Friday, 23 November 2012

Pebble Island - pivotal place in 1982.

[It's been a busy November for me in the Falklands, so apologies for the lack of news recently.  A birthday treat trip to Pebble Island, then lots of events around Remembrance Day, followed by the visit of two friends from the UK has distracted me.  More of those activities soon. First, a quick look at Pebble Island, where the Duke of Kent recently visited.....]

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were lucky enough to visit Pebble Island, in the north-east of the Falklands archipelago.  It's about 20 miles long and about 2 wide, and about 45 minutes by small plane from Stanley.  At this time of year it teems with birds, coming ashore to breed, but I'll post a separate report on the wildlife shortly.
Meadowlark on wreckage
Pebble Island is basically a 20,000 acre sheep farm, but it is well-known for the daring raid carried out there by the SAS on 14th/15 May 1982.  We found several other significant war connections to visit, and pay our respects at.

It would be difficult to visit Pebble Island, and not be reminded of the 1982 war between Argentina and the UK.  The grass airfield we landed on had been used as an Argentine military base, with cargo and ground-attack aircraft stationed there.
Remains of Shorts (of Belfast) Skyvan, destroyed by SAS
The ground attack Pucara aircraft could seriously hamper, if not defeat, the mass of British troops "yomping" across the exposed landscape of the Falklands.  So, a squadron of 45 SAS troops were landed by helicopter on the night of 14th May 1982 and rapidly marched in single file the 3 miles to the airfield.  So rapidly, in fact, that the rear third of troops soon lost touch with the front of the group and got lost.

This was only found out at the rendezvous point and the Commanding Officer decided to press on with the smaller force at his disposal.  The main objective was to destroy the aircraft on the island, and the SAS set about stealthily setting explosive charges on most of the aircraft.  When these were detonated, and the element of surprise lost, the rest of the aircraft were fired at by hand-held weapons - grenades; rifles, machines guns, etc.
Plaque commemorating raid
All 11 aircraft were quickly made unusable, and the SAS beat a hasty retreat to be picked up.  The only casualties were two cases of hearing damage to two SAS men who happened to be near exploding Argentine charges.  The Argentine commander, thinking the British forces wanted to seize the airfield intact and use it themselves, set off the explosives to make the landing strip unusable.

A local resident whom we met, said it was the biggest bonfire night anyone had ever seen!  However, all  19 of the residents were rounded up the next day and locked up by the Argentines until they were released by victorious British troops on June 15th.
Two other memorials can be found on the island.  One is to five Argentine military aircrew whose reconnaissance Lear jet was shot down by a missile from HMS Exeter in San Carlos Water.  The warship was protecting the landing of British troops, and fired when a group of 5 aircraft was detected approaching the area, at 40,000 feet.

Apart from the Argentine military cemetery near Darwin, I think it is the only Argentine war memorial on the Falklands.  I was told by our excellent guide and host, Allan White, that it is maintained by contractors to the Ministry of Defence.
Memorial to Argentine surveillance aircrew
The last memorial we visited was that to those killed on HMS Coventry, the Type 42 destroyer sunk by Argentine Skyhawk fighters on 25th May 1982 (Argentina's National Day!)

HMS Coventry memorial
The ship was acting as a forward line of protection to the British fleet and was a thorn in the side of the Argentine forces due to its success at shooting down their fighters, as they attacked the British forces at San Carlos Water.

Possibly to divert the Argentine attacks, HMS Coventry was stationed very close to land (Pebble Island), which restricted the view its radar had of approaching enemy planes.   Knowing that the Coventry's sister ship, Sheffield, had already been sunk by air attack, the ship's captain, David Hart Dyke, asked the Fleet Commander several times to be allowed to move away from the hills, but was refused.  The Coventry was a sacrificial piece in the overall strategy to regain the Falklands.  Lose an aircraft carrier, though, and the war would have been lost.
South to West Falklands
And Hart Dyke's fears were soon realised when they came under attack, and bombed.  Nineteen men were killed, and the ship abandoned.  It quickly sank, thirteen miles north of Pebble Island.
Coventry was sunk 13 miles north of Pebble Island
Postscript -

There is a film, "Destroyer", about to be made, based on the memoirs of HMS Coventry's Capt. Hart Dyke (father of TV comedienne, Miranda Hart), with Paul Bettany reportedly playing the lead role.
Many of the SAS men on the Pebble Island raid died a  few days later while being transferred by helicopter from one ship to another in San Carlos Water.  It is thought their helicopter was struck by an albatross.  The men had their full kit with them, and the helicopter sank immediately.  Somehow, 9 men escaped, but 18 died, having gone through the re-taking of South Georgia, and the Pebble Island raid, unscathed.

Capt. Gavin  Hamilton, in charge of the raid, was not on that helicopter, but later was deployed in charge of a 4-man team on West Falkland to observe Argentine forces there.  His team was discovered by a large force of enemy troops, and he was wounded in the back as his team tried to escape.  Urging his men to keep going, he remained behind and held off the Argentine forces for some time.  He was posthumously awarded the Military Cross, although some Argentines felt a Victoria Cross would have been more fitting.  However, I believe the VC cannot be awarded unless the act of valour is witnessed by a superior British officer!

And finally....

Many of the British servicemen who fought in the Falklands 30 years ago have recently revisited the islands, some of them for the first time.  It is thought that these visits are therapeutic and help them come to terms with the traumatic actions they were involved in, and the loss of friends and comrades.

The SAMA82 (South Atlantic Medal Association) organisation helps support these Veterans.  If you want to know more or wish to support their very worthy efforts, please go here for details -

It is hard to convey the strength of feeling of gratitude the Falklanders have towards the men who sailed 8,000 miles to fight on their behalf.


No comments:

Post a Comment