Two Sisters - 11 and 12 June 1982
Two Sisters - 11/12 June 1982
The British forces on the Falkland Islands were now in position. More importantly, due to a heroic effort on the part of the logistics teams, so were their ammunition, food and stores. From the Commando Logistic Regiment and elements of the Royal Corps of Transport who were bringing supplies forward to the front line, to the crews of the support ships who were under air attack almost daily and the tired helicopter crews who were airlifting many times a day, far in excess of their allowed flying hours, men worked without pause, and often without recognition. These units were the front end of a supply chain that stretched all the way back to the UK. RAF Brize Norton and Lyneham personnel were working round the clock, and the Hercules and Victor crews were regularly conducting sorties over sixteen hours in length to get vitally needed spares to the combat theatre. All was now ready for the final phase of the operation to re-take the islands, and the battles that were planned would all take place on mountains, in broken jagged rock, at bayonet range.
3 Commando Brigade were to take the first three objectives, Two Sisters, the mountain directly in front of Mount Kent that overlooked the end of the valley, was to be the target for 45 Commando. Also moving into battle this night would be 3 Para, the first to go, aiming to take the huge, imposing Mount Longdon to the north, and 42 Commando, yomping from Mount Kent to the south-east to attack the jagged peak of Mount Harriet. Timing of the attacks was essentially tight, as the three targets could mutually support one-another, and rain fire down on the British troops on the other mountains. A large number of patrols and reconnaissance missions had been carried out to support the advance, most of the Argentine positions had been plotted and the artillery and support fire had been laid on. All of the attacks were planned down to the last detail, and there were to be no daylight attacks of the kind that had cost 2 Para so dearly at Goose Green.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Whitehead, commander of 45 Commando, agreed the plan for the Two Sisters attack. X Company would move from the south side of Mount Kent and attack and take the subsidiary peak on the south-west end of the mountain and set up a fire base there to cover Y and Z Companies. Y and Z would assault the main objective, the north-east peak where the stronger Argentine position lay. It was believed a reinforced Company of Argentine infantry from the 4th Regiment, commanded by Major Ricardo Cordon was holding the whole mountain, supported by mortars, heavy machine-guns and snipers and most, oddly, were on the lower peak. The defences of Two Sisters were a rushed affair, not the well made positions to be found on the other mountains, and lacking minefields to bar the obvious lines of attack. The Argentine commanders had believed the British would land to the south or north of Stanley, so an attack from the west meant they had to re-organise their forces rapidly. X Company's line of attack would be from the west while Y and Z Companies would attack from the north-west, the aim being to split the enemy's attention, and hopefully, fire. The commanders of 45 and 42 Commando had asked for a later start time than 3 Para's attack on Mount Longdon, because due to the nature of the mountains they were assaulting, they wanted the final fighting and consolidation of their positions to be in the half-light of the period just before dawn.
45 Commando's attack was delayed, however, as Captain Ian Gardiner's X Company had serious difficulties on the approach march. They were carrying all their fighting equipment, ammunition and weapons, on top of which were the Milan anti-tank launchers and the 30 lb rounds. These were heavy loads to carry over the tussocky and rocky terrain in the dark. The ground in the area is incredibly rough, strewn with boulders of all sizes, and where there were no rocks, the hard tussocks of grass made perfect ankle-breaking ground. As a result, picking their way carefully through the broken ground, instead of the 3 hours planned it took the 150 men of the Company 6 hours to reach their start line.
X Company, though tired after their difficult march, started their assault on the mountain only ten minutes after they arrived at the start point. They secured half of the feature before they came upon any opposition, and at that time mortars and artillery from both sides opened up. They were pinned down for a short time, but broke through by using 66mm rockets and Milan missiles on the Argentine positions. Lieutenant Chris Caroe's 2 Troop assaulted the peak under covering fire from the rest of the Company, and cleared the objective rapidly. In a fast and well run attack, X Company took the peak with only one man injured from enemy artillery fire.
Due to the delay of X Company, Y and Z Companies had to wait for a long time at their respective start points. They were then ordered to start their attacks at the same time as X Company's so this meant that the main attack did not have the benefit of the fire support base that X Company was to have established on the higher peak. The idea was that Z Company would attack the peak and then, when this was secured, Y Company would come through and hook left round the back of the peak and attack the final objective, the support positions on the downslope.
Z Company set off with Second Lieutenant Paul Mansell's 7 Troop to the left, Lieutenant Clive Dytor's 8 Troop to the right and 9 Troop bringing up the rear, Y Company followed them. The two leading troops advanced to within 400 yards of the top of their objective without being detected and some of the Marines were thinking that the enemy had left the mountain. At this point they spotted the enemy on top of the objective, then one of the Argentinians lit a flare and threw it downhill. At that moment, both sides opened up on each other.
The fire fight lasted about an hour, but most of the Argentine fire was going over the heads of the Marines as they were in the 'dead ground' below the peak. Unfortunately the Argentines were well dug in, so the fire from the Marines was not having much effect either. Argentine mortar and artillery fire then started to land amongst 7 Troop before it moved further down to land among the men of 9 Troop. Several men were wounded, including Section Leader Corporal Julian Burdett, and one was killed by the mortar fire, effectively taking the Troop out of the fight. Corporal Burdett was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, because, despite his wounds, corrected the British artillery fire by radio, and helped other wounded men to the relative safety of the position, 9 Troop practically becoming a casualty clearing station.
Lt Clive Dytor, CO of 8 Troop, broke the deadlock by quite simply charging up the hill. He stood up, under heavy Argentine fire, and yelled at the top of his voice, "Everybody forward" and "Zulu! Zulu! Zulu!" (for Z Company). The rest of Z Company, unbelievably, followed him into the fire, and 4, 5 and 6 Troops of Y Company came up abreast of them, with all the sections of the two Companies 'pepperpotting' their way up the mountain. Pepperpotting is where one group of men dash forward, covered by a second group, who, on dropping to the ground, provide cover for the second group to charge forward. Thusly, charged up to the top and took the objective, amazingly with only one man injured from grenade splinters. Lt Dytor was awarded the Military Cross for his astounding bravery in breaking the deadlock on the peak.
Y Company then started the final assault. The Company's three troops deployed in a line and then swung round to attack the southern side of the final feature, beyond the peak Z Company had just secured. They captured the entire objective all the way to the Argentine mortar positions at the eastern end of the ridge without suffering any casualties, as the main Argentine position, and morale, had already been broken. Two Sisters was taken with only three Marines and a Sapper from 59 Independant Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers, being killed, all of whom lost their lives to the accurate mortar fire while Y and Z Companies were pinned down. One of these men was the only Marine to die from Y Company during the whole of the war. 8 Battery of 29 Commando Regiment had provided accurate and timely artillery support, firing some 1,500 rounds in support of the attack. Forty-four Argentine prisoners were taken and about ten men were killed. The head of the valley was in British hands.