Tag Archives: Argentine

Kirchner’s Argentina: externalising domestic tensions

Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner, the President of Argentina, started the year in typical fashion by publishing an ‘open letter’ in the Guardian and the Independent, calling for negotiations over the status of the Falkland Islands.

In the letter Fernandez Kirchner argues that the islands were stripped from Argentina in an act of 19th Century colonialism:

“The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.”

The letter ends: 

“In the name of the Argentine people, I reiterate our invitation for us to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations.”

The historical account put forward by Argentina differs starkly not only from the one on the Foreign Office website, but also general consensus. Ironically, Argentina itself was settled as an act of Nineteenth Century colonialism. It’s like asking the spanish-descended Argentinians to bugger off home, and leave the indigenous peoples in peace.

It is tempting to ask why the Guardian and the Independent published the ‘letter’. However, they are two of Britain’s more forward-thinking newspapers, and advertising income is advertising income, even if it comes from the Argentine Government.

If I was an Argentine citizen, I would be wondering how come my President could find not only the time to worry about publishing an ‘open letter’ in British newspapers, but also how the Argentine Treasury could afford to fund such a grandiose publicity stunt.

The British Government, quite rightly, points out that the Falklands is not a colony, and its relationship with the Falkland Islands is by choice of the islanders, not coercion. Therefore, not only is there nothing for the UK Government to negotiate over, but the islanders have a universal human right, enshrined in the very basic UN principles, to determine their own government and sovereignty.

The answer as to why the issue keeps re-appearing, as so often with latin american politics, lies within. Listed below are just a few of the news stories regarding Argentina from the BBC website in the past few months:

Widespread unrest and looting in Argentina; troops deployed

Seized Argentine Navy ship leaves Ghana

IMF data deadline looms for Argentine fagile economy

Argentina wins court delay over debt

Argentina default over debt likely

So… rioting on the streets and supermarkets being looted; Navy ship seized in a foreign port over unpaid debts; the IMF questioning Argentine honesty regarding financial data; and the possibility of a default over foreign debt… still wondering why Fernandez-Kirchner is trying to divert the attention of her people outside the country’s borders? It’s an ever-present in Argentine politics – when there are problems, the Malvinas issue is dragged out. It’s route one politics and not all that indistinguishable from Galtieri’s methodology in 1982.

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Falklands 30 – The Argentine surrender

Español: Galtieri (presidente de Facto) y Mari...

Menendez (right) with Galtieri (left) on his only visit to the Falklands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although the Argentine Governor in the Falklands, General Mario Menendez, had considered withdrawing from Stanley and occupying the Airfield peninsula with his remaining men, he quickly realised that this would be a futile gesture. According to Argentine sources Menendez had visited the local hospital, and the sight of military surgeons treating wounded men left an indelible impression upon him. According to one of his subordinates, Brigadier-General Jofre, the decision to surrender was also motivated by a desire to make sure that none of the Falkland Islanders would be harmed, which would have inevitably happened had the fighting entered Stanley itself.

Menendez contacted the President of the ruling Junta, Galtieri, to ask for permission to surrender. Out of touch with the situation, Galtieri ordered Menendez to fight on, reminding him that under the Argentine Army Code surrender was illegal unless 50% of his men were casualties, and he had expended 75% of his ammunition. Although he still had around 8,000 men left, including three Battalions worth of men who had not yet fought, as a professional soldier Menendez knew that the morale of his men had cracked. Mindful that the majority of them were inexperienced conscripts, that they had been outfought and that he had no support from Argentina, Menendez realised that he could not ask any more of his men after all that they had endured. He made up his mind to surrender. Galtieri had called him a coward, and ordered him out to fight. But these were easy accusations for a dictator to make, hundreds of miles away.

Some Argentine units had maintained their discipline, and prepared for urban warfare in Stanley. There is evidence that some Argentine conscripts were ordered by their officers to be prepared to shoot Falkland Islanders if they resisted, but thankfully no such situation arose. British artillery had already wisely ceased shelling Argentine troops as the flooded back into Stanley.

British units were ordered to advance to Stanley, and await developments on the outskirts. They were given instructions not to fire on the demoralised Argentines, while negotiations were taking place. 2 Para advanced down the track from Wireless Ridge into Stanley, followed by 3 Para. The Gurkhas scaled the now unoccupied Mount William without any opposition, and the Welsh Guards, reinforced by two companies from 40 Commando, occupied Sapper Hill.

A British delegation, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Rose of the SAS, and including a Spanish speaking Royal Marine Officer, flew into Stanley. After negotiations with Menendez, Major-General Jeremy Moore, the Commander of British Land Forces on the Falklands, flew in and received Menendez’s surrender. The ceremony was private and low key, and under the terms of the surrender the Argentines were allowed to keep their flags, and the officers retained their sidearms – fearful of being lynched by their own conscripts. That they were thinking of this suggests in part how bad officer-men relations had become. The surrender was effective from 2359 British time, on 14 June 1982.

Although the Union Jack was now flying again over the Falklands, the problems were far from over. Thousands of Argentine prisoners had to be processed, cared for, fed and sheltered while they were awaiting repatriation. Many of them were held at the Airport. There were also masses of captured equipment to be dealt with:

  • 100 Mercedes Trucks
  • 20 Unimog trucks
  • 20 Mercedes Jeeps
  • 12 Panhard Armoured Cars
  • 1 Roland and 3 TigerCar Anti-Air missile launchers
  • 1 improvised surface to surface Exocet launcher
  • 3 155mm field guns
  • 10 Oto Melara 105mm cannons
  • 15 Oerlikon twin 35mm and Rheinmetall twin 20mm anti-air cannons
  • 11 various fire control radars
  • 14 airworthy helicopters, including 2 Augusta 109, 10 Huey, 1 Chinook, 1 Puma)
  • 10 Pucara attack aircraft
  • 1 Patrol Boat
  • 11,000 small arms weapons
  • 4 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition
  • 11,000 105mm artillery shells

Some of this equipment can now be seen in British military museums, or as trophies for units who were involved down south. In some cases was used by British forces – the SAS are rumoured to have utilised some of the folding stock FN FAL rifles captured from the Argentines – and other equipment also provided useful spare parts.

Clearly, the Argentines had not been lacking in heavy equipment or weaponry. They had artillery pieces that outranged the British artillery considerably, and formidable air defences. Some of the Panhard armoured cars were delivered to the islands and then seem to have been forgotten about – when they were captured, some still had their packaging on them. These could have caused problems for the British troops had they been utilised effectively. Logistics seems to have been a problem for the Argentines, in terms of getting the right equipment and making good use of it. Some sources suggesting that what was wanted and what was sent from Argentina were very different. One of the first cargo planes to the Islands after the invasion in April carried not reinforcements, but Televisions for the Islanders as a cyncial and futile attempt at bribery.

There was also much clearing up to be done, as the Argentines had shown scant regard for tidiness and cleanliness. Once the Prisoners had been returned home, the garrison itself had to be taken care of – both in accomodating the troops already on the islands, and then replacing them with fresh units from Britain.

The surrender was greated with relief among many in the task force, not least Sandy Woodward who had been struggling to keep all of his ships on station. After months operating in a South Atlantic autumn and early winter, many ships were virtually falling apart at the seams. Although air cover had to be maintained until an airbase could become operational on the Islands, and ships were still needed to defend the islands all the time there was still a threat, ships could at last begin returning home.

In London, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was lauded in the House of Commons. It was one of the rare occasions in British politics when the Leader of the Opposition, Michael Foot, paid tribute to the Prime Minister of the day.

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Falklands 30: The Battle in the Mountains #2

English: The Falklands War, 13 to 14 June

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With 3 Commando Brigade Established on Mount Longdon, Two Sisters and Mount Harriet, the way was clear for 5 Brigade to follow through and capture the last range of peaks before Stanley. Despite evidence that the main British attack was coming overland from the west, the Argentine Command still maintained strong forces in Stanley itself, at the airport and on the surrounding coastline, rather than reinforcing the mountains.

2 Para, back in action after their fighting at Goose Green, were allocated Wireless Ridge. Fittingly, Wireless Ridge is just to the east of Mount Longdon, captured by their counterparts in 3 Para three days previously. The Battalion was now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David Chaundler, who had been parachuted into the South Atlantic to replace H Jones. The capture of Wireless Ridge would be crucial, as it was the last obstacle before Moody Brook barracks, and the road into Stanley.The morning before the attack found the Paras waiting at Furze Bush Pass, to the north of Mount Longdon. Chaundlers plan was for a noisy attack, with companies taking each contour in turn before occupying Wireless Ridge. 2 Para had strong support, with 2 Scorpions and 2 Scimitars of the Blues and Royals, twelve 105mm guns, 3 Paras mortars from Longdon, and HMS Yarmouth and HMS Ambuscade out to sea providing naval gunfire support. Wireless Ridge was defended by the 7th Infantry Regiment, who had also fought on Mount Longdon.

The attack began at 2115, and the first objective ‘Rough Diamond’ was captured relatively easily, the Argentine defenders seemingly having withdrawn after coming under heavy preliminary bombardment. However, having established themselves on Rough Diamond D Company come under fire from Argentines on ‘Apple Pie’ to the east. A and B Companies assaulted Apple Pie, and the defenders withdrew under the weight of British fire. With the attack going so well, C Company captured Hill 100 without difficulty. With Apple Pie secure, D Company then ‘leapfrogged’ from Rough Diamon onto the western part of Wireless Ridge itself, codenamed ‘Blueberry Pie’. The Scorpions and Scimitars and also 2 Paras own heavy weapons moved up and joined A and B Companied on ‘Apple Pie’. Under such a heavy weight of fire, the Argentines wielded the first half of the ridge, but fought tenaciously over the eastern edge of the objective. After bunker to bunker fighting, by dawn all of Wirless Ridge was in British hands, with the Argentines streaming down the road back into Stanley. A small group attempted to regroup at Moody Brook and attack the Paras again, but were soon driven off. With dawn the Paras could see the road to Stanley, and were pressing for permission to advance into the town. The Paras had fought a fine battle, with the loss of only three men killed.

The 2nd Scots Guards were given the objective of capturing Mount Tumbledown, a long and narrow high feature just to the south west of Stanley. Capturing this would give the British Forces another commanding position over Stanley, and bottle the remaining Argentine forces into a narrow peninsula, limiting their room for maneouvre. The Guards were helicoptered to the north of Mount Harriet, and from there began a detailed reconaissance. The area approaching Tumbledown had already been patrolled by the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre. With a long, open approach to the objective, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott decided on a stealthy attack, retaining the element of surprise. Equally, an attack across the open southern slopes was bound the be spotted. The Guards battleplan was therefore threefold. G Coy would cross the start line at Goat Ridge, and occupy the westernmost part of the mountain. Then, using this as a platform, Left Flank company would pass through them and occupy the middle, highest section of the mountain. Finally, Right Flank Company would come up and take the eastern portion of the ridge. The Guards had in support two Scorpions and Scimitars of the Blues and Royals, up to five batterys of 105mm guns, 42 Commando’s mortars from Mount Harriet, and also the mortars of 1/7 Gurkhas. The Frigates Active and Avenger were also on call for naval gunfire support. Tumbledown was defended by the Argentine 7th Marine Battalion, who were also defending Mount William and Sapper Hill. Thus the Guards, who were going into action for the first time in the war, were coming up against one of the Argentines few crack units.

Before the attack began, a diversionary attack was made along the southern road to Stanley, aiming to confuse the enemy into thinking the target was further south. G Company, meanwhile, secured the western part of the Mountain by 10.30pm. Even with G Company’s fire support, Left Flank Company came up against firm opposition in the craggy peaks in the middle of the objective. Anti-Armour weapons such as MILAN, which had worked elsewhere, were only partly succesful in hitting Argentine bunkers. It was not until 0230 that artillery fire could be brought down on the Argentine defenders, restoring momentum to the stalled attack. After savage, hand-to-hand fighting, a handful of Scots Guards reached the summit. Right Flank Company then came up, and by 0815 the whole of Mount Tunbledown was in the hands of the Scots, for the loss of eight Guardsmen and a Royal Engineer.

The 1/7 Gurkhas had been brought up from Goose Green by helicopter, leaving a company behind to Garrison the area. They were given the objective of capturing Mount William, to the east of Tumbledown, after the Scots Guards had taken that feature – attacking Mount William on its own while Tumbledown was still in Argentine hands would have been foolhardy. With the coming of dawn and with Tumbledown only just taken, it appeared that the Gurkhas would have to make a daylight attack on Mount William. However, the Gurkhas fierce reputation preceded them, and with the news of the fall of Wireless Ridge and Tumbledown filtering through, the Argentines on Mount William fled back into Stanley.

The British troops has fought brilliantly in the mountains, capturing every objective given to them, apart from Mount William – which could be seen as an opportunity for exploitation IF Tumbledown had been captured early. Although the Argentines still had considerable men available, and a variety of heavy weaponry, they were now bottled up into a narrow peninsula only a couple of square miles. With no air or naval support and with the thousands of conscripts completely demoralised, the Argentine Commander Menendez had run out of options. Although the Junta back in Argentine has ordered him to fight to the last man, white flags were already flying over Stanley.

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Falklands 30 – The Battle in the Mountains #1

Position of Mount Challenger relative to other...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even before 2 Para had finished fighting the Battle of Goose Green, Brigadier Julian Thompson had begun to move the rest of 3 Commando Brigade out of the San Carlos Beachhead. He was under pressure from the chain of command and politicians back in Britain, who wanted the Islands retaken quickly before losses became untenable or before international opinion turned.

After landing at San Carlos, the British Land Forces were going to have to confront and defeat the Argentine forces on East Falkland, and capture the objective – Stanley. Between San Carlos and Stanley was a range of hills and mountains, from Mount Kent and Mount Challenger in the West; to Two Sisters Ridge, Mount Harriet, Mount Longdon, Mount Tumbledown, Wireless Ridge and Sapper Hill.

With the loss of Chinook Heavy lift helicopters on the Atlantic Conveyor, there were only two options for moving across East Falkland to the Mountains area – march, or move by sea. And as we have seen previously, movement by sea was relatively simple and kept troops fresh, but frought with danger. There were a limited amount of ‘Jungly’ Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force, but these were occupied moving heavy equipment.

As with Goose Green, it might be thought that because most of the Argentine troops were conscripts that the task of the attacking troops was simple. However, the Argentines had had plenty of time to get dug in on the mountains and to prepare positions. As one Para at Goose Green wistfully said, any conscript can dig in in a sangar and fire a .5inch Machine Gun. Evidence suggests that the Argentine conscripts were poorly treated by their superiors and were perhaps not in the best condition (see Martin Middlebrook’s ‘The Argentine Fight for the Falklands’), but they had no shortage of heavy weapons and were in range of supporting guns at Stanley. Normal military philosophy suggested that troops attacking prepared positions needed a superiority of 3 to 1. The British were slightly outnumbered, but time and political pressures forced them to attack regardless. Although the Argentines had garrisoned the Mountains strongly, they also had several Regiments – roughly equivalent to a British Battalion – around Stanley itself, and at Stanley airport – still fearing a British landing directly on Stanley itself.

The first actions in the battle for the Mountains came on 31 May, when the Marines Mountain and Artic Warfare Cadre fought a battle with an Argentine patrol at Top Malo House, and K Coy 42 Commando reached the summit of Mount Kent. 3 Para had secured Estancia House by 2 June, and on 4 June 45 Commando had yomped from Teal Inlet to the foot of Mount Kent, ready to reinforce either 42 Commando or 3 Para as necessary. What followed was a difficult battle, with the only option to attack and take each mountain range in turn, before leapfrogging onto the next, using each captured peak as a platform for another unit to come through and assault the next.

While 5 Infantry Brigade was establishing itseldf on the southern axis, 3 Commando Brigade was preparing to attack the first mountains in the north. 3 Para were alloted the objective of Mount Longdon, 45 Commando Two Sisters, and 42 Commando Mount Harriet. Brigade Headquarters was established around Teal Inlet. Some time was spent in reconnaisance patrols, and the disaster at Bluff Cove delayed 5 Infantry Brigade in preparing for its part of the advance. The Battle began on the night of 11 June.

3 Para had tabbed to the foot of Mount Longdon from San Carlos. The Paras had a battery of 6 105mm guns in support, as well as naval gunfire from HMS Avenger. Longdon and the adjoining Wireless Ridge were garrisoned by the Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment, and a stiff battle saw the Paras come up against heavy opposition in the form of Argentine bunkers well dug into the mountain, and anti-armour weapons were frequently used to dislodge these prepared positions. 18 Paras and an attached Royal Engineer had been killed in the battle. Sergeant Ian McKay was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross after he was killed commanding his platoon taking on a machine gun post. 3 Para were also awarded a DSO, two MC’s, 2 DCM’s and 3 MM’s for Longdon. The Paras spent the next two nights on Longdon and on the slopes approaching Wireless Ridge, being heavily shelled.

45 Commando, meanwhile, attacked Two Sisters. They had in support a battery of 105mm guns, and the Destroyer HMS Glamorgan with her two 4.5inch guns. Two Sisters was occupied the Argentine 4th Infantry Regiment, who were also on Mount Harriet. X Company approached from the East from Mount Kent, while Y and Z Company’s attacked from the left flank. Distracted by X Company’s frontal attack. Two Sisters was in British hands by dawn, and altough 45’s CO prepared to attack Mount Tumbledown, he was held back by Brigadier Thompson. The Royal Marines had lost three men, and a Sapper from the Royal Engineers. 45 Commando were awarded a DSO, 3 MC’s, a DCM and 4 MM’s for Two Sisters.

Mount Harriet was assaulted on the same night by 42 Commando. The Commandos had a battery of guns in support, as well as gunfire support from HMS Yarmouth. Their battle plan was similar to that of 45 Commando, in that one company launched a frontal diversionary feint. J Company moved up from Mount Challenger and  waited on Wall Mountain as a reserve and a diversion, while L and K Company’s ‘dog legged’ to the south and then attacked the objective from the rear. Harriet was taken by dawn, for the loss of only one Marine killed. 42 Commando received one DSO, an MC and 4 MM’s.

With the first line of Mountaisn secure, planning began for the second phase of attacks. Only Wireless Ridge, Mount Tumbledown, Mount William and Sapper Hill were between the British forces and Stanley.

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Falklands 30 – Goose Green

The Battle of Goose Green, 28–29 May 1982

The Battle of Goose Green, 28–29 May 1982 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the apparent success of the landings at San Carlos, the commander of 3 Commando Brigade – Brigadier Julian Thompson – was under pressure to break out and fight the bulk of the Argentine land forces on East Falkland. This is a quandry often seen in amphibious operations – a desire on the one hand by politicians and higher commanders to win the war quickly, and a more cautious approach by the commander in the field on the other. But with a finite limit to operations – after which the task forces ships would fall apart – the war had to be won. And sooner rather than later.

Knowing that the Argentines had a significant garrison around the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green to the south-east of San Carlos, Thompson planned a raid to attack and captured the settlements. He would probably have preferred not to – early plans had intended for the area to be bypassed – but leaving the Goose Green garrison alone would have left his right flank open in the advance to Stanley. And also, he was under pressure to break out of San Carlos. While there were not enough troops to begin the march to Stanley- and with the loss of helicopter lift this march would take much longer anyway – an attack on Goose Green was feasible.

Thompson detailed 2 Para for the attack, as they were located on Sussex Mountains, nearest Goose Green from San Carlos. 2 Para, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel ‘H’ Jones, number three Rifle Companies, a Patrol Company, and a support company with mortars and anti-tank weapons. In support were three 105mm guns of the Royal Artillery, Scout helicopters for resupply and casualty evacuation, Sea Harriers on call for air bombardment, and naval gunfire support from the Frigate HMS Arrow. The Argentine settlement numbered over a thousands Army and Air Force personnel. The bulk comprised 12 Infantry Regiment and a company from the commando-trained 25 Infantry Regiment. The garrison was supported by six 20mm Rheinmetall cannons, two radar-laid Oerlikon guns and four 105mm howitzers. Pucaras at Goose Green airstrip were armed with Napalm munitions. Hence 2 Para faced a very stiff task – attacking a numerically superior enemy, who had time to dig into prepared positions, and had a superiority of heavy weapons. The terrain and geography also suited the defender – the narrow isthmus restricting room for maneouvre.

2 Para marched down to Camilla Creek House, just north of their start line. During the final planning of their attack the men were startled to be informed by the BBC World Service that they were about to attack Goose Green. The World Service, of course, was being listened to by the Argentines, who therefore knew that the attack was imminent. An angry Jones threatened to sue the BBC, Whitehall and the War Cabinet. Thus 2 Para had almost certainly lost the advantage of surprise.

At 0230 on 28 May 2 Para launched its attack, with the objective of using darkness to capture Goose Green ‘by Breakfast’. There followed an intense, bitter battle. 2 Para quickly came upon strong opposition, from Argentine troops dug in on Darwin Hill. Momentum seemed to be lost. At this point Jones took the initiative, leading the Adjutant and A Company’s second-in-command in a charge up a gully in which both men were killed. Soon after Jones assaulted an Argentine trench. He was hit twice. The trench was captured, but he died within minutes. The Scout helicopter sent to evacuate him was shot down by a Pucara.

Jones’s second-in-command, Major Chris Keeble, took over a battle at a critical phase. 2 Para were well short of their objective, and caught in daylight against strong opposition. It was almost midday before the attack regained impetus, with A Company clearing the east side of Darwin Hill, and B Company taking Boca House in the west. At one point during the battle for the airfield the Argentines fires anti-aircraft guns at the attacking Paras. But with momentum regained, the evening found 2 Para on the outskirts of Goose Green settlement. Thompson flew in Juliet Company of 42 Commando to Darwin to reinforce 2 Para. The Argentines, meanwhile, prepared to fly in a company from 6 Regiment to reinforce their Garrison.

However, the next day the Garrison commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Piaggi, surrendered his forces, after an appeal from Keeble to avoid further loss of life. The Paras were astounded when a thousand men laid down their arms. 17 British personnel had been killed and 64 wounded, while 50 Argentines were killed and 120 were wounded.

Goose Green was a notable victory for the Paras. It was reminiscent of some of ther Regiment’s proudest moments, in particular the battle to reach Arnhem Bridge in September 1944. Goose Green showed that experienced, well trained men – many of whom had experience of Northern Ireland – could upset the odds against a numerically superior enemy. On the flip side, Goose Green showed that even badly led, badly equipped and badly trained conscripts can still put up a stern fight when operating heavy weapons and sited in prepared positions.

H Jones was awarded a posthumous VC for his bravery at Goose Green. There have been two very different schools of thought about Jones’s actions at Goose Green. Whilst on the one hand he was showing supreme leadership by leading by example, on the other hand, was he being reckless? Did he deprive his Battalion of its commanding officer when they most needed him? Personally, I try and keep an open mind. I know it’s a cliche in military history circles, but those of us who were not there will find it very hard to understand.

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Falklands 30 – HMS Coventry

A starboard bow view of the British destroyer ...

After experiencing heavy air raids at San Carlos, and some very brave flying by Argentine pilots, the Task Force commanders devised a new tactic to try and give early warning of air raids, and also to shoot down offending aircraft before they got close to the vulnerable landing ships or the carriers out to sea.

HMS Coventry – a Type 42 Destroyer – and HMS Broadsword -a Type 22 Frigate – were paired up and stationed north of Pebble Island, ‘up threat’ as a radar picket and trap for Argentine aircraft heading for San Carlos. Coventry was armed with Sea Dart, a medium-range anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapon. Broadsword had the new Sea Wolf system, more ideal for close range work. The idea was that Broadsword could defend Coventry, whilst Coventry’s long range radar and Sea Dart could pick off incoming threats. This was specifically suggested by the Commanding Officers of both ships. Of the three Type 42 Destroyers that had originally sailed with the Task Force, one had been sunk (Sheffield) and another had been badly damaged (Glasgow), both by air attack. The ‘Type 64′ combo took up position north of Pebble Island on 21 May.

Coventry had had an eventful – and rather succesful war – thus far. One of the ships on Exercise Spring Train before being sent south to the Falklands, she entered the Total Exclusion Zone on the 1st of May, taking up picket duties in advance of the Task Force. She alternated between acting as a radar picket and bombarding shore positions around Stanley. For these shore bombardments she was teamed up with HMS Broadsword, for extra defence. On 3 May Coventry’s Lynx was sent to attack the Argentine patrol ship Alfrez Sobral. The patrol boat was heavily damaged by the new Sea Skua missiles, and later boarded by the SBS. On 4 May – the day that HMS Sheffield was sunk – Coventry was to the north west of the task force, repairing her troublesome 909 Radar. Sheffield was in the south-western position that Coventry had occupied until that point when she was hit by an Exocet missile. On 9 May Coventry was sent closer to the Falklands in an attempt to lure out Argentine aircraft. Four Sea Dart missiles were fired – a Hercules transport escaped unharmed, one Puma Helicopter was destroyed and two A-4 Skyhawks may possibly have been shot down. Later on the same day Coventry directed two Sea Harriers to attack the spy ship Narwal.

Remaining off Pebble Island for several days, Coventry and Broadsword continued acting as a radar picket. Coventry directed numerous Sea Harrier patrols onto targets – this is a role performed by surface ships, escorts in particular, that is often overlooked. It is possible, in hindsight, that Coventry and Broadsword had been in the same position for too long, and it is clear that the Argentines were well aware that they were there and determined to do something about it.

25 May – Argentina’s national day – began in much the same hectic fashion. One Skyhawk was shot down after returning from a raid on San Carlos, and another Skyhawk was splashed, this time directly attacking Coventry and Broadsword. The second raid, however, had more luck. Of the six airfraft – in two waves of three – two returned to base before reaching the Falklands. Flying low and using the land mass of West Falkland as radar cover, Coventry was unable to pick up the Skyhawks on their radars. Broadsword DID pick them up, but called OFF a Sea Harrier patrol. Coventry’s radar – designed for operating in open sea – was struggling to pick up the aircraft against Peble Island’s land signature. Small arms fire diverted the first two Skyhawks towards Broadsword. Her Sea Wolf locked on, but unable to distinguish between the two targets, for all intents and purposes went to sleep. Defenceless, one of the Skyhawk’s bombs hit the sea, bounced up and passed through the flight deck, destroying the Lynx helicopter in the process.

The second wave pressed on soon after. Once again Coventry and Broadsword declined assistance from the Sea Harriers, confident that the threat could be dealt with. Coventry fired a single Sea Dart and missed. Broadsword locked on with her Sea Wolf, but at the last minute Coventry, carrying out evasive maneouvres, slewed right in front of Broadsword’s line of fire. The first Skyhawk pilot fired his cannon at the hangar, before releasing his bombs – three 550lb general bombs. All three struck, and exploded seconds later. The second Skyhawk failed to release its bombs.

A large hole was torn in the port side, and men were killed in the auxiliary machine space, the computer room and the dining room where a first aid party were mustered. The explosion in the computer room wrecked the operations room above. Fire spread through the ship, and water poured in through the gaping hole. Smoke and fire spread beyond the capabilities of damage control, particularly as the ops room – the nerve centre of the ship – had been taken out. No order to abandon ship was given, but it was obvious to all onboard that the Coventry was sinking. Quietly and efficiently, liferafts were deployed. Broadsword began picking up survivors, and helicopters began arriving from San Carlos water. Many men – including Captain Hart-Dyke – simply stepped off of the upturned hull into lifeboats. Twenty minutes after being hit, HMS Coventry sank – the fourth Royal Navy warship lost in the Falklands, and the third in four days since the landings at San Carlos. Coventry’s survivors were later returned home on the QE2. 22 men were killed, and one man died in 1983 of his injuries.

Although the loss of any warship is hard to take – and especially the loss of lives – Coventry had performed admirably, and had probably saved countless ships at San Carlos and in the Task Force from being attacked and sunk. Such is the lot of Royal Navy warships sometimes. I’ve always found it intriguing that Coventry was sunk in a manner almost identical to Lieutenant-Commander Bill Hussey’s HMS Lively in 1942. Different war, 40 years apart, but the same spirit.

The Board of Inquiry absolved Coventry’s crew of any blame. Coventry was noted to be well prepared for war, having spent much time training and 6 months serving with NATO standing forces in the North Sea in 1981, in addition to Exercise Spring Train. However, there were a few lingering mechanical difficulties, such as the 909 radar. The Board of Inquiry – and others – did find that the ships had a lack of close in weapons, beyond missile systems, and this was rectified with the fitting of Phalanx and Goalkeeper to many ships soon after the Falklands War. Coventry and Broadsword had been instructed not to call on Sea Harrier support unless absolutely necessary, as this might chase enemy aircraft away rather than destroy them. Both ships had worked well together. It was found, however, that Coventry was not sufficiently trained for inshore anti-air warfare work. This is not surprising, given that the ship was designed for open-water warfare against the Eastern Bloc in the North Atlantic.

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Falklands 30 – Bomb Alley

HMS Ardent

HMS Ardent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dawn saw 3 Commando Brigade – three Royal Marine Commandos, reinforced by two Para Battalions, and with attached units, ashore and dug in on beaches around San Carlos Water. Apart from the small band of troops at Fanning Head, the landings had been unopposed by Argentine land forces. Given the scarcity of Argentine troops compared to the geography of the Falklands, Menendex had decided that he had to first and foremost guard the primary objective – Port Stanley. He assumed that the British commanders would land in Stanley, in an American style ‘front door’ attack. San Carlos hardly featured in Argentine planning,  indeed, they had assumed that the British would not land there.

Given the lack of land and sea opposition, the only opposition that would meet the amphibious group in San Carlos water would be Argentine air forcers. The first aircraft to attack the San Carlos landings were actually based in the Falklands. Pucaras from Goose Green took off while HMS Ardent was shelling their airstrip. One of them was shot down by an SAS patrol with a Stinger hand-held anti-aircraft missile near Sussex Mountains. A single Aermacci was sent from Stanley to reconnoitre the reported landings. After attacking HMS Argonaut with rockets, the Aermacci escaped a hail of fire from sea and land. Thereafter confirmation of the landings reached the Argentine command, and long-range attacks were ordered from the mainland.

First on the scene were eight Daggers (Israeli copies of the Mirage). They hit Broadsword and Antrim, but nobody was killed. Antrim in particular had an unexploded bomb very close to her Sea Slug magazine, and had to move in to San Carlos water whilst it was defused. Shortly after the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol shot down one of two Pucaras that had attacked a naval gunfire officer directing fire from HMS Ardent onto the airfield at Goose Green.

At 1pm eight Skyhawks were due to attack. Only two arrived, after the rest either suffered refuelling problems or wasted their bombs on an abandoned wreck in Falkland Sound. The remaining aircraft just missed Ardent, and evaded Sea Harriers directed onto them by Brilliant. Immediately the Sea Harriers noticed another wave of Skyhawks appearing over West Falkland. Two of the Skyhawks were shot down. At 2.30pm another six Skyhawks attacked, this time almost sinking Argonaut. The two bombs that hit her failed to explode, but killed two men in her Sea Cat Magazine.

The next wave consisted of twelve Daggers. of the first group of six, two pilots aborted. As the remaining four approached Brilliant vectored in the Sea Harrier CAP, who shot down one of the Daggers. The three surviving aircraft however pressed on and attacked Ardent in Grantham Sound. Her Lynx helicopter and Sea Cat system were destroyed, killing a number of men. Defenceless apart from small arms fire, she headed for the protection of San Carlos Water. However before she reached sanctuary six more Daggers arrived on the scene. The first three aircraft caused light damage and casualties to Brilliant, but the second wave of three aircraft were all shot down by Sea Harriers before reaching San Carlos.

The last attacks of the day occured some half an hour later. Two flights of Skyhawks attacked Ardent, causing extensive damage. On fire and flooding, and with 22 men killed, Commander Alan West gave the order to abandon ship. HMS Yarmouth took off her survivors, and Ardent finally sank the following evening. Two of the Skyhawks were shot down by Sea Harriers. The third was damaged, and unable to land at Stanley, ejected.

Thus ended the dramatic air attacks on D-Day. One suspects that the task force commanders would have probably accepted the loss of one light frigate, in return for the safety of the landings. The Argentine pilots were undoubtedly incredibly brave, in pressing home their attacks over such a long distance and over difficult target terrain, but history has suggested that if they had concentrated on the vital landing ships rather than the warship escorts, the Falklands War may have run very differently. From a morale point of view alone, the loss of a ship like Canberra might have been politically tricky. And, it has to be said, if their bombs had been fused correctly, the Royal Navy might have lost a lot more ships at San Carlos than it did.

Martin Middlebrook’s ‘Argentine Fight for the Falklands’ makes much of the Argentines having a helicopter-ready reaction force waiting around Stanley to take off an oppose any landings. For whatever reason, this did not happen at San Carlos. Certainly, even a small-scale raid might have given the Commando Brigade something to think about. But given that the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol was ever-present, and had shot up a number of helicopters around Mount Kent earlier in the day, the Argentines might have thought better of it. With the absence of any opposition on land, the land forces were able to secure a bridgehead for expansion.

Hence, after the Argentine Navy had scurried back to port after the sinking of the Belgrano, the only serious opposition to a British landing on the Falklands came from the Argentine air forces. Despite losing one ship sunk and several others damaged, the landing force had survived a crucial first 24 hours during which they had landed a 5 Battalion size Brigade, plus supporting elements – a significant achievement. The Battle for San Carlos was still far from over, however.

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