The story of how 22 British Royal Marines held off an entire Argentine invasion force on the eve of the 1982 Falkland Islands War has finally been told for the first time, according to a Books Review article from the Daily Mail published on Tuesday.
Dug in on the island of South Georgia, the men were faced with overwhelming odds, but gave the Argentine Junta its first bloody nose of the conflict in an action that has since been described as a modern day Rorke’s Drift.
Now, 27 years after the remarkable events on the tiny British outpost in the South Atlantic, former Section Commander George Thomsen has vividly recalled the battle to author Malcolm Angel for his book “Too Few Too Far”.
In the book he tells how the Marines thought they would not get off the island alive, but every man lived to tell the tale - unlike so many Argentines. The day-long battle was all the evidence Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher needed to go to the House of Commons and convince members that Britain could declare war and win, according to the book.
Thomsen had been ordered to pick nine men to travel to South Georgia for a mission he knew nothing about. Along with 12 other Marines under Lieutenant Keith Mills, the men arrived on the isolated, freezing island in mid-March 1982.
Two weeks later they heard Falklands Governor Rex Hunt announce on a radio that the Islands were under a state of emergency. Realising that Argentina might invade South Georgia, the men prepared for an invasion - the Battle of South Georgia was imminent.
They heard on the World Service on April 2 that the Falklands had been invaded, but because of a storm knew South Georgia would not be attacked until the following day. The Marines booby-trapped the shore and fashioned an enormous bomb beneath the jetty that was packed with nuts, bolts and harpoon heads. They posed for one last picture on the jetty and seconds later they heard the first Argentine helicopter approaching.
Using just small arms fire the Marines shot down the Puma gunship as it attempted to land on the helipad. Meanwhile, other helicopters were landing crack Argentine troops that by the end of the day would number in their hundreds.
One further helicopter was put out of action as the battle raged between the invading forces and the British troops. Then one of the most remarkable episodes unfolded as the Marines decided to try and take out a warship - an outrageously ambitious undertaking.
But using a combination of bazookas and small arms fire the Argentine Corvette ARA Guerrico was targeted. George Thomsen and his men pumped thousands of rounds into the ship and not only holed it beneath the water line, but destroyed its Exocet launchers and its front gun. Listing and smoking from the assault the ship limped away from South Georgia to lick her wounds.
The battle finally came to a conclusion thanks to a ‘brilliant bit of British bluff’ when Lieutenant Mills walked towards the Argentines. He said the British were prepared to fight to the last and would go on killing unless they agreed to his terms.
The enemy couldn’t wait to shake his hand on the deal, but became suspicious when only 22 Royal Marines descended to the coast. The Argentines were convinced the defending force was huge.
Mr Thomsen, who was 24 at the time, said: “It was just 30 seconds after we had that photo taken that the helicopter came in. We legged it and then took out the Puma that was trying to land combat troops. That was like a gift. He got in without us knowing and the first we knew was when we heard the rotor blades”.
“It was that which kicked the battle off and we were 16-nil up from the start”. Then later we took out a ship, the Guerrico that came in. It was raking us with 40mm ack-ack fire from its anti-aircraft gun until we wiped out the crew”.
“We then used an 84mm Karl Gustav weapon, or bazooka, but three out of five rounds didn’t go off. If they had we’d have sunk it. But we put it out of action and it was listing at about 30 degrees. We whacked out its Exocet launchers with rocket launchers and hit the 4ins gun on the front and disabled its trajectory”.
‘It was only 300 yards away and even our rifle rounds were going through the hull. We were putting sniper fire through the bridge so they didn’t know where they were going. It was the first time in history anything like that had been done”, said Thomsen.
“At the same time they were landing troops from two or three other ships and we were outnumbered 50-1 or 100-1 if you count everyone on their ships. It was like Rorke’s Drift, except the enemy was well armed”.
“At the end our escape route had been cut off and one of us had been hit in the arm. I was about to put some mortars down on the shore when I saw the boss walking towards the enemy. He just went up to them and said that we’d fight to the last and carry on killing them and it was the Argies who called it a day. They couldn’t believe there were only 22 of us”.
The Marines were flown back to Argentina and later went to the Falklands to rejoin the war. The Argentines never revealed how many they lost that day.
On South Georgia the only people on the island apart from the troops were a dozen members of a British Antarctic Survey team. They sheltered in a small church for the battle.
Mr Thomsen, now 51, rose to the rank of sergeant and was later team leader of the Royal Marines freefall display team. He is married with two children and lives on the south coast. He runs a company called Prometheus Audio, which makes top quality turntables and deals in vinyl records.