The shaming of a Nation
The Governor of the Falkland Islands and dependent territories Rex Hunt, received a telegram from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 1st April 1982. In blunt language it warned of a possible invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Armed Forces of Argentina. It offered the Governor no advice or external help:
We have apparently reliable evidence that an Argentine task force could be assembling off Stanley at dawn tomorrow. You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly.
Hunt summoned the two senior officers of Naval Party 8901 to Government House in Port Stanley, outlined the situation and observed somewhat dryly: “Sounds like the buggers mean it!”
Because of his seniority, Major Mike Norman was given overall command of all defence forces and Major Gary Noott was appointed Military Advisor to Governor Hunt. The Royal Marines Naval Party was larger than normal due to this being a hand-over, take-over or a Relief in Place. Major Norman had under his command fifty-seven marines, eleven RN sailors and around thirty members of the Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF), a volunteer force under the command of Captain Phil Summers FIDF. The actual numbers of FIDF is difficult to quantify as differing accounts give differing numbers. I have chosen to quote the median. Twenty-two marines had been dispatched under the command of Lt Mills RM to South Georgia and they were having their own problems to deal with.
Phil Summers tasked the members of the FIDF, which included his son, with guarding key installations such as the telephone exchange, power station and radio station. The civilian coastal ship Forrest operated as an ad-hoc radar warning off Port Stanley. Major Norman concentrated his main force in and around Port Stanley, while smaller units were pushed out to cover the approaches to the capital from the airport isthmus with observation posts overlooking Port William and Port Harriet to the south.
Operation Rosario – The Argentine attack.
Sequence of events during the attack on Port Stanley
The Argentine amphibious landing Operation Rosario (Rosary) began during the late evening of 1st April 1982. The Destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad landed naval Special Forces of the 1st Amphibious Commandos Group, south of Port Stanley in Port Harriet. The plan had been to land in Mullet Creek, but the commandos’ twenty-one small, inflatable boats became entangled in rafts of kelp and headed for the nearest beach at Lake Pont (A&B). The commandos split into two groups. The first under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Giachino, headed directly north towards Government House with the objective of its capture. The second commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Sabarots, skirted to the south west of Stanley with the objective of taking Moody Brook Barracks.
Lieutenant-Commander Sabarots’ troops had difficult and arduous terrain to cross until they were in position around the barracks. Here the Argentine and British accounts differ. The Argentines maintain that they used tear gas to clear the barracks, forcing the marines out where they would be captured. After the surrender the Royal Marines were allowed to collect kit from the barracks and found the buildings riddled with machine gun bullets and burns from phosphorous grenades. In any case, Major Norman recalls fire coming from the direction of the barracks, so it was fortunate that the barracks were unoccupied (D).
The Argentine submarine ARA Santa Fe had been conducting reconnaissance in Port William since 31st March and it had spotted the trawler Forrest. It was clear that the British were aware of a likely attack, so orders were changed. Fourteen members of the Tactical Divers Group were landed from the submarine at Yorke Bay (C), where they planted beacons for the main landings. They then headed towards the Pembroke Peninsular, where the airport was located. They captured the airport and lighthouse without meeting any resistance (J). This team also mopped up the stragglers and isolated defenders over the next couple of days.
The Landing at Yorke Bay
At 06:30 on the 2nd April, the tank landing ship ARA Cabo San Antonio moved into Yorke Bay and began landing twenty US-built LVTP-7A1 Argentine tracked amphibious armoured personnel carriers (Amtracs) (F). The vehicles carried D and E Companies of the 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM-2) from Puerto Belgrano. The landings were observed by a section of Royal Marines commanded by Lieutenant Bill Trollope and the information was radioed to Government House.
The Amtracs trundled up the road heading west into Port Stanley. In the vicinity of the Ionospheric Research Station, the armoured vehicles were engaged with heavy and accurate machine gun fire and fire from rocket launchers (H). Lt Bill Trollope’s account gives this engagement more justice than I could:
Six Armoured Personnel Carriers began advancing at speed down the Airport Road. The first APC was engaged at a range of about 200 to 250 metres. The first three missiles, two 84 mm and one 66 mm, missed. Subsequently one 66 mm fired by Marine Gibbs, hit the passenger compartment and one 84 mm Marines [George] Brown and [Danny] Betts hit the front. Both rounds exploded and no fire was received from that vehicle. The remaining five APCs which were about 600 to 700 metres away deployed their troops and opened fire. We engaged them with GPMG, SLR and sniper rifle [Sergeant Ernie Shepherd] for about a minute before we threw a white phosphorus smoke grenade and leap-frogged back to the cover of gardens. Incoming fire at that stage was fairly heavy, but mostly inaccurate.
The Royal Marines withdrew through the town, attempting make it to Government House. They fought their way through gardens, over walls and fences, coming under friendly fire as they skirted a football pitch. Eventually they reached a house near Government House and were ordered upstairs and given defensive positions by Major Noote.
A section commanded by Corporal York had been manning their lonely position at Navy Point, Overlooking Stanley Harbour on the Camber Peninsular. They fired a Karl Gustav anti-tank missile at an approaching Argentine Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP). In their debrief they claim the round penetrated the side of the LCPV killing all on board. The Argentine accounts of course dispute this.
The Battle of Government House
Lieutenant-Commander Giachino and his force of sixteen men and a useless radio faced quite a task in taking Government House. All semblance of surprise had gone, and suspecting after what had happened at Moody Brook Barracks, the Royal Marines were unlikely to go down without a fight. This was where the bulk of the British defenders were located and Giachino’s unit was outnumbered.
The attack on Government House commenced at around 06:30 with Argentine commandos and Royal Marines exchanging shots and sniper fire. Giachino and four men attempted to enter the building via the servant’s quarters, an annex at the rear of the main building. This attempt to gain entry was repulsed by Corporals Sellen and Fleet with Marine Dorey who were covering this part of the building. Lieutenant Commander Giachino was cut down as he burst through the door and Lieutenant Quiroga was hit in the arm. The other three retreated upstairs into the maids’ quarters.
Giachiano was critically wounded and a paramedic attempting to reach him was wounded with a grenade. Giachiano pulled the pin from his grenade and threatened to use it. The Royal Marines tried to persuade him to throw the grenade away so that he could receive medical treatment, but he refused. Giachiano kept hold of the grenade until the British surrender some three hours later. He died in Port Stanley Hospital from hypovolemic shock.
The Argentine commandos were good at their craft, despite being outnumbered by the defenders. They kept firing and moving positions under the cover of smoke and phosphorous grenades, making the defenders of Government house think they were facing a much larger force. Governor Hunt telephoned the radio station and asked them to relay to London that Government House was under attack by around 200 Argentine troops.
At 08:00, Hunt decided to have talks with the Argentine forces. He liaised with Vice-Commodore Hector Gilobert who was head of the local Argentine Government’s Airline. Gilobert and Hunt’s deputy went to the Argentine headquarters, which had been set up in the town hall under a white flag and a de-facto cease fire was established. This was continually breached by exchanges of fire. During the negotiations, the three Argentine commandos who had retreated into the maids’ quarters, moved in the upstairs room, trying to sneak away. Major Noott fired his Sterling SMG up through the roof and the commandos tumbled down the stairs and lay down their weapons. Bizarrely, they became POW’s at the point the British were negotiating terms of surrender.
Marine prisoners being searched
The Argentine Amtracs of the 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion had pushed into Port Stanley (I), effectively capturing and occupying the town. They then advanced on to Moody Brook to link up with Lieutenant-Commander Sabarots’ troops, having dropped off units at Government house to reinforce Giachiano’s commandos. Argentine troops took some prisoners in the vicinity of the racecourse and Government House was surrounded.
Major Norman suggested mounting a breakout and setting up an alternative Governorship in the country. Perhaps understandably, Rex Hunt was not keen on the idea. At 09:30, British forces formally surrendered to the Argentine Commander, Admiral Büsser. The defenders had fired over 6,000 rounds of ammunition.
Meanwhile, across the harbour, Corporal York decided to withdraw his section. After booby trapping their Karl Gustav anti-tank missile launcher, they headed north across Port William in a Gemini assault boat, pursued and fired upon by the corvette ARA Granville. They hid in the shadow of an anchored Polish fishing vessel, before landing on a beach. They stayed at large until 4th April and surrendered to Argentine forces to avoid reprisals against the civilians who sheltered them at Long Island Fam. They were badly mistreated by their Argentine captors.
The defenders of Government House and the FIDF were herded onto the sports field and made to lie on the ground while they were being searched. The Argentines filmed this and widely broadcast the images. This backfired in Britain and increased public support for assembling a task force to re-capture the islands. The Royal Marines were flown by C130 to Argentina and then on to Montivado. As they boarded the C130, one of the Marines said to his Argentine captor: “Don’t make yourself too comfy. We’ll be back.” Members of the FIDF were disarmed and allowed to return to their homes.
At 16:30 local time on 2 April 1982, the last telex conversation between the operator in the Falklands and an operative in London, announced that the islands were under Argentine control.
LON (London): HELLO THERE WHAT ARE ALL THESE RUMOURS WE HEAR THIS IS LON
FK (Falklands): WE HAVE LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS
LON: WHAT ABOUT INVASION RUMOURS
FK: THOSE ARE THE FRIENDS I WAS MEANING
LON: THEY HAVE LANDED
LON: ARE YOU OPEN FOR TRAFFIC (i.e. normal telex service)
FK: NO ORDERS ON THAT YET ONE MUST OBEY ORDERS
LON: WHOSE ORDERS
FK: THE NEW GOVERNORS
LON: ARE THE ARGENTINIANS IN CONTROL
FK: YES YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH THOUSANDS OF TROOPS PLUS ENORMOUS NAVY SUPPORT WHEN YOU ARE ONLY 1800 STRONG. STAND BY PLEASE.
© Blown Periphery 2017