Goose Green Battle 1982 and Beyond…

4 Scorpions, 4 Scimitars and a Samson went to the Falklands from 3 and 4 Troop, ‘B’ Sqn, The Blues and Royals. They played an important role in the retaking of the islands as they were the only armour that made it to land.

Inadequate Co-ordination of Fire Support and Absence of an All-arms Approach

2 Para was set the wholly unreasonable objective of defeating an entrenched enemy, established in depth and deployed on a narrow front with clear fields of fire, with no possibility of achieving surprise, virtually no chance of outflanking Piaggi and, perhaps most unforgiveable of all, lacking anything approaching adequate fire support. The fact that HMS Arrow experienced technical difficulties with her main gun one may simply attribute to the vagaries of war: Clausewitzian ‘friction’ or ‘Sod’s Law’, and doubtless gunners and technicians did everything they could – albeit, as it transpired, unsuccessfully – to render their weapon operational. But the absence of adequate artillery support in the field is less forgivable, notwithstanding the critical loss of heavy-lift helicopters on 25 May, when the error of loading so many vitally important machines on a single transport vessel exposed poor planning at its worst. As for the absence of air support until the closing phases of the battle, the RAF bore no responsibility for this. With better weather on the 27th, Harrier air strikes launched against the isthmus at Jones’ request might have accomplished much of the work before 2 Para even left its start line early the following morning, even bearing in mind the presence of anti-aircraft guns, which had already proved their worth in downing two Harriers before the battle. Not until 1530 hrs did three Harriers appear over the battlefield, only one of which managed to strike the peninsula east of Goose Green, but failed to hit the 35mm guns situated there. Still, their presence may have contributed to the Argentines’ decision to surrender the following morning.

Yet if one may fairly account for the lack of naval gunfire or air support, the woeful lack of artillery support bears less understanding, with just three 105mm guns available; so few, in fact, that they continually shifted their fire from one company to the next as required. This meant, for example, that although B Company needed fire support during its advance on Boca House, it denied A Company the same support Farrar-Hockley required to break the deadlock in his sector to the east, which came at almost precisely the same time: 1200 hrs. The artillery also expended a considerable amount of ammunition in a wasted effort at counter-battery fire, when lack of intelligence on the location of the Argentine guns rendered this effort futile. Priority ought to have gone to supporting the rifle companies, particularly A and B – those whose advance the Argentines most successfully held up. While the guns operated almost continuously during the fourteen-hour struggle – and fired about 900 shells, giving a rate of fire of about one per minute –they failed to provide the weight of fire required to maintain the troops’ momentum. In short, a ground attack requires maximum fire support to aid its advance; even, or perhaps especially, the ordinary soldier appreciates the soundness of this principle. 2 Para prevailed notwithstanding, but the level of fire support provided a fortnight later during the assaults on, in particular, Mount Harriet and Wireless Ridge, should have been present at Goose Green. Finally, given the flat nature of the ground, even the soft, soggy, waterlogged peat could support the weight of light tanks, yet the four Scorpions and four Scimitars from 3 Commando Brigade were, astonishingly, not deployed at Goose Green.

Operations on 12–13 June: Mount Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge

 

On the evening of 12–13 June the offensive resumed, with the main effort to come from 5 Brigade in the south against the Stanley defences, involving an attack by the Second Battalion the Scots Guards against Tumbledown and further north, an assault by 2 Para against Wireless Ridge. The Royal Artillery would furnish five batteries of guns to support these efforts, together with four warships and the eight tanks of the Blues and Royals, which had proceeded across the island from San Carlos. Mount Tumbledown constituted a very formidable position held by elements of the 5th Marine Battalion – perhaps the best sizeable unit the Argentines possessed on the islands – and represented the key post in the defences west of Stanley. In the assessment of Lt Col Scott, the battalion’s commander, an attack across the exposed southern slopes of the mountain posed too great a risk to his guardsmen, so he instead chose a western advance along the summit ridge without the benefit of supporting fire, thereby ensuring as quiet an approach as possible. In the first phase, a diversionary raid carried out along the Fitzroy–Stanley track would precede the seizure by one company of the western end of the eminence, while in the second phase another company was to capture the area around the summit. Lastly, a third company would seize the eastern end.

The diversion began at 2030 hrs, with the main advance commencing half an hour later amidst freezing conditions. Supported by light tanks, the diversionary force engaged the Argentines for two hours, followed by limited success by other sub-units employing anti-armour weapons against diversionary force engaged the Argentines for two hours, followed by limited success by other sub-units employing anti-armour weapons against Argentine bunkers; indeed, despite the efforts of guardsman to use grenades at perilously close range, they still found their progress severely held up. Around 0230 hrs the attackers called in artillery support in order to break the impasse, and after several instances of hand-to-hand combat a handful of men finally reached the summit – but only after a seven-hour fight, complete with bayonets bloodied. Other companies made extensive use of their 84mm Carl Gustav anti-armour weapons and light anti-tank weapons. Fighting did not cease until about 0815 hrs on 13 June, long after sunrise, in the course of which the Scots Guards suffered nine killed: two during the diversion and five in the main assault, plus a further two from mortar fire when shells landed while the men tended the wounded. It took just over eleven hours from the moment they left their start line for the guardsmen to wrest the ridge from the Argentines, of whom twelve were made prisoner and perhaps three times that number killed. It represented a significant achievement, though it took much longer than had been envisioned, a circumstance almost certainly attributable to the fact that the best Argentine units were deployed there. With the fall of Tumbledown went the key feature in the defence of Stanley. The Argentines evacuated their troops from Mount William that night, leaving only Wireless Ridge as the last elevated position to stand in the path of the British offensive.

Buoyed up by their victory at Goose Green and the only major unit to be given a second crack at the Argentines, 2 Para were assigned the task of seizing Wireless Ridge on the same night as the Scots Guards’ attack on Tumbledown, 12–13 June. Standing 3.2km (2 miles) to the north-east of Tumbledown, Wireless Ridge constituted in fact two separate pieces of high ground, which Lt Col David Chaundler decided to attack from the north. Whereas 2 Para had received very little fire support at Goose Green, quite the reverse was planned for the attack against Wireless Ridge. Here, the battalion possessed many mortars of their own as well as some from 3 Para, two batteries of artillery placed at their disposal through the course of the night, other guns provided by the Royal Artillery if needed, and the firepower of HMS Ambuscade. Finally, two Scorpions and two Scimitars from the Blues and Royals were available, capable of offering close support since the ground here – in contrast to the other features assaulted thus far – offered no steep sides. The defending 7th Regiment, which had fought 3 Para on Mount Longdon, deployed the usual rifle companies, plus snipers, heavy machine-guns, mortars and artillery.

Chaundler divided his plan into four phases to include preparatory artillery fire. The leading company left its start line at 2145 hrs, supported by the Scimitars and Scorpions, and on reaching one of the heights discovered the defenders had withdrawn under the weight of incoming fire. Yet, while the paras sought to consolidate this newly occupied ground, they themselves became the target of an artillery barrage. At this point, to the east, two other companies began their advance from the start line and prepared to engage the defenders when the Argentines, bowing to the pressure of the combination of artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire directed against their position, withdrew. Meanwhile, another company of paras, supported by the light tanks of the Blues and Royals together with Milans and machine-guns, made steady progress. Indeed, 2 Para succeeded in seizing the first half of the ridge with little effort, but the defenders offered stubborn resistance over the remaining half, with the attackers obliged to clear one bunker after the next. Their advance never faltered, however, and eventually the defence collapsed, leaving Chaundler’s battalion in possession of the ridge. At daybreak a small force of Argentines assaulted the position, only to be repulsed by the defenders and supporting fire drawn from mortars and 105mm guns. As the sun rose higher the Argentines fled in the direction of Stanley.

Unlike at Goose Green, at Wireless Ridge 2 Para had encountered little resistance, received significant fire support from tanks and artillery and had learned from the hard experience of a fortnight before. The fall of Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown broke the back of the Argentine defensive network near Stanley and on 14 June, in defiance of Galtieri’s orders to hold out, Menendez agreed to a ceasefire, his outright surrender becoming effective at 2059 hrs local time.

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