Saturday, 22 December 2007

Artillery OP on Tumbledown

Mike sent me a powerpoint presentation of a talk he recently gave on the QE2 and in it he used some photographs taken in 1982. The photographs were taken on the morning of June 14th 1982 on Tumbledown as the Gurkhas moved through our positions on their way to assault Mount William.

This video is taken in the same area that the Gurkhas moved through, an area we called "The Terrace", and shows that the fortifications still stand 25 years later. Quite amazing really. I will post more of these videos as they become available.

The are seen in this video starts with the heavily fortified Artillery Observation Post that overlooks the Northern sector of Tumbledown and in particular Wireless Ridge. It was this interlinking of defensive positions that made it vital that all the features were assaulted on the same night. The concequences of not doing this was felt by 3 Para on Longdon who endured shelling on June 12th and 13th due to the fact that there positions were overlooked.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Interesting Article by the Argentines

I found an interesting article about the effectiveness of a conscript Army published by Alejandro L. Corbacho, Department of Political Science, Universidad del CEMA, Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have added it to my links and also included the section relative to Tumbledown below.

Mount Tumbledown: Preparation for Battle

On April 8th, the commanding officer of the 5th Marine Battalion, Commander Carlos Robacio, received orders to go to the Malvinas. Until April 12th, personnel and equipment arrived at Puerto Argentino. Once the unit was totally in place, the High Command ordered its members to prepare defensive positions around the capital. More precisely, the 5th Marine Battalion was responsible for Mount Tumbledown, Mount William, and Sapper Hill. The battalion had to cover a perimeter of 16 kilometers. To accomplish this, the battalion had a total force of 703 men. All conscripts, the Marines were from the class 1962 or older, and no new conscripts (class of 1963) were sent to the islands. The battalion was far from complete, since only the rifle companies, the headquarters unit, and a few logistical units entered the islands. Later, other Marine units would reinforce the battalion, including a group of heavy machine-guns (some 29 men, with 0.5 caliber machinegun), the First Platoon of Marine Amphibious Engineers (20 men), and B Battery of the Marine Field Artillery Battalion with six 105mm guns. Originally, the machine-gun group belonged to a Marine Machine-gun Company hastily assembled in Puerto Belgrano, the principal Argentine naval base. This company, some 136 strong, had a total of 27 guns and was divided into three platoons. When the company arrived in the islands, its platoons were dispersed, and the Marine Battalion used only one. The rifle companies were M Company (203 men), N Company (200 men), and the O Company (100 strong).

As to what to defend most strongly, the Argentine General High Command in the Malvinas decided to defend three “key” zones: Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley), the capital of the islands; Darwin-Goose Green on Soledad Island (East Falkland); and, for political reasons, Fox Bay and Port Howard on Gran Malvina Island (West Falkland). Map 2 shows the location of the Argentine key defense zones in the Malvinas Islands. All the Army units rushed to the islands without their heavy and support equipment. For instance, they lacked sufficient field kitchens, winter clothing, communication equipment, or even spare batteries to properly support the troops.

Unlike their Army brothers, the Argentine Marines were well fed, and they had good clothing and improved communications equipment. Also unlike the Army conscript soldiers, the Marines had undergone night combat training, and, principally because the battalion had been based in Tierra del Fuego in the far south of Patagonia, its members were adapted to the rigorous climatic conditions. During the period between their arrival and the fighting, the Marines were kept busy preparing their positions, digging bunkers, cleaning their equipment, and reconnoitering the terrain and coordinating and organizing fire support. The battalion was also well provided with entrenching tools. Because of their experience in Tierra del Fuego, they were well aware of the hardness of the soil of the islands surrounding Argentina. Therefore, the battalion flew to the islands provided with iron bars, which were very useful for digging in the rocks.

The actual combat between Argentine and British forces begun on May 1st with the bombardment of the airport by a Vulcan bomber of the RAF. The British then harassed the Argentine garrison, using continuous naval and aerial bombardment, as well as small-scale commando raids. Every night after May 1st, two or three British vessels bombarded the south coast of Puerto Argentino from 12 to 15 kilometers out at sea. after the British landings in San Carlos, the General High Command in the islands rearranged the defensive perimeter. Initially the commanders had expected the most probable direction of attack to be from the sea, with the British landing troops in Puerto Argentino or its surroundings. But later, those in charge decided to defend Puerto Argentino also from an attack from the west, while maintaining strong coastal defenses to the east and south of the capital.

Between May 29th and June 3rd, the High Command established the western side of the defensive perimeter along the mounts that surrounded Puerto Argentino. These ran from
north to south, and they comprised Wireless Ridge, Longdon, Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters), Harriet, Tumbledown, William, and Sapper Hill. This new perimeter was 48 kilometers long, and the Argentine forces could guard only 37 per cent of it. This meant that there was enough space left uncovered that the enemy could take advantage of the gaps and infiltrate the Argentine positions. Map 3 shows Puerto Argentino, its surrounding heights and the Marine positions around Mount Tumbledown.

After the fall of Goose Green, the British troops moved some chroniclers - say “yomped” - west toward Puerto Argentino, and after May 31st British land and naval artillery began pounding the Argentine positions in the mountains. Until June 8th, the only land actions were intense skirmishes between patrols. For three days the British probed the Argentine defenses and prepared for the final assault. Then the battle for Puerto Argentino began on the night of June 11th. The British plan encompassed two phases, the first phase being the conquest of the first line of mounts. The entire 3rd Commando Brigade under Brigadier Thompson would take part in this attack. The Third Parachute Battalion would attack Mount Longdon, the 45th Commando Battalion would confront Mount Dos Hermanas, and the 42 Commando Battalion would move against Goat Ridge and Mount Harriet. During the operation, the frigates HMS Avenger, HMS Glamoran and HMS Yarmouth would provide the supporting naval bombardment.

At about 11:00 p.m., local time, the British attacked simultaneously all along the western front. The attackers outnumbered the Argentine defenders by two to one. The British were using all of their available forces in the attack on Puerto Argentino; there were no more fresh troops in reserve and no more under way from Great Britain. Also, as Middlebrook notes, the British troops were tiring and were suffering, as were the Argentines, from the increasingly cold weather. The Argentine positions facing the British commandos comprised part of the 7th IR in Mount Longdon and part of the 4th IR in the area of Dos Hermanas, Goat Ridge, and Harriet. By the early morning of June 12th, after very hard fighting in some areas, British troops occupied the outer ring of hills surrounding the Puerto Argentino defenses. After losing these positions, the Argentines adjusted their defensive perimeter during the 12th of June. A Company of the 3rd IR advanced and occupied positions northeast of Mount Tumbledown, working with B Company of the 6th IR. At the same time, O Company of the 5th Marine Battalion occupied the heights near Pony Pass, southeast of Mount Harriet.

Tumbledown - Continued

The Battle for Mount Tumbledown

The next phase in the British plan of attack was that the Second Parachute Battalion, with the Third Commando Battalion as reserve, would attack Wireless Ridge, northwest of Puerto Argentino. At the same time, the 5th Brigade, formed by the Scottish Guard Battalion, the Welsh Guard Battalion and the Gurkha Battalion would attack Tumbledown (229 meters high), William (213 meters high) and Sapper Hill (138 meters high), respectively. The attack, which had been originally planned for the evening of the 12th, was postponed until the evening of the 13th. For the attack the British brought up ammunition and supplies during the whole day, and there they confronted the Argentines responsible for the defense of Mount Tumbledown, Mount William and Sapper Hill in the west and southeast of Puerto Argentino: the 5th Marine Battalion. Leaders of the Argentine High Command in the Malvinas decided to attach to the Marine unit C Company of the 3rd IR in the south, as well as B Company of the 6th IR and A Company of the 3rd IR in the north. At 10:15 p.m., after a heavy preparation bombardment, the British began the attack against two companies from the 5th Marine Battalion: N Company on Tumbledown and O Company southwest of Mount William. The attackers were the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards. If they captured the position quickly, the Gurkhas were to follow through and assault the smaller position on Mount William. See map 3.

Assuming that the British would take one position at a time and then consolidate it, the Marines tried, as their basic strategy, to hold their positions until dawn. They expected the British to withdraw if they failed to capture these positions. The first action was a diversionary attack carried out by about thirty guardsmen of the Headquarters Company, supported by four light tanks. This was the first tank operation in the Malvinas Islands. The attack was aimed to attract the Argentine forces towards Mount William, and the British column engaged the southernmost elements of the O Company of the 5th Marines, which had been sent forward near Pony Pass. The British advanced while there was still some light, so that the Argentines could clearly identify the attacking force and its composition. According to the officer commanding O Company, the British were unaware of the presence of the Argentine force. The Argentine officer in charge fixed the position of the attackers and directed the artillery fire, which rained down on the Scots. This initial exchange ended favorably for the Argentines, as the guards pulled back, believing that they had accomplished the diversion. But no Argentine reserves moved to that sector, and the British had not yet detected the presence of O Company. Later, this company engaged the Welsh Guards, who were advancing in order to pass Mount William and attack Sapper Hill. After the men of the O Company had inflicted some casualties and delayed the advance of the attackers, Battalion Headquarters ordered them to pull back to Sapper Hill. The unit retreated, fighting all the way. Finally, at about 1:30 a.m. on June 14th, the company reinforced the defensive perimeter of C Company of the 3rd IR.

Next, the British directed their main effort on Tumbledown. The plan of the Scots Guards for the main attack was to tackle Tumbledown’s long, thin ridge in three phases, working from west to east, with each of the battalion’s three rifle companies capturing one - third of the objective in turn. G Company of the Scots Guards would attack the first third, the Left Flank Company would capture the central third, and the Right Flank Company would capture the last third.

Confronting the Scots Guards, the defenders of Tumbledown were N Company of the 5th Marine Battalion. This company positioned its platoons as follows: the 1st Platoon, on the south side of Mount William, protecting the road from Fitz Roy to Puerto Argentino; the 2nd Platoon, on the west side of Mount William in the direction to Dos Hermanas; the 3rd Platoon, on the north side of Mount Tumbledown in the direction of Moody Valley; the 4th Platoon positioned on the southeast of Mount Tumbledown toward Mount Harriet; and finally, the 5th Platoon, which consisted of the Amphibious Engineers, lay positioned on the highest point of the western part of Mount Tumbledown toward the west-northeast. The company was supported by six 81mm mortars, six 106mm mortars, the Marine howitzers battery and Army Artillery Groups 3 and 4. G Company (Scots Guards Battalion) approached silently on to the western end of Tumbledown and occupied the position without difficulty, because no Argentine troops were stationed there. Next, the Left Flank Company passed through G Company to approach the main heights of Tumbledown and, on this occasion, its men met fierce Argentine fire.

In order to stop the British, nearly all of N Company was concentrated on the eastern end of the ridge, deployed to dominate the open ground to the north and the south. This left only the 4th Platoon, led by Second Lieutenant Carlos Vázquez, to receive the full attack of the Scots Guards. Moreover, this was not even a regular platoon, as it has been made up from Marines spared from other duties. The platoon comprised twenty-seven Marines, plus a few Marine engineers, and sixteen Army soldiers.

The British used profusely rocket fire, but the Marines’ positions had been well prepared, and the men resisted. As the night wore on and the fierce firefight continued, the Argentines showed no sign of crumbling, and their main positions held firm. They brought down mortar fire on their attackers. According to Vázquez, during the first attacks it appeared that the Scots were overconfident, but later they changed their tactics. At about 1:00 a.m. on June 14th, with the Scots Guards occupying positions among the Argentine foxholes, the Argentine officer in charge requested supporting fire over his own positions. After a hail of fire and after being caught in the open, the Scots withdrew to their rear and to higher ground.

Up to this point, the Argentine casualties had been light. The 1st and 2nd Platoons of N Company had received only artillery fire, and they stayed in their positions in order to block any attack from the Welsh Guards. The 3rd Platoon was also on the north side of Tumbledown covering Moody Valley. At about 1:30 a.m., a platoon from the B Company of the 6th IR arrived at N Company’s command post and prepared for a counterattack in support of the 5th Platoon of N Company. But components of the Scots Guards and the Gurkha Battalion blocked these men. The British units had advanced from the westnorthwest, suffering heavy casualties from the Marine artillery.

Then, at 2:00 a.m., the Scots Guards reassumed the attack against the 4th Platoon, this time more violently. They charged on up the hill, began to assault the Marines’ positions from several directions at once, and took them one by one. At about 4:30 a.m., after the machine guns of the 4th Platoon began to run out of ammunition, Vázquez saw that the Argentines were losing control of the situation, as the British were occupying the foxholes, killing their original occupants.

Once again, Vázquez asked for artillery fire over his position and this time the Marines’ 105mm howitzers pounded the area. At about 5:00 a.m., the British initiated the third assault on the platoon’s foxholes. At 7:00 a.m., only three foxholes remained in the hands of the Marines. Finally, with the ammunition nearly gone, Lieutenant Vázquez decided to surrender. Of the 36 men originally in the platoon, 12 were killed, four missing, and five wounded. By the time that the Scots Guards finally captured the crest of the mount, their Left Flank Company lost also seven killed and twenty-one wounded.

The third phase of the battalion’s attack began at 6 a.m. This time, the Right Flank Company followed up the advance of the Left Flank Company, with its First Platoon taking positions as high up in the rocks to the left as possible in order to provide fire support. This put the Argentine defenders, a platoon of B Company of the 6th IR, under crossfire.

After what one participant described as a further “ six hours of struggle inch by inch up the rocks, using phosphorous grenades and automatic weapons” in order to force the Argentines out from their positions, the Scots Guards siezed Tumbledown. They occupied their objective eleven hours after crossing the Start Line, and their casualties numbered 9 dead and 41 wounded. Some of the survivors of Vázquez’s platoon retreated in the direction of Puerto Argentino.

This stiff resistance from the Marines upset the British timetable and caused the postponement of the Gurkhas’ attack on Mount William. At 5:30 a.m., Commander Robacio informed Headquarters in Puerto Argentino that the western section of Mount Tumbledown was in enemy hands, and he told his superiors that M Company and two platoons of B Company of 6th IR under his command were going to counterattack.

The enemy blocked this Argentine counterattack. At 8 a.m. the fighting was concentrated on the eastern part of Tumbledown and Mount William, but the High Command in Puerto Argentino denied Robacio authorization to employ M Company, which was stationed in Sapper Hill, to reinforce N Company. Finally, at 8:45 a.m., obeying orders from Puerto Argentino and after abandoning their heavy equipment, the 5th Marine Battalion and the remnants of the Army troops with them began to retreat towards Sapper Hill. M Company, which up to now had only received the attention of the British naval artillery, was positioned to receive the retreating Marines. The pullback of the Battalion, which was accomplished under constant bombardment, was orderly and according to regulations. At 9:30 a.m. June 14th, the fighting stopped and a cease-fire came into force.

Tumbledown - Continued

Assessment of the Battle

At the end of the battle, the 5th Marines had suffered a total of 61 casualties: 16 dead and 45 wounded. The Scots Guards recognize nine of their number killed and 41 wounded. Nevertheless, while Argentine casualties thus marginally outweighed the British, British sources still acknowledge that the fighting was fierce at Tumbledown. On that mount, as the Sunday Times explained to its readers, “the Scots Guards were to face the toughest action of all. There a well trained Argentinian marine battalion was heavily dug into a series of intricate bunkers, cut in the rock . . . The firepower of the marines was intense and impressive.” The Argentine 5th Marines stayed together as a team and behaved cohesively, both before and after their surrender. According to Lieutenant-Colonel N. Vaux, the commanding officer of the 42nd Marine Commandos, the Argentine Marines marched smartly, holding their regimental colors high as they marched along the streets of Port Stanley. The British wanted to capture their regimental flag, but “to the Royal Marines’ chagrin, the Argentine Marines poured gasoline on their flags and burned them to ashes before the eyes of their enemies.”

A publication of the Argentine Army also explicitly assessed the reasons for the superior performance of the 5th Marine Battalion:

[They] possessed a well-balanced set of weapons, and excellent communication equipment. But much more important, because of the Navy’s particular draft system, they had enough trained soldiers adapted from peacetime to the terrain and the extreme weather conditions . . . At the same time, the Navy’s excellent logistic support system ... could sustain the outstanding fighting performance.

Certainly in the experience of this unit there were lessons, both for the Argentine military and also for all whom want to learn from the experience of the Malvinas War.


From this analysis of the actual fighting of the Malvinas War, the idea that the professional British Army defeated the concept of a conscript army has to be qualified in significant degree. The battle of Goose Green showed how a group of conscript soldiers could fight effectively when they have capable leadership from their junior officers. In this case, cohesion was generated through the key role of military leaders. Moreover, the Argentine Marines, which were not an elite force, also showed what conscript soldiers can do when they are well equipped, trained and led. In this case, the Argentine Marines were better prepared to cope with the emergency and to fight this small war. Their institution had provided them with the tools and the capabilities to perform well under combat conditions.

The official account of the Argentine Commission of Inquiry for the Malvinas War, Rattenbach Report, underscored the contrast in institutional approaches to war that the Argentine services personified so clearly in the Malvinas:

The 5th Marine Battalion demonstrated teamwork, spirit, and higher levels of training, professionalism and adequate equipment. These aptitudes were shown in the land fighting during the defense of Puerto Argentino. In this action, the unit established an outstanding performance.

On the contrary, when the Argentine Army confronted an unexpected war situation, its soldiers were not adequately trained and prepared to wage a war of the magnitude and characteristics of the South Atlantic conflict, especially against an enemy highly experienced and superior in military power. In this case, as Steward wrote, “the Argentine Army did not train its men or prepare them for the battle ahead.” In the final hours of the conflict, as a consequence of the lack of cohesion of some Army units retreated disorderly and the number of conscripts that run away in direction of Puerto Argentino.

Another institutional feature that distinguished these services, the Army and the Navy, was the system of inducting conscripts. The Navy arranged to draft new recruits bimonthly in five successive rotations, which helped to maintain enough veteran conscripts 18 during the full year. The Marine conscripts served a fixed time of 14 months. Conversely, as Stewart also observed:

The fluctuating numbers for the Army depend on the number of conscripts inducted each year and on what date in any one of the three training cycles one measures the Army’s size. Conscripts are inducted in March; the training cycle closes in October; a portion of the class is released in November, others in December and January, and the final group after the induction of the new class in March. Therefore, some conscripts serve as few as eight months and others their full twelve-month commitment. Thus the lowest number of men in the Army is between January and March (summer).”

In this case, the organizational culture of the Argentine Army and Navy was the critical variable. This culture defined the set of basic assumptions, values, norms, beliefs, and formal knowledge that in turn shaped the ways in which the soldiers and Marines behaved collectively. Finally, the Malvinas case was also a typical example of “combined failure,” in which the Argentine High Command failed to anticipate the British reaction and to adapt to the combat conditions. Argentina was playing a dangerous game without a contingency plan in case the British accepted the gauntlet thrown down and decided to send troops to the South Atlantic. As both the broader issues of the Malvinas War and the actual strategies for fighting it demonstrate, the full responsibility for the Argentine debacle lay, mainly, on the shoulders of the High Command and the Theater Command. The tactical commands did what they could with the elements provided for them.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Razor's Edge - Hugh Bicheno - Tumbledown

I hope the author doesn't mind me posting an extensive quote from his book but this is probably the most detailed account of the battle of Tumbledown I have yet to read.

Since having gone back and walked the battlefield and seen the confusion that still exists today despite the wealth of information that has been published, and the fact that the majority of the combatants that survived the battle are still alive, I really feel that it would be worth the effort to research and record what really happened that night.


THE BATTLE FOR TUMBLEDOWN is, to date, the last battalion-sized ‘forlorn hope’ assault* carried out by the British Army, appropriately by one of its oldest regiments, the Scots Guards. There is no social animus in my earlier comments on the folly of sending the two Guards battalions to the Falklands. They are good troops, possessed of an admirable esprit de corps. Their officers, known variously as ‘debutante’s delights’, ‘chinless wonders’, and so forth, have a tradition of nurturing outstanding savagery under a suave exterior: a matter unexplored in Tumbledown, a TV film based on the story of Guards Lieutenant Robert Lawrence MC, who lived despite a rifle-shot to the head that destroyed half his brain. The other half retained an appalling memory of what the anodyne term ‘hand-to-hand fighting’ really involves:

I stuck my bayonet into the back of his arm, dug it right in because I had run out of ammunition. He spun wildly on the ground and my bayonet snapped. And as he spun, he was trying to get a Colt 45 out of an Army holster on his waist. So I had to stab him to death. I stabbed him and I stabbed him, again and again, in the mouth, in the face, in the guts, with a snapped bayonet. It was absolutely horrific [retrospectively — at the time he recalls crying out ‘Isn’t this fun?’ not long after this incident]. Stabbing a man to death is not a clean way to kill somebody, and what made it doubly horrific was that at one point he started screaming ‘Please. . .‘ in English to me. But if I had left him he could have ended up shooting me in the
back. I took his rifle, moved on, shot a sniper, picked up his and moved on again.

  • From the Dutch verloren hoop (lost troop), ‘forlorn hope’ was the designation adopted by the British in the seventeenth century for those sent to storm a breach in the walls during an assault on a fortress.
The 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards (2 SG) was on ceremonial duty in London when advised on 5 April that they might be going to war. The CO, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Scott, and Captain Spicer his Operations Officer (also Training Officer and Support Company commander and much later author of An Unorthodox Soldier) had to scramble in order to obtain even basics like rucksacks and Clansman radios. 2 SG was also understrength, but volunteers from the Grenadier, Coldstream and Irish Guards soon made up the deficit. As was to be demonstrated again in the 1991 Gulf War, the British could only put a fully (but not properly) equipped division in the field at short notice by cannibalizing stores across the whole Army.

Like most soldiers, Spicer blames government parsimony. In fact the armed forces were over-officered to an almost Ruritanian degree and were probably the least cost effective component of the British public sector. The Guards battalions should not have been sent because they were not combat- ready and other regiments were. Their unpreparedness delayed departure and also made them less able to make up for lost time when they arrived. That was not something forced on the defence establishment by politicians, nor was the lack of contingency planning, military intelligence, inventory control, logistical expertise, familiarity with key weapons systems and so on down the list. None were expensive —merely essential. The Guards had five weeks to make good their deficiencies before embarkation on 12 May. Was it supposed the Warsaw Pact would give as much notice of its intention to roll over Western Europe?

We have seen how 2 SG nearly became the victim of what would have been the bluest of blue-on-blues in British military history on 6 June. Had it been left to Brigadier Wilson, their reprieve would have proved temporary. On 9 June, the day following the Galahad disaster, he summoned his battalion commanders to a meeting at Fitzroy, which to their astonishment was filmed by the BBC, by now regarded by most as an enemy fifth column. It was an attempt to put a brave face on things for the benefit of the folks back home and he said nothing of operational matters until the journalists were gone.

One wishes they had stayed to film the faces of the COs and their staff as Wilson outlined his plan: once 42 Commando seized Harriet, the Gurkhas were to ‘patrol aggressively’ along the line of the coast road towards Tumbledown and William in the hope that the defenders would flee. Failing that, on 12 June the Gurkhas and 2 SG would attack William and Tumbledown simultaneously — in daylight — from the point on the road known as Ponies Pass.

Few things are absolutely certain in war, but barring day-long blanketing mist this was a recipe for a catastrophe that would have relegated the tragedy at Fitzroy to a footnote in the history books. The two hills were known to be held by a battalion of Argentine Marines, normally based in Tierra del Fuego and therefore well equipped for the conditions, who had been in place for two months and were set up to counter an attack from precisely the direction Wilson proposed. William, which would have to be taken first because it flanked the approach to Tumbledown, was not only heavily defended but was close to the road from Stanley, along which Argentine reinforcements could be rushed. Even if the Gurkhas were able to draw all the fire from William, 2 SG would still have to cross a minefield, then a large stone run followed by two smaller ones before assaulting into a broadside of machine-gun fire from much the largest and most complex of the Stanley hills. The slope was almost a defender’s dream and the enemy had built sturdy bunkers within the stone runs to cover the areas of dead ground.

FRONTAL ASSAULT ON the enemy’s strongest point — does this sound familiar? It should. It is the hallmark of the personality type dissected in Norman Dixon’s On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. ‘But General Walpole took no trouble to reconnoitre; and, without even a cursory examination of the position, launched his men in a blundering and haphazard manner against the strongest face... ‘The incident described was at Fort Rooyah during the Indian Mutiny, but any one of a dozen general officers’ names from the Crimean, Boer and the two World Wars could be substituted for Walpole’s. Wilson’s scheme held out at best the prospect of a Pyrrhic victory, at worst a loss of momentum and a morale boost for the enemy that might have doomed the entire campaign. According to his chief Sapper, Wilson’s reason for proposing a headlong attack was that he was under intense pressure to win ‘the race for Stanley’ — yet there are still those who feel he was unjustly treated after the war and ‘cruelly’ hustled into retirement. While conceding that whoever was exerting the pressure from London richly deserved to precede him into professional oblivion, it is an established principle of international jurisprudence (except, as we have seen, in Argentina) that a soldier not only should but must disobey criminal orders. If the knowing, needless sacrifice of lives on the altar of inter-service rivalry is not a premeditated crime then the term has no meaning.

FORTUNATELY MIKE SCOTT (no familiarity intended — there were several Scoffs among the Scots) had the moral courage to rebel, quietly but firmly. Here serendipity once more worked to British advantage because the CO of a Guards battalion may courteously accept suggestions from lesser beings, but takes orders only from the great Guardsman in the Sky or his senior earthly representatives. In addition, although the First Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles (1/7 Gurkhas) was the strongest infantry unit in the Falklands, it was politically impossible to give them the primary role in 5 Brigade’s offensive. The Welsh Guards were out of it and should have been withdrawn to San Carlos to release 40 Commando, instead of borrowing two companies from it to maintain an illusion of participation. Wilson either led with 2 SG or did not lead at all, and power therefore devolved to Scott. The brigadier was gradually shut out of the decision-making process until, during the battle, Spicer took it upon himself to shut down the radio link with Brigade to stop Wilson ‘pestering’ Scott. Once the Para battalions were taken from Wilson’s brigade it was an error to leave him in command. It would have been better to honour the custom that two Guards battalions demand a Guards brigadier, but no British tradition is more sacred than ‘Buggins’s turn’.

The staff of 2 SG quickly discarded the daylight attack option, and after Scott’s chief sapper, Lieutenant Peter McManners, advised him that it would take all night to locate and breach the minefield, so was the approach from the south-west. Scott therefore recommended an attack during the night of 12—13 June from a staging area between Harriet and Goat Ridge, assuming 42 Commando gained control of them on the 1 lth—l2th. The line of advance was the one 45 Commando envisaged and was straining at the leash to pursue in the morning of the 12th, but neither Scott nor Wilson appear to have been told that 3 Commando Brigade might follow through. The lack of coordination and inter-communication that Division was supposed to ensure was not Moore’s fault: he lacked the staff and the communications equipment, and despite donning a neutral Afrika Korps-style cap was presumed guilty of favouring the Marines even when what he proposed was manifestly the correct military solution. It was a command shambles created by old men in London squabbling over the limelight like pantomime queens.

Scott’s scheme, rubber-stamped by Wilson on the 11th, was for 2 SG to attack Tumbledown from the west. Once it was secure 1/7 Gurkhas would pass around it to attack William from the north, across the saddle between the two features. The Welsh Guards/40 Commando battalion was to be in reserve in the lee of Harriet ready to exploit forward to Sapper Hill. The attack was to coincide with an assault on Wireless Ridge by 2 Para, now back under command of 3 Commando Brigade. Tumbledown towered over Wireless Ridge and until 2 SG could silence the support weapons and drive the Argentine artillery observers off it, 2 Para was likely to have a thin time of it.

But at the same time 2 Para’s attack would prevent Argentine forces in the valley from reinforcing Tumbledown, so the two operations were interdependent. In the absence of time to conduct ground reconnaissance of his own, Scott gratefully accepted Thompson’s offer of the M&AW Cadre members who had set up on Goat Ridge on 8—9 June to guide 2 SG and the Gurkhas to their start lines east of Goat Ridge.

A cartoon published in London at the time showed two Argentine soldiers huddled in a trench, one saying: ‘No, no, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s the Gurkhas who cut your throat with a big knife —the Scots do it with a broken bottle.’ The 5th Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM 5) on Tumbledown and Mount William was to have the dubious distinction of being attacked by both, although in the event William was abandoned before the Gurkhas got there. The Argentine Marines on the Falklands were in most respects independent of the Army, enjoying as they did their own logistics airlift plus organic artillery, air defence and sapper support. To their credit, at the command level Marine Colonel Moeremans’ staff were fully integrated with Jofre’s, and inter-service rivalry was not a factor in the battle of Tumbledown. The CO of BIM 5, Lieutenant Colonel Robacio, broke ranks six years after the war, when he dishonestly alleged his battalion only fell back from Tumbledown and William because Jofre ordered it to do so, after the Army had been driven from Wireless Ridge. Robacio was provoked by press denigration of the Navy’s role in the Falklands debacle, but it was still a sad and demeaning coda to one of the few examples of cooperation among the services in Argentine history.

Tumbledown - Continued

Scott’s scheme, given to his company commanders at 1530 on 11 June, was for a three-phase operation the following night, with G Company leading to take the western outcrop, Left Flank Company (LF) the main ridge as far as the twin summit peaks, and Right Flank Company (RF) the rest, including a large rock formation to the north-west of the main ridge overlooking an enemy logistics distribution point.* The main assault was to be preceded by a diversionary attack led by HQ Company commander Major Bethell, supported by a troop (two Scorpions and two Scimitars) of the Blues and Royals from the south-west, intended to keep the enemy’s attention fixed in the wrong direction. ‘Left Flank’ and ‘Right Flank’ are survivals from the days of red coats and linear battlefield manoeuvres. 2 SG and the Gurkhas spent the 12th waiting for the promised helicopter lift. It was not until 1600 that Wilson advised the COs that a higher priority had been given to resupplying 3 Commando Brigade after the battles of the night before. Scott demanded a twenty-four-hour postponement to ensure that Gwyn’s gunline should also be fully stocked. Furthermore, anxious as Moore was to relieve the pressure on the forward battalions, it would have been utter folly to attack without even giving the Guards and Gurkhas a chance to eyeball their objective. Early on the 13th troop commanders down to section level were flown to Goat Ridge and spent the day studying Tumbledown! William. The rank and file were brought to the assembly area behind the ridge throughout the day, under intermittent shelling that wounded a lance sergeant.

Bethell’s thirty-man group consisted of two sections from the Recce Platoon under Sergeant Coull, an HQ Company section including Drill Sergeant Wight, armed with converted Bren guns (LMG) and led by CSM Brady, and two 9 Parachute Squadron Sappers. They started from Port Harriet House and met up with the tanks on the road south-west of Harriet at about 1700. They rode forward with them until at 1830 they dismounted to advance on foot, skirting south of Ponies Pass. The battalion advance was scheduled to start at 2100 but it was not until 2045 that Bethell arrived at the enemy position he intended to attack: a cluster of above-ground bunkers built with peat-filled fuel drums, from which members of the O Company/Sapper group under Quiroga had been observing the British advance through passive night goggles for half an hour. The Argentine position was tiered, with the riflemen holding the first line, four MAGs and the command post 100 yards behind them, and three 60mm mortars 150 yards further back. The reason why Bethell’s group was permitted to get so close seems to have been because Quiroga twisted his ankle and held fire until Sub-Lieutenant Calmels arrived to replace him.

One of the MAGs opened up at point-blank range and the Brens promptly returned fire. Drill Sergeant Wight and Sapper Lance Corporal Pashley were killed in the first exchange and S/C 62 Iñiguez mortally wounded, the only Argentine fatality in this engagement. Five Guardsmen and about the same number of Argentines were wounded over the next hour and a half, during which the diversion drew fire from all BIM S’s mortars and the Marine battery. Calmels reported he was under attack by two companies and at 2220 received permission to retreat, while for his part Bethell decided at about 2230 that his men had done enough. So it was that the two groups disengaged at about the same time, but not before a grenade wounded Bethell and Piper Duffy. Carrying their casualties the diversion group then walked into a minefield and four men were crippled, leaving barely enough fit men to help the wounded and not enough to carry the dead, who were abandoned amid heavy, but fortunately peat-dampened mortar fire.

Bethell lost radio contact early with Lieutenant Coreth of the Blues and Royals, who drove toward the sound of the guns when the action started until, skirting a crater in the road, he drove over an anti-tank mine that lifted his Scorpion several feet in the air, dismounted the engine and shredded a track, but did not breach the hull or injure the crew. The remaining tanks did their bit for the diversion by taking it in turns to fire at William and Tumbledown as they reversed towards Harriet, also under heavy fire. At some point they emerged from the radio black hole and Coreth was able to reestablish contact with Bethell, at the time on hands and knees with Sapper Lance Corporal Foran and Piper Duffy, using a torch to identify mines. It was not until 0200 that they made it back to the road, where Coreth picked up the wounded and rushed them to the 42 Commando RAP south-west of Harriet.

The diversion cost two of the nine British killed and eleven of the forty- three wounded during the battle. Its success can be measured by the fact that when Jofre published his apologia in 1987, he still believed a full battalion attack with armoured support was launched out of Ponies Pass (see Diagram 7, p. 313). Perhaps more to the point Robacio, Pernias and Villarraza believed it at the time, which is a good part of the reason why Vázquez’s, Silva’s and Miño’s men at the western end of Tumbledown were left to fight the main body of 2 SG on their own. Foran got an MM for mine clearing under fire, but Bethell only a Mention in Despatches for devising and executing a brilliantly successful operation that saved many lives, in which he repeatedly risked his own to attack enemy positions and recover his wounded. Leading the main attack, Major Dalzell-Jobs’ G Company advanced a mile without alerting the enemy. The temperature had fallen below freezing and the night was darkened by snow flurries driven by fierce winds into the back of the advancing Guards — and into the eyes of the defenders on Tumbledown. It was not until Major Kiszeley’s LF Company passed through, entering the relatively sheltered saddle between the western outcrop and Tumbledown proper at about 2230, that Miño’s and Silva’s men spotted them. They held fire until the two leading platoons were in the middle of the saddle and then a stunning volume of fire drove the Guards to cover, behind a peat bank they were extraordinarily lucky not to have crossed before the firing started.

‘Everybody got down because the initial firefight was incredible, it was like being at the wrong end of a machine-gun range,’ Lieutenant Mitchell of 15 Platoon recalled. ‘Bullets at close range cracked like a whip over your head. The air was full of bits of lead and chunks of rock, which were being broken off and were flying around all over the place. . . You had the feeling that if you raised your hand slightly in the air it would be shot off.’

Guardsman Stirling was killed and 15 Platoon Sergeant Jackson wounded in the initial fusillade. Newly graduated 2nd Lieutenant Stuart’s 13 Platoon was out of the immediate line of fire and ran forward to hook around Mifio’s northern flank, only to run into accurate rifle fire, possibly from Lucero’s platoon. Platoon Sergeant Simeon and Guardsman Tanbini were killed and when CSM Nicol and Lance Corporal Eyre went to their aid they were wounded: Nicol by a bullet that struck the barrel of his rifle, held across his chest, and ricocheted through his hand. He thought it likely they were all victims of a single sniper.

Tumbledown - Continued

In the expectation that the British would renew their offensive during the night of 12—13 June, Jofre’s hasty redeployments created a decidedly messy command and control situation in Moody Brook valley. He retained personal command of the three companies in the valley, when EX 10 on the western end of Wireless Ridge should have been put under RIM 7’s Giménez, and RIM 6/B on the north-eastern extension of Tumbledown under BIM S’s Robacio (see Map 30, p.286). The rest of RIM 3 (bar C Company, plonked in the middle of BIM 5 under Robacio’s command for no obvious reason) should have been brought forward under its CO Lieutenant Colonel Comini to form a coherent reserve force in Moody Brook. The result of not doing so was that the defenders were never able to make their greater numbers and firepower count: there was no tactical coordination, so each unit fought its own battle and was defeated piecemeal.

After the war Jofre admitted his generalship was unbalanced by a fixation on the threat of a British attack from the south, but the fundamental flaw was to have ignored the principle of concentration. Now the range had closed, however, he hoped the Army artillery under Brigade command, would break up any enemy attack before it closed with the infantry. The gunners had defied all efforts to knock them out, making a virtue of the regular necessity to re-site their self-burying weapons by leaving mockups behind to draw enemy fire. Akhurst, the Battery Commander attached to 45 Commando, ruefully admitted that he wasted much of his counter-battery fire on old tires and sections of drainpipe under camouflage nets.*
  • Before 13-14 June British air attacks, naval gunfire and land counter-battery fire disabled no mortars, no rocket launchers and only one gun each in GA 3, GAA 4 and the Marine battery.
Robacio’s sector was, on paper, a tough nut to crack. He had the Marine battery of howitzers plus four 105mm rocket launchers, four 120mm, six 106mm and six 81mm mortars under his direct command. Two more rocket launchers, six 60mm mortars, two Bantam anti-tank missile groups, eight heavy machine-guns and two dozen MAGs were under platoon command on Tumbledown William. However his HQ at Felton Stream was too far back, an error compounded by having the Amphibious Engineers under Major Menghini co-located. Robacio was far too concerned with countering a possible attack from the south, and his rifle companies were therefore spread too thin. One company, even one with four rifle platoons like Captain Villarraza’s command (N Company), could not adequately defend both Tumbledown and William. Captain Cionchi’s M Company on Sapper Hill was behind wide belts of mines that required only a machine-gun platoon to cover them. The rifle platoons should have gone with the 81mm Mortar Platoon when it was sent to William, permitting N Company to concentrate on Tumbledown. The battalion reserve —O Company under battalion 2 i/c Major Pernias — was probably on the reverse slope at a point central to the whole defensive scheme, where the two hills offered some protection from naval gunfire and land artillery. Pernias sent a platoon under Sub- Lieutenant Quiroga reinforced by a section of Sappers, a total of thirty-seven men, to a position in front of William, covering Ponies Pass, where it was to play an equivocal and, from the British point of view, crucially important part in the battle.

Villarraza’s scheme for the defence of Tumbledown William was inflexibly set up to counter an attack from the south (see Map 31, p. 290). Most of his firepower eggs were in the basket of Sub-Lieutenant Bianchi’s platoon on William, with Sub- Lieutenant Oruezabala’s platoon in support from the military crest down among the stone runs. His third platoon, under Staff Sergeant Lucero, was posted to cover Moody Brook valley from an isolated position close against the northern cliff face of Tumbledown. When Robacio gave him another twenty-seven-man platoon from HQ Company, Villarraza sent it to the western end of Tumbledown, but told 2nd Lieutenant Vázquez his task was to bring the expected attack from the south under flanking fire. It is easy to see why he discounted an attack from the west: that end of Tumbledown is narrow, dauntingly steep and any advance up the hill is channelled into a narrow defile between rock walls, at the foot of which a twenty-five-man platoon of Marine Sappers under 2nd Lieutenant Mifio was located. An outcrop further to the west was not judged worth defending because an enemy advance from there would run into fire from Mifio’s position, which overlooked it, while the flanks were covered by MAGs at the western ends of Lucero’s and Vázquez’s positions. The position was further strengthened in the early morning of the 12th when Silva arrived with his fifteen-man RI 4 section from South Sister, and readily agreed to cover the gap between Mifio’s men and Vázquez’s right flank.* The ground in the area was well drained, permitting the defenders to construct deep dug-outs with steps up to narrow exits within strong sangars, some under overhanging boulders.

  • Nobody would have attacked here — knowing it to be so strongly held — without smothering the defenders with artillery, but Scott was not granted the time to recce the objective and the outcrop prevented direct sight of the western end of Tumbledown from Goat Ridge.
Mosterin from Harriet and Liambias from South Sister also arrived at Vázquez’ position before continuing, respectively, to William and Sapper Hill. He also lacked the artillery resources to perform all the fire missions that such a large objective merited. He could call on nine 105mm light guns, three with newly arrived 97 Battery, 4th Field Regiment RA and the six of her sister 29 Battery, which had been on the island as long as the three batteries (7, 8 and 79) of 29 Commando Regiment RA. Additional support came from his own, 1/7 Gurkhas’ and 42 Commando’s mortars, plus the four enemy 120mm mortars captured on Harriet. The problem was ammunition, and with severe weather hampering resupply and priority given to restocking the batteries in action on the 11th—12th, it was not until the 13th that he could order a general ‘softening up’ of the objective. Jaimet, who was at the relatively sheltered north-eastern end of Tumbledown, described what it was like at the receiving end:

British artillery fire. . . went up and down the mountain [which] quaked and shuddered under the impacts. The [phosphorus] shells were like flying kerosene tins filled with hot metal fragments… I saw them hit some soldiers near me and they burned through the thickest clothing, parkas, jackets, pullovers, everything, through to the flesh. I heard the cries of the wounded. . . calling for their comrades. . . twelve men before nightfall. We thought we had suffered before, but what luxury and comfort compared to this.

Without specific targeting information, Scott really had no choice but to order a silent advance to contact. Once battle was joined he would be able to call on naval gunfire from the three 4.5-inch guns of Yarmouth and Active in the gun line to the south. Unfortunately he took the advice of his inexperienced Battery Commander, Major Gwyn, over that of Naval Gunfire Observer Captain Brown, outranked but fresh from outstanding success in close support of 45 Commando on the Sisters, and before that at South Georgia and Pebble Island. During the battle Gwyn lost radio contact with his forward observers, but continued to believe he could target his guns more accurately than the Naval Gunfire Observer: an absurdity when the ships enjoyed the benefit of the computers and modern gunnery aids the RA had been obliged to leave behind. The result was that although Gwyn’s fire plan successfully isolated the western end of Tumbledown, and divided William from Tumbledown, the close support the infantry needed was denied to them for many hours. For his part, Vázquez had the utmost difficulty persuading his own gunners and mortar men to fire on his position — the enemy was in the open, his men safe in their dug-outs. He did not finally get the desired response until in exasperation he sent the gunners a request (via battalion commander Robacio, no less) to perform an unnatural act on themselves with their gun tubes.


5th Marine Infantry Battalion (RIM 5)
CO — Lt Col Robacio, RSM Hemández
2i/c — Lt Col Ponce, Ops — Maj Pernias
M Company (Sapper Hill) — Capt Cionchi
(RIM 3/C’s 4 x 120mm mortars, 3 HMG, 6 MAG)
RI 4 Group — Sub-Lt Llambias
RIM 3/C (under BIM 5 command) — Lt Binotti
N Coy (Tumbledown/William) — Capt Villarraza, CSM Nufiez
Forward Observer - 2Lt de Marco
1 Platoon — Sub-Lt Bianchi (2 Bantam AT, 2 x 105 RCL, 3 HMG, 6 MAG)
RI 12 Group — Sub-Lt Mosterin
Mortar Platoon (from M Company) - WO Cuñé (6 x 81mm mortars)
2 Platoon — Sub-Lt Oruezabala (2 HMG, 3 MAG)
3 Platoon- SSgtLucem (60mm mortar, 3 HMG)
4 Platoon — 2Lt Vázquez/Sgt Fochesatto (60mm mortar, 3 MAG)
RI 4 Group — 2Lt Silva
Amph Eng 5 Platoon — 2Lt Mifio
O Coy — Maj Pernias
Ponies Pass Platoon — Sub-Lts Quiroga/Calmels
(3 x 60mm mortars, 4 MAG)
Amph Eng 1 section — 2Lt Valdéz Zabala
Heavy Weapons Group —2 Lt Galluzzi
(6 x 106mm mortars, 4 x 105 RCL)
6th Mech Inf Regiment (RIM 6)— Maj Jaimet
B Coy — Lt Abella
1 Platoon — Sub-Lt de Ia Madrid
2 Platoon — Sub-Lt Franco
Comando 602/3 Platoon Capt Ferrero
Artillery Support Marine Batt (6 x 105mm) — 2Lt Abadal
GA3(12x 105mm)


2nd Battalion, The Scots Guards (2 SG)
CO — Lt Col Scott, RSM MacKenzie
2i/c — Maj Mackay-Dick, Ops — Capt Spicer
HQ Coy — Maj Bethell/CSM Braby (Ponies Pass)
G Coy — Maj Dalzell-Jobs
7 Platoon — Lt Johnson
8 Platoon — Lt Page
9 Platoon — 2Lt Blount/Sgt McDonald
LF (Left Flank) Coy — Maj Kiszely/CSM Nicol
Forward Observer — Capt Nicol
13 Platoon — 2Lt Stuart/Sgt Simeon
14 Platoon Lt Fraser
15 Platoon — Lt Mitchell
RF (Right Flank) Coy — Maj Price/CSM Amos
Forward Observer — Capt Miller
1 Platoon — 2Lt Dalrymple/Sgt Crawford
2 Platoon — Lt Lawrence/Sgt Robertson
3 Platoon — 2Lt Mathewson/Sgt Jackson (with Company 2i/c Capt Bryden)
Support (F) Coy — Capt Spicer
Anti-Tank Platoon — Capt Campbell-Lamerton
Recce Platoon — Capt Scott/Sgt Allum
Mortar Platoon (Harriet) — (6 x 81mm mortars, 6 x HMG)
42 Commando and 1/7 Gurklsas 6 x 81mm mortars each
9 Para Sq RE — Maj Davies/SSM Walker
3 Troop — Lt McManners Blues and Royals (2 Scorpions/2 Scimitars)
4 Troop — Lt Coreth
Artillery support 29/97 Batts, 4 Field Regt RA (9 x 105mm)
Battery Commander - Maj Gwyn
Active and Yarmouth (3 x 4.5-inch)
Naval Gunfire Observer — Capt Brown

Tumbledown - Continued

LF Company was now in the same situation as 3 Para/B after the first rush ran out of momentum on Longdon, with the deadly difference that here the enemy was firmly in control of the high ground. The company was stuck for over three hours, although on the left 13 Platoon retained its lodgement in the rocks to the right of Mifio’s position, from which Lance Sergeants Davidson and McGuiness chipped away at the Argentine Sappers’ resolve with anti-tank rockets and phosphorus grenades. Lacking similar cover, attempts by Mitchell’s platoon to outflank right brought them progressively further into the prepared arcs of fire from the SilvaNázquez position. Eventually all progress stopped, despite several daring forays by Guardsman Reynolds.* Kiszeley became separated from his forward observer, Captain Nicol, during the first firefight and once they found each other they also found they were in an area of very poor radio reception. The result was that Väzquez won the race to obtain close artillery support, and when Nicol and Gwyn finally got back in contact it was no longer possible to differentiate between own and enemy shells. BIM 5’s guns and mortars also beat up the outcrop, wounding a number of G Company men including 9 Platoon Sergeant McDonald, while beyond it Scott’s HQ group was bracketed by successive salvos. The HQ group ran forward to take cover in the outcrop as a third salvo tore up the ground where they had been. This may have been the work of the Argentine 155s: Spicer describes an explosion too powerful to have been caused by mere 105s, which excavated the peat bank behind which the HQ Group had been sheltering. The breakthrough started at about 0200 when Gwyn at last started dropping shells close enough, permitting Mitchell’s platoon to get in among Vázquez’s men, at about the same time that Mifio, outflanked by Stuart’s platoon and deserted by most of his men, abandoned his position and retreated up the hill. The telephone cables were cut and the British were jamming his radio so Mifio sent a runner, who never arrived, to warn Vázquez. Guardsman Denholm died on this flank, the place and cause unspecified in any account I have found. The first that the men facing Mitchell’s platoon knew about Mifio’s departure was when they came under GPMG and anti-tank rocket fire from above and behind, which wounded several and killed the gallant Silva. The Argentine Army’s citation for Oscar Silva’s posthumous MVC says he died on Two Sisters: fighting alongside the Marines, it seems, did not count.

McGuiness, in charge of the ten men of Stuart’s platoon highest up the hill, recalled:

‘we definitely took them by surprise and could see them dodging about, trying to get into cover. This allowed the rest of the company to go forward; we could see them and kept moving our fire ahead of them.’

Stuart’s men fell back after this, to get out of the way of Gwyn’s barrage, and the slope was stormed by a group of Mitchell’s men, led by Company Commander Kiszeley. ‘Are you with me Jock?’ he called out.* Silence. He tried again and someone replied resignedly ‘Och aye, sir, I’m wi’you,’ and another, ‘Aye sir, I’m fuckin’ wi’ you as well.’ Gwyn was to fire three salvos and then stop while the infantry stormed the hill, and to the relieved surprise of the men who went ‘over the top’ they burst through Vazquez’s line without loss. With Mifio’s men gone and Vázquez’s left behind, it must have been Silva’s orphaned men who made the Scots fight for every inch of the defile to the summit, killing section leader Lance Sergeant Mitchell and wounding several others. Four RI 4s in addition to Silva died on Tumbledown, Kiszeley himself shooting two and bayoneting a third. In return he had his beret shot off and was hit by two bullets, stopped by his compass and a spare magazine.

Vázquez believed the British fell back after the attack, but in fact the Kiszeley / Mitchell party continued towards the summit and the lull Vázquez experienced was because the rest of 15 Platoon waited for Lieutenant Fraser’s 14 Platoon to join them before mopping up along the base of the hill. For Vázquez the turning point was when the MAG manned by Warrant Officer Julio Castillo and two others (in a particularly strong position tucked under a large boulder, still plainly identifiable) was silenced at about 0230. Castillo held the right flank of Vázquez’s position for four hours against repeated British attacks, and continued to fight when surrounded. He was awarded a posthumous CHVC. Vázquez surrendered at dawn, and when he called out to his men to stop fighting and come out with their hands up he was shocked that only four men responded. Eight of his men were dead, five wounded and all the survivors captured save one: S/C 62 Jorge Sanchez made a daring escape under fire to Oruezabala’s position. Vázquez himself was lucky to survive, because he seems to have been identified as the mythic sniper who ‘put bullets through the cap badges of [variable number] men’. Spicer writes of a captured officer who boasted of having done this, and since Vázquez was the only officer captured he must have been the man thus demonized, although with better luck than the alleged sniper on Longdon. As all Paras are ‘Toms’, so all Scots soldiers are ‘Jocks’. I have a soft spot for Vázquez. He admits that he stopped praying to God to spare his life, realizing: ‘what I’m asking is stupid. Everyone asks the same, but in a war not everyone will survive. I’m wasting a prayer. Besides, the Englishman to my front is making the same petition and there is only one God.’ So he prayed instead, ‘God, all I ask is that when the moment comes I may face it with dignity.’ If obliged to choose one terrain feature on the Falklands that most compels awe at the courage of the men who stormed it, my vote goes to the defile leading to the small peat plateau within the high crags at the summit of Tumbledown. A 60mm mortar section occupied the plateau early in the battle, but the many craters still visible in the area make it clear why it was abandoned. Also still to be seen is the almost impregnable artillery observation post built by 2nd Lieutenant de Marco, BIM 5/N’s forward observer, overlooking the sheer northern face with an unrivalled view of Longdon, Wireless Ridge and the Moody Brook valley: a further reminder of how vital Tumbledown was for the Argentine defence. The peak was taken by Kiszeley, Mitchell and five Guardsmen including the intrepid Reynolds: the bulk of LF Company was still below, mopping up, guarding prisoners and evacuating their own and enemy wounded. Kiszeley’s group paused, skylined, at the eastern end of the plateau, amazed to see Stanley lit up as though in peacetime, and a burst of automatic fire from the broad hollow below, known as the ‘Terrace’ to the Argentines, wounded three of them, including Reynolds and Lieutenant Mitchell, who was shot in both legs. Hours later a mortar bomb hit a stretcher-bearer group evacuating the wounded from the summit. Reynolds and Guardsman Malcolmson, carrying Mitchell, were killed, eight others wounded or re-wounded and the stretcher shredded, but Mitchell was miraculously spared to hobble back to the RAP at Goat Ridge, using a rifle as a crutch. LF Company lost seven men killed and twenty-one wounded. It is hard to imagine what reasons there may have been not to award Kiszeley the VC, but he got an MC instead. Reynolds, meanwhile, received a many-times earned DCM, as did CSM Nicol for continuing to recover the wounded, despite his own wound, throughout the period when the company was stalled at the foot of the hill. There was nothing for either of the Mitchells, Davidson or McGuiness, not for the same reasons that other brave men went undecorated on Longdon but because it would have been ‘unfair’ to award one company or battalion significantly more medals than any other. Kindergarten reasoning, typical of MoD.

Kiszeley’s group reached the summit no more than ten minutes ahead of Sub- Lieutenant de la Madrid’s RIM 6/B/i Platoon, guided by de Marco and Mifio who were anxious to make amends for having given up the feature in the first place. The fault was not really theirs. Despite repeated pleas over four or five hours — and no less repeated assurances that reinforcements were on their way — the men at the western end of Tumbledown were left unsupported to the end. Robacio and Villarraza had their minds closed to the possibility that Vázquez might be facing the main attack, and that the battalion attack they thought they had defeated in the south-west was the diversion. Pemlas sent the 0 Company reserve to the saddle behind William, where, along with the rest of N Company, it was isolated by Gwyn’s dissecting fire plan. Much later, Robacio ordered M Company to move forward from Sapper Hill (although RIM 3/C was nearer), but when he learned that Mifio had retreated, the only troops that could intervene in time were the men of Jaimet’s RIM 6/B. Jaimet, in turn, sent only one platoon under a green sub-lieutenant instead of ordering senior Lieutenant Arbella to lead a company attack, or better still leading it himself. De la Madrid says: ‘I spread my men out behind the men who were still fighting’ in the Terrace area, which is something of a puzzle: either they were stragglers from Mifio’s platoon (unlikely) or there had been an unrecorded sortie by some of Villarraza’s HQ Group. Braving the fire of two machine-guns and a ‘missile launcher’ firing down from the summit, de la Madrid went forward until he heard English voices above and behind him. He spotted a group of twelve men through his night goggles and fired a rifle grenade at them. Fraser’s 14 Platoon, newly arrived to support Kiszeley’s tiny group, reported two NCOs wounded by a grenade at about this time. For the next hour or so the two groups sniped at each other across the Terrace. Thanks to the die-hards of Vázquez’s platoon it was not until about 0600 that Major Price’s RF Company came up to resume the offensive, and during that period a company attack might have won back the summit. It was the last clear chance the Argentines had to inflict a significant check on the British.

We must now return to the battle for Wireless Ridge, which greatly influenced the end-game on Tumbledown. Although 2 Para’s Chaundler refused an appeal from Mike Scott to release some of his artillery support to help 2 SG, the tremendous firepower unleashed on Wireless Ridge in fact helped the Scots considerably. A glance back at Map 31 (p. 290) will show how Lucero’s platoon on the north side of Tumbledown was ideally placed to counter-attack Stuart’s flanking move, which drove off Mifio’s Sappers and unlocked the western defences of the hill, or failing that to redeploy to the summit via the steep peat slope to its right. Lucero did neither because his allotted task was to support Wireless Ridge with his mortar and heavy machine-guns, and you did not become an SNCO in the Argentine Navy by questioning orders. Nor was there any reason to do so. Both Lucero and Jaimet, who was also supporting the men on Wireless Ridge with his mortars, could plainly see their compatriots being chewed up to their front. As we have seen, Villaraza and Robacio were confident they had defeated the main enemy attack until they learned of Mifio ‘s retreat, and until that moment nothing Lucero or Jaimet could see and hear on the radio warned them that, behind them, Tumbledown was falling to the enemy. However, once they did realize their peril, Robacio and Jaimet failed to respond adequately. Both later claimed they wanted a fight to the death in Stanley — but if their concept of honour demanded more bloodshed, why not their own, leading their men on Tumbledown?*

  • Robaclo and Mifio (!) got Navy-sponsored CUVCs, but not Vázquez. The Army gave Jaimet an MVC.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Uploaded More Photographs

I can't believe its been almost 3 weeks since I last posted. I do apologise for the lack of updates but the combination of a heavy cold and the fact that I have had to work very long hours has made some big indents into my spare time.

I recently received some wonderful photographs from Theresa and Ian which I have now made available. They are a mixture of digital photos taken during various commemorations this year such as Pangbourne, St Pauls Cathedral, London and of course the pilgrimage.

They also included many very precious and sentimental photographs taken over the last 30 odd years including many of Theresas' late husband Clark Mitchell who died on Tumbeldown. The death of Clark had a huge impact on Theresa and reminded me during the pilgrimage of how much suffering the bereaved have had to cope with.

Rest in Peace Clark