Mount Tumbledown and Mount William
Mount Tumbledown and Mount William - 13 and 14 June 1982
On the morning of the 13th June the Scots Guards were flown in from their positions around the Bluff Cove/Fitzroy area to an assembly point just to the south-west of Goat Ridge. The Guards dug in here to protect themselves from enemy artillery fire. The Company Commanders then took the Platoon Commanders, Section Commanders and Platoon Sergeants up to Goat Ridge so they could see the battle ground in the daylight, and make any changes to their plan accordingly. As mentioned in the Mount Harriet section, on the 13 June the Argentine Air Force also launched their final raids of the conflict. Skyhawks made a daylight raid on 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters near Mount Kent and on 2 Para's positions near Mt Longdon. As well as these attacks, in the evening a number of Canberras attempted a raid but HMS Cardiff shot one down with a Sea Dart and the raid was broken up.
British air power had also been very busy in this period, aside from conducting the Combat Air Patrols, a large number of air strikes had been carried out in support of the advance, both on the forces facing the British troops and on the supplies and support units in the rear. On the evening of 13 June, a new technology was introduced to the battlefield. Two Harrier GR3s flown by Wing Commander Peter Squire and Squadron Leader Jerry Pook attacked positions in the Tumbledown and Mount William area with laser guided bombs in the first British use of the equipment. They came in over Bluff Cove, 'lobbed' their four 1,000lb bombs and hit a Company Headquarters and a machine gun post, the bombs flying down the laser 'cone' to their targets. Majors Anwyl Hughes and Mike Howes, the two Forward Air Controllers on Two Sisters designated these targets for the Harriers, although they were under artillery fire at the time.
Mount Tumbledown is a lofty and menacing peak in appearance, forming an almost straight east-west ridge with four distinct summits along its length. The western slope rises deceptively gently into broken rock and planes of uplifted rock on the top. On the north face, there is nearly a sheer drop from the top down the cliffs of rock, which meant any kind of flanking attack was out of the question. The eastern slope is broken and jagged rock, again steep and difficult to negotiate. The southern face is a gentle slope initially, before rising rapidly, almost vertically in places, to the exposed rock of the peak. The peak itself forms a long thin citadel of upthrust slabs of rock lying in east-west planes, a giant maze with many hiding places, all of which would have to be cleared. In several places the rock slabs formed natural alleys, which a single well placed gun could command, as there was open ground at the bottom, and no cover in between the faces of rock. There are also many blind alleys and dead ends, requiring rock climbing skills to negotiate. A closer topography to a natural fortress is difficult to imagine. The unit defending this position, which General Menéndez considered the key to his defence of Stanley, was one of the best on the Islands, the 5th Marine Battalion. Under the Command of Commander (Marine Corps) Hugo Robacio, two Companies of the Battalion were on Mount Tumbledown, others were on Mount William, and still more in depth across the track into Stanley. When added to the physical difficulties of the terrain, this force and its positions were to be very difficult to assault. Interestingly, Commander Robacio was to go on to reach the rank of Rear Admiral, and to become the Argentine Navy's Marine Corp Commandant. He is now retired from active duty. Many thanks to Lt. Cdr. (Marine Corps) AJ. Di Tella for updating us with this information.
The Scots Guards, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Scott, left the assembly point after dusk and moved up to Goat Ridge. Here they dropped off the extra ammunition they were burdened with to the mortars who would be supporting the attack, before moving on to their start lines. Meanwhile at 2030 hrs about thirty men, under the command of Major Richard Bethell, supported by Lieutenant Mark Coreth's two Scorpion and two Scimitar tanks made a diversionary attack onto an enemy position to the south of Tumbledown. The party was made up of a Reece Platoon, support and ancillary staff from the Scots Guards rear echelon and some Royal Engineers for mine clearance and moved forward silently. Only when they were in view of the position did they deploy, moving in two assault groups and a fire support party. As the fire-fight began, the tanks were moving up the track to a forward support position when Lt Coreth's, the lead tank, struck a mine which shattered the right track and knocked the engine out of its mounts. The crew escaped, and the tanks moved back to a secondary position under heavy shellfire. As the assault groups moved forward, three of the men under Drill Sergeant Wight got to within three yards of a bunker before they were fired upon. Two of these men died, one of them being Drill Sergeant Wight, and the other was wounded. A fierce fight then took place for about 10 minutes mostly using grenades until no fire was returned. With ten men wounded or killed, the party then retreated having fully completed their mission, but entered a minefield and two more men were injured, Lance-Sergeant Ian Miller losing a foot. The small, cigarette-packet sized mines had been distributed liberally around the mountains by the Argentines, and still pose a problem to the islanders today.
The Scots Guard's main attacking force left their start lines at 2100 hrs, moving down the shallow valley from Goat Ridge and up the completely open ground that forms the start of the west slope of Mount Tumbledown. If they had been spotted at this point, they would have caught completely without cover. Major Dalzell-Job's G Company were to take the western end of the main ridge. The three Platoons moved carefully but steadily through the rocks as they were expecting some machine gun posts at the far end of their objective, positioned to fire down the rock gullies and across the open ground, but these turned out to be empty, probably due to the diversionary force tactic. G Company reached the limit of their objective having taken a third of Tumbledown without being detected by the enemy, an incredible piece of good fortune that the Scots Guards were quick to consolidate. They spread out into selected fire positions to be able to give fire support for the next stage of the attack.
Major John Kiszley's Left Flank Company then moved through G Company and moved down slightly to the right. They then started to advance up the slope with 13 Platoon to the left, 15 Platoon to the right and 14 Platoon in the middle. The crossed a saddle of open ground and into the rocks on the far side before, after about half an hour into their advance, the enemy opened up on the Company in what was later described as a continuous hail of bullets. In the initial firefight, several of the front left section of 13 Platoon were hit. 13 Platoon then had a hard fight up a gully where they suffered heavy casualties, Sergeant Simeon and Guardsman Tanbini being killed, Company Sergeant-Major Bill Nicol being among the wounded. After several hours they had forced their way to the rocks at the top of the gully, Lance-Sergeant McGuiness taking out three Argentine positions with well-aimed 84 mm rockets during this action. The advance had stalled, and the position was made worse by Argentine mortar fire causing more casualties. The fire support machine-guns were operating at extreme range and in a very narrow funnel. Worse, the support artillery was out of touch with the forward observer who was lost in the dark, and one of the guns was firing wild. Left Flank Company was to be trapped in the rock maze on this freezing night for over three hours.
13 Platoon then made a quite brilliant move, quietly climbing the sheer rocks on the left hand side of the ridge, and establishing a fire base which overlooked the main Argentine positions. Better yet, they managed this feat without the position being detected by the enemy and were now in a position to support the other Platoons. All this time 14 and 15 Platoons had been pinned down by heavy fire and had not been able to move. The problem with the British artillery was now fixed and it was decided that the two trapped Platoons would make a move after the third salvo of artillery landed among the Argentine positions. 13 Platoon, from their superb new vantage point, were to fire in support as well.
When the salvo came 14 Platoon charged the enemy positions with 15 Platoon to the rear. 13 Platoon fired 66 mm rockets, once again Lance-Sergeant McGuiness aiming them by eye, machine-guns and rifles onto the Argentine positions, suppressing their fire and confusing them enough to allow the other Platoons to reach the enemy. 14 and 15 Platoons used rifles, grenades and bayonets to clear the position. They then covered the next 800 yards to the end of their objective with skill and dash, working the rocks and gullies in half sections and killing eight of the defenders, the rest having fled. The advance was a costly one, one Guardsman was killed in this attack and only seven men reached the end of the objective, Major Kiszley and Lieutenant Mitchell, the Commander of 15 Platoon among them. On reaching the top, three of these seven men were wounded by an enemy machine-gun further along the ridge. More men came up to the top to consolidate the position and a brief counter-attack was beaten off mainly by 14 Platoon. The battle was far from over, but the badly mauled British troops were gaining ground and costing the Argentine defenders dearly.
Major Price's Right Flank Company, who had been following the advance now came forward to clear the final objective. After the delay in the advance, he took an additional hour to carefully position his men. 1 Platoon was placed high in the rocks to work as fire support and 2 and 3 Platoons moved forward to start the main attack. The Platoons moved forward carefully, with frequent stops to observe the ground ahead with night sights. The first Argentine defender was seen by one of these sights and hit with a 66 mm rocket. The sections then moved fast, 'pepperpotting' along in half sections and destroying positions when they found them. This attack succeeded by depending on small groups of soldiers using their initiative to take out the enemy. Two machine-gun positions which posed a danger to the advance were destroyed by individuals leaving their rifles and climbing the wet slippery rocks to positions above the guns, then dropping grenades into the positions. The men who performed these incredible acts of valour were Sergeant Bob Jackson and Guardsman Andrew Pengelly, both of whom received the Military Medal for his action. The Argentinian defence had now crumbled and at 0800 hrs on 14 June Mount Tumbledown was in British hands, 11 hours after the main attack had started. In the last attack, Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, Commander of 3 Platoon, was badly wounded in the head, and five other men were injured but none of the Right Flank Company were killed. Twelve Argentine prisoners were taken during this final push. Eleven and a half hours after leaving their start line, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards had taken one of the best defended mountains on the islands and defeated one of the best Argentine units, an assault which had cost them the lives of nine of their men and forty-three of their number injured.
While the Scots Guards were attacking Tumbledown, the Gurkhas were waiting to start an assault on Mount William to the south-east. As the attack on Tumbledown was taking longer than expected the Gurkhas were delayed leaving their start line. Eventually Brigadier Wilson gave the order to go, and Lieutenant Colonel David Morgan led his men along the north face of Tumbledown, having to go through a minefield on the way. On their march the 500 men in one long file came under artillery fire and by the time they reached the eastern end of Mount Tumbledown eight men had been injured. By this time the Scots Guards had secured Tumbledown and B Company of the Gurkhas detached and moved to secure the far eastern end of the mountain. The rest of the Battalion hooked round and made for Mount William. On the way they took some prisoners who had been planning a counter-attack on the Scots Guards. A Company, with the Battalion's heavy weapons then set up a fire support base on the summit of the eastern end of Mount Tumbledown.
By now it was dawn, so D Company would have to assault Mount William in daylight. Rumours, in no way checked by the British, had been going around the Argentinians that the Gurkhas were cannibals who took no prisoners and went into battle high on drugs, adding to the already awesome fighting reputation of the Battalion. Already feeling insecure about the losses of Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge, the sight of D Company, advancing towards Mt William screaming and yelling was to much for the Argentines on the mountain and they fled, understandably but much to the disappointment of the Gurkhas. Mount William was taken unopposed.