Fought in 1982, the Falklands War was the result of the Argentine invasion of the British-owned Falkland Islands. Located in the South Atlantic, Argentina had long claimed these islands as part of its territory. On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces landed in the Falklands, capturing the islands two days later. In response, the British dispatched a naval and amphibious task force to the area. The initial phases of the conflict occurred mainly at sea between elements of the Royal Navy and the Argentine Air Force. On May 21, British troops landed and by June 14 had compelled the Argentine occupiers to surrender.
When was the Falklands War?:
The Falklands War began on April 2, 1982, when Argentine troops landed in the Falkland Islands. Fighting ended on June 14, following the British liberation of the islands' capital, Port Stanley, and the surrender of Argentine forces in the Falklands. The British declared a formal end to military activity on June 20.
Prelude and Invasion:
In early 1982, President Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of the Argentina's ruling military junta, authorized the invasion of the British Falkland Islands. The operation was designed to draw attention away from human rights and economic issues at home by bolstering national pride and giving teeth to the nation's long-held claim on the islands. After an incident between British and Argentine forces on nearby South Georgia Island, Argentine forces landed in the Falklands on April 2. The small garrison of Royal Marines resisted, however by April 4 the Argentines had captured the capital at Port Stanley.
After organizing diplomatic pressure against Argentina, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered the assembly of a naval task force to retake the islands. Commanded by Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, the task force consisted of several groups, the largest of which was centered on the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. Led by Rear Admiral "Sandy" Woodward, this group contained the Sea Harrier fighters that would provide air cover for the fleet. In mid-April, Fieldhouse began moving south, with a large fleet of tankers and cargo ships to supply the fleet while it operated more than 8,000 miles from home.
As the fleet sailed south it was shadowed by Boeing 707s from the Argentine Air Force. On April 25, British forces recaptured South Georgia Island after sinking the submarine ARASanta Fe. Five days later, operations against the Falklands began with the "Black Buck" raids by RAF Vulcan bombers flying from Ascension Island. That same day Harriers attacked various targets, as well as shot down three Argentine aircraft. As the runway at Port Stanley was too short for modern fighters, the Argentine Air Force was forced to fly from the mainland, which placed them at a disadvantage throughout the conflict.
Fighting at Sea:
While cruising west of the Falklands on May 1, the submarine HMS Conqueror spotted the light cruiser ARA General Belgrano. Conqueror fired three torpedoes, hitting Belgrano twice and sinking it. This attack led to the Argentine fleet remaining in port for the rest of the war. Two days later, they had their revenge when an Exocet anti-ship missile, launched from an Argentine Super Étendard fighter, struck HMS Sheffield setting it ablaze. After attempts to stop the fire failed, the ship was abandoned. The sinking of Belgrano cost 323 Argentines killed, while the attack on Sheffield resulted in 20 British dead.
Landing at San Carlos Water:
On the night of May 21, British forces landed at San Carlos Water on the northwest coast of East Falkland. The landings had been preceded by a Special Air Service (SAS) raid on nearby Pebble Island's airfield. When the landings had finished, approximately 4,000 men, commanded by Brigadier Julian Thompson, had been put ashore. Over the next week, the ships supporting the landings were hit hard by Argentine aircraft. HMS Ardent (May 22), HMS Antelope (May 24), and HMS Coventry (May 25) were sunk, as was MV Atlantic Conveyor(May 25) with a cargo of helicopters and supplies.
Goose Green, Mount Kent, & Bluff Cove/Fitzroy:
Thompson began pushing his men south, planning to secure the western side of the island before moving east to Port Stanley. On May 27/28, 600 men under Lt. Col. H. Jones outfought over 1,000 Argentines around Darwin and Goose Green, ultimately forcing them to surrender. A few days later, British commandos defeated Argentine commandos on Mt. Kent. In early June, an additional 5,000 British troops arrived and command shifted to Maj. Gen. Jeremy Moore. While some of these troops were disembarking at Bluff Cove and Fitzroy, their transports, RFA Sir Tristram and RFA Sir Galahad, were attacked killing 56.
Fall of Port Stanley:
After consolidating his position, Moore began the assault on Port Stanley. British troops launched simultaneous assaults on the high ground surrounding the town on the night of June 11. After heavy fighting, they succeeded in capturing their objectives. The attacks continued two nights later, and British units took the town's last natural lines of defense at Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown. Encircled on land and blockaded at sea, the Argentine commander, Gen. Mario Menéndez, realized his situation was hopeless and surrendered his 9,800 men on June 14, effectively ending the conflict.
Aftermath & Casualties:
In Argentina, the defeat led to the removal of Pres. Galtieri three days after the fall of Port Stanley. His downfall spelled the end for the military junta that had been ruling the country and paved the way for the restoration of democracy. For Britain, the victory provided a much needed boost to its national confidence, reaffirmed its international position, and assured victory for the Thatcher Government in the 1983 elections.
The settlement that ended the conflict called for a return to status quo ante bellum. Despite its defeat, Argentina still claims the Falklands and South Georgia.
During the war, Britain suffered 258 killed and 777 wounded. In addition, 2 destroyers, 2 frigates, and 2 auxiliary vessels were sunk. For Argentina, the Falklands War cost 649 killed, 1,068 wounded, and 11,313 captured. In addition, the Argentine Navy lost a submarine, a light cruiser, and 75 fixed-wing aircraft.
------------------------------------------------------------------One of the Argentinian admirals who sent his country to war with Britain over the Falkland islands has admitted that he dispatched a team of saboteurs to sink a Royal Navy ship in Gibraltar.
Admiral Jorge Anaya, a former military junta member who commanded the Argentinian navy at the time of the war, said he expressly ordered the mission. It was foiled by Spanish police hours before the team planned to attach limpet mines to a British ship.
"The operation was carried out in total secrecy," the admiral told the makers of a documentary that went on show in Spanish cinemas last night.
Operation Algeciras came very close to sinking a British ship with Italian-made mines that had been brought to Spain from Argentina in a diplomatic bag.
The team arrived in Spain and based itself on the south coast near Gibraltar, where it spent almost a month eyeing possible targets and awaiting permission to attack.
Admiral Anaya said he turned down three separate requests to blow up different vessels in Gibraltar before finally giving the go ahead.
On one occasion, the team was refused permission to attack a Royal Navy transport ship and a frigate in case they spoiled talks, led by the US secretary of state Alexander Haig, to solve the crisis.
"We decided that we might stop some kind of peace agreement if we went ahead," said Maximo Nicoletti, one of the four-man team of divers who was interviewed for the documentary.
Mr Nicoletti was a former anti-government guerrilla who once blew up an Argentinian navy ship but was captured, became a military agent and was living in Miami.
A few hours after the team passed up the chance of attacking the frigate and transport ship, a British submarine sank the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano, killing more than 320 sailors and effectively ending peace negotiations.
The team waited almost a month for another target to appear. They posed as fishermen in a small rubber dinghy as they floated off the Spanish town of La Linea, which is beside the Rock of Gibraltar.
They finally saw a Royal Navy frigate enter the harbour and agreed to strike the next day. "Our aim was to place the charges, give them time to explode, get the cars, drive to Barcelona and from there cross into France. We were going to fly back to Argentina from Italy," Mr Nicoletti said.
But when the team went to renew their car hire in the morning, they found Spanish police waiting for them.
"It was the same day that I had authorised them to go-ahead [with the attack]," said Admiral Anaya.
The divers had been given strict instructions, in the event of capture, to say that they were acting on their own initiative.
Nigel West, a British writer who specialises in covert operations, told the documentary team that Britain had known about the plot because of telephone-taps of conversations between Argentina's embassy in Madrid and Buenos Aires.
He said that, after tense discussions by the war cabinet about whether Spain could be trusted, the information was passed on to Madrid.
The documentary, however, claims that the police officers who arrested the Argentinian team had no idea who the members were, or why they were there.
The land war in the Falklands opened on the 2nd April 1982. The Argentine forces landed 120 commandos at Mullett Creek at about 4.30am , who attacked the British Marines' barracks. Fortunately the Royal Marines were already deployed and thus avoided heavy loss of life. The Argentine commandos then joined the force marching on Government House with the intention of seizing the British Governor Rex Hunt. A fierce battle ensued and the British were pinned down by the Argentines. A second group of British marines overlooking the harbour managed to hit one of the Argentine landing craft with an anti-tank weapon before withdrawing back to Government house.
With Argentine Armoured Personnel carriers and guns coming ashore, Rex Hunt, The Governor ordered a surrender. The 84 marines and Governor were flown to Montevideo and from there home, but not before giving a good count of themselves. See Naval Party 8901 And the Argentine Invasion
On South Georgia, another marine detachment led by Lieutenant Keith mills with twenty-three men put up vigorous resistance to the Argentine invasion when the Argentine forces attempted to land troops with a Puma helicopter. The Puma was fired on with every weapon the marines possessed. They then fired on an Argentine corvette in the bay, hitting it with three anti-tank rockets and more than 1200 rounds of small arms fire. After the Argentines had established a much superior force ashore, the marines surrendered and were returned to Britain. Lieutenant Mills received a hero's welcome and the Distinguished Service Cross. See Fairly Famous Mills and the Red Plum
The British government were swift in their decision to send a task force to recapture the islands. A large part of No.3 Commando was aboard the refitted Canberra when she left port on Good Friday to the strains of 'Rule Britannia' from the quayside. A small squadron of SAS went ahead aboard H.M.S. Antrim. By mid April the task force arrived in the South Atlantic. The Task forces first objective was the recapture of South Georgia. In very bad weather Wessex helicopters took off carrying the Mountain Troop of D Squadron SAS.
The landing site was dangerous and a Scientist who had evaded the Argentineans urged against the landing where the weather defied human reason. After one failed attempt when snow forced the helicopters back to the ship, the SAS were set down to reconnoitre the island in preparation for the arrival of the marines. The SAS were bogged down by the weather and eventually had to ask to be withdrawn. The first attempt by a Wessex helicopter failed and the helicopter crashed. The second Wessex crashed trying to take off. A third overloaded Wessex airlifted seventeen men, including the crews of the crashed helicopters back to Antrim.
The following night, 23rd April, 2 Section SBS was landed by Helicopter and also 5 gemini inflatable craft set out with troops of D Squadrons Boat troop aboard. Two suffered engine failure, one of the crews were picked up by helicopter. The others got to shore. The Antrim group moved in again on the 24th April to drop off more troops and in doing so, located and beached the Argentine Submarine Sante Fe. The Antrims' small company of marines were landed following a hasty conference and the seventy five marines, SBS and SAS under naval gunfire support landed by Helicopter. When they reached the settlements of Grytviken they found white sheets fluttering form several windows. An Argentine officer complained to the SAS that they had just walked through his minefield. At 5.15am, The Argentine commander formally surrendered. The following morning, after threatening defiance by radio overnight, the small enemy garrison at Leith, along the coast, surrendered without resistance. The scrap merchants whose activities had precipitated the entire war were also taken into custody, for repatriation to the mainland. To complete the victory, a helicopter picked up a weak emergency beacon signal from the southernmost tip of the island, Stromness Bay. The helicopter homed in on it and found the lost three man SAS patrol from the missing Gemini. They had paddled ashore with only a few hundred yards of land left between them and Antarctica. No British troops had been lost. See Operation Paraquat
The Ships now brought the SAS and SBS from South Georgia back to the main fleet in preparation for the landings. While in London, The Foreign Secretary tried to argue that Britain should accept the American mediated peace deal, the Argentineans were not amused by the offer of 'peace' by the Americans and were smarting from the loss of South Georgia. Eventually, having been refused aid from the Organization of America States, the Argentinean government rejected the peace overtures made by the American negotiator Haig. The peace attempt failed. America now changed its tune and imposed military and economic sanctions on Argentina and offered aid to Britain (Which had already been flowing for some time in secret). Although politically America was trying for peace, its military were throwing everything they had.
The United Nations intervened, tried to negotiate a peace plan and failed, the European nations fell in behind Britain and Argentina was slowly left without friends, her Latin American neighbours offered little support and the UN appeared to bless Britain's' retaliation. On Thursday 20th May, The Prime Minister published the 'red, white and blue' the Falklands White paper, spelling the end of the negotiations and solidifying, It was war.
In the first days of May, by helicopter and fast inflatable boats, parties of SAS and SBS forces were landed on the Falklands to assess the state of the Argentine forces. Their mission was to hide up and observer the enemy with out making contact.
The British 3 Commando Brigade waded ashore at San Carlos a few minutes before 4 a.m. on Friday 21st May. 2 Para waded ashore an hour later and took their positions on the Summit of Sussex mountain to protect the approaches of Goose Green soon after first light. A few minutes after 2 Paras landing, 40 Commando came ashore a few hundred yards further north behind the Scorpion and Scimitar Armoured vehicles of the Blues and Royals to be met by the filthy SBS reception party who had been on the hill for days.
A short time later, the British confirmed that there were no Argentine troops in the area. On the flagpole beside the local managers house, Men of C Company of 40 Commando raised the Union Jack at first light. See Troops Out
Across the water, 45 Commando had taken up positions in the abandoned refrigeration plant at Ajax plant without incident. 3 Para landed very late after delays. The whole of 3 Commando was ashore without significant loss. As 2 Para struggled up Sussex mountain, two pairs of Pucara ground-attack aircraft attacked. The first pair was blown out of the sky by handheld missiles and shipboard Sams, the second pairs attack failed to inflict casualties on 2 Paras' B Company.
42 Commando was landed in the afternoon, this did not however improve the Task Forces air defense. The 12 Anti-Aircraft Rapier missile launchers, operated by 'T' (Shah Sujah's) Battery from 12 Air Defence Regiment Royal Artillery under the Operational Control of 3 Commando brigade, some of which were damaged after so long exposed to the salt water during the sea crossing needed some time to be set up and realigned.
Surgical support teams were established ashore at the old refrigeration plant, but the build-up ashore was delayed as the supply ships put stores ashore in the dark but left for safer waters before daylight. Dawn and dusk were the favoured times for aircraft attacks, and one evening two skyhawks bombed 40 Commando's positions. Two men were killed and three wounded.
The 25th May saw the Exocet missile claimed the Atlantic Conveyor and with her the vital Chinook and Wessex helicopters along with the tentage for the entire landing force. All but one of the Chinooks were lost, ending the hopes of the Task Force for a fast overland hopping campaign. Instead the Landing Forces preceded with a two pronged attack on Port Stanley. The forces left the San Carlos on the 27th May. The northerly prong of 45 Commando advanced on and secured the unoccupied hamlet of Douglas before meeting 3 Para who had gone straight to Teal Inlet arriving there before everyone else, at Teal Inlet on the 29th May. From here the combined force headed to Mount Kent, west of Stanley. The marines and commandos were each carrying an average of 120 pounds of equipment on their historic march across East Falkland.
The Southerly force, 2 Para headed to Darwin. Their mission was to capture the hamlet of Goose Green. Intelligence thought that there was a small Argentine garrison there. This proved to very wrong information. 2 Para soon encounter heavy oppression from a Argentine force over 1,200 strong. The battle was a hard slog for the Paras as they found the Argentineans were well dug in and waiting for them. After the Battle there were rumours that the BBC World Service had announced on their news that 2 Para were going to attack Goose Green just before the attack was to go in.
This caused a lot on mistrust between the troops and the press for the rest of the war. The Battle went on all though the night of the 27th. As dawn came on the 28th the Paras looking over the ground they had sofa taken from the Argentines were shocked to see the well prepared defenses they had fought for all night. The battle went on thought out the rest of the day with the paras attacking and gaining one Argentine position after another. After a fierce 12 hour battle the Argentine garrison surrendered on 29th May at 1000 hours. It was only after the surrender that paras realized the size of the enemy forces. 200 Argentine soldiers lay dead on the battle field and over 1'000 surrendered to them. 2 Para had lost 16 killed and over 30 wounded. Unfortunately one of the casualties was 2 Para commander Lieutenant Colonel Jones, who was killed.
Leaving their bergens behind, 3 Paras marched in fighting order with food and ammunition, their vehicles coping brilliantly with the adverse conditions. On the 31st May, K Company 42 Commando embarked on helicopters and landed on the slopes of Mount Kent to be greeted by the SAS OP party and immediately dived for cover when they spotted a fire fight taking place a mile north.
The fire fight stopped and an SAS officer reported that they had destroyed one argentine patrol and knew of another which they had under surveillance. The Sole surviving Chinook airlifted in three 105 mm guns and 30 rounds of ammunition. It was damaged on its return flight and could not fly again that night. The following night, after no Argentine counter-attack helicopters ferried in the rest of 42 Commando to secure Mount Challenger. 45 Commando joined them on 4th June. The weather now deteriorated crippling both Argentine and British air power.
5 Brigade sailed from Britain on the Queen Elizabeth II on 12th May, with some but not all of the equipment they needed to go to war and little armour. The brigade transferred to Canberra and Norland for its final passage south at South Georgia.
2 Para then continued overland past Swan Inlet house to Bluff Cove with a short helicopter hop by A Company to secure the northern bank and wait for 5 Brigade to arrive. 5 brigade were unable to march across the Falklands, having missed out on the vital six day acclimatization period 3 Commando had benefited from. So a second landing was staged in terrible weather, including 70 knot winds. The first units of 5 brigade were put ashore on the beaches. After much delay, the Guard of 5 brigade took over the positions of 2 Para who retied to the shearing sheds at Fitzroy to dry out.
The Navy now pulled out the massive Landing Ships and instead sent in the light RAF ships to unload the Brigades supplies. The undefended landing ship Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad were kept in the close shore waters as they continued to unload and were bombed by Argentine aircraft during the following day. Both were hit badly and Plymouth was also bombed that afternoon cause a large lose of life particularly with in the ranks of the 1st battalion Welsh Guards aboard Sir Tristram. Aircraft and landing craft lifted survivors off.
Three days after this catastrophe, 3 Commando and 5 Brigade launched the battle for Port Stanley. The first act was to clear the mountains of Argentine soldiers and their snipers who were equipped with night vision scopes. The ensuing actions involved bitter fighting as 3 Para advanced over the mountains blasting Argentine positions with mortars and anti- tank weapons Storming argentine positions some times in bayonet charges. Ian Mackay, a Platoon sergeant led his platoon against an Argentine bunker, and lobbed in two grenades before he was killed himself. he was awarded a Posthumous Victoria Cross.
No 45 and 42 commando captured Two Sisters and Mount Harriet, then the 2nd battalion Scots Guards moved on Tumbledown Mountain as the 1/7 Gurkhas attacked Mount William before joining the 1st Welsh guards in the assault on Sapper Hill. some of the most bitter fighting took place on the mountains surrounding Port Stanley. 2 and 3 Para advanced on Mount Longdon and through the old marine barracks at Moody Brook Barrack and into Port Stanley. On 14th June at 2100 Hours, the Argentine forces surrendered. 11,313 Argentines were taken prisoner and were herded aboard British ships for repatriation.
The first RAF mission after the Argentine invasion was a reconnaissance sortie flown by a Nimrod MR1 of No.42 squadron from Ascension Island which surveyed the Argentine forces on and around the Islands in support of the submarines deploying ahead of the main task force. These mission continued until 15th April when No.42 was relived by Nimrod MR2s, some armed with self defense Sidewinder missiles from the Kinloss wing.
On the 21st April, Sea Harriers of No.800 Squadron intercepted an Argentine Air Force Boeing 707 carrying out a reconnaissance over the task force, it was escorted out of the area. Four days later British Forces recaptured South Georgia and a Royal Navy Wasp damaged the Argentine Submarine Sante Fe with AS12 missiles.
The following day, the Argentine Cruiser was spotted by Canberra PR9s of No.39 Squadron operating clandestinely out of Chile, and subsequently sank by H.M.S. Conqueror. meanwhile the Task Force entered the 300 mile Total Exclusion Zone around the Islands and attacked the airfield with naval gunfire. On the night of 3rd May, the Vulcans made a second 'Black Buck' raid on Port Stanley.
The 4th May saw H.M.S. Sheffield hit by an Argentine Exocet missile, she subsequently sank. The same day, the first Sea Harrier was lost to enemy ground fire. Meanwhile, nine Harrier GR3s from No.1 Squadron from the Uk to Ascension in 9 hours and 15 minutes, having been adapted to carry Sidewinders and naval 2 inch rockets. Two days later, the Task Force lost two Sea Harriers when they failed to return from a Cap and are presumed to have collided in bad weather.
The 7th May saw Britain extend the TEZ to within 12 miles of the Argentine coast and two days later an Argentine surveillance trawler was found within the TEZ
and strafed by Sea Harriers, and sunk after the crew surrendered. A period of bad weather followed restricting flying for both sides, although the SAS
destroyed a number of Argentine aircraft on the ground at the Pebble Island airstrip during the night of
The following day two Sea Harriers strafed Argentine supply vessels in Falkland Sound, damaging one so badly that it had to be beached. The 18th May, saw the RAF Harriers from Ascension arrive onboard the freighter Atlantic Conveyor, from where they transferred to the H.M.S. Hermes, the following day three of them dropped cluster bombs on a fuel dump near Fox bay. The main amphibious landing took place on 21st May, with the Harriers providing air defense and ground support. The Frigate H.M.S. Ardent was destroyed by rocket fire from Argentine aircraft, but the Harriers accounted for three Skyhawk and three Daggers with Sidewinder Air-to-air missiles and another two Pucaras with gunfire. Two pumas and a Chinook were destroyed on the ground in the mount Kent area. one Harrier was shot down by ground fire and its pilot captured.
More ground support sorties were flown on the 23rd, including bombings of airstrips at Dunnose Head and Pebble Beach, destroying a number of Pucaras. H.M.S. Antelope was crippled by A-4 Skyhawks in San Carlos water the same day. The next day saw Sea Harriers and RAF Harriers dropped 1,000lb bombs, managed to damage a number of aircraft despite exceptionally heavy fire. A Sea Harrier was lost when it crashed into the sea, killing its pilot. While Sea Harriers accounted for a Mirage and three Daggers. The following day, the Skyhawks were back in force, sinking H.M.S. Coventry. Argentine Super Etendards launched Exocet missiles which set fire to the Atlantic Conveyor and caused her to be abandoned later along with her precious cargo of Chinooks. Harriers destroyed an Argentine Puma near Douglas settlement using cluster bombs. Harrier raids on the airfields were repeated the next day and again on the 27th. Another Harrier was downed during the 27th, again by ground fire. the pilot was rescued.
The 28th saw three Harriers support 2 Para and encouraged 1200 Argentine troops to surrender on the following morning. The 30th May was marked byHarriers mounting 10 close support sorties, one used Laser Guided Bombs, although they were ineffective due to the failure of the Forward Air Controller to be in the correct position. A third Harrier was lost to ground fire, but the pilot was plucked form the sea within minutes by a helicopters. A third Black Buck mission hit Stanley Airfield that night, the Vulcan being armed with American Shrike missiles, which temporarily disabled the radar. Meanwhile, Argentine Canberras bombed troop positions at San Carlos with little success. The 1st June was opened with a series of raids on Stanley airfield, but a pair of Harriers failed to intercept some MB339s reported in the area. However, two Harriers of No.801 squadron attacked an Argentine Hercules and shot it down, a similar aircraft (if not the very same aircraft) was reported to have bombed a British Tanker two days previously.
A Second Black Buck anti-radar sortie was mounted on the night of 2/3 June, but failed because the Argentineans shut the radar down. The Vulcan was forced to land in Brazil and was impounded until the 11th June following damage to its refuelling probe. The remaining missile was confiscated. Bad weather again intervened until the 5th June
The next sorties were on 5th June, when Harriers flew eight close support and armed recce sorties in search of ground-based Exocets. On the same day, the San Carlos prefabricated airstrip went into operation. A Harrier was damaged by a near-miss with a Surface to Air Missile and landed roughly at the prefabricated airstrip. Heavy Argentine air activity provided the Sea Harriers with plenty of chance for Target practice on the 8th June, when they downed three Skyhawks. However, four others got through and bombed the troopships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, leaving 53 dead. Two more Harriers had arrived during the day, following a 3,500 mile flight. Another tanker was bombed by an Argentinean Hercules on the 12th June, but the bombs failed to explode. More close support sorties followed for the next few days, including the last Black Buck mission on the night of 12/13 June, with 1,000lb bombs.
The 13th June saw the first successful Laser Guided Bomb sorties against an enemy 155 mm gun, which was destroyed at Mount Tumbleweed. A similar sorties the following day was called off when negotiations began.
On the 14th July 1982, the Argentine troops surrendered. During the eight week conflict 28 Sea Harriers flew 1,435 operational sorties shooting down 20 enemy aircraft plus three probables, while 14 Harriers flew a total of 126 sorties and the Vulcans five. They were supported by 375 Victor Tanker, 111 Nimrod and more than 600 Hercules and VC10 sorties with countless helicopter missions.
Westland Wessex helicopters inserted and took off an SAS patrol on South Georgia, despite loosing two of their number in the appalling conditions. The pilot was awarded the DSO for taking off from South Georgia in such appalling conditions with a massive overload of seventeen soldiers and naval airmen (Crew of the two previously crashed Wessexes). Later, SAS and SBS units were transported by helicopter to take control of the principal settlement on South Georgia, Gritvyken without a shot being fired, almost 200 Argentine soldiers were taken prisoner.
The lack of Airborne Early Warning aircraft available to the British fleet following the scrapping of the Royal navy's conventional aircraft carriers and the subsequent sinkings of a number of Task Force ships convinced the Admiralty that such an aircraft was needed and Royal Navy ASW Sea Kings were converted after the war to serve this role.
On Wednesday March the 31st 1982 British intelligence indicated that the Argentine fleet would be moving into position for a seaborne assault on the Falkland Islands within the next 48 hours. The Argentine force had sailed under the overall command of Vice Admiral Juan Lombardo. Most of the ships sailed on Friday 26th March from the port of Puerto Belgrano. Rex Hunt the Governor of the Falklands, was informed by London of the Argentineans possible intentions. Governor Hunt immediately summoned the two senior Royal Marine officers on the island to Government House to discuss the defence of the Falklands. Saying " Sounds like the buggers mean it.
At 1.30 am the Argentine commandos split into two groups and moved off to their objectives. Sanchez-Sabarots took his group to attack the Royal Marine barracks at Moody Brook while Lieutenant Commander Pedro Giachino took the other group around Sapper Hill to attack Government House and capture Governor Hunt. Giachino, who was normally 2IC of the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion, had in fact volunteered to accompany the commandos on Operation 'Rosario'. By the end of the day's fighting his name was known in every Argentine household.
At 11pm, the Argentine submarine Santa Fe gently surfaced off Kidney Island. Unfortunately for her, she was spotted straight away by Forrest's radar and Jack Sollis reported the submarine's presence to Government House. Ten tactical divers left the submarine aboard three Zodiacs and headed to a beach just east of Yorke Point, code named " Red Beach " where they placed navigation beacons.
The noise of the assault on Moody Brook barracks had alerted Norman that the Argentines had landed. At the time he was at Out Look Rocks near Government House. He immediately drove back to Government house and radioed all his sections to return to Government House. Realizing that he was being attacked from various directions, he had decided to centralize his defence around Government House.
Giachino was hit almost at once trying to throw a grenade. Another Argentine officer was also hit in the leg, while the others ran and hid in the maids' quarters. Governor Hunt and Chief Secretary Barker took cover under the Governor's desk while the defenders of Government House and the Argentine commandos exchanged fire. A stalemate now developed, with Giachino lying badly wounded in the annex, the grenade, with its pin removed, still in his hand. An Argentine medic tried to reach him but was also wounded by a grenade. The British tried to get Giachino to throw away the grenade so he could be helped, but Giachino refused to do so, thinking, possibly, that it grenade might bounce back at him. There was also a language problem, as none of the British spoke Spanish and none of the Argentines spoke English, so the three wounded men were left were they fell. Later after the surrender of Government house, Argentine medics tried desperately to save Giachino, but he had lost too much blood and died shortly afterwards. He was to be the fist Argentine to be killed in the conflict. Most Argentine soldiers through out the conflict carried a eulogy written for Giachino. It reads thus.
The Malvinas Are Argentine
Many hued skies, majestic above the sea,
Imposing white and blue standard,
Struggle of people, fervour, lamentations,
Impassioned verses of Pedroni
Nidia AG Otbea de Fontanini
While this action was taking place, the defenders at Government House were still exchanging shots with the few Argentine commandos that surrounded the building. During this time Major Norman received a report from Cpl. York's No. 6 section, which was still covering the harbour in a Gemini assault boat. Cpl. York came over the net (radio) saying he had three possible targets to engage and wanted Major Norman to tell him what his target priorities were. " What are the targets? " Norman asked York over the net. York replied, " Target number 1 is an aircraft carrier, target number 2 is a cruiser... " At that moment the radio went dead.
After his radio died on him, Cpl. York, decided it was time to pull out. His men first booby-trapped their Carl Gustav using grenades. York then tried to send
a final message to Norman, saying " I'm going fishing " a cryptic reference to a comment he had made earlier the day before to Norman when asked what he
intended to do if the Argentines did invade. York's section paddled their Gemini out over the kelp before starting the engine and headed north across Port
William. Not long after starting the engine, York was horrified to find an Argentine destroyer chasing his small boat. He quickly made for the shadows of
a Polish fishing factory ship that was anchored near the shore, then headed into shore and pulled up on a small beach. The section hid the Gemini and melted
into the hills, with only their fighting order. For three days York and his Marines traveled slowly northwest, knowing that the rest of NP 8901 had been
captured by now. They went undetected by Argentine helicopters. On the 4th of April York and his
Cpl York and his section of five Marines who were isolated on the western side of the narrows saw from their position that the Argentines were laying an ambush for them. As they had a Gemini hidden on the opposite side of the headland, they decided it was time to make a tactical withdrawal. Loading their kit into the the Gemini, and in order to avoid detection paddled their way to make good their escape. Suddenly round the headland came an Argentine Destroyer at full speed. It quickly spotted them, and in the words of Marine 'Butch' Urand 'I think we did 100 mile per hour!'. And to its everlasting credit the Johnson outboard motor sprang into life, and they made good their escape, first hiding behind a Polish Fishing vessel and then running their Gemini into the shallows out of reach of the Argentines. They lived in caves on diddle-do-berries for three days before their final capture. When taken, the Argentines were a little confused as to what rank three badge Marine Urand was (three Badges being long service stripes) because is chums had nicknamed him 'The General'. Being older than the rest, The Argentineans decided that discretion was the better part of valour and introduced him to 'The General' to the local naval commander, an Argentine Admiral.
Marine Jeffery Urand and the rest of NP8901 were flown to Argentinia, Marine Urand and his little party were kept separately from the remainder and intensively interrogated. Although no physical violence was used, the technique was aggressive and at times threatening. Their heads were shaved and they were kept in solitary confinement, before eventually being sent home. Now back again with the task force, Now suddenly he heard the unforgettable voice of his interrogator again. A officious Argentine captain was addressing a company of forlorn conscripts before dispersal on to the airfield. Marine Urand strolled up behind and tapped the Argentine captain on the shoulder:' 'Allo My Darlin', Fancy us meeting like this again,' The military police officer paled, Gulped and quickly disappeared into the ever changing throng of POWs.
The Wessex 3 returned to H.M.S. Antrim to wait for a break in the weather. An hour later an opportunity presented itself and the Wessex 3 flew back, embarked the survivors and flew back to H.M.S. Antrim piloted by Lt-Commander Ian Stanley RN, who was awarded the DSO.
23rd April 1982
6th May 1982
19th May 1982
21st May 1982
23rd May 1982
25th May 1982
28th May 1982
29th May 1982
5th June 1982
During the Falklands war, British submarines were the first warships to reach the islands and began to enforce the Exclusion Zone around them. Of these vessels, H.M.S. Conqueror (Arrived 16th April) was the one to gain fame, becoming the first nuclear powered submarine to sink an enemy ship in combat. The diesel powered Oberon/Porpoise class H.M.S. Onyx (Arrived 28th May) served in a patrol area along with the two Swiftsure submarines: H.M.S. Spartan (Arrived 12th April) and H.M.S. Splendid (Arrived 19th April). As well as patrolling against Argentine submarines, these warships kept the Argentine carrier in dock, along with most of the Argentine Navy. Of those ships and submarines which made sorties against the Task Force, the British submarines prowled for Argentine ships outside the Total Exclusion Zone.
On 12th April, a 200-mile Maritime Exclusion Zone came into operation around the Falklands, this being changed to a Total Exclusion Zone on 30th April. Any Argentine vessels found within the zone were liable to be sunk without warning. The 26th April saw helicopters from the destroyer Antrim, the frigates Brilliant and Plymouth attack, damage and force the Argentinean submarine Santa Fe to run aground and surrender.
Argentine submarines continued to pose a threat to the task force, but no successful attacks were carried out. Although some confusion during the landings did include sightings of possible torpedo tracks, no attacks were confirmed. The fleet's helicopters provided constant anti-submarine cover; a task for which they were designed with the Royal Navy's anti-submarine role being pre-eminent within NATO.
All Submarine images are curtsey of Andrew Arthur who runs H.M.S. Andrew, a virtual encyclopedia of the Royal Navy since the 1930's until today, and onwards..
3 Para's Battle for Mount Longdon
From the start of the advance, the artillery guns had been firing on recorded targets from Fullback while the guns and mortars had been pounding the targets throughout the action with rounds landing sometimes only 50 yards away from their own troops. The Battalion commander had also arrived by this time and had brought a fire support group under Major Peter Dennison, which had occupied a position on the summit of Mount Longdon and was bringing down fire on the enemy further east along the ridge.
B Company HQ was in an OP overlooking the enemy position and was laying heavy automatic fire on them. Everyone available plus artillery and mortars provided covering fire for the withdrawal from contact of the two platoons. The casualties were recovered and one fatality was sustained during the withdrawal as well as several minor casualties, with the withdrawal supervised by the company sergeant major.
The 50-cal had been quiet for some time and it was hoped it had been neutralized. As B Company left cover to move forward they came under fire from two flanks, one from a position further east than the 50-cal and the other from the northeast where a number of enemy trenches were known to be. It was decided to move back and up onto the ridge and try and come at the enemy from behind. As this move was being carried out more fire came down, causing three more wounded. B Company's numbers were now critical and it was decided to pass A Company through to continue the action eastwards.
" Troops Out "
The San Carlos Landings
After Southby-Tailyour's briefing, Thompson's Intelligence Officer, Captain Rowe, gave a briefing on the known
The SBS would be the first in to secure the landing beaches and mark them for the approaching landing craft.
42 Commando would act as a floating reserve aboard H.M.S. Canberra.
D Squadron of the SAS would cause a diversion for the landing by flying ashore from H.M.S. Intrepid and using noise and heavy fire power would try to convince "Task force Mercedes" (the Argentine troops stationed at Goose Green) that they were being attacked by a regiment, keeping the Argentines occupied while the landings took place.
Various other members of Thompson's staff then took over the briefing to give detailed instruction on logistics
Unknowingly, Esteban had put a spanner in the works and Thompson and his staff had to re-think their plan. Over night they re-wrote the plans to "Operation Sutton" The new plan was as follows.
3 SBS would be put ashore well before the main invasion to deal with the 'Fanning Head Mob'.
D squadron SAS would stick to their original role of keeping "Task force Mercedes" (the Argentine troops
The noise of the helicopters depositing the SBS alerted the 'Fanning Head Mob' and one of the sentries awoke Lt. Reyes saying that something was happening in the bay. Reyes ordered the recoilless rifle to be fired into San Carlos Water, but there was no reaction. He then radioed Esteban at Port San Carlos telling him that there was possible British activity in San Carlos. After speaking to Esteban, Reyes went back to sleep.
Alpha: Beach safe
At 4.30am local time B Company 2 Para stormed ashore at "Blue Beach 1". The British had returned to the
The Recce Troop moved forward to establish OPs on Verde Mountain but found progress slow due to their heavy loads and difficult terrain. The SAS diversion at Darwin had proved effective and the San Carlos Landings continued undisturbed. See Map
Combat Team Eagle at Port San Carlos was retreating in front of 3 Para. Some Argentineans managed to evade capture for the next few days. The Argentine Air Force started to retaliate against the task force at about 0900 hrs, with a series of sorties flown from Stanley and long-range sorties from the mainland. H.M.S. Ardent and H.M.S. Argonaut were singled out for attack with both being badly damaged. The Ardent had to be abandoned, and the Argonaut, with two 1,000 lb unexploded bombs aboard, was towed into San Carlos Water.
Minutes later a second Gazelle, unaware of the peril ahead, followed the same route and was raked by machine gun fire from below. The helicopter crashed to the ground in flames. When rescuers dragged the crew, Lt. Ken France and Lance Corporal Pat Griffin, from the burning wreckage they found them dead. Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly arrived at the crash site soon after in a Wessex from H.M.S. Canberra. There was nothing he could do for France or Griffin, but he decided to return the bodies of the two men back to the Task Force, which was against orders, but he did so mainly out of respect. That evening aboard the landing ship Sir Galahad, the Brigade Air Squadron held a memorial service for their three dead colleagues. See Map
This shooting of unarmed men in the water had a marked effect on the British troops in the Task Force. Reyes and his party made it back to Goose Green four days later although stragglers from the 'Fanning Head Mob' were still being rounded up around the San Carlos area a week after the landings.
Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre
The Battle for Top Malo House
Captain Boswell RM. and nineteen of his men of the M and AW Cadre were about to undertake a task that had originated from a report made on May 27th by a four man patrol from the cadre, sitting on Bull Hill. They had been in position since D-Day, 21st May, one of a number of small patrols that were the eyes and ears of the Commando Brigade. The four man patrol on Bull Hill, well forward on the route to Teal and Stanley, reported back to say that this may be their last message because two Argentine UH-1 helicopters were hovering over the OP. Eventually, and to the relief of the patrol, the UH-1s lifted and hovered and then flew in the direction of Mount Simon.
With most of 5 Infantry Brigade entrenched in the Bluff Cove-Fitzroy area on 9th June, Brigadier Tony Wilson assembled the battalion commanders to plan the Brigade's part in the advance on Port Stanley. 3 Commando Brigade would attack Two Sisters and Mount Harriet, and 3 Para would take on Mount Longdon. 5 Brigade was assigned Mount Tumbledown, Mount William, Wireless Ridge and Sapper Hill. Wilson's first idea was for the Brigade to attack on the 12th June, with 2 Para attacking Wireless Ridge and the Ghurkhas undertaking active patrols on Mount Tumbledown and Mount William on the same night as 3 Commando attacked. The Scots Guards, with a company of Ghurkhas under command, would move in step with 3 Commando Brigade, covering their south flank. If Tumbledown and William did not fall to the Ghurkhas, the Scots Guards would go in at first light on 12th or 13th June. The Welsh Guards were down to only two effective companies and were intended to be kept in reserve by Brigadier Wilson.
A recce platoon of 2nd Btn, Scots Guards, was forward of Bluff Cove at a covert patrol base during the conference, and on his return, Lt-Col. Mike Scott recalled the platoon. Before it could withdraw they were brought under mortar and small arms fire.
Platoon Sergeant Allum gave the order to pull out, under intense fire, which wounded three men including Sergeant Allum. The casualties were taken to an emergency rendezvous and were lifted by helicopter direct to the main dressing station in Ajax Bay. The remainder of the platoon picked their way through a minefield that barred their retreat, the platoon then got a ride to Bluff Cove, courtesy of Scimitars and Scorpions of the Blues and Royals Troop, which was with 5 Brigade. The action showed that the Argentines were well prepared to face any threat from the south.
The new plan was once Tumbledown had been taken, the Ghurkhas would assault Mount Williams, and then the Welsh guards would pass through and seize Sapper Hill.
The following morning the helicopters arrived and the men were airlifted into position. Sangars were dug and the Argentines shelled the position for most of the day, although they only wounded one man. The platoon and section commanders got a good look at the objective during the day and at 1400 hours, Scott gave his final orders.
The diversionary attack started at 2030 hours. Major Richard Bethell commanded the attack with three four-man assault sections from the recce platoon and a fire support group from Battalion headquarters with A1 echelon, the battalion's immediate logistics element. In support were the Blues and Royals and two sappers, a forward observation officer, and mortar fire controller.
Signs of the enemy had been seen earlier, but now none were apparent. Bethell sent the Blues and Royals off towards Stanley to draw fire, the lead vehicle running over a mine, but luckily not sustaining any injuries to the crew and without attracting the attention of the Argentines. A sangar was spotted as the assault group advanced. The fire support group took up position and the assault group closed in. They spotted further sangars and snoring could be heard. The group split up to deal with these dugouts and came under heavy fire. Two men were killed immediately and four more wounded. After two hours' hard fighting, the position was eventually secured and then came the withdrawal.
Major Bethell, and the piper with him, was providing covering fire for the withdrawal and both were wounded by grenade shrapnel. Four more men were badly wounded in a minefield. Argentine artillery opened fire. It had little effect as the shells buried themselves deep in the soft peat. The dead had to be abandoned and the party reached the starting point just after midnight, in time to see Tumbledown lit up by artillery fire and 0.5in tracers form Mount Harriet.
G Company advanced in two parallel columns for the three kilometres from the start line to their objective. Despite sporadic snow flurries, artillery, and mortar fire, as well as star shells, they managed to get onto their objective, only to find that the Argentines had abandoned it, but they heard Spanish being spoken further up the hill and remained undetected. The 'Left Flank' passed through G Company at 2230 hours and G Company provided supporting fire. This drew mortar and artillery fire onto their positions and they suffered some casualties. Meanwhile, the two platoons of 'Left Flank' closed with the enemy.
The enemy were still holding onto the last part of the Mountain, and at 0600 hours 'Right Flank' moved to deal with them. Major Simon Price planned to do a right flanking action with two platoons, the third to provide covering fire. He had only half an hour until daylight. There was no artillery support and little mortar fire.
Tumbledown was a very tough nut to crack and a remarkable achievement for a battalion that two and a half months before had been on ceremonial duties in London.
3rd April 1982
1st May 1982.
These attacks inflicted the following damage:
Official Argentine Sources state:
9th May 1982.
H.M.S. Coventry destroys Puma, SA330L of CAB 601, while flying over Choiseul sound with Sea Dart SAM at a range of over 10 miles. All three crew members are killed.
Official Argentine Sources state:
12th May 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
Official Argentine Sources state:
21st May 1982.
These attacks inflicted the following damage:
Official Argentine Sources state:
23rd May 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
24th May 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
25th May 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
27th May 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
28th May 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
1st June 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
7th June 1982.
8th June 1982
13th June 1982.
Official Argentine Sources state:
Galtieri's seizure of the Falklands could not have been worse timed for Margaret Thatcher. Race riots in English cities, high unemployment and back bench grumbling had eroded her dominance over the Conservative Party and the House of Commons. After the Falkands fell she fired her Foreign Secretary, useful and necessary under the circumstances, but had to accept as a replacement Francis Pym(1)whose hawkishness towards the Argentineans remained in doubt until war's end. Thatcher and Pym shared a mutual dislike and mistrust. Her Foreign Office had commited that gravest of burocratic blunders, it had gestated a minor perplexity into a major crisis. She could not repose confidence in her intelligence community after its failure to assess accurately Argentina's overt preparations for war. A new political party, the Social Democrats, had risen to a 40% approval rating in nation wide polls and threatened a major victory over the Conservatives at looming local elections. Unlike Churchill, Hume or Macmillan she had never participated in a war let alone led her country in an armed conflict(2).
As soon as the very visible and expensive preparations for war were put in train allies and opponents alike clamored for quick results(3). But Galtieri and his captured kelpers were not Thatcher's sole points of concern. It was not altogether clear that Britain's professional military were of one mind about the repossession's chances of success(4). Senior military men abroad issued mordant warnings about an operation for which British forces had neither the equipment nor the expertise to complete. Setting aside her allies' skepticism and her enemies' hostility Thatcher plunged her dwindling political capital into a distant venture of whose causes and possible results few knew much(5). A war cabinet was formed(6) and the dogs of war began to bay.
Major fleet units homebound from spring exercises near Gibraltar reversed course, loaded war stores and sailed southwards. Other Royal Navy ships were put on four hours notice to move. The navy's tiny amphibious staff, moribund after cuts in its budget, cobbled together ships, men and plans for an opposed landing over unknown beaches. The Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade, Britain's sole amphibious force, was put on 72 hours notice to move and all its officers and men recalled from leave, schools and even a marriage. With all of that many weeks would pass before troops could assault Port Stanley. Meantime Thatcher needed a dramatic event to keep her cabinet with her, to put Galtieri on the defensive, to still her domestic opponents, to preserve US support, to rally the free world to her side and to convince the captive kelpers that they might get their freedom back. The cur dogs already nipped at her heels(7). James Callaghan, Labor's spokesman on defense, accused Thatcher of a "gross blunder" in letting the Falklands fall(8). From Thatcher's own party the Falkland Islands lobby shouted: "I told you so" so stridently that a Foreign Office spokesman was moved to retort that: "Air Commodore Frow (the lobby's spokesman) has no official standing whatever.The crisis is entirely a matter for the British government."(9) There was the Argentinean angle too. If despite his self-adulatory bluster Galtieri could be persuaded that Thatcher meant business he might heed the provisions of UN Resolution 502 and quit the islands before bloodshed began.
By 3 April 1982, Anthony Parsons, Britain's delegate to the UN, had shepherded through the UN's Security Council Resolution 502. That called for Argentina's immediate removal of its armed forces from the Falklands as a condition precedent to negotiation about Falklands' future sovereignty. Parson's brilliant diplomacy at the UN, a bare few hours after the Argentina's invasion, put the Falklands center stage in world affairs and convinced a heterogeneous assortment of 3rd world, industrialized and non English speaking states to oppose in public the junta's military adventurism. Parson's diplomatic triumph was complete. Absent Argentina's removal of its military forces Britain could now take military steps to retake the Falklands.The Soviet Union failed to veto the British resolution and non-aligned states mutely resisted the Argentinean ambassador's pleas for their help. Much to the surprise of Argentina's foreign office settlement of border disputes by armed force was not a precedent modern nation states could stomach. The reasons were clear. Even passive approval of Argentina's invasion would condone military initiatives almost anywhere else along the Amur River for example where China and the Soviet Union contested in a not always cold war(10). Thenceforth Argentina's diplomacy remained tentative and defensive.
Passage of Resolution 502 gave Thatcher room and time to maneuver, but not much. She could sequester Argentina's holdings in London, stop trade between the two countries and lobby for other nations' support. Yet no cheap or easy answers to repossession of the islands presented themselves. She could not attack Argentinean ships on the high seas because no war had been declared. She could not bomb the Argentinean mainland because so disproportionate a response would turn new found allies against her and she could not yet seize the Falklands because Britain's military was not in place(11). Parson's victory at the UN gave his Prime Minister a decaying asset that delay or a false step could quickly squander. Now that Thatcher had negotiating momentum she had to follow up Parson's triumph with military accomplishment that could not await the month long marshalling of Britain's invasion force. The British middle classes whose wrath at Argentina's theft the Prime Minister had so deftly exploited could not long exist on rhetoric; they needed blood. In twenty predominantly labor boroughs 24% of potential Tory voters considered the Falklands crisis as the most important or an important factor in the upcoming elections(12). Had it not happened Argentina's invasion of South Georgia would have to have been invented.
The seismic forces that split South America from Africa eons ago forced layers of material upwards from the earth's crust; a few broke the oceans' surface. One such is South Georgia, a mountainous mass of 1450 sq. miles shaped like a North West to South East hot dog, half permanently covered in ice. Although a merchant captain, de la Roche, may have sighted the island in 1675 Captain James Cook RN in Resolution was first to set foot on it. He named that desolate mass and claimed it for the crown on January 17,1775. At 54 deg S and 36 deg W South Georgia falls victim to some of the world's worst weather. "The wild rocks raised their lofty summits till they were lost in the clouds and the valleys laid buried in everlasting snow. Not a tree or shrub was to be seen, no not even big enough to make a toothpick. I landed in three different places and took possession of the country in his Majesty's name under a discharge of arms(13)." Until the late 20th century no one else coveted the island and the name and ownership stuck.
Pitiless weather and jagged topography, many mountains surpass five thousand feet, make the island impassable for most of its length to all but the most intrepid. Storms with 100 MPH winds are common. Violent downdrafts swoop from peaks down to ground level with little warning and savage one part of the island while leaving others in frigid calm. Ice bergs calved from sheer cliffs compete in size and menace with their larger cousins floating up from the Antarctic. Because these formations do not always show on radar screens navigation inshore, especially at night when chunks of ice slink in unnoticed, is a hazardous affair. Rubble from the wind scoured mountain sides renders them unstable underfoot. Climbers are few. Trees do not grow. Tussock grass feeds rats and a few thousand reindeer while seals, penguins and a few dozen species of bird live off the riches of the sea.
By 1960 modern methods of capturing whales en masse ended South Georgia's only economic role because there were few whales left to kill and little whale blubber left to be rendered in Grytviken's giant stills(14). A benign if unintended consequence of this sad practice occurred here. Killing whales beyond their rates of reproduction caused an overabundance of krill, a nutritional bonanza for South Georgia's seals and penguins whose numbers have soared. By 1965 the whalers, mostly Norwegian some Japanese and Russians, had left for good; their machinery rusted into scrap. Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the odd lost mariner and a few daring travelers clustered around Grytviken, Husvik, Leith and Stromness, the only settlements worth the name. The Survey's head was the island's de facto chief magistrate, port captain, post master and immigration agent. All in all South Georgia was not a fortuitous place to begin a war.
Argentina's capture of South Georgia, its small Royal Marines party and scientists from the BAS was at first blush a public humiliation for Thatcher. (see The Argentine Invasion of South Georgia ). In fact Argentina's occupation presented her a needed benison because recapture of that island became an immediate possibility. The defeat of ten thousand Argentinean troops in East Falkland eight hundred miles to the north would take blood, treasure and time. A hundred or so unwary Argentinean troops skulking out of the wind in wooden houses was another matter. A good chance existed that South Georgia could be repurchased on the cheap.
Thatcher ordered Admiral Fieldhouse on 7 April 1982 to reestablish British presence on South Georgia(15). The order was based on a false premise because British subjects, members of the British Antarctic Survey, remained at large in several posts around the island. A backward look at British military policy in the 1970's is needed here. It must be recalled that the costs of maintaining large ground and air forces on NATO's central front and ballistic missile submarines at sea had foreclosed solo British operations outside Europe. The men, equipment and planning for such ventures simply did not exist. Successive governments and their Treasuries had not given the Ministry of Defense enough resources to match commitments, a free Falklands for example, that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had kept in place. As a consequence the fragile command and control structure for the forces intended to seize the Falklands was an unpracticed expedient. The recapture of South Georgia burdened an embryonic organization, itself unsure of its specific goal and the means at hand to achieve it, with a task that had not been tried since WW2, the expulsion of invaders from British territory(16).
On 7 April 1982 Colonel Richard Preston, Chief of Staff of the Royal Marines' Commando Forces, telephoned LtCol. Nick Vaux CO of the Royal Marines' 42 Commando to set aside one infantry company, equipped for Arctic warfare, with supporting elements for a move on six hours notice to Ascension Island(17). From there the tiny marine force, all arctic trained, with additions from the Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Army's Special Air Service (SAS) would sail south into winter waters in order to recapture an unfamiliar island from a hostile force of unknown size and capability. Vaux nominated his second in command Major J. M. G. Sheridan RM as land commander of this force.
Though best suited for the job, Sheridan's absence from Vaux' command as it organized itself for the attack on Falklands deprived his unit and 3 Commando Brigade of a critical human asset. Vaux sensed that invasion of the Falklands, if it came to that, would be a boots in the mud affair and that victory would hang on basic soldiering in the wet and cold rather than on the high-tech gadgetry bought for combat on the North European plain. Vaux' 2nd in command fit Preston's requirements precisely. Sheridan, son and grandson of Indian Army officers, was the quintessential field grade infantry officer. He had entered the Royal Marines at age eighteen, received his commission and led troops in Aden, Borneo, Malaya, Oman and in the UK. He was a graduate of Camberly Staff College and had helped to organize and train a Commando for the Imperial Iranian Navy. A world class mountaineer and skier, he had been a member of the British Olympic Biathon team from 1969 to 1972.
Recapture of South Georgia was a zero sum game. Victory would be a thumb in Galtieri's eye. Failure in South Georgia, or even a tepid lack of success would delay or eliminate capture of the Falklands, solidify Argentina's claim to those islands and almost certainly end Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister. Britain's inclination to interfere in military affairs outside Europe was moribund after Suez; defeat in the Falklands would bury the notion. Even in Europe Britain's position as America's best ally there would be questioned if not doubted. She could not afford a picture in the world's press of a second group of captured Royal Marines lying face down in the mud. Margaret Thatcher had never met Major J. M. G. Sheridan RM, but she had unknowingly put her political future in his hands.
On 7 April 1982 Admiral Fieldhouse ordered Captain Brian Young RN in HMS Antrim to proceed at best speed to Ascension Island. Young was concurrently placed in charge of CTG 317.9 the navy, marine and army force intended to recapture South Georgia. Sheridan was the commander land force (CLF). Besides Sheridan's marines Young had four ships: HMS Antrim and HMS Plymouth and a tanker RFA Tidespring. The fourth ship, HMS Endurance, had been the Falkland's station ship and its Captain, Nick Barker, had lengthy tactical experience in the amphibious operating area.. Young had no air support but did have a Wessex 3 ASW helo on Antrim, a Lynx utility helo on Plymouth and two Wessex 5 light helicopters on Tidespring.
Fieldhouse' directive of 9 April 1982 laid out the chain of command for Operation Corporate the name given to the retaking of the Falklands. Fieldhouse followed standard US, NATO and Allied command and control procedures for amphibious operations: the battle fleet commander, amphibious commander and land force commander are equals whatever their rank and pay grade.The Amphibious Group commander directs the amphibious force until the troops complete a secure landing and the land force commander can take up his units' fighting in a coherent and sustainable way. From that moment the land force commander orders fire support missions, logistics over the beach or by air and the host of military tasks that let him complete the operation. In fact the naval commander's only job is to get the troops and equipment onto the beach with as little damage as possible to either so that the ground mission gets done quickly with the fewest casualties(18). Sheridan's tiny force was the sole justification for Young's naval group and the point of the British spear.
The choice of Brian Young to lead CTG 317.9 was as odd as the mission he was asked to complete. He was a successful aviator and commanding officer with no over the beach amphibious experience. Both he and his hard used ship(19) were on the point of retirement when ordered to head south. He had little experience of working with Royal Marines(20). His scant knowledge of the proposed operating area came from books and briefings. Many observers then and since believe that Captain Nick Barker in HMS Endurance, the Falklands station ship, was the better choice. He had commanded a combat ship (HMS Arrow) equipped with Exocet missiles, the surface weapon that the Argentinean navy would most likely use against him. He had watched the Argentinean buildup from close at hand and knew his patch of the South Atlantic. He had landed on South Georgia and walked about. His helicopter pilots were the only British flyers competent to give the amphibious force first hand guidance on South Georgia's unique terrain and awful weather. He knew personally, not by message or letter, many of the British Antarctic Survey's staff including those few still living free on the island. A permanent detachment of Royal Marines lived aboard Endurance and had ship's duties as well. One marine was a ship's cook and another the ship's butcher. Mutual respect had flowered. Barker knew the Argentinean Navy's strengths and weaknesses better than any other Royal Navy officer. He had met and sized up many of the Argentinean officers who were now his enemies. Endurance had a full set of communications gear and regularly intercepted Argentinean military message traffic. Tactical reasoning supported the choice of Barker, too. Managing a ship in combat is difficult enough without ordering other ships and troops; it would have been more efficient if it came to a sea fight to let Barker command the squadron while Brian Young fought his own ship without the need to care for other combatants. Still Young enjoyed Fieldhouse' confidence and a close relationship with Rear Admiral Woodward CTU 317.8 his senior officer during the just finished spring exercises.
Young and Sheridan, the land force commander, faced unique problems that had little to do with their Argentinean opponents. The efficacy of a system to command, control and communicate with a patch work force operating 8000 miles from London was unproven and questionable because the British military had trained for years almost exclusively to fight a NATO war in concert with US and German allies. Staffs, logistics and battle plans, communications' links, weapons' purchases, training and intelligence efforts were aimed at convincing Soviet leaders that an attack by the Warsaw Pact would fail and that in the event their tank armies would be destroyed. The logistics of fighting an air, land and sea war 8000 miles from London had never been seriously pondered. The Royal Navy was not prepared to fight a battle whose loss could sunder the Anglo-American relationship that Britain's seaborn nuclear deterrent was meant to preserve. No standing orders existed to fight a war that involved amphibious landings a few hundred miles north of the Antarctic circle. As it turned out, neither 3 Commando Brigade nor its follow on 5 Infantry Brigade knew best how to load their gear for an amphibious assault i.e. stow the most needed equipment on top and the least necessary on the bottom. Priceless training time, was lost in reloading both amphibious and supply ships at Ascension Island and on the run south. For that matter success in Paraquat and in the whole Falklands venture hung more on the intelligence, courage and drive of rather junior infantry officers and their NCOs than on staffs' directives.
In contrast to the fleet's grand sendoff from Plymouth, Operation Paraquat was conceived and set in motion under great secrecy. Clandestinity usually wreaths military moves with importance, sometimes efficiency gains, and Paraquat was no exception. Fieldhouse established a Paraquat cell at Northwood separate from other Falklands communications and knowledge of ships' movements was restricted to a dozen or so people. On 8 April 1982 Sheridan's men, Captain Chris Nunn's M company from Vaux' 42 Commando, were sequestered in the unit's gymnasium and allowed no contact with the outside world. By 10 April 1982 two VC-10s had flown Sheridan's force of 132 men and their equipment to Ascension Island. Any thought that the repossession of South Georgia was to be a sideshow ended with Fieldhouse' message on 11 April 1982 to Thompson and Clapp that stipulated repossession of South Georgia as of equal importance to repossession of the Falklands: "as current intelligence indicates clear advantage in landing South Georgia earliest(21)." Thatcher was in a hurry. Woodward was of a different mind. He called Sheridan, the land force commander, back from Antrim yet failed to see the Royal Marines Major. Apparently Woodwardfailed to realize that Sheridan's success justified his ships' and crews' efforts. To this day the reason behind this fruitless trip remains obscure(22).
Modern warfare on the ground demands more than men firing their personal weapons. Vaux and Sheridan assembled as much of a balanced force as they could on such short notice. Awaiting departure from the gymnasium they added two .81MM mortar teams, four signalers, two sections from the commando's reconnaissance troop and three medics including a surgeon. Sheridan was also told that a section of SBS and a troop from the 22 SAS Regiment would join his force as reconnaissance elements. These additions were especially useful because they could land and reconnoiter from their small boats while fleet units remained undiscovered at sea. Sheridan's force still lacked artillery and air support without which it could be isolated and ultimately destroyed by any opponent possessing weapons heavier than .5 caliber machine guns. This deficiency was to be remedied in part by Captain Brian Young's CTU 317.9 which contained two of the Royal Navy's last gun ships, Antrim and Plymouth. Their 4 x 4.5" guns gave Sheridan a sustained firing rate, if both ships acted in concert, of 24 rounds per minute, enough to keep defending forces down in their trenches while his force made their landing. A Naval Gunfire Support Party (NGS)(23) assigned to direct the navy's gunfire gave Sheridan some confidence that he would not be out gunned at least as long as decent weather let the ships remain close ashore.
Sheridan's force as it arrived at Ascension contained 132 officers and men plus 24 Special Warfare troops. His problems had just begun and they were serious. A Royal Marines officer who had arrived at Ascension before Sheridan had set up a small arms range where troops could reset their weapons' sights after the bumpy trip from Britain. While there Sheridan learned that Northwood had ordered an entire squadron of SAS, D Squadron (60 men) commanded by Major Cedric Delves, and two more SBS teams to join his force(24). Northwood wanted seven patrols to scout the island. Common sense shouted that a reduced company of Royal Marines did not need and would have trouble finding valid employment for a reconnaisance force nearly half the size of the original force. More worrisome was the fact that Sheridan had to learn this critical fact informally on a scrap of torn paper from a fellow officer rather through his chain of command. He was not asked if he could use additional help; it was landed on him without discussion or the courtesy of a message.
Ordering seven patrols to infiltrate South Georgia, an island which none of the service chiefs in London knew, demonstrated micro management at its most meddlesome and most risky. Inserting seven patrols ashore instead of two increased the possibility of compromise geometrically. The horrible weather that might mask the patrols' insertions could also prevent them or prevent the men's exfiltration. The decision of when, where and how many to put ashore might better have been left to Young and Sheridan. Not one of Young's force had either adequate space or water or transport to the beach for these additions. Unlike buildings on land, ships at sea cannot add more room. The extra SAS men and their gear thrust an almost intolerable burden into Brian Young's once tranquil world. The ships' evaporators could not keep up with the boilers', crews' and passengers' need for fresh water and rationing began. This wretched excess fueled speculation that senior military persons at Northwood and perhaps Thatcher herself believed that the Falklands matter could be concluded in Britain's favor by a successful attack on South Georgia and that the SAS craved a major part of the action and the credit. Northwood's interference with decisions that should have been made on scene by the tactical commanders began a practice that continued throughout the war and did nothing to hasten its end.
Loadout for Operation Paraquat was a microcosm of the Falklands campaign. Sheridan's force was split immediately because no one ship in Young's squadron could carry all the personnel and their kit. Most of M Company, the core assault force, went to RFA Tidespring, a tanker, while the mortar crews, communicators, medics and naval gunfire support team went with Sheridan to HMS Antrim. Tidespring was put in the unenviable position of carrying volatile fuels and live ammunition with the immediate prospect of unloading both in rough seas. By 13 April 1982 Captain Young had been told what Sheridan knew informally: that three troops of D Squadron, about sixty men with its command element, would join his force. Through the heroic efforts of both crew and the on board marines Air Troop and Mobility Troop along with Major Delves and their great amount of kit were made safe aboard Antrim. Captain John Hamilton and his Mountain Troop went aboard Plymouth. Delves had black box communications with SAS headquarters that Sheridan did not see. It was clear that the unrequested SAS manning imposed upon Sheridan had the potential of making Operation Paraquat an SAS operation dispite the fact that he was the nominal commander of the landing force. Unity of command was to be observed in the breach.
Young's squadron rendezvoused on 14 April 1982 south of Ascension and began its run south with his assault force riding a tanker while the command elements of the three embarked military organizations lived aboard an ancient destroyer commanded by a naval officer who had never been ordered to complete an opposed amphibious landing. Neither Young nor Sheridan had a trained amphibious staff to work out problems among the very different organizations. No troop reinforcements, logistics support or air support were available. Young and Sheridan would fight hopefully the same war 8000 miles from home with what they carried. If either Tidespring or Antrim suffered major battle damage or mechanical failure the mission would abort. No unanaimous support came from the homefront either. Unbeknownst to Sheridan or Young Fieldhouse told his task group commanders at Ascension Island on 17 April 1982 that the Army's staff "remained unconvinced of the necessity and likely success of an amphibious operation. ....He told us he might be required to repossess the Falkland Islands but only when sea control was firmly established and South Georgia recaptured(25)." No one questioned the military competence and drive of Young's and Sheridan's force. It was their seniors' waffling and the improvidence of the budgeteers that put their success in question. Seldom has so much weighed on a gim-crack military force slapped together in a few days(26).
Endurance's reliable but plodding thirteen knots limited Young's force to about 350 miles advance per day. The travel time was well spent. A makeshift operations room with adequate ship to shore and ship to helicopter communications was installed aboard Antrim. Maps and charts blossomed on available bulkheads. The young marines trained incessantly in their cramped quarters and on Tidespring's more capacious decks. They consumed months of training allowances firing at targets thrown over the side(27). A major problem had to do with getting the reconaissance and assault forces ashore. Young's four ships carried no landing craft and his crews did not know how to use them anyway. Antrim carried a Wessex 3 Anti-Submarine (ASW) helicopter; Plymouth had 1 Wasp ASW helicopter and Endurance had 2 Wasps. Tidespring carried 2 Wessex 5 used mainly to transfer cargo between ships. The helicopters, none built or configured to handle more than a few passengers were already overworked from cross decking men and equipment. Cargo transfers and ASW patrols are placid affairs. Now the pilots had to train themselves for the covert insertion and recovery of the SAS and the landing, perhaps under fire, of a Royal Marines' assault force(28). Flying low under electronic silence and popping up to do a visual and brief radar search of hostile seas was as novel for the pilots as was the prospect they might be fired upon by ground troops hiding behind the next snow covered hill. Ever resourceful maintainers fitted a few GPMG in helos' doors for self protection and a modest capability for suppressive fire.
There was a very human side to this expedition, too. Naval ships are run by a hierarchy. The freshest faced seaman knows his place in the system. When the skipper or the officer of the watch orders: "Come left15 deg." the person at the wheel turns the wheel 15 deg to port and no questions are asked. On the other hand ground operations are more collegial. COs take full responsibility for their missions but usually seek their juniors' and seniors' views and occasional objections. Foolish is the young officer who does not discuss his plans with his senior sergeants. Captain Brian Young had aboard Antrim besides himself 4 commanding officers: Sheridan, Commander Land Forces (CLF); Delves, CO of D Squadron SAS; Eve, head of the Naval Gunfire Group and a junior but veteran head of the SBS detachment. In addition Antrim carried a senior helicopter pilot who headed the crews and maintainers of the embarked Wessex 3. It is a tribute to the sheer professionalism of these very competent and necessarily strong minded men that their different worlds did not fatally collide and that they all strained towards the mission's success.
Northwood's orders to Captain Brian Young to repossess South Georgia on 21 April 1982 were stipulated in his warning order of 14 April 1982 to Major Sheridan(29). With minimum damage to facilities and personnel Sheridan was to:
Recapture Grytviken and Leith.
Neutralize Argentinean Communications.
Capture or kill Argentinean military.
Arrest and remove Argentinean civilians.
Sheridan turned to his reconnaissance force and on 16 April 82 ordered D Squadron: "to establish covert patrols to determine enemy strength and disposition in Stromness, Husvik and Leith(30)." The SBS was similarly ordered to cover Grytviken and King Edward Point. It was at this point that misadventures compounded by misjudgments nearly prevented South Georgia's recapture(31).
Captain John Hamilton commanded 19 Troop (Mountain Troop) of the 22 Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). His Mission Order: "Operations Center 21 April 1982 BK 1 Ser 087" para 7 stated: "To recon Leith, Stromness, Husvik and E. Fortuna Bay for a Squadron sized attack." The Mission Orders' tasks were: "To find routes across Fortuna Glacier, Breakwind Ridge and Konig Glacier." Major Delves, the D Squadron commander insisted on an eight kilometer covert approach to the reconnaissance targets for fear of warning the Argentinean garrison. It could just as well have been argued that a blatant landing preceeded and supported by naval gunfire would frighten green, frozen and isolated troops into quick surrender.
BAS members who had been to Fortuna Glacier insisted to Delves and to Hamilton that Fortuna was virtually impassable especially with winter just breaking. Sheridan, an experienced Himalyan climber who had been head of the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Cadre joined the voices raised against landing on the glacier(32). Other opponents of this venture, crew and pilots from Endurance who had foot on the ground experience on South Georgia, argued that crevasses as big as London buses made it virtually certain that the SAS men could not drag their pulks (sleds) any meaningful distance even in fair weather(33). If a storm broke, as was likely now that winter had just begun, Hamilton's men would have no choice but to hunker down for an unpredictable period perhaps more than the five days allocated for the reconnaissance. The pragmatic pessimists did not sway him and he sought affirmative advice where he knew he could find it. Delves went aboard Endurance and used its satellite communications to speak with two very experienced Himalyan climbers, Stokes and Peacock, at SAS Headquarters in Britain who advised Hamilton and Delves that Fortuna Glacier could be conquered. Peacock later said he would not have gone against Sheridan's judgment if he had known that it was indeed Sheridan who opposed taking that route(34). In the end Major Delves and Captain Hamilton decided to lift mountain troop onto Fortuna Glacier.
Delves' and Hamilton's insistance that their recon mission be clandestine and thus traverse Fortuna Glacier was a counsel of perfection. Had they looked at their military problem from their opponents' point of view a different picture would have appeared(35). If the Argentine garrison considered a British attack possible or probable it had three choices besides flight by sea or surrender: first, dig in against an attack, second; get destroyed by gunfire from Plymouth and Antrim in their trenches or in BAS quarters; third flee without tactical integrity into the mountains there to die of exposure and starvation. Delves' requirement for a wholly clandestine mission fit standard SAS practices. It was a laudable but disengenuous goal. Soviet satellites overflew the area regularly and Captain Nick Barker in HMS Endurance took scheduled precautions against them(36). Admiral Fieldhouse had already warned his subordinates against transmitting when American satellites were overhead. BAS' Director signalled in the clear to his men on Lyell Glacier that: "Moving to Grytviken possibly involves risk of involvement in later fighting."(37) It is a good rule in such matters that when two parties besides the annointed know hitherto secret information many others almost certainly have an inkling of the matter at hand. By 21 April 1982 it is very likely that several thousand people of different nationalities, except perhaps Argentinean, knew what was about to happen to the well chilled garrisons in Grytviken and Leith(38).
Young and Sheridan knew, on the other hand, almost exactly what they might face once British troops had landed. No ships had reenforced the Argentinean garrison who had no air cover and no artillery. The island could not support more than a few hundred persons, in winter probably fewer. The quality and fighting spirit of the Argentineans was unknown but reasonable men could assume that their1st line troops, always in short supply, were posted either on the Chilean border or on the Falklands themselves and that those few on South Georgia were not assiduously patrolling the mountains now that winter had begun, but rather had esconced themselves in BAS' snug wooden houses(39). South Georgia had no airfield. Troops could not be flown in and no hostile naval activity had been noted. No naval fueling facilities, magazines or repair shops existed for modern warships. The Argentinean occupiers would defend their conquest if they chose to do so, with what little they had at hand. Winter would argue against their retreat into the sub-freezing hinterlands. In short South Georgia was a primitive and isolated military outpost with wretched living conditions eight hundred miles from Falklands that posed no threat to the outside world. It was scarcely defensible. Thatcher and her advisors had got that right.
As Hamilton and Delves planned their clandestine insertion from the ships at sea teams from the BAS who were on the ground performed their own reconnaissance. BAS' Peter Stark who had lived on South Georgia for two years was flown back from the island to HMS Endurance for the express purpose of dissuading Hamilton's troop from trying the Fortuna route. The BAS parties, thirteen plus two wildlife photographers, at Bird Island and Schliepper Bay at the northern tip of the island, at Lyell Glacier and at St. Andrew's Bay, south of Grytviken, traversed their areas on foot and met no Argentinean military. On 20 April 1982 Tony North and Myles Plant watched Cumberland Bay from Barff Point and discovered nothing. Ian Barker and Damien Sanders stood on the high ground between East and West Cumberland Bay and saw neither Argentinean ground nor naval activity. They found no trace of any Argentinean patrols ever having surveilled those likely pieces of military ground. No planes were heard either. The watchers, although not military, had surveyed all but a small area of likely Argentine ground and naval activity and more if the foul weather were considered. It was clear to them that the Argentinean invaders had confined themselves to the comforts such as they were of village life. The BAS patrols, all of whom had useful but short range radios, reported their findings back to Northwood with great speed in a complex radio arrangement that went through South Orkney to Ascension Island thence to BAS headquarters in Cambridge. There Dr. Bernard Law transferred the data to Rear Admiral Tony Wheatley RN at Northwood. At Cambridge BAS headquarters entertained, prior to the the Fortuna Glacier incident, a constant flow of visitors from the Royal Navy, SAS, SBS and various other parties all eager to learn what the intrepid researchers on South Georgia daily took as normal existance. Counsel was freely given(40).
Given the plethora of current data available to SAS headquarters and to Capt. Hamilton his mission order astounds: "To date only information is available from studying maps, air photos and limited local knowledge from BAS personnel and the members of the crew from HMS Endurance."(41) This statement, though patently erroneous, formed the basis for the SAS' plan to take the hazardous route across Fortuna Glacier. In the interests of a clandestinity that was clearly unnecessary Delves and Hamilton rejected first hand information of crucial tactical importance gained by trained scientific observers and by the crew and pilots of HMS Endurance. The cruel fact is that on board Antrim and Endurance, on South Georgia itself and lurking in the British intelligence system were good information and mature judgment on it that most reasonable leaders would have taken as cause to change routes for observing Husvik, Leith and Stromness. Delves and Hamilton were men of their time and exemplars of a splendid bellicist culture. In the matter of Fortuna Glacier they went beyond reason and common sense.
Three helicopters took D Squadsron's Mountain Troop to Fortuna Glacier: Lcdr. Ian Stanley's Wessex 3 from Antrim and from Tidespring's C Flight two Wessex 5s flown by Lt. Mike Tidd RN and Flight Lt. Andy Pulford RAF. Stanley's helicopter was equipped for ASW and had excellent radar, sonar and navigational gear. It carried doppler radar that permitted the pilot to fly safely even if he lost eyeball contact with his reference points on the ground. The two Wessex 5s whose pilots had some experience with covert insertions of troops were utility helicopters and lacked Stanley's sensitive navigational equipment. Stanley was to navigate for all three helicopters in the poor weather and white outs that are the bane of flying through snow.
At 0930 on 21 April Ian Stanley lifted off from Antrim to find a landing site. Taking Cape Constance on his port side he flew SE over Possession and Antarctic Bays and saw no military activity. After vetting Fortuna Glacier he returned to Antrim and loaded up his passengers from Mountain Troop. Accompanied by the two Wessex from Tidespring that carried the rest of the troop they made for Fortuna only to be turned back by a snow squall near Possession Bay(42). Bear in mind that it is not only distance that is critical in such insertions but the weather between helicopter and landing site. Five hundred yards behind a snow squall that prevents accurate navigation is as good as a hundred miles in preventing a safe landing. Stanley took Delves and Hamilton on a second recon, this time in deceptively decent weather and Delves ordered a second try. Day light was slipping by and it was best to land the troop and to get off the glacier onto firm ground by darkness. The second try at landing succeeded. By early afternoon sixteen men from Mountain Troop and three pulks (sleds) were safe on Fortuna Glacier. Just after the landing the weather worsened and the troop progressed barely a half mile before darkness forced a halt to the their tortuous slogging.
The night of 21/22 April 1982 saw the worst of South Georgia's weather. Off shore Antrim lashed down its gear as winds rose to one hundred miles per hour. A Force11 sea broke waves over the tired old ship and the barometer registered 965 millibars, lower than most seamen experience in a lifetime. Even worse the helicopters secured to Antrim's and Tidespring's decks shuddered almost to their break points. On the glacier Hamilton's men and their kit were safe but buried cold in the snow. Winds wrent tent poles and fabric alike. The horrendous weather continued and the men's physical condition began to deteriorate. Military operations even passive reconnaissance became impossible. At 1100 on 22 April 1982 Hamilton radioed Antrim: "Unable to move. Environmental casualties immanent."(43)
Snow squalls delayed Stanley's rescue attempt for forty-five minutes. Even then storms made him order the two Wessex 5s to wait on Cape Constance eight kilometers from the glacier while he found the SAS men and a landing site from which it was safe to rescue them. The weather foiled even Stanley's sophisticated navigational gear and his helicopter's air frame began to take on ice. Stanley scrubbed the mission and all three helicopters returned aboard Tidespring and Antrim.
Refueled, the three helos took off at 1330 for a second rescue attempt. This time breaks in the weather and orange smoke grenades brought rescuers and exhausted soldiers together. Tidd, the first pilot to land, quickly loaded his Wessex 5 with six SAS men and their kit and took off. A few minutes later he ran into the dreaded whiteout and without Stanley's helo to guide him crashed into the glacier. His unwanted landing site was cushioned in snow and while the helo was destroyed its occupants emerged by a fluke of fate shaken but alive. Ian Stanley in his Wessex 3 guided the second Wessex 5 to the crash site. The crash's survivors minus their heavy equipment crawled into the two helos and took off for the ships' warm bunks. The Wessex 5 flew close astern Stanley's mother hen but lost sight of it over the glacier's rim. By ill chance it flew into another whiteout and crashed. Stanley's helicopter already fully loaded had no choice but to head back to Antrim. As the thin Arctic sunlight disappeared two helicopters were lost, two of the SAS men had been rescued and two helo crewmen joined the fourteen SAS men stranded on the glacier. Sixteen valuable men found themselves unharmed but unable to perform any military mission and facing another night on the glacier in ever worsening weather. Any hope of completing the reconnaissance had ended. Young the amphibious force commander (until the land forces were firmly established ashore) knew no more about his target at the end of the day than he had at its beginnning. He did know that some troops under his command were in mortal straits, that he, a senior and experienced aviator, had lost two helicopters and that the goal of seizing South Georgia was in jeopardy. Sheridan the land force commander could do nothing unless and until the SAS problem got ressolved. Upon being told of the men marooned atop Fortuna Thatcher commented: "My heart was heavy.....How was I to conceal my feelings? I wondered if the task we had set for ourselves was truly impossible."(44) On Endurance Captain Nick Barker was more direct: "In military terms the whole operation had become a monumental cockup."(45)
Young and his operations crew aboard Antrim faced calamity. A two man emergency rescue team from the Royal Marines' Mountain and Arctic cadre was alerted on Tidespring where another problem surfaced. "I... had checked through their kit with them. In my view it wasn't very good. It was standard army issue - not as good as our stuff. There are recognized techniques for getting yourself out of a crevasse......it was my opinion those guys just didn't have that sort of gear, that they would not be able to haul themselves up the insides of a crevasse."(46)
By now a reconnaissance operation had degenerated into an odds against rescue operation. Stanley had few assets: a battered helicopter, the only Wessex left, and two hours of daylight to fly through awful weather in order to rescue sixteen men in terminal condition. Taking a new route to the glacier he found the survivors huddled inside inflated rafts used as tents and landed, the last hope for rescue that day. As the weather worsened he piled in all sixteen men --- the SAS men reluctantly left their kit and weapons except for sidearms --- and took off fifteen hundred pounds above the helicopter's maximum design weight. Stanley made his way back to Antrim, his sixth trip from Fortuna Glacier, and landed on Antrim's pitching deck in a controlled crash.
Military operations succeed or founder on judgments made about the enemy his size, equipment, numbers and location. Not so the Fortuna Glacier affair because no opposing forces were involved. Delves and Hamilton misjudged the data they possessed about Fortuna and overestimated their own capability. A clandestine insertion had become an air-ground mob scene, its central purpose compromised, its participants in jeopardy. This most unusual episode occurred despite the fact that Special Warfare operatives rank among the best intelligence gatherers and the most realistic analysts of tactical situations(47). No military objective had been reached during the preceeding twenty-four hours but Stanley had delivered Young and his force from disaster, saved sixteen lives and spared Margaret Thatcher another acute embarrassment. Stanley received a DSO for his extraordinary feat of technical flying and for his bravery. His passengers concluded that was little enough.
2 SBS came south on Endurance and it was their turn to reconnoiter Sheridan's possible landing sites from south of Leith and Grytviken ie from across Cumberland East Bay. Hound Bay, at the seaward neck of Barff Peninsula, was the insertion point for three SBS patrols. They were to make their way on foot half way up the peninsula, pick up two Gemini rafts dropped from helicopters and cross the bay to Brown Mountain. That low mountain was one of the two pieces of vital ground whose seizure was necessary for any attack on Grytviken. The mountain also provided a point from which Argentinean activity, if any, could be closely scrutinized. That two BAS men, Myles Plant and Tony North lived in the proposed patrol area and had seen no Argentine military activity did not deter the SBS leader from mounting his operation. He was of course safe from superiors' direct advice and criticism because Sheridan and Young were on Antrim many miles away. Ellerbeck flew his helicopter from Endurance to Cindy Buxton and Anne Price's hut on St Andrew's Bay to warn them of incipient military activity. They too had seen nothing of the Argentinean invaders.
Ellerbeck delivered only one patrol, four men and their kit, before bad weather prevented more flying. The ashore SBS patrol met the two BAS men, Plant and North, who reaffirmed that no Argentinean military lurked in the vicinity. The SBS patrols still on Endurance were not to be thwarted and went ashore by Gemini courtesy of Captain Nick Barker who brought his ship as close to shore as prudence allowed - under 1000 meters. The Geminis' motors then failed the three patrols as they tried to cross Moraine Fjord to get to their lookout point atop Brown Mountain(48). The night of 22/23 April 1982 the marines slept a frigid sleep behind rocks on Dartmouth Point. In the morning the patrol leaders reluctantly concluded that their unreliable outboard motors and ice-punctured Gemini hulls had ended their military mission. They decided on exfiltration.
A confluence of untoward events occurred here. The SBS patrols on Dartmouth Point could not reach by radio either Antrim or Endurance. They could not return to Endurance nor could they complete a military mission. Unproven reports of an Argentinean submarine's presence had prompted Young to withdraw Antrim beyond the SBS' radio's range; Endurance lacked the code books to decrypt SBS messages anyway. True they could go to ground for days if necessary but the fact was that the SBS men were stranded(49).
"South Georgia op seems bogged down for fear of Arg submarine (conventional, Sante Fe)."(50) Santa Fe's torpedoes were a potential risk for Young's force but they did not present a clear and present danger. Santa Fe's submerged speed approximated Tidespring's thirteen knots; its sustained surface speed just that. The tactical offense posed by two twenty-five knot destroyers and their embarked helicopters with active sonars in use against an ageing diesel submarine with generic electrical problems is lethal(51). Because of its low top speed and the noise it would emit at that speed it was extremely unlikely that Santa Fe could gain a position that allowed a high probability of a successful attack on any of the British ships. True Endurance's radio crew had intercepted messages from an overflying Argentinean aircraft giving that ship's position to an Argentinean submarine. That coordination made sense because Endurance's loud diesel engines could be easily picked up by the submarine's sonar and because Endurance had no sonar of its own to warn of impending attack. Worse Barker's ship could not turn handily to avoid an observed torpedo. Yet a quick read of the tactical situation showed that a submarine attack seemed very improbable; Santa Fe's job was to land troop reenforcements on South Georgia and not to brawl with British surface ships and ASW helicopters. A diesel submarine manned by an unblooded crew and burdened by a motley crowd of landsmen is most unlikely to prosecute an attack, risky in itself, that would draw the mortal attention of a British nuclear submarine captain trained to hunt down Soviet nuclear boats.
In fact one overriding reason should have prevented the undeserved deference that the Royal Navy paid to Santa Fe. Amphibious ships, purpose built or not, are meant to sail in harm's way in order to get the troops to the assault area. Men of war that carry amphibious forces cease being independent military assets and become ancillary to the troops' mission. Such ships become subordinate to the specific military task of occupying defended ground. Whatever Young's assessment of the risk to his own ship and crew putting Sheridan's marines ashore was his sole reason for being in South Georgia's waters. Then too excessive caution breeds its own potential for disaster. If any British ship had sunk fifty miles NE of South Georgia the crew and passengers would all have drowned. If disaster had occurred close aboard Grytviken or Leith some at least might have lived. Many seafarers still believe that a ship sunk going towards the fight causes no dishonor but that damage suffered away from the conflict raises questions about sound planning and tactics.
Finally on 23/24 April night Antrim picked up the SBS signal and after some discussion Endurance was ordered to rescue the isolated marines from Barff Peninsula. Barker's two small utility helicopters, piloted by Ellerbeck and Finding, removed the men minus their wretched Geminis and mal functioning motorsto Endurance' warmth; a second reconnaissance effort had misfired(52). The communications debacle that had marooned the SBS team ashore on Barff Peninsula was only a part of the muddle that permeated Young's operations. In separating Tidespring to refuel from Brambleleaf and in dividing his force up into two sub units: Plymouth and Endurance; and Antrim and Tidespring, Young lost defensive advantage against the putative diesel submarine, communications among the forces he was supposed to put ashore and Barker's and his pilots' valuable advice. Discreet military accomplishment would have justified this maritime hurly-burly, but by 24 April 1982 nothing of value had been gained, no ground recon completed and certainly no military objective gained. In fact only the prodigious flying feats of his helicopter pilots had saved Young's force from disaster. Sheridan remained a ship's guest rather than the commander of a landed infantry force.
D Squadron had one more reconnaissance card to play. Captain Timothy Burls' Boat Troop set out from Antrim at 0300 on 22 April 1998. They were to reconnoiter Leith, Husvik and Stromness from positions on Grass Island. A small but potentially bothersome garrison was thought to be guarding Leith Harbor and its disused whaling station. Because reconnaissance of Leith from Fortuna had failed an observation of Leith from Grass Island, a few thousand meters west in Stromness Bay seemed a good alternative especially as the presence of kelp precluded other feasable landing sites. Fifteen men deployed in five boats. Remember helicopters had come into short supply. Immediately after launching, three motors failed and the two working Gemini that remained took the three stalled boats in tow. When Endurance and Fort Austin had met at sea on 12 April Boat Troop had exercised its Gemini inflatables and their motors had also failed at that time. The continued failure of these motors in critical evolutions stymied the efforts of hundreds of millions of dollars of complex military equipment manned by thousands of trained operators. It remains a mystery why the SAS chose to go to war with a system of proven unreliability.
About 0400 wind and water combined in a ferocious storm that nearly swamped all the boats. Tow lines were broken, each crew struggled on its own. Three boats, including Captain Burls', made Grass Island and were buried. The nine men then established an OP from which they could see Leith and Stromness and Burls radioed his reports back to Antrim. At this point he had lost two of his five boats with no knowledge of whether they had drowned, put up on a distant shore, blown out to sea or been captured by the Argentineans. The control team on Antrim feared the worst. Because of a waterlogged motor and fierce winds one lost boat, Delta, was blown far off the route to Grass Island and just managed to paddle to safety near Larsen Pt. Inexplicably this Gemini lacked a radio beacon and could not transmit the crew's location. The other stray, Bravo boat, its motor inoperative and its crew exhausted, blew steadily eastward away from South Georgia out to sea. It, too, lacked a rescue beacon with enough range to contact Antrim but by luck contacted Burls on the troop's tactical network. He in turn radioed Antrim whose pilots and meteorological officers worked out Bravo's possible position. The ever resourceful Ian Stanley took off at 0800 in his Wessex 3 and at altitudes under two hundred feet conducted a classic box search. Just as his fuel supply left him no choice but to return to Antrim, Stanley's crewman Fitzgerald spotted the drifting raft, winched up its crew and returned them to the comforts of Antrim's wardroom. There Bravo boat's crew owned up to the fact that the troop had enjoyed no pre mission inspection of equipment and did not have an agreed upon rendezvous point (RV).
Yet much had been accomplished. Now one recon team of nine SAS men could observe, without discovery, Argentine activity in and around Stromness Bay. But this view from afar did not afford an accurate count of the Argentinean soldiery. At night on 23 April the Burls' nine men attempted to cross from Grass Island to the mainland, a few hundred meters. Again two of the three motors failed and the Geminis returned to Grass Island. A second try failed for the same reason and in the end the team crossed by paddling. That early morning Boat Troop or three teams of it completed the task towards which so much effort had been directed. Doing what it does best Burls' diminished troop reported back to Delves aboard Antrim the existance of a garrison of sixteen Argentinean marines and no supporting artillery. One sentry stood languid watch during the dark hours(53).
By the afternoon of 23 April 1982 Endurance's listeners and Spanish language translators had intercepted transmissions from an Argentinean C-130 to and from a submarine whose signal strength indicated it was a hundred miles from Endurance(54) and perhaps closer to Antrim. This information prompted Northwood and Young to send the two tankers, escorted by Plymouth, 200 miles NE out of harm's way. Antrim followed shortly. This decision left Endurance unprotected and the main assault force aboard Tidespring heading away from South Georgia(55). True HMS Conqueror was headed south to intercept the Santa Fe but the meeting would take many hours. Simultaneously Northwood detached and sent to South Georgia HMS Brilliant with its 1st class sonar and two ASW helicopters. Further intercepts by Captain Barker's crew disclosed that the Argentine submarine was to attack Endurance and deliver reenforcements to the Garrison at Leith.
Here both sides erred. At 0300 on 24 April 1982 Young ordered his force to clear South Georgia's waters and to rendezvous two hundred miles NE(56). This odd direction scattered Young's force and lost its ability to bring the fight to the Argentinean submarine. Antrim, Brilliant, Plymouth and Conqueror acting in concert could have destroyed or sent away the Santa Fe in very short order. The Argentine navy's move was equally strange. Knowing that sooner or later the Royal Navy would have at least one nuclear sub in the area the Argentinean navy imprudently sent only one antiquated submarine without air cover to target a non-combatant when it should have sought to destroy a ship, either Antrim or Plymouth, that could destroy it. Santa Fe's small size, its slow underwater speed and the onset of nasty winter weather mandated only one mission at a time, transport troops or find and kill Endurance, not both. There is little doubt that HMS Conqueror working alone could have made short work of a WW2 diesel submarine(57).
On the British side Young had lost the capacity, at least for the moment, to deliver Sheridan's force to the beach --- his sole reason for being around South Georgia. At 1600 on 24 April 1982 Captain Barker communicated to Vice-Admiral David Halifax at Northwood his concern about being the Santa Fe's target and was told: "There's really very little to worry about."(58) Northwood, now aware of the Santa Fe's approximate position and certain that the tankers carrying the force's fuel and assault force lay out of harm's way, ordered Plymouth to return from its protective duties. Barker's concern for his ship's safety was justified but by this time the six helicopters on Brilliant, Antrim, Plymouth and Endurance, however underequipped to prosecute an attack on a clever sub skipper, were positioned to search for Santa Fe as it brought its troop reenforcements to Cumberland Bay. Their home ships were still too distant from Grytviken to form the ASW screen that would bar Santa Fe from landing its troops.
At dawn on the 25th the helicopters began their search. Once again Ian Stanley from Antrim found the target, dropped two old fashioned depth charges and damaged the Santa Fe enough to make her an easy surface target for machine gun, missile and ASW torpedo attacks by any British ship or helicopter in the neighborhood. Santa Fe did not dive; Stanley's depth charge attacks were so accurate that the sub's ballast tanks were terminally damaged and she became easy prey for ensuing attacks by Young's helicopters. Captain Bicain limped back into Grytviken harbor, tied up his boat alongside the BAS jetty at King Edward Point and watched as its flooded stern sank below the surface. This drama fit the bizarre side of the Falklands war. Submarines are accurately typed; in war zones they navigate under water where layers of differing salinity and temperature protect them from direct observation and hostile sonar. That Bicain did not take advantage of the hundred or so fathoms of cold water under his keel in order to elude British attackers meant that he could not dive because his boat had ovewhelming mechanical failure(59). Nor did his limited speed allow him to break off the action. Bicain could not fight, hide or run; he was a sitting duck. He could honorably have struck.
The helicopters' attacks proved equally odd. Bicain's boat was initially and as it turned out terminally damaged by depth charges so named because they function best at depths of water where an explosion close to a hull causes water pressure to burst the hull. The trick is to get this very low tech weapon to explode near the sub's hull. Used against a surfaced craft much of a depth charge's force vanishes ineffectually into the air. Ian Stanley's splendid airmanship and good fortune continued. Battered into unseaworthiness Santa Fe turned back to port and on the way got hit by helicopters' AS -12 missiles whose fuzes did not detonate their missiles' warheads because the sub's plastic sail did not offer sufficient resistance. ASW torpedoes fired at Santa Fe's screws were ineffective because these do not detonate unless the target is more than thirty feet underwater and Santa Fe was surfaced. The British attacks had laudable intent --- the idea behind war is to destroy the enemy --- but the better part lay in getting Bicain to surrender his boat and crew intact once he began his limp back to shore. Code books, live prisoners and captured weaponry are far more valuable than bodies and metal on the sea bottom.
Prior to this dramatic diversion Northwood had repeatedly taxed Sheridan, the land force commander, for his lack of progress in recapturing South Georgia. The reasons for Sheridan's restraint were clear. Delves and Hamilton, not Sheridan, made the decisions, calamatous as they turned out, about SAS' insertions, a condition precedent to the main landing. While wishing a speedy end to South Georgia's recapture Northwood had ordered the bulk of Sheridan's landing force away from the landing sites to protect it from the Santa Fe, reconnaissance had not been completed and two of his helicopters had been lost on on imprudent mission that he had opposed. In this instance the Royal Navy had showed greater concern for a wimpy submarine threat that did not exist anyway than for its task of getting a coherent body of troops ashore. Indeed up to 25 April Sheridan had not had Antrim and Plymouth together for gun fire support on Argentinean positions. By 1100 on 25 April 1982 everything had changed. Plymouth with its twin 4.5" guns stood offshore nearby Antrim. Sheridan sensed that the defeat of the Santa Fe, now a leaking hulk at Grytviken, would have demoralized the original garrison and that the reenforcements just debarked from Santa Fe would be in no condition to fight.
Sheridan knew that disabling the Santa Fe was only an intermediate step and not the victory he had been sent to obtain. The jackpot was ownership of Grytviken. He waited upon Young, the amphibious force commander, outside his cabin door to ask that the ships be positioned so that helicopters could lift a scratch force of seventy five men to attack and seize Grytviken. Tidespring carrying his main assault force was more than fifty miles away and the remnants of Boat Troop remained esconced on Grass Island. Sheridan judged that his command element, the mortar teams, Delves' few SAS men, the marines from Endurance and SAS men from Plymouth could break the Argentinean defenses if landed quickly with naval gunfire support. It was a bold judgment made without computers or any other form of high technology; rather it was the gut feeling of a long time infantryman, comfortable in his own skin, who knew what heartens or demoralizes green troops holding positions against whom or what they could not know. Delay in landing British troops could mean hardened Argentinean defenses. Sheridan had to wait for three hours for Young's approval - he remained overall commander until the troops landed - while Young and his aviators replayed the attacks on Santa Fe, ascertained who engaged first, (it was Stanley) and who might get the decorations if any. The helos had returned victorious from their attacks by1030 but it was not until 1330 that Young agreed to put ashore the landing force. Without the formality of an O Group, Sheridan gave hasty orders to his officers at 1345.?
Sheridan's plan was simple and quick of execution. His landing force, seventy-five men, was less than half its intended size. Because he had only five helicopters --- two were destroyed on Fortuna Glacier but two small Lynx had arrived on HMS Brilliant --- he could land only twenty men at a time. Landings are best made at dawn to use a full day's light; circumstances gave Sheridan at most five hours from takeoff to win the battle. He had, however, regained one precious asset, the four naval guns on Antrim and Plymouth.The marine's plan encompassed two pieces of vital high ground: Brown Mountain is eleven hundred feet high, it lies south from Grytviken and a few hundred yards across King Edward Cove; and Bore Valley Pass that lay west and behind Grytviken. Seizure of these two dominating points virtually guaranteed Grytviken's submission. Sheridan ordered Delves' SAS group to secure the landing site, Hestesletten a morain at the base of Brown Mountain. As soon as the second wave had landed and established its position Delves was ordered to "advance to contact" that is engage hostile forces and seize the top of Brown Mountain. Sheridan and his command element would land after the second group had secured the landing site from which Delves should already have pushed off. At this point helicopters would lift the remaining troops from Plymouth and Endurance to Bore Valley Pass in order to give supporting fire to the main body as it advanced from Brown Mountain into Grytviken.
Sheridan's fire plan, worked out with LtCol Eve RA, was critical to his mission's success. The four guns on Antrim and Plymouth were his only artillery. Ten minutes before the first element landed, at1335, British 4.5'' shells rained in great profusion on Hestesletten, the landing site, a flat patch of rocky earth at the foot of Brown Mountain. Hestesletten though small was the only flat surface close to Brown Mountain that was suitable for helo landings and troops' assembly. It had to be made safe. Fifteen minutes later the fire switched to the top of Brown Mountain as the SAS men emerged from the helos to secure the landing site. No enemy fire greeted Delves' men then or later that day. The naval gunfire killed no one and destroyed no positions but it was a precisely timed demonstration of accurate shooting well seen and heard by the Argentinean garrison(60). Sheridan ordered in his second group, Royal Marines, and then arrived himself at1535 with his command element and medics. Already short of daylight Sheridan was livid with rage at Delves who had not obeyed orders to advance to contact enemy forces in the direction of Brown Mountain and to seize its summit. Delves replied that an Argentine position lay at the mountain's top. Sheridan ordered Delves again to advance and Delves moved forward over stony ground onto and up Brown Mountain. As a preliminary to their attack, the SAS men fired Milan missiles at a suspected enemy position only to discover that they had killed two seals who were disporting themselves on the banks of the Penguin River. No Argentinean troops awaited Delves and his men on Brown Mountain.
Sheridan's advance met no opposition nor was a hostile shot fired at the advancing British troops. While the British scurried to the top of Brown Mountain naval gunfire shifted to its third phase. Sheridan had been ordered to avoid whereever possible damage to BAS buildings and to persons. Accordingly his fire plan's third phase directed ships' gunfire to land over and behind the BAS buildings and the Argentinean defensive positions. The defending Argentinian troops then realized that only a slight adjustment meant heavy fire onto them. Before South Georgia the Argentine marines had never been under fire let alone that of accurately registered naval guns. At 1705, ninety minutes after his arrival, Sheridan saw two white flags fluttering from the main buildings in Grytviken. He called off the landing in Bore Valley Pass and began the three kilometer march in Grytviken. Delves' SAS men leaped forward and he declined to answer Sheridan's call to halt. Sheridan called Antrim for a helicopter that took him into Grytviken to accept the surrender from the Argentinean commanding officer, LtCdr Luis Lagos. Sheridan took the surrender himself ashore as light failed.
On 26 April 1982 a bare three weeks after Port Stanley fell, the commander of Argentine forces on South Georgia Lt Cdr Lagos had signed the formal instrument of surrender in the BAS base at King Edward Point. Dispite the delays, the navy's unfamiliarity with amphibious operations, the failed reconnaissance, the threat real or imagined of submarine attack, the ramshackle command structure, the dispersion of his assault force, the SAS' faulty motors on their gemini boats and the near disaster of Fortuna Glacier Sheridan put the best face on the nasty business of war. He had completed his military mission with no casualties to his own men or to the enemy either(61).
Just after Lagos' surrender of all Argentine forces (130+ Men) on South Georgia, Lcdr. Astiz who commanded the fifteen Argentinean marines at Leith was told to lay down arms prior to the arrival of a British force on the morning of the 26th or to accept the consequences. The surrender of the main Argentinean garrision, the sound and fury of the naval guns and the certain presence of British troops quickly extinguished his prolix bravado and he yielded. The picture shown in the world's press of Astiz signing an instrument of surrender aboard Plymouth in Leith gave a false impression that Astiz was surrendering Argentinean forces on South Georgia. In fact the garrison's surrender under law took place on the previous day ashore in BAS quarters. Astiz signed only for the fifteen Argentinean marines in Leith; his act duplicated unecessarily Lagos' capitulation to Sheridan of all Argentinean forces on South Georgia the day before(62). Even in defeat Astiz sought and was granted the limelight.
Sheridan the land force commander was stunned to receive from Northwood a message asking his list of those to be decorated for the victory. Thatcher held a jubilant al fresco press conference outside No 10 Downing Street: "Just rejoice at that news and congratulate our forces and the marines ... Rejoice"(63). South Georgia was not a victory for which combat decorations might have issued because there was no ground combat. Sheridan's landing force had received no incoming fire and suffered no casualties(64). In fact the operation was a string of blunders rescued from utter disaster mainly by the moral and physical courage of Major J. M. G. Sheridan RM and Lcdr. Ian Stanley RN. True many others had been cold, wet, tired and in danger of losing their lives to the weather but none had shown valor in the face of enemy fire because there had been no military opposition. That would come later.
Operation Paraquat was a slip shod affair conducted by a high command that did not pair adequate human or material resources to the task. It diverted resources from the main goal, seizure of Port Stanley. The excuse could be made that a first try at amphibious warfare was bound to be difficult but that does not vindicate dispersing the assault force before a World War 2 diesel submarine away from its target beach nor does it justify the poor decision making that went into the Fortuna Glacier incident or the Grass Island reconnaissance. The SAS failed in South Georgia because they used equipment known to be faulty, because they did not credit mountain men with more experience than they and because fate and nature do not care how clever or strong humans claim themselves to be.
Sheridan's capture of Grytviken and Leith showed the many sides to this small war. A small and bloodless military affair metamorphosed into a major political victory. If ever the Royal Marines had proven their worth to the politicians this was the occasion. Thatcher was not yet the Warrior Queen, that would take blood, time and Port Stanley's seizure, but she had restored British sovereignty to a tiny bit of hijacked property. She could, moreover, hold a cabinet together long enough to gain a much needed victory because a few Royal Marines took the initiative and won a dicey military engagement 8000 miles from home. For the first time since Suez a British Prime Minister undertook diplomatic/military responsabilities outside NATO, risked blood, treasure and her job and prevailed dispite a clumsy military command and control system about which she knew very little. British professional military, especially pilots and infantry, finished the job, heroically so in some instances, despite their seniors' lapses. The Argentine military, on the other hand, had no rationized plan for the defense of their new holdings. The Argentine Navy demonstrated strategic and tactical incompetence in the loss of Santa Fe. It would not come out again to fight in the face of submarine and surface opposition.
Systemic flaws surfaced, too. The reconnaisance practices of the Special Warfare units needed refinement and equipment up to their tasks. The SAS was willing to overman an operation, compromise the operation's command and control system, overburden ships and logistics and risk incomprehensably in order to gain a place in the sun. Too many of those involved refused to accept perfectly good intelligence because it did not oringinate from within. The Royal Navy did not have a grip on the essence and purpose of amphibious operations, getting troops ashore. Yet these shortcomings did not overwhelm. Down deep in the Corps of the Royal Marines, far from desks and parade grounds, rather junior officers and enlisted men possessed a competence and an obduracy that would overcome enormous obstacles even those posed by their own side.
In "Looking For Trouble" p 344 General de la Billiere wrote: "...a combined force of Royal Marines, SAS and SBS fought their way into the former whaling base of Grytviken and recaptured South Georgia in the first victory of the war ...." This statement is wholly erroneous because disabling the Santa Fe was the first victory and because there was no fighting on South Georgia leading up to its recapture.
When Argentina invaded the Falklands on 2nd April 1982, both Brigadier Peter de la Billiere and Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Rose, the Commander of 22 SAS, fought hard to have the regiment included in the task force. By early April, members of both D and G squadrons were on their way.
During the operation to retake South Georgia, bad weather trapped SAS men on a glacier and a Wessex 3 and two Wessex 5s were sent to retrieve them. The first Wessex lifted off as the wind whipped up the snow. The Wessex from RFA Tidespring lifted off, but the pilot lost his bearing in the snow and crashed, skidding for some 50 yards, with the Wessex tipping over. The other two helicopters now embarked their troops. They lifted and landed next to the crashed Wessex and took on her aircrew and soldiers. Both aircraft dumped fuel to carry the extra load.
Visibility by this time was practically zero and the wind and snow had not abated. The helicopters lifted off, and the Wessex 3, equipped with radar, took off with the Wessex 5 following astern and made their way down the glacier. Seconds later, the helicopters traversed a small ridge and the Wessex 5 flared violently and struck the top of the ridge. It rolled onto its side and could not be contacted by radio. The remaining overloaded helicopter returned to the ship, some 30 miles away to the north, and disembarked its passengers. The Wessex 3 returned to the crash site, but was unable to land. They made contact by radio and confirmed there were no serious casualties. The Wessex 3 returned to Antrim to wait for a break in the weather. An hour later an opportunity presented itself and the Wessex 3 flew back and embarked the survivors and was flown back to Antrim by Lt-Commander Ian Stanley RN, who was awarded the DSO.
The following night, 23rd April, 2 Section SBS was landed by helicopter. Five Gemini inflatable craft set out with troops of D Squadron's Boat troop aboard and two suffered engine failure. One of the crews was picked up by helicopter while the other crew got to shore. The Antrim group moved in again, on the 24th April, to drop off more troops and in doing so, located and beached the Argentine submarine Sante Fe. The Antrim's small company of Marines was landed following a hasty conference and the seventy-five Marines, SBS and SAS, under naval gunfire support, landed by helicopter. When they reached the settlement of Grytviken, they found white sheets fluttering from several windows. An Argentine officer complained to the SAS that they had just walked through his minefield. At 5:15am, the Argentine commander formally surrendered. The following morning, after threatening defiance by radio overnight, the small enemy garrison at Leith, along the coast, surrendered without resistance. The scrap merchants, whose activities had precipitated the entire war, were also taken into custody, for repatriation to the mainland. To complete the victory, a helicopter picked up a weak emergency beacon signal from the southernmost tip of the island, Stromness Bay. The helicopter homed in on it and found the lost three-man SAS patrol from the missing Gemini. They had paddled ashore with only a few hundred yards of land left between them and Antarctica. No British troops had been lost.
Goose Green Diversionary
The SAS mounted a diversionary raid at Goose Green on the night before the main landing at San Carlos. 60 men of D Squadron hit the garrison at Goose Green with the aim of simulating a battlion-sized attack. The soldiers marched for 20 hours to reach the hills north of Darwin before attacking the Argentines with LAW and MILAN missiles, machine gun and rifle fire. The enemy were taken completely by surprise and were unable to pinpoint the SAS positions and responded with only sporadic fire. Early next morning the SAS withdrew, the main landing complete.
Despite some last minute hitches, the aircraft had all been destroyed or rendered irreparable and one Argentinian lay dead. Two of the Squadron were wounded by shrapnel when a mine exploded, although not seriously hurt.
Please note that BSW dose NOT profit from any sales of this painting.
The Sea King Crash
On 19th May, the Regiment suffered a tragic loss when a Sea King crashed while cross-decking troops from HMS Hermes to HMS Intrepid and killed 22 men. The Sea King had taken off from H.M.S. Hermes at dusk. The Aircraft was slightly over loaded but because it was short fight the pilot reduced his fuel load to lighten the helicopter. At 300 ft the Sea King started it's decent towards H.M.S. Intrepid. those on board heard a thump, then another from the engine above them. The Sea King dipped once then dived . Within four seconds it hit the water. Some men were killed instantly and other knocked unconscious in the initial impact. Amazingly 9 men managed to scramble out of the open side door before the helicopter slipped below the waves. They were the only survivors. Rescuers found bird feathers floating on the surface were the helicopter had impacted the water. It is thought that the Sea King was the victim of a bird strike. One theory is at the Sea King was hit by a Black Browed Albatross which has a 8 ft wing span. The SAS lost 18 men on this night. The regiment had not lost so many men at one tine since the end of the second world war. The accident killed a member of the Royal Signals and the only RAF casualty of the war Flt Lt G.W. Hawkins.
Thank you to Julian M Taylor for some of the above information on Captain G. J. Hamilton
Using Mount Kent, some 64 km behind enemy lines, as a forward operating base under the noses of the Argentine 12 Regiment, also on the mountain, the SAS continued their reconnaissance role until 26th May, when the Argentines were hurriedly airlifted to Goose Green by a mix of Huey and Chinook helicopters, leaving much personnel equipment behind. This sudden move left the mountain, which was dominant high ground, open to seizure by No.3 Commando Brigade. On 30th May, Sea King helicopters with Royal Marines aboard, took off but were forced by severe weather to turn back to San Carlos.
In the late afternoon of 31st May, elements of K Company, 42 Commando and two SAS officers, took off with the aim of arriving after dark. the helicopter pilots, using passive night goggles to mount a ground-hugging approach. This first liftoff had to land as many men as possible and were filled beyond capacity with men and weapons. They arrived behind a ridgeline about two miles from the summit of Mount Kent, where they were confronted by the sight of a night fire-fight in progress . The Marines quickly spread out and took cover and secured their landing zone as they offloaded their weapons and equipment. The firefight died down and Major Cedric Delves, of D Squadron, 22 SAS, appeared to assure his boss all was well. The SAS had encountered an Argentine patrol and had destroyed it.
As the task force set sail from Britain in April 1982, to reclaim the Falklands, the Special Boat Service was already reaching the scene. At the time of the Argentine invasion, the SBS was engaged in winter exercises in northern Norway, 40 Commando was training at home, 45 Commando in Scotland and another company was in Brunei. 42 Commando was the only unit to go to Norway because of stringent cost cutting.
The SBS, returning from Norway, were due to go on leave as soon as they returned from Norway, but instead, their departure was blocked the night before the invasion, as the SBS OC, made the assumption that there could be trouble any second. The following morning his fears were confirmed and all his units were alerted to standby.
Within 24 hours of the signal ordering the SBS to stand to, on the 1st April, the SBS were on the move.
First came 2 SBS, setting off with a strong command team by air to Ascension Island, where they would catch either HMS Spartan or HMS Splendid to take them south. However, the plan was aborted en route and 2 SBS was picked up by RFA Fort Austin. At Ascension, D Squadron, SAS, joined them, bringing the force up to a combined total of around 50 men. M Company, 42 RM Commando, soon joined them. The men were at sea before they learned that South Georgia was their intended destination.
6 SBS joined HMS Conqueror at Faslane and set off for the South Atlantic. 3 SBS was the last section to leave, deployed aboard RFA Stromness with a further 12 men joining at Ascension. 1 SBS remained in Poole to deal with any emergency and Special Forces liaison groups.
The assault on South Georgia was codenamed 'Operation Paraquat'. On the way the SBS and SAS tested their equipment and practiced launching from Fort Austin. The elderly outboard motors failed often, and the men found themselves having to paddle back to the ship in these practices.
On 12th April, Fort Austin sighted HMS Endurance, and over the next day the SBS and SAS men heading for South Georgia were cross-decked to HMS Endurance along with their stores, equipment, boats, and supplies for the Endurance. Two Wessex helicopters helped with the shipping. HMS Endurance and Fort Austin were joined by HMS Antrim, HMS Plymouth and RFA tanker Tidespring. The reoccupation of South Georgia was planned aboard HMS Antrim; Endurance would put the SBS ashore at Gryviken and King Edward Point, with the SAS landing at Fortuna Glacier to reconnoitre Leith Harbour, Stromness and Grass Island. For more details see 'Operation Paraquat'.
'Paraquat' concluded with a landing of a 75-man strong force made up of SAS, SBS and Royal Marines from Antrim, which was only half the strength of the Argentine garrison. When the force reached the Argentine garrison at Grytviken, the entire place was covered in white sheets and the Argentineans surrendered.
The 6 SBS from South Georgia joined 3 SBS in the advance fleet. The SBS would reconnoitre three separate areas of the Falklands and maintain patrols in advance of the main landings.
In addition to being in enemy controlled territory, the SBS had to send reports by Morse code instead of radio, and the beach recce reports and charts had to be delivered in person as these were far too complex for sending by Morse code. Sea King Mk 4 helicopters were used to fly the patrols in, although occasionally the Geminis were used to go ashore. Helicopter movements were only carried out at night, and once dropped off, the SBS teams dug into the coverless hillsides and remained hidden for days at a time, as the Argentine forces searched for them.
As the conflict progressed, the SBS had teams scattered throughout the islands, with patrols deployed to various locations for up to a week at a time before withdrawing to report and then being inserted to another location.
The teams usually numbered four men who, once landed, would proceed on foot to their observation side, lying up in temporary hides during the daylight hours. A trio of hides would be built, one for the men and the other two for the substantial supplies necessary for a seven-day recce.
Although the Argentine forces came close to discovering SBS patrols on numerous occasions, the worst incident of all was when two men went missing from a patrol, which caused concern to SBS control. The two corporals were part of a team that ran into an Argentine patrol and were split up, although they avoided actual contact with the patrol. The two corporals followed their procedures and were eventually, seven days later, picked up and returned to the ship.
The Argentine fish factory-ship provided another SBS task, 2 SBS were despatched to board and apprehend the vessel, but while they were en route, the ship was attacked by two Harriers and was listing badly by the time the SB arrived and boarded her. The SBS discovered charts and operational orders before setting charges, rescuing the crew, and blowing up the ship. The seized orders showed she had been shadowing the British fleet.
Immediately prior to the San Carlos landing, an Argentine company moved into the area and the SBS were tasked with clearing them out before the landing. Using a thermal imager, the SBS located the Argentineans from one of Antrim's Wessex helicopters and HMS Antrim bombarded the target with 4.5-inch naval shellfire for two hours, while the Wessex landed the SBS nearby. The SBS then moved in, calling for the Argentines to surrender, but receiving only gunfire in response. The SBS gave them one more chance to give up before moving forward, killing twelve, wounding three, and taking nine prisoners. The Argentineans had been on Fanning Head manning anti-tank guns and mortars, which would have been able to inflict damage on the British landings if they had not been put out of action. The remainder of the company were in Port San Carlos, sheltering in houses and were not discovered until after the landings began; two Royal Marine Gazelles were shot down by these Argentineans as the landings started.
The landings went on unopposed and on the north coast, by Port Salavdor Water, 6 SBS from HMS Fearless was inserted to establish a forward base on Green Island ahead of the Commando's advance. The section carried out reconnaissance of Port Louis and Green Patch before the Commandos arrived. 2 SBS joined them and operated in the Teal area, guiding 3 Para into Teal, before moving on to observe an enemy company on Long Island Mountain.
These operations were followed by the SBS removing an enemy observation post, during which one member of the SBS was killed in a friendly fire incident. This resulted in closer cooperation, the SBS team leader having strayed onto the SAS's Green Patch operational zone.
The SBS continued its operations, scouting West Falkland for enemy bases and airstrips.
An Argentine force was located on Pebble Island numbering between 30 and 50 men. The SBS planned an attack with 36 men and two Harriers, however the raid was overtaken by the Argentine surrender at Port Stanley. An SBS major took the surrender of Pebble Island and its 112-strong garrison.
As the main force advanced on Stanley, the SBS and SAS shared a joint action. On 12th June, 2 Para attacked Wireless Ridge, while five miles west of them a six-man team from 3 SBS formed a volunteer raiding party with D and G Squadrons SAS, to divert enemy attention from the main thrust by creating a diversionary assault from the sea. The task was unplanned and a spur-of the-moment operation.
The SBS team spent a day in an observation post, before moving across the Murrell River in Rigid Raiders with a troop from D Squadron, SAS, which were driven by men from the Royal Marines 1st Raiding Squadron. The raiders were hidden off Kidney Island until they were ready for the assault.
On the night of 13-14th June, the men approached the target area, bypassing the berthed Argentinean hospital ship Bahia Paraiso. As they did so, the hospital ship turned on its searchlights, spotting the raiders and opened fire with everything they had, certain they faced a full-scale sea borne assault.
The raiders withdrew, with one of the craft badly damaged. The raiders reached the shore, with an SBS corporal and two SAS troopers having been wounded. The effort provided the needed diversion for 2 Para and saved some lives by diverting Argentine attention from the Para's assault.
Argentine Air Defenses