Actions, losses and movements on land and sea
Actions, losses and movements on land and sea - 21 May to 11 June 1982
On the 21st May, while the D Day landings were taking place, a 4-man team from G Squadron of the SAS under the command of Captain Aldwin Wight had been carrying out reconnaissance from a hidden position near Stanley. Amongst their many observations and reports, they had determined that the Argetinians had established a night dispersal area for their helicopters in a saddle between Mounts Kent and Estancia. The helicopters were taken here to avoid their destruction by an air attack, the regular British naval shelling or another Pebble Island type raid. The SAS advised that the helicopters could be attacked at first light, when the vigilance of their crews would be at its lowest. This information was passed to HMS Hermes and two of the newly arrived Harrier GR3's from 1 Squadron were detailed to strike this target of opportunity. The pair, piloted by Squadron Leader Jerry Pook and Flight Lieutenant Mark Hare attacked from the north using their 30mm cannon for best effect against the helicopters. One of the Argentine aircraft, a UH-1D Huey, was already airborne and made good its escape, but the Harriers hit one Chinook and the two Pumas parked at the site and set them on fire. Flt Lt Hare's Harrier was hit by three bullets but it returned safely back to HMS Hermes.
The next GR3 action was less successful. A pair of GR3s were briefed to provide air support in the landing area, but, on getting airborne, the leader's undercarriage would not retract. The lone GR3, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Jeff Glover, carried on and contacted the Forward Air Controller at San Carlos. The FAC had no targets for him, and he was detailed to look for targets of opportunity at Port Howard, across Falkland Sound from the landing beaches and about twenty miles further south. Flt Lt Glover made his first pass over the settlement but found no targets, and was then tasked with photographing the area to ascertain Argentine strength there. Having had the lessons of multiple passes over target areas and an alerted enemy fully underlined by the Sea Harriers earlier experiences, Flt Lt Glover waited for 15 minutes before he returned, believing that this would be sufficient time for the defenders to settle down again. This was not the case, as he flew over Falkland Sound at low level to bring his cameras to bear, the aircraft was hit by three well aimed rounds and part of the wing was blown off. Flt Lt Glover ejected, badly injuring his shoulder in the process, and landed in the sea before being picked up by a civilian boat which had some soldiers aboard. He was well treated, taken to Argentina and returned after the war. This sortie reinforced two lessons to the Task Force air commanders, from now on no aircraft would operate alone, and only one pass would ever be made over a defended area.
After HMS Ardent was sunk HMS Antelope was sent from the Task Force carrier group to replace her at San Carlos. Antelope had joined the Task Force in company with two other reinforcements, HMS Exeter and HMS Ambuscade, on 22 May. She arrived in Falkland Sound on 23 May and was put in a position in the most open part of the bay as one of the main air defence assets. Only four hours after she had arrived, her position caused her to be attacked by four Skyhawks. HMS Antelope was hit by two bombs, both which failed to explode, again, because of the low-level fusing problem. In fact, one of the attacking aircraft was so low that it hit the ships mast bending the top 15 feet. One of the attacking Skyhawks was shot down by a 20 mm Oerlikon cannon by a seaman of Antelope's crew. After being part of the defences which successfully beat off a second air attack, Antelope was moved to a more protected position in the San Carlos Water, just off Ajax Bay, where a bomb disposal team of two Royal Engineers and two of Antelope's engineers started to diffuse the bombs. Unfortunately one of the bombs detonated during the removal of its fuse, killing Staff Sergeant Jim Prescott and injuring the other three, Warrant Officer Phillips losing an arm. A fierce fire started, and since the explosion had broken the ship's hydrant ring main, no water was available for fighting the blaze. The crew fell back in the face of the extreme heat, and the order to abandon ship was given. Just after the last man had left the ship, the resulting fire reached a Sea Cat magazine which also exploded. The ship broke in half and sank in two pieces just off Ajax Bay.
25 May, HMS Coventry and the Atlantic Conveyor
Aside from the losses of these vital warships, several other ships, including the Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot, HMS Antrim and HMS Argonaut were all damaged with various systems out of operation. It was decided to increase the air defences, and to this end HMS Coventry and Broadsword had been regularly positioned just to the north of Falkland Sound as a 42-22 missile trap, the type that had been so effective in the early air battles off Stanley. Due to the threat this pair of weapons systems represented, on the 25th May six Skyhawks set out to attack only these ships. Two of the aircraft developed problems and turned back, but the other four carried on. The plan called for the aircraft to fly along the northern coast of West Falkland as if attacking the landing area, but then turn towards the two ships in the hope of catching them off-guard. The raid was picked up on radar, and two Sea Harriers were vectored onto the incoming Skyhawks, but were ordered to disengage by HMS Coventry before they were in a position to fire. Since the raid was so low and so close in, the plan now was to let the ship-board missile systems take care of the intruders.
HMS Broadsword was attacked first by the lead pair of Skyhawks. HMS Coventry fired a Sea Dart at the pair which missed, then Broadsword's Sea Wolf system was confused by the two aircraft being so close together, so failed to select a target and therefore failed to fire The two Skyhawks dropped four bombs, the first three of which missed. The fourth bomb 'skipped', bouncing off the sea. While it was climbing after the bounce, it hit the back of Broadsword about five feet above the waterline. The bomb passed through the ship's side without exploding then exited through the flight deck, taking the nose off the Lynx parked there. The second pair of Skyhawks headed directly for HMS Coventry. Broadsword's Sea Wolf system had picked up the Skyhawks, but the Coventry had started a turn to avoid the attack. Unfortunately this turn put her in between Broadsword and the attacking aircraft so no missiles could be fired. The Argentine armourers had learned that the fusing of their bombs was ineffective in low level attacks, so the 400 Kg French made SAMP bombs carried by these Skyhawks were nose fused for impact, rather than tail fused, a system which had failed so often in recent days. The fusing meant that the bombs would detonate immediately on striking anything substantial. Broadsword had been lucky, there was nothing to cause the bomb to explode as it passed through the stern and Lynx. Coventry was not to have the same good fortune. The ship was stern on to the Skyhawks after her turn, and three bombs struck the ship, driving deep into her. All three exploded, two near the forward engine room, the other near the computer room, blowing holes in the port side of the ship as they detonated. Nineteen men were killed in this attack, and the Coventry, well ablaze, slowly rolled over and started to sink. HMS Broadsword began rescue operations for the crew in the water, while HMS Hermes and the land bases at San Carlos sent a large number of helicopters which took the crew in the liferafts to safety. This was a tragic loss of a fine modern ship, but worse was to come this day.
The onslaught of the Argentine air forces continued almost immediately. Only twelve minutes after the news of HMS Coventry's capsize reached HMS Hermes, the carrier group itself came under attack. A Hercules tanker had successfully refuelled two Super Etendards who then approached the Task Force from the north. Both the Etendards were armed with Exocet missiles and both aircraft picked up the radar returns from the carrier group. Each released their Exocet and then turned for home, as they did so they were briefly picked up on the radar of the newly arrived frigate, HMS Ambuscade, who then also detected the two missiles and a warning was sent out to all ships in the group. All the ships in the group which were equipped to do so fired off chaff rockets to confuse and clutter the radar picture the missiles were receiving. One of the missiles headed for HMS Ambuscade, but was diverted by the 'false target' created by the chaff and it carried on. The Exocet then picked up another target, a large and vulnerable target, the Atlantic Conveyor. The Carrier Group was arranged so the carriers were in the centre, the supply ships surrounded them, and the defence ships formed the perimeter. If the Atlantic Conveyor had not been closer to the missile, it is likely it would have struck one of the vital carriers, which would have undoubtedly altered the course of the conflict.
The Atlantic Conveyor was a Cunard roll-on roll-off container ship of 15,000 tons with 160 men on board commanded by Captain Ian North. She had joined the carrier group on 19 May, and the fourteen Harriers and Sea Harriers she had carried down from Ascension Island had flown off to the carriers almost immediately. Because of the continuing air attacks on the landing area, the ship had been unable to approach San Carlos to unload her other vital supplies. One Chinook and one Wessex from her cargo had already started ferrying stores around the Task Force, but her deck was crammed with three more brand-new Chinooks and five Wessex helicopters in various states of refurbishment after their long sea voyage, or indeed still in their containers. Aside from the heavy-lift helicopters which were central to the plan for moving the troops already ashore forward, the Atlantic Conveyor was also full of other supplies and stores.
It was planned for the ship to leave the Task Force that night, to sail into San Carlos under cover of darkness and unload there. It was not to be. The missile hit Atlantic Conveyor on the port side, leaving a huge jagged rent in the side, as the ship was turning away from the line of the attack. It is uncertain whether the missile warhead actually exploded, but it is thought that the rocket fuel started a fire which caught hold very quickly. The second Exocet may have also hit the ship, what happened to it is unknown, it may also have hit the sea out of control. The fire took hold, and began to ravage the ship, despite the crews best efforts, as well as those of HMS Alacrity and HMS Brilliant who came close alongside to turn their hoses on the blaze. There were simply too many inflammable stores on board, as well as stocks of ammunition and bombs that the fire was rapidly approaching, so the ship was eventually abandoned about ninety minutes after the missile struck. Out of the 160 men aboard, twelve lost their lives, three of those from the initial missile impact. Atlantic Conveyor was later taken in tow by the tug Irishman, but eventually sank three days later.
On this 25 May, the Argentine National Day, the brave and skilled pilots of the air and naval air forces had given the country reason to celebrate, as severe damage had been done to the British Forces. This celebration was to be short lived however, as plans were now taking shape for the next stage of the land campaign.
One of the items on board Atlantic Conveyor had been a complete sectionalised airstrip, intended to be the basis of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) for the Harriers. Fortunately, there were sufficient aluminium planks aboard the Stromness for a strip 850 feet long, as well as a set of emergency fuel handling equipment. These had been unloaded on 23 May, and the strip was set up just to the west of Port San Carlos with a small taxy area for refuelling. After a heroic effort by the engineers the first Harrier was able to operate from there on 5 June. The strip was know as HMS Sheathbill, or RAF Port San Carlos, dependent on which service you belonged too!
On 26 May the first troops left the beach-head at San Carlos. The men of 2 Para vacated their positions on the Sussex Mountains and trekked the eight miles to Camilla Creek House. Late on 27 May they left here and commenced an attack on Goose Green. This was the first major land battle of the campaign and a full description of the events during this time can be found on a separate map here.
On 27 May 45 Commando and 3 Para started the northward movement towards Stanley. Units of the SBS and the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre of the Royal Marines had been inserted into the Douglas and Teal Inlet areas, and reported that no opposition was to be expected in either settlement, so the only real problem the troops might encounter would be from air attack. As the three Chinooks and five Wessex helicopters had been lost with the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor, these units were forced to walk, carrying most of their equipment. 45 Commando were the first to go. They were taken from their positions surrounding Ajax Bay to the north side of San Carlos Water, near Port San Carlos, by landing craft, then they yomped for 13 hours continuously and covered 14 miles. They reached a deserted shepherd's house at around 2am where they stopped for the rest of the night. The next day they carried on to Douglas Settlement. They stayed here for two nights and a day and then moved on to Teal Inlet arriving late on 30 May.
A note must be made of the weather conditions and the terrain the Marines were crossing at this point. The ground across this area is covered in tussock grass, and in the bitter winter weather, the ground was hard frozen in places, and treacherous bog in others. Given the uneven surface, it formed almost perfect ankle breaking territory for men loaded with 130 lbs of equipment and their weapon. Add to this a bitter freezing wind coupled with snow that occasionally reached whiteout conditions, and you had a route march that would have killed many a lesser man. The Marines on those three days of marching performed a feat of endurance seldom equalled and never bettered in the annals of military history. There were a few of the Volvo BV tracked vehicles, and a Scout helicopter in support of the march, but they had great difficulty in operating over the ground and in the weather, and most of their time was taken up in finding and rescuing the fifteen men who fell out of the march on the first night, victims of injuries and exposure in the incredibly tough conditions. For the 600 men who, almost staggering under their loads by the middle of the first night, there was to be no respite, as during the short rest period in the area of the hut snow turned to rain and their sleeping bags and equipment were soaked. By the time the Marines arrived in Douglas, they were exhausted, and still only just over half way there. That they made it at all is a testament to the good humour, stoicism and sheer toughness of the individual Marine.
The original plan called for 3 Para to follow 45 Commando along the track to Douglas, and then lead off to Teal Inlet. The settlement manager at Port San Carlos heard about the plan, and suggested an alternative to Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike of 3 Para. Mr Miller knew of a direct route straight to Teal Inlet, which although had no track, was passable, and would cut out the long dog-leg to Douglas. He suggested that his son, Philip, accompany 3 Para, and loaned them his tractors to carry the battalion's mortars and other heavy equipment. Soon after 45 Commando left Port San Carlos, 3 Para moved out. They tabbed directly to Teal carrying lighter loads than the Marines, but this did not alleviate the terrible conditions. The 460 men covered the twenty miles in thirty three hours, breaking the 'tab', tabbing being the Para word for a long march, into two stages. Again, the conditions took their toll and fourteen of the Paras had to be evacuated as exposure cases. One tank troop of the Blues and Royals accompanied the march, picking their way with great care through the soft peat bogs, but successfully crossing the uneven trackless ground despite many doubts of their ability to operate over such terrain. The Paras were forced to spend one night in the open before making a tactical approach to Teal Inlet during the night of 28 May, but only one Argentinian was found in the settlement. Once the men of 45 Commando arrived on 30 May, the units were ready for the next phase of the advance, into the mountains overlooking Stanley itself.
The SAS team who had been ashore from 1 May had been observing Mount Kent, at 1,500 feet high it is the highest peak in the chain of mountains around Stanley, forming the head of the valley that leads down to the town. Not only and ideal vantage point for reconnaissance, Mount Kent was a logical start point to capture the two lines of mountains that ran to the north and south of Stanley forming the two sides of the valley, as the position commanded the lower mountains to either side, fire support could be provided from its slopes. Once these were in British hands, the Argentine forces would find themselves bottled up in Stanley with their backs to the sea and no way of being supplied or evacuated, as both the airport and the harbour approaches could be covered from the high ground.
By the end of May the SAS were established on the mountain in some strength, but moving cautiously due to the large Argentine presence in the area of the obviously strategically important mountain. On the 26 May, the Argentines moved most of their 12th Regiment from Mt Kent to Goose Green to take part in the defence of the settlement against 2 Para. This left the mountain relatively undefended and with the SAS units now the dominant force in the area, it was decided that this was the best time to get troops onto the mountain in force to secure the head of the valley. On 31 May, a flight of three Sea King helicopters from 846 Squadron carried K Company of 42 Commando to a landing zone just two miles short of Mt Kent. Accompanying them were 42 Commando's Tactical Headquarters unit, four heavy mortar teams for fire support, and a Blowpipe missile team for air defence. They arrived just as the SAS were having a short but vicious firefight with an enemy patrol, from which there were no British casualties. A Headquarters site was set up near the helicopter LZ, then K Company advanced on the mountain and found it deserted! General Menéndez was faced with a difficult situation due to the success of 2 Para at Goose Green. He simply did not have enough men to cover all eventualities and had been forced to send the last Company of the 12th Regiment to Goose Green, leaving only a light force on Mt Kent that the SAS had dealt with quickly. The Marines were quick to consolidate on this success, within two hours of the helicopters landing, not only was Mt Kent in British hands, but Mt Challenger to the south-west, Mt Wall and Bluff Cove Peak which overlooked the low ground near Estancia House had also all been secured.
Three 105 mm guns of 7 Battery 29 Commando Regiment and their crews were airlifted forward by the sole operational Chinook, ZA718 'Bravo November', which very nearly crashed in a snowstorm on the way back to pick up ammunition for the guns. The aircraft managed to get back to San Carlos with light damage, which prevented the helicopter from flying again that night. The Sea King crews, although fatigued and already at their flying hours limits for night operations, made another sortie to deliver the ammunition, and the guns were soon in action. With their long reach using a 'super charge', the 105 mm artillery could actually reach as far as the racecourse in Stanley itself, and engaged Argentine troop concentrations and other targets on the mountains and in the valley. In one leap this audacious and imaginative move had put British land forces in range of their goal for the first time.
Firefight at Top Malo
The next stage of the operation to encircle Stanley was to move 3 Para and 42 Commando up into the mountains, but at the same time avoid any major contact with the Argentines as the logistics train was badly stretched, and the supplies were moving forward slowly. Four-man teams from the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre scouted the routes to Mounts Estancia and Vernet, and were followed by 3 Para. 3 Para reached Estancia House on 1 June, and shortly thereafter the two units had established themselves on the mountains, 3 Para to the north and 42 Commando to the south. During the move, one of the advance parties had seen a pair of Argentine helicopters landing a party of seventeen troops at Top Malo House, and isolated, and at the time deserted shepherd's house. This force lay in between the parallel lines of advance of the British troops, and had to be neutralised as it was behind the British forward units, and posed a threat to the supply lines. The location was out of range of the British artillery, and it was already getting dark, which ruled out a Harrier GR3 strike against the house. Captain Rod Boswell of the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre assembled a team of nineteen men from his unit which was airlifted from San Carlos by Sea King at low level to a position near the house early the next morning. They attacked about two hours after dawn, in what swiftly became a stand-up firefight between two well trained, skilled units. The Argentine Special Forces unit was from 602 Commando Company led by 2nd Lieutenant Luis Albert Brown who was wounded four times before his unit was forced to surrender. Five of the Argentine troops were killed and seven wounded, with three of the Royal Marines being wounded. All of the wounded survived, including the brave Lt. Brown. The professional manner in which the action was conducted prompted the Argentine second-in-command to congratulate Capt. Boswell on a job well done. Such was the effect of the fight at Top Malo House that fourteen other Argentine soldiers who had been in observation positions on Malo Hill and Mount Simon came in and surrendered to 3 Para the next day.
45 Commando remained at Teal Inlet to help establish it as a forward base, and to build up the vital supplies and stores for the next stage of the advance. Several of the units involved came up with some novel ideas to help speed the flow of supplies, such as a landing craft turned into a minesweeper to clear the waterways all the way to Teal Inlet. From 1 June Sir Percivale and Sir Geraint were able to make regular supply runs directly to Teal, which made the movement of stores to the leading units far faster than was previously the case. With these developments, the Headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade were moved up to Teal Inlet from San Carlos, at which point 45 Commando moved out and reached the base of Mount Kent by 4 June.
On the nights of the 30/31 May and 2/3 June more Black Buck raids were launched from Ascension. This time, however, the Vulcans were armed with Shrike anti-radar missiles and their mission was to take out the air defence and surveillance radars around Stanley. The Argentine radars in the Stanley area consisted of a Westinghouse TPS 43, and possibly an advanced TPS 44, as well as several Skyguard radars that controlled the anti-aircraft guns. Several positions had been plotted for each of these sets, as the Argentines kept moving the equipment as a precautionary measure. The first mission was specifically aimed at the Westinghouse radar and produced limited results, the Argentine radar operators recognised the way the Vulcan was operating, so only kept their system on for limited periods. Two Shrikes were fired by Squadron Leader Neil McDougall and his crew from 50 Squadron, but only after a forty-five minute stalk of the radar. Although one Shrike struck the target, the radar was repaired within 36 hours with parts flown from the mainland. The second mission by the same crew had more success, destroying a Skyguard air defence radar set on Sapper Hill.
Advance by telephone
On 1 June the Fifth Infantry Brigade, which consisted of the Gurkha Rifles, Scots Guards and the Welsh Guards landed at San Carlos. The Gurkhas moved first, being flown down to Goose Green by Chinook to take over the responsibilities there from 2 Para. The Gurkhas were also tasked with clearing the southern half of East Falkland, the vast open land called Lafonia. Ten Argentine troops were captured in this operation, but Lafonia was largely unoccupied. In a re-organisation of the units ashore, the command of 2 Para and 29 Battery of 4 Field Regiment now swapped to 5 Infantry Brigade instead of 3 Commando Brigade. It had not been decided how to transport 5 Brigade nearer Stanley, due to the lack of helicopters and the fact that there were doubts that the two Guards Battalions could stand the hardships of a long march. As a solution, on 2 June Major Chris Keeble of 2 Para suggested that a small party be flown to Swan Inlet House, about halfway between Goose Green and Fitzroy, as it was thought a telephone link to Fitzroy might still be intact there.
The Scout helicopters of 656 Squadron were at Goose Green because a raid had been planned on the Argentine outpost on Mount Usborne, but this operation had been prevented by bad weather. The Chinook was also at Goose Green that day as it had been allocated to supply runs to 5 Brigade from San Carlos. The plan was quickly approved as all the elements were in place to start a rapid advance if Fitzroy could be contacted. The five Scouts were split into two units, two armed with missiles and machine guns, the other three carrying four men from 2 Para each. The first pair of Scouts fired their missiles to explode close to Swan Inlet House, having first flown low up the Inlet to try to attract Argentine fire if any were present. Since there was no reply to the flyby or the missiles, the twelve Paras were landed and found the house deserted. Major John Crosland, the leader of the team, used the telephone in the house to call the settlement manager at Fitzroy, Mr Reg Binney. Mr Binney reported that all the Argentines occupying Bluff Cove and Fitzroy settlements had recently left, and that no troops were in either town. The Paras re-boarded the Scouts and returned to Goose Green, having established that the path was clear all the way to Fitzroy in under an hour.
The two gunship Scouts had their guns removed, and all five could now carry four fully equipped Paras. A Company of 2 Para, under the command of Major Farrar-Hockley, along with a mortar platoon, boarded the Scouts and Chinook and flew straight to Fitzroy. Two more Companies followed during the day, as well as the Headquarters unit, who also occupied Bluff Cove, about three miles from Fitzroy. The remaining men of 2 Para were flown in from Goose Green by Sea King the following day, and as both settlements had been secured, it was decided to bring the Scots and Welsh Guards around by sea. Given the proximity of the settlements to Argentine positions on the mountains to the south of Stanley, it was decided that the larger amphibious ships, HMS Intrepid and Fearless could not be risked at Fitzroy in daylight, so they would only transport troops round at night. On the night of 5/6 June HMS Intrepid transported the Scots Guards as far as Lively Island, where they transferred to four landing craft carried by Intrepid, which took them to Bluff Cove.
The next night, HMS Fearless was to repeat the operation, transporting the Welsh Guards round. The ship was equipped with two landing craft, and the four from the previous night's operation were expected to sail from Bluff Cove to meet Fearless to assist with the transfer of the troops to shore. Unfortunately, there were still many problems with communications between Brigade Headquarters to the forward units, and Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour had decided that the weather was too rough for the landing craft to sail. A garbled version of this message did eventually reach Fearless, who launched her two landing craft with half of the Welsh Guards aboard, the remainder being taken back to San Carlos. The two landing craft reached Bluff Cove safely, but it was further decided by Admiral Fieldhouse on 7 June that the important assault ships could not be risked again, and the RFAs were to undertake future tasks in the area. The RFA Sir Tristram was already at Fitzroy, unloading 1,500 tons of artillery ammunition, and Sir Galahad was at San Carlos loading four Rapier units for air defence of the new landings, as well as the vehicles and men of 16 Field Ambulance, the medical unit for 5 Brigade, with the intention to land both units at Fitzroy. It was decided to add the remaining two Companies of the Welsh Guards to the load, and for the ship to sail as soon as it was dark. The plan was for Sir Galahad to leave San Carlos, deliver the Welsh Guards to Bluff Cove to join the rest of their Battalion, then move to Fitzroy before dawn to off-load the Rapiers and Ambulances. Another breakdown in communications and the shortage of landing craft at San Carlos meant that 16 Field Ambulance took over six hours to get on board, so the ship did not leave until nearly five hours after dark. Sir Galahad's Captain, Captain Philip Roberts, signalled that he would not sail until the following night because of the lateness of the hour. In reply he was told to go to Fitzroy only, which could be reached before dawn, and off load the Ambulances and Rapiers there, but no mention was made of the Welsh Guards.
Sir Galahad entered Fitzroy on 8 June just after 0800 hrs local time, to the surprise of some of the Welsh Guards whose understanding was still that they were being taken directly to Bluff Cove. Out of the six landing craft that were in the anchorage the day before, four had returned to HMS Intrepid in order to speed the supply situation at San Carlos, one had gone to Goose Green to fetch 5 Brigade's sorely needed signals vehicles, and only one, named Foxtrot One, was left unloading the ammunition from Sir Tristram. There was also a Mexeflote, a kind of powered pontoon raft which was used for unloading stores to the beach, but both this and Foxtrot One were both nearly fully loaded with ammunition crates. The commanders in charge of unloading the ships at Fitzroy knew that the 350 Welsh Guards had to be off the ship as soon as possible in case of air attack. It was suggested that the Guards could sit on top of the stores on the Mexeflote pontoon and be on shore within the hour.
The Guards Company Commanders were not keen on this as it meant they would have to march 5 miles to Bluff Cove and they were unwilling to weary their men unnecessarily, and all their heavy equipment would have to be left on board, with no guarantee of it being delivered to Bluff Cove in the near future. A compromise was then reached and the landing craft was made available to run the Guards to Bluff Cove, along with local tractors for the heavy equipment and a local 20 foot cutter. As this was being discussed, an 846 Squadron Sea King was airlifting the Rapier units ashore, which was to take a total of 18 lifts. Foxtrot One came alongside Sir Galahad at noon in order to start embarking the Welsh Guards, but the Commander of the 16 Field Ambulance, the senior ranking officer there, said that the Guards had already had a chance of disembarking and it was vital that the leading echelon of his unit should have priority. Twelve men and nine vehicles of the medical unit were then transported ashore which took another hour to do. On the last trip, the loading ramp of the landing craft was damaged, so the heavy equipment of the Welsh Guards could not be loaded at Sir Galahad's stern doors. Instead it was decided that the equipment would be loaded on to the craft by crane, an incredibly slow process, before the men were taken off the ship. By this time Sir Galahad had been sitting in Fitzroy for 5 hours, largely due to misunderstandings and a lack of communication. Sir Tristram had now been unloaded, but was also still in the harbour. Argentinian observation posts on Mount Harriet had been watching the ships and reporting their presence all that time. A reaction was inevitable, eventually eight Skyhawks and six Daggers took off from the mainland and headed toward the ripe target. The British forces at San Carlos were warned of the raid, probably by a submarine patrolling off Rio Grande, but again due to the communications difficulties the warning did not reach the Sir Galahad. The stage for tragedy was set.
Three of the Skyhawks and one of the Daggers had to return to base after experiencing technical problems but the rest carried on, going to low level as they approached the islands, the two formations splitting to fly around Lafonia north and south about in order to attack Fitzroy from different directions. The Dagger formation found HMS Plymouth in Falkland Sound however, steaming to carry out a bombardment of Argentine positions on Mount Rosalie, and decided to attack her. Plymouth was hit by three bombs, but again the fusing problems of low level releases meant that none exploded. The impact of the bombs detonated a depth charge and started a fire which caused much superficial damage, injuring four men and killing one more. One of the Daggers was slightly damaged in the attack. At Fitzroy the five remaining Skyhawks from Grupo 5 de Caza fell upon the anchorage with almost complete surprise, the units ashore had finally received a warning, but there was no way of passing it to the ships. The Royal Marine gunners on the ships managed to engage the aircraft, and one Blowpipe shoulder launched missile was fired, but failed to find a target.
Three Skyhawks attacked Sir Galahad and two attacked Sir Tristram. The air defences were ill prepared for this strike; the two Sea Harriers that had formed the Combat Air Patrol to the south were now in pursuit of the Dagger formation and the operational Rapier sites were mainly covering the 5 Brigade Headquarters and the new supply base, not the anchorage. Unfortunately the Rapier site covering the anchorage to the east, the direction from which the Skyhawks attacked, had been damaged in transit and a spare part was just being landed by Sea King as the attack came in. This tragic combination of circumstance was to cause the single largest British loss of life of the campaign. Two bombs hit Sir Tristram, one passing straight through the ship without exploding, the other exploding in a small compartment killing two Chinese crewmen. Sir Galahad suffered far, far worse. Three bombs hit the ship, one passing through a hatch hitting the tank deck, one hitting the engine room and galley and the last burst in the officer's quarters. The bombs did not explode as the term is commonly understood, they all deflagrated, the casings smashing open on impact, and the contents burning rapidly rather than detonating. The bomb that hit the tank deck caused most of the casualties, for that was where most of the troops were concentrated, along with twenty tons of ammunition and a large amount of petrol, which became an inferno. A least 45 men died on that tank deck, and 150 were injured and burned, many of them very seriously.
Immediately helicopters came in and started to take the injured off the ship. Foxtrot One was already alongside, protected by the bulk of Sir Galahad from the explosions and began taking wounded aboard. The Mexeflote pontoon also moved in, and some of the survivors got away on it. Although no-one was controlling the rescue, the Sea Kings of 846 and 825 Squadrons, the Wessex from 847 and a Gazelle from 656 Squadrons all co-operated with the surface vessels in perfect harmony. The wounded were taken at first to the Fitzroy landing site, before a shuttle of helicopters started taking them to Ajax Bay and then on to the hospital ship Uganda, who received 159 casualties this day. Captain Philip Roberts was the last man to leave the ship some forty five minutes after the attack, which due to the heat of the inferno, was left to burn itself out. Sir Galahad was towed out to sea later in June and sunk as a war grave. Forty-eight men died in the ship, thirty-two of whom were Welsh Guardsmen.
The Sir Tristram was towed back to England for repairs. Many commentators at the time and since have searched for a cause, a person to blame for the disaster, but the facts of the matter are that the ships were caught by circumstance and an incredible series of coincidental unconnected events. Yes, communications broke down, and there was an element of confusion in the movement orders, but considering that the rapid onset of the worst of the winter weather meant that the advance of both units and supplies was being pushed forward as fast as possible to avoid the campaign literally being frozen, oversights and mistakes were unavoidable, particularly with imperfect communications. There is no blame, just a tragedy of war.
Argentine air attacks returned to the area for the rest of the day, but the Rapier defence sites around Fitzroy were now all up and running, so all the attacks against the landing site and Headquarters there failed. Another group of four Skyhawks, again from Grupo 5 de Caza, found and attacked the landing craft Foxtrot Four, which was half-way between Goose Green and Fitzroy carrying 5 Brigade's signals Land Rovers. All the crew of the craft except one were killed. The commander of the craft, Colour-Sergeant Brain Johnston, was one of the real heroes of the campaign having taken Foxtrot Four alongside Antelope, as well as Sir Galahad, ignoring the danger of explosion in order to save lives. Colour-Sergeant Johnston was later posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his role in the rescues. The Skyhawks did not escape this time, the Combat Air Patrol of two Sea Harriers, flown by Flight Lieutenant David Morgan and Lieutenant David Smith of 800 Squadron saw the Skyhawks as they attacked the landing craft and quickly engaged them, shooting down three of their number with Sidewinder missiles. These were to be the Sea Harrier's last air successes of the war.
By the end of 8 June, fifty-six British and Chinese servicemen had been killed, bringing the total losses so far in the conflict to 192 members of the British Task Force. The Argentine losses for the day were three killed and three pilots shot down, bringing the total to approximately 560 servicemen dead.
The period between 8 and 11 June was mainly taken up by patrolling and the moving of supplies nearer the front line in readiness for the final battles to take the high ground surrounding Stanley. On the 11, however, an unusual operation was attempted by a Wessex of 845 Squadron flown by Lieutenant Peter Manley with Petty Officer Arthur Balls acting as gunner. It was known that the Argentine High Command in the Islands met every morning at the Town Hall. The Wessex was armed with two AS12 wire-guided missiles and approached Stanley from the north under cover of the hills surrounding the harbour. Both missiles were fired, the first narrowly missed and hit the Police station, the other missile was defective and fell short, there were no casualties. By this time, anti-aircraft artillery was exploding all around the hovering Wessex, which made good its escape.
British observation posts in the second line of mountains around Stanley and Special Forces units were keeping the Argentine forces under close watch. The Argentine forces on the islands still numbered over 11,000 well armed troops, outnumbering the British considerably. At this time, 2,000 of these troops were effectively out of the battle, as they were the two Regiments and support units at Port Howard and Fox Bay on West Falkland, cut off from East Falkland by the waters of Falkland Sound, and unable to move due to the constant patrols by the Royal Navy and Harrier force. The remaining forces, some 9,000 men of whom 5,500 were infantry, were now confined to the mountains on either side of the valley leading to Stanley, and in the town itself. Much has been made of the fact that many of these men were conscripts, but it must be remembered that just in terms of the infantry they outnumbered the British, and they were well dug in in strong defensive positions. If Stanley were to be freed, much bitter close-quarters fighting would have to take place in the mountains first. By 11 June, all the units and supplies to support just such an offensive were in place.