Coventry, then at Gibraltar after missile firing exercises, is signalled to turn South and steam towards Ascension Island instead of returning to the UK (we had been due to return to Portsmouth on 6th April). Stores are taken on from HMS Aurora; 5 members of Coventry's crew are released to return home on Aurora, and 5 members of Aurora's crew replace them.
Arrival at Ascension. Over the next four days a large amount of stores and spares are taken onboard via helicopter. Training for the approaching conflict continues with weapons and damage control drills. Our Lynx helicopter crew familiarise themselves with the handling and firing of the new Sea Skua anti-ship missile, and fit machine guns on swivel mounts firing out of the cabin doors.
The Argentine Navy operated a pair of Type 42 destroyers themselves, so recognition markings are added to Coventry to help UK forces identify her. A large black stripe is painted from the waterline to the funnel amidships so that submarines can identify the ship as a Royal Navy Type 42. A large union flag is painted on the bridge roof to help with identification from the air. The ship's pennant number (D118) is painted over. Various bright areas of paintwork (mostly white areas) are covered with grey paint.
With the bulk of the Task Force including the two aircraft carriers arriving at Ascension, Coventry is signalled to proceed South along with Brilliant, Sheffield, Glasgow Arrow and RFA Appleleaf. This mini-Task Force was to take up a position some 1,000 miles North of the Falklands; the Argentines would believe the Royal Navy was far away at Ascension, but in reality this formidable group would be much closer to hand and ready to act if necessary.
Training continued. As we proceeded further South the balmy tropical weather was left behind and the sea became increasingly rough. Preparation for war changed the interior of the ship as well the exterior - survival gear, lifejackets and identity discs were issued; soft furnishings, pictures, trophies and ornaments were put into storage where they would not be a fire or shrapnel hazard.
The civilian personnel that operated the NAAFI and laundry were given the opportunity to leave the ship before combat operations began. All refused.
The carrier battle group was by now nearing our position. Electronic signal silence is abandoned and the Coventry is signalled to be ready for war on midnight of the 29th.
The Task Force enters the Total Exclusion Zone. Coventry takes up her picket position to the South West of the force. Over the next two weeks Coventry would alternate between her picket duties and closing on the Falklands to bombard shore positions and the area around Stanley airport with her 4.5 inch gun. Additional protection for these ventures into more dangerous waters was afforded by pairing up with HMS Broadsword for the first time.
News of the sinking of the Belgrano reaches Coventry. The feeling onboard was a mixture of jubilation and silent contemplation that the war has now really begun.
An 826 NAS Sea King is fired upon by Argentine patrol vessel Alferez Sobral, which was engaged in a search for the crew of an Argentine Canberra shot down north of the Falklands. Coventry's Lynx fires two Sea Skua missiles (the first time this new missile had been used in combat), badly damaging the vessel. HMS Glasgow's Lynx fires two more, and the vessel retreats with 8 crew killed, 8 wounded and heavy damage. She returned to port and did not venture out again during the war (her badly damaged bridge is now on display at the Naval Museum in Tigre Partido, Argentina, but the vessel itself was repaired and returned to service).
A bad day. Coventry's 909 radar had been troublesome and needed to be repaired. The ship is moved away from the south-west sector of the screen protecting the carriers, and takes up position to the north-west, judged to be a less threatened position. HMS Sheffield takes up the Coventry's former position. Repairs to the radar began. Coventry and Glasgow's ESM gear picks up indications of a developing attack from Argentine Super Etendards; Sheffield does not. Coventry and Glasgow both fire chaff rockets to create false radar targets. Sheffield goes quiet and it soon becomes clear she has been hit by an Exocet missile. There is silence onboard Coventry for many hours.
Now on patrol south of East Falkland, Coventry is in contact with a pair of Sea Harriers when they detect a suspicious surface contact. Both aircraft descend to investigate and are not heard from again.
The night is spent bombarding shore positions.
Moving closer to Stanley to try and lure out Argentine aircraft, Coventry fires three Sea Darts at distant contacts (another first for Coventry as no Sea Darts had been fired operationally up til this point in time). One is a Hercules on a supply run, and escapes unharmed as the Sea Dart was fired at maximum range. The other two targets disappear from radar shortly afterwards but no hits could be confirmed. The Argentines later report the loss of two A-4s on this day, and wreckage from one was found on South Jason Island. Broadsword reports that their radar had tracked the missile merging with the pair of Skyhawks. They may well have both been downed by Coventry's single missile, or collided while attempting to evade it.
Later Broadsword passes contact information on a target moving across East Falkland; Coventry fires another Sea Dart and downs an SA.330L Puma of Combat Aviation Battalion 601 over Choiseul sound, 10 miles away. The helicopter's crew members are all killed.
Later Coventry directs two Sea Harriers of 800 NAS to attack Argentine spy ship Narwal. A fishing trawler commandeered by Argentine naval intelligence, the Argentines had disgracefully kept the fishermen on board to crew her - among them old men in their seventies. Dead in the water with a single crewman unfortunately killed after a second attack by SHARs, she sank under tow the next day having been boarded by the SBS who captured cipher equipment and code books as well as taking the crew prisoner.
Coventry returns to picket duties further East. Glasgow took our place on the Stanley gunline. The weather continued to worsen. Between picket duties, shore bombardment and constant calls to action stations, the crew was getting tired. At night the ship would often carry out short dashes further East to replenish fuel, ammunition and other stores from the RFA stores ships.
Glasgow is hit by a 1,000lb bomb from an A-4 - thankfully it does not explode but a large amount of damage is caused and Glasgow was no longer able to provide anything other than radar warning of incoming attacks. With both Sheffield and Glasgow gone, Coventry had become the only Type 42 left able to defend the carrier group. The next week is a tense one.
Two more Type 42s arrive - Exeter and Cardiff, along with the Amphibious Task Group and Landing Force. During the night of 20th/21st May they enter Fakland Sound (or 'Bomb Alley' as it was to become known) and make their way to San Carlos Water where the landings are to begin.
Coventry is by now positioned to the North of West Falkland along with Broadsword to act as early warning and picket against incoming air attacks. With the landings at San Carlos Water now underway, it was imperative to provide better defence against air attack, and placing the ships in a deliberately dangerous position to draw enemy attack was one way of keeping attacks away from the vulnerable troops. Broadsword joins us; with her short range Sea Wolf missiles she is able to defend the pair of ships while Coventry takes on attackers at long range.
Coventry locks on to an Argentine Boeing 707 reconaissance aircraft. A flash door fails and the missile launcher goes into fail safe mode, preventing the launch. Later in the day HMS Cardiff also attempts to down what may have been the same aircraft - they have more luck in that their missile fires successfully and is seen to explode near the target, but the aircraft's crew had seen the incoming missile and successfully manouevred to avoid it, returning to base safely.
As in previous days Coventry directs Sea Harriers against various Argentine aircraft; none attack the Coventry but several see her and are able to mark her position for future attacks. The weather has cleared up entirely, with blue skies, calm seas and unlimited visibility - not good news for us in our exposed position.
The BBC World Service helpfully informs the world - including, of course, the Argentines - that many Argentine bombs are not exploding. This was because the arming wires, attached to a small propellor on the nose of the bomb, are too long for the heights at which the pilots are releasing the bombs. The prop would not turn enough times to arm the bomb before it hit, and so a dud would arrive on the target - as Glasgow and several other ships had found. Argentine armourers begin work on fixing the problem, using shorter arming wires. Coventry's good luck was just about to run out.
FAA A-4C Skyhawk coded C-304 of Grupo 4 de Caza deployed to San Julian was shot down north east of Pebble Island by a Sea Dart missile fired from HMS Coventry while returning from a mission to San Carlos Water. Capitan Jorge Osvaldo Garcia successfully ejected but was not recovered from the water. His body was washed ashore in a dinghy at Golding Island in 1983. Garcia's wingman was also shot down during the raid on San Carlos, by a Sea Cat from HMS Yarmouth (also claimed by various others in the area including a Rapier battery), but he was luckier, and ejected into captivity.
FAA A-4B Skyhawk of Grupo 5 shot down west of West Falkland by Sea Dart. Pilot Capitan Hugo Angel del Valle Palaver killed. This aircraft was part of the first raid aimed specifically at Coventry and Broadsword, abandoned after Palaver's aircraft was destroyed.
The Broadsword 82 website mentions that two Mirages were also fired at during the morning but the Argentine AF do not record any Mirage losses in this area on that day.