The Argentine Invasion - 2nd April 1982
Battles of the Falklands Conflict - The Argentine Invasion - 2nd April 1982
The Argentine Junta wanted Britain to concede sovereignty over the islands in the South Atlantic. Political and economic problems throughout the country were undermining their standing with the Argentine people. Violent demonstrations in Buenos Aires on the night of 30 March were a strong indicator of the uncertainty of their position; they needed a popular victory to re-establish themselves as the ruling power in Argentina. By playing a diplomatic incident that had blown up over the landing of a party of scrap metal merchants on South Georgia for all that it was worth, the Argentines were trying to force concessions from the British government at the Falkland sovereignty negotiations in New York. Along with this political strategy, the Junta also strengthened their hand militarily by despatching warships to South Georgian waters and later by putting their task force to sea, equipped to invade the Falkland Islands themselves.
It was 04:30 hours on 2 April 1982 when 120 men of the Buzo Tactico - the Argentine Special Forces - landed by helicopter at Mullet Creek, a small inlet some three miles to the south-west of the Falklands' capital, Port Stanley. This was the beginning of the Argentine take-over of the Falkland Islands, and was followed by the landing of over 1000 more special troops and marines. Admiral Carlos Busser had a total of 4,500 men under his command for the invasion. Despite the odds, it was not until 09:30 - five hours after the first Argentine soldier landed - that the small, 80-man garrison of Royal Marines and others had surrendered. The sequence of events that day was confusing, but as far as can be ascertained from official records and eyewitness reports, happened as follows.
Warning and reaction
The garrison of Royal Marines on the Falkland Islands was known as Naval Party 8901. At 09:00 on 1 April (some Marines have since mentioned the auspicious date), Major Mike Norman RM, in command of the 1982/3 detachment, formally took over from Major Gary Noott RM and the 1981/2 troops. His job of defending the seat of Government on the islands, was to last for exactly 24 hours. At 15:30 that day the two majors were sent for by the Governor of the Falkland Islands, Mr Rex Hunt, who showed them a signal from London.
The message read; "An Argentine invasion fleet will be off Cape Pembroke at the first light tomorrow. It is highly likely they will invade. You are to make the appropriate dispositions." The Government in London had been receiving reports from intelligence sources that Argentine naval forces conducted exercises at sea between 23 and 28 March, which included a joint anti-submarine operation with the Uruguayan Navy in the River Plate estuary. Later reports showed that the fleet had sailed south from the main Argentine naval base at Puerto Belgrano on 28 March with marines, soldiers and live ammunition on board. On 29 March it was known to be some 900 miles north of Port Stanley, and consisted of an aircraft carrier, four destroyers and an amphibious landing ship.
Facing this force were just 43 men from the 'new' NP 8901, 25 from the 'old' party, and 12 sailors from the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance. Nine men from the 'old' party had been sent with Lieutenant Keith Mills to South Georgia, there to impose the will of Her Majesty's Government on the scrap dealers.
The 80 Royal Marines from Naval Party 8901 under Major Mike Norman RM vacated their barracks at Moody Brook at 0200 hrs and took up their positions to try and defend the islands for as long as possible. Major Norman reasoned that the enemy would go for Port Stanley and neutralize the defences there so that forces could be landed on the airstrip and at the harbour, so he positioned his forces accordingly.
The first prority was to make sure the runway could not be used, so vehicles were parked on it. A small section of men were positioned to cover the obstacles from the south. An observation point was set up east of Yorke point and a machine gun crew was positioned overlooking part of Yorke Bay, a probable landing site, which was obstructed with barbed wire. The machine gunners were given two motorcycles for a quick getaway, and a canoe was also hidden as part of an emergency escape plan.
No.1 Section were placed to the south of No.5 Section with two machine guns, where the road from the airfield to Port Stanley makes a right-angled turn at Hooker's Point. At the old airstrip to the west of them No.2 Section were placed with a machine gun and an 84mm Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon. They were also equipped with 66mm anti-tank missiles.
No.3 Section were positioned nearby at the VOR air navigation beacon. The job of these sections was to delay the enemy for as long as possible before withdrawing. No.4 Section were placed on the other side of Stanley harbour with the other 84mm Carl Gustav MAW to engage any enemy landing craft or shipping which tried to get through the narrow entrance to the harbour. They also had a Gemini inflatable boat for transport if they were needed back at Government House.
No.6 Section was placed on the Murray Heights behind Government House to provide warning of any Argentines approaching from the south. An Observation Post was also set up on Sapper Hill and the sole Marine there, Mike Berry, was equipped with a motorcycle for a quick getaway. The headquarters was at Government House, with Major Noott acting as the Governor's adviser. Major Norman was to be at Look Out Rocks, on the edge of the town to the south-east, commanding the troops on the ground. Finally the motor vessel MV Forrest was sent to sea to keep radar watch over the waters off Port William to the north.
At 0230 hrs Forrest first detected the enemy. At 0330 hrs it was clear a large fleet was manoevering off Cape Pembroke.
The battle begins
At 0430 hrs the OP on Sapper Hill detected helicopters near Mullet Creek. 120 of the Argentine Special Forces, the Buzo Tactico, had landed to the south-west of Stanley, near Port Harriet. The Buzo Tactico moved up behind Sapper Hill and divided into two parties. One moved towards the hills behind Stanley overlooking Government House, and the other towards Moody Brook Barracks to the west of Stanely.
Around 0610 hrs the first firing was heard as the Buzo Tactico attacked the barracks at Moody Brook. The attack was ferocious, combining submachine guns with fragmentation and phosphorous grenades, hoping to catch the Marines in bed, showing that later claims of attempts to spare British lives were completely false. If the barracks had not been already deserted, many men would likely have died. With the buildings at Moody Brook ablaze, the Argentine troops moved on toward Stanley.
Realising he had been wrong footed, with all his troops positioned for an attack from the north-east, Major Norman called Numbers 1 and 5 Sections back to Government House, and made for the headquarters himself. At 0615 hrs the second party of the Buzo Tactico in the hills overlooking Stanley started their attack on Government House. At this point, Numbers 1 and 5 Sections had not yet had time to return from their deployed positions, so Major Norman only had 31 Royal Marines, 11 sailors from HMS Endurance and Jim Fairfield, an ex-marine, to defend the seat of Government.
During this attack six Argentinians attempted to enter the rear of Government House. Three of the six were seen, shot and wounded by the Marines, and the other 3 took refuge in the loft of the maids quarters in an outbuilding behind the main house. These three were later captured by Major Noott. The rest of this attack was met with strong rifle and machine-gun fire from the Marines, and was beaten off.
Fifteen minutes later, at 0630 hrs, the main Argentinian force landed at Yorke Bay. This strong force included 18 LVTP-7 'Amtrack' armoured personnel carriers which started to advance towards Stanley immediately. The Americam-made armoured vehicles were equipped with .30 calibre machine guns, and their advance was reported by the OP at Yorke Point. The Sections of Marines still in the area fought short but intense delaying actions against the advance and then fell back to Stanley as ordered.
Lieutenant Bill Trollope commanded No.2 Section, who did stop one of the LVTP-7's. The armourer, Marine Gibbs, fired a 66mm LAW (light anti-armour weapon), which struck the passenger compartment of the APC. Marines Brown and Best then hit the front of the vehicle with a shot from their 84mm MAW which stopped the Amtrack, and no-one was seen to exit the vehicle. The remaining vehicles deployed their troops and advanced, giving covering fire with their turret mounted machine-guns, forcing the Marines to retreat or be over-run.
The fighting withdrawal
Small but intense actions such as these were now widespread, as the Marines slowly fell back in an attempt to make Government House as ordered. Only 6 men from the outlying Sections managed to return the headquarters, the rest were scattered around Stanley taking part in small fire fights with the enemy. The headquarters was under continuous attack from Buzo Tactico, who repeatedly tried to storm the building.
No.4 Section, on the north side of the harbour near the entrance, detected a landing craft trying to pass through the narrows into the harbour, and fired their 84mm Carl Gustav at the ship. The round holed the side of the vessel, which shortly sank. The Section radioed Government House as the fighting was reaching its peak, reporting several targets, including an Aircraft Carrier and Cruiser. As the Section was asking for target priorities from Major Norman, all contact with them was lost. Now acting on their own, No.4 Section escaped in the Gemini inflatable and remained undetected for four days after the surrender.
Now most of the opposing forces were well dug-in, and the battle entered its final phase, marked by a great deal of sniping between riflemen. As dawn broke, many of the Marines were of the opinion that they could hold out against the estimated 600 men surrounding the headquarters. The Governor, Rex Hunt, learned by telephone that the armoured force was advancing and would soon be at Government House. Against armour, the Marines would have little chance. Major Norman knew that there was also no longer any chance of a breakout, so he suggested that Hunt negotiate with the Argentines. The Governor agreed reluctantly, but did not intend surrender. The go-between for the talks was Vice-Commodore Hector Gilobert, an Argentine who ran LADE, the civil airline supplying the Falklands.
Governor Hunt met with Admiral Busser at Government House and, remarkably, invited him to leave as an unwelcome visitor. The Admiral declined, politely it must be said, and informed the British he had 2800 men ashore and 2000 more still onboard the ships. There really was no longer any option. At 09:25 Hunt ordered the Marines to lay down their arms. The Marines had held out for over 3 hours against a force of far superior numbers and equipment with no loss of British life. It is estimated that 20 - 30 Argentinians died, 5 from around Government house, the crew from the Amtrac and the people aboard the landing craft. This, however, was not the end of the invasion, as another force was heading for South Georgia.
South Georgia lies 800 miles east of East Falkland. The small islands are a harsh place, mountainous and permanently under snow and ice. On 19 March an Argentine scrap-metal merchant, Costantino Sergio Davidoff, came ashore at Leith Harbour. He and his party of 39 workmen were scrap workers, there for the sole purpose of dismantling the whaling station, or so they claimed. No authorization for this work was ever granted by the British, and repeated attempts by the commander of the British Antarctic Survey team to meet with Davidoff to properly grant such approval were turned-down or ignored.
The net result, and inescapable conclusion, of the political posturings and arguments created internationally by these actions was the deliberate formulation by the Argentine Junta of the Falklands crisis.
On orders from London, HMS Endurance left Port Stanley for Grytviken, with two dozen marines, there to await developments. All but a few of the workers on South Georgia were removed, only to be replaced with a Marine detachment, put ashore by an armed survey ship. Argentina claimed the Marines were needed to protect the workers from agression. On Saturday 27 March two missile corvettes were dispatched to Grytviken in support of the Argentine forces already there, while over-flights of Port Stanley were stepped up. Given these deployments, there now seemed to be little other intention than armed conflict.
The Naval Party on board HMS Endurance had been increased by the addition of nine members of the old Detachment of NP 8901 from Port Stanley, and dispatched to Grytviken in South Georgia. It was commanded by Lieutenant Keith Mills RM, who was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the heroic action they fought. His brief from Captain Nick Barker of HMS Endurance was to put up a token defence. Lieutenant Mills disagreed strongly, and expressed his intent to "make their eyes water" instead.
The Marine force, nicknamed 'Mills Marauders', heard radio traffic coming out of Port Stanley before and during the fighting, and thus prepared defensive positions knowing an attack was likely. King Edward Point, the site of the British Antarctic Survey was chosen as being the most likely Argentine landing site. The jetty there was wired with a booby trap by Marine Les Daniels in preperation for what was now considered the inevitable conflict.
Just after 10:30 on 3 April the Argentine corvette ARA Guerrico and the ice patrol ship ARA Bahia Paraiso entered the bay. Mills announced the British military presence on the island and stated that any attempt to land would be strongly resisted. After ensuring that the staff of the British Antarctic Survey were safe in Grytviken's church, Mills walked down the jetty, expecting to negotiate. Instead, a Puma helicopter landed just 50 yards away from him, and deployed Argentine Marines. One of them aimed his rifle at Mills, who ran back to the defensive position, as the Argentines opened fire.
To the shock of the Argentinian forces, they then lost two helicopters, a Puma and an Allouette, to machine gun and rifle fire from the Royal Marines. As a result, the corvette Guerrico steamed back into the cove and fired with one of its 100mm and 40mm guns in support of the Argentine Marines ashore. Marine Dave Coombes returned fire with an 84mm Carl Gustav, holing the ship below the water line. Coombes fired again and hit the ship's main gun rendering it ineffective as it could no longer depress to fire on the Marine's defensive positions. 66mm LAW missiles and over 1000 rifle and machine gun rounds also struck the Guerrico, forcing the ship to withdraw out of range.
By now, the small force of Marines were completely surrounded, their withdrawal route cut, and were coming under heavy fire from the Argentine troops ashore. One Marine, Corporal Nigel Peters had already been wounded, and Lt Mills realized that waiting for dark to effect a withdrawal would result in many more casualties. Having caused considerable damage to the Argentine invasion force, he decided to surrender to save his men's lives. Mills' Marauders had carried through an amazing feat of arms which, had the invaders but known, was a warning of what was to come.