Skirmish at Many Branch Point
|Skirmish at Many Branch Point|
|Part of Falklands War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|First Lieutenant José Martiniano Duarte||Captain Gavin John Hamilton †|
|4 commandos of the 601 Company||2 SAS personnel|
|Casualties and losses|
On 10 June 1982, during the Falklands War, Many Branch Point, a ridge near Port Howard, in West Falkland, was the site of a minor skirmish between Argentine and British elite forces. The engagement ended with the death of the SAS patrol commander, Captain Gavin John Hamilton. This action was the only land engagement of British and Argentine forces on West Falkland during the Falklands War.
While the 35 mm radar-guided and 20 mm antiaircraft guns in Port Stanley and Goose Green forced Sea Harrier and Harrier GR.3 to carry out air strikes from high altitude, the Argentine garrisons at West Falkland relied only on 12.7 mm machine guns for their own protection, which left them exposed to strafing and low-level bombing.
In order to reinforce these units, the Argentine command-in-chief deployed a special forces company, the 601, to Port Howard, then headquarters of the 5th Regiment of Infantry. The commandos were equipped with British-made, shoulder-fired Blowpipe missiles. After a 24-hours trip from Port Stanley, the company reached its destination.
Some days later, with the British landing at San Carlos bay still ongoing, the Argentine troops found their mark when they shot down a GR3 Harrier on a recce mission. The pilot, Flt. Lt. Jeffrey Glover, bailed out safely and was taken prisoner.
In the meantime, SAS patrols had been active around the main Argentine advance posts. On 5 June, a four-men party led by Captain Gavin John Hamilton moved as close as 2.5 km from the enemy to gather intelligence around Port Howard. Hamilton was an officer in the squadron that raided the air base at Pebble Island on 16 May.
On the morning of 9 June, a routine reconnaissance patrol of the Argentine special forces, under the command of First Lieutenant José Martiniano Duarte marched to Many Branch point, a hill located 5 miles to the north of Howard. Previously, an observation post had been deployed on Mount Rosalie, but it had been compromised due to the British presence. Nevertheless, the Commandos managed to withdraw without detection. The squad was originally composed of 9 men; by the afternoon, with no enemy in sight, five men returned to base, while the other four remained on the ridge. From this position, they were able to observe that a British airfield had been built near San Carlos.
British sources state that Captain Hamilton was 'heavily outnumbered' in the resulting action which would appear to contradict Moreno's account.
The following day, while in position, Duarte heard some voices behind a rocky formation. The patrol gathered at the entrance of cave-shaped rocks, assuming that either a British section was hidden there, or simply they were local shepherds.
Suddenly, a dark-skinned man, wearing a balaclava, was spotted. Initially there was some hesitation as some of the man's clothing resembled Argentine uniform, Duarte cried: "Argentinos o Ingleses?" (Argentine or English?). After a short silence, Lieutenant Duarte ordered in English: "Hands up, hands up!". The response was a burst of fire, which bounced off the stones in front of him. During the engagement, an Argentine Sergeant launched two grenades, in response a British 40 mm grenade exploded a few meters behind the Commandos. Under the weight of fire from Duarte's patrol the British patrol attempted to withdraw down the hill. The commander, Captain John Hamilton, tried to cover his comrade, but was hit and killed by automatic fire and a rifle-launched grenade. The other soldier surrendered shortly after.
The prisoner was a signal corps member of Goan origin, Corporal Charlie Fonseca. Although Captain Hamilton wore no rank or insignia (as is SAS practise), he was identified by his dog tag. Also found upon the men were a radio, an M16 and an AR-15 rifle, a beacon, cartography and a communications code. The other two soldiers of Hamilton's party managed to escape and were later rescued by friendly forces.
That night witnessed the inaccurate shelling carried out by British frigates on Port Howard. It led to speculation among Argentine officers that the mission of Hamilton was to act as Naval Gunfire Support Forward Observer (NGSFO).
The autopsy revealed that Hamilton was killed by a 7.62 mm shot in his back. Another bullet hit his arm. He was buried at Port Howard, along with an Argentine conscript who died of starvation, a clear signal of the hopeless scenario for the Argentine garrisons in West Falkland. Hamilton's grave can still be seen up the hill from Port Howard.
When the Argentine Commander of Port Howard was interrogated after the Argentine surrender, he asked that 'the SAS Captain' be decorated for his actions as he was 'the most courageous man I have ever seen'. In the event Captain Hamilton was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.
- Woodward, page 36
- Ruiz Moreno, page 141 and page 146
- Ruiz Moreno, pp. 144-145
- British aircraft losses, 21 May entry
- Strawson, page 239
- Ruiz Moreno, pp 338-339
- Ruiz Moreno, page 304
- London Gazette, 8 October 1982
- En ese instante salió un hombre de entre las piedras: era un mulato con grandes bigotazos, con un pasamontañas verde de la Marina Argentina en su cabeza, vistiendo uniforme camuflado. Todavía dudando, el oficial se asomó y le gritó: -Argentinos o Ingleses? Sorprendido, el hombre se le quedó mirando. Y Duarte volvió a gritarle: -Hands up, hands up! (Manos arriba). En tal momento el individuo pegó un salto al costado y abrió fuego sobre los Comandos. Una ráfaga de 5,56 rebotó en la piedra delante de Duarte y le llenó los ojos de polvo. (At that moment a man came out of the rocks: he was a mulatto with a large moustache, and an Argentine Navy's green helmet on his head, wearing camouflage fatigues. Still hesitating, the officer came and shouted at him:-Argentine or English? Stunned, the man just kept watching. And Duarte again screaming: "Hands up, hands up! At that point the individual hit the deck and opened fire on the Commandos. A burst of 5.56 ricocheted of the rock in front of Duarte and filled his eyes with dust.) Ruiz Moreno, page 341
- Ruiz Moreno, page 342
- Bicheno, Hugh (2006) Razor's Edge: The Unofficial History of the Falklands War. London. Weidenfield & Nicholson. ISBN 978-0-7538-2186-2
- Ruiz Moreno, pp 340-343
- British Small Wars
- Apenas había concluído esta tarea cuando se escuchó una explosión, que en un primer momento fue atribuída al estallido de una mina. Pero al rato se percibieron claramente tres cañonazos navales y todos buscaron cubiertas: los observadores ubicados en Monte María, atrás y arriba de Howard, indicaron posteriormente que se trataba de tres fragatas desde la distancia habitual de diez a doce kilómetros. El bombardeo duró hasta las tres de la mañana y fue muy impreciso: le faltaba observación. El teniente primero Fernández supuso que el primer disparo, aislado, fue un llamado al observador, al no recibir su comunicación: y los posteriores se limitaron a dirigirlos hacia las posiciones previamente marcadas -la ubicación de la Compañía B, sobre un cerro-, pero sin causar efectos. (They had barely completed this task when an explosion was heard, which initially was attributed to the blast of a mine. But realising it was naval gunfire from 3 vessels and they sought cover: the observers located in Mount Mary, and in Port Howard, later indicated that it was three frigates bombarding from the usual distance of ten to twelve miles. The bombardment lasted until three o'clock and, missing observation, it was very inaccurate. Lt. Fernandez first assumed that the first isolated shot was a call to the observer, to start wireless contact and the later rounds were aimed to positions previously marked as the location of Company B, on a hill, but to no avail.) Ruiz Moreno, pp. 345-346
- Ruiz Moreno, 346
- Wheeler, Tony: The Falklands & South Georgia Island. Lonely Planet, 2004., page 115. ISBN 1-74059-643-9
- SAS Heroes by Pete Scholey. Osprey Publishing. p.260
- London Gazette citation
- Ruiz Moreno, Isidoro:Comandos en acción. Emecé editions, 1986. ISBN 950-04-0520-2. (Spanish)
- Strawson, John:A History of the SAS Regiment. Secker & Warburg, 1984. ISBN 0-436-49992-4.
- Woodward, Sandy:The one hundred days. Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 0-00-215723-3.