A Collection of Medals for the South Atlantic Campaign 1982

Date of Auction: 5th December 2018

Sold for £1,400

Estimate: £1,600 - £2,000

The South Atlantic medal awarded to Weapons Engineering Mechanic (Radio) R. J. Mills, H.M.S. Sheffield, who survived the sinking of his ship when it was attacked by two Super Étendard fighter bombers on 4 May 1982

South Atlantic 1982, with rosette (WEM (R) R J Mills D183907R HMS Sheffield) minor official correction to ship, with named card box of issue, nearly extremely fine £1,600-£2,000


At approximately 10 a.m. on 4 May 1982, H.M.S. Sheffield was at defence watches and on second degree readiness, as part of the British Task Force dispatched to the Falkland Islands - Sheffield had relieved her sister ship Coventry as the latter was having technical trouble with her radar. The two ships were chatting over the radio when communications suddenly ceased, followed by an unidentified message flatly stating "Sheffield is hit".

The flagship, Hermes dispatched the escorts Arrow and Yarmouth to investigate, and a helicopter was launched. Confusion reigned until Sheffield's Lynx helicopter unexpectedly landed aboard Hermes carrying the Air Operations Officer and Operations Officer, confirming the disaster. Sheffield had picked up the incoming missiles on her ancient radar system and the Operations Officer informed the Missile Director, who queried the contacts with the fire control system. The launch aircraft had not been detected as the British had expected, and it was not until smoke was sighted that the target was confirmed as sea skimming missiles. Five seconds later, an Exocet impacted Sheffield amidships, approximately 8 feet above the waterline on Deck 2, tearing a gash in the hull, whilst the other one splashed into the sea half a mile off her port beam.

The Exocets were fired from two Super Étendards launched from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Naval Air Base. Piloted by Lieutenant Armando Mayora and Captain Augusto Bedacarratz, who commanded the mission. The M.O.D. report into the sinking of the Sheffield concluded that, ‘Evidence indicates that the Warhead did not detonate’. Some of the crew and members of the Task Force believe however that the missile's 165 kilogram warhead did in fact detonate upon impact. Regardless, the impact of the missile and the burning rocket motor set Sheffield ablaze. Accounts suggest that the initial impact of the missile immediately crippled the ship's onboard electricity generating systems and fractured the water main, preventing the anti-fire mechanisms from operating effectively, and thereby dooming the ship to be consumed by the raging fire.

After the ship was struck, her crew, waiting to be rescued, sang "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian. The burnt-out hulk was taken in tow by the Rothesay class frigate H.M.S. Yarmouth but sank at 53°04'S, 56°56' W on 10 May 1982; high seas led to slow flooding through the hole in the ships side which eventually took her to the bottom. This made her the first Royal Navy vessel sunk in action in almost forty years. Twenty of her crew (mainly on duty in the Galley-area) died during the attack and another 24 injured. Of the 242 survivors many, like WEM Mills, never got over their horrific experience and were medically discharged at a later date. The wreck is a war grave and designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

Raymond John Mills was born at Plymouth, Devon, on 14 June 1955. He joined the Royal Navy as a Weapons Engineering Mechanic, for 12 years on 25 March 1980. He was discharged with ‘Exemplary Conduct’ as an Acting Leading Weapons Engineering Mechanic, at H.M.S. Drake, Devonport, on 1 October 1984, being ‘physically unfit for Naval service.’

Sold with copied R.N. Certificate of Service confirming South Atlantic medal, an original photograph of Mills in tropical whites on board Sheffield at Diego Garcia just prior to the Falklands campaign, and a later ‘H.M.S. Sheffield’ cap tally.