The Battle of Goose Green 28-29 May 1982

Politics Overriding Military Necessity

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Helmuth von Moltke

COMPANY ORDERS – THE ADVANCE TO CONTACT

All timings are local

Situation

Enemy Forces Friendly Forces Attached/Detached
Intelligence reports that the enemy numbers approximately one to possibly three Argentine Infantry Companies. 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment consisting of three rifle companies, one patrol company, one support company and one headquarters company.
SAS flanking forces.
Three 105 mm artillery pieces with 960 shells from 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery; one MILAN anti-tank missile platoon and Scout helicopters as support elements. In addition, close air support available from three Royal Air Force. Golf Romeo Three Harriers, and naval gunfire support to be provided by HMS Arrow in the hours of darkness.
Detachments nil.
Commander’s Intent

With the bulk of the Argentine forces based in positions around Port Stanley, 50 miles east of San Carlos, the Argentine garrison at Goose Green and Darwin pose a low threat and have limited offensive capability. However, politicians in London and senior commanders in the UK feel that although British Forces are digging in around San Carlos prior to pushing east, this seeming inactivity means the momentum of the campaign is slowing.

The British Joint Headquarters has come under increased pressure by Her Majesty’s Government, for an early ground offensive for political and propaganda value. There are also fears that the United Nations Security Council would vote for a cease-fire, maintaining current positions. If the Darwin-Goose Green isthmus could be taken prior to such a decision, British forces would control access to the entire Lafonia and thus a significant portion of East Falkland. On 25 May Brigadier Julian Thompson, ground forces commander, commanding 3 Commando Brigade, has been ordered to mount an attack on Argentine positions around Goose Green and Darwin.

Brigadier Thompson has ordered 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) to prepare for and execute the operation as they are the unit closest to Goose Green in the San Carlos defensive perimeter. He orders Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones, officer commanding 2 Para, to carry out a raid on Goose Green isthmus and capture the settlements before withdrawing in a reserve for the main thrust to the north.

Ground

The settlements of Goose Green and Darwin are located on an isthmus that connects Lafonia to Wickham Heights, the two main areas of the East Falkland Island. The ground is rolling, treeless and covered extensively with gorse. The ground is frequently sodden in the southern hemisphere’s winter from May to August. Movement, especially at night is exhausting and drizzly rain occurs at least one out of every three days. Winds are continuous and the cover is sparse. The two settlements dominate the isthmus. Darwin to the North and Goose Green to the South. Goose Green has a grass airstrip.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

Map of Goose Green and Darwin. Note that Mount Pleasant Air Base had not been constructed in 1982.

Enemy Forces

Unusually, the SAS intelligence regarding Argentine forces defending the settlement was well wide of the mark, with their estimate being of one enemy company. The Brigade intelligence was much closer to actual enemy forces. Unfortunately, Lieutenant-Colonel Jones made his planning assumptions on the SAS reports as he felt that being on the ground, their reports were likely to be more accurate. The Argentine forces defending the isthmus, known as Task Force Mercedes consisted of two companies with a third deployed on Mount Kent. It also contained a company of Rangers from the 25th Infantry Regiment, six 20mm Rheinmetalls anti-aircraft guns, and two radar guided Oerlikon 35mm guns from the 601st Anti-aircraft Battalion. The task force also had a battery of three 105mm howitzers and air support from Pucaras based at Stanley. Minefields had alse been laid in tactically important positions. Lieutenant-Colonel Italo Piaggi had a command of over 1,083 men.

The BBC had already been in action against the British Task Force. A news report had picked up the fact that a large number of Argentine bombs were not exploding, despite hitting their ship targets and in some cases going right through them. A BBC television report helpfully speculated that the Argentine armourers were fitting the wrong fuse settings on the bombs. To avoid the high concentration of British air defences, Argentine pilots were releasing their bombs from very low altitudes, giving the fuses too little time to arm before impact. The BBC broadcast this information and was severely criticised by the task force Commander, Admiral Woodward, who blamed them for alerting the Argentines to the supposed fault. Interestingly, Colonel H. Jones, also accused the BBC of giving information to the enemy when the BBC Overseas Service reported on the movement of 2 Para and capture of Goose Green before it actually happened and he had threatened to bring charges of treason against the Board of Governors. Sadly he was killed at Goose Green before he could pursue the charge.

The Argentine forces in the settlements couldn’t fail to work out British intentions. On 4th May Sea Harriers had attacked the airfield at Goose Green and one Harrier had been shot down and the pilot killed. On 21st May, the SAS had launched a diversional raid on Darwin to cover the amphibious landings in San Carlos and Argentine scouts spotted 2 Para reconnaissance parties as they scouted the routes into the settlements. On 27th May RAF Harriers again attacked the airfield, again an aircraft was lost and the BBC put the cherry on top of the cake when it announced that the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment was poised and ready to assault Goose Green and Darwin. It hardly required a Bletchly Park and thousands of codebreakers to work out what the British were up to.

Execution

Timings and preliminary moves (All local)
Scheme of manoeuvre over six phases:

Phase 1 (Quiet) 0300L
C Company is to secure the start line

Phase 2 (Noisy)
A Company is to launch the attack from the start line on the left (Darwin) side of the isthmus.

Phase 3
B Company is to launch its attack from the start line directly after A Company has initiated contact and would advance on the right (Boca House) side of the isthmus.

Phase 4
Once A and B companies have secured their initial objectives, D Company will then advance from the start line between A and B companies. A and B companies are to “go firm” on having exploited their objective.

Phase 5
This will be followed by C Company, which is required to pass through D Company and neutralise any Argentine reserves.

Phase 6
C Company will then advance again and clear the Goose Green airfield after which the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green will be secured by A and D companies respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burntside House

The majority of the helicopter heavy lift capability had been lost on the Atlantic Conveyor, so 2 Para was required to march 13 miles from San Carlos to the forming up point at Camilla Creek House. At 2200L on 27th May C Company and the engineers moved out to clear the route and the start line for the other companies. A fire support base was established by the support company and three 105mm guns and ammunition were in place by 0200 on the 28th. The guns and ammunition had been flown up by Sea King helicopters. The attack was due to commence at 0300 but delays in registering fire support from HMS Arrow delayed the start until 0335.

HMS Arrow opened fire at 0335, the first round of the 22 star shells and 135 4.5” HE shells she would fire during the battle. In the fight for Burntside House twelve Argentine Marines were killed as they fought a delaying action, before falling back to Darwin Ridge. D Company was slowed and halted by the unexpected, stiff Argentine resistance, until Lance-Corporal Bingley and Private Grayling went out from cover and charged the Argentine machine gun position that had been stifling the advance. Bingley was killed and Grayling severely wounded. Bingley was later posthumously awarded the Military Medal and Grayling the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. Burntside House was cleared for the cost of three Paras killed.

Sunray is down!

The British advance continued south, but the Argentine Marines made a determined stand on Darwin Ridge. As the Para’s A and B Company advanced they received enfilading sniper and machine gun fire from concealed Argentine positions. Taking heavy casualties, the British advance faltered and was stopped. The Paras were in a grim position. A Company was stuck in the gorse line at the bottom of Darwin Hill while entrenched Argentine positions were able to fire down on the Paras.

It was now daybreak and a frustrated Colonel H Jones led a charge by members of the HQ Company up a small gulley. The Adjutant Captain Wood and the 2IC of A Company, Captain Dent were killed with Corporal Hardman. Seconds later, Colonel Jones was seen running to a narrow re-entrant followed by his bodyguard. He ran up the hill towards the Argentine position, was hit once and went down, he got up and was then hit again from the flank. He fell short of the Argentine trench line with wounds in his back and groin and he died within a few minutes. His men radioed for a hot casevac, but the Scout helicopter sent in was shot down. For his action leading his men, Lieutenant-Colonel Jones’ widow would receive the Victoria Cross.

At 1030, A Company made a third attempt on Darwin Hill, but this too was defeated by the dogged defence by the Argentine 1st Platoon of IR25’s Company C, commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Estévez who also brought down 105mm artillery and 120mm mortar fire on the Paras. During this period of stalemate, the Para’s support company had fired over 1,000 3” mortar rounds to suppress Argentine forces, otherwise British casualties would have been horrendous.

It was just before noon when the British advance resumed and Major Farrar-Hockley’s A Company of the Paras cleared the eastern enemy positions on Darwin Ridge. On the other flank another fierce firefight was taking place around the ruins of Boca House. Major Crossland’s C Company took the western sector of the ridge after the Support Company brought up Milan anti-tank missiles to destroy the Argentine bunkers. The Milan is a tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missile (TOW). The Argentine defenders in future battles, would come to hate the bobbing and jinking balls of fire from the missiles’ rocket motors heading inexorably towards their bunkers.

A and C Companies rolled up Darwin Ridge with rifle butts, grenades and bayonets, opening the way to the airstrip and Goose Green. For exemplary leadership, Majors Farrar-Hockley and Crosland each won the Military Cross. The Argentine forces had courageously held the ridge for over six hours against a numerically superior British elite force. 2nd Lieutenant Estévez who was mortally wounded in the fighting, would later receive the deserved and grandly titled Argentine Nation to the Heroic Valour in Combat Cross.

Question Consideration Deduction
Changed Situation

Reiterative process throughout the operation.

 

 

 

Has the situation changed since the orders were received?

What has changed?

 

 

 

No change – confirm mission.
Same mission, same plan.
Same mission, amend plan.
New mission, new plan.
Refer to superior commander or if not possible, act in support of his main effort, taking into account his intent.

 Blown Periphery, Going Postal

The Airfield and Darwin School

From Darwin Hill, C and D Companies headed for the airfield and Darwin School after a quick and dirty amendment of the original plan. C Company took heavy losses when they were targeted by Argentine 35mm anti-aircraft guns. Up to 20% of the company became casualties to these effective and well dug-in weapons. The Argentine Air Force gunners were forced to abandon their guns after the Para’s Support Company brought down fire on their positions. Also hampering the Paras advance were air attacks by Pucaras from Stanley, but fortunately the boggy ground absorbed much of the bomb blasts.

The Argentine defenders of 25th Regiment ambushed D Company on the airfield and the Para’s Platoon Sergeant led a charge on the enemy positions with his machine gun, killing four. Private Carter won the Military Medal by rallying No. 12 Platoon and leading it forward at bayonet point to take the airfield. Under a single rear-guard action by Sergeant Sergio Ismael Garcia, the Argentine defenders withdrew into Darwin Settlement. For this action Garcia would receive the Argentine Nation to the Valour in Combat Medal. At this point three RAF Harrier GR 3s made an attack on the airfield’s anti-aircraft positions and this together with the shooting down of two Argentine aircraft by a Blowpipe missile, raised the Paras’ morale at a crucial time. The attacking Harriers had been misidentified by Sea Harriers led by Lieutenant Commander Ward and Flight Lieutenant Mortimer of 801 Squadron RNAS and were nearly shot down during their bombing run.

Situation at Dusk 28th May

By last light the situation for 2 Para was not good. They had failed to take all of their objectives and the timescale of the operation was massively behind schedule. B Company, which had swung much further south in an arc towards Goose Green was isolated and under constant Argentine fire. To make matters worse, eight Argentine helicopters landed south-west of B Company’s position, bringing the remaining Company B of IR12 (Combat Team Solari) from Mount Kent. C Company brought down artillery fire on these enemy troops and they dispersed towards Goose Green settlement. C Company’s IC was wounded and the 2IC unaccounted for. The Paras redistributed ammunition, but were short of food and D Company was out of water.

Major Keeble had taken command after the death of Lieutenant Colonel Jones and he took stock of the situation. The Paras had surrounded the enemy forces, but the Argentines were still very much “in the game” and Keeble had to consider the fate of the Falkland Islanders who were effectively hostages within the settlements. Rather than fight in the settlements, the Major decided to call for an Argentine surrender. Should that fail, his second course of action was to flatten Goose Green with all available support firepower and launch an all-out simultaneous attack with all of his bayonet strength. He requested support and J Company of 42 Commando and another mortar battery were helicoptered down to the isthmus.

Keeble had a message sent via CB radio from San Carlos to Mr Eric Goss, the farm manager at Goose Green, giving the terms of the surrender. Goss relayed this to Colonel Piaggi, the commander of the Argentine garrison. After midnight, two Argentine POWs were sent into the settlement, requesting that the Argentine commander met a delegation from the British. Piaggi agreed and mulled over the terms. He concluded that reinforcements were unlikely, his troops although in good order and with plenty of small arms ammunition, were surrounded and the British could raise the settlement any time they wished. He also had the lives of civilians to consider and because he was an honourable man, Colonel Piaggi agreed to unconditional surrender all Argentine forces at the settlement, the following morning. The next morning, the Argentine troops had a short parade, burned the regimental flag and lay down their weapons.

Aftermath

Around 50 Argentinian troops were killed and 86 were wounded. The British lost 18 killed and 64 wounded. History was not kind to Lieutenant-Colonel Piaggi. Because he surrendered on the Argentines’ National Day he was forced to resign from the Army. And his competence was constantly questioned. After a long fight in the civilian courts, Piaggi had his retired military rank and pension reinstated. He died in 2012.

The Battle of Goose Green was spun as a resounding British military victory against a resolute and well dug-in foe. But many within the Task Force and 2 Para itself, questioned the need to fight a vastly numerically superior enemy force, which could have been isolated and bypassed. It also came as a profound shock that a third-world, largely conscript Army could fight so professionally and doggedly. The skill and bravery of the Argentine air force had already been proven and recognised, but the Argentine defence of Goose Green was a harbinger of battles to come. The politicians with their 8,000 mile long screwdriver had blood on their hands.
 

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