"We have apparently reliable evidence that an Argentine task force could be assembling off Stanley at dawn tomorrow. You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly."The Governor summoned the two senior Royal Marines officers of Naval Party 8901 to Government House in Stanley to discuss the options for defending the Falklands. He said during the meeting, "Sounds like the buggers mean it", remaining composed despite the seriousness of the situation that the islands faced.
Major Mike Norman was given overall command of the Marines due to his seniority, while Major Gary Noott became the military advisor to Governor Hunt. The total strength was 68 Marines and 11 sailors, which was greater than would normally have been available because the garrison was in the process of changing over. Both the replacements and the troops preparing to leave were in the Falklands at the time of the invasion. This was decreased to 57 when 22 Royal Marines embarked aboard the Antarctic patrol ship Endurance to observe Argentine soldiers based at South Georgia. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, states that a total of 85 marines were used. Their numbers were reinforced by at least 25 Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF) members. Graham Bound who lived through the Argentine occupation reports in his book Falkland Islanders At War that the higher figure of approximately 40 (both serving and past) members of the FIDF reported for duty at their Drill Hall. Their commanding officer, Major Phil Summers, tasked the volunteer militiamen with guarding such key points as the telephone exchange, the radio station and the power station. Skipper Jack Sollis, onboard the civilian coastal ship Forrest operated his boat as an improvised radar screen station off Stanley. Two other civilians, former Marine Jim Alister and a Canadian citizen, Bill Curtiss, also offered their services to the Governor.
The Argentine amphibious operation began in the late evening of Thursday 1 April, when the Argentine destroyer ARA Santisima Trinidad halted 500 metres off Mullet Creek and lowered 21 Gemini assault craft into the water. They contained 84 special forces troopers of Lieutenant-Commander Guillermo Sanchez-Sabarots' 1st Amphibious Commandos Group and a small partyunder Lieutenant-Commander Pedro Giachino, who was normally 2IC of the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion, that was to capture Government House. The Argentine Rear Admiral Jorge Allara had requested that Rex Hunt surrender peacefully, but the proposal was rejected.
The operation had been called Azul (Blue) during the planning stage, but it was finally renamed Rosario (Rosary).
Giachino's party had the shortest distance to go: two and a half miles due north. Moody Brook Barracks, the destination of the main party, was six miles away, over rough Falklands terrain. Lieutenant-Commander Sanchez-Sabarots, in the book The Argentine Fight for The Falklands, describes the main party's progress in the dark:
It was a nice night, with a moon, but the cloud covered the moon for most of the time.... It was very hard going with our heavy loads; it was hot work. We eventually became split up into three groups. We only had one night sight; the lead man, Lieutenant Arias had it. One of the groups became separated when a vehicle came along the track we had to cross. We thought it was a military patrol. Another group lost contact, and the third separation was caused by someone going too fast. This caused my second in command, Lieutenant Bardi, to fall. He suffered a hairline fracture of the ankle and had to be left behind with a man to help him. … We were at Moody Brook by 5.30 a.m., just on the limits of the time planned, but with no time for the one hour's reconnaissance for which we had hoped.
The main party of Argentine Marines assumed that the Moody Brook Barracks contained sleeping Royal Marines. The barracks were quiet, although a light was on in the office of the Royal Marine commander. No sentries were observed, and it was a quiet night, apart from the occasional animal call. Lieutenant-Commander Sanchez-Sabarots could hear nothing of any action at Government House, nor from the distant landing beaches; nevertheless, he ordered the assault to begin. Lieutenant-Commander Sanchez-Sabarots continues his account:
It was still completely dark. We were going to use tear-gas to force the British out of the buildings and capture them. Our orders were not to cause casualties if possible. That was the most difficult mission of my career. All our training as commandos was to fight aggressively and inflict maximum casualties on the enemy. We surrounded the barracks with machine-gun teams, leaving only one escape route along the peninsula north of Stanley Harbour. Anyone who did get away would not able to reach the town and reinforce the British there. Then we threw the gas grenades into each building. There was no reaction; the barracks were empty.
The noise of the grenades alerted Major Norman to the presence of Argentines on the island, and he thus drove back to Government House. Realising that the attack was coming from Moody Brook, he ordered all troop sections to converge on the house to enable the defence to be centralised.
Although there were no Royal Marine witnesses to the assault, descriptions of the state of Moody Brook barracks afterward contradict the Argentine version of events. After the action, some of the Royal Marines were allowed to return to barracks to collect personal items. Major Norman describes walls of the barracks as riddled with machine gun fire and bearing the marks of white phosphorus grenades - "a classic housekeeping operation".
There was a more pressing action on the eastern edge of Stanley. Twenty US-built LVTP-7A1 tracked amphibious armoured personnel carriers from the 1st Amphibious Vehicles Battalion, carrying D and E Companies of the 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion, had been landed from the tank landing ship Cabo San Antonio at Yorke Bay, and were being watched by a section of Royal Marines under the command of Lieutenant Bill Trollope. The armoured column trundled along the Airport Road into Stanley, with three Amtracs (Numbers 05, 07 and 19) in the vanguard, and, near the Ionospheric Research Station, at exactly 7:15 am, was engaged by a section of Royal Marines with anti-tank rockets and machine guns. This from Lieutenant-Commander Hugo Santillan's official post-battle report:
We were on the last stretch of the road into Stanley... A machine-gun fired from one of the three white houses about 500 metres away and hit the right-hand Amtrac. The fire was very accurate. Then there were some explosions from a rocket launcher, but they were inaccurate, falling a long way from us. We followed our standard operating procedure and took evasive action. The Amtrac on the right returned fire and took cover in a little depression. Once he was out of danger, I told all three vehicles to disembark their men... I ordered the crew with the recoilless rifle to fire one round of hollow charge at the ridge of the roof of the house where the machine-gun was, to cause a bang but not an explosion. We were still following our orders not to inflict casualties. The first round was about a hundred metres short, but the second hit the roof. The British troops then threw a purple smoke grenade; I thought it was their signal to withdraw. They had stopped firing, so Commander Weinstabl started the movement of the two companies around the position. Some riflemen in one of the houses started firing then; that was quite uncomfortable. I couldn't pinpoint their location, but one of my other Amtracs could and asked permission to open up with a mortar which he had. I authorized this, but only with three rounds and only at the roofs of the houses. Two rounds fell short, but the third hit right in the centre of the roof; that was incredible. The British ceased firing then.
The Amtrac on the right manoeuvred itself off the road into a little depression and as it did so, disembarked the Marines inside out of view. This encouraged the Royal Marines to think that Marine Mark Gibbs had scored a direct hit on the passenger compartment of the APC.
Lieutenant Bill Trollope, with No. 2 Section, describes the action:
Six Armoured Personnel Carriers began advancing at speed down the Airport Road. The first APC was engaged at a range of about 200 to 250 metres. The first three missiles, two 84 mm and one 66 mm, missed. Subsequently one 66 mm fired by Marine Gibbs, hit the passenger compartment and one 84 mm Marines Brown and Betts hit the front. Both rounds exploded and no fire was received from that vehicle. The remaining five APCs which were about 600 to 700 metres away deployed their troops and opened fire. We engaged them with GPMG, SLR and sniper rifle [Sergeant Shepherd] for about a minute before we threw a white phosphorus smoke grenade and leap-frogged back to the cover of gardens. Incoming fire at that stage was fairly heavy, but mostly inaccurate.
Lieutenant Trollope and his men withdrew along Davis Street, running behind the houses with Argentine Marines in hot pursuit, and went to ground firing up the road when it became obvious they could not reach Government House.
Lying on a small hillock south of Government House, Lieutenant-Commander Giachino faced the difficulty of capturing this important objective with no radio and with a force of only sixteen men. He split his force into small groups, placing one on either side of the house and one at the rear. Unknown to them, the Governor's residence was the main concentration point of the Royal Marines, who outnumbered the Commandos by two to one. The first attack against this building came at 6.30 a.m., barely an hour before the Yorke Bay amphibious landing, when one of Giachino's platoons, led by Lieutenant Gustavo Lugo, started to exchange fire with the British troops inside the house. At the same time, Giachino himself, with four of his subordinates, entered the servants' annexe, believing it to be the rear entrance to the residence. Three Royal Marines, Corporals Sellen and Fleet and Marine Dorey, who were placed to cover the annexe, beat off the first attack. Giachino was hit instantly as he burst through the door, while Lieutenant Diego Garcia Quiroga was shot in the arm. The remaining three retreated to the maid's quarters. Giachino was not dead, but very badly wounded. An Argentine paramedic, Corporal Ernesto Urbina, attempted to get to Giachino but was wounded by a grenade. Giachino, seeing what had happened, pulled the pin from a hand grenade and threatened to use it. The Royal Marines then attempted to persuade the officer to get rid of the grenade so that they could give him medical treatment, but he refused, preventing them from reaching his position. After the surrender of the British forces at Government House, some three hours later, Giachino was taken to Stanley Hospital but died from loss of blood.
At the Governor's office, Major Norman received a radio report from Corporal York's section, which was positioned at Camber peninsula, observing any possible Argentine ship entering Stanley Harbour.
The Corporal proceeded to report on three potential targets in sight and which should he engage first. What are the targets? the Major enquired. Target number one is an aircraft carrier, target number two is a cruiser..., at which point the line went dead. Corporal York decided to withdraw his section and proceeded to booby trap their Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, before paddling their Gemini assault boat north across Port William. As he did so, York claimed an Argentine destroyer began pursuing them (the corvette ARA Granville according to Argentine sources). His initiative led to the Gemini reaching an anchored Polish fishing vessel, hiding the small assault boat in its shadow. They patiently waited for a chance, before moving to the shore and landing on a small beach.
Back at Government House, the Argentine commando's pressure continued unabated. There is some evidence that their use of stun grenades and their continuous shift of firing positions during the battle led the Royal Marines inside to believe they were facing a company of marines and were hopelessly outnumbered. Actually, after the failure of Giachino's platoon to break into the residence, the British were surrounded by only a dozen elite troops. These men were under Lieutenant Lugo, Giachino's 2IC. The Land Rovers used by the Royal Marines were disabled by automatic gunfire from the commandos. Governor Hunt called Patrick Watts (at the radio station, Radio Stanley), by telephone and said he believed the assaulting force to be the equivalent of a reinforced company:
They must have 200 around us now. They've been throwing grenades at us. They came along very quickly and very close, and then they retreated. Maybe they are waiting until the APCs [Amtracs] come along and they think they'll lose less casualties that way. (Graham Bound, Falkland Islanders At War, 2002).
Consequently, Hunt decided to enter talks with Argentine commanders around 8 o'clock. The liaison was Vice-Commodore Hector Gilobert, the head in the islands of LADE, the Argentine government's airline company. Gilobert and a Governor's deputy went to the Argentine headquarters displaying a white flag. A de facto ceasefire was put in place at that time which was occasionally breached by small arms fire.
While the negotiations were still going on, another incident occurred inside the residence. Three Argentine survivors of the first skirmish along the compound inadvertently alerted Major Noott to their presence, while they had been preparing to leave their hiding place. The Major fired his Sterling submachine gun into the ceiling of the maid's room. According to British reports, the stunned commandos tumbled down the stairs, laying their weapons on the ground. They became the first Argentine prisoners of war of the Falklands War, albeit by then, Governor Hunt had already been in contact with Argentine officials negotiating the terms of surrender. The Argentine version is that the three men kept their fighting position right to the end of the hostilities.
Meanwhile, the Governor's envoys reached the Argentine commanding post in Stanley. The Argentine chief accepted the British offer of a face to face meeting with Rex Hunt in his battered office.
Shortly after, the Royal Marines in the House saw the approaching Amtracs that had been engaged earlier by Lieutenant Trollope and his section. The vehicles pushed on toward Moody Brook to link up with Sanchez-Sabarots, whose commandos were plodding slowly along the road to reinforce their colleagues besieging Government House after taking some prisoners near the racecourse. Major Norman had earlier advised Rex Hunt that the Royal Marines and the Governor could break out to the countryside and set up a 'seat of government' elsewhere, but when he finally met the commander-in-chief of the Argentine operations, Admiral Busser, he agreed to surrender his troops to the now overwhelming Argentine forces at 9:30 AM.
Corporal York's section remained at large. On 4 April, his platoon reached a secluded shepherd's hut owned by a Mrs Watson. He had no radio, and due to worries about possible civilian deaths chose to surrender to Argentine forces. They gave their position to the Argentines using a local islander's radio, and York subsequently ordered his men to destroy and then bury their weapons.
After the surrender, the Royal Marines and the members of the FIDF were then herded onto the playing fields. Pictures and film were taken of the British prisoners arranged face-down on the ground, which galvanised the British public when they were broadcast on television. Soon afterwards, the Royal Marines were moved to a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, which would take them to Uruguay and on to the United Kingdom. Members of FIDF were not taken to Argentina along with members of NP 8901; instead they were disarmed and returned to their homes.
In Buenos Aires, huge flag-waving crowds flooded the Plaza de Mayo upon hearing the news. Argentina's losses in the operation were one dead and three wounded. In London, where the bad news were fully known from Argentine sources, the government was in a state of shock on what was dubbed as "Black Friday". The crisis prompted the resignation of the British foreign secretary, Lord Carrington.
The next day, Argentine forces captured the island chain of South Georgia, 1350 km to the east of the Falklands. In that action, the Argentines suffered one sailor from the corvette ARA Guerrico and two marines killed (Navy Corporal Patricio Guanca and marine conscripts Mario Almonacid and Jorge Aguila). One British Royal Marine was wounded when his position was fired on by the Guerrico's 40 mm cannons.
LON (London): HELLO THERE WHAT ARE ALL THESE RUMOURS WE HEAR THIS IS LON
FK (Falklands): WE HAVE LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS
LON: WHAT ABOUT INVASION RUMOURS
FK: THOSE ARE THE FRIENDS I WAS MEANING
LON: THEY HAVE LANDED?
LON: ARE YOU OPEN FOR TRAFFIC IE NORMAL TELEX SERVICE?
FK: NO ORDERS ON THAT YET ONE MUST OBEY ORDERS
LON: WHOSE ORDERS
FK: THE NEW GOVERNORS
LON: ARE THE ARGENTINIANS IN CONTROL?
FK: YES YOU CAN'T ARGUE WITH THOUSANDS OF TROOPS PLUS ENORMOUS NAVY SUPPORT WHEN YOU ARE ONLY 1600 STRONG. STAND BY.