‘You are the Green Berets, that means you are going to knock seven shades of s*** out of them.’

The history of the beginning of the Falklands War has been re-written in order to correct a terrible misconception made against the Royal Marines defending Port Stanley when the Argies rolled in:

It was the ultimate humiliation. The 60-strong garrison of highly trained Royal Marines were frogmarched with their hands up through Port Stanley and forced to lie face-down on a road with the Argentinian conquerors of the Falkland Islands strutting victoriously over them.

Press photographs of their capitulation were flashed around the world and were printed here under banner headlines such as ‘Surrender’ and ‘Shame’ alongside reports that the Marines had run up the white flag with barely a shot fired.

Even the official history of the conflict, written by Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, suggests that their resistance was little more than token – with an Argentinian commando killed and several more wounded before the order to surrender was given.

But now, 35 years after the triumphant end of the Falklands War, a new book dramatically rewrites the fall of Stanley as a modern version of the heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 – where 150 troops held off more than 4,000 Zulu warriors in South Africa.

Military historian Ricky Phillips has interviewed soldiers and officers from both sides of the conflict, pored over diaries and previously unseen documents and spoken to Falkland Islanders.

His remarkable conclusion is that the small party of Royal Marines mounted a brave and fierce rearguard action that, he estimates, cost the lives of up to 100 Argentinian invaders without a single British casualty.

According to Phillips’s book, The First Casualty, the battle for Port Stanley raged for three hours until Governor Sir Rex Hunt ordered the Marines to lay down their weapons to prevent civilian loss of life. He believes the Argentinians wanted to hush up their casualties for propaganda purposes and even suggests the British, keen to gain international support, colluded in the cover-up. Indeed, it was never reported that they had fired 6,462 rounds of ammunition and 12 anti-tank missiles.

Phillips writes that the garrison’s first inkling of the forthcoming invasion came at 3.30pm on April 1, 1982, when Hunt read a telegram from the Foreign Office in London.

He summoned his two commanding officers, outgoing Major Gary Noott and his relief, the incoming Major Norman, with typical understatement: ‘We have apparently reliable evidence that an Argentine task force will gather off Cape Pembroke early tomorrow morning, April 2. You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly.’

Quickly, the Marines, officially known as Naval Party 8901, gathered in the bar of their ramshackle barracks at Moody Brook. Initially, they dismissed it as an April Fools’ Day joke. Marine Stephen Brown recalled: ‘Every April 1, the new section gets told the Argentines are going to invade. I was convinced they would all start laughing in seconds… they didn’t.’

Maj Norman encouraged his men, telling them they would be facing a conscript army. ‘You are the Green Berets,’ he told them stiffly. ‘That means you are going to knock seven shades of s*** out of them.’

A cheer went up. ‘Let’s get ’em,’ roared the defenders. But Corporal Nick Williams had reservations. ‘I realised we didn’t stand a chance. I thought we were all going to die in the morning,’ he said. ‘We could have walked away, but it was what we had all signed on for. Now it was a case of getting out there and waiting for it. That’s what courage is about.’

They were out numbered, outgunned, no armour, and no prospect of reinforcements. A dire predicament. But they set about handing the Argies their arses.

There have been rumours for some years that the Royal Marines put up a spirited defence. Now the author has pieced together the chain of events from eyewitness accounts. First the Marines deployed into six-man sections. The battle plan was to meet the enemy with brutal and sustained violence to cause maximum casualties. Then the defenders would fall back section by section to Government House, where they would fight until they were overrun.

Major Gary Noott recalled: ‘It was obvious the opposition could, and would, come with sufficiently large forces to preclude prolonged, organised resistance. In other words, any thought of winning was impractical; it was merely a question of how long we could resist before being overwhelmed. Quite how long that would be remained variable but the outcome was in little doubt.’

The battle began at about 6am when a contingent of 84 Argentine commandos attacked the Moody Brook barracks in the hope of killing the British garrison in their beds. The Marines had long since left.

Former Marine Jim Fairfield, who had left the corps, married a local girl and settled in Stanley, was baking bread when news of the impending invasion reached him.

Immediately he pulled out his old green beret and re-enlisted to defend his new home and family. ‘The early morning sky lit up with tracer rounds and phosphorous grenades as well as heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire,’ he said. ‘It only lasted ten minutes but it seemed much longer.’

A few minutes later, in the murky dawn, the Marines watched the Argentine armada steam into view. The bow doors of the giant landing ship Cabo San Antonio opened and a swarm of 21 amtrac troop carriers emerged, each carrying 28 men. A landing craft with another 40 enemy on board headed up a narrow strip of water which led into the heart of Stanley.

On the outskirts of the town, a Marine anti-tank section had dug in and used their rockets to take out the lead amtrac vehicle.

Marine Stephen Brown recalled: ‘I said, ‘Let’s get it’ and fired and hit it. There was a flash and then the smoke started to come out as she brewed up.’

The landing craft was also hit. A hole was punched just below the water line sending the boat plunging to the bottom. Local fireman Neville Bennett wrote in his diary: ‘What the hell was that? The governor had said (on the radio) a boat had come in through the narrows and was firing on Government House. No it wasn’t. Something had blown up in the narrows. It was a big explosion magnified by the stillness of the morning.’

As the sections fell back to Government House as planned, fire from the black-clad Argentine commandos began to rip into the timber and glass building and stun grenades were thrown at the Marines in an effort to disable them.

Shortly after 6.30am, Argentinian snatch squads ran into the grounds, four abreast, making easy pickings for the defenders. Marine Andy Macdonald recounted: ‘I fired about 30 rounds at targets from 30ft to 260ft. I know I took down two or three guys at least.’

Fairfield said: ‘I was amazed at how calm I was. I went into autopilot: quick aimed fire and movement. Two rounds, change position; acquire new target, two or three more rounds. A great weight of fire went down in a short space of time and I saw the enemy take several casualties. The words ‘turkey shoot’ flashed through my mind. There were lots of targets and I’m a good shot.’

The Argentines fell back to the rocky ridge where they were silhouetted against the morning sky, easy prey for sniper Geordie Gill who singled out a section leader.

He explained: ‘On my third shot I saw the guy go down. He slid over a rock, falling in full view. His mate stuck his head out and I got him, too. Then Corporal Terry Pares said he could see a radio operator and fired off ten rounds and I saw the guy fall and lay writhing on his back.’

A heavy machine gun opened up on the Marines, but it, too, was silenced. Marine Graham Evans recalled the snipers’ success. He said: ‘At one stage we had wounded 11 and killed five. We were hitting them hard.’

Sir Rex Hunt knew the Marines would fight to the death but also knew the civilian islanders’ lives were at risk. At about 8am he agreed to talk to the Argentine commander, Admiral Busser. He ordered his men to lay down their arms at 9.15am. He said: ‘I didn’t use the word surrender as I knew it was not in their vocabulary.’

The defeated Marines, humiliatingly made to lie face-down in the road, feared they were going to be executed by their conquerors.

Sergeant Mark Gibbs, from Portsmouth, who was just 22 and had been on the island for only two days, said: ‘I was quite surprised we weren’t neck-shot. I honestly believed we were going to be bumped off.’

Instead, they were taken off the island, handed over to the Uruguayans in Montevideo then returned home to Brize Norton. By then, the headlines had passed into history and most of the garrison returned to take back the islands as part of the Falklands Task Force.

Not a single man lost in that first action for 100 dead enemy. That is pretty fierce stuff. Then when they got  back to the UK they boarded ships and returned to take back the Falklands.

I’m glad their valour has finally been recognised.

 

-Daily Mail

 


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