|Its all about ships
The Falklands War of 1982 involved the most intense naval action since the Second
World War. Key to the war was transporting an army, its supplies and equipment some
8,000 miles by sea and landing it on enemy-held islands that were far beyond the
effective range of any friendly land-based aircraft. To accomplish this task, Great
Britain assembled an armada made up of not only Royal Navy ships but also merchant
marine ships operated primarily by their civilian crews. Trevor Lane, today the Staff
Captain of QUEEN MARY 2, was the navigator on the most pivotal civilian ship SS
CANBERRA was the first large ocean liner built in the United Kingdom after Worth
War II. Work was started on her in September 1957 at the Harland & Wolff yards in
Belfast, Northern Ireland. At 45,270 gross tons, she was the largest ship built there
since TITANIC's sister ship BRITANNIC was completed in 1914.
"The ship was really way ahead of its time when it was designed in 1956 and launched
in 1961." The superstructure was primarily made of aluminum, which reduced weight
and as a result, fuel consumption. Her engines were located aft, creating more passenger
space. It was found, however, during her sea trials, that because of the engines aft, the
bow rose out of the water at speed and so ballast was added to the bow area. This took
care of the problem but left CANBERRA with a deep 36 foot draft.
"You could get up to 21 or 22 knots. She was a turbo-electric steamship - - you burn
heavy oil to produce heat to heat up water for the boilers to push the steam through a
turbine to generate electricity to turn a motor to turn the propeller. They had these huge
boilers and these huge boiler rooms and this huge network of engine room staff. They
had to stand there for four hours at a time by the boiler. Very labor intensive."
CANBERRA was very well-received when she entered service. She was a symbol of
Britain's re-emergence after the devastation of the Second World War. In addition, she
had been built in order to take emigrants from Britain to Australia, which was a very
popular move in those days.
By the 1970s, however, emigration from Britain to Australia was declining and what
there was of it was being captured by the airlines. Consequently, P&O Lines,
CANBERRA's owner, looked for something new to do with the ship. The line settled
on basing the ship in New York for cruises down to the Caribbean. This proved to be
an unqualified disaster and P&O announced that because of poor bookings,
CANBERRA would be scrapped in 1973.
Almost immediately after that announcement, bookings began to increase. However,
they were not from the American market but from Britain. Accordingly, P&O shifted
the ship to Southampton, England where she did various cruises during the warmer
months. Then, for three months each year, the ship would do a world cruise.
This proved to be a very popular schedule. CANBERRA had been built as a two class
ocean liner. Although the separate classes were eliminated when she became a cruise
ship, the passengers, reflecting Britain's social class system, created a de facto
separation. "There was the pub end and the cocktail bar end. People liked having that
The Falkland Islands are the only large island group in the South Atlantic. Located
approximately 300 miles east of the Straits of Magellan, they are cold, damp and
windswept. With no known natural resources or industry, the island's small population
is engaged primarily in raising sheep. In short, it is a place located far from anywhere
with little economic value.
Nonetheless, Britain and Argentina have been quarreling over these islands since the
early Nineteenth Century. There are conflicting claims that run back to 1592.
However, in modern times, Argentina's claim is based upon their relative geographic
proximity to Argentina while Britain's best argument is that the island's population is of
British descent and desires to remain part of Britain. Attempts to resolve this dispute
diplomatically, including talks held under United Nations auspices, have failed.
In the Spring of 1982, the dispute erupted into violence, not on the Falklands themselves
but on a glacier-covered island some 800 miles further out in the South Atlantic. A
group of Argentinean civilians landed on South Georgia ostensibly to collect scrap from
an abandoned whaling station. However, they raised the Argentinean flag and refused to
recognize the authority of the island's British administrator, an employee of the British
Antarctic Survey, which provided the island's only inhabitants. In response to a cry for
help, the governor of the Falklands sent 22 Royal Marines to South Georgia. Argentina
countered with 100 Marines, a frigate and an ice breaker. A fire fight ensued, which
despite initial British success, ended with the Royal Marines surrender.
Emboldened by this victory, the military junta that ruled Argentina dispatched an
amphibious invasion force to the Falklands. On 2 April 1982, 800 Argentinean Marines
landed and confronted 80 Royal Marine defenders. In the first engagement, the British
prevailed. However, inasmuch as the Argentineans were landing more men and armor,
the governor entered into negotiations that resulted in the governor and the Royal
Marines being deported from the island. The Royal Marines, however, promised to
To the celebrating Argentineans, this must have sounded like a hollow threat. Britain's
days of empire were over and surely the British would not fight for some islands with
little strategic or economic value located 8,000 miles from home. Furthermore, even if
they wanted to fight, how would they transport an army to the war zone? There were
no friendly air ports in which to fly troops. Moreover, the Royal Navy was in no
position to mount an amphibious invasion. Based upon the prevailing Cold War
assumption that the next war would be fought against the Soviets in Europe, the Royal
Navy had been transformed from a power projection navy to a force charged with
helping to keep the North Atlantic from being closed by Soviet attack submarines.
But, there were important principles at stake. First, the people of the Falklands wanted
to be British, not Argentinean. Thus, the principle of self-determination was involved.
Second, in Moscow, the leaders of the Soviet Union were watching to see how Britain,
and by extension her closest ally The United States, reacted to this provocation. If the
West simply capitulated, the Soviets would feel that they too could get away with similar
acts. Thus, while attempting to negotiate, the government of Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher prepared to send a force south.
Key to this risky strategy was requisitioning ships from Britain's merchant marine.
Tankers, container ships, tugs, freighters and even North Sea ferries were "taken up
from trade." However, in order to transport the troops themselves, Britain would need
its two large passenger ships QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 (See The Log, Fall 2005 at p. 10)
A Call To Serve
Trevor Lane was helping to paint his neighbor's house when the news came over the
radio that Argentina had occupied the Falklands. He had been with P&O for eight years
and had risen to navigator on CANBERRA. He was now home on leave while the ship
completed her annual world cruise. "I almost instinctively knew that that was going to
Lane knew that in times of war, the government had authority to requisition merchant
ships and had seen Royal Navy personnel coming on board CANBERRA from
time-to-time for inspections and to see how the ship operated. Thus, it was apparent
that CANBERRA was part of the Royal Navy's contingency planning.
Although the navigator who was on CANBERRA at the moment was senior to Lane,
Lane had been with CANBERRA since he had been a cadet. "I was part of the
establishment, if you like, on the CANBERRA." Furthermore, his colleague was just
completing a lengthy world cruise. If Lane did not relieve him, his friend would have to
continue on with the ship. Moreover, the town in which Lane lived along the south
coast of England was known as "P&O Village" because so many P&O officers and
employees lived there. It would have been difficult to show his face at the local pub, if
he did not volunteer. Thus, when the personnel department called, Lane agreed to go.
"Military personnel joined the ship in Gibraltar and they were already making plans
aboard the ship. When they got to Southampton and discharged the passengers, an
amazing refit that took place, which implied that they had plans in place to convert the
ship very quickly. They cut off large parts of it and built three helicopter decks in three
days. They took things like cocktail bars in the forward end of the ship and put
scaffolding jacks throughout the bar [to act as pillars to support the weight.] Then they
extended the deck above it and took down all the rails and that became the main
helicopter deck. They took one of the main swimming pools in the middle of the ship
and put huge girders in the middle, covered that and cut down the side rails. They had
another helicopter deck up by the funnels. They did this fantastic conversion in three or
Although CANBERRA normally carried 1,700 passengers on a cruise, "they embarked a
whole brigade - - nearly 4,000 troops. It was called Three Commando Brigade, and it
was made up of paratroopers, marines and some naval auxiliary staff and some RAF and
The ship set out from England with the ship's P&O captain and a Royal Navy officer
sharing command. Lane was not a member of the Royal Navy Reserve and thus
technically, he was only under the command of the civilian captain. However, the navy
wanted direct authority over the ship's navigator. P&O did not want to cede full
authority. "They ended up giving me Royal Navy stripes on one shoulder and regular
merchant navy stripes on the other. That was the compromise."
The military had placed additional communications equipment in the ship's chartroom.
As a result, members of the press were constantly walking in to send stories home.
Therefore, in order to maintain secrecy about the ship's movements, a chart table was
constructed in Lane's cabin and for part of the voyage, an armed guard was posted
"We were doing submarine avoidance practice and similar things on the way down.
They ripped up the carpet and glued them on the windows [to prevent light from
showing at night]. . The ship also had to be fitted out for refueling [at sea]. The whole of
the top deck was filled with munitions. There were gun emplacements around the ship
right from the start. Blowpipe missiles and everything else. Because of the helicopters,
CANBERRA was obviously a prominent target."
"Almost immediately, the troops had to start being trained. So, they had gun practice on
the deck. [There was also] lots of physical exercise on the outside deck. CANBERRA
had a Promenade Deck that you could run around. The troops used that to train to keep
themselves fit in full gear, with full pack on. The Promenade Deck had a composite
cement on top of the steel, it was like rubber so it would flex. After a week of a couple
of thousand troops storming around there in hobnail boots, it became a beach - - pretty
sandy. With the carpets ripped up and the decks destroyed, it changed the ship very
CANBERRA IN THE
Captain Trevor Lane, then-navigator of
CANBERRA, describes his experiences during
by Richard H. Wagner
(originally published by the Navy League of the
United States, New York Council, in The Log,
Captain Trevor Lane when he was
Staff Captain on QUEEN MARY 2.
Cruise ship article - - Canberra In The Falklands War - page 1