Vulcan bomber

Mount Longdon

Mount Longdon - 11/12 June 1982

Introduction

The ridge that forms the north side of the valley in which Stanley lies is dominated at the western end by Mount Longdon. The peak is north-east of Two Sisters and Mount Harriet, and lies due north of the gap between Mount Harriet and Mount Tumbledown. From this position it was possible for the Argentine defenders to pour supporting fire onto all three of the other hills, so it was vital that the mountain be taken at the same time as the others to prevent its interference in the attacks there. The defending force was made up of elements of 7th Regiment, who were also holding Wireless Ridge further west, with Commando and sniper units in support.

Mt Longdon was a complex mountain with several features and peaks to the summit, and could not be easily approached from any flank because of this. It was decided that a frontal attack on its western end would take place, to keep exposure to the defensive positions to a minimum. The plan called for A Company to take a feature on the north side of the main peaks code-named 'Wing Forward', and set up a fire-support base there. B Company would then attack 'Fly Half', the front peak of the main summit, before proceeding on to 'Full Back', the secondary summit at the end of the ridge that formed the top of the mountain. C Company would be in reserve to act as a rapid exploitation company if there was a swift Argentine collapse.

After dusk on 11 June, 3 Para left their positions on Mounts Estancia and Vernet and proceeded to their various start lines. Most of the battalion marched into battle carrying their standard tactical load of weapon and ammunition, whereas the Tactical Headquarters was carried forward in civilian Land Rovers. Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike was driven into the support area by Trudi Morrison, probably the first time a Battalion Commander was driven into battle by a farmer's wife! As with the attack on Two Sisters, due to the dark and the broken terrain they arrived at the start positions about 15 minutes late. After spending a few minutes getting organised at their lines, the Companies started their advances at around 2030 hrs local time. The British artillery had fired no more than their usual harassing fire at dusk, and as both Companies advanced silently, the Argentines had little or no warning of the proximity of 3 Para to them, but sadly, this was not to last.

Major Mike Argue's B Company advanced with 4, 5 and 6 Platoons in an extended line. At 2110 hrs Cpl Milne of 4 Platoon stood on a mine badly injuring his leg and alerting the enemy to the Para's presence. Heavy fire then descended on the Paras but most of it was over their heads. 4 and 5 Platoons were steadily forced closer together into a series of narrow rock gullies leading up the mountain by the fire, the defenders were able to direct fire and throw grenades straight down these gullies, making the advance a slow and difficult one.

6 Platoon, the southernmost in the extended line, managed to occupy the western summit of Fly Half without contacting the enemy at all. On the way up the mountain they had attacked a number of unoccupied bunkers with grenades. Once on the top they were attacked from the rear from a bunker containing seven Argentine soldiers that had been bypassed in the dark. Four men were killed and four more injured before the bunker was dealt with.

When the Paras were detected 5 Platoon were already in cover in rocks and gullies, and 4 Platoon was racing through the minefield towards the enemy. Both Platoons slowly advanced through the difficult terrain taking out positions as they found them. On their advance up the feature 5 Platoon came under fire from an enemy GPMG and a 0.50in Browning heavy machine gun (HMG). The GPMG was taken out by 66 mm rockets and a 84 mm rocket. The section then came under fire from the HMG, which was also holding up the advance of 4 Platoon, so in another section attack the HMG was taken out by Lance-Corporal Lennie Carver and Privates Gough and Gray charging forward under fire and grenading the position.

At this time Lieutenant Bickerdyke's 4 Platoon were slightly below and to the left of Lieutenant Cox's 5 Platoon. They were engaging targets to the east and above 5 Platoon's forward elements. Lt. Bickerdyke then pushed his Platoon to the right and one of his sections became intermingled with 5 Platoon. The ridges of rock that the Platoons had been fighting up began to split up just below the summit of Fly Half and both Platoons entered this area of relatively open ground together. As they did so they came under heavy fire from a machine gun on the summit of Fly Half.

4 Platoon's CO, along with Sgt Ian McKay, his Signaller and some others went forward to reconnoitre the enemy positions. During this the CO and Signaller were wounded by a second heavy machine-gun position, so Sgt McKay took over the Platoon. He decided to turn his reconnaissance into an attack on the HMG which was seriously threatening any advance. He took Corporal Ian Bailey and three other men with him and they charged the positions. Cpl Bailey and two of the men were wounded, the third man being killed as they charged forward into the enemy fire. In the best traditions of the Parachute Regiment, Sgt McKay carried on alone, attacking and destroying the heavy machine-gun with grenades. He was killed at the moment of victory, his body falling on to the ruined enemy bunker. He was awarded a posthumous VC for this incredible action, which allowed the advance to continue.

Due to Sgt McKay's action 4 and 5 Platoons were able to redeploy in relative safety, out of direct enemy fire, and onto positions on the main ridge from which they could fire on the remaining Argentine positions. Major Mike Argue, the Company Commander, then ordered the leading troops to withdraw slightly so artillery fire could be brought down on these enemy bunkers. Progress was again made before a fresh Argentine position opened fire killing one man and injuring several more before it was silenced. 6 Platoon to the right had become pinned down on open ground, largely by snipers with night sights, who killed five of the Platoon's men and wounded several more. B Company's attack had managed to secure 'Fly Half', but at a cost of over half its strength in wounded and dead men.

The slow and difficult battle had been going for nearly six hours at this point. During this time Major David Collett's A Company had reached 'Wing Forward' and found it unoccupied. It turned out not to be a very good position due to its inferior height which strictly limited its usefulness as a fire support base. A Company came under heavy and accurate small arms and mortar fire from a ridge near Fly Half, fire which killed two men and injured another. They were ordered to pull back and come up behind B Company, in order to move through B Company's position and attack 'Full Back' while the remaining men of B Company gave fire support. They moved into position along the northern edge of the ridge as they were in range of Argentine artillery and HMGs situated on Mt Tumbledown, directly to the south of Longdon.

'Full Back', the last part of the ridge to be taken, was shelled by the British artillery before the Paras attacked. Captain Adrian Freer, Second-in-Command of A Company, set up a fire support base while this was happening. A Company's 1 and 2 Platoons, under the command of Second Lieutenants John Kearton and Ian Moore, leapfrogged each other and destroyed Argentine positions as they found them, using machine guns and grenades. The ground was far more open than B Company had fought over, and in just over forty-five minutes the Platoons had captured the last 800 metres of the ridge. During this action only one Para was injured and numerous prisoners were taken, the professionalism and speed of the Paras breaking down the defences rapidly.

Mount Longdon turned out to be the bloodiest battle of the campaign with seventeen Paras being killed in the fighting and at least 35 being injured. 3 Para estimated that fifty enemy soldiers were killed and fifty were taken prisoner. This was not the end for 3 Para, however. Argentine positions on Mount Tumbledown continued to shell Mount Longdon during the following days and during this time four more Paratroopers died. One of these was Corpora1 McLaughlin who was a Section Commander in B Company. His section was the only one not to lose a man in the attack on the mountain. He was wounded by shrapnel, then sustained a direct hit from another shell on his way to the medical post and died instantly. 3 Para had taken the mountain under heavy fire and over difficult terrain, but were now overlooking the next objective on the northern side of Stanley Harbour valley, Wireless Ridge.

Other than the land battles, two other events took place on the night of 11/12 June. The RAF launched another Black Buck raid but some sources say that it did not go to plan as the bombs were dropped unarmed, others that cratering and blast damage was done to the eastern end of the airfield. The night also saw the first effective use of a new weapon in the conflict, a land based Exocet missile. The trailer mounted equipment was a hastily improvised modification of the naval ship-board version. The trailers were kept hidden at Stanley airport during the day, and taken out onto the airport road at night in an attempt to hit or at least drive off the British ships on the bombardment gunline. The first attempt to use the system was on the night of 27/28 May when two missiles were fired, one failing to leave the launcher, the other heading for HMS Avenger. The missile flew over the ship, but served to alert the British to the danger. The ships in future were to approach the firing area using a route which kept land between them and the missile system. HMS Avenger and Glamorgan were on the gunline on the night of 11/12 June, Glamorgan supporting 45 Commando in their attack on Two Sisters. Due to the delay in the attack, Captain Mike Barrow had kept his ship on the line for longer than anticipated, and on leaving, came just within range of the Exocet launcher. One missile was fired, and detected both on radar and visually at 0336 hrs. HMS Glamorgan started a turn away from the missile's track, but was struck on the side at the stern. Because the ship was heeled over in the turn, the missile struck the upper deck and tore a groove in it, before exploding just through the deck behind the helicopter hangar. Thirteen men were killed in the attack, the hangar was ablaze, but no damage occurred in the vital areas of the ship and she steamed back to the task force.

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