Thursday, 31 January 2008

Gus Hales interview

During the memorial service Ex 9 PARA RE Gus Hales stood up and made an unscheduled reading of a poem he had written.

This is an interview with him conducted with Falkland Islands Radio with some random photographs I took superimposed to give you something to look at while listening.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Culture in Battle

The following presentation was given by the Commanding Officer of the Scots Guards LT COL Mike Scott (who recently retired as a Major General)

Culture in Battle: 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards at Tumbledown Mountain — 14 June 1982

Mike Scott

Before looking at culture in battle, it is, I think, important to paint a backcloth of the culture of the British which, of course, underpins all that we do, including fighting in a war. What is that? Fish and chips, roast beef, the Beatles, cricket, the Royal Family, James Bond, the pub, the last night of the Proms, or poppies on Remembrance Sunday? However, you might think all that is a little superficial and we should dig deeper. Although multi-culturalism has been much in the news in this country of late, in truth the British Isles have been multi-cultural since the earliest arrivals of Celts, Vikings, Romans, Saxons, the Norman French and so on. We are the people of an Island comprising English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalities — and I have deliberately put those in alphabetical order! These four nations share a great deal, but each has its own ideas of identity and particular cultural heritage. Our long history, our geography and our weather are but three examples of major contributors to our culture.

But the average inhabitant of the United Kingdom, despite his well- developed sense of humour, attaches enormous importance to his equally well-developed sense of fairness. When roused, he will stand up with thousands of others to demand what is fair and, if he has to, fight for it.

While not critical to the outcome of any tactical battle, success in war is largely dependent on belief in the justification for conflict and support of the home population. In the case of the Falklands Conflict, while historians and academics could argue the ownership rights of the Islands, there was no doubt, in the minds of the British general public, including the Armed Forces, that the Falkland Islands were a dependency of the United Kingdom. The Islanders did not see themselves as an offshore province of Argentina. Galtieri’s troops were a force occupying against their will and Britain had a contract to defend them. So my first point on culture in battle is that all my soldiers understood and believed in the cause for which they were to fight.

My Regiment is composed of volunteer professional soldiers. The normal contract for a warrant officer or non-commissioned officer (NCO) can be up to twenty-two years, so senior ranks in my Battalion had served for many years. Officers can serve in a battalion up to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. I was forty-one years old in 1982, but did not retire from the British Army until the age of fifty-five. (Mind you, the average age of my Guardsmen was only twenty-two).

We are also a family Regiment. Often men follow their fathers or brothers into the Regiment and some have forbears going back to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Officers and soldiers who have served together for years know each other very well and establish a close relationship seldom understood by those outside. All this combines to create an insuperable strength and depth of confidence in each other. My second point therefore is the inestimable value of a disciplined and
tightly bonded team to which every individual feels a profound sense both of duty and of personal loyalty. This is a battle-winning factor.

We are a Regiment proud of our traditions and our close affiliation to the British Royal Family. We are jealous of our privilege of guarding the Sovereign and, because of our ceremonial public duties in London, we have less time for tactical training than other units. While this is an obvious disadvantage, it does not prevent us from carrying out our operational tour responsibilities. In the years prior to 1982 we had had long periods of counter-terrorism operations in Northern Ireland. We were not as physically fit, nor as well-trained for war-fighting, as the Parachute Regiment or Royal Marine Commandos, but then they are specialist shock troops, expensively and specifically trained for impact operations. While our critics sometime see our lack of training or physical fitness as an inadequacy, I have yet to meet anyone who has suggested that more fitness or training would have altered the final outcome of the Battle of Tumbledown. In practice, our considerable experience of Northern Ireland operations, highly dependent on low- level section and platoon command tactics, leads to my third point. Whilst the minute-to-minute requirements of a full-scale night Battalion deliberate attack and ensuing battle might be different, all my junior commanders — from the Majors commanding companies of about 100 Guardsmen, down to the Corporals commanding perhaps only three or four Guardsmen — were self-confident, trusted by those under their command, and used to making quick decisions on their own.

While the plan and execution of our attack on Tumbledown is now well known, what is less apparent is that its strength lay in the fact that it was designed, considered, and enthusiastically endorsed by my command team. It was not, therefore, a plan autocratically imposed by me. It was, however, my responsibility to persuade the 5 Infantry Brigade Commander, who originally had some different ideas, to approve it. My fourth point then is that we have a very well rehearsed system for planning, and an equally well-practised system for ensuring that the plan, once agreed, is known and understood by all. Every man knew what was expected of him immediately prior to the Tumbledown battle.

It goes without saying that leadership, my fifth and final point, is vital. In this battle, once contact was made, it became the company and platoon commanders’ operation, coupled with the efforts of their NCOs. My influence on the battle was, in the end, reduced to adapting the direct and indirect fire support, encouraging and guiding the company commanders, maintaining a deployable reserve, anticipating alternatives if things went wrong, and keeping the Brigadier calm! Our records of the battle demonstrate our commitment to leadership from the front at all levels. Overall, we suffered eight dead and forty wounded — over fifty percent of these casualties were officers, warrant officers and NCOs.

A final brief word on the aftermath, although I realise it is being examined at this University International Colloquium in much more detail and depth. We acquired considerable self-confidence, personally and militarily, having succeeded in accomplishing a difficult battalion level night attack of a scale not seen since the Korean War, which had occurred some thirty years before. The six weeks in which we were left behind in the Falklands after the war, whilst difficult and frustrating, had the long-term advantage that we bonded even closer together. Platoon commanders were accommodated with their men. We had no family or media intrusion. Camaraderie, at a level no other experience can create, was established amongst those who had seen real battle at close quarters. These important bonds were made which will last for the rest of our lives. When we returned to the United Kingdom there was not for us any of the swaggering braggadocio of the conquering hero, but the quiet confidence that we, and others, knew our worth. We resumed our duties and got on with life.

In conclusion, I am intensely proud of all the men of my Battalion. They are the true inheritors of those who defended Hougoumont.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Hors de Combat

Today I received a belated Christmas present in the form of book that was recently published as a result of discussions held at the Centre for the Study of Post-Conflict Cultures of the University of Nottingham.

This coloquium was attended by a number of former Scots Guards as well as commanders of troops that opposed us that night and makes for some interesting reading. I have added it to my list of books and is well worth the read.

I will endeavor to upload some of the accounts especially those from former Scots Guards including the Mike Scott, Simon Price and Angus Smith.

The book also covers a lot of issues such as PTSD and has a detailed chapter based on reflection and analysis of the conflict.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Fellow Veterans

In this short clip Ian introduces us to 3 fellow Scots Guards Veterans.

Ian Morton was a sniper with Right Flank and was severely wounded during the attack.

Tony Blackburn and Billy Silver were with Left Flank

Discarded 66mm rockets

The attack by the Scots Guards soon bogged down when Left Flank hit a virtual wall of lead as they moved off their start positions and attempted to storm the crags. Pinned down by snipers it took hours for the battalion to eventually get enough mortars and artillery registered on the more obstinate positions.

Once the company started to go forward it developed into a 2 pronged attack.

In this video clip Ian Davidson is describing how the left hand of the prong advanced across the North Face of Tumbledown. It was the clearing of these positions that unhinged the defence on Tumbledown and perpetrated the collapse of the defence line.

Most of the Argentine positions were on the South slope facing the Stanley road leaving a platoon of engineers to cover the North slope which faced Mount Longdon. It was these positions that were cleared leaving the Scots Guards free to climb up into the crags and fire onto the back and flank of the main Argentine defences the other side.

Scaling these crags in the dark, during a snow storm, under fire, heavily laden with ammunition and carrying ammunition was quite a feat in itself. Upon reaching the top the 66 rocket was used to great effect as a "bunker buster" and the effects on morale of defenders as they slammed into positions was very disconcerting. The 66 was single use weapon and once used the empty tube was tossed away. These have laid on the ground where they landed eversince.

Looking South from Tumbledown

This short video clip is taken from the slopes forward of Left Flanks position below the crags looking out over the area we were initially tasked with covering. This area was covered by a formidable collection of bunkers both from Tumbledown and Mount William which is the mountain in the foreground. You can make out the skree runs which are a pain to cross in daylight let alone at night, under fire and heavily laden. Pony Pass is out of shot to the right.

Wreath Laying on Tumbledown

It was ironic that in the middle of the Summer we would get to lay wreaths to the 7 members of the Scots Guards who died on Tumbledown and it would snow thereby mimicing the conditions of 25 years ago.

It was an emotional ceremony which I kicked off by reading the "Ode To Tumbledown" and then each of us laid either a wreath or a poppy.

After the wreath laying a bugler from the 1POWR played the last post.

2SG Diversion Attack

For 25 years various accounts and books have documented the attack by 2SG on Tumbledown. The plans for the attack originally stated that 2SG would attack in broad daylight across the Southern slopes of Tumbledown from the area around Pony Pass. This was the direction from which the Argentines expected the attack to come from and as such their defences reflected this.

It was decided by the commanding officer LT COL Mike Scott that this wasn't a very good plan so everything was changed so that instead Tumbledown would be taken from the flank and rolled up. Part of this plan called for a diversion attack to be mounted from the same area (Pony Pass) that was intended to give the impression of an attack and hopefully divert attention to this area.

The diversion attack called for the men to crawl to within 200m of the enemy position and then go "noisy". Sadly in the confusion of the night the reinforced patrol walked right into the Argentine positions before being fired on at point blank range. WO2 Danny Wight (2SG) and LCPL John Pashley (9PARA RE) were killed almost instantly and in the ensuing melee and retreat almost all the other members were wounded.

The exact spot where this happened had remained lost until 2 pipers who were on the attack located the spot where the contact had been made. Not only where the trenches still visible but evidence of the fire fight was shrewn around the area including a discarded clansmen radio battery.

This video is of pipers playing at a small adhoc memorial at the cairn built by pipers Steven Duffy and MacGuiness. (Steve is playing the pipes closest to the camera, McGuiness is not playing the pipes but is wearing his pipers hat).

As the camera pans around you will see a glimpse of a peat bank. It was on top of this that the Argentines had their trenches and the dip in front the bank is where Danny and John were killed.

Reading accounts as to why they were allowed to get so close the Argentines claim that they were waiting for orders from their command post which was to the rear and that they had been watching the Scots Guards getting closer for the previous 30 minutes using night sights. Talking to the pipers though they remember the distinctive sound of zips on sleeping bags being hastily undone which would seem to imply that the position was asleep and the sentry who opened up was either totally unaware of the Scots Guards approaching in the dark until the very last minute or he was an extremely cool customer and waited until he could literally see the "whites of their eyes"

Well I had great plans over Christmas and New Year to do some more work on my blog in particular with regards uploading some more videos. Of course the best laid plans of mice and men meant that I was either too busy entertaining or had flu hence nothing got down.

This video was taken from the main road (only road) to Stanley which passes to the South of the Tumbledown. The voice in the background is that of Theresa Davidson widow of LSGT Clark Mitchell.

G Coy objective is the hillock on the left, the area where Left flank is the craggy area in the centre while the area I was in with Right flank is on the right. The other mountain that comes into view as the camera pans around to the right is Mount William which would have been taken by the Gurkhas if the Argentines hadn't capitulated.