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Battle of Mount Longdon

The Battle of Mount Longdon was an engagement of the Falklands War between British and Argentine forces, which took place on the 11/12 June 1982, resulting in a British victory.

The British force consisted of 3 PARA under Lieutenant-Colonel Hew Pike (later a general) with artillery support from six 105 mm light guns of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery. 2 PARA were in reserve. Naval gunfire support was provided by HMS Avenger's 4.5-in gun. The Argentine force consisted of B Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment (RI 7), as-well as other detachments from other units. The local Argentine commander was Major Carlos Carrizo-Salvadores, the second-in-command of RI 7. The 7th Infantry Regiment, reinforced by two of the Marine Infantry platoons, held Mount Longdon, Wireless Ridge and Cortley Ridge to the east. Marine Sub-Lieutenant (naval rank equivalent to captain) Sergio Dachary had arrived on Mount Longdon in the week preceding the battle, and was on hand to control the Marine-manned heavy machine-guns on Mount Longdon.

Mostly conscripts with a year of training, the young RI 7 soldiers were not going to rout the field easily and most were prepared to stand their ground. They possessed fully automatic FAL rifles which delivered more firepower than the British SLR, FN MAG 7.62mm general purpose machineguns identical to those of the Paras; some fifty of the 7th Regiment were to fight more resolutely than the rest, having been trained on a commando course organized by commando-trained Major Oscar Jaimet, the Operations Officer of the 6th Infantry Regiment (RI 6). Private Jorge Altieri, in an interview after the war told how he trained hard with B Company:

'I was issued with a FAL 7.62 millimetre rifle. Other guys were given FAPs – light machineguns – and others got PAMS [submachineguns]. The main emphasis in shooting was making every bullet count. I was also shown how to use a bazooka, how to make and lay booby-traps, and how to navigate at night, and we went on helicopter drills, night and day attacks and ambushes.
The 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, made a desperate march across the hills north of Mount Simon to seize the key piece of high ground above the settlement of Estancia, nicknamed Estancia Farm. The weather conditions were atrocious, with the Paras marching through steep slippery hillocks to the objective. Nick Rose was a private in 6 Platoon under Lieutenant Jonathan Shaw.
The terrain dictated exactly how we advanced. A lot of the time if we were going along on tracks – what few tracks we did go on – we used Indian file, which is staggered file on either side of the track, like a zig zag. But there are great rivers of rock [stone runs] – big white boulders – and you have to cross them and then there's the heather and the gorse and its constantly wet. So the wind chill factor was – I think somebody said minus 40 degrees – and storm force winds and horizontal rain – a nightmare scenario. ... We are horrible, we're miserable as sin, all of us – we're missing home, want a dry fag, warm, dry boots, a cheese and onion sandwich and a bottle of blue top milk. I used to dream of these.
3 Para set up a patrol base near Murrell Bridge, two kilometres west of Mount Longdon on 3 June. From there they sent out their specialist patrols from D Company to scout out the Argentine positions on Mount Longdon. An example of a snatch patrol that failed to obtain a prisoner was provided by 3 PARA on the night of 4-5 June 1982. A three-man patrol from D Company consisting of Corporal Jerry Phillips and Privates Richard Absolon and Bill Hayward was sent out to the northern slopes of Mount Longdon. The small party was detailed to penetrate Sub-Lieutenant Juan Baldini's 1st Platoon on the western slopes to secure a prisoner, supported to their rear by a battery of six 105 mm field guns, under cover of which the specialist snipers shot at Baldini while another fired a 66 at one of the 1st Platoon mortar pits under Corporal Óscar Carrizo. The Argentine commanders reacted vigorously, and the sniper team found themselves under prompt and accurate machinegun, artillery and mortar fire. There were no Argentine casualties. One British participant nevertheless claimed to have shot and killed two Argentines and demolished one mortar crew with a 66 mm anti-tank rocket at close range.

On the Argentine side, it was soon realised that the 7th Infantry Regiment Reconnaissance Platoon soldiers on the surrounding Wireless Ridge position were ill equipped to carry out their own patrolling. Thus, the Argentine Commando units, normally used for deep-recce had to take on this role. They were able to do so with some success and in the early hours of 7 June a combined patrol of the 601st Commando Company and 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron was seen approaching Murrell Bridge. After several nights in the area Corporals Paul Haddon and Peter Brown and their patrols had just arrived at the bluff on the western bank of the Murrell River which Sergeant Ian Addle's patrol had been using as a base. Within a short space of time a sentry reported moving figures down near the bridge. The Paras opened up and a confused firefight developed in the darkness, with small arms, machinegun, LAW and Energa rifle grenades being exchanged. The Commando patrol under Captain Rubén Figueroa was very aggressive and before dawn had forced the Paras to withdraw, having to leave behind much of their equipment. Only one Argentine NCO was slightly wounded during the counter-ambush. From then on patrols had to be mounted closer to their own line. As the official history of the Parachute Regiment acknowledged:

'They were forced to evacuate their position rapidly, leaving behind their packs and radio, but succeeded in withdrawing without suffering any casualties. The location was checked on the evening of 8 June by another patrol, but there was no sign of the packs or radio, which meant the battalion's radio net could have been compromised.'
Nevertheless Colonel Pike and his company commanders on the eve of battle still held the Argentine commanders in low regard and did not expect them to put up much resistance. For this reason the British colonel hoped to surprise them by advancing as close to their forward platoon as possible under cover of darkness, before storming into their trenches with fixed bayonets. The three major objectives – Fly Half, Full Back and Wing Forward – were named after positions in Rugby. B Company would attack through Fly Half and proceed to Full Back, while A Company, followed by C Company if necessary, would do the same on Wireless Ridge.

But morale was still good in the 7th Regiment. Private Fabián Passaro of B Company served on Longdon with the 1st Platoon and remembers life at the time:

Most of us had adjusted to what we'd been landed in, we'd adjusted to the war. But some boys [identified in the book Two Sides Of Hell/Los Dos Lados Del Infierno] were still very depressed and, in many cases, were getting worse all the time. Of course, we were very fed up with wearing the same clothes for so many days, going without a shower, being so cold, eating badly. It was too many things together, quite apart from our natural fear of the war, the shelling and all that. But I think some of us were adapting better than others. There were kids who were very worried; and I tried to buoy them up a bit. 'Don't worry,' I told them. 'Nothing will happen, we're safe here. 'Don't you see they could never get right up here? There's one thousand of us; if they try to climb, we'll see them, we'll shoot the shit out of them.'"
When the 3 PARA's B Company (under Major Mike Argue) fixed bayonets to storm the Argentine 1st Platoon positions on Mount Longdon, they found themselves running into a minefield. The British sappers later counted some 1,500 anti-personnel mines sown along the western and northern slopes of Mount Longdon, 'but only two exploded' recalled Corporal Peter Cuxson , 'because the rest were frozen by ice'. 'Otherwise the final battle for Port Stanley would have been an altogether different story,' concludes the NCO who took an Argentine machine-gun position that night.

As dusk set-in, 3 Para moved to their start-lines and, after a brief stop, began to make their four-hour long advance to their objectives. As B Company approached Mount Longdon Corporal Brian Milne stepped on a mine, which after a very silent approach, alerted Sub-Lieutenant Baldini's platoon of conscripts. More than 20 Argentinan soldiers emerged from their tents to lay down fire but most of the platoon was still struggling out of its sleeping bags when Lieutenant Ian Bickerdike's No. 4 Platoon was among them, machinegunning and grenading the helpless Argentines. Corporal Stewart McLaughlin was in the thick of the action, clearing out an Argentine 7.62mm machinegun from the high ground overlooking the western slopes. He mustered his section, ordered them to fix bayonets and then led them up the hill into a hail of machinegun fire.

Lieutenant Jonathan Shaw's No. 6 Platoon, on the right flank of B Company, captured the summit of Fly Half with no fighting. However, they had missed half a dozen of Argentine conscripts of the forward platoon, having grenaded several abandoned bunkers, and they launched a fierce attack on the unsuspecting platoon, resulting in a number of casualties before the area was cleared. For three hours the hand-to-hand combat raged in the 1st Platoon sector, until the Paras drove out the defenders. All around the 1st Platoon position, small groups of soldiers were fighting for their lives. Privates Ben Gough and Dominic Gray managed to crawl undetected up to an Argentine bunker and crouched beside it as Marine conscripts Jorge Inchauspe and Héctor Rolla inside blasted away into the night. In unison the two Paras each pulled the pin out of a grenade and posted it through the firing slit of the bunker. The instant the grenade exploded the two jumped in the bunker and started to bayonet the two Marines. Private Gray killed a Marine by sticking his bayonet through his eye socket. Privates Gough and Grey were mentioned in despatches. Baldini himself appears to have been killed as he fired a machinegun. Corporal Dario Ríos was found lying dead with his platoon commander. Baldini's weapon and boots were removed for the use of the British soldiers. A photo of the dead lieutenant appeared in the original hardback edition of the book Operation Corporate. The Story of the Falklands War, 1982 (Viking Press, 1985) Also killed in the initial fighting was the Argentine forward artillery observation officer, Lieutenant Alberto Ramos whose last message was that his position was surrounded.

Just as it seemed as if the Paras would overwhelm 2nd Lieutenant Enrique Neirotti's 3rd Platoon on the southern half and Staff Sergeant Raúl González's 2nd Platoon on the northern half of the mountain, reinforcements from 2nd Lieutenant Hugo Quiroga's 1st Platoon, 10th Engineer Company on Full Back arrived to help Neirotti and González. Throughout most of the Argentine positions on the saddle of the mountain held, the newly arrived engineers using head-mounted nightsights proving particularly deadly to the Paras.

Private Nick Rose in 6 Platoon resumes the story.

'Pete Grey stood up and went to throw a '42' grenade and he was shot by a sniper in his right forearm. We thought the grenade had gone off. We punched his arm down onto the ground to staunch the bleeding, believing he'd lost half his right forearm and hand, but it was still there and his arm bent at the forearm instead of the elbow – a horrible thing to watch. ...There's 'incoming' everywhere, loads of stuff going down the range and then 'bang' my pal 'Fester' [Tony Greenwood], gets it just above his left eye, only a yard away from me. That was a terrible thing. 'Fester' was such a lovely guy. Then it was 'Baz' Barratt. 'Baz' had gone back to try and get field dressings for Pete Grey and he was coming back 'bang' he got it in the back. This was when we just stalled as a platoon.' (Jon Cooksey, op. cit., p. 66)
The battle was going badly for Major Mike Argue. Argentine resistance was trong and well organized. At the centre of the mountain were Marine conscripts Jorge Maciel and Claudio Scaglione in a bunker with a heavy machinegun and Marine conscripts Luis Fernández and Sergio Giuseppetti with night-scope equipped rifles. Lieutenant Bickerdike and a signaller and Sergeant Ian McKay and a number of other men in No. 4 Platoon were attempting to perform reconnaissance on the Marine positions, in doing so, the platoon commander and signaller were wounded. Sergeant McKay realising something needed to be done, decided to attack the Marine heavy machinegun position that was causing so much trouble and so much misery. The assault was met by a hail of fire. The Corporal was seriously wounded, a Private killed and another wounded. Despite these losses Sergeant McKay, with complete disregard for his own safety for which he was to win posthumously the Victoria Cross, continued to charge the enemy position alone. Peter Harclerode who was granted open access to the war diary of the 3rd Battalion, and subsequently wrote PARA! (Arms & Armour Press, 1993), pointed out that McKay and his team cleared several Marine riflemen in position but failed to neutralize the heavy machinegun.

Corporal McLaughlin himself managed to crawl to within grenade-throwing range of the Marine heavy-machinegun team, but despite several efforts with fragmentation grenades and 66 mm LAW rockets, he was unable to silence it.

Major Carrizo-Salvadores on Full Back had remained in touch with the Argentine commanders in Port Stanley:

Around midnight I asked RHQ for infantry reinforcements, and I was given a rifle platoon from Captain Hugo García's C Company. First Lieutenant Raúl Fernando Castañeda gathered the sections of his platoon, hooked around First Sergeant Raúl González's 2nd Platoon that was already fighting and delivered a counterattack [at about 2 am local time]. The Platoon fought with great courage in fierce hand to hand combat and the battle raged for two more hours but gradually the enemy broke contact and withdrew while being engaged by artillery strikes'.
It was now the turn of the Argentines to attack. Major Carrizo-Salvadores manoeuvred Castañeda's reinforced platoon to close with 4 and 5 Platoons and meanwhile under the direction of an NCO, part of Castañeda's platoon converged on the British aid post. Colour Sergeant Brian Faulkner, seeing that more than 20 wounded Paras on the western slopes of the mountain were about to fall into the hands of one of the sections of Castañeda's platoon, deployed anyone fit enough to defend the British Regimental Aid Post. "I picked four blokes and got up on this high feature, and as I did so this troop [in fact a reinforced section of fifteen riflemen]of twenty, or thirty Argentines were coming towards us. We just opened fire on them. We don't know how many we killed, but they got what they deserved, because none of them were left standing when we'd finished with them." said Faulkner

Things were so bad that Major Mike Argue's company ceased firing and devoted their full efforts to withdrawing from Fly Half. Peter Harclerode, a noted British historian of the Parachute Regiment, went on record, saying that:

'under covering fire, Nos. 4 and 5 Platoons withdrew, but another man was killed and others wounded in the process. At that point, Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike and his 'R' Group arrived on the scene and Major Argue briefed him on the situation. Shortly afterwards, Company Sergeant Major Weekes reported that both platoons had pulled back to a safe distance and that all the wounded had been recovered. The dead, however, had to be left where they had fallen. Meanwhile, on the southern slope of the objective, the wounded from No. 6 Platoon were being evacuated while the rest remained under cover of the rocks.
The British 3rd Commando Brigade commander, Brigadier Julian Thompson was reported as having said:
"I was on the point of withdrawing my Paras from Mount Longdon. We couldn't believe that these teenagers disguised as soldiers were causing us to suffer many casualties."
By the time the 21 survivors of Castañeda's 46-man platoon had worked their way off the mountain, they were utterly exhausted. One of them, Private Leonardo Rondi, was sporting a maroon beret – taken from a dead parachute soldier. Private Rondi, having dodged groups of Paras to deliver messages to Castañeda's section leaders, had found a Para behind a rock (it may have been Sergeant McKay) and took his red beret and SLR which he later gave to the Argentine commanders as trophies. Rondi was awarded the Argentine Nation to the Valour in Combat Medal.

Following the unexpectedly fierce fighting on Fly Half, Major Argue pulled back Nos. 4, and 5 Platoons, and 29 Commando Regiment began pounding the mountain from Mount Kent, after which a left flanking attack was put in. Under heavy fire, the remnants of 4 and 5 Platoons under Lieutenant Mark Cox advanced upon their objective of Full Back, taking some casualties from Casteñeda's platoon as they did so. As he was clearing the Argentine position, Private Grey was injured from a headshot but refused to be evacuated until Major Argue had consolidated his troops properly in their positions on Fly Half. Private Kevin Connery personally dispatched three wounded Argentines in this action. The Paras could not move any further without taking unacceptable losses and so were pulled back to the western end of Mount Longdon, with the orders for Major David Collett's A Company to move through B Company and assault, from the west, the eastern objective of Full Back, a heavily defended position, with covering fire being given from Support Company.

Second Lieutenants John Kearton and Ian Moore mustered their platoons near the western summit and had briefed them on how to deal with the enemy. They soon attacked the position in bitter close-combat, clearing the position of the Argentine defenders with rifle, grenade and bayonet. As A Company was clearing the final positions, Corporal McLaughlin was injured by a Czekalski recoiless rifle round fired from Wireless Ridge. Unfortunately the brave NCO was killed by a mortar bomb fired from RI 7's C Company on Wireless Ridge as he made his way to the aid post. The Argentines rigorously defended Full Back. Although already wounded, Corporal Manuel Medina of Castañeda's platoon took over a recoilless rifle detachment and personally fired along the ridge at Support Company killing three Paras, including Private Peter Heddicker, who took the full force of the 105 mm round, and wounding three others. Major Carrizo-Salvadores abandoned his command bunker on Full Back only when a MILAN missile smashed into some rocks just behind him. In the command bunker Major Collett found 2,000 cigarettes which he gave to the smokers in his company.

The battle and the aftermath that followed lasted twelve-hours and had been costly to both sides. 3 PARA lost seventeen killed during the battle, one Royal Engineer attached to 3 PARA was also killed. Two of the 3 PARA dead – Privates Ian Scrivens and Jason Burt – were only seventeen years old, and Private Neil Grose was killed on his 18th birthday. A total of forty British paratroopers were wounded during the battle. A further four Paras and one REME were killed and seven Paratroopers were wounded in the two-day shelling that followed that was directed from Sub-Lieutenant Marcelo de Marco of the 5th Marines on Tumbledown Mountain. The Argentines suffered 31 dead and 120 wounded, with fifty also being taken prisoner.

Lance-Corporal Vincent Bramley was patrolling the western half of Mount Longdon when he was confronted with the full horror of the night combat. The 3 PARA NCO and keen writer stumbled upon the bodies of five Paratroopers killed by the forward Argentine platoon.

'A few bullets whizzed overhead and smashed into the rocks. A corporal shouted that Tumbledown was firing at us. We ran into a tight gap in the path of all came to an abrupt halt, as it was a dead end. Four or five bodies lay sprawled there, close together. This time they were our own men: the camouflaged Para smocks hit my eyes immediately. CSM [Company-Sergeant-Major] Weekes was standing over them like a guardian, screaming at some of his men to cover the further end of the path and a small crest. The CSM and Sergeant P [Pettinger] exchanged quick words. I wasn't listening; my mind was totally occupied with looking into the crags for the enemy. I turned and looked at our own lads, dead on the ground, mowed down when they tried to rush through this gap. I felt both anger and sadness. The CSM's face showed the strain of having seen most of his company either wounded or shot dead. That night's fighting was written in every line of his face.'

The battle was particularly brutal with little quarter being shown by either side.

Decorations

The 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment won numerous decorations for this action:

References

External links

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