Battle of Mount Tumbledown


Battle of Mount Tumbledown
Battle of Mount Tumbledown
Part of Falklands War
Tumbledown.JPG
Mount Tumbledown, Two Sisters, and Wireless Ridge from Stanley Harbour
Date 13 June – 14 June 1982
Location Mount Tumbledown, Falkland Islands
Result Decisive British victory
Belligerents
Argentina Argentina United Kingdom United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Commander Carlos Robacio Lt. Col. Michael Scott
Strength
500 Argentine Marines 900 Troops
Casualties and losses
30 killed
100+ wounded
30 captured
10 killed
53 wounded
The British capture of heights above Stanley leads to the surrender of the city shortly afterwards.

The Battle of Mount Tumbledown was an engagement in the Falklands War, one of a series of battles that took place during the British advance towards Stanley.

Contents

Overview

On the night of 13 June – 14 June 1982, the British launched an assault on Mount Tumbledown, one of the highest points near the town of Stanley, and succeeded in driving Argentinian forces from the mountain. This close-quarters night battle was later dramatised in the BBC film Tumbledown.

The attacking British forces consisted of the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, mortar detachments from 42 Commando, Royal Marines and the 1/7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles, as well as support from a troop of the Blues and Royals equipped with two Scorpion and two Scimitar armored vehicles. The Argentinian forces defending the mountains were Commander Carlos Robacio's 5th Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM 5).

Prior to the British landings, the Argentinian marine battalion had been brought up to brigade strength by a company of the Amphibious Engineers Company (CKIA), a battery of the 1st Marine Artillery Battalion (BIAC), and three Tigercat SAM batteries of the 1st Marine Anti-Aircraft Regiment, as well as a heavy machine-gun company of the Headquarters Battalion (BICO). As part of the British plan, the 1st Battalion the 7th Gurkha Rifles (1/7 GR) was given the task of capturing the sub-hill of Mount William held by O Company, the 5th Marine Battalion's reserve, and then allowing the Welsh Guards through to seize Sapper Hill, the final obstacle before the town of Stanley. The attack was supported by naval gunfire from HMS Active's 4.5 inch gun.

At the time of the battle, N Company held Mount Tumbledown. Mount William was just south of Tumbledown and the Marine battalion's O Company was on its lower slopes. B Company 6th Regiment was in reserve behind N Company. M Company occupied Sapper Hill. The Argentinian defenders held firm under the British 'softening up' bombardment, which began at 7:30 local time. As Major Oscar Jaimet recalled in Razor's Edge, I heard the cries of the wounded calling for their comrades, twelve men wounded before nightfall. We thought we had suffered before, but what luxury and comfort compared to this.[1]

During the battle, the 5th Marines Command Post took five direct hits, but Commander Robacio emerged unscathed.[2]

Early moves

On the morning of 13 June, the Scots Guards were moved by helicopter from their position at Bluff Cove to an assembly area near Goat Ridge, west of Mount Tumbledown. The British plan called for a diversionary attack south of Mount Tumbledown by a small number of Scots Guards assisted by the four light tanks of the Blues and Royals, whilst the main attack came as a three-phase silent advance from the west of Mount Tumbledown. In the first phase, G company would take the western end of the mountain; in the second phase, Left Flank would pass through the area taken by G company to capture the center of the summit; and in the third phase, Right Flank would pass through Left Flank to secure the eastern end of Tumbledown. A daytime assault was initially planned, but was postponed at the British battalion commander's request. In a meeting with his company commanders the consensus was that the long uphill assault across the harsh ground of Tumbledown would be suicidal.

Diversion

At 8:30 p.m. on 13 June the diversionary attack began. The 2nd Bn Scots Guards' Reconnaissance Platoon, commanded by Major Richard Bethell (a former SAS officer), and supported by four light tanks of the Blues and Royals, attacked the Argentinian marine company entrenched on the lower slopes of Mount William. On Mount William's southern slopes, one of the tanks was taken out of action by a booby trap. The initial advance was unopposed, but a heavy firefight broke out when British troops made contact with Argentine defences. The Argentines opened fire, killing two British soldiers and wounding four. After two hours of hard fighting, the British secured the position.

Fearing a counter-attack, the British platoon withdrew into an undetected minefield, and were forced to abandon their dead.[3] Two men were wounded covering the withdrawal and four more were wounded by mines. The explosions prompted the Argentine Marine Major Antonio Pernías to order the 81 mm mortar platoon on Mount William to open fire on the minefield and the likely withdrawal route of anyone attacking Mount William. The barrage lasted for about forty minutes and more British casualties would have been suffered if the mortar bombs had not landed on soft peat, which absorbed most of the blasts.

Night attack

Final Actions, 13 to 14 June 1982

At 9 p.m., half an hour after the start of the diversionary attack, Major Iain Dalzel-Job's G Company started its advance of nearly two miles. Reaching its objective undetected, the company found the western end of the mountain undefended and occupied it easily. Major John Kiszely's Left Flank passed through them and reached the central region of the peak unopposed, but then came under heavy fire. The Argentinians, later learned to be of company strength, directed mortar, grenade, machine gun, and small arms fire from very close range at the British company, killing two British soldiers: Guardsman Ronald Tanbini and Sergeant John Simeon. Marine Sub-Lieutenant Héctor Mino's 5th Platoon, Amphibious Engineer Company, held the rocks to the right of Marine Sub-Lieutenant Carlos Vázquez's 4th Platoon, 5th Marines. In the center and to the left of the 4th Platoon were Second Lieutenant Óscar Silva's RI 4 platoon, which had recently fought well on Goat Ridge. For four or five hours, three platoons of Argentinian riflemen, machine gunners, and mortar men pinned the British down. To help identify the bunkers, the Guardsmen fired flares into the summit. The Guardsmen traded 66 mm rockets and 84 mm anti-tank rounds with the Argentinians, protected in their rock bunkers. The enemy refused to budge and the Scots Guards could hear some of the Argentinians shouting obscene phrases in English and even singing as they fought. Meanwhile, two Royal Navy frigates, HMS Yarmouth and HMS Active, were pounding Tumbledown with 4.5 inch guns. At one stage Colonel Scott thought the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards might have to withdraw and attack again the next night, 'The old nails were being bitten a bit, if we had been held on Tumbledown it might have encouraged them to keep on fighting.'[4]

The fighting was hard going for Left Flank. The Argentinians had well dug-in machine guns and snipers. At 2:30 a.m., however, a second British assault overwhelmed the Argentinian defences. British troops swarmed the mountaintop and drove the Argentinians out, at times fighting with fixed bayonets. Major Kiszely, who was to become a senior general after the war, was the first man into the enemy position, personally shooting two enemy conscripts and bayoneting a third, his bayonet breaking in two. Seeing their company commander among the Argentinians inspired 14 and 15 Platoons to make the final dash across open ground to get within bayoneting distance of the marines. Kiszely and six other Guardsmen suddenly found themselves standing on top of the mountain, looking down on Stanley under street lighting and with vehicles moving along the roads. The Argentinians in the form of their 6th Infantry Regiment's B Company now counter-attacked and a burst of machine gun fire from 3rd Platoon of Second Lieutenant Augusto La Madrid injured three British men, including Lieutenant Alasdair Mitchell, commander of 15 Platoon. A bullet passed through the compass secured on Kiszely's belt. For his bayonet charge Major Kiszely was awarded the Military Cross.

Morning

By 6 a.m., Left Flank's attack had clearly stalled and had cost the British company 7 men killed and 18 wounded. On the eastern half of the mountain the platoon of conscripts of La Madrid were still holding out, so Colonel Scott ordered Right Flank to push on to clear the final positions. Major Simon Price sent 2 and 3 Platoons forward, preceded by a barrage of 66 mm rockets to clear the forward RI 6 platoon. Major Price placed 1 Platoon high up in the rocks to provide fire support for the assault troops. Lieutenant Robert Lawrence led 3 Platoon around to the right of the Argentinian platoon, hoping to take the Argentinians by surprise. They were detected, however, and the British were briefly pinned down by gunfire before a bayonet charge overwhelmed the Argentinian defenders. Lance-Corporal Graham Rennie of 3 Platoon in the book 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands (Pen & Sword Books, 2003) later described the attack:

Our assault was initiated by a Guardsman killing a sniper, which was followed by a volley of 66 mm anti-tanks rounds. We ran forward in extended line, machine-gunners and riflemen firing from the hip to keep the enemy heads down, enabling us to cover the open ground in the shortest possible time. Halfway across the open ground 2 Platoon went to ground to give covering fire support, enabling us to gain a foothold on the enemy position. From then on we fought from crag to crag, rock to rock, taking out pockets of enemy and lone riflemen, all of who resisted fiercely.

As La Madrid withdrew after suffering 5 killed,[5] the platoons under Second Lieutenant Aldo Franco and Guillermo Robredo moved in from the eastern edge of the mountain to try to help La Madrid and the Marine 2nd platoon (under Second Lieutenant Marcelo Oruezabala) holding the saddle between Mounts Tumbledown and William. Advancing out of the central region of Tumbledown Mountain, the British again came under heavy fire from the Argentinians, but by advancing in pairs under covering fire, the British succeeded in clearing those RI 6 Company platoons as well, gaining firm control of the mountain's eastern side. Right Flank had achieved this at the cost of five wounded, including Lt. Lawrence. In his moment of victory on the eastern slopes, Lawrence was almost killed when a bullet fired by an Argentine sniper tore off the side of his head. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, but he spent a year in a wheelchair and was almost totally paralyzed. The Argentinian sniper with a FAL rifle had helped cover the Argentinean retreat, firing shots at a Scout helicopter evacuating wounded off Tumbledown and injuring two Guardsmen before the Scots Guards mortally wounded him in a hail of gunfire.[6]

Aftermath

By 9:00 a.m., the Scots Guards had gained the high ground east of Tumbledown Mountain and the Gurkhas commenced deploying across the heavily shelled saddle from Tumbledown south to Mount William, which they took with a loss of eight wounded. The 2nd Battalion Scots Guards had lost 8 dead and 43 wounded, the Welsh Guards had lost 1 dead, the Royal Engineers had lost 1 dead, and the Gurkhas had lost 10 wounded. One Guardsmen lost his way in the dark. The Guardsman hid for more than a month, not realizing that the fighting was over. The Guards took 30 prisoners, several of them RI 6 soldiers. The bodies of 30 Argentine Army and Marine soldiers were strewn over the 5th Marine Battalion perimeter.

Unwilling to abandon the hill, Commander Carlos Robacio on Sapper Hill was planning to counter-attack and drive back the Guardsmen. Only the personal intervention of Colonel Félix Aguiar, the 10th Brigade Chief of Staff, brought the fighting to an end.[7] The 5th Marines worked their way back into Stanley, leaving M Company to cover the retreat. At the foot of the hill there was an enormous minefield. A group of Sappers went ahead to clear a path across the mines, but when the Welsh Guardsmen advanced they found Sapper Hill abandoned. The delay caused by the mines may have saved lives. The Marine companies had been deeply entrenched and were well equipped with heavy machine guns. To Guardsman Tracy Evens, the Sapper Hill positions looked impregnable:

We were led to an area that the company would rest at for the night, I still took in the fact the Argies had prepared Sapper Hill well, they had depth positions that would have made the task of taking it very hard. (Taken from the diary of Guardsman Tracy Evens)

During the battle, soldier Philip Williams was knocked unconscious by an explosion, and left for dead. When he came to, the rest of the British soldiers had gone. Williams' parents were informed of his "death" and a memorial service held for him. After seven weeks he found his way back to civilization, to find himself accused of desertion by the media and fellow soldiers.[8]

For the courage displayed in the attack, men from the 2nd Scots Guards were awarded one Distinguished Service Order, two Military Crosses, two Distinguished Conduct Medals (one posthumously), and two Military Medals. Men from 9 Para Squadron, Royal Engineers, were awarded two Military Medals and Captain Sam Drennan, the Army Air Corps Scout pilot who had picked up the injured soldiers under fire and a former Scots Guards NCO, received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Carlos Robacio, BIM5 commander, was awarded the Argentine Nation to the Valour in Combat Medal and the battalion itself was decorated by the Argentine Congress in 2002 [9]

Due to his actions in both Two Sisters and Tumbledown, private Oscar Ismael Poltronieri of La Madrid's platoon was awarded the Argentine Nation to the Heroic Valour in Combat Cross, Argentina's highest military decoration. He's the only conscript soldier in his nation's recent history who has received this honour.[10]

See also

  • British Military History
  • Argentine Marine Corps

References

  1. ^ (Razor's Edge (Hugh Bicheno, p. 288))
  2. ^ (The Sinking of the Belgrano, Arthur Gavshon and Desmond Rice pg. 47)
  3. ^ http://www.britains-smallwars.com/Falklands/Tumbledown.htm
  4. ^ Patrick Bishop and John Witherow, The Winter War: Falklands Conflict, p. 133
  5. ^ Malvinas: La Defensa de Puerto Argentino, Oscar Luis Jofre & Félix Roberto Aguiar, page 262, Editorial Sudamericana, 1987
  6. ^ ("Razor's Edge" Hugh Bicheno pg. 309)
  7. ^ Malvinas: La Defensa de Puerto Argentino, Oscar Luis Jofre & Félix Roberto Aguiar, page 275, Editorial Sudamericana, 1987
  8. ^ Philip Williams and M.S. Power: Summer Soldier, Bloomsbury, 1991. (cover notes)
  9. ^ Honor al valor en combate y Batallón benemérito
  10. ^ Middlebrook, Martin (1990). The fight for the "Malvinas": the Argentine forces in the Falklands War. Penguin books, p. 239. iSBN 0140107673

Coordinates: 51°41′47″S 57°58′3″W / 51.69639°S 57.9675°W / -51.69639; -57.9675


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