“Action stations! Action stations! This is not a drill!” was the only alert the duty officer of HMS Sheffield managed to give before the impact.

The warning came too late.

Seconds later, an Exocet missile, fired by a sea-skimming Argentinian aircraft, rammed the ship’s starboard side, hitting it between the galley and the forward engine room. An inferno of flame and smoke quickly engulfed the vessel. The order to abandon ship soon came.

Ultimately, the empty destroyer would sink six days later, May 10, while being towed away. Twenty men died. The Exocet had just made its deadly introduction.

A French-built anti-ship missile, the Exocet can be fired from sea, air, and land. At the start of the war, the British knew that the Argentinians possessed at least five Exocets and five Super- Etendard aircraft that could fire them.

With Sheffield’s burning hull a testament of the missile’s destructive capabilities, Rear Admiral Woodward, the Commanding Officer of the Naval Task Force, and his military and political superiors back in Britain urgently sought ways to counter this lethal threat.

If any of the two aircraft carriers, HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible—which were the actual targets the day Sheffield was attacked—were sunk, the Task Force would lose its vital air cover, and the landings would have to be aborted.

A humiliating defeat loomed ominously.