Friday, 1 February 2008

Summary of the Actions of the 5th Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM5) in the Malvinas Conflict

This is the presentation given by Carlos Hugo Robacio Commanding Officer of BIM5

Once the Malvinas were re-taken by the Amphibious Task Force, the Landing Force returned immediately to the mainland, leaving behind a small garrison of the Argentine Army. Meanwhile the national government began handling the crisis with the clear intention of discussing seriously and through diplomatic channels the litigation of sovereignty between both contenders. Sadly the British Government put all its effort into recovering the archipelago through force of arms. This required the reinforcement of the garrison that had been left behind, for which the 5th Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM5) was deployed in addition to other units belonging to the Army, Air Force and the Navy.

The unit arrived on 8 April 1982 and, with the purpose of providing direct support to BIM5, B Battery of the BIAC and a platoon of Amphibious Engineers were added later, as was a 12.7mm Machine Gun Company of which a single platoon was assigned. On 16 April, the definitive defence order was distributed to the unit, assigning responsibility over Mounts Tumbledown and William, and Sapper Hill. O (-) Company was constituted as a reserve and prepared for counterattacks on these features. The positions were occupied from the first day of arrival, given the capacity of the British Task Force for executing large incursions.

The baptism of fire began at dawn on 1 May 1982, and there was one fatality and five wounded on Sapper Hill from naval support fire. From 15 May, naval bombardments and naval aircraft attacks grew more intense, with ground-based shelling being added later. The logistic suffocation of the unit increased because both sea and air were in possession of the attacking naval force. The landing at San Carlos took place on 21 May 1982 and the duel between patrols from each side began. As elements of the coastal defence, and to raise morale by acquiring firepower to respond to the enemy’s bombing, an Exocet launching ramp was incorporated, as well as 155mm Sofma guns.

On 5 June as the Battalion’s area of responsibility was increased, 0 (-) Company was detached forward to the area of Pony’s Pass to set up a delaying battle to interdict the line of approach through Mount Harriet and Sapper Hill into the town (of Puerto Argentino). During the night of 11 June, the first phase began on the heights of Mount Harriet, Two Sisters and Mount Longdon, all of which were attacked by the Royal Marine Brigade and 3 Para.

BIM5 was then in the front line as the remaining troops fell back to Puerto Argentino and only some men voluntarily joined the Battalion, as was the case of Army Second-Lieutenant Silva and five conscripts, who would fight alongside 4 Platoon in the Tumbledown. Attention has to be drawn to an inexplicable diversionary attack in the direction of Mount William which was against the pattern of doing this at night. Performed during last light on 13 June, the attacking sub-unit was (according to us) practically annihilated by fire from our defensive locations.

It is worth mentioning that BIM5 both integrated and directed supporting fire from the two Army Artillery Battalions who provided total and indiscriminate support at critical moments of the battle. On the other hand, B Company of 6th Infantry Regiment, which linked the rear of Two Sisters with the troops on Longdon, and should have fallen back to the Tumbledown’s western salient, unfortunately did this some kilometres to the east, thus weakening the anticipated plan for the defence of Mount Tumbledown which had already been co-ordinated and laid out. Nothing was done by higher command to correct this error, leaving those troops to cover Moody Valley.

During the night of 13-14 June the attacking forces set out on their final offensive from the south-west at approximately 22.15 hours. On the one hand they did it straddling the road running south of Mount Harriet that leads directly to Puerto Argentino, and on the other they did it going directly over the Tumbledown where it coincided with the positions of 4 Platoon, N Company, BIM5. Initially the attack was repulsed and restrained by bloody and intensive fighting with well- coordinated fire support on the attacking sub-units and determined action from the men of O (-) Company — until finally the latter was ordered to initiate a withdrawal and re-group in the proximity of the Battalion’s command post, thereby allowing freedom to M Company, BIM5 and permitting us to carry out all our efforts on the Tumbledown. This was possible since C (-) Company of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment — which had been put under BIM5’s command — flanked the access to the attacking forces that straddled the road.

Meanwhile 4 Platoon was being attacked in the Tumbledown by the Scot Guards and managed to repulse the latter’s first attack. Combat at this position would, within hours, acquire a totally epic meaning for both contenders. There was long and fierce fighting there. The Scots Guards Battalion assaulted and then retreated time and time again, concentrating their effort on the heroic 4 Platoon. They fought hand to hand with grenades and using everything that was available. Fire support from both sides was accurate. 4 Platoon was still resisting, their men would shout out victory and challenging words as they repulsed the first attacks. At dawn the assault continued with the Scots Guards pouring over our positions and beyond. The platoon commander called for friendly shelling onto his positions to stop the advancing attack, and requested a counter-attack to restore his position. Troops from another Argentine Marine platoon and one from the Army were thrown in, without achieving the success expected due to the prevailing situation. The attitude and aptitude of this platoon commander, as well as those of his men, turned them into role models. The commander, for leading his men in combat, personally engaging in the greater risks and contributing with his fighting spirit, made his subordinates fight decisively. These men are an example that the Marines must treasure with pride.

To the North, across the Moody Brook, the attack of 2 Para had neutralised the remaining positions of the 7th Infantry Regiment, thus threatening — along with 3 Para — our logistics area and command post.

At about 03.00 hours a counter-attack was considered using M and O (-) Companies. This possibility was refused by order of our higher command, thus preventing our last possibility for breaking the assault. At about 05.00 hours the assault was re-initiated in an intense and brutal way in spite of the shelling of our own positions. This was interrupted when 4 Platoon exhausted its ammunition and lost part of its force. Once the Scots Guards held on fast in the Tumbledown, the 7th Gurkhas climbed to attack Mount William and take the 81mm mortars.

At 06.15 hours on 14 June, the Battalion received the order to fall back to Puerto Argentino. It did not do this. Relevant orders were issued to cease combat and fall back on Sapper Hill to establish — given the remaining ammunition of M Company/BIM5 — the last defence. This was achieved approximately at 11.00 hours when new intentions to surrender were received from higher command. This happened at around 13.00/14.00 hours. The Battalion entered Puerto Argentino, marching past with arms at the shoulder, leaving a sixteen-strong rearguard on Sapper Hill with two general purpose machine guns (MAG) and a 12.7 mm Browning heavy machine gun. These made contact with an enemy wave of approximately six helicopters, and such were the circumstances in which the final combat took place.

Thus ended the action of a unit which — although trained to attack — had to fight in the heart of the defence at the Battle for Puerto Argentino.

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