Saturday, 10 November 2007

Day 8

Today I walked with Alex Allender the exact route we took on the night of June 13th when the battalion assaulted and took Tumbledown Mountain.

Bob rang this morning at some ungodly hour to ask if he could pop over for breakfast. He arrived at about the same time I was doing my diary. A nice lad, he reminds me so much of my late Uncle Chuffy. We ate together before setting off to meet up with Alex around at Patrick Watts house.

Gordon Hoggan and Mick Gillanders were there as they are also staying at the same house. Both looked a bit worse for wear but I had a chance to have a chat with them both, much to the chagrin of Alex who was champing at the bit to get away.

Patrick drove us out to a point about as close as we could get to Goat Ridge without going off road, and dropped us off. He pointed out the spot where the Scorpion tank of the Blues and Royals got bogged down during the diversion attack.

Twenty five years ago we arrived at this point by Puma helicopter. We had formed up in sticks, each the size of the number of men plus equipment. The chopper took take at one time. We were spread out with each stick kneeling on the grass, grouped according to which helicopter we were due to board. The helicopters came in low and fast, they would flare and then land and as soon as they touched down . We would run to the each side and throw in our bergens before finding a seat, filling up from the back. I was one of the last in so I ended up with a seat not far from the door. As soon as the last man had jumped aboard, the chopper took off fast and low and barely rose to more than fifty feet from the group. The door remained open and a crew member armed with a GPMG scanned the ground and air for any threats. It was an exhilarating ride as we had no idea what we were flying into. After only a few minutes we arrived at Goat Ridge where the choppers came in fast and low. The second they touched down we piled out and formed an all round defence in two semi circles, either side of the chopper. Our bergens were thrown out in a pile behind us and as soon as the last one was out the chopper was gone. After what had been a noisy and hectic few minutes, it suddenly became quiet. Orders were given, we retrieved our bergens and then moved up to our LUP (Lay Up Position) where we did our best to dig in.

Alex and I found the area where we had been assigned to, (or at least as close as we could remember). We found various signs of our presence from twenty five years ago, such as old packing cases which had been used to move some of the stores from echelon. We found a number of signs of what had to have been split trenches and we also found a number of shell holes.

Soon after we had landed, somebody sky lined themselves on the ridge and were seen by observers in the remaining mountains. This resulted in the Argentine forces firing harassing fire all day at our positions. Shells landed on and off but luckily as they had no way of seeing where they fell, little damage was done. Scots Guards suffered our first casualty though when LSGT McGeorge was a little slow in diving into his trench and was hit. He was later to make a full recovery. The time was spent getting something to eat and trying to grab some sleep. I remember Tally running around delivering mail, l I got a letter from my mother.

Darkness arrived and we moved up to our FUP (Forming Up Point) where we dropped off our bergens (we went into battle wearing belt order and berets). We were also all carrying mortar bombs that we had picked up from large stockpiles back at Bluff Cove. These we dropped off at the mortar line which twenty five years later we found. The area was strewn with empty ammunition cases and was obviously the scene of extremely hectic activity. You could almost close your eyes and picture the scene.

We followed Goat Ridge past what had been the area where the TAC HQ (Tactical HQ) had tucked themselves into the rocks with good places to observe Tumbledown and walked right past the RAP (Regimental Aid Post). We could tell we had found it as there was an old stretcher lying there still.

The start line had been a fence with a white tape across the ground. We formed up on this line in extended order and when given the word moved silently into the night. Alex remembered as we crossed the line being wished all the best by what he thought were Marines but in fact had been SBS.

The first part of Tumbledown had been the objective of G Company and thankfully on the night of the attack, the forces covering this area had been pulled back further up the mountain. Therefore G Company was able to take the position without encountering any resistance. Walking over the area in daylight we were both horrified at the almost complete lack of cover. If they had covered the area with a couple of machine guns and placed some wire then it would have been a hell of a job to assault up a hill that resembled a billiard table. G Company was to act as stretcher bearers to Left Flank, who was the next company to assault the mountain.

This is where the Scots Guards were to lose seven men who were killed. If you think that a company only consists of three fighting platoons of three sections and each section contains eight men, then a company has seventy two men. To lose seven men out of this force, then it’s a grim statistic and testament to the ferocity of the fighting that took place here.

My memories of that night are of the quiet before the storm. We moved to the left of G Company and spent what seemed hours lying on the ground waiting for the word to move forward. Left Flank fixed bayonets and charged the enemy positions from the right flank up into the crags. Most of the books assume that they attacked down the spine of the mountain but this isn’t possible. The terrain just doesn’t allow a company to deploy and attack, if they had
attacked this way then there was barely room for a platoon.

What did happen that night, was that the Argentines pulled back from the rocks that dominated the approaches which allowed Left Flank to get up behind the main line of defence. This unhinged the defences and after hours of fierce fighting they reached the summit.

While all this was going on we were called forward to retrieve some casualties. Alex and I found the area where we had moved to and the rocks where we had sheltered when we came under fire. This is the area where I was told to crawl back and tell the guys behind us to stop firing at us. It wasn’t Roy Catchpole who was firing at us but Curly Roberts Platoon, our own Right Flank troops! This is where I was sniped at by an Argentine high up in the rocks. It was a lovely sunny day, hard to believe this is the exact spot where I once felt the whizz of bullets whistling past my head.

From here, we walked up past the features that had loomed up in the night and through the area where we had been mortared as we moved up through Left Flank positions to where we were jumped off, to take our part of the mountain. After all the rocks, to suddenly come out again onto the forward face of Tumbledown and into the open area, I was taken back to all those years ago and could remember the whistles of the mortars as they dropped on us. There had been a lot of confusion that night as to exactly whom these bombs belonged to.

As we moved to where we formed up, we found many signs of Argentine positions as well as discarded ammunition and old equipment, such as spades and old ponchos. We could also find lots of signs of artillery and mortar strikes as well as huge holes from what must have been naval artillery.

Two questions have already haunted me from this point of that night. The first one was the disaster that befell the stretcher party that was hit on the way back to the RAP. The other question was who was it that was so badly wounded just as we were forming up with the explosion that happened.

Speaking to Alex it became apparent that the stretcher was carrying Lt Mitchell who had been hit as he was moving across a gap in the rocks at the boundary of Left Flank and Right Flank. The stretcher team left just as we arrived, so the fact that I volunteered to take a casualty back, mean't it could never have been this ill fated group of men.

The other question that has always haunted me is who was it that was so badly wounded and what happened to him? Well Alex was able to tell me the guy who was hit was named Nash and that he ended up losing a finger (even though he seemed more concerned with his foot) and that he ended up serving with the battalion for some time after. That made me feel better as he suffered that night, it was nice to know that he had made a good recovery.

I found the rocks where we had our GPMG. Alex was able to tell me the guys name was Fisher and that he was a thirty year odd guardsman who didn’t want promotion. He used to call me 'Big Bird' (after the character in Sesame Street) and smoked a pipe. He was a great guy. During the final part of the battle I was his number 3 and it was my responsibility to provide his number 2 with ammunition. A GPMG gun team consists of a gunner who fires controlled bursts of a few rounds at a time. The gun is fed by a belt of ammunition and this can twist and thus jam the gun. The job of the number 2, is to make sure the belt does'nt twist. The belt also consists of bullets linked together and normally they are linked together in sets of two hundred. When the belt gets to the end, it is the job of the number 2 to clip onto the end of the gun another belt of ammunition. So my job was to supply the number 2 with more belts and these were piled up in a relatively central position so that all the gun teams had access to them.

It was approaching dawn when we started the assault. Two platoons under Mathieson and Lawrence were the assault force. Dalrymple's platoon was providing covering fire. Just as we were about to kick off I remember Ian Amos moving behind the troops urging them forward into position and distributing the last of the ammunition, when one of the magazines on his rifle broke and rounds scattered everywhere. To say he was displeased is putting it mildly but somehow it provided a brief moment of comic relief in what was a very tense moment.

With bayonets fixed the two assault platoons moved off covered by us. A cacophony of noise erupted as they worked forward assaulting slit trenches and bunkers. Fisher banged away on his GPMG, which rapidly overheated and we swapped barrels pouring water on the one that had been taken off. We soon started running low on ammunition and I started ferrying belts of link from the central reserve to the ever hungry gun. I have no idea how long the assault lasted I just know that eventually we ran out of targets and gradually the noise of battle receded.

I stood in the very spot where, after the battle, we bought two very scared and shocked Argentine soldiers both with leg wounds. The area were they were brought was a half circle of rock, in which a number of us were seeking shelter. This is the point where we ceased to be animals and became members of the human race again. We checked to see if they needed their bandages changed, gave them a brew, a cigarette and made them comfortable. I distinctly remember the prisoners who were'nt wounded being led off the mountain and then at some stage taking a peek over the edge of the rocks to look at Stanley.

Alex and I had our sandwiches at the memorial to the Scots Guards. We took the time to leave a few words on the wreath we had laid there the day before. Yesterday we had laid the wreath and left the card blank. Today we sat and reflected on what we wanted to say. I then did a ceremonial Gongyo (Buddhist prayer) and left my Juzu beads on one of the crosses that had been left some time before. I think that when I get home I will look into how much it will cost to have a plaque made with the “Ode To Tumbledown” inscribed on it and see if I can get it placed there. Maybe I can convince Susie to come down with me to place it.

We dropped off the back of Tumbledown and walked into town. On the way down, we passed an old Argentine field kitchen and the admin area that they had. It was well protected from the elements and was certainly as about cosy as you can get. Once we arrived in Stanley we checked out the museum and then a few of the local pubs such as Dino’s, The Globe and The Victory. I spent the afternoon chatting with various veterans before returning to Teen's to prepare for the evening activities.

At 1800hr we had a photograph taken outside the Governor’s residence wearing medals and dressed in our best regalia. After the photo, the infant school sang us the song that had been so brilliantly sang by the young lady on Horse Guards in London back in June. It was beautifully done and the veterans showed their appreciation in a huge round of applause.

After the photo, we formed up and marched behind the pipers to the memorial. We had a wreath laying ceremony and service which was slightly marred by the fact the weather turned bad. An icy rain started as we were standing around which didn't really let up until the end. After the wreath laying we marched behind the band to Victory Green where we presented two benches to the islanders.

We were treated to an impressive fly past by one of the RAF Tornadoes. A rather humorous event happened as we were waiting, something that couldn’t be scripted as two seagulls flew past they were christened the 'Red Sparrows'. It was freezing and most of us were hoping that things would finish. When they did, Alex and I dived into the Upland Goose hotel for a drink and to warm up.

Having warmed up we went back to aunty Teen's for supper and an early night.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

lShit you have been busy....