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Four Weeks in May: A Captain's Story of War at Sea: The Loss of "HMS Coventry" Hardcover – 13 Jan 2007
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`Powerful account' -- Greg Eden, The Bookseller
`[An] honest, poignant and moving book.' -- Hugh McManners, The Times
About the Author
David Hart Dyke began his naval career as Midshipman (RNVR) in 1959. He then went to Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth as a regular officer before serving as Commander of the Royal Yacht Britannia, Captain of HMS Coventry in the Falklands conflict, and Chief of Staff to the Commander British Naval Staff in Washington, DC. After he retired in 2003, he transcribed the voice-recordings that he had made on his return from the Falklands over 20 years earlier. These recordings, along with the reminiscences of his ship's company, became the gripping story of Four Weeks in May.
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Others grabbed the glory, or the headlines, but their ship made the decisive contribution to victory.
It is a claim Captain David Hart-Dyke would never make on behalf of HMS Coventry, but it's probably fair to say her role in the Falklands war has often been overlooked.
She wasn't the first ship to be lost in the war; she would not be the last. She did not blow up spectacularly for the cameras like Antelope. She did not venture into Bomb Alley like Ardent. She did not survive an Exocet hit like Glamorgan.
She did, however, fight with supreme distinction and bravery - and made the supreme sacrifice, as her former commanding officer describes in the outstanding Four Weeks in May (Atlantic, £18.99 ISBN 978-1-84354-590-3).
The emotions, the nerves, the strain the Coventry men felt were identical to those felt by their predecessors 40 years before. The previous Coventry was subjected to repeated enemy air attack in the Mediterranean; like her successor, she fought with distinction but the odds were against her.
The sailors talked of home, of loved ones, they drifted oft silently into thought, tears rolling down their cheeks, they turned to God - irrespective of whether they were religious or not. And if the worst came, they prepared to die. "You know, sir, some of us are not going to get back to Portsmouth," Hart-Dyke's XO confided him as the war dragged on.
This was the real war, too honest to be trumpeted in the jingoistic press or to be reported to loved ones in letters home. For his daughters Miranda and Alice, David Hart-Dyke sketched a cartoon of Coventry blasting enemy an patrol boat out of the water and an enemy aircraft out of the sky.
It was something the destroyer was particularly adept; on the final day of her life, May 25 1982, Coventry had dispatched three Argentine Sea Darts.
Fate was against her as the day waned; HMS Broadsword's Seawolf played up, Coventry's own Sea Dart couldn't get a lock on Argentine Skyhawk jets, whose pilots showed undeniable bravery as they raced in towards the destroyer.
Coventry's crew responded with equal bravery; every machine-gun fired, the 4.5in main gun blasted away, the Oerlikons chattered (until one jammed); the sailors even tried to blind the Argentine pilots by shining the beam from the bridge wing signaling projector in their faces.
It was, sadly, to no avail. Three bombs tore into the side of the ship and tore her heart out.
The operations room where David Hart-Dyke had been directing the battle ceased to exist as he knew it. His headset and microphone had vaporised, his anti-flash hood and gloves were in tatters. And yet he was one of the lucky ones.
"I looked to my left and saw a sheet of orange flame leap out of the hatch down into the computer room below and envelop a man as he attempted to climb up into the operations room," recalls Coventry captain.
"He had nearly reached the top of the ladder and someone had stretched towards him and tried to catch his hand. It was too late: consumed by fire, he could go no further and fell back with a final, despairing cry for help."
Seven men were burned alive in the computer room - or were killed by the blast of one of the bombs. A dozen of their comrades were also lost.
The author paints a vivid picture of Coventry's final moments, drawing upon the accounts of numerous former comrades. Survivors of the Barham, Prince of Wales, Gloucester, Repulse and countless more vessels will identify strongly with the scenes in the destroyer in her death throes.
Training reaped dividends. There was no panic, no selfishness. Each man helped the next to escape the stricken Coventry. Some 250 of them survived.
His crew, Hart-Dyke wrote just a few days after the sinking, had been "nothing short of heroes" . Many of the heroes struggled to adjust to life after the Falklands. It took Coventry's captain perhaps 18 months to come around. He regards himself as one of the lucky ones; he never suffered flashbacks or nightmares like some of his former shipmates.
And it was only back in the UK that the captain realised the scale of Coventry's contribution to victory.
"I really had taken part in a momentous event in the country's history," he writes. "The conflict was not just something to be played down as having been merely in the line of duty."
Fifteen years ago, reviewers praised Sandy Woodward for the frankness of his account of the campaign, and in particular the strain of command.
David Hart-Dyke gives you the `business end' of that conflict, the story of the sailors in harm's way. It is one of the most moving, honest and vivid memoirs of life - and war - at sea you will ever pick up.
The book stands out for me in two ways; first of all the Captain manages to keep it centred on Coventry while filling in enough background about what is happening to other ships to ensure you are always aware what part Coventry is playing. Secondly, the account of the final fateful half hour of the ship's life is obviously the result of a great deal of research which must have been painful. As the son of a crew member, I was familiar with Coventry only from a few visits as a child - I well remember running up and down corridors and occasionally getting lost deep inside the ship. I am humbled to read the accounts of the heroics of the crew that searched through that complex interior with smoke, fire, holes blasted by bombs and a rapidly increasing list turning it into an inferno that any sane man would want to get out of immediately.
An excellent work that is a fine tribute to the heroes of the day, and the crew members who remain forever on patrol Down South.
Personally, I like a little more of the detail (the minutae as one other reviewer has put it) and this book doesn't quite fully tick that box. It is largely written from the author's viewpoint and experience which is fair enough of course but this does mean that it doesn't give you the full view of what was happening throughout the ship.
In my view, it isn't as good as the book on HMS Ardent and HMS Antrim by Mark Higgitt and David Yates respectively - both of these are written more from he lower deck perspective.
Having said all of the above, Four Weeks in May is a good read - hopefully it will encourage further memoirs on the Falklands conflict.
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and really interesting too. The Real story of what went on!!
Do buy it,