Napoleon’s Top Ten Military Commanders

“Read and reread the deeds of the great commanders, it is the only way to learn the art of war.”

It is something of immense interest to me to recall anything about ‘The God of War’ himself, Napoleon – for me at least, the greatest military commander who ever lived, and to provide new views on him. He is, after all, the most written-about man in all of history.

Firstly a quick break from our narrative to address a quick issue – “The ‘F’ word” – that’s right: “Falklands.” Readers of my blog will also know that I have received some major, shall we say “attention” for my recent work on the Falklands. For the most part the response has been excellent, indeed incredible. However what with this, and with my current productions covering both Caesar and Hannibal, I wanted to make one thing abundantly clear, in that I am not a ‘Falklands’ historian nor indeed an ‘Ancient’ historian, but  Military historian who covers all genres. The Falklands thing was a pet-project which grew, as were many of the others, but for me, by and large, a great deal of my work comes down to the most personally fascinating man in military history – and that is of course Napoleon. It is easy to be pigeon-holed in our industry, and prior to the whole Falklands thing, many were saying “Ricky that ancient warfare historian” – now it has gone the other way!

So for just a minute here, I’m going to indulge myself and talk about the man who I lovingly refer to as ‘The Boss” – and in particular about the ten men who really influenced him and his art of war.

Alexander the Great 

Any history of Napoleon’s influencers has to start here. Alexander was the man who set the proverbial ‘bar’ for all commanders from all ages. Alexander fought – and won – perhaps forty battles, combats and sieges without ever a defeat, although being most famous for the battles of the Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela and the Hydaspes. Whilst other commanders, as we shall see, influenced Napoleon militarily, strategically and tactically, yet Alexander provided Napoleon with the ‘dream’ that one man could stand as a God and sweep all before him. It was in pursuit of this dream that Napoleon met his demise; his inexorable thirst to conquer taking him to Russia where he later said he wished he had fallen so that men might always wonder if he could have reached farther than his idol.

Hannibal Barca 

The ‘father of strategy’ Hannibal makes the list second. Napoleon, like so many others, was in awe of this doyen of battle tactics whose battles, particularly those of the Trebbia, Lake Trasimene and of course Cannae, have formed the model for every major battle and campaign in history. For a commander whose ultimate aim was a decisive and crushing battle, as was Napoleon, Hannibal was the obvious choice. He was a man who could do the impossible, who could take on odds with a plan which would make his opponents work for him. What Alexander did for the grand dream, so Hannibal did for Napoleon in that idea of the grand destructive battle and his famous quote; “I will either find a way, or make one.”

Julius Caesar 

Caesar is a curious addition from a purely military stance. Of fifty battles fought, there was little which could be absorbed into the French system as there could be with Hannibal. But where Caesar made the grade above all others was in his ability to climb and create his own legend. If Alexander had been the dream, then Caesar was the blueprint to how an ordinary man might get as close as he could to it. Caesar was a formidable strategist who could merge the military art with politics and propaganda, and these lessons were all absorbed by Napoleon. Of a purely military legacy we must allow that Caesar’s speed was the thing which fired Napoleon’s imagination. When anyone stood up to Caesar, he came down upon them like a lighting bolt and scattered their allies and their armies before anything could grow into a desperate situation. It was an idea which Napoleon was to use to full effect many times.

Charlemagne

Charles the Great, the man whose Latin name ‘Charles Magnus’ became converted into one form. The King of the Franks, Charlemagne forged an empire which united Western Europe, particularly France, Germany and Italy, and which fused a military and political system together. In many ways a latter-day Caesar of sorts, Charlemagne was a shrewd diplomat and also a military innovator of the first order. He led a cavalry-revolution of ‘shock action’ against his opponents and introduced novel, indeed revolutionary siege techniques, and was an outstanding logistician which ensured that his campaigns could be fully supported and seen through to the end. Primarily, Charlemagne was the first commander to used converging detached forces – something key to the Napoleonic system. Credited with eighteen major battles and not one defeat, Charlemagne bridged the gap between the hero-worship of the ancient commanders and the practical genius of the ‘moderns’ (as Napoleon termed them) and is remembered as one of the very few truly outstanding commanders of the dark ages.

Gustavus Adolphus  

The first of the ‘moderns’ on Napoleon’s list, Gustavus, King of Sweden, has been hailed as both ‘the father of modern warfare’ and ‘the father of the the artillery’ – something not lost on Napoleon. Perhaps the single greatest soldier who ever lived, Gustavus was the ‘total package’ of warfare, merging all aspects of warfare into a truly national effort and producing the world’s first standardised artillery on top of a hundred more innovations to the art. The perfect infantryman, artilleryman, cavalryman, engineer and more, Gustavus shook the world and revolutionised the art of the commander for ever more. A lion of a man and always in the thick of the fighting, yet Napoleon was less than complimentary about him, stating that; “He wins one battle, loses the second and is killed in the third – there’s a neat reputation for you!” – yet despite this and several more jibes at Gustavus’ expense, Napoleon spent the night of the battle of Lutzen alone and in quiet contemplation at the monument toGustavus who had fallen on that field. There, he said, he experienced some great revelation – he never said what he saw, but the following day, Napoleon came out fighting as only Gustavus had or ever could. His greatest single day, as Marshal Marmont later recalled.

Marshal Turenne 

Of all of Napoleon’s favourite military commanders, Turenne topped the list as his idol and is still remembered as the greatest French general before Napoleon. He was not a technical innovator, as had been Charlemagne or Gustavus, nor did he fight any truly great battles as had Alexander or Hannibal, but Turenne was the first who could wage ‘campaign’ warfare. He made movement and manouevre his weapons and could defeat his opponents long before the battle was ever joined. An exponent of many short, sharp pin-prick actions, Turenne’s doctrine was at the forefront of Napoleon’s first campaign in Italy and later, when he was against the ropes in France and facing insurmountable odds, he was to revert once more to this model and to show that Turenne, before all others, was his teacher in the arts of war. Napoleon was later to say that he wished he had had Turenne with him at the battle of Wagram – indeed that he would have preferred him to Hannibal, and later went on record as saying that; “If I had had Turenne at my side during my campaigns, I would have been the master of the world.”

The Great Conde 

Turenne’s friend, then his enemy and then once again his friend, Conde was to claim second-place to Turenne in Napoleon’s list of the greatest French generals. Conde was the greatest battle-captain of his age, at just twenty-one the man who finally destroyed the legend of Spain’s invincibility in warfare at the battle of Rocroi, and – right up to his very last battle as an old gout-ridden version of his former dashing self – the maddest and boldest commander to ever grace the field of battle. Conde faced  and even defeated in battle some of the world’s top generals to include von Mercy, Montecucolli and even Turenne on one occasion, although owing his three battlefield defeats solely to his former friend. It was Conde’s skill, his patience and then an uncanny sense of timing to unleash that savage onslaught in a way matched by no commander other than possibly Alexander himself, Conde married those two Napoleonic concepts of coup de oeil and what he himself termed ‘The sacred fire’ into a perfect model. At Wagram, along with Turenne, Napoleon had also wished for a Conde by his side.

Prince Eugene of Savoy 

Another Frenchman, but one who fought against France, Prince Eugene was the greatest commander of the Hapsburg Empire who fought against both Ottoman and European opponents with consumate skill. Napoleon actually made very few comments about Eugene, although military theorists state that that above all he could make the system work, which no other could. Yet Eugene brought to the art of war something which blended the elements of Gustavus, Turenne and Conde into a perfect harmony. His brilliance was, perhaps, in doing everything brilliantly, and whilst we might think of Hannibal for Cannae, of Gustavus for Breitenfeld or of Conde for Rocroi, yet Prince Eugene made this his everyday business.He was the first to truly add ‘Intelligence’ as an arm of warfare as important as infantry or cavalry, and had an uncanny way of knowing his opponents intimately, often better than they knew themselves. Often compared with and even overshadowed by his great friend and co-commander Marlborough, yet Napoleon paid homage to Eugene’s effortless acceptance of coalition warfare, and indeed he honoured Marlborough the same, even commissioning a work on his campaigns to which he added great tracts himself anonymously.

Marshal Saxe 

The young Saxon drummer-boy who first served under Marlborough and Eugene at the siege of Lille aged just twelve and went on to fight at Malplaquet is now remembered as ‘the military prophet’ and for good reasons. Having served under the two greatest commander of the age, he next served under Peter the Great, commanding a regiment aged just seventeen and soaring to fame by capturing Prague by a coup de main. Victory followed Saxe everywhere, handing defeats the the British and their allies at Fontenoy, Rocoux and Lauffeldt. Where Saxe earned his place, however, was as a military theorist in a series of books known as his ‘Reveries’. First decried as the ravings of a madman on opium, Saxe’s reveries were idolised by Napoleon, for they were the first work which truly began to understand warfare as an exact science or definitive system, and were produced with the French system in mind. Saxe believed that the French character was fundamentally different from others, particularly the well-drilled Prussians, and that therefore the French required a system which applied to them alone. His innovations – never to be seen, included upgraded artillery, suggested rapid-firing breech-loading muskets and a corps of assault troops armed with swords and bullet-proof shields. A man of phenomenal strength, Saxe’s party-trick involved crushing a horse-shoe in one hand, a trick which he could still perform into his fifties when he died of fever.

Frederick the Great 

Very few military commanders – perhaps save only Turenne, stood as high with Napoleon in the practicalities of warfare as did Frederick, but for very different reasons. With all of the commanders listed, Napoleon had a love and a fascination but with Frederick, Napoleon had something which merged reverent respect with a professional jealousy bordering on hate. Frederick was the first commander of the modern age to truly look back through history and to see how the lessons of ancient warfare could be applied in the present day. In this alone, he was essentially the maker of Napoleon. Frederick saw the ‘manouevre battles’ of Cyrus the Great in the 500’s BC and drew on the histories of Epaminondas of Thebes and Philip and Alexander of Macedon to create a military system – the most famous incarnation of which was his ‘oblique order’. A master theorist in warfare and a man never scared of the odds, Frederick  wrecked his opponents with skill, efficiency and a cold-blooded determination. When one of his party compared Frederick with Turenne, Napoleon was incensed, stating that Turenne was by far the better, and when pressed as to this curious answer and reminded that he had always held Frederick in awe, Napoleon stated; “That is true, but it does not mean that I won’t now tear down all that he stood for.” In 1806 Napoleon faced the once-great Prussian army that Frederick had built, at the battle of Jena and destroyed it utterly, going on to destroy the monument to Frederick’s victory over the French at nearby Rossbach. Nevertheless, Napoleon was to pay his hero his dues as he led his generals to visit the tomb of the Great King of Prussia, ordering them; “Hats off gentlemen. If he were alive, we would not be here!”

About the author: Ricky D Phillips is a military history author with current works due for release including some remarkable new pieces of ancient history, a seven-volume history of Napoleon and a brand new project covering the Falklands War amongst many others.

He can be followed on Facebook at ‘Ricky D Phillips – Military History Author’ for the latest updates on his new projects and latest books, plus the latest news from the world of military history.

 

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A war of words…

You know sometimes in the life of an author – particularly in something like military history, you have to accept certain inevitable consequences of what you write, particularly if, like me, you like to do something a little different.

Now this is not new, every writer who tries to say something new will invariably rock the proverbial boat, and what we thought would make people sit up and say “Wow, this is great!” actually is vastly more likely to rouse cries of “Liar! Charlatan!” and “Heretic!” from the purists. Even luckless old Hamilton-Williams with his Waterloo book – who was proven, so I am told, to have faked his evidence, came in for castigation from the Siborne purists long before they had even read his book! Okay in that instance, as the story goes, they were right, but it is perhaps the mindset that we must tackle. And it isn’t just the purists.

My good friend and fellow military history author Angus Konstam has 75 books to his name and still gets his Amazon accounts trolled by fellow authors, jealous of ‘their subject’ the way they see it, and I myself am no stranger. When I announced that I had discovered – as nobody else has – the secret code in Napoleon’s memoirs which gives up his final secret, I had my credibility torn to bits by a few…except the book isn’t even out yet and nobody has read it! Oh yes, when it comes to rewriting history, it seems that you can upset a great many people.

My latest three-part post on Operation “Rosario” – the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands has therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, rattled quite a few cages. The only surprise, I must say, is how far and wide this has gone around the world, and the reception it has received which has been immense, including from many veterans who fought on April 2nd 1982 – and from both sides of the conflict too, who are humbling in their praise of the accuracy and faithfulness of the recounting of their tale. But there is another element which does not quite agree, and in this, I must say, I am happy. When people are kicking up a fuss, you’re normally onto something, and when you make enemies, you’re sure to be onto a winner.

As I say, it’s nothing new. I am very open about myself, as an author should be if they are to be credible, and in my time I have picked up a number of trolls, a crazy man who wanted to sleep with me and then murder me (you couldn’t make it up!) and even the odd stalker -even of late, amongst a horde of other enemies either jealous of what you have done or else desperate to cling on to some belief-system regardless of facts or evidence which might be presented. I suppose this is the real art of the historian; to take in all the evidence, however slim, and test it to see how it fits against the rest. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of sorts. My good friend Paul Collard, author of the outstanding ‘Jack Lark’ series of books says I shouldn’t complain. He gets nothing as exciting as stalkers, trolls and murderers, but then I suppose he writes fiction. I mean, nobody is going to stand there and discredit fiction as…well, as ‘a work of fiction’ now are they?

So as soon as my first of the three-part history of this amazing, tiny and fascinating piece of history came out and the internet started buzzing, things began to get interesting pretty quickly. The post has gone viral in over a hundred countries (WordPress can tell and show you where it has been and how many people have read it) the response has been out of all proportion to two and a half days’ work (okay the research has been a lot longer) and the proverbial bullets have started to zing around my head. Within a minute of the first part’s posting, some Argentine elements were calling it a work of propaganda, a web of lies, an unproven fantasy (it takes longer than a minute to read!) and by the time Part 2 came out it started getting personal. These are the ‘paid trolls’ employed by someone somewhere in any extremist organisation and followed by impish-hangers-on the worst kind who doesn’t need payment: The fanatics.

On top of clogging up your systems (anyone remember the ‘Tribbles’ from Star-Trek?) with banal messages and notifications, people were starting to get personal. Apparently David Cameron comes to my house weekly with a brown envelope of cash and pays me for my next ‘assignment’, my family get looked into, I get accused of not even being a real person, Wikipedia gets trawled (I’m told I have been banned from there. I never even had an account!) and my personal credibility and integrity gets attacked. I get called a racist. This is interesting. It it hurtful but insightful. I was onto something and people were trying to hide it at all costs.

By the time Part 3 hit the web, with soldiers and Falkland Islanders praising it for its accuracy and integrity, I was getting very interested to see the developments, and I was not to be disappointed. My partner was attacked, I was attacked and – as I am so open about myself for reasons of integrity – my life put on show. I am resilient to this. In fact, I am oddly happy. For every bad comment, the encouragement from the veterans has increased, with every attack the support has grown. This is now being called “The book that has Argentina rattled” – and it isn’t even a book. Yet.

Of course, this isn’t a book or a post about attacking anyone. There are many who do write things with an ‘axe to grind’ but I have never been one of them. I like to unearth the truth about things and present clear logical evidence to encourage us to question those beliefs we hold. I do this firstly to myself. Where there is a question or a glaringly obvious hole in a story, then typically you will find me there if it comes across my desk  and sticks in my mind. This just happened to be one of those things. My readers know that anyway.

And so, I am forced to ask, what are certain elements in Argentina so worried about? A proof that their government has lied about what happened on that day, certainly. Yet the veterans of both sides are hailing this as a great and well-researched piece of history. Those veterans from Argentina were, of course, treated very badly by their government upon their return from the Falklands war and the government would like very much to forget them and this whole embarrassing incident if it could.It is not lost on them that their sacrifice and their losses on that day are not acknowledged, and the British veterans are happy that their small part in this has been recognised. Their valiant stand, and some very silly Argentine mistakes, led to a fiasco and a serious military defeat.

I cannot help but think that still there is something more. Daily, more and more veterans are adding to this, sending me their stories and giving me enough new information and fresh evidence with which to add significantly to this story, to which in no small part, they have already contributed so strongly. Someone somewhere is worried, and for what, I don’t yet know. I have enemies, it seems, in standing up for the veterans on both sides of this action, and I am encouraged more than cowed by them.

As you can imagine, this will already be read by those people. I am warned that ‘something big is coming’ and I hope so. Because of those people, I am encouraged. This will hit print, far and wide by the most commercial means. That means profits are down but the story goes far. Very far. And it is a story which not only needs to be told, but which will change a lot of things as we see them. So come bullies, come trolls, come stalkers and even what I would consider as that dirtiest of words ‘traitors’ – because once you have stood up for something, you do not sit down. Bullies do not win and cannot win, in short this is what the epic story of the Falklands War is all about, and it seems that those same bullies or their progenies are still out there.

Everybody, my Dad always said, is good at something. Everybody has a weapon which only they can wield, and this is mine. There is a secret which is closely guarded, which has got a lot of the wrong people upset and I am interested to see both what and why. This is what I set out to do with history, and it is happening, not just in spite of but because of those people who now bring it down upon themselves. I am not changing the truth, just making it as it is and as it should be, because there is only one truth and we don’t have it yet.

So it is time to stand up, to be counted, to not be silenced  by those scared and cowardly bullies, whatever the cost. It is time to take the fight back. It is time to make history.

 

 

 

 

 

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Operation Rosario – The real story (Part 3)

Quick Recap

At this stage I think it might be an idea just to bring us back on track with this three-part post by way of a quick recap. Essentially the premise set out in Part 1 was the idea that significant evidence exists, which indicates that Argentina has covered up and dramatically altered the history of a great deal of Operation “Rosario” and chiefly that this is borne out by the casualty count. Already we have seen some interesting anomalies – the idea that Vice-Admiral Busser’s men did everything possible to minimise the casualties of the Royal Marines has been challenged by the strafing of Moody Brook barracks. One Amtrack amphibious vehicle has been seen to go missing during the initial Argentine landing, with no explanation offered for its disappearance and finally one more vehicle with 3 crew members and 20 soldiers on board which all evidence suggests was blown up on the airport road into Stanley and covered up by a very inaccurate report.

At the stage in the operation at which we are now engrossed, not one of the stated Argentine losses (stated as 1 man killed and 3 wounded) has yet been struck down, but already we have significant evidence for at least 23 and possibly 46 men lost along with one and possibly two armoured vehicles. The evidence is enough to make us sit up and take notice of these curious incidents and the conflicting evidence surrounding them, and to start to question not just the importance of the plucky stand made by a small detachment of Royal Marines, but also the intentions and conduct of the Argentine government and the obvious question that, if many more men were killed than has been acknowledged for the last 34 years, who were they?

For now, in our narrative, the Royal Marines have fallen back to around Government House, the British Residency in the Falklands where they are now engaged in a last-ditch battle against vastly-growing odds. Their mission is to protect the islands’ governor Rex Hunt, to hold out for as long as possible to give the world time to react to the Argentine invasion and to rack up the Argentine casualties so that, no matter what, Argentina could not claim anything like a ‘peaceful annexation’ of the Falklands.

The ‘Decapitation Plan’ fails – “Okay, they might be going to kill us, we thought, but by Christ they’ll know they’ve been in a fight.” – Corporal Geordie Gill

The first shots of the Falklands war had erupted at 06:05 on the morning of April 2nd 1982 when the Argentine special forces had attacked the abandoned Royal Marine barracks at Moody Brook with stun grenades, tear-gas and machine guns. Ten minutes later, they struck the residency at Government House. Rex Hunt was discussing the fire heard at Moody Brook with his Chief Secretary Dick Baker, and agreed that Dick should go ahead with arresting the local Argentine LADE employees prior to going home to his wife Connie. As Dick Baker exited Government House by the west door, he was met with a fusillade of automatic fire from the darkness, which saw him quickly bolting back inside the building. At once, the Royal Marines at Government House jumped into action. Nobody had expected the enemy to be upon them, but now it was a scene of activity. Dick Baker called out to one of the Sergeants to see what he could do to help, and was met with the reply; “Sit in that corner, Sir, with your arse against the concrete and keep out of the fucking way!” – Meanwhile, for Corporal Geordie Gill, an experienced soldier who had seen combat before, the sudden eruption of fire had a curiously comforting effect. “The waiting was over,” he recalled, “and now we could get down to doing our jobs. You just stopped being scared. Okay, they might be going to kill us, we thought, but by Christ they’ll know they’ve been in a fight.”

Within a few minutes of the opening shots fired at Government House, Major Mike Norman, Commanding Officer Falklands, had ran with his section back to the residency where he quickly conferred with Major Gary Noot and the Governor, Rex Hunt. All of a sudden a flurry of automatic fire erupted from outside and Major Norman ran back to see that his soldiers were under close-fire assault from the enemy, backed up by a number of loud explosions which shook Government House. “What are they firing?” Major Noot called out from inside the Residency, “It sounds like bloody artillery to me.” called back Norman, “Or mortars.” – In fact the explosions were stun-grenades which were being lobbed in by the surrounding Argentine troops, so close were they to the Residency.

For the moment, the sudden initial onset of the attack had caught the Marines unawares as bullets smashed the windows and raked the walls. The effect of the stun-grenades was also noticeable, and several Marines instinctively stood up, dazed, to be dragged back to the floor by their comrades. Geordie Gill, no stranger to combat, could not believe the sheer weight of fire which was pouring into Government House. The wooden upstairs of the residency was shot to pieces but the ground floor, made of solid Falkland stone, was protection enough. Outside the Residency, Marines ducked into the bushes, the trees and the gardens as many others sought the protection of the stone wall which separated Government House from the low ridge to the south, from where heavier automatic weapons were being fired at them.

This was the key to the Argentine ‘Decapitation plan’ – a plan which had envisaged the unsuspecting Marines at Moody Brook being taken out by a hit-quad whilst a second detachment of Argentine special forces soldiers pinned down the defenders of Government House and sent a ‘snatch squad’ to capture Governor Rex Hunt. Little had the Argentines suspected that the Marines would be ready for them, and instead of being tucked up asleep at the Brook, they were now preparing to make a fight of it behind the stone walls of the Residency as both sides began to receive steady reinforcements.

In the darkness, Argentine Lt. Commander Pedro Giachino now crept forward leading his ‘snatch squad’ of four men and burst through the Servants’ Annexe, wrongly believing it to be the rear entrance to the Residency. Bursting through the door, Giachino found himself confronted by three Royal Marines who shot him point blank with their SLR’s, sending him mortally wounded to the floor as Lieutenant Diego Garcia Quiroga was shot in the arm and made his escape towards the Maid’s quarters with the rest of the squad.The firing flared up again and an Argentine soldier was seen to make a dash for the Servants’ Annexe, so the Marines let out a burst of fire from their GPMG, tearing half of the man’s stomach out but leaving him alive. That man was Corporal Ernesto Urbina and only too late did the Marines realise that he was actually a medic come to help Giachino. Another man made a dash forward and they threw a grenade at him which sent him sprawling to the floor. The ‘Decapitation plan’ had failed, the enemy had taken casualties, and the battle for Government House was about to begin.

The Battle for Government House – “Fuck off! We’re not going to surrender! If you want us, come down and get us!” – Royal Marine’s reply to Argentine calls to surrender Government House.

From the windows of Government House, from the hedgerows and trees in the gardens and from the stone wall to the south, the Royal Marines began to take the fight back to the enemy. At the stone wall, only a few feet separated the Royal Marines from their Argentine opponents as both sides blazed away into the murky light of day. Corporal Geordie Gill takes up the story; “They were dressed in black, but because dawn was now coming in, we could see these murky figures. One appeared on the wall in the gloom, and Corporal Sellen and Marine Timms shot him. Two more were shot. They weren’t dead but subsequently at least one did die.”

Now a brief lull descended on the fighting as both sides waited for reinforcements. Major Norman tried to get his men to move so that he could sally out and make an attack upon the flank of the Argentine position, but each time a Marine moved, he brought down on himself a flurry of automatic fire; Amazingly there were no hits,” he recalled, “but the near misses were alarming.” Now the Argentines attempted to call upon the Governor to surrender peacefully, but the Royal Marines were having none of it and attempted to show their own impressions of a peaceful dialogue, as was recorded; “Stop fighting! Mister Hunt, come out! Stop fighting!” – “Fuck off you Argentine bastard!” – “Come out Mister Hunt! Tell your Marines to stop fighting!” – “Fuck off! We’re not going to surrender! If you want us, come down and get us!”

By now, Rex Hunt was under no illusion as to the scale of the attack and the dwindling likelihood of his remaining Governor of the Falkland Islands past this day. Reports had come in of the remaining five Amtrack APC’s making their way through Stanley towards Government House, each one armed with a 30mm cannon which could make rubble of the Residency in minutes. Picking up the phone, he now made a call to FIBS – the Falkland Islands’ radio station which had been broadcasting up-to-the-minute updates of the invasion with the world’s first in-combat phone-in radio show which saw residents describing the action as it unfolded. When asked on air if he would fight it out or surrender, Hunt replied; “We are not surrendering. We are resisting…They must have 200 men around us now. They’ve been throwing rifle grenades at us; I think there may be mortars, I don’t know. They came along very quickly and very close, and then they retreated. Maybe they are waiting until the APC’s come along as they think they’ll lose less casualties that way…So I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time, but…well, we’ll do what we can.”

If the soldiers of both sides were feeling the strain, then one man, at least, was not. As bullets zipped overhead from desultory sniping, Marine Turner was amazed to see a civilian walking briskly along Ross Road beside Government House with his satchel slung over his arm. The firing stopped as the forces of both sides tried to work out the meaning of the spectacle, and when Turner hissed at him to get down, the man casually announced; “It’s alright for you lot, but some of us have got to get to work!”

As the murky darkness gave way to sunshine, the Marines now found themselves at an advantage. The Argentine soldiers, dressed in black, had been almost invisible by night, but now they were more visible and making the unforgivable error of allowing themselves to be silhouetted against the skyline, making them easier targets. At the stone wall, Geordie Gill and newcomer Corporal Terry Pares had developed a good system for taking out the enemy, Gill with his sniper rifle and Pares with his SLR, as Major Norman’s report went on to say; “Corporals Pares and Gill were doing an excellent job. Gill would look through his sniper scope and tell Pares where the enemy were and Pares would fire ten rounds rapid, and as soon as that got them on the move, Gill would take them out with the sniper rifle.” – Gill and Pares were now encouraging the others, giving a running commentary on their success, which by now totalled four or five confirmed hits.

The Last Defence – “This is Christmas.” – Geordie Gill.

By 08:00 the firing had died down again and both sides settled into a truce to tend to the wounded. Although the Royal Marines had still as yet suffered not a single casualty, yet the Argentines who had been shot in and around the grounds needed care. In the Servants’ Annexe, the badly wounded Lt. Commander Giachino refused all aid, even pulling the pin on a grenade which he held, so stopping the Marines from giving him any aid. Meanwhile, from behind the stone wall, Geordie Gill emerged cautiously, covered by Terry Pares, to see to the three wounded men who had been shot trying to vault the wall. As he approached, he noticed a section of Argentine soldiers moving forward towards him and taking up new positions, and quickly fell back. At once, he called to his commanding officers, Majors Noot and Norman, complaining that the Argentine soldiers were using the truce to improve their positions, breaching not only a time-honoured code between soldiers, but also the Geneva Convention.

Gill promised to shoot the next man who moved, but he was ordered absolutely  to do no such thing. The Royal Marines were outnumbered and outgunned, but they would at least preserve their honour. The enemy, however, had no such scruples, and now someone levelled a shot at him, sending Gill sprawling to the deck for cover. Thinking that it had been Gill who had fired the shot, his superiors now threatened to put him on a charge, but Gill, swearing and angry let them know that the shot had not been his. Majors Noot and Norman now asked if he could still see the Argentines who had crept forward into their improved positions, and Gill said that he could. “Well take ’em out!” came the order. Now Geordie Gill had no reservations against shooting them; men who would take pot-shots at him during a truce, and picking up his sniper rifle, determined to pay the Argentines back in kind. “This is Christmas” he told himself.

Having spotted new targets, including a radio operator and his comrade, Geordie Gill now took aim and fired; “My first two shots must have gone low. So I racked up the sights and the next time I saw the guy go down. His mate stuck his head out to see what had happened and I got him. I was firing through a hole in the hedge, up on one knee, over about 500 yards. And then Terry shouted that he could see one of them…so he opened up with about half a magazine from his SLR and shouted “I think I got him!” – I saw his body fall down in my field of view on its back. Then me and a machine gunner had an interesting little time. I’m certain I accounted for two and I’m pretty certain of a third.” – Indeed, as verified by at least one other account, Geordie did hit the machine-gunner.

By now, the firing along the line was general. Marine Macdonald fired 30 single-shot rounds from his SLR and engaged enemy soldiers at anything from 80 metres to just 10 metres distance, many of whom he sent sprawling to the floor. Many others also claimed confirmed ‘kills’ from amongst the Argentines, five of whom lay dead within sight of the Marines as another 17 lay about on the grass with injuries. There had been more claimed hits further away, but these men and their fates, the Marines could not see. Geordie Gill and Sergeant-Major Bill Muir both agreed as to this figure, but several others, including Macdonald, put the overall Argentine casualties very conservatively at 30 and much nearer to 60 killed and wounded.

Another truce now descended upon the Residency at 08:35 that morning. The Argentine soldiers, still growing in numbers, had been mauled and now awaited the approach of the five Amtracks which would mark the end of the British resistance. In the ensuing silence, the men in the Residency suddenly heard noises upstairs, and summoning Geordie Gill, Major Noot and he grabbed sub-machine guns and sprayed several rounds up into the ceiling, calling up “Arriba los manos!” After a few seconds they heard movement and three Argentine soldiers came gingerly down the stairs holding their arms in the air. They had crept in during the first truce in the darkness.

Government House falls – “This is British territory. You are not invited here. We don’t want you here. I want you to go, and to take all your men with you now.” – Governor Rex Hunt addressing Admiral Busser in Government House.

The Argentine forces had meanwhile heard Rex Hunt’s broadcast on the radio and had tapped into the same frequency to deliver a message calling upon the defenders of the Residency to surrender. In Government House, Rex Hunt knew that the time was up as the five Amtrack APC’s pulled up with their deadly 30mm cannon ready to reduce the house to rubble. It was time to negotiate. Dick Baker managed to fasten a white curtain to an umbrella and had roped in the popular local Argentine Hector Gilobert, who was in tears at the bad faith of his countrymen. Gilobert had arrived at Government House met by a burst of fire which hurried him through the door, and now out he marched again, following Dick Baker with his flag held high. Even then, the surrounding Argentine soldiers fired on them, “but were either trying to put the wind up us,” Baker recalled, “or were bloody bad shots.”

At 08:45 the two walked into Stanley to the police station, they now called to the FIBS broadcasting station and asked to be put on the air from where Gilobert broadcast a message in Spanish, proposing to meet in front of the Catholic church in Stanley. Soon they were met there by Admiral Busser whom, they thought, reminded them of John Wayne strolling down the street towards them. Shaking the men by the hand, Busser, who spoke excellent English, agreed to be escorted to Government House to speak with Rex Hunt in person. As the party approached the Residency, so a burst of shots met them, and Busser was forced to cup his hands to his face and call out to his nervous soldiers who he was and that they were under a flag of truce. Meeting with no response, Busser then called out “If you hear what I am saying, raise your right arms!” – slowly one arm came up from the undergrowth, soon joined by many more. Busser laughed as the party continued dow the road; “And they call this the age of electronic communications!” he said.

Busser approached the Residency with six of his special forces soldiers, but the Marines there refused to let any enter but him. One Argentine reached out and tried to snatch the magazine from his sub-machine gun and at once the air was alive with the clicks of safety catches being taken off of the Marines’ rifles who lay camouflaged amongst the trees. The Argentine soldiers suddenly went pale, realising that they were in a killing zone and looking about confused, but Busser calmed them, told them to stand down and entered the Residency alone. He found Rex Hunt sat at the desk in what remained of his office, and removed his helmet as he approached the desk and made to speak, but standing, Rex Hunt addressed the Admiral in his most dignified tone; “This is British territory. You are not invited here. We don’t want you here. I want you to go, and to take all your men with you now.” 

Busser was taken aback, but recovered himself with a polite smile; “I’ve got 800 men ashore,” he told Hunt, another 2,000 on the way. We don’t want to kill any of these marines. we thought that if we came in such numbers that they would not fight. I want you to stop the action now before Marines are killed and the civilians of Stanley are killed.” This was a thinly-veiled threat against the people themselves, and Rex Hunt knew that he had no option but to record for himself a moral victory. “In that case, you don’t give me any option.” he replied curtly, and turning to Mike Norman, ordered him to lay down his arms.

Government House had fallen.

The aftermath – “You have completely misjudged the British people. They will not stand for this. We will be back.” – Major Mike Norman, Royal Marines, addressing an Argentine officer.

Though Government House had fallen, yet one section – that which had escaped down to the jetty, was still at large. Pinned against the sea and with the Argentine soldiers closing in, they now deployed a Zodiac inflatable boat and prepared to escape across the bay to make land on the other side of Port William. First, they booby-trapped their GPMG with a grenade and then made out across the bay, dodging an Argentine Frigate, ducking between some Polish fishing vessels and arriving on the far side to continue a small-scale resistance. Seeing them go, an Argentine soldier dashed to the jetty and seized upon the GPMG to turn it against them. The grenade exploded, killing or seriously injuring the man.

In Stanley’s King Edward Memorial Hospital, three Argentine soldiers were carried in with severe gunshot wounds, including Lt. Commander Pedro Giachino who had finally had his grenade taken from him before he passed out. The report from the hospital stated that; “The doctors performed emergency surgery on three Argentine soldiers who had been shot at government house. Two of the men died in the hospital and one was still in a critical condition when his comrades took him away. In addition the doctors treated about a dozen other Argentine soldiers for less serious gunshot and shrapnel injuries.”

The men of the Royal Marines had been ordered to stand down and now stacked their arms and equipment. Again, several of the soldiers, including Sergeant-Major Bill Muir made a quick count of the enemy casualties. Elated at their victory, several of the Argentines now became over-zealous and now ordered the Marines onto their faces on the ground where many posed with them as Argentine photographer Rafael Wollman (an Argentine of German descent who had arrived two days previously ostensibly as a tourist) took pictures. Now the ‘tourist’ was firmly alongside the Argentine soldiers and taking pictures for them. These humiliating images were splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in the world within a day or two, and the British public and many more free people around the world now clamoured for an armed response. Busser’s ‘Decapitation plan’ had failed, he had taken severe losses and now, with one stroke of over-enthusiasm, his men had guaranteed a response. Even more so than the epic stand of the Marines, Wollman’s pictures and some over-eager young soldiers had just spelled the defeat of Argentina just 74 days later, and the eventual overthrow of the Junta.

As Major Mike Norman led his soldiers out for transportation to Montevideo, an Argentine major gloated at him; “We have provided a solution that your government and Mrs Thatcher are desperately looking for. I don’t think there will be any reaction.” Turning to the man, Mike Norman addressed him coldly; “You have completely misjudged the British people,” he told him, “They will not stand for this. We will be back.”

Just 74 days later it was to be Sergeant-Major Bill Muir who, having returned to England and attached himself to 42 Commando, had fought through the battles of Goose Green and Mount Harriett, had overseen the surrender of Stanley, and was granted the honour of raising the Union Flag over the islands once more. The epic stand of a small detachment of Royal Marines had not been forgotten, nor was it in vain.

Conclusion

I will leave it to the reader to count the final casualties incurred by Argentina during the three-hour-long defence of the Falkland Islands. The official records to this day still count only one man killed – Lt. Commander Giachino and three more wounded including Corporal Ernesto Urbina – the medic who was shot three times and who still proudly shows his scars as he runs a taxi company back in Argentina.

Though the real figure may never be known, I hope that through providing such a weight of evidence, pressure may be brought to ask Argentina to admit to these men who, even under the Junta, served their country and died for it. Two men alone died in the hospital and a third, while still critical, was quickly spirited away along with the bodies of Giachino and the other nameless individual, who was shot trying to vault the wall. In his post-battle report, Sergeant-Major Bill Muir reiterated his count in front of Government House, of five enemy killed and seventeen more wounded, seconded by Geordie Gill, whilst a quick tally from several others took the toll to northwards of 45 men and possibly as many as 60 (a figure given by two others) – plus three captured, however briefly. The Marines suffered not a single casualty.

There is evidence to suggest that at least some of the Argentines were sticking to their orders to avoid fatalities, but this is fractured in as many places as it proves itself. I would assume that many understood the order, but in a combat situation could not apply it as easily. There had been some very near-misses, the strafing of Moody Brook and several mortar rounds had landed in the streets of Stanley, damaging houses, bringing down some walls, but luckily injuring nobody. Perhaps they were indeed, as was suggested, just trying to ‘put the wind up’ the defenders. Or perhaps, as was also suggested, they genuinely were just really bad shots.

It is my belief that the Argentine Junta moved to quickly cover up these embarrassing losses. Reports were written which – superficially – explained what had happened but did not tally with the evidence, the ground and the experiences of soldiers and civilians alike. This suggests that they were written some time after the Argentine surrender of June 14th, and few if any of them tally with each other, whilst those of the Marines, written immediately after the battle, seem to match perfectly. Did the Argentine military lose an APC in the kelp beds of York Bay? If not, what happened to it? The rumour itself was started by the Argentine conscripts who talked to the locals during the occupation and certainly it tallies with the actual count on the day. Did one more Amtrack ‘brew up’ on the airport road? – I believe it did. Whatever the final count, it was far in excess of that figure claimed at the time and, critically, still accepted today. Speaking after the event, Geordie Gill was asked for his own opinions, and if he agreed with Bill Muir’s count of at least 5 killed and 17 wounded, “It was initially estimated that we had killed five and injured seventeen,” he said, “but we only counted the bodies that we saw drop in front of us.” – Doubtless there were more.

I conclude therefore by stating that this epic, hopeless yet plucky defence was the cause of great embarrassment to the Junta, who moved to cover it all up conveniently. More evidence of this persists. Throughout the war, the Argentine Junta consistently fabricated the figures and invented a number of outright lies about the war. Pilots were shipped from base to base to hide the crippling losses to the air-force. Stories circulated – backed up by falsified reports and blatantly doctored photographs to show that the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes was sunk (the photograph produced was in truth the USS Wasp in world war two!) – needless to say, that Hermes is still afloat today with the Indian Navy. Likewise the Invincible is still claimed as sunk, and yet she came home intact and I have stood on her deck, and the ocean liner and now troop ship SS Canberra was also claimed – even though the Argentine prisoners at the end of the war were shipped home on her. Again, reports from various pilots, issued by the Junta, back these cases up, which are obviously not only fake, but which show a continued regime of falsifying military documents for the value of propaganda. Perhaps it is worthy of note to say that the Argentine soldiers who returned home were not greeted as heroes who had served their country, but were denigrated by the government they had served which had left them unsupported and unsupported to be delivered up to the British task force. It is also worthy of note that under the Peronist Kirchner government, Busser and a number of other officers who served in this action were arrested ostensibly on charges of human rights abuses during the so-called ‘dirty war’ and from a standpoint, this certainly looks like punishment for a failure. Ultimately these losses could easily have been absorbed into losses for other actions in the war to come, but these men’s service and the time, date and method of their sacrifice will probably never be known.

We cannot re-write history or bring people back, but we can honour them, and we owe it to ourselves not just to accept blindly, but to always be asking questions. With an open mind, good evidence and a bit of honesty, I can only hope that one day, the truth, for all of these soldiers, will be known.

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Operation Rosario – The real story (Part 2)

The invasion begins – “I thought, Oh shit! They’re coming. I realised what I had seen. It was organised chaos. They were moving, and they were moving purposefully.” – Nidge Buckett, Falkland Islands resident and later recipient of the British Empire Medal.

At 23:00 on the night of April 1st 84 Argentine special forces personnel of the Marine Amphibious Company (not the ‘Buzo Tactico’ as wrongly believed) landed to the south of Stanley at Lake Point. Their intended landing zone had been Mullet Creek just to the east, but here their inflatable landing craft had run straight into the thick beds of kelp – a thick morass of seaweed with strands an inch or more thick which surrounds the Falklands – and the motors of the boats had quickly become entangled and clogged. It took an hour and a half for the Argentine soldiers to row their way forward through and around the clinging web of kelp and they now arrived at Lake Point tired and over an hour behind schedule. Now the Argentine force split onto two sections; the larger section under command of Lt. Commander Sabarots heading for the Royal Marines’ barracks of Moody Brook to the north and west, and the second of 18 men under command of Lt. Commander Giachino heading due north to Government House.

On the rough ground and in the darkness, the two Argentine forces became delayed and Giachino’s small command was forced to stop when one man – Lieutenant Bardi, slipped and fractured his ankle. Unable to move the man, Giachino opted to press on and leave him behind, with one more soldier being left with him for support. The attacks upon Moody Brook barracks and Government House were supposed to be launched simultaneously at 06:00 but now the plan was slipping behind.

At precisely 06:05 on the morning of April 2nd 1982 the Falklands War erupted with a cacophony of explosions and machine gun fire from the direction of Moody Brook barracks. Sabarots’ men had followed their initial orders to assault the barracks with smoke and stun grenades only, but someone must have opened up with his sub-machine gun soon joined by the others who peppered the old prefabricated building from the outside. It was lucky, perhaps, for Argentina that the barracks were empty. In Lt. Commander Sanchez Sabarots’ report, he stated that; “It was still completely dark. We were going to use tear-gas to force the British out of the buildings and capture them. Our orders were not to cause casualties if possible. That was the most difficult mission of my career. All our training as commandos was to fight aggressively and inflict maximum casualties on the enemy. We surrounded the barracks with machine-gun teams, leaving only one escape route along the peninsula north of Stanley Harbour. Anyone who did get away would not able to reach the town and reinforce the British there. Then we threw the gas grenades into each building. There was no reaction; the barracks were empty.”

However this view conflicts strongly with the other evidence which shows that Moody Brook was strafed by machine-gun fire. In the state in which they were later found, riddled with bullet holes, not a man inside would have survived and Vice-Admiral Busser’s plan for a bloodless occupation would have fallen apart at the first shot. Sabarot had quickly preserved his integrity to his orders, and an official story circulated later that the barracks were destroyed in a British bombing raid on June 12th, but the physical evidence seen at the time and after – actual bullet holes fired by small-calibre SMG’s from ground level, told a different story. Not just the explosions but also the gunfire was heard some way away in Stanley, where Major Phil Summers of the volunteer FIDF (Falkland Islands defence Force) strode out from the drill-hall onto John Street, clutching his Lee Enfield rifle, followed by his men, and stared distantly towards the direction of the sudden conflagration. “Right lads,” he said in a calm voice designed to instil confidence, “It’s started.”

The sudden explosions from behind them now told the Royal Marines defending the beaches around York Bay that they were in the wrong place and in danger of being taken from behind. Realising that Government House was now in danger of being attacked  first, they quickly packed up and dashed back through the streets of Stanley towards Government House, picking up a section of newly-arrived Marines who had become lost, with all running back to defend the residency.

A fighting withdrawal – “One Section pepper-potted down the road towards the wood where we knew Government House to be.” – Corporal Armour, Royal Marines.

The men retiring from York Bay were just crossing the football pitch which separated Government House from Stanley when they were suddenly met by a hail of gunfire from a wooded ridge to the south which overlooked the residency. At once, the Marines went to ground and radioed in the contact. The enemy was close. Very close.

With Section 1 spraying fire into the woods, the Marines of Section 6 changed direction and dashed northwards towards the coast along the edges of Stanley.Running through the town, Section 6 now ran into the outskirts of Stanley, up Barrack Street and tried to cross the children’s playground to St. Mary’s Walk. Here they came under rifle and machine gun fire from five or six members of the Argentine special forces hidden in the gardens as more of the enemy dashed through the streets of Stanley to encircle them. The Marines broke out at a bedraggled run, eager to reach Sapper Hill where they could make a stand, but by now the Argentine soldiers were firing from the windows of the houses, from behind garden walls and hedgerows, pinning them down. Returning the fire with their SLR’s, the Marines pulled out and gained the elbow-room they needed to deploy their GPMG which kept Argentine heads down as they dashed through the gardens of the nearby houses down to the jetty and safety.

Meanwhile, Section 1, having kept down the heads of the Argentine snipers on the ridge now launched itself in a desperate run, half-crawling to gain the safety of Government House. From behind the nurses’ home they fired and manouevred and then dashed across the football pitch into a belt of woods around Government House, calling out “Royal Marines!” to forestall any ‘blue on blue’ fire. Eventually being heard by the defenders of Government House, they were covered by fire until they made the safety of the Residency, where they took post upstairs and began to return fire against the Argentine snipers on the ridge.

So far, despite a few accidents and the failure of the ‘decapitation plan’ Busser’s men had avoided casualties on either side and now had their enemy pinned down around Government House where the arriving forces of their 800-strong second wave could swamp them. The Royal Marines were confused, scattered and outnumbered, but their training was paying off. Instinctively they were fighting the only way they knew how, and it was buying precious minutes.

The Argentine second wave – “One of our Amtracks is missing.”

Out in York Bay, the Argentine tank landing ship ARA Cabo San Antonio opened its bow doors while still some way out at sea. On board were twenty American-made FMC LVPT7 Amtracks – amphibious armoured personnel carriers each with a crew of three men and a complement of 20 soldiers, all from the 2nd Marine Infantry Unit. The Amtracks descended the ramp into the rough sea, churning through the kelp beds which clung to them and bogged them down, working between the running gear, making steering and forward movement difficult as meanwhile the heavy seas pushed them off course, threatening to turn some of them over. Finally they gained the shore, rolling up the gentle sandy beaches of the bay, but by Argentine reports a quick count showed only 19 of them on shore.

Now this is very secondary evidence, but interesting. Twenty Amtracks had set out at distance in rough sea and ignorant of the thick kelp-beds through which they would have to push. Many were pushed off-track by the strong current and their lack of power due to clogged running-gear. A similar event befell the American “DD” tanks at Omaha on D-Day, all of which were lost, just through the distance involved, rough seas and being side-on to the current, which is more gentle than that around the Falkland Islands. When the Amtracks came ashore, there were nineteen of them. What became of the lost one, nobody knows, but the difficulties reported and the example of D-Day might suggest that one was lost, and of four different sources which have recounted similar versions of the tale to me, all were present and gleaned this information from the Argentines themselves. Nobody from this vehicle was ever seen again, and so we might conclude, albeit with no certainty, that 23 men met their end in the kelp beds whose demise was covered up conveniently. Be matters what they may, the remaining 19 Amtracks now split into two groups; the main body of 16 pushing up over the ridge, counted by Lieutenant Bill Trollope RM, and pushing on to the airport road, as meanwhile three more pushed on to Stanley airport, already swept by Navy tactical divers and found to be deserted.

The sixteen Amtracks pushed on up the airport road, under the command of Lt. Commander Guillermo Cazzaniga of the 1st Amphibious Vehicles Battalion. According to the British report (made by Lt. Trollope and seconded by others) the advanced force consisted of six vehicles. According to Cazzaniga it was only three (numbers 5, 7 and 19) – a curious anomaly in itself. With the Amtracks advancing, Lt. Trollope quickly pulled back to a hastily-prepared position on a ridge on the edge of Stanley, by a small cluster of white-painted houses known locally as ‘White City’ where he prepared his anti-tank weapons; the 66mm and 84mm missile launchers.

Here begins one of the more interesting aspects of the brief operation. One in which if one side be believed, 23 Argentine soldiers went to their deaths and another in which there were none killed or wounded. There are several reports of the action from this time, and some very conflicting evidence. In short, as we shall see, Trollope, and indeed several others, claim that the vehicle was destroyed and some new evidence shows that this seems likely to be so. Lt. Commander Cazzaniga’s report says otherwise, however, and so we must view all of the evidence here and decide for ourselves.

Firstly some mathematics…sorry to break the narrative, but this has never once been applied to this particular aspect of history, so let’s be clinical about it! An Amtrack at its thickest point has 45mm of armour. It isn’t a tank, it is amphibious and so needs to be light. Lt. Trollope’s section (Section 2) had with it the 66mm M72-LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) L1A2B1 – a shoulder-mounted weapon, with an effective range of 200 metres and a maximum range of 500 metres and with a standard-issue HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) round which could achieve an armour-penetration (as per US Army trials in 1977) of up to 200mm of steel plate. The HEAT round is a nasty piece of work; a shell which pierces the armour and which then sets off a secondary explosion which sprays a fiery jet of molten copper core in a ‘directional particle jet’ which effectively burns through the armour and evaporates anything inside the vehicle. Next is the 84mm Karl Gustav – a weapon with an effective range of 150 metres against tanks (which the Amtrack was not) and 700 metres against other targets. Essentially, this much larger weapon had an armour penetration of between 150mm and 400mm of armour depending upon the range, and disposed of a much larger internal core of molten copper. In short, a strike from any of these was capable of carving through an Amtrack like a hot knife through butter and killing anyone and everyone inside quite easily. I mention this because it has a bearing upon the next portion of our story.

It was 07:15 when the leading Amtracks of Cazzaniga’s force approached the ridge held by Lt. Trollope and his men. By now it was daylight and the Royal Marines had a clear line of sight as they prepared to engage the enemy at a range of 200-250 Metres – well inside the effective range of both the 66mm and the 84mm anti-tank weapons. According to Trollope’s report (see below) two 84mm rounds and one 66mm were fired and all went wide or fell short. The standard operating procedure for the Argentine Amtrack drivers (again, as see below) was to take evasive action and deploy the men to repel the enemy fire, and so the leading Amtrack swung off of the road to deploy its men. Here it gets interesting.

This from Lt. Trollope’s own report: “Six armoured Personnel Carriers began advancing at speed down the Airport Road. The first APC was engaged at a range of about 200 to 250 metres. The first three missiles, two 84 mm and one 66 mm, missed. Subsequently one 66 mm fired by Marine Gibbs, hit the passenger compartment and one 84 mm Marines [George] Brown and [Danny] Betts hit the front. Both rounds exploded and no fire was received from that vehicle. The remaining five APCs which were about 600 to 700 metres away deployed their troops and opened fire. We engaged them with GPMG, SLR and sniper rifle [Sergeant Shepherd] for about a minute before we threw a white phosphorus smoke grenade and leap-frogged back to the cover of gardens. Incoming fire at that stage was fairly heavy, but mostly inaccurate.”

So we have one report from Trollope, seconded later by the reports from Marines Gibbs, Brown and Betts which tell the same story. Finally I would add some new research from an interview with Marine Macdonald who stated; “I only witnessed the thick black smoke coming from the LVPT 7 on the Airport Rd. However, I did speak to the members of the section who took it out – very soon afterwards. They did confirm to me that troops did try and exit the vehicle but were forced back into the vehicle by their heavy gunfire.” – So we have four reports of people who saw and even claimed to have shot this vehicle and one more from a man who, whilst he didn’t see the actual explosions, saw the smoke from the explosions and who later recounts that those Argentine soldiers who did survive the inferno inside were beaten back by heavy GPMG and SLR gunfire.

Let as look now at the Argentine report, which comes only from one man; Lt. Commander Hugo Santillan who stated that; “We were on the last stretch of the road into Stanley. A machine-gun fired from one of the three white houses about 500 metres away and hit the right-hand Amtrac. The fire was very accurate. Then there were some explosions from a rocket launcher, but they were inaccurate, falling a long way from us. We followed our standard operating procedure and took evasive action. The Amtrack on the right returned fire and took cover in a little depression. Once he was out of danger, I told all three vehicles to disembark their men. I ordered the crew with the recoilless rifle to fire one round of hollow charge at the ridge of the roof of the house where the machine-gun was, to cause a bang but not an explosion. We were still following our orders not to inflict casualties. The first round was about a hundred metres short, but the second hit the roof. The British troops then threw a purple smoke grenade; I thought it was their signal to withdraw. They had stopped firing, so Commander Weinstabl started the movement of the two companies around the position. Some riflemen in one of the houses started firing then; that was quite uncomfortable. I couldn’t pinpoint their location, but one of my other Amtracks could and asked permission to open up with a mortar which he had. I authorized this, but only with three rounds and only at the roofs of the houses. Two rounds fell short, but the third hit right in the centre of the roof; that was incredible. The British ceased firing then.”

Obviously, the two accounts are in opposition. The number of Amtracks engaged, the range (which is at least double that previously stated) the location (Santillan states that the fire came from houses, the Marines that they were behind a ridge) and even the outcome. In short, this sounds like two entirely different engagements. So how do we decide the truth?

Firstly, let us take the Argentine side; a report written by one man which reports an initial encounter with SLR and GPMG fire followed by anti-tank fire which was inaccurate and all fell short. It is stated that there was a mild scratching of an Amtrack with bullets, the deployment of a mortar and finally the British making an escape under the cover of purple smoke. To me, this just doesn’t ring true, and I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, when confronted with armoured vehicles and being in possession of anti-tank weapons, laying in ambush and undetected, what soldier in his right mind would give away his position with useless small-arms fire? Instantly this doesn’t ring true, and I’m not a soldier. Certainly the next vehicle in line was engaged with long-range gunfire after the small quota of missiles was expended, and this both sides agree upon – that an Amtrack was engaged with GPMG and SLR fire. Where the story differs is that these are evidently two entirely different incidents. In short, the Argentine version either deletes the instance of the first Amtrack or the Royal Marines’ report invents it. One final point of interest is that the Argentine report has all of the vehicles together, the RM one that the leading vehicle was anything from 400-500 metres ahead an unsupported.

Secondly, when Trollope’s men pulled out, they were out of their scant amount of anti-tank ammunition completely, hence they could do no more damage – only Trollope’s version, backed by three others, accounts for this expenditure, which Santillan’s lone version does not.

Thirdly, Santillan states the range at first contact at 500 metres – half a kilometre. Again, this doesn’t ring true to the alternative versions of events. Lt. Trollope reported first contact with the leading Amtrack at 200-250 metres – significantly less than Santillan’s version which stated that distance at double or more. Trollope’s version (again backed by others) puts the range of the other vehicles at 600-700 metres. Santillan has the whole based at 500 metres. Again this is anomalous, and yet one side was obscured by poor vision in the vehicles and by confusion and falling rounds. The other had a sniper rifle with accurate sights and range-finders and the time to line up the sights. On balance, I would trust the evidence of the Royal Marines on this issue.

Whatever the distance, from here Santillan goes on to say that he deployed and engaged with a mortar – a weapon designed for very short range and indirect fire. At half a kilometre this was extreme range indeed, indeed the standard issue 51mm mortar had a range of 460 metres in trials, so 500 metres would certainly be extreme. The mortar would have to, I am assured, be fired almost flat, and to score a hit at the third attempt, even flat onto the roof of a house, would be a very lucky shot. If the range was, as Trollope’s report suggests, more like the 600-700 metres stated, then this becomes even more improbable certainly some rounds did land around the houses, but as Trollope said, it was mostly inaccurate.

Fourthly, the Royal Marines had a stated and entirely vested interest in keeping the fighting away from the houses. Not one other report mentions the Marines taking post in a house (certainly not when they had a perfectly good defensive ridge available) and again it seems highly incongruous with any other account. White City was a small collection of houses, and they were occupied. Alistair Grieves, a government laboratory technician was at home as the battle raged, and actually telephoned a report of the scene through the the Falklands’ own radio station which was broadcasting throughout the invasion. From his window, he too reported smoke from the lead Amtrack and the mortar rounds falling nearby. Likewise Eileen Vidal, another resident of White City and a radio telephone operator was cowering with her children behind a sofa as the Marines withdrew past her house. An Argentine mortar round landed in her garden followed by bursts of fire and then an Amtrack passed by her window moments later. Again, the evidence forces us to concede that the Marines most certainly were not ensconced in the houses. No roofs were reported as struck, and the mortar round which hit Eileen Vidal’s garden was fired from a very close range as the Marines were pulling back. This brings a lot of Santillan’s report into grave doubt. Indeed – as a personal opinion – the major part of it seems entirely invented.

And finally we must address the purple smoke….a small point but not a single person in that force had any purple smoke. I have checked this. Indeed, Trollope’s own account tells of white phosphorous smoke, which was the standard issue and the only one available.

And so, we have to conclude, a mass of circumstantial evidence falls upon the obvious point. The Amtrack which led the way came under anti-tank fire and followed this standard operating procedure to slew off of the airport road. Here, side-on, it was struck by a 66mm round which would have sprayed molten metal at hundreds of degrees inside the vehicle in a massive contained explosion. Then the vehicle, being struck, perhaps slewed slightly and was struck full in the face by an 84mm Karl Gustav which would have evaporated the crew and the occupants too, and probably would have ignited the engine which would have been closest to the point of impact. Side-on, the vehicle was seen burning and belching smoke, and when any who did survive (if there were any) attempted to get out, they were driven back by the GPMG and SLR fire. Nobody can say for absolute certain, of course, but with 99% certainty we may allow that here were 23 Argentine soldiers whose sacrifice was simply forgotten and rubbed out.

The only alternative is that Trollope and four other men all told the same lie which tallied up (at least in part) with that of two citizens, and that at the same time Lt. Commander Santillan was perhaps the most unobservant soldier of all time, with the added super-power of greatly extending the range of mortars and being able to change the colour of smoke! All history, as we have stated in Part 1, is subjective and is based upon evidence, but here is a very odd tale which simply does not tally. Santillan’s report simply falls apart on almost every point, not because out of bias I might choose to interpret it that way, but because quite simply, it could not have happened. Perhaps the only glimmer of evidence in his favour is that of the mortar range. From an interview with a Falklands Veteran and ex Royal Marine, I have been assured that although the mortar would be at a very extreme range at 500 metres and would, as he said, have to be fired almost flat, yet it was conceivable that a house could be hit at that range. “I’d have had a go”, my contact told me, “but to hit it on the third shot would be one in a million.” – At the 600-700 yards as stated by Trollope, however, this really became unlikely. again, this doesn’t much alter the tale, except that nobody’s roof was caved in, no Marines were even in the houses, and a round landed in a garden only when the Argentine force was much closer and following up the withdrawal. All in all, Santillan’s report is riddled with inaccuracies, and we are left to wonder if virtually the entire report was not a fabrication.

Here concludes Part 2 of 3 on the true story of Operation Rosario – a story which, since our first instalment, has taken a dramatic twist. Argentina claims, as is supported today, a total casualty count of just 1 man killed and 3 men wounded for this whole operation, and yet we have already seen overwhelming evidence for the loss of 23 men in one go, and possibly, very possibly, in the kelp beds, of another 23. I ask again, who were these men? Why are they not honoured? Why do we not know their names? Yet there is more of the same to come in Part 3.

End of Part 2.

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Operation Rosario -The real story (Part 1)

Author’s Note: This, the first part of a three-part post is certainly the kernel of what has finally become my new book “The First Casualty – The untold story of the Falklands War”. However I should add (this being written some six months after the original blog post below) that in light of a vast wealth of new information I consider it inaccurate in many places. the men of the Royal Marines declared it mostly correct and certainly 200% better than anyone else had told their story, yet with hindsight I must consider it in places biased, inaccurate and occasionally unfair to some, including many I now call friends. Therefore as a work of posterity (this began the call to turn the story into a book) it is useful, but as a work in itself and certainly a true representation, I am forced to correct or at least disclaim a great deal of it in light of fresh evidence and beg the reader to accept it as mostly accurate, a decent read but not as a historical truth, the results of which are all in the book. Many thanks. RDP.

The Case

“The Argentine death toll may have been embarrassingly high, and it is worth remembering that covering up death was not new to the Junta…” – Graham Bound, author of “Invasion 1982 – The Falkland Islanders’ Story.

As a military historian, I become personally fascinated by the untold stories of warfare. Many of my readers and followers will know that this is my passion: The true story, challenging the fiction and the myth, stripping away the layers surrounding a story and unearthing that rarest of all things in our business – the truth.

It is something relatively easy to write of some glorious battle hundreds of years ago, with flags flying, bands playing and brightly coloured uniforms in formation launching some grand attack – and it is quite another to write of something recent – so recent, in fact, that many of the protagonists from that day are still alive. In a way, the duty of care – to both those men and also to the preservation of the history of which they were a part is infinitely heavier and more pressing to the author than when someone may pose a new suggestion about the battle of Waterloo or whatever it may be. Nobody who fought on the day is going to collar you if you get it wrong or feel in other ways morally offended by an inclusion, omission or personal opinion!

It has been a study of some months, therefore, until I felt comfortable enough to write about Operation “Rosario” – the Argentine invasion of the Falklands on April 1st-2nd 1982. At first, the story seems just a tad dull (you see what I mean about offending people easily?) – with a tiny garrison of Royal Marines being pretty much swamped by the superior forces of a much larger nation in just a few hours and though not simply giving up at the first shot, they are remembered as not really scoring that ‘bloody nose’ which would tell the world that the combined forces of the enemy had fought the Royal Marines, even a token garrison of them who didn’t stand a chance. In short, if I can quantify that statement of “a tad dull” – well, it wasn’t exactly Rorke’s Drift, now was it?

However (and before I get two-dozen ex-RM’s beating my door down for vengeance) evidence that I have uncovered and have begun to really look into has now painted a very different picture of this brave stand, and a story which, I believe, needs to be told. I have been reticent for some time but, being involved in several Falkland Islands discussion groups on-line, I began to find certain facets of what we may call ‘the accepted truth’ which didn’t quite stack up, and more importantly, the people who could help me to find the truth.

Before I begin this, however, I want to tackle the subject of “bias” – the historian’s own original enemy, which I will have to scotch if anything is to be taken seriously and credibly, particularly when we are speaking not just of the dead, but of the living also. A biased story is only ever (and even then ‘at best’) one half of the tale and in short, it is what gets us into this kind of mess in the first place, so I’ll not add to it. History is based upon evidence, not opinion – and where the Falkland Islands are concerned, there is vastly more opinion than anything which approaches ‘cold, hard fact’.

Of course, to a point, I am biased. The Falklands are British. First claimed by Britain in 1594, first landed on and claimed again by Britain in 1690 and, after a little spate of who said, wrote or did what to whom after 1765, absolutely British since January 3rd 1833 to the present date. It seems easy, but there are others who do not see it that way. This, I guess, is opinion from both sides. This post is therefore going to avoid opinion or politics. It is a matter for the people there to decide as the UN grants them the right to do, and as of their referendum in 2013 the people there have decided to stay as they are – a self-determining country with free association with Britain…and you can read UN Resolutions 1514 and 1541 if you want to look and decide for yourself! There….that’s my bias out of the way. If you can’t scotch it entirely, then declare it and be prepared to be bloody good with your facts afterwards. I’ll take that!

But let’s not dwell on politics. I do military history, and there is a very good chance that not a single man on either side who fought on the night of April 1st-2nd 1982 knew a damned thing about any UN Resolutions or cared that much either! What concerns us here is a military operation and the evidence and suggestion that not only did this little garrison of Royal Marines give more than ‘as good as they got’ but that the Argentine Junta did a great deal of work to cover up what was actually quite a fiasco.

In studying this small piece of history, the first thing which struck me were the Argentine casualties. You can look at Wikipedia or indeed any other more authoritative source (which is usually any of them) and you will see the same thing – Argentine losses: 1 man killed and 3 men wounded. Instantly this looks plausible. Look at the killed-to-wounded ration on a battlefield and this seems about right. So why question it?

Well it comes down to good reasoning and the actual reports of the fighting from sources to include Argentine military, Royal Marines, Falkland Islanders and the staff at Stanley’s own KEMH – The King Edward Memorial Hospital, who treated the Argentine wounded during and after the battle. In looking at this, the evidence didn’t stack up, indeed it was overwhelmingly against the Argentine reports from the day’s action….and here it starts to get interesting. Don’t get me wrong; all countries are – or have been guilty of diminishing their losses whilst magnifying those of the enemy. Napoleon – the greatest military commander who ever lived, was a flagrant abuser of this time-honoured tradition, but in truth, the British really are not.

Now this isn’t bias. Make a statement like that and you have to back it up! We British have certainly done this in wartime where it was good for morale and things, but after the event we always came clean. Dunkirk is a good example. We also didn’t report the first landing of a V2 rocket so as not to shock the population about a weapon we could do nothing to stop. These, however, are quite isolated cases. Perhaps it is a cultural thing. We honour our war dead but we also don’t pull our punches when we need to. The only man killed in the Aroghi / Magdala campaign of 1868 was a survivor of the Light Brigade from Balaclava who was riding an elephant and shot himself in the leg with his pistol whilst adjusting himself. The press had a field-day on him!  – We can be quite brutal with ourselves, us British!

However, it seemed to me that Argentina was not playing by the same rules, and whilst the fight for the Falkland Islands was brief, yet the fighting itself was intense while it lasted. I should add that I’m not anti-Argentine, but that there is a sense of duty not just to do honour to the plucky bunch of Royal Marines who held out that night, but also to the Argentines who went up against them. We know of one man killed – Lt. Commander Pedro Giachino – so if other men died, I asked myself, why don’t we know their names?  To me, after 34 years, that is just wrong.

The Opening Moves

“No diplomat can talk about the use of force. A decision of this nature is taken without any prior notice. We are willing, very firmly, to go as far as need be if the archipelago is not returned as soon as possible.” – Nicanor Costa Mendez, Argentine Foreign Minister.

I’m not going to bore you here with logistics; of who was where and did what prior to the engagement. That is somebody else’s job. If I were writing a book then I would, of course, but this is a blog post! Suffice to say that Britain ‘lucked out’ in one sense. Bad weather had delayed the Argentine operation and had caught the small British garrison at a time when the single detachment which maintained British interests in the South Atlantic was being changed over. The British contingent on the Falklands was therefore two detachments of Royal Marines; one coming, the other leaving, and was now at a total of 41 men plus a few others who maintained the rough little airfield and the small patrol boat which circled the islands every now and then.

The British force also had some warning. Argentina had openly boasted about its intent to take the Falklands by force for a couple of years, and one visiting British officer had been shown the newly-bought American Amtrak amphibious personnel carriers and had been told “We are going to invade the Malvinas with these!” – It was perhaps the worst-kept secret in the South Atlantic, but still (and perhaps with that native arrogance which comes from a nation which had not been successfully invaded since 1066) many did not expect it. Always did the British know that Argentina could do it, but nobody, it seems, actually thought that they ever would.

London had been lulled to sleep by talks of peace. Of an old colonial situation which the foreign office had been only too pleased to rid itself of working out. Argentina would have the Falklands – some islands nobody in Britain had ever heard of, and that would be another costly embarrassment of a now-defunct past which we could ship off to somebody else. Sadly for Britain (and now happily) whilst the Falkland Islanders had been largely forgotten by the mother country, yet they remembered fondly who they were at heart. The people of the Falklands were not asleep. Regularly they had picked up some alarming radio transmissions and reported back unusual flights, flares were seen to be dropped at night, strange ships were seen off the coast, a periscope was seen off-shore, farmers complained of fences being broken down with army-pattern boot tracks left behind in the mud and an Argentine Learjet landed unscheduled at Stanley Airport complaining of technical difficulties but with a strange additional ‘pod’ attached to it which would later transpire to be – as the people of the Falklands suspected – a camera. In short, the people of the Falklands knew that they were being infiltrated, reconnoitred and tested.

Preparing to resist 

“There’s going to be two troop transports and five warships off the islands by first light. They’ve got armour, they’ve got artillery, they’ve got mortars, they’ve got air cover. And we’re going to fight them until we’re overrun.” – Corporal Geordie Gill, Royal Marines.

The foreign office back in London was asleep, but on the islands, the small garrison of Royal Marines had no such illusions. They had a ‘defence plan’ – a rough plan drawn up annually by the garrison commander and presented to the governor Rex Hunt. It was more of a formality, but as the sun set on the evening of April 1st and as radar and radio traffic off the coast increased to a certainty that the invasion was coming, the small force of Royal Marines now made their preparations for defence. It was hopeless, of course, but the now-modified plan gave a few chances to do something.

The Marines were armed and equipped with the SLR or Self Loading Rifle, a long-barrelled semi-automatic rifle which fired a 7.62mm bullet from a 20-round magazine. It was a single-shot weapon designed for range, accuracy and potency; a ‘killing weapon’ whose impact could blow off a limb or knock a major chunk out of its intended target. It had been designed for the vast German plains should the Russians come during the Cold War, but here in the Falkland Islands, it was in its element. The only drawback to the SLR was its usage in close or street fighting where it was unwieldy, but the Marines had already determined not to fight in the streets of the island’s capital, Stanley. The Royal Marines had lived amongst the people of the Falklands, many had good friends, girlfriends and, in the case of a few of them, even wives and children in Stanley. Whatever happened, the Royal Marines would defend them to the death if they had to, and there would be no fighting in the streets of Stanley.

There were a few anti-tank weapons, but very few, consisting of 66mm and two 84mm Karl Gustav missile launchers with scant ammunition. There were a few of the redoubtable GPMG’s (general-purpose machine gun) some pistols, a store of grenades (many of which the armourer refused to give out, stating that they were too expensive!) and a stash of old short-magazine Lee Enfield rifles, post-war models but still based upon a design which had served in the trenches of the first world war. To complete this small and inadequate arsenal, there were a few small rolls of barbed wire, which were hastily strung across the most likely of the landing beaches. There was a cunning plan to divert the beacon which was operated by the Argentinian LADE airline – which the invasion force would be using to home in on – to lead the Argentine forces out to sea. In the end, nobody knew how to redirect the beacon, and so vandalism was resorted to instead to destroy it.

The best plan which the Royal Marines had with their tiny force was to give the Argentines a ‘bloody nose’. They could not win, but they were determined to deny Argentina the right to claim a ‘peaceful annexation’ to the Falklands. Whatever happened, the world would know that there had been a fight. The plan was simple, but effective: several strong-points would be held to delay the invasion, such as the light-house and the airport whose runway was also blocked up with vehicles and other obstacles to deny the Argentines a convenient landing place. Some Marines would hold the strong-point of Government House – the residency of the island’s governor and meanwhile the rest would offer resistance and fall back by sections under cover.

The idea was to hold ‘choke points’ – an age-old strategy of using the ground as a ‘force multiplier’. The ‘Airport Road’ which ran from the airport to Stanley was a perfect example; a narrow road overlooked by ridges and surrounded by rough and boggy ground. The advancing Argentine forces would be hit with everything the lead section had and would be forced to stop and deploy into the rough ground to either side. They would create a big target and then, when they began to return fire, the lead section would pull back under cover of the supporting sections to the next position. This tactic would create damage and lower the risk to the defending force but, most importantly, it would take up time. Each stand would delay the advance, make the Argentine soldiers more wary in their next advance and every hour was critical if the world was to wake up and take action. Finally the sections would gather at Government House for a final stand and there try to rack up as many enemy casualties as possible before they were overrun or forced to surrender.

Preparing To Invade

“We thought if we came in such numbers that you would not resist.” – Vice-Admiral Carlos Busser.

The Argentine forces, under command of Vice-Admiral Carlos Busser, were coming in strength. Busser was an experienced officer who expected limited, if any resistance from the tiny British garrison. Critically, Busser knew, as did the British, that the invasion would have to be completed quickly and bloodlessly if it were to stand a chance of being quickly forgotten – even accepted, by Britain and the International Community. There could be no civilian casualties. Ideally there should also be no casualties amongst the Royal Marines, which would salve the anger of Britain and give the appearance of a peaceful and acceptable annexation.

Busser developed a two-fold strategy, the first part of which was termed by my fellow-author Hugh Bicheno as ‘The decapitation plan’. Eighty-four men of the Argentine special forces would lead the way and split into two groups; the first was to neutralise the Marines’ barracks at Moody Brook which stood to the west of Stanley and Government House in the rear of the British lines, employing stun and smoke grenades to catch the Marines unaware and force them to surrender without a shot. The second group was to circle around to assault Government House itself in a ‘snatch’ operation designed to capture Governor Rex Hunt alive. Then the second stage of the plan would begin; an invasion force of 800 men and a second wave of 2,000 more which would swamp the islands and any of the Marines still at large, compelling all thoughts of resistance to end without a shot. By morning, Busser hoped, the Falklands would be Argentine, the governor and the tiny garrison would be conveniently removed, the Argentine flag raised and the operation dressed up as an uncontested occupation.

It was an admirable plan, but it failed to take account of several factors, chief amongst which was the willingness of the Royal Marines to fight. Unbeknownst to Busser, this was not some forgotten colonial garrison but a group of soldiers defending their friends, their girlfriends, their wives and even in some cases, their children.

The battle for Stanley – one of the most uneven actions of the 20th century, was about to erupt, and a small group of islands which most of the world had never heard of, were about to become famous.

(End of Part 1)

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