was in the charge of an A.B. A countdown system from 10 to zero was used to ensure that each part of the operation was completed at the correct time. At 7 the charge was dropped into the water. At 5 the 3 pin plug was connected to the 3 pin socket and at zero the dynamo exploder was operated to detonate the charge.
The Port charge was always the first to be used. The first two charges were successful. These consisted of 4x1 lb. scare charges taped together. The next charge to be used was was a 10 lb charge.
Port side got prepared and the count down began. All went well until zero.
There was a tremendous explosion from the Starboard side of the Net Deck. The Starboard. charge had also been detonated.
On instinct, I ducked but what saved me from injury I will never know.
Then we heard a low voice from the Starboard side. We rushed over and found Jock Smith propped against the Starboard bulkhead. Most of his cloths had been blown off but at least he was alive.
There was no sign of A.B. Shady Lane and we found L/Sea. Reg Hodge laying face down about 10 to 15ft. from the scene of the explosion. He was dead.
Various Hands were detailed to raise the alarm, and get the Doc and I was told to get the Sea Boats crew launched immediately. RRS John Biscoe had contacted Protector and informed the Bridge that there was a body floating off her Port Bow. The Sea Boat crew recovered the body of A.B. Shady Lane.
I took a dose of the shakes as reality hit me.
Some of the shrapnel from the explosion had been contained by the Spud Locker. Another piece of shrapnel wrote off the Whalers mast. When I checked the depth charges, I found that all 19 of them were perforated by shrapnel. One of the flight deck plates was like a pepper duster and the plate under the explosion was bent like a piece of plastic.
Reg and Shady were dead. All we could do was lash them into stretchers on the Net Deck and steam poste haste to Stanley. All the hands operating on the Net Deck were assembled in the Juniors mess and told to check each other for shrapnel wounds. I remember that A.B. Crash Carr had a piece in either the left or right cheek of his bum and A.B.Ken Sorrell had a piece where his nose joined his forhead. I was ok.
On the way back, two hands were detailed each watch to guard the two stretchers. Going through the Drake Passage the sea came in over the stern and we had to sit on top of the lockers to keep dry.
At Stanley, Jock Smith was taken to the local Hospital where they operated on one of his legs. Jock Smith hailed from Burntisland, Scotland
It was then a waiting period for things to be organised. Eventually we steamed to Punta Arenas for the official investigation into the incident. We then steamed to Montevedeo where Jock was flown
to the U.K. for medical treatment.
We asked permission from U.K. to dump the depth charges in deep water. The answer was "no".
My 19 depth charges were kept on board. They had to be brought back to the U.K. for survey.
I will never forget that day. I can still see Reg's and Shady's faces. It is like watching the same film, over and over.
Eddie Large is a member of the HMS Protector Association which brings togethe mariners who served on "The best loved ship in the Royal Navy by those who served on her."
The photographs below are a record of the burial with full military honours in the cemetary, Stanley, Falkland Islands.