The Approach to Port Stanley and the Final Battles

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

Mount Kent

Mount Kent with its surrounding hills is an area of high ground on East Falkland, approximately five miles west of Port Stanley. It rises to just under 1,100 feet and it dominated the central axis of advance from San Carlos to Stanley. Given its dominance and proximity to the capital of the Falkland Islands, the mountain was an area of special interest to both British and Argentine Special Forces.

On the night of 29-30th May 1982, an Argentine patrol of the 3rd Assault Section from 602 Commando Company ran into a British patrol from D Squadron 22nd Special Air Service on the slopes of the mountain. The British took control of the situation, but at the cost of two wounded SAS troopers. The Argentine radio operator sent out the following message: “We are in trouble” and then forty minutes later: “There are English all around us… you had better hurry up.”

In the hours and the day that followed there were a number of brief but extremely violent skirmishes between the special forces of both sides. On the night of the 31st May, K Company of 42 Commando was helicoptered into the area in support of the SAS. The Argentine 2nd Assault Section, having hidden all day, chose that moment and emerged from their hides intending to withdraw from the area and came under a murderous SAS ambush. The Marines of 42 Commando took cover until the fire was over and the Argentine patrol had been neutralised.

Also heavily involved in this action was the Task Force’s only surviving Chinook helicopter, Bravo November. Flight-Lieutenant Andy Lawless, co-pilot of the Chinook took part in the mission to deliver artillery guns and ammunition to the SAS and describes the crash of the helicopter (possibly as a result of small-arms fire) soon after:

We knew the SAS were outgunned. Our job was to land 105-mm howitzers] of 29 Regiment Royal Artillery. Rose (Loadmaster) told me the landing site was flat and secure. The mission was to be flown all at night with night-vision goggles. We had three 105—mm guns inside and ammunition pallets under-slung. Then the fog of war intervened. The ground was not flat and covered in boulders. We could not find anywhere to land and we spent time manoeuvring to drop off the under-slung loads. We had to put them exactly where the gunners wanted because they could not roll the guns very far across the terrible terrain. I can distinctly remember troops moving under the rotor disking firing their guns – this was not part of the plan. There were incoming artillery rounds. Once we dropped off the guns we went straight back to San Carlos to bring in more guns and ammo. Then we hit water. We were lucky because if we had hit solid ground we would have been dead. We hit at 100 knots. The bow wave came over the cockpit window as we settled and the engines partially flamed out. I knew we had ditched but I was not sure if we had been hit. Dick (Pilot) said he thought we had been hit by ground fire. As the helicopter settled the bow wave reduced. We had the collective still up and the engine wound up as we came out of the water like a cork out of a bottle. We were climbing.

Tactical Advance to Battle

By 1st June 1982, the British forces on East Falkland were augmented by a further 5,000 troops of the 5th Infantry Brigade. This allowed new Divisional Commander, Major General Jeremy More, to plan the final offensive against Port Stanley. Now Brigadier Thompson was freed to concentrate on 3 Commando Brigade’s move on Stanley by the northern route. But in the process he lost 40 Cdo for base defence, 2 Para, 29 Bty RA and The Blues and Royals to 5th Inf Bde, and the Cdo Logistics Regt now had to support both main units. The newly arriving 5th Infantry would move on Stanley from the south west, by which time Forward Brigade Maintenance Areas would be established both at Teal Inlet and Fitzroy.

An advanced party consisting of 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) moved forward and occupied Fitzroy and Bluff Cove, which was unoccupied by Argentine forces. On the 8th June the Scots and Welsh Guards were dispatched in support of the Paras, but as the sole Chinook was overtasked, the supplies and reinforcements were moved by the Landing Ships Logistic (LSLs), Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. On arrival at Port Pleasant, usually referred to as Bluff Cove there was considerable confusion and inter-cap badge rivalry regarding the order and priority of the ships’ unloading. The soldiers of the Welsh Guards contingent remained on the ships while the officers tried to sort out the disembarkation.

The Nuclear Hunter Killer Submarine (SSN) HMS Valiant was submerged off Rio Grande Airbase and tracked six aircraft taking off. She sent a warning signal but this never reached British Forces at Bluff Cove. At 1400 Local five A4 Skyhawks of Grupo 5 attacked the Sir Galahad, which was hit by three bombs and Sir Tristram, which was hit by two bombs. The explosions and subsequent fires on the ships killed 48 on the Sir Galahad and two on Sir Tristram. At 1650 a second wave of four A4 Skyhawks sank the Landing Craft Utility killing six Royal Marines. All four Skyhawks were shot down by the Harrier Combat Air Patrol.

A total of 56 British servicemen were killed, and 150 wounded. BBC television cameras recorded images of Royal Navy helicopters hovering in thick smoke to winch survivors from the burning landing ships. These images were beamed around the world and the Argentine forces took heart with their morale boosted. Argentine General Mario Menéndez, commander of Argentine forces in the Falklands, was told that 900 British soldiers had died. He fully expected the British rate of advance to slacken, but for the British, the driving imperative was the onset of the southern hemisphere’s winter.

The battles of 11th-12th June 1982 – From South to North Mount Harriet

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

Mount Harriet was defended by 4th Argentine Infantry Regiment and they had been able over several days, to dig in comprehensive defensive positions of stone sangers. The orders for the attack on Mount Harriet were issued to 42 Commando on the morning of 11th June. K Company was to attack the eastern side of the mountain, while L Company would attack the southern flank one hour later. J Company was to launch a diversionary attack on the western flank of the mountain. Just before midnight K and L Companies moved forward from their assembly areas on mount Challenger, west of My Harriet, across the Argentine mine fields to their start lines. When they were in position, J Company commenced its extremely loud and distracting attack.

K Company’s attack was opened by a fierce naval bombardment that killed two Argentines and wounded twenty-five. The Commandos crossed the start line and moved stealthily up the mountain, knifing to death two sentries on their advance. The British supporting Gun batteries, naval guns and mortars fired over 1,000 rounds to keep the defenders pinned down so the Commandos could advance to the fight through. The British took out machine gun positions when Corporal Newland charged the position, before being shot through the legs. With the Argentine machine guns out of action Corporals Eccles and Ward cleared the other points aided by Marine Barnett. For this action Newland, Eccles and Ward were awarded the Military Medal, Barnet was Mentioned In Dispatches. Argentine soldiers, mainly conscripts began to surrender, but the officers and NCOs stood firm and fought valiantly.

L Company crossed the start land just after K Company and was immediately engaged by effective Argentine machine gun fire. Milan anti-tank missles were used to neutralise the machine gun nests, with 105mm guns from Mount Challenger. It took L Company five hours to advance 600 metres, stiff enemy fire consisting of at least seven machine guns. By first light 5 troop of L Company advanced towards Goat Ridge when they were engaged by machine guns, which were covering the Argentine withdrawal from the summit. Supressing mortar fire was requested, but a single, brave and well dug-in Argentine conscript just below the summit, held out until he was killed by a Milan fired at close range.

The battle proved good planning and deception was effective even against a resolute enemy in good defensive positions. Two Marines were killed and thirty wounded. Eighteen Argentines were killed on Mt Harriet. The Marines were much impressed with the conduct and fighting spirit of the Argentine troops and were forced to correct British reporters who were filing stories to the effect that the conscripts caved in after the first shots had been fired. It just proves that from the Crimean War to the Gulf and Afghanistan, the media have always been a bunch of spinning, lying, conniving bastards.

“2 COYS OF 42 CDO HAD TAKEN A REGIMENTAL POSITION FOR 2 KILLED AND 30 WOUNDED … WE HAD BEEN ORDERED TO BE PREPARED TO PRESS FORWARD THE ATTACK ONTO MOUNT TUMBLEDOWN AND MOUNT WILLIAM IF THE ENEMY FLED OUR INITIAL ATTACK, AND TIME ALLOWED. BY DAWN IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT WE WERE IN NO POSITION TO ATTACK. WE WERE EXHAUSTED, OUT OF AMMO AND SUFFERING SIGNIFICANT CASUALTIES. MY 21C, A RADIO OPERATOR, MY TAC HQ MACHINE GUNNER AND ONE OF MY TROOP COMMANDERS HAD ALL BEEN SHOT, AND A FURTHER 10 ALSO WOUNDED. ANOTHER TROOP COMMANDER I DISCOVERED WAS SUFFERING FROM SHELLSHOCK”.
A Rifle Company Commander’s Perspective, Major David G. Wheen,

Two Sisters

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

The RM Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre had been patrolling Two Sisters and discovered dug in, command detonated mines protecting the eastern flank of the mountain. 45 Commando’s X-Ray Company spearheaded the attack, but came up against determined defence from the Argentine 4th Infantry Regiment. Unable to advance, the Marines were pinned down for four hours on the mountain slopes, while naval gunfire support tried to dislodge the defenders. Colonel Andrew Whitehead realized that a single company could not hope to secure Two Sisters without massive casualties, and brought up the unit’s two other companies.

Yankee and Zulu Companies attacked the northern peak of Two Sisters at 1230 Local and engaged in a two-hour firefight, during which the Argentine mortar platoon’s officer was killed. The mortars were out of ammunition. However, the Marines lost two platoon commanders who were wounded. Z Company’s platoon commander realised that with their ongoing rate of fire the Marines would run out of ammunition, so Lieutenant Dytor rallied his troops and led them on a bayonet charge to clear and take the northern peak. He would win the Military Cross for this action.

The Argentines no longer held the peaks and began to withdraw towards Mount Tumbledown. The cover to this withdrawal was most effective and a number of Argentine troops were decorated for bravery. Sergeant-Major George Meachin of Yankee Company, later praised the fighting abilities and spirit of the Argentine defenders:

We came under lots of effective fire from 0.50 calibre machine guns …At the same time, mortars were coming down all over us, but the main threat was from those machine-gunners who could see us in the open because of the moonlight. There were three machine-guns and we brought down constant and effective salvoes of our own artillery fire on to them directly, 15 rounds at a time. There would be a pause, and they’d come back at us again. So we had to do it a second time, all over their positions. There’d be a pause, then ‘boom, boom, boom,’ they’d come back at us again. Conscripts don’t do this, babies don’t do this, men who are badly led and of low morale don’t do this. They were good steadfast troops. I rate them.

Mount Longdon

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

Mount Longdon was defended by the Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment and attached support formations. These were not conscripts but recalled reservists, dug-in well prepared positions. The British forces were 3 Para commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike, six 105mm guns of 29 Commando RA with 2 Para in support. HMS Avenger’s 4.5” gun provided Naval gunfire support.

3 Para’s Tactical Advance to Battle (TAB) was conducted in atrocious weather conditions, and after crossing the start line, Corporal Milne triggered a mine. This drew about twenty Argentines out of their tents to lay down fire but the Para’s 4 Platoon machine-gunned and grenade the startled Argentine troops. The Paras continued up the mountain into effective machine gun fire and so began a four hour fire-fight to clear the first line of defending bunkers. The Argentine forces moved in reinforcements and the battle had degenerated into small individual combats with both side fighting for their lives.

Argentine resistance was strong and well-organised and as night fell, it became obvious that the Argentines had been issued with night fighting equipment, probably supplied by the Americans via a third party. A heavy machine-gun position was causing the Paras considerable problems for 4 Platoon and Sergeant McKay knew that they had to act. He led an assault on the machine-gun position into heavy fire. Two were wounded and one killed, but McKay kept going and charged the enemy position alone and was killed. For this act he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Unfortunately the machine-gun wasn’t knocked out.

The Paras withdrew to allow fire support to attempt to soften-up the enemy defences. Under continuing heavy fire, 4 and 5 Platoons continued towards their objective codenamed “Full-Back” to consolidate. They realised that further advance would be impossible without suffering unacceptable casualties. A Company moved through B Company and assault, from the west, the eastern objective of ‘Full Back’, still heavily defended position, with covering fire being given from Support Company.

Second Lieutenants John Kearton and Ian Moore mustered their platoons near the western summit and had briefed them on how to deal with the enemy. They then attacked the position, clearing it of its Argentine garrison with rifle, grenade and bayonet in close quarters combat. As A Company was clearing the final positions, Corporal McLaughlin was injured by a Czekalski recoilless rifle round fired from Wireless Ridge, he was subsequently killed by a mortar bomb fired from Wireless Ridge as he made his way to the aid post.

The Argentines continued to defend “Full Back” but Milan missile rounds and artillery support systematically destroyed their bunkers. By the next day, the mountain was strewn with the Argentine and British dead, some side-by-side in the same bunkers, mutually killed in close combat. The battle lasted twelve hours and cost the lives of seventeen Paras and a Royal Engineer. Forty were wounded. The Argentines lost thirty-one dead, 120 wounded and fifty prisoners. As one Para remarked:
“I thought the Argies were supposed to be fucking crap.”

13th – 14th June 1982 – Maintaining the Momentum. Mount Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

Mount Tumbledown was defended by the Argentine 5th Marine Battalion, which had been brought up to brigade strength by a company of the Amphibious Engineers Company, a heavy machine-gun company of the Headquarters Battalion. Additionally a battery of the 1st Marine Field Artillery Battalion and three Tigercat SAM batteries of the 1st Marine Anti-Aircraft Regiment, as well as a 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion platoon and a 3rd Marine Infantry Battalion platoon defended the high ground. The attacking British forces consisted of the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, mortar detachments from 42 Commando, Royal Marines and the 1st Battalion, 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles, as well as support from a troop of the Blues and Royals equipped with two Scorpion and two Scimitar armoured vehicles.

On the morning of 13th June the Scots Guards were flown by helicopter from Bluff Cove to Goat Ridge west of Tumbledown. For the capture of Tumbledown, in phase one, G Company would take the western end of the mountain. Phase two would see Left Flank Company pass through G Company to capture the centre summit. Right Flank Company wound pass through Left Flank Company and secure the east of Tumbledown. It was felt that manoeuvre in daylight would be suicidal.

At 2100 following a diversionary attack on Mount William by the Blues and Royals and the Guards Recce Platoon, G Company reached its objective unmolested. The western end of the mountain was undefended and Left Flank Company passed through and reached the central peak. But then they came under heavy fire. For the next four hours Argentine machine guns and mortars kept the Guards pinned down with fire from bunkers. The Frigates HMS Yarmouth and Active continued to fire on Tumbledown, but the commander of 2 Scots Guards thought the Battalion might have to withdraw and fight the next night.

At 0200 the Guards fixed bayonets and went forward to try to clear the bunkers. The fighting which included artillery support went on throughout the early hours and by 0600 it was clear the attack had stalled. The Argentines continued to bring up reinforcements and Left Flank Company was exhausted. Guards Right Flank Company was ordered to go in and clear the ridge. As they went forward advancing out of the central region of Tumbledown ridge they came under heavy fire, but by advancing in pairs under support fire they cleared the area and then gained control of the mountain’s eastern side. The Gurkhas deployed south to Mount William leaving the Scots Guards with eight dead and forty-three wounded.

During the battle, Guardsman Philip Williams was knocked unconscious by an explosion, and left for dead. When he came to, the rest of the British soldiers had gone. Williams’ parents were informed of his “death” and a memorial service held for him. After seven weeks he found his way back to civilization, to find himself accused of desertion by the media and fellow soldiers. I find this account extraordinary and if I were his platoon commander, I would have to ask just where the hell he had been for seven weeks.

Wireless Ridge

On the morning of 13 June, it became clear that the attacks on Tumbledown had been successful. 2 Para marched around the back of Mount Longdon to take up their positions for the assault on Wireless Ridge. As the action was expected to be concluded quickly, they took only their weapons and as much ammunition as possible, leaving most other gear behind in the camp. On Bluff Cove Peak, the Battalion’s mortars and heavy machine guns were attacked by Argentine A4 Skyhawks, which delayed their planned move forward, although they suffered no casualties.

During the day British artillery had fired 6,000 rounds with their 105 mm guns and as they began their push, they were further backed by naval fire and the 76 and 30 mm guns mounted on the light tanks. After their losses at Goose Green, the Paras were taking no chances. By the time 2 Para reached their first objective, the Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment defenders had withdrawn. As a result A and B Companies were convinced the enemy on the “Apple Pie” objective had been defeated, and began to advance confidently, but they met fierce resistance when they left their trenches. They came under heavy machine-gun fire and ordered massive retaliation from the British machine-gunners and the guns of the Blues and Royals light tanks. A and B Companies took “Apple Pie.”

D Coy then began the final assault from the western end of Wireless Ridge, under the cover of heavy fire from HMS Ambuscade’s 4.5 inch gun, the light tanks, twelve 105 mm artillery pieces, several mortars and anti-tank rockets. Major Neame’s D Coy took the first half of the objective after a hard fight with Argentine paratroopers of the 2nd Airborne Infantry Regiment. Major Neame’s officers and NCOs rallied the men to capture the final part of their objective and in the face of heavy fire, the Argentines having run out of ammunition, broke and retreated, covered by supporting machine gun fire.

2 Para had suffered three dead and 11 wounded. The Argentines suffered approximately 25 dead and about 125 wounded, about 50 were taken prisoner. In the final stages of the battle, the Argentine commander, Brigadier-General Jofre had been offered the use of Skyhawks to bomb Wireless Ridge with napalm but he declined, believing that the British response would be equally violent and the chances of a surrender being accepted, non-existent. Soldiers take a dim view of the operators of flame weapons, as the crews of Churchill Crocodiles found to their cost in Normandy.

The Bitter End

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

The mountains surrounding Port Stanley were the last line of defence, and the Argentine defenders were streaming off them, heading back to the town. The Argentines were ordered to take up positions in the buildings and if the occupants refused, they were to be shot. The Argentine troops had had enough and knew the game was up. Their chances of getting home to Argentina would be zero if they started killing the Islanders. Many melted away. Some looted food, some sat down and told their officers and NCOs to fuck off.

Initial contact between the opposing forces’ headquarters was made by radio at 6 pm. A ceasefire was then ordered. The two commanders General Mario Menendez, and the British second-in-command Brigadier John Walters, met at Moody Brook, the former Marines barracks with an interpreter. A ceasefire was declared on 14 June and the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Brigadier General Mario Menéndez, surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore the same day.

The British gun line was down to its last case of 105mm ammunition. The ships were blistered and rusted by the Southern Ocean. The Harrier engines were scarified by the salt water. British troops hobbled like old men, caused by immersion foot, the ones that hadn’t had the good sense to take the superior boots off the Argentine dead.

It has been a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life, by God!
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

 

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