The Master received the following missive from Commander R C R Wellesley, Royal Navy, the commanding officer of HMS Argyll, which gives some insight into the recent exploits of the ship in Sierra Leone.
The kidnapping in Sierra Leone of ten members of the Royal Irish Regiment and one officer of the Sierra Leone Army, by a faction calling themselves the West Side Boys (WSB), resulted in a large-scale rescue operation in which HMS Argyll, our affiliated warship, played a crucial role. Her presence in the region was key to an operation that has been described as one of the most daring in recent years. HMS Argyll's Commanding Officer, Cdr Rick Wellesley was closely involved from the inception of the operation. He said "The last few months have enabled my team to build a very close working relationship with their opposite numbers ashore and in RFA Sir Percivale; this has proved fundamental to our successful involvement in the operation".
On the day that contact was lost with the Royal Irish Regiment's patrol, HMS Argyll's Lynx, the only UK air asset in the country at the time, was used to search the area in which the patrol was last reported. Within the first few hours the WSB admitted that they had taken the patrol hostage and demanded that all flying cease. Fears immediately grew for the safety of the missing patrol. Although the release of the five Royal Irish soldiers on the fifth day suggested that the situation could be resolved through dialogue with the WSB, the situation soon deteriorated and the demands on HMS Argyll increased accordingly.
After 14 days of negotiation, there appeared to be little hope of securing the release of the hostages through continued dialogue. HMS Argyll's involvement steadily increased during the last 24 hours of the operation. Not only was her Lynx still operating in a variety of supporting roles; reconnaissance; casevac; passenger transfer, but also its flight deck was called upon to provide a temporary overnight base for two Army Mk 7 Lynx, which had arrived in Freetown in the back of a Hercules and, having been assembled at Lungi airport, were flown directly to the ship.
It noticed as the first aircraft landed across deck, that there was a problem with her starboard engine. HMS Argyll's flight maintenance team quickly got to work on the damaged engine. CPO Hopkins said "We had little choice but to change the engine. Although we had a spare on board, this was for a naval Lynx and consequently we had to get exceptional approval to fit it". Unfortunately, time was short and, with the help of a REME team ferried out from RFA Sir Percivale by HMS Argyll's seaboat, the new engine was fitted, overnight, in just seven hours. The aircraft was ready to play her role in the operation, as planned, at 0430 the following morning.
As a result of the build up, Surg Lt Carty was relocated to Sir Percivale as TRIAGE Officer, which meant that he was the first point of contact for all casualties and was responsible for deciding on their initial treatment. To assist with this, a Casualty Clearing Station was established in a sea freight container on the jetty next to Sir Percivale for the purposes of triage.
A total of 13 casualties arrived at 0630 that morning, but tragically one died. The casualties received treatment on board Sir Percivale, which included emergency surgery. All patients had been treated and stabilised by 1830 that evening and were ready for onward movement to the Royal Haslar hospital in Gosport.
The Commanding Officer summed up his feelings by saying "The success of the operation can be attributed to the way in which all parties worked together. I am immensely proud of my team on board; every man contributed to the Ship's key role in support of Operation Barras".
Commander Rick Wellesley was a guest of the Master at the Livery Dinner on 28 November 2000.