Thursday, 20 December 2012

Battlefield Tour

The story so far.....Am currently living in the Falkland Islands, somewhere in the south Atlantic.....

This week, I had the pleasure of going on a tour of a couple of the Battlefields (of the 1982 Falklands War) with an expert guide, and with someone who had been involved in the war.
Friendly sealion in the centre of Stanley.
Around 8am last Sunday, saw me walking past a deserted Christchurch Cathedral, when I noticed a dozy sealion hauled out at the side of the road.  (He stayed there for a few days.)   I would have liked to have watched him for a while, but I had to meet up with the others, and head off to the hills.
South to Mt Harriet, from Two Sisters
The final battles of the war took place in the hills to the west of Stanley.  Three hills were attacked in one night (Mt Harriet, Two Sisters and Mt Longdon) and 3 other hills were attacked the following night (13th June), leading to the surrender of the Argentine forces.  Our guide drove for about 5 miles on the main (gravel) road, and then headed for a couple of miles across the peat bogs to the base of Two Sisters.
North to one of the Two Sisters.  Note the craters on the saddle.
These two peaks were attacked by men of 45 Commando, and the co-ordinated attacks on neighbouring peaks meant defenders were isolated, although they had strong defensive positions.  However, British forces also had devastating artillery fire from land and naval guns.  Some 1500 shells rained down on the Argentine troops on Two Sisters that night, continuing a nightly bombardment started 10 days earlier.
Cairn to 45 Commando, Two Sisters. Stanley in distance.
 28 men were killed on the mountain that night, and another 13 died when the supporting ship, HMS Glamorgan, overstayed at her firing position and was hit by a  Exocet missile, fired from near Stanley.  The ship, however, did not sink: the first to survive an Exocet hit.
On the southerly summit of the Two Sisters.
Our excellent guide brought the events to life with his detailed knowledge.  He could point out exact positions where fighting took place as he has visited the battlefields many times, often with men who had fought there.
Razor blade, probably Argentine.
 Also with us was a visitor, who had been attached to a helicopter group during the war.  He had also spent time in Argentina, and knew some of the combatants from there.  His first-hand insights were riveting.
Clambering on a shelf on Two Sisters.  Easy when no-one's shooting at you.
As we walked round, we often came across debris from the war - shrapnel, boots, machine-gun supports, radios, ammunition boxes.  Much has been left in situ, if it was not considered dangerous.  Shell-holes littered the rugged landscape.
Looking west, past buttresses, to where the attack started.
Occasionally, we had to use both hands to hold on to rock walls beside narrow ledges.  How soldiers held heavy weapons, and clung to cliffs, while being shot at was beyond my comprehension.  And, apart from the flashes from shells and tracer bullets, the battles all took place in total darkness.....
A Marine's memento
Under one large overhanging rock, we found a suitcase that seemed to have been recently placed there by a returning Marine. (I googled the name on the suitcase and found an article about the ex-Marine in the Biggin Hill News!).  Inside were maps of the Falklands, and photos, presumably of his comrades.  Rocks weighted it down to prevent it blowing away.
Crags and Balsam Bog (green plant).
Like many (but not all) of the battles, the casualties were lighter than might otherwise have been expected.  But reading some accounts of the Argentine soldiers, it seems they were expecting the British forces to attack by amphibious assault on the beaches east of Stanley, or from the south.  The defences facing west were thinly-stretched, and, standing on the slopes, I could only imagine what a miserable time conscripted soldiers from sub-tropical Argentina would have had up there for over a month, in winter.   A bit like Roman soldiers facing north on Hadrian's Wall:  far from home and at the end of the civilised world....
Empty ammo boxes, possibly left by Scots Guards.  Goat Ridge behind.
Argentine morale would not have been helped by the nightly shelling from the Royal Navy, so it is no surprise some chose to surrender.  On seeing the terrain in daylight the next day, one British officer is reported to have said that if he had been defending the hill with 50 men, he would have died of old age, so impregnable seemed the position....
Mt Harriet cluster bomb casing, dropped by Harrier.
From there, we headed a few miles south to Mt Harriet, which rises steeply from the roadside.  It saw a battle on the same night as that on neighbouring Two Sisters.  But here, men of 42 Commando walked circuitously several miles in the dark, through minefields, to arrive on the southern slopes of the hill, almost to the rear of the Argentine positions.  (Nightly patrols had surveyed the route and Argentine positions beforehand, but it was still an incredible feat of navigation and stamina).
81mm mortar, Mt Harriet., behind natural rock protection.
They continued uphill to about 100 yards from the Argentine positions on the ridge before they were detected.  Again, heavy shelling from the Navy guns assisted the troops, and pinned down the Argentines.
Mt Harriet, looking south
But it was no picnic, and 2 British and 18 Argentine soldiers were killed.  300 Argentines were taken prisoner.   Much equipment was abandoned, including a Mercedes all-terrain vehicle, which was put to use by the British after the war was over.  I'm told that someone from the Ministry of Defence contacted Mercedes to ask if they could supply spare parts for the jeeps that had become spoils of war.  Mercedes replied that they'd be happy to, if someone would complete the payments for the vehicles.....
Argentine radio equipment
After our exertions, we enjoyed a packed lunch  at the summit, soaking up the 360-degree views over East Falklands.  Certainly, these hills could not have been attacked in daylight without a huge loss of life on the attacking side.
Steep gully to the summit
On a mild summer day, in good company, it was a pleasant spot.  But, for the combatants 30 years ago, it must have been a frightening, noisy, and freezing hillside.  For some, it was the last place they saw.

What saddens me, though,  is that the ultimate sacrifice these men made, seems to have been in vain.  The current Argentine president appears to use the issues around the Falklands as a distraction for the economic troubles faced by her country.  The recent tactic of banning cruise ships that call here, seems to have backfired, as some cruise lines have announced that they will boycott Argentine ports, as they fear intimidation and unpleasantness for their passengers.
Lupins and Whalebones in Stanley.
No doubt, other tactics will be deployed.  Already, the fishing industry has been targeted by trying to destroy stocks of migrating squid while they are in Argentine waters.

But, if anything, these annoyances merely stiffen the resolve of Falkland Islanders that the sacrifices made by  the British Task Force on their behalf should not have been in vain.

In general, it is the politicians, not the people, of Argentina that are disliked.  Last week saw a group of Argentine rugby players ,  "Rugby sin Frontera", (Rugby without Borders), play a match in Stanley.    I'm not sure many Islanders were keen on the event, and the guys did rather upset some people by wearing jackets with a map of the Falklands on the back, below the word "Waiting".  Apparently "Waiting"  is the brand-name of their kit supplier....  All a misunderstanding.   Hmmmm.

More soon, as we pass the Summer Solstice and our days start to get shorter!  (Assuming the World doesn't end!!).



  1. Merry Christmas Peter - I have really enjoyed reading your blog this year and look forward to reading more of your exploits in 2013. I think I saw a whalebone arch on my travels many moons ago in Mombassa? Sue

    1. Merry Christmas to you, too, Sue. And, indeed, all who read this. Apparently, the blog has had over 10,000 views in the last year!

      And some people are reading it in interesting places. After the UK and the US, the place with the most views this week is Latvia! Hello Latvia!!

      I haven't been to Mombasa, but there is a whale arch in Whitby, and Whitby has a nice beach, so it could be easily confused for Mombasa? Whitby is also twinned with Stanley!

      I'll try and squeeze in a more cheerful blog entry before Christmas....
      Don't forget - I do requests!

    2. Ha! I should have checked with my wife. She confirms that Mombasa has a whalebone arch, and a better beach than Whitby!

    3. Yes, I checked out my old photos and found one of me standing underneath it! Hopefully I can check out the
      Whitby arch next year - should be good Nordic walking
      country. Best Wishes to you both. Sue

    4. Excellent Nordic Walking country, as seen by our blog of a trip along the Cleveland Way. Bet you didn't see ferrets on Mobasa beach! Try Bridlington!

  2. Hi Peter, Happy Christmas to you and Annie from Rainy Macclesfield. The card never got as far as the postbox as I lost your address! Hopefully we can re-establish contact this way or via Facebook! We got your Christmas card and letter this morning - perfect timing for Christmas! Lovely to hear all the news.

    Hope to here from you soon. Love Anne Sparks (at Uni with Annie not that long ago!!!!!)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Got it thank you! Will email.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!