255 members of the British Task Force lost their lives liberating the Falklands. 3 civilians were killed in Stanley. 649 Argentine lives were lost.
The surrender of Argentine forces was preceded by a series of battles for the high ground overlooking Stanley. Three battles were fought on the mountains during the night of the 11th June - Mt Challenger, Two Sisters and Mt Longdon.
A few weeks ago, I walked up Mount Longdon, about 3 miles west of Stanley. Like the other hills around the town, it's not that high, or difficult (from the east) - more a ramble than a scramble. But it was the scene of a bloody battle towards the end of the Falklands War.
|The hill is dotted with crosses. This gully was heavily defended.|
Feelings stemming from the Argentine invasion, and subsequent British retaking, of the islands still run high in Argentina and the Falklands. The most obvious impact is transport difficulties - people and goods need to take a roundabout route - and there's a continuing sense of mistrust (at best) between neighbours.
|Looking south through the natural fortifications to Mt Tumbledown|
|105mm gun, pointing west. Two Sisters' summit on horizon. Mt Longdon summit to right.|
There was no alternative but to walk 50 miles across the trackless terrain in mid-winter, with full packs and equipment. The 3-day "Yomp" became a iconic symbol of the toughness of the British troops. (Last week, I listened to a ex-company commander, Mike Cole, give a talk on the battle of Two Sisters. He re-lived the Yomp by walking the full distance again, and sleeping in the hills, to raise funds for a Royal Marine charity.)
The bad weather made sleeping rough in flooded foxholes purgatory, and troops suffered badly from Trench Foot for the first time since 1918. But it also meant that Argentine aircraft could not attack the long lines of walking soldier in the treeless "Camp" (the Falklands name for the countryside).
Whilst the advance troops waited for a second formation to land in the south (this was delayed when ships carrying the Welsh Guards were bombed, with many casualties), patrols were sent out at night to find out enemy troop positions. Small teams would walk miles in darkness across the boggy landscape, right up to enemy positions and return with this vital intelligence.
Royal Marine Commandos were to attack hills to the south, 3 Para (3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment) were given Mt Longdon as their objective.
|Looking west, where British troops attacked from. Open ground meant night attacks were the only option.|
On the night of the 11th June, 1982, 3 simultaneous attacks on Argentine positions took place. 3 Para's target was Mt Longdon, a rocky outcrop rising about 1,000 from the peat bogs.
There are many accounts of the events of that night, but there is no disputing that there was a long, closely-fought, engagement. British forces fixed bayonets just prior to the attack, and fighting continued throughout the night.
Walking around the summit, there are numerous memorials to fallen comrades. It is easy to see why it would have been so difficult to winkle out the defending troops, who had had a month to set up their defensive positions. But the Argentine defenders would also have been debilitated by the cold and poor food.
|The remains of a defensive sangar.|
In the end, it is difficult to comprehend what happened there that night. It's a very moving place.
On my way down from the summit, I met another walker on his way up. He had been there that night, 30 years ago. This was the first time he'd been back, and he found it a difficult journey on several levels. For one thing, he had never seen the terrain in daylight. Immediately after the Argentine forces had been cleared from the hill, their artillery around Stanley zeroed in on their former positions, now occupied by the Paras. The bombardment was relentless and accurate. He had fought all night and taken cover all day.
|Remains of a heavy machine gun. The field of fire is huge.|
|Stone bunker, built around natural feature.|
|Argentine crosses, with summit cross on skyline.|
|For the Fallen, Los Caidos.|
|Tribute from a Para|
|Memorial to Sgt McKay VC, and other paratroopers, who lost their lives here.|
His medal is on display at the Imperial War museum, courtesy of Lord Ashcroft.
|Some of the many tributes on the hill.|
|Open countryside in every direction, forcing night battles.|
|Steel poppies for the fallen.|
|Memorial to Ian McKay VC. Yellow ammunition box contains cleaning materials. Summit cross behind.|
|The local plant, Balsam Bog, acts as a cross holder.|
The men (on both sides) who fought on those hills were very young. Sergeant McKay VC, was 29, and two Paratroopers who died were 17. Another was killed on his 18th birthday. I can't remember what I was doing that day, but I wasn't risking my life for my country.
Here is a photo of the hills around Stanley taken this weekend. Imagine sleeping rough on these hills for a month at this time of year....
Several miles offshore, HMS Glamorgan provided firepower from its guns in support of the night battles. However, as the battles dragged on, dawn approached and Glamorgan was spotted and hit by an Exocet missile. The quick reactions of the crew meant the missile hit the ship a glancing blow, and the ship survived, although 13 crew were killed.
As the 11th June became the 12th, the Royal Marines and Paras dug in on the mountain-tops. They had achieved their objectives. The Argentine forces still held the three hills closest to Stanley. But the final phase of the war was imminent.
I find it hard to believe that any lives were worth losing. An avoidable conflict after a massive failure of diplomacy. However, the people of the Falklands were, and are, extremely grateful for the sacrifices made. They will always remember what was done on their behalf, and they will commemorate the British losses every year on Liberation Day.
"In Memory of all the soldiers who died on this mountain both British and Argentinian. May their God watch over them. May they never be far from our thoughts. God bless them and their families."
Jimmy O'Connell, ex 3 Para