Since the beginning of the twentieth century Argentina has claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Irelands, in fact they claimed sovereignty over all British held south Atlantic Irelands. But their claims took a dramatic turn when they invaded them on the 2nd April 1982, a small Royal Marine presence on the Ireland was no obstacle for a nation’s army and they surrendered.
What happened next is a little unclear, the British fleet was gathering 3500 miles away on the Ascension Isles now ‘the Story of the SAS’ claims that Operation Paraguay (jokingly known as operation parquet the weed killer) was to fly to South Georgia (a very small Ireland near the Falklands that had been captured by the Argentines) in three helicopters and re-capture the Ireland. However due too appalling weather two helicopters crashed on the Fortuna Glacier and it was only because of the bravery and dare devil flying of a Wessex pilot that the third chopper made it home. Then a mixed batch of Royal Marine Commandos, SBS and SAS (presumably Mountain Troop) went back in three days later and retook the settlement of Grytviken, 170 Argentineans surrendered without firing a shot. This just sounds a little unlikely but who knows? Well this website claims to and it is a great source of information on the Falklands war…
After Operation Paraguay three SAS squadrons were deployed each with their own mission, B squadron began to examine the possibility of an attack on an airbase in Argentina. D squadron were tasked to conduct classic SAS hit and run raids behind enemy lines on the Falklands and G squadron were tasked to conduct covert reconnaissance on enemy targets and gather intelligence urgently needed to plan the recapture of the Falklands. In total there were ten four man patrols inserted onto the Falklands, they would have to survive for at least three too four weeks and each man had around one hundred and thirty pounds of gear. Most of the weight was the weapons and bullets carried by the troopers but if they were captured there would be no recovery at least until the main landings in three weeks. One trooper, codename Jamie, is quoted as saying “if it all went wrong we weren’t going to carry all that [gear] over 20 miles just to surrender”, it would have been a fight to the death.
The terrain was rugged, cold and very exposed, large open planes are what greeted the SAS and as the patrols moved had to move by night and just before daybreak dig a slit trench and disappear until sunset, the other worry was landmines, but “there was just no time to check for them.” Jamie.
“Our feet were in a pretty shit state, some off us had trench foot and I still haven’t regained all the feeling in my toes.”
One of G squadrons’ most important reconnaissance missions was to the Argentinean airbase and garrison at Goose Green, they were haled up in an observation post (OP) monitoring the number of enemy troops and their defensive capabilities ready for the actual assault by the Parachute regiment and Royal Marines a week later. The OP wasn’t helped by the fact that to best observe the Argentine movements at it was necessary to set up the OP underneath the flight path of the enemy Pucaras and Chinooks. However the aircraft would often fly so low that the troopers were “choking on their exhaust fumes”, in one instance a transport helicopter was so laden with troops it was flying very low and very slow. It would have been easy to shoot out the sky but this would have given away their position, G squadrons fight was with their eyes and ears. Night time was the SAS’s busiest time, as well as being the time that all squadrons could move around, it was also time to send their situation reports (sit-reps) by Morse code back to HMS Hermes where they were logging all the intelligence gathered by the patrols. This was also the ground troops most vulnerable time as it would have been easy for the Argentine’s to intercept the signal and locate the patrol’s position using a location finder, in this event “there was no hope of any backup, it would have been a fight to the death.” The initial reports sent back by G squadron at Goose Green stated that there were six hundred men (which is a battalion), they could see eight Pucara ground attack aircraft as well as a fuel dump and basic anti aircraft defences. G squadron called in an airstrike on these targets “and it was spectacular to see it happen.”
The patrol moved out seven days before the Para’s and Marines moved in to take Goose Green and in that time the garrison’s number had swelled to over 1300 men. The British attack had only anticipated 600 men, the British troops, outnumbered 3 to 1, retook Goose Green in one of the most bitterly fought battles of the war.
Meanwhile B squadron had been finalising the plans for the attack on the Argentine airbase, the plan was to load all of B squadron into 2 C130 Hercules I transport planes and crash in on the runway storm out and destroy all the aircraft. They would then disable the exorcet missiles (which posed a major threat to the Naval fleet), move into the officers mess and kill all the pilots there, abandon the C130’s and escape and evade 50 miles to the Chilean border. It would be the biggest and most daring raid the SAS had done since World War 2 (WW2), but it would be a suicide mission. B squadron gathered at the Ascension Isles and loaded into the 2 C130’s totally kited out, each man carried with him explosives, and either an M16 fitted with the M203 grenade launcher or a Minimi light machine gun. There was a lot of tension in the air when the ‘head shed’ as the troopers refereed to the commanding officer (CO) appeared saying unload boys the mission’s been scrubbed. It was finally realised that B squadron would have been killed in the raid and it was considered to big of a sacrifice.
The new mission was to insert a smaller eight man unit by helicopter into the hills near the airbase, but it would be a one way flight, the crew would then have to blow-up the helicopter and escape across the Chilean border, the SAS would then make their way, cross country to the Rio Grand Airbase. Once there they would conduct a covert entry into the base, plant explosives on the two Super Etendard’s (that would threaten the British aircraft carriers,) extract, and escape and evade to the Chilean border where they’d catch a civilian flight home. If the first landing zone (LZ) couldn’t be found the secondary LZ was the Chilean cost, from there the SAS would hike to the airbase and the crew would, as before blow the helicopter and catch a civilian flight home. The helicopter took off from the Ascension isles around May 20th 1982, the flight was long but when the helicopter was nearing the Argentine border the hand held radar warning device started to ping telling them that an enemy radar had locked on. The helicopter dived into a hilly valley to shake off the radar interception and it worked, they approached the first LZ and did a map reccee of the area, however they were very low and fuel and couldn’t find the LZ so they had to fly onto LZ2, the Chilean border. They landed successfully on the cost and the helicopter was destroyed and the pilots escaped as the SAS hiked off to the airbase, they were laden with equipment and it was a long march they marched through the night and checked in with Hereford at dawn. By this time they were deep in Argentinean territory but still had a long way to go, a news report had shown the remains of a helicopter on May 21st 1982 and reported that the Argentineans new that it had been deliberately blown up. Two thousand troops now searched the countryside for the suspected SAS troops and the decision was taken at Hereford that due to the large hunter force after the troops and the great distance left to march that the mission should be scrubbed. The troops now went into the recovery and extraction phase, so they probably dumped some of their equipment and set off for the Chilean border, by all accounts they made it home fine.
After the British airstrikes on the Argentinean airbase at Port Stanley Argentinean air forces had to disperse to Pebble Ireland. However, close to Pebble Ireland lay San Carlos, the intended landing site of the main British ground forces, the planes there included the PIKARAR ground attack aircraft that would devastate the British landings, this threat had to be removed and the job fell to D squadron. However, there was little intelligence on the Ireland, what intel there was came from the high speed over flights by British fighters, so a small reconnaissance team was inserted to a land mass opposite Pebble Ireland by rigid raider. The team then covertly canoed the rest of the way and set up an OP close to the land strip, from there they could see eleven un-camouflaged Pucara and approximately two-hundred men. The assault team loaded into a helicopter on HMS Hermes, as in the planned assault on Rio Grand airbase each man carried with him explosives, and either an M16 fitted with the M203 grenade launcher or a Minimi light machine gun. They flew at a very low level to a predetermined helicopter LZ and moved off to conduct the assault, presumably with the help of the reconnaissance team. The mission was a total success, and all eleven planes were destroyed, however on the extraction someone detonated an unexploded landmine, two troopers received shrapnel wounds but neither were serious and both made it back to the helicopter.
The success of the mission meant the British landings went ahead, to aid them the SAS conducted diversionary attacks on four pre-designated enemy targets. The four assault teams would deploy onto unrecceed helicopter landing sites, very heavily laden with weapons and ammunition, they would approach the target and release everything they had on it in order to create the impression that a larger British force had already been deployed onto the Ireland. After the teams were out of ammunition they would leave the targets without checking to see if they had actually hit anything and head back to cover the landings at San Carlos.
The SAS would move ships using a technique called cross decking, this simply meant throwing all their equipment into a helicopter, sitting on it through the journey getting off at the landing site, which would probably be another ship. They’d then throw all their gear onto another helicopter and move off again to another ship or to their next target. It was literally the last flight the SAS were to take to their next target when one of the helicopters crashed, it isn’t known why the crash occurred but it is widely believed that the rotor blades hit an albatross causing the helicopter to plummet into the South Atlantic. Several troopers managed to survive however 20 troopers, mostly from D squadron Mountain Troop died, the loss hit the regiment hard, it was the biggest single loss since WW2 and it was an accident. Despite the accident the mission needed to be completed and troopers from B squadron were flown from the Ascension Isles to reinforce the remainder of D squadron, the mission they were on was the last the SAS undertook in the Falklands. Time was of the essence so B squadron reinforcements were to parachute into the South Atlantic and tread water until HMS Andromida could pick them up, after about half an hour in the freezing Atlantic all the troopers were found and picked up. The threat from the Argentinean Super E’s (that the scrubbed mission to Rio Grand Airbase went to destroy) could no longer be excepted; the probability of the British losing an aircraft carrier was great and could no longer be tolerated. The SAS were to board HMS Hummox, a submarine small enough to penetrate the sea defences of Tierra del Fuego, would insert D squadron off the shores of Argentina. Where upon the sub would surface, the SAS would inflate rubber landing craft on the hull, the sub would submerge and the SAS would do a tactical landing on an Argentinean beach, where they would make their way to the Rio Grand Airbase and set up an OP. Here they would decide whether a squadron was needed all whether it was feasible for the recon team to do destroy the Super E’s and Exorcet missiles themselves. When it came time for the mission the sub penetrated the defences easily and the SAS practised their float off drill to perfection, they sat on the surface of the coast of Argentina for 5 days waiting for the green light when they received a message ‘white flags are flying in Stanley’, the Argentineans had surrendered, the war was over.