Battle of Mount Tumbledown
|Battle of Mount Tumbledown|
|Part of Falklands War|
Mount Tumbledown, Two Sisters, and Wireless Ridge from Stanley Harbour
|Commanders and leaders|
|Commander Carlos Robacio||Lt. Col. Michael Scott|
|500 Argentine Marines||900 Troops|
|Casualties and losses|
|The British capture of heights above Stanley leads to the surrender of the town shortly afterwards.|
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 Port Stanley, the capital 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 (2SG), mortar detachments from 42 Commando, Royal Marines and the 1st Battalion, 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles, (1/7 GR) as well as support from a troop of the Blues and Royals equipped with two Scorpion and two Scimitar armoured vehicles. The Argentinian forces defending the mountains were Commander Carlos Robacio's 5th Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM 5). The defending Argentines were already proving costly in lives. In the shelling that was directed by Sub-Lieutenant Marcelo de Marco of the 5th Marines from his observation post on Tumbledown Mountain, four Paras and one REME craftsman were killed on Mount Longddon and another seven Paratroopers were wounded and a Welsh Guarsdmen was killed while riding a motorbike in the Fitzroy-Stanley track.
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 heavy machine-gun company of the Headquarters Battalion (BICO), a battery of the 1st Marine Field Artillery Battalion (BIAC), and three Tigercat SAM batteries of the 1st Marine Anti-Aircraft Regiment, as well as a 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion platoon and a 3rd Marine Infantry Battalion platoon.
As part of the British plan, 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 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. Major Oscar Jaimet later recalled:
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.
During the battle, the 5th Marines Command Post took five direct hits, but Commander Robacio emerged unscathed.
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. During this day, a dispatch rider from the 1st Welsh Guards Battalion was mortally wounded by Argentine shellfire directed from Tumbledown. The British plan called for a diversionary attack south of Mount Tumbledown by a small number of the 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 (company) would pass through the area taken by G company to capture the centre of the summit. 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 in daylight.
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 Argentinian defences. The Argentinians opened fire, killing two British soldiers and wounding four others. 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. 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 and the longer-ranged 120mm mortars attached to 'C' Company, 3rd Infantry Regiment on Sapper Hill 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 inflicted if the mortar bombs had not landed on soft peat, which absorbed most of the power of the explosions.
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, but later came under heavy shellfire that wounded Major Dalzel-Job in the head. 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 three British soldiers. 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 centre and to the left of the 4th Platoon were Second Lieutenant Óscar Silva's RI 4 platoon and Second Lieutenant Celestino Mosteirín's RI 12 platoon, which had recently fought on Goat Ridge and Mount Harriet.
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 at the summit. The Guardsmen traded 66 mm rockets and 84 mm anti-tank rounds with the Argentinians, who were protected in their rock bunkers. The Argentinians refused to budge; the Guardsmen could hear some of the them shouting obscene phrases in English and even singing as they fought.
Meanwhile, two Royal Navy frigates, HMS Yarmouth and Active, were pounding Tumbledown with their 4.5 inch guns. At one stage Lieutenant Colonel Michael Scott, (Commanding Officer of 2 SG), thought the battalion 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.
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 over 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 Argentine position, personally shooting two Argentinian 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 which was under street lighting and vehicles could be seen moving along the roads. The Argentinians, in the form of their 6th Infantry Regiment's B Company and Marine Sub-Lieutenant Hector Miño's 5th Amphibious Engineers Platoon, now counter-attacked and a burst of machine gun fire from either the army or marine platoon 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.
By 6 a.m., Left Flank's attack had clearly stalled and had cost the British company seven men killed and 18 wounded. On the eastern half of the mountain the platoon of conscripts of La Madrid and the marines of Miño's platoon,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 soldiers and marine engineers. 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 later described the attack:
Our assault was initiated by a Guardsman killing a sniper, which was followed by a volley of 66 mm anti-tank 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 whom resisted fiercely.
As La Madrid withdrew after suffering reportedly five killed in the Argentine counterattack, 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 Miño. 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, they 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 (either Private Luis Jorge Bordón or Walter Ignacio Becerra, according to La Madrid), armed with a FAL rifle, had helped cover the Argentinean retreat, firing shots at a Scout helicopter evacuating wounded off Tumbledown and injuring two men (including Guardsman Kenny Mains), before the Scots Guards mortally wounded him in a hail of gunfire.
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 the loss of 13 wounded. The 2nd Battalion Scots Guards had lost eight dead and 43 wounded. The Welsh Guards had lost one dead, the Royal Engineers had also lost one dead, and the Gurkhas had sustained altogether 13 wounded, including the artillery observation office, Captain Keith Swinton. According to Dhanbahadur Rai, a Gurkha:
The Scots Guards were to attack Tumbledown, with the Gurkhas following behind. We were supposed to finish the attack and they would give us covering fire from Tumbledown ... During the night we followed the Scots Guards and then our CO told us to stop. The ground was like a valley when we stopped and afterwards the shelling started ... The headquarters and A Company had twelve wounded ... The next morning we started to move. The CO sahib and the anti-tank Milan Platoon commander and the FOO were just going up and they got a rifle shot. Our commanding sahib was shouting. He said, 'Look, Goli Ayo!' 'Get down! Someone fired!' Then the FOO was standing and looking and the second shot hit him in the chest.
The Guards took 30 prisoners, several of them RI 6 soldiers. The bodies of 30 Argentine Army and Marine soldiers were found 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. The 5th Marines worked their way back into Stanley, leaving the 2nd Platoon of Midshipman Marcelo Davis and 3rd Platoon of Mishipman Alejandro Koch of 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 through the mines, but when the Welsh Guardsmen advanced they found Sapper Hill abandoned. The delay caused by the mines may have saved lives. The Argentine 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.
During the battle, Guardsman 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. As the Guardsmen and Gurkhas consolidated their positions, the British lost a Volvo BV-202 tracked vehicle to a mine planted in the Tumbledown sector. "We ran over a mine. I went up through the roof and the vehicle went up and was turned right round by the explosion," recalled Major Brian Armitage.
For the courage displayed in the attack, men from 2 SG 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.
Due to his actions on 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 is the only conscript soldier in his nation's recent history who has received this honour.
After the battle, Pipe Major James Riddell of 2 SG stood near the top of the mountain and played his bagpipes. He played a quick march he had composed "on the back of a fag packet" [cigarette pack], during the battle, following a long tradition in which Pipe Majors were encouraged "to write tunes to commemorate any actions in which their regiments have been engaged". He named the tune The Crags of Tumbledown Mountain. It was released as a single by the Pipes and Drums of 2SG a year later.
- Razor's Edge, Hugh Bicheno, p. 288, Phoenix, 2007
- (The Sinking of the Belgrano, Arthur Gavshon and Desmond Rice pg. 47)
- http://www.britains smallwars.com/Falklands/Tumbledown.htm
- Nine battles to Stanley, Nicholas Van der Bijl, p.190, Leo Cooper, 30/09/1999
- Attenshun! Scots Guards hotel is opening (wait for it ..) now The Scotsman, 10 March 2007
- Patrick Bishop and John Witherow, The Winter War: Falklands Conflict, p. 133
- 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands 1982, Nicholas Van der Bijl, David Aldea, page 200, Leo Cooper, 2003
- Malvinas: La Defensa de Puerto Argentino, Oscar Luis Jofre & Félix Roberto Aguiar, page 262, Editorial Sudamericana, 1987
- Hugh Bicheno (2007). Razor's Edge. Phoenix. p. 309.
- http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1362425-un-heroe-todos-los-heroes Un héroe, todos los héroes lanacion.com, 03/04/2011
- The Gurkhas: Special Force, Chris Bellamy, p. ?, Hachette, 2011
- Malvinas: La Defensa de Puerto Argentino, Oscar Luis Jofre & Félix Roberto Aguiar, page 275, Editorial Sudamericana, 1987
- Day of Surrender.
- Philip Williams and M.S. Power: Summer Soldier, Bloomsbury, 1991. (cover notes)
- Our Falklands war: The Men of The Task Force Tell Their Story, Geoffrey Underwood, p.70, Maritime Books, 1983
- Honor al valor en combate y Batallón benemérito
- Middlebrook, Martin (1990). The fight for the "Malvinas": the Argentine forces in the Falklands War. Penguin books, p. 239. ISBN 0-14-010767-3
- Sharkey Ward (1992). Sea Harrier over the Falklands: a maverick at war. Leo Cooper. p. 266. ISBN 0-85052-305-2.
- The gramophone, Volume 60, Issue 2, page 1089, 1983
- Piping Times, Volume 55 No.1 (October 2002) includes a photo of P/M Riddell playing his bagpipes on top of Mount Tumbledown. Piping Times, Volume 55 No.2 (November 2002) contains a Riddell's handwritten copy of the music.
- Sky News: Return to the Falklands 
- In his first interview in 20 years, Robert Lawrence tells Mark Townsend how the trauma of battle reshaped his life
-  As part of his journey of reconciliation Mike Seers travels to Argentina to interview Marine artillery fire controllers and gunners whom he fought against
- Reassessing the Fighting Performance of the Argentine 5th Marines
- Taken from the diary of Guardsman Tracy Evens