Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
 
4/26/2017
A Captain's Story of War at Sea

Have you been in a war at sea? Very few in our Navy of today have, including me. By reading about combat at sea from those who have experienced it, we can harden ourselves for combat in the maritime environment.

Capt. David Hart Dyke was commanding officer of the HMS Coventry, a Type 42 destroyer, which played a critical role during the 1982 Falkland Islands War against a bold and capable Argentinian military. Four Weeks in May is an enthralling recount of the events and emotions experienced by Coventry’s captain and crew.

The book follows them from the time they first learned of the invasion of the United Kingdom-owned Falkland Islands by Argentina, to their preparations for entering the unanticipated war, and then to actual combat operations. HMS Coventry proved her grit in repelling and enduring many fast and furious air raids by enemy forces, but on May 25, 1982, she succumbed to a tenacious attack by two Argentinian tactical aircraft and was sunk after sustaining extensive battle damage.

Dyke’s frank talk about the strain of being in a combat zone for prolonged periods of time had a powerful impact on me. He freely shares his thoughts on the struggles of a ship captain juggling how best to meet the missions assigned to Coventry, missing his family back home, and his concerns for the well-being of his sailors.

He identifies poignant aspects of leadership that are applicable to modern-day warfare at sea such as the importance of putting on a confident face for the crew when confronted by uncertainty; being prepared for the varying ways people will react when in high-stress combat; and insight into the emotional rollercoaster crewmembers go through when they witnessed other units in the Task Force took battle damage, sank, and watched their fellow shipmates too die.

Four Weeks in May presents to the reader real world challenges faced by the Royal Navy during the war in 1982 that are quite relevant to our Navy today.

 

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For example, the Task Force had to frequently conduct underway replenishments at night, in complete radio silence, and in poor weather conditions in order to avoid being targeted by enemy submarines. Decision making had to be made to defend the Task Force under extreme pressure, with only fractions of seconds to decide whether to fire the ship’s missiles or to utilize Harrier fighters overhead under control of his Air Controller.

Dyke calls out three factors as to why Coventry was successful in battle and so few of the crew perished in the final attack: good training, discipline, and high morale. This is profound wisdom from a combat-experienced captain.

There was one final aspect that made Four Weeks in May a joy to read. Throughout the book, Dyke interweaves the thoughts and observations from his sailors that so eloquently captured their feelings and fears as well as their sense of duty, courage, and honor.

This book resonated deeply with me because it was a window into modern naval combat. It reaffirms that warfighters must know their systems, tactics, and truly train as accurately as you can. It strengthened my commitment as a leader to always focus on ensuring we are ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea and win.

Four Weeks in May is highly recommended for all Surface Warriors, regardless of rank or rate. Our return to the vital U. S. Navy mission of Sea Control will not be complete without a force that is manned with people who understand the challenges-- and fully appreciate the viciousness of combat at sea. Surface Warfare Magazine

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