Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Evita, Mr Darcy, and the fight for the Falklands.....

As I write, I've just seen on Sky News a British MP ask the Prime Minister why the UK taxpayer is still making loans, via the World Bank, to Argentina!  Yesterday, a Referendum on sovereignty in the Falklands was announced.  The media spotlight is returning to the Falkland Islands for a few days.  Meanwhile, tomorrow is Liberation Day........

Overlooking Stanley Harbour

In my previous post, I went into some detail about the battle for Mt Longdon.  In the following 36 hours, the entrenched paratroopers were to lose another 4 comrades to the incessant and accurate Argentine artillery.  After going into some detail about the Battle for Mt Longdon, I won't subject you to a repeat.  But, for the British Forces, the battles on the 13th/14th June saw a repeat of the successful tactics which had enabled three hills to be captured on the night of the 11th June:  heavy naval artillery fire and close-quarter fighting at night, using highly-trained young soldiers.

In fact, so effective were the British troops, that captured Argentine officers assumed the decisive advantage had been the use of night-vision goggles.  The couldn't believe that the Task Force only had a handful of these goggles and all had been issued to helicopter pilots and none to ground troops!
Scots Guards - Killed In Action
 The Battle of Mount Tumbledown, and the impact on one participant - Lt Robert Lawrence - was depicted in the film "Tumbledown", starring a young Colin Firth (completely naked in one scene, if anyone needs an incentive to watch it!).
Memorials on Mt Tumbledown

Abandoned Argentine field kitchen 
 Like many of the surroundings hills, Tumbledown has a low cliff of sheer rock around most of its summit, so the defenders had to be engaged bunker by bunker, rock by rock.
North face showing its defensive properties
 About 900 British troops, comprising mostly Scots Guards, attacked the heavily-fortified hill during the night, simultaneously with attacks on neighbouring mountains.
Remains of defensive stone fortifications (sangars) dot the landscape.
 After 10 hours of bitter, hand-to-hand fighting, the high ground was under British control and the street lights of Stanley could be seen about 3 miles away.  At least 40 combatants lost their lives during the night.

Some troops moved on to the next objective, but already it was becoming obvious there was a general retreat of Argentine troops back into Stanley (where the main body of troops were stationed).  It was now the role of the British commander of land forces, General Jeremy Moore, to ensure the Argentines surrendered quickly and didn't prolong the conflict with street-to-street fighting amongst the residents of Stanley.  He moved into the outskirts of the town, and skilfully secured the surrender that day, the 14th.
Tumbledown, with Mt Longdon about 2 miles to the north.
All that remained to do was to round up, disarm, feed and then repatriate 10,000 Argentine troops; rescue 1,800 Stanley residents trapped in various buildings; detect and defuse 25,000 unmapped mines (work pending); destroy hundred of tons of ammunition and weapons;  repair roads, houses, water supplies, airports, as well as return the victorious troops back to their loved ones as soon as practical.
Tumbledown, this week, from near Stanley.
All in all, a shed-load of work which took years to complete, and some, like the mine clearance, remains deliberately incomplete.  (Several soldiers were injured in the aftermath while trying to clear minefields (with captured Argentine assistance), and the commanding officers felt it was too much of a risk for too little reward.)

However, the political and economic post-war resurgence in the Falklands has left a legacy of good schools and health care;  a network of roads (albeit without tar) connecting remote settlements; an international airport; a world-class fishery; excellent wildlife tourism infrastructure; a large military garrison, and the prospect of an oil industry.

The blot on the horizon of this South Atlantic idyll is the Argentine President's continuing call for the Falkland Islands to be "returned" to Argentina.

No Islander takes her proclamations seriously. (She never gives interviews or debates in Parliament, preferring to issue announcements from the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, a la Eva Peron (Evita)).

However, her lack of acknowledgement of the status of the Falkland Islanders and the huge sacrifices made by both antagonists,  is a great regret to all who feel that the war should have been an end to the matter.

"Those that cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it".  Tomorrow, and in the future, the Falklanders will remember the sacrifices made on their behalf.

Wildlife tourism - the future's bright.
13th June, 2012

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