Mount Kent Skirmish

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Mount Kent Battle
Part of Falklands War
Date 29 May–11 June 1982
Location Mount Kent, East Falkland, Falkland Islands
51°40′23″S 58°06′47″W / 51.673°S 58.113°W / -51.673; -58.113Coordinates: 51°40′23″S 58°06′47″W / 51.673°S 58.113°W / -51.673; -58.113
Belligerents
Argentina Argentina

602 Commando Company

United Kingdom United Kingdom

22nd Special Air Service

Commanders and leaders
Captain Eduardo Villarruel,

Captain Tomas Fernandez Captain Andres Ferrero

Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Rose,

Major Cedric Delves

Casualties and losses
8 killed, 14 wounded or injured (including 11 Gendarmerie injured in Puma crash) and 5 captured (including 4 Marine special forces 5 killed (friendly fire)
7 wounded[1][2]

The Mount Kent Skirmish was a conflict during the Falklands War between British and Argentine forces.

In late May, forward Special Air Service patrols from G Squadron had established that a number of high peaks overlooking the Argentine defences around Port Stanley, were largely undefended, especially after the Argentine heliborne reserve, Combat Team Solari (B Company, 12th Infantry Regiment) was helicoptered to Goose Green and the 4th Infantry Regiment had received orders to abandon Mount Challenger and take up new positions on Mounts Two Sisters and Harriet. An initial reconnaissance element from Major Cedric Delves' D Squadron inserted into the area of Mount Kent by helicopter on 25 May, allowed for the rest of the squadron to arrive safely on 27 May in time to counter a strong Argentine Special Forces insertion, under the command of Captain Eduardo Villarruel, second-in-command of 602 Commando Company.[3] The commander of 602 Commando Company, Major Aldo Rico, had instructed the four Argentine patrol commanders involved to seize Mounts Kent and the surrounding peaks in order to allow further reinforcement to be flown in, namely Major Jose Ricardo Spadaro's 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron and Major Oscar Ramon Jaimet's heliborne-trained.[4] B Company, 6th Infantry Regiment that had also undergone night-combat training the previous year.[5] The SAS patrols in the form of Air Troop, Boat Troop and Major Delves' tactical headquarters found themselves hard-pressed and fought a number of fierce patrol actions with around 40 Argentine Army Special Forces before the Argentines eventually withdrew. Air Troop were initially driven back in the fighting but managed to hold onto the summit of Mount Kent until reinforcements in the form of Royal Marines arrived.

The first engagement during the Assault of Mount Kent occurred during the night of 29–30 May 1982 when Captain Andres Ferrero's 3rd Assault Section from 602 Commando Company ran into a British patrol from D Squadron 22nd Special Air Service on the slopes of Mount Kent.[6] The British took control of the situation, but at the cost of two wounded SAS troopers.[1][7]

The radio operator in Captain Tomas Fernandez's 2nd Assault Section, First Sergeant Alfredo Flores,[8] sent out the following radio message from the slopes of Bluff Cove Peak at about 5 PM on 30 May: "We are in trouble" and then forty minutes later: "There are English all around us... you had better hurry up". [1]

First Lieutenant Márquez and Sergeant Blas from the 2nd Assault Section, had around 11 am local time on 30th May,[9] shown great personal courage and leadership in the patrol battle that took place on Bluff Cove Peak and were posthumously awarded the Argentine Nation to the Valour in Combat Medal. The Argentine Commandos under Captain Fernandez had literally stumbled on a camp occupied by 15 SAS troopers.[10][11]

On Mount Simon, Captain Jose Arnobio Verseci's 1st Assault Section, listening to Captain Fernandez's patrol attempts to escape the British encirclement, decided to abandon the feature and attempt to link up with the 601st Combat Engineer Battalion forces guarding Fitzroy.[12]

That following day, another SAS ambush takes place when Lieutenant-Commander Dante Camiletti Marine Special Forces patrol (minus Camilletti and corporal Juan Carrasco who had been captured at Verde Mountain and Teal Inlet respectively) after returning from reconnoitering San Carlos, are ambushed on the lower slopes of Estancia Mountain and sergeants Jesús Pereyra and Ramón López are seriously wounded and captured along with corporals Pablo Alvarado and Pedro Verón who are captured unwounded.

That night, Captain Peter Babbington's K Company of 42 Commando, Royal Marines arrived nearby via helicopters. At about the same time, the 2nd Assault Section, having hidden all day, emerged from their hides intending to withdraw from the area but came under prompt and heavy fire from the SAS.[13] The sight of a night firefight in progress confronted K Company. The Marines quickly took cover and after the fire fight had died down Major Cedric Delves of D Squadron, 22 SAS appeared and assured them that all was well and that the SAS had destroyed an Argentine patrol.[14] In reality there were no further casualties in Captain Fernandez's 2nd Assault Section, although one member, Sergeant Alfredo Flores, was captured in this action.[15]

One American historian's account states the following:

The SAS finally managed to surround the main commando group, consolidating into a position near the peak, and ambushed them with one of those devastating, explosive onslaughts of automatic fire and GPMG fire for which the regiment is famous.[16]

Flight-Lieutenant Andy Lawless, co-pilot of the sole surviving RAF Chinook ('Bravo November'), took part in the mission to deliver artillery guns and ammunition to the SAS and describes the crash of the helicopter (possibly as a result of small-arms fire) soon after:

We knew the SAS were outgunned. Our job was to land 105-mm howitzers] of 29 Regiment Royal Artillery. Rose told me the landing site was flat and secure. The mission was to be flown all at night with night-vision goggles. We had three 105—mm guns inside and ammunition pallets under-slung. Then the fog of war intervened. The ground was not flat and covered in boulders. We could not find anywhere to land and we spent time manoeuvring to drop off the under-slung loads. We had to put them exactly where the gunners wanted because they could not roll the guns very far across the terrible terrain. I can distinctly remember troops moving under the rotor disking firing their guns - this was not part of the plan. There were incoming artillery rounds. Once we dropped off the guns we went straight back to San Carlos to bring in more guns and ammo. Then we hit water. We were lucky because if we had hit solid ground we would have been dead. We hit at 100 knots. The bow wave came over the cockpit window as we settled and the engines partially flamed out. I knew we had ditched but I was not sure if we had been hit. Dick said he thought we had been hit by ground fire. As the helicopter settled the bow wave reduced. We had the collective still up and the engine wound up as we came out of the water like a cork out of a bottle. We were climbing.[17]

The action in the Mount Kent area continued, and around 10 am on 31 May, the recently arrived Royal Marines spotted a column of Major Mario Castagneto's 601 Commando Company advancing on jeeps and motorbikes to rescue the stranded patrols of 602 Commando Company, but Castagneto's men were dispersed and forced to withdraw after coming under heavy mortar fire that injured both Castagneto and Drill Sergeant Juan Salazar.

There were losses on both sides involving aircraft as a direct result of the operations being carried by both British and Argentine Special Forces in the Mount Kent area. Throughout 30 May, Royal Air Force Harriers were active over Mount Kent. One of them, Harrier XZ963, flown by Squadron Leader Jerry Pook—in responding to a call for help from D Squadron[18]—attacked Mount Kent's eastern lower slopes, and that led to its loss through small-arms fire. At about 11.00 am on the same day, an Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma helicopter was brought down by a shoulder-launched Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS in the vicinity of Mount Kent. Six National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight more wounded in the crash.[19]

The only British death in the SAS operations to counter Argentine commando patrols in the high ground overlooking Stanley Common occurred when an SAS patrol accidentally fired upon an SBS patrol in the early hours of 2 June and SBS Sergeant Ian ‘Kiwi’ Nicholas Hunt was killed.[20]

Brigadier Julian Thompson would later defend his decision to send SAS patrols to reconoitre Mount Kent ahead of 42 Commando:

It was fortunate that I had ignored the views expressed by Northwood [British Military Headquarters in England] that reconnaissance of Mount Kent before insertion of 42 Commando was superfluous. Had D Squadron not been there, the Argentine Special Forces would have caught the Commando before de-planing and, in the darkness and confusion on a strange landing zone, inflicted heavy casualties on men and helicopters.[21]

The Special Air Service won praise for successfully defending Mount Kent and the surrounding peaks. From the citation for the Distinguished Service Order won by Major Delves:

Following the successful establishment of the beachhead in San Carlos Water, Major Delves took his squadron 40 miles behind enemy lines and established a position overlooking the main enemy stronghold in Port Stanley where at least 7000 troops were known to be based. By a series of swift operations, skillful concealment and lightning attacks against patrols sent out to find him, he was able to secure a firm hold on the area after ten days for the conventional forces to be brought in.[22]

A Scorpion tank from the Blues & Royals helped clear Mount Kent from the remaining Argentine special forces and engaged 4th Regiment troops digging in on the lower slopes. According to the gunner aboard, Mark Flynn:

Paul Stretton and I were scanning hard for targets. He was using his binoculars, I had the gun sight. I spotted a couple of Argies digging in on a shoulder of ground about 4 kilometres away. The Scorpion's 76mm gun had an effective range of 6 kilometres, which put them well within range ... At 10x magnification, even in the overcast conditions I was startled by how clearly I could see them. Grey-clad and grey-helmeted, they looked to me a bit like Second World War German soldiers. Studying the area more carefully, I saw that there were dozens of Argies spread across the face of the slope. Most were already dug in, but a few were still busy hacking new slit trenches in the bony ground ... I pressed the fire button. 'Firing now.' The first shell winged off to the target, hit the ground about 200 metres in front of the Argies and exploded in a shower of earth and rock.... I followed the orange tracer as it floated towards the enemy, then focused in on the two Argies, who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were ranging in on them. They were standing together near the trench. To me, it looked as if they thought their own artillery was firing. The 76mm high-explosive round hit the right-hand Argie square in the chest. He turned into a red fog of blood ...We put harassing fire down on the enemy in earnest, round after round smack in among them ...In a little while we began to hear return artillery fire whistling overhead, but it was overshooting our own position by a long way: if anything, it looked as if the Argies were firing at the Paras coming up on foot about six clicks to our west .. I was inexperienced in tank warfare then, so when Paul Stretton told Frankie to move out I was so surprised I protested: 'But this is a brilliant position!' I'm getting pot shots and they can't see us! Why don't we stay here? We were ruining the enemy's day while the Paras and Marines came forward. Why would we want to move? Stretton ignored me. It was just as well: less than thirty seconds after we moved, an enemy shell whistled in and exploded on the exact spot we'd just quit.[23]

3 PARA reached Estancia House on 1 June, and shortly thereafter D Company patrols came across blood stains and field dressings indicating that the wounded First-Sergeant Raimundo Viltes under the care of First Lieutenant Horacio Lauria had received first aid there along with the Argentine Marine special forces wounded and National Gendarmerie commandos injured, before they were evacuated. According to Sergeant Jerry Phillips:

It must have been some fight because all our rifle company patrols were reporting blood, bits of meat and bandages scattered all over the area. From the way things were scattered the SAS must have been up against at least seventy enemy.[24]

The 4th Regiment also carried out patrolling, and on the night of 6-7 June, Corporal Nicolás Albornoz along with eight conscripts crossed Murrell River and reached the area of Mount Kent where they spotted a number of British vehicles, but the patrol soon came under mortar fire and had to withdraw.[25]

With the loss of this high ground, Argentine Air Force Canberra bombers carry out several bombing runs against British troops congregating in the area. Their first attack, by six Canberras against British troop positions in the Mount Kent area, took place on the predawn darkness of 1 June after Captains Ferrero and Villarruel were given a map of the area and told to pinpoint the British positions there. Lance-Corporal Vincent Bramley later recalled a near-deadly attack carried out on the 3 PARA positions on the night of 9 June:

Next morning Intelligence told us that Argie Canberra-bombers had dropped their load not three hundred metres from us. If they had hit us the battalion would not be around today. We spent the day digging full-scale trenches. Better late than never.[26]

During the night of 9-10 June, a fighting patrol reportedly fired on several members of a mortar platoon from 45 Commando on the lower slopes of Mount Kent, killing four Royal Marines.[27]

Early on 10 June, one Gurkha company moved forward from Bluff Cove close to Mount Kent[28] to establish a patrol base from which to carry out aggressive patrolling, but the Forward Observation Office on Mount Harriet, Captain Tomas Fox spotted the company and directed 155mm artillery fire against it, wounding three Gurkhas on 11 June. Describing the moment he was injured, Lance Corporal Gyanendra Rai who was awarded the South Atlantic Medal, said:

I was absolutely convinced I would die. I was in severe pain. It was like someone had driven a four-pound sledge hammer through the side of my back.[29]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c David Aldea. "The Argentine Commandos on Mount Kent". britains-smallwars.com. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  2. ^ Gurkha who needs war wound treated is barred from UK, By DANIEL BATES, MailOnline, 18 June 2007
  3. ^ "The cold South Atlantic wind drowned out the throbbing engines of the two remaining Argentine Chinooks landing on low ground near Mount Kent under the cover of darkness. The forty well-camouflaged commandos who emerged divided up into three teams and crept slowly towards the base of the mountain, stopping, listening, observing the green and black images in the Night Vision Goggles to pick out any heat sources. The pointman of an SAS patrol moving along the lower slope failed to notice the half-dozen Argentines who had spotted his smudgy silhouette. Slithering through waist-high, soaking wet peat, half the commandos crawled around the flank of the British patrol for an L-shaped ambush. When they were within twenty yards of the patrol they opened fire. The SAS man was immediately struck down by 7.62 millimetre rounds hitting his stomach and chest, coughing up blood as he fell. The three others spaced out some distance behind him and dived for cover, returning fire in all directions as they became enveloped by a barrage of automatic arms fire and grenades which injured another SAS man with shrapnel. He had to be partially carried by the other two survivors as they withdrew." Arostegui, Martin, Twilight Warriors: Inside the World's Special Forces, Like A Thief In The Night (chapter), St. Martin's Press, 1997
  4. ^ "He was an Army commando who had fought against the People's Revolutionary Army in Tucuman province during the 'Dirty War'. Thoroughly professional and a dedicated soldier, he expected high standards and exercised rigid but fair discipline. It was to Jaimet that Brigadier-General Jofre turned when he wanted a heli-borne company." Van der Bijl, Aldea, 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falkands, p. 161, Leo Cooper, 2003
  5. ^ http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1362425-un-heroe-todos-los-heroes Un héroe, todos los héroes lanacion.com, 03/04/2011
  6. ^ "Ferrero's men advanced up the steep slopes, the thought of bumping into a British patrol or walking into an ambush keeping them alert. After about 500 metres Ferrero went forward with two men to investigate a noise. They had hardly covered 50 metres when they came under accurate machine gun and mortar fire from Air Troop, D Squadron. First-Sergeant Raimundo Viltes was badly wounded when a bullet shattered his heel." Van Der Bijl, Aldea, 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands, p. 63
  7. ^ "The lack of information about friendly operations led First-Lieutenant Horacio Lauria, a commando engineer, to believe that the firing came from Combat Team Solari which he thought was in the area. But the weight of fire and type of weapons used, clearly British, shocked the Argentinians. Against their expectations, Mount Kent was occupied and a confused firefight broke out. Not sure of the strength of the opposition and with his section scattered, Ferrero decided to withdraw and, as another snowstorm hurtled across the bleak slopes, he, Oviedo and First-Lieutenant Francisco Maqueda scrambled downhill on their on their bottoms, sending noisy avalanches of stones cascading down the mountain. The sudden scuttling of rocks led Air Troop to believe they were in danger of being surrounded and they withdrew higher up Mount Kent, shepherding two wounded soldiers with them." Van Der Bijl, Aldea, 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands, p. 63
  8. ^ Comandos en acción: El Ejército en Malvinas, Isidoro Ruiz Moreno, p. 258, Emecé Editores, 01/01/1986
  9. ^ Nine battles to Stanley, Nicholas Van der Bijl, p. 148, Leo Cooper, 30/09/1999
  10. ^ Twilight Warriors: Inside the World's Special Forces. Martin C. Arostegui. p. 205. St. Martin's Press, 15/01/1997
  11. ^ "At about 11am next day, the 30th, Captain Fernandez and his 2nd Assault Section, knowing that Ferrero had been in contact with British, emerged from their hide intending to occupy Bluff Cove Peak. With Sergeant Humberto Bias and First-Lieutenant Daniel Oneto, First Lieutenant Ruben Marquez scouting ahead, the section collided with the Special Air Service Tactical Headquarters and a firefight developed. Marquez threw some grenades but was still killed because he was wearing gloves and was unable to use his FAL rifle. Blas also died." Van Der Bijl, Aldea, 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands, p. 63, Leo Cooper, 2003
  12. ^ Nine battles to Stanley, Nicholas Van der Bijl, p. 149, Leo Cooper, 30/09/1999
  13. ^ 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands 1982, Nicholas Van der Bijl, David Aldea p. 65, Leo Cooper, 2003
  14. ^ David Aldea. "Mount Kent". britains-smallwars.com. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  15. ^ "Fernandez broke contact and in the scramble down the hill Sergeant Alfredo Flores, the section radio operator, fell and was knocked out. When he came to his senses he was the prisoner of a Special Air Service clearing patrol and was later interrogated at 'Hotel Galtieri' in the farmyard at San Carlos along with the Army commandos captured at Top Malo House." Van Der Bijl, Aldea, 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands, p. 65
  16. ^ Martin Arostegui, op. cit, p. 205
  17. ^ 16 Air Assault Brigade: The History of Britain's Rapid Reaction Force, Tim Ripley, pp. 45-46, Casemate Publishers, 2008
  18. ^ The Royal Navy and the Falklands War, David Brown, p. 251, Leo Cooper, 1987
  19. ^ "Argentine Puma Shot Down By American "Stinger" Missile". En.mercopress.com. 12 April 2002. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  20. ^ Snowy Falklands’ remembrance for special Forces’ thinking mans warrior’
  21. ^ Julian Thompson, No Picnic, p. 93, Cassell & Co, 2001.
  22. ^ Falklands Aftermath, p. 44, Marshall Cavendish, 1984
  23. ^ Bullet Magnet: Britain's Most Highly Decorated Frontline Soldier, Mick Flynn, pp. ?, Hachette UK,
  24. ^ Two Sides of Hell - They Spent Weeks Killing Each Other, Now Soldiers From Both Sides of The Falklands War Tell Their Story, Vincent Bramley, p. ?, John Blake Publishing, 2013
  25. ^ Volveremos!, Jorge R. Farinella, p. 125, Editorial Rosario, 1984
  26. ^ Excursion to Hell: Mount Longdon. A Universal Story of Battle, Vincent Bramley, p. 73, Pan Macmillan, 24/04/1992
  27. ^ Marines shot comrades in Falklands conflict, The Glasgow Herald, 2 December 1986
  28. ^ The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Lawrence Freedman, p. 525, Routledge, 2004
  29. ^ Gurkha who needs war wound treated is barred from UK, By DANIEL BATES, MailOnline, 18 June 2007