The Falklands War Flying Pig This is my second history article, and so I’m sticking with modern history for now. I owe thanks to everyone who commented on the original Utrinque Paratus article. This one is dedicated to all the men of the units mentioned herein still in the theatre of war; some of which remember this. It was my favourite part of the article to write, so now I will tell the story in full. As before, bias, military jargon and the like are unintentional. My bibliography is far from reliable; consisting mostly of the testimony of a few very old veterans; so any corrections are welcome. Stirring the Giant – Argentina Stakes her Claim The Falklands are, simply put, the most pointlessly cold, wet and miserable place on Earth. They are situated right on Cape Horn guarding the Straits of Magellan, and are a British colony from the days of empire which had been almost forgotten until 1982, composed of two islands which produce little save sheep and fish and probably has a greater level of support for British rule than Scotland, despite being 8000 miles away. As long as it has been around, Argentina has maintained that the islands (which it called the Islas Malvinas) were her property (and it still does) but until 1982 this claim had just smouldered away: until the pent-up aggression between the British Empire and Argentina came to a head. Things had been quiet in the South Atlantic for a long time; the one naval vessel in the area, HMS Endurance, was to be abandoned and there were just 69 Royal Marines standing guard over the islands and the governor; Rex Hunt. On 2 April, 1982, at a quarter past six in the morning, 2000 Argentinean Commandos landed on East Falkland. The marines did what they could to hold the beaches, under the command of Major Mike Norman, but were forced back to stand at the Governor’s House in Stanley, the capital. The governor had hoped that this was just a symbolic action and that the enemy would go away after a brief tussle, but the marines spent 2 and a quarter hours came under fire from armoured vehicles and heavy machine-guns. They held on for a long time; shooting down a three-man team sent to capture the governor, who reported on the battle to the local radio station. However, at 0830 hours the governor finally accepted that he was not going to order his men to fight against the odds which were in their faces, and so he told the Argentine commander that he wanted to surrender. The marines were ordered to lay down at gunpoint in the gardens of the governor’s house, and the whole of Stanley was in Argentinean hands; and at 10 am Governor Hunt was on the radio telling the islanders that although he had surrendered, the British would be back. His words were not expected, in Argentina, to come true. The UK was at that time plagued by a crisis of unemployment and the government, under the only female Prime Minister ever, Margaret Thatcher, was deeply unpopular. The islands were popularly seen as an awkward relic of the Empire, and with the Cold War the British were planning to reduce their capacity to operate at such long range. However, the islanders could draw hope from the fact that almost as soon as Mrs. Thatcher had come into power her plan to leave open the issue of sovereignty over the islands was crushed; the islanders with political support gave a ringing endorsement of the Crown. Argentina was at this time in the grip of a military junta which had come to power in December 1981 and caused the economy to go from being one of the mightiest in the world to a mess, and one of the chief leaders, Admiral Anaya, had only given support on the condition that he be allowed to reclaim the Malvinas. The mission was planned to boost national morale, and the junta reckoned that with the fierce South Atlantic winter any British retaliation would fail. By 31 March, the British had definite intelligence that the Argentines were sending in a fleet. However, the naval forces in the area were, frankly, a joke: they had no ships capable of stopping them and absolutely no submarines, even though HMS Endurance and two submarines had been dispatched to the area. The Argentines were going to get there first, and so Prime Minister Thatcher called an emergency meeting of her advisors. They concluded first that Stanley Airfield could not be used to land troops, so re-enforcement was out of the question, and also that any attack would be dangerous and risky in terms of lives. However, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, entered the room and told the meeting that he could assemble a naval task force by the weekend, which he held to be the only method of taking the islands. In three weeks, he claimed, amphibious units would be able to recover the islands; as he said: the Argentine Admiral, upon hearing the news, should ‘return to harbour immediately’. From now, Thatcher was convinced that if peaceful negotiations (and these would be brief) failed, then Britain would make war and she would win. In this way, even before the first invaders marched onto the beaches, the British were planning the re-conquest of the islands. The Royal Navy, anxious to prove itself, sprung into action: on 5 April a fleet composed of the carriers Hermes and Invincible, the troop and transport vessels Canberra, Intrepid, Stromness, Fearless and Norland, and the frigates Antrim, Ardent, Argonaut, Brilliant, Broadsword, Plymouth and Yarmouth to carry 40, 42 and 45 Commando along with the second and third battalions of the Parachute Regiment; with prospects of re-enforcement later on. The land forces were to be led by Brigadier Julian Thompson, a Royal Marine, and the sea force would be under Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward. The final nail in the coffin of peace was an Argentine attack on 3 April on a small garrison that the British had in South Georgia, which after a heroic fight from the Royal Marines there in which they took down a Puma helicopter and damaged a naval frigate, was forced to surrender. That same day, a House of Commons debate gave total support for the venture – Britain, for the first time in decades, was going to war to defend her territory. Marching to War In the first few days of April 1982, the fleet’s first ships ploughed south through the waves. They were scheduled to stop at the British Dependency of Ascension Island, which was just over half way to the Falklands, and there was a large US base there. The US put the 3 kilometre runway, the other military facilities and a huge amount of fuel there under British command; giving them a base from which to launch the operations. The vanguard of the fleet, consisting of the carriers Hermes and Invincible along with the amphibious Fearless, bearing the first of the men, reached Ascension on 10 April. On the long sea crossing, the men prepared for battle as best they could; they ran up and down the deck in full kit, playing heated football matches and, in the case of the commanders, plotting the best landing site. As well as the USA, Britain was supported (though not in actual fighting) by her other NATO allies; the French told them about sales of the mighty Exocet anti-surface missile, which skimmed the surface of the sea and then attacked by radar, needing no help from a man at the helm. They said that the Argentines had many of these in position to come from ships, and, they thought, about five which could fly from the aircraft. To counter this threat (the British already had support from submarines) they posted 30 Harrier aircraft to each of the carriers and armed them with the American AIM 9L, a powerful anti-air missile, to take on the enemy in the sky. This may have looked impressive, but in reality the protection that the British fleet had was far from secure. The anti-air destroyers, like HMS Sheffield, were armed with Sea Dart missiles, effective at a range of 30 miles, but for close-range fighting only the Broadsword frigates, which had the modern Sea Wolf missile, were good enough – it was claimed that these could take out missiles. Against this, Argentina had a force of about 100 French and American aeroplanes, but the area which they would be flying in was at the very edge of their range; so the fate of the battle in the sky was far from decided. Things were not looking rosy on the cold, rocky cliffs that were the objective. The Argentines knew that Britain was coming, and by now had a force of 13000 on the islands. There were 25 warships and 45 logistical vessels (that is, men and supplies) heading onto the islands, many of which were drafted from trade (STUFT for short). Faced with such heavy resistance on the islands, the British sent in Five Brigade, consisting of Welsh and Scots Guardsmen along with Ghurkhas, which was set to arrive around the end of May. In total, the invasion force was some 8000 fighting men to take on a well-fortified, prepared army of 13000; and to make matters worse, at that point it was accepted doctrine that an attacking force needed odds of 3:1 to take on a defence. The British sent the men and hoped that their skill and training against the Argentines, who were mostly conscripts along with regular soldiers and a few elite commandos, with their massive numerical advantage, and that the initiative would prove decisive. After US-headed negotiations broke down, America declared that it would support the effort to reclaim the Falklands. They ordered that Britain be given any supplies available without delay, and even offered the use of a carrier – for which the British were grateful, but they refused it, saying that it would not be practical. War was now inevitable; and the men aboard the ships were just confirmed in their belief that this would not end peacefully. First Blood - Operation Paraquet The British launched an operation, called Operation Paraquet, to take back South Georgia. Major Guy Sheridan took RFA Tidespring, Royal Marines of 42 Commando, Special Air Service and Special Boat Service troops, which were means to recon the area. After the arrival of the submarine HMS Conqueror and an over-flying of the area, various delays (including an Argentine submarine, the Santa Fé) slowed the invasion until 25 April, when Major Sheridan took his 76 men and attacked; when after a short march the Argentines surrendered. The naval force sent back to London that the white ensign was flying; to massive relief back home. Opening Fire and Sinking the Belgrano War was finally made on the 28 April; the British declared that no ship pass within 200 miles of the islands, and air attacks were made on the large settlements there, including a miserable attempt to bomb Stanley Airfield. The task of the fleet and aeroplanes in that region was now to secure a landing site for the operation so that the men could land, take the islands, and go home. On 1 May, with the Task Force in position about 100 miles north-east of the islands, two fleets were sighted which seemed to be closing in on the position: the first was an escorted carrier, the Venticinco de Mayo, which was later becalmed and so rendered useless (although the British did not know this), and the second was three warships; the cruiser General Belgrano which had longer–range guns than any British ship and two destroyers which the Task Force knew carried Exocet missiles. These were spotted by the submarine, HMS Conqueror, within 40 miles of the TEZ, heading east, but on the morning of the 2nd they turned about and headed away from the fleet; but there was worry that the unit could turn again to enter the TEZ across an area of shallow water – too shallow for the Conqueror – known as Burdwood Bank; which would leave the Task Force vulnerable to attack. Despite the fact that both of these groups were not in the TEZ and so not technically making war, Woodward was very nervous of being caught in a pincer manoeuvre and so petitioned the government to allow HMS Conqueror, which was still shadowing the Belgrano, to allow it to open fire. The decision went to Prime Minister Thatcher; and she decided that since the two were effectively at war and the fleet was in great danger; the Conqueror should be allowed to take the mighty cruiser out. Two torpedoes came out at about lunchtime, and the Belgrano sank in 45 minutes losing 323 lives By now, there was no turning back; an Argentine vessel had been wilfully sank by a British vessel on orders from the Prime Minister. Argentina Strikes Back Finally, on 4 May, the Argentines made an attack; and they did so in spectacular fashion. At 0845 hours two Exocet-armed aircraft took off from Rio Grande, in South Argentina and at 1100 hours they were spotted on radar climbing up to set loose the missiles before they returned home. The two targets were HMS Glasgow and HMS Sheffield; the former identified them and fired off an anti-missile screen of small shavings to confuse the missiles’ radar and then sent a signal to the rest of the fleet. However, Sheffield was not so alert – it took no action, not even issuing the Action Stations order. This meant that the first sign of the impending missile was when a crewman sighted it a few seconds before impact. Amazingly, the missile did not explode, but it carved straight through the middle of the ship and the missile’s fuel caught fire. It took an hour to get the Abandon Ship order out, since the men fought the flames until the captain eventually decided that it was hopeless, and though the navy kept her afloat for a further six days she sank on 10 May, with 20 of her crewmen dead. At this news; Thompson declared that he would not land his men until the air was under control. The SAS Land on Pebble Island On 14-15 May, at night, two helicopters carrying 45 men from the SAS landed on Pebble Island, which was at that time a base which the Argentines had turned into an airfield, which the British feared could be used to spy on their ships and compromise the attempts to land on East Falkland. They dropped in 6 kilometres from the airfield and moved in, laying explosives on the aircraft which they had been tasked to destroy, despite the presence of an enemy sentry. Once they had done this, the SAS opened up with small arms (American M-16 rifles, for the most part) and rocket fire, and HMS Glamorgan shelled the enemy positions, destroying all of the aircraft and a lot of ammunition and fuel there. There was a short battle, in which one SAS trooper was wounded and the Argentine OC killed, after which the SAS withdrew back to the Hermes; their mission a great success. The San Carlos Bay Landing After removing the threat of the aircraft at Pebble Island, the ground troops were free to land en masse. On 21 May, in the middle of the night, the Royal Navy landed the finest soldiers that Britain could call on in the most ambitious operation of its kind since D-Day in 1944; since the risks were huge. They chose San Carlos Bay on the west side of East Falkland; which was protected by an Argentine outpost on the peninsula overlooking it, which is called Fanning Head. The SBS took care of that outpost under the cover of darkness, and the whole flotilla steamed into the bay. The landings at first went without opposition, and as the sun came up the army hoped to avoid the threat of fire from the sky. However, the enemy saw the huge operation; and at 1030 hours about 25 aircraft made attacks from low altitude on the flotilla. Ten were taken out of the sky; but they managed to inflict damage on four ships; and they even managed to send a grand total of seven bombs into HMS Ardent. This meant that the ship sank 24 hours later at the loss of 22 men. Despite this, the operation carried on at full speed; but one of the Exocet missiles had been deflected by fired chaff off HMS Ambuscade and hit the logistical vessel Atlantic Conveyor, which was carrying troop-transporting helicopters. This setback forced the operation into major delays. This terrible rain of bombs continued for four days; the damage being limited considerably by the fact that most enemy bombs failed to fuse. However, four ships sank in the five days including the Ardent. However, this massive attack had cost the Argentines a lot of airpower: thirty aircraft, nearly half of their force and some of their best pilots. From now on, the British suffered little from aerial bombing. 2 PARA Proves its Worth - The Battle of Goose Green Pressure was on the commanders to move, and so on 26 May Thompson gave orders that his men march into battle. 45 Commando and 3 PARA were to go the fifty miles towards Stanley, while 2 PARA was sent to capture the second-largest settlement on the islands – Goose Green. The paratroopers were reminded of one of the exercises from the grisly training known as P Company in which they were made to move at speed, carrying their kit, over the hills of the Brecon Beacons, so with a wry smile they moved across the islands to battle. 2 PARA were ordered to engage the substantial Argentine defences at Goose Green, and despite having only four companies of infantry and no armoured vehicles and worse still hearing about his own advance on the BBC, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Jones, who commanded 2 PARA, was confident that his men could do it; and so the battalion was resolved to live up to the motto and either take the objective or die trying – and nobody was planning on dying. Goose Green is situated on an isthmus behind a ridge, Darwin Ridge, and when the Paras attacked on 27 May it was covered in mines and protected by numerous heavy guns and trenches of enemy soldiers. At 2200 hours, Lt-Colonel Jones commanded the battalion forward into the attack, and divided them into three groups. A Company took the east side of the isthmus, B and D the west, and C Company made an attack on the ridge to drive the enemy from it. There was a lot of enemy firepower coming over that ridge and into the men; A Company got pinned down by anti-aircraft guns fired straight at them from the top of the ridge. These events were seen by the commander, and he was incredibly frustrated to see his men bogged down in this situation. He had spotted a gully which he tried to use to get around the enemy and flank them, and so he called to his staff to follow him into the attack. However, the Gully had two sides to it; both defended by Argentine trenches, and Jones came under fire from a dugout at the end of it. Nevertheless, he still charged up the ridge and attacked an enemy position on his own, only stopping once to re-load his weapon. He was grievously wounded, and despite the efforts of his staff that had followed him, many of whom died with him, he died within an hour of the attack. He later received the Victoria Cross; as his actions inspired his men to push harder and they smashed through the enemy lead by A Company. Under the temporary command of Major Chris Keeble, the men decided to try and break down resistance and penetrate the enemy fortifications; A Company fired anti-armour rockets into the trenches which caused massive damage. By 1130 hours the ridge was clear, but at the cost of six men, including ‘H’ Jones. Despite fire in which C Company lost its commander, C and D companies pressed into the subordinate settlement of Darwin to capture the school and airfield there which had been used to launch aeroplanes throughout the war, while B Company made for Goose Green proper and A Company provided cover from the ridge. Both C and D Company came under a lot of fire; C were targeted by a 35mm Anti-Aircraft weapon and D Company fought in a fierce battle for the airfield at close quarters, then lost one man when the school-house which C Company had taken for no losses collapsed under fire from the AA gun. Major Keeble had come into command at a time which, frankly, could not have been a worse time for a new CO to take up the reigns. The men had spent somewhere around 40 hours without sleep, and the battalion felt vulnerable to enemy counter-attack. He consolidated his men as night fell, and after kneeling down to pray alone for a while, the new commander made an audacious gamble. With the airfield secure, J Company of 42 Commando came into Darwin and Major Keeble declared a truce, sending over two Prisoners of War with a notice; that the thousand-strong Argentine army there was facing the finest unit in the British Army and that they were going to bombard the settlements of Goose Green and Darwin (they had considerable long-range artillery support from ships and artillery units) and that the enemy would be held responsible for any casualties. Incredibly, the Argentines agreed, and all 1000 of them surrendered the next day. In total, the attack had cost the lives of eighteen men of 2 PARA, including H Jones, the commander of C Company and many other ranked men. At the end of the battle, despite the respect and admiration for Major Keeble which the men of 2 PARA had gained he was supplanted by a man of rank, Lieutenant-Colonel David Chaundler, who dropped into the sea after the flight in a Hercules transport plane (one of the least comfortable forms of transport known to man) taking 12 hours from Ascension. The Flight Safety Officer on board told him that the jump was risky due to the light and the wind; to which the new commander replied that he was not going to turn back having come out to the islands to take up command. He then spent twenty minutes in water which was indisputably freezing before the British picked him up. The Landing of 5 Brigade While 2 PARA were fighting the bloody slog of Goose Green, the British had decided to move on Stanley at a ferocious pace. The first move was to get some of the forces from San Carlos Bay closer to the capital, so in terrible conditions 45 Commando arrived at Teal; the mud made their boots split, and they ran so low on water that they drank from the pools, which made them ill. 3 PARA had to spend a night (they had intended to go by helicopter, don’t forget) in the freezing cold without their sleeping bags; while 42 Commando were lucky. The SAS had found out that a place called Mount Kent was not occupied and so the helicopters were used to bring all of 42 to that position. The men of 2 PARA had the best luck of all; one officer of that battalion had telephoned a friend who managed Fitzroy, 20 miles south-west of Stanley and found that the Argentines had stayed away from there, so the battalion went by the only Chinook helicopter in the whole task force to get there. 5 Brigade (consisting of, as I said earlier, Welsh and Scots Guardsmen along with some Ghurkha troops) had landed under the command of Brigadier Tony Wilson in early June, and the land forces had a commander in Major-General Jeremy Moore. The army decided to move 5 Brigade fast, and so they gave orders to plunge the three battalions into the bloodiest action of the war. The plan was to land under the cover of darkness in an area about 20 miles south-west of Stanley. Some of them were to be ferried into Bluff Cove, which was a small lagoon closer to Stanley, and others were taken to the harbour at Fitzroy. Two ships, Sir Galahad and Sir Tristam, were commanded to go with some of the Welsh Guards to Fitzroy on the night of the seventh of June and to land in the dark, but due to delays they arrived at 0730 hours in the morning. The men were commanded to stay on board until they could be ferried to Bluff Cove, and so for several hours the two massive vessels just sat in the water; and it was only a matter of time before the enemy spotted them and sent in the airmen, like they had at San Carlos. The enemy hit both ships; but Sir Galahad was worse off – she was loaded with fuel and ammunition and so caught fire very quickly. There was nothing that could be done to save her, and so 49 died and 150 were wounded. On 21 June, the vessel was sunk out at sea as a war grave.