(THE FALKLANDS WAR)
The motto of the Special Air Service Regiment is “Who Dares Wins.”
Well way back in 1982, some 8000 miles from home, 8 of us were just about to live up to that great motto.
Two points: point 1, if this operation had gone into it’s final phase, there is a chance that I wouldn’t be writing this blog post…point 2, it would have gone down as the smallest invasion in military history.
Up to this point the war wasn’t going well. The Argentinians with their extremely brave pilots were sinking too many of our ships. If this continues, we’re going to lose the conflict altogether.
Today, many secret papers from both sides have been released, most after the 30 year point of the end of the war. Having read reports from these papers online, I was shocked to find out a lot of information which would have been good to know at the time of our operation, and especially during the lead up when we were putting the operation together with little to no info of our intended target and it’s surrounding area on the Argentinian mainland.
I was a member of 6 Troop (Amphibious), B Squadron, 22 SAS Regiment. We had been training in the UK to carry out an Entebbe style raid, firstly on Stanley Airfield on the Falklands, then when the plan had changed, to attack an airfield on Tierra Del Fuego on Argentina’s Patagonia Region. The operation was called Operation Mikado.
As the war took hold, it was becoming obvious that senior officers from the different British services, were spending more time fighting one another than fighting our new enemy the Argentinians. Many questions in planning were not being answered. Maps, air photos and equipment was just not forthcoming or indeed being shared.
Like all wars this one also was proxy…the Russians helping the Argentinians with intelligence and the Americans helping us, the problem though, was that it wasn’t getting down to the troops on the ground.
In short, we weren’t even planning in the full SAS sense, we were just being briefed in order to “wing it!”
Well, in the SAS’s short history at that time, it wasn’t the first time that a call sign had to wing it. Part of who we are is to pick up the sword and go forward…with or without the intelligence, with or without the kit.
During the UK part of our training things got very heated. Working with the RAF and flying in to airfields in our C130s, it was deemed by RAF regiment defence forces that during the training runs, we were blown out of the sky long before we approached touchdown onto the tarmac. As the Argies had similar ground to air defences, then they could take us out on our approach too.
With that we lost 2 great men from our squadron…the OC and our troop staff sergeant. They weren’t going to stand for an “operation certain death” and lose a whole squadron of special forces and 2 aircraft. To this day I still see the pair of them as 2 of the bravest individuals from the Falklands war even though they never left the UK…standing up for your beliefs and your men in war time with your careers on the line is rare! For that I will be forever grateful to them both.
We moved forward as a squadron to Ascension Island, there we waited for our task while continuing with our training.
Due to the lack of intelligence of our intended target it was deemed that a recce was required…eyes on. I’ve always found in my time in the SAS that our own gained intelligence was always the best outcome if it can be done, and indeed if we have any time left to plan and to do it.
A team of 8 men from the squadron was put together and off they went, that operation was called Operation Plum Duff…and like Mikado has been written about several times over the years…some of what was written accurate, and some not so.
In short Plum Duff was compromised and deemed a failure. Their helicopter infiltration fell short for many reasons and landed in Chile…the Royal Navy crew burning out their helicopter, and the patrol moving to a safe RV inside Chile after a number of days on the ground.
Meanwhile the Argentinian aircraft were devastatingly continuing with sinking our ships, including now the resupply ship the Atlantic Conveyor which was carrying Harrier aircraft, ammunition and much needed helicopters for troop movements across the islands of the Falklands. The sinking was gut wrenching at a time where the winning of the war can swing any which way.
Enter Mikado 2! A hastily put together plan to insert an 8 man boat troop patrol to attack the Argentine airfield where the aircraft that are doing all the damage are flying from. At this point HMS Onyx an older small diesel class submarine which has now made it south to the Falkland Islands…we were to insert onto the mainland from her after a period of build up training.
Our team flew down to meet with a frigate just outside of the exclusion zone. We parachuted into pretty rough and freezing cold seas, got picked up and transferred to a ship containing D Squadron. We did some small operations with them over the coming days. When we were given permission from those running the war from UK, we spent 5 days working up on HMS Onyx with 2 great SBS lads. We would float on and off the submarine casing at night, carry out beach landings until it was done in the shortest possible time frame. We practiced on a handful of off lying Island inside the Falklands. The plan was to float off the submarine in 2 inflatable boats with outboard engines, the SBS lads as a coxswain to each craft. For the main operation, they would drop us on the shore of the Argentine mainland and return the boats to the submarine, quite a task.
This operation had to have the clearance of the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At this point in time, Argentina and the UK were NOT “officially” at war with one another. If any one of us are caught or killed on the mainland it could cause all sorts of repercussions internationally.
Once we got permission to leave we moved into the shore line and sat off still under surface close to the sea bed awaiting the “go go go” from the UK.
My Bergen weighed 93lbs…my belt kit 45lbs…I had a double stitched back to back claymore bag full of extra ammunition in magazines weighing 25lbs…a pistol and an M16. We had one 4x barrel M202 60mm incendiary launcher each. The idea being to fire those at the aircraft and torch them. I had a tourniquet attached to every item of kit and clothing…yes, this is going to be a bit hairy!
We were given the “go go go.”
We knew that this task was monumental to turn the Falklands War our way. Every one of us despite the lack of intelligence to work from, despite our pathetic mapping to navigate from, was up for this operation. We knew that because of the compromised Operation Plum Duff, that there would be troops on the ground looking for special forces coming from the air, land or the sea…but we were all buzzing to do our best and be successful for those on the Falkland Islands and aboard those ships still afloat.
On the way in the Captain of HMS Onyx called for our patrol commander. There was hardly any space on the small cramped submarine. Our 2 boats and engines were rolled up and piled up ready to be carried up onto the casing and assembled at haste. Supplies in boxes and bags to feed the crew over long periods were in every spare gap on the floor space. I had been sleeping in the forward torpedo hold lying on top of a torpedo…the coolest place on the sub. Ginge our patrol commander climbed his way back over everything…his face full of bad news.
He told us that the Argentinians had surrendered on the Islands…the war is over. The submarine has been told by the UK to pull back sub surface immediately and return us to the Falklands. A couple of minutes later, the crew had been told by intercom. They were cheering, hugging and kissing one another. They had indeed had a long war. Most spent under the surface, breaking just about every record for an “0” Class submarine at sea, and all of that in war.
As for us…a bit like…jumps on jumps off. When we used to go military static line parachuting, our adrenalin would be built up for the jump…but occasionally we’d be stood up with all of our kit on ready to jump from the plane, and at the last minute because of high gusts on the drop zone for example, it would be cancelled.
Well, that’s what this was like…we were bursting full of adrenalin, a huge operation even by SAS standards, cancelled at the last moments of approaching the mainland and then getting ready to leave the submarine. It’s pretty difficult then to release that adrenalin.
I remember on our return trip to the Falklands Islands, we were having a brew with some of the submariners…one of them looked at us and said “fortune favours the brave lads.”
Never a truer word said…but here today at the tender age of 67…Argentinian police, army and marines totaling around 3000 men on Tierra Del Fuego were looking for any hint of British SF types…would we have been killed, captured…or successful?
If the Argentinians had waited just one more day before surrendering on the Falklands we would have found out.