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.
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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