MercoPress, en Español

Montevideo, April 18th 2019 - 15:18 UTC

Fear of massacre of Falklands civilians

Wednesday, November 19th 2003 - 20:00 UTC
Full article

As the 1982 Falklands War was coming to its abrupt end, Islanders were in imminent danger of being massacred by fanatical ill-disciplined Argentine soldiers when they realised they faced defeat.

This is revealed by Brigadier General Oscar Jofre, Commander of Argentine Land Forces, responsible for the defence of Stanley, who suggests that the end of the war was hastened by fears of an imminent potential bloodbath involving Falklands civilians.

General Jofre is quoted as saying that as surrender became inevitable, after the last battle of the war on Sapper Hill, his Brigade Operations Officer, Coronel Eugenio Dalton told him: "Many soldiers are in a strange state and the kelpers are bound to get hurt. One 3rd Regiment Platoon has been told to go into the houses by a fanatical lieutenant, who has ordered the men to kill the kelpers ? something awful is happening".

General Jofre is quoted as saying: "I'll never forget that moment. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me. I was no longer in control. We've had it. The lives of the kelpers are being risked. I told General Menendez and he realised that there was no question of fighting any further. Menendez told me he wanted to talk to (President) Galtieri to arrange a ceasefire. I agreed. It was all over".

"Neglected" 5th Infantry Brigade

These dramatic revelations of the last hours of the conflict are contained in the latest of more than 200 books on the Falklands War, entitled "5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands", co-authored by a former Intelligence Corps soldier who served in the South Atlantic and a Chilean- born author living in Australia. It fills a neglected gap by tracing the campaign by 5th Infantry Brigade, whose role was has been largely overlooked compared with the favourable publicity for 3rd Commando Brigade and the Royal Navy. It argues that "no other brigade in modern times could have been so badly prepared and the blame should not be levelled at its Brigadier Commander, Tony Wilson", who "was conspicuously overlooked in the post-war honours".

5th Infantry Brigades made a key contribution to the campaign with its Scots and Welsh Guards' and Gurkha battalions, reinforced with 2 Parachute Battalion. The Scots Guards fought one of the toughest battles of the war on Tumbledown, nick-named by one Argentine Officer "the panthers in the dark".

Ill-discipline and disorganisation in defeat

The Brigade Operations Officer, Colonel Dalton, who warned General Jofre that Argentine soldiers had been ordered to kill Falklands civilians, "was seen in the pre-dawn darkness of June 14 driving around in a jeep marshalling tired, panicky and dazed soldiers from various units into a company and led them into Stanley's western sector under heavy fire?..As with many defeated armies, ill-discipline and disorganisation took hold of the defeated troops and 181st Military Police Company and 5th Marine Infantry Battalion Regimental Police Detachment were instructed to restore order and ensure an orderly withdrawal to Stanley.

The book says that when negotiations for a ceasefire got under way, "no one in Stanley was sure what was happening. The ceaseless firing had been replaced by a windy. Defeated units streamed into the town and consequently the Argentine military authorities advised residents to stay indoors for their own safety.

""John Smith (curator of Stanley Museum) was having a cup of tea in West Store when the British Commander, Major General Jeremy Moore walked in and with masterly aplomb and reserve, said: ?Hello, I'm Jeremy Moore and I'm sorry it took us three weeks to get here'.

"Seventy four days of occupation were over and one of the most pointless wars of the twentieth century ended. But as a member of the Press remarked: ?Have we come all this way to see this? The town look so insignificant'".

In fact, no civilians were killed by the Argentine occupation forces. The book says: "The Falklands campaign was a unique war of the 20th Century. There were no atrocities and both sides respected the rules of war governing the treatment of prisoners- of- war and of casualties.

The book is at times a confusing narrative, crammed with detail of units and names, both British and Argentine, with their personal recollections. But it does focus fresh light on some of the most controversial aspects and personalities of the war, and carries interesting pictures of troops on both sides.

It sympathises with Brigadier Wilson's predicament under pressure, as he drew up his battle plan for opening up the southern flank by advancing to Fitrzroy and Bluff Cove and taking Tumbledown and Mount William in a swift advance upon Stanley. His ideas did not command complete confidence.

Near disasters from "friendly fire"

The Brigade was to press ahead in both glorious and tragic circumstances, courting near disaster on several occasions from friendly fire through failures of communication. 3rd Commando Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Julian Thompson, had no idea of Brigadier Wilson's plan to leap forward by helicoptoring paratroops to seize Fitzroy and Bluff Cove.

Disaster was narrowly avoided when withering British fire was about to be brought down on the paratroops. A break in the clouds enabled recognition that they were British not Argentine troops.

What could have been by far the most disastrous and costly disaster of the whole war involved 600 Scots Guards and others, commanded by Major (later Major General) Iain Mackay-Dick, being ferried ashore to Fitzroy in four landing craft, which were nearly blown out of the water by two British warships, HMS Cardiff and HMS Yarmouth, whose captains had been mistakenly told there would be only enemy forces in the area.

"Cardiff's commander, Captain Michael Harris, and his gunnery officer flipped a coin to decide whether to load his guns with high explosive or illumination". Fortunately, they chose star shells which identified the landing craft as British.

In other incidents, a Scots Guards patrol on Mount William nearly machine- gunned another; a Harrier strike was narrowly averted when a Gurkha patrol thought a British radio unit was Argentine; and a missile from HMS Cardiff shot down a British helicopter.

Fate conspires against "bold move"

With his swift advance to occupy Fitzroy and Bluff Cove, "Wilson had taken a huge risk and had pulled of a bold move worthy of far more credit than was given to him". But his luck ran out with the disaster of the Argentine air strike on the landing craft Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad, with heavy loss of life among the Welsh Guards.

The book re-tells how a Royal Marines Major, Ewen Southby-Tailyour, with vast knowledge of Falklands' waters, ordered that the Welsh Guards, kept aboard Sir Galahad for several hours, should immediately be ferried ashore. But two Army Majors, unable to grasp the vulnerability of the anchorage to air attack, rejected his orders and demanded that the Welsh Guards be taken by sea to Bluff Cove.

The Welsh Guards offer to defend the ship against air attack with machine guns was surprisingly rejected by Sir Galahad's captain, in the belief there was effective defence by ground-based Rapier missile batteries and air combat patrols. But the Rapiers were malfunctioning and the Harrier strip at San Carlos had been rendered non-operational by a crash landing, forcing the air combat patrols to revert to the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, far out to sea, so reducing their effectiveness. "Fate was conspiring against 5th Infantry Brigade". So was the weather, which cleared to facilitate the Argentine air attack.

Commodore's strength of character and Admiral's signals

The book tells how Commodore Mike Clapp, Commander of Amphibious operations and Inshore Operations Combined Task Group Commander, as "the man on the spot", had to take many critical and difficult decisions. He was sceptical of Wilson's southern flank plan, and of transporting troops by sea close to enemy-held territory. But "Clapp had the strength of character not to be bludgeoned by his fellow Combined Task Force Commanders and remained determined to help the Army ? Commodore Clapp has never really been given the credit due to him in making a major contribution to speeding up the military advance and hastening victory".

Clapp, although anxious, never really liked the idea of a sea move and hoped that it could be avoided. Critical of subsequent events off Fitzroy, he acknowledges that, while warfare ?requires dash and initiative', combined amphibious operations are unable to accept unplanned and uncoordinated moves along a sea flank, and he is right?. Nevertheless, to their great credit, Clapp's staff quickly set about solving the problem. ".

The book is critical of what it suggests were meddlesome signals from the Task Force naval commander, Admiral "Sandy" Woodward. Impatient that the army should get on with their advance, Admiral Woodward is quoted as calling them "ceremonious duffers with no room for initiative or imagination".

The authors say that Admiral Woodward, like his illustrious predecessor, Lord Nelson, fails to acknowledge that fighting a land war with minimum casualties takes great skill and flair. He appeared not to appreciate just how slow land warfare is ? Those ?ceremonious duffers' had considerably more combat experience since 1945 than most naval officers, most recently in Northern Ireland. A major factor faces by the ?ceremonious duffers' was that settling into a watery disposal yard on the bottom of the South Atlantic was the (transport vessel) Atlantic Conveyor with several thousand tons of much-needed supplies, including helicopters, all condemned by the Royal Navy's failure to protect a defenceless ship. The six Wessex and three Chinook helicopters could have lifted half a battalion at a time and thus it was no wonder the ground forces were slow".

As Major General Moore told Admiral Woodward: "Only the land forces could win the war, but the Navy could always lose it".

Brigadier Wilson retired from the army amid criticism centred on what happened at Fitzroy "over which he had little control". Brigadier Wilson has hinted to the authors he will one day give his version of events, as all the other front-line British commanders have done so in various books.

Tributes to Islanders

In several tributes to the Islanders, the book describes how, at Fitzroy, Ron Binnie told the paratroops in a telephone call there were no Argentine forces there, and how the paratroop Commander, Lieutenant Colonel David Chaundler joined Ron and Linda Binnie for "tea and cakes", a welcome repeated over and over again, as the book describes. "The Kilmartins of Bluff Cove did much to rejuvenate the soldiers with mutton, hot meals, somewhere to dry socks and transport to move men and equipment. The kindness of the civilians is often overlooked? Those who came into contact with them are unlikely to forget their generosity in raising spirits and maintaining morale. It started with the Millers at Port San Carlos and the Shorts at San Carlos opening their houses and farm buildings, and carried right through Goose Green, Teal Inlet, Fitzroy, Bluff Cove and other settlement to the end in Stanley. Their contribution to the campaign was significant".

There is also tribute to former Councillor and police chief Terry Peck who escaped from Stanley and proved a useful source of intelligence to the British forces, being awarded a medal (MBE) for his contribution to the defeat of the Argentines.

Co-author Van der Bijl, who in his previous book "Nine Battles to Stanley", wrongly accused the Islanders of barring Argentine relatives from visiting the Argentine war cemetery at Darwin, makes amends in this book by correcting that error and paying tribute to the Islanders' consideration and compassion for visiting Argentine relatives.

Harold Briley ? London

Book details: "5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands"by Nicholas van der Bijl and David Aldea published by Pen & Sword Books Limited, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS Telephone 01226 734222 / 734555 Fax: 01226 734438 e.mail: Hardback 233 pages. Price £19.95. ISBN: 0 85052 948 4

Categories: Falkland Islands.

Top Comments

Disclaimer & comment rules

Commenting for this story is now closed.
If you have a Facebook account, become a fan and comment on our Facebook Page!