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Montevideo, December 7th 2022 - 23:45 UTC

 

 

Operation Paraquet, the recovery of South Georgia April 25/26

Monday, April 25th 2022 - 11:50 UTC
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The Task Group was warned that the Argentine submarine “Santa Fe” was on her way into Grytviken with men and supplies The Task Group was warned that the Argentine submarine “Santa Fe” was on her way into Grytviken with men and supplies

On April 25/26 1982 British forces launched Operation Paraquet which enabled the recovery of South Georgia, the first UK victory and defeat for the occupying Argentine forces in the Falkland Islands and its dependency.

However the first Argentine move of the conflict was precisely in South Georgia in mid March when 40 Argentine scrap metal workers landed at Leith Harbor, an abandoned whaling Station; they immediately raised the Argentine flag claiming the Island for Argentina.

Before the Task Force arrived off South Georgia on the morning of Wednesday 21st, submarine “Conqueror” had already been on patrol for two days and on Tuesday, an RAF Victor from Ascension made the first radar reconnaissance flight off the coast. Two more of these 7,000 mile, 14-hour missions followed over Thursday and Saturday nights, but neither they nor “Conqueror” spotted any Argentine ships.

The first task was for observation posts to be set up by the SAS near Leith and the SBS south of Grytviken. Although there were doubts about the SAS plans, Mountain Troop was put down safely on Fortuna Glacier at mid-day that Wednesday 21st by the three Wessex available. Forced to camp overnight in blizzard conditions, attempts were made to pick up the men next morning, but as the helicopters flew up the glacier in atrocious weather, they had to return to refuel. Next time in, the men were lifted off, but in the blinding snow, both “Tidespring's” Wessex crashed (first British aircraft losses). Then “HMS Antrim's”, skillfully piloted by Lt Cmdr Stanley first unloaded his passengers and eventually managed to rescue the stranded men in one over-loaded lift later that afternoon. To make up the losses, “HMS Brilliant” was detached from the Task Force with her two Lynx.

Late that Thursday night (22nd) from “Antrim” out in Stromness Bay, SAS Boat Troop headed in for Grass Island, but again with near fatal results. Five Gemini assault craft set out in the dark, but two broke down and were reported missing next morning. “HMS Antrim's” Wessex was once again to the rescue and soon found one of the crews, but the other was not located until after the surrender when their rescue beacon was activated. But at least by Friday morning the SAS men were in position near Leith..

All this time the SBS were no more fortunate in their first attempts to approach Grytviken. Accounts somewhat differ, but apparently they landed at Hound Bay from “HMS Endurance” early on Thursday morning, and made their way across Sorling Valley before trying to cross Cumberland Bay East by Gemini. Stopped by glacier ice, they laid up, were later picked up and reportedly landed at Moraine Fiord by Wasp on Saturday 24th.

Before then RFA tanker “Brambleleaf” arrived and started to refuel “Tidespring”, but in a sub alert on Friday 23rd, broke away damaging some of her gear. (The transfer was completed on Saturday and the tanker headed for England.) Then the Task Group was warned that the “Santa Fe” (under Commander Bicain) was on her way into Grytviken with men and supplies. Apart from “Endurance” which stayed close to the coast amongst the ice, the ships headed away taking with them the main landing force of M Coy 42 Cdo on “Tidespring”.

A Boeing 707 of Grupo 1 now overflew “Endurance” on Saturday, and “Antrim”, “Plymouth” and the newly arrived “Brilliant” were ordered to close South Georgia to deal with the submarine threat leaving “Tidespring” some 200 miles away in comparative safety. Armed with a variety of weapons, the ship's helicopters prepared to hunt down the submarine which got into Grytviken that evening.

On Sunday morning (25th) as “Santa Fe” headed out on the surface, she was spotted off Cumberland Bay by Lt Cmdr Stanley's Wessex. Near-missed by two Mk.11 depth charges and with some damage, the submarine limped back towards Grytviken. As she did, one of “Brilliant's” Lynx attacked with a Mk.46 torpedo, the two “Endurance” Wasps fired AS.12 missiles hitting her fin, “Plymouth's” Wasp fired another AS.12 and both of “Brilliant's” Wasps strafed with machine guns.

The warships meanwhile headed for the action at high speed. Although the attacks only slightly damaged the “Santa Fe” and wounded one crewman, by noon she was abandoned alongside the jetty at King Edward Point. (Later, on being moved to Grytviken, one of “Santa Fe's” crew was shot and killed in the mistaken belief he was trying to scuttle the boat.)

With the submarine's return and the potential defenders now numbering some 140, the decision was made to land whatever force could be mustered under covering naval gunfire and without waiting for the bulk of M Coy to arrive on “Tidespring”. Under the command of Major Sheriden RM, a company of 75 men was assembled from the SAS, SBS and other Royal Marines with Major Delves and Capt Nunn RM as troop commanders. In the early afternoon (25th still) from out in Cumberland Bay and under the control of a naval gunfire observer landed by “Endurance's” Wasp, “Antrim” and “Plymouth” laid down a 4.5 inch barrage all around the Argentine positions at King Edward Point.

Landed by “Antrim's” Wessex and “Brilliant's” two Lynx at Hestesletten, the first wave of the ad hoc force advanced through the whaling station at Grytviken and across an unsuspected minefield towards the BAS base. As they approached, white flags were hoisted and around 5 pm local time, the Argentines surrendered without a shot being fired.

When contacted by radio, the small detachment of marines at Leith under the command of Lt Cmdr Astiz refused to surrender.

Next morning (Monday 26th), “Endurance” and “Plymouth” sailed along to Leith and the Argentines gave in. Surrender document was signed by Lieutenant Commander Alfredo Astiz. Sweden and France requested Astiz's extradition to the British authorities after learning about his capture, He is accused in both countries of crimes against humanity involving French and Swedish citizens.

“Plymouth” and “Brilliant” left on Wednesday 28th to join the CVBG, but “Tidespring” now with nearly 150 Argentine POW's and the 40 civilian workers from Leith embarked, and escorted by “Antrim” did not head north for Ascension until Sunday 2nd. 42 Cdo stayed on to garrison South Georgia, and “Endurance” remained as guardship. (Naval History).

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