Skirmish at Top Malo House
The Skirmish at Top Malo House was fought on 31 May 1982 during the Falklands War, between 1st section Argentine Special Forces from 602 Commando Company and a patrol formed from staff and students of the British Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre, a training unit of the Royal Marines placed under Operational Control of 3 Commando Brigade for Operation Corporate.
Captain Rod Boswell of the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre and 18 of his men undertook the task which originated from a report made on 27 May by a four man patrol from the Cadre sited in an observation post (OP) on Bull Hill. The four man patrol had established the OP on 21 May as one of a number of small reconnaissance teams who were the eyes and ears of the Brigade.
The four man patrol were well forward on Bull Hill on the route from Teal Inlet to Stanley. They had just reported back to say that this may be the last message because two Argentine UH-1 helicopters were hovering over the OP. The helicopters flew off in the direction of Mount Simon; however, the sergeant commanding the team believed that the aircraft had probably dropped off Argentine Special Forces on the lower slopes of Mount Simon.
The subsequent message back to Brigade Headquarters alerted the staff to the threat of Argentine Special Forces sited on high ground on the approaches to Teal Inlet and beyond. It would be the task of Captain Boswell and his team to eliminate the Argentine patrol at Top Malo.
During 29 May the radio operator of the Argentine patrol, after trying all morning, suddenly managed to get a message through to 10th Brigade HQ, that there was an air corridor to and from San Carlos to Mount Kent. Contact was immediately lost, never to be re-established. The commander of the patrol was Captain Jose Arnobio Vercesi, commander of the 1st Assault Section, 602 Commando Company. The patrol was formed by eight men of the first section plus two soldiers with Blowpipe missile. There was also one medic, First Sergeant Pedrozo, whilst First Sergeant Helguero from 601 Commando Company was the scout.
On the evening of 30 May Captain Boswell received a message from one of the patrols, in an observation post on the lower slopes of Mount Simon, that they had just seen two Argentine UH-1 helicopters deliver a patrol of about sixteen men at Top Malo House, a deserted shepherd's house just 400 metres (440 yd) from their position. They also reported hearing several other helicopters in the vicinity. It was already getting dark, which ruled out a Harrier GR3 strike against the house, and the location was out of range of the British artillery. Consequently, the British planned an assault following insertion by helicopter early on the morning of 31 May, landing in dead ground about 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) away from the house, and attacking the house.
Embarked in a Sea King HC4 of 846 Naval Air Squadron, attached to the Royal Marines, the team was loaded with sufficient supplies and ammunition to last a week in the field. The overloaded helicopter took off on a 45 km flight, depositing the team on exactly the right spot to allow disembarkation for the short transit to the target. A seven-man fire team moved off to the left to take up a position 150m away from Top Malo House to provide support fire for the twelve-man assault group led by Boswell.
There was a significant risk of compromise as the team was wearing dark uniforms against the snow, leading to the possibility of visual detection by sentries. Unknown to the British, the Argentines heard the helicopters flying and accelerated actions to take their equipment and leave the house.
Two hours after dawn Boswell ordered his men to fix bayonets and then commenced the engagement by firing a green flare into the air. On his signal the support group fired six M72 LAW 66mm light anti-armour rockets at the house. As the first rocket was fired, Lieutenant Ernesto Espinosa (the Argentine patrol's sniper, who was standing sentry) moved to the upper floor window. There Espinosa was spotted by his British counterpart, support team sniper Corporal Groves, who shot and wounded Espinosa with his L42A1 sniper rifle. Lieutenant Horacio Losito, who was the second in command of the section, says that Lieutenant Espinosa raised the alarm and at the same time opened fire on the approaching British troops allowing the Argentines to get out of the house.
One of the British members of the fireteam was close enough for his 66mm LAW rocket to be hit by Espinosa. As the rockets hit the house it burst into flames. Boswell and his group charged forward, halted, fired two more rockets, and then charged again. The Argentines ran from the house to a nearby stream bed about 200 m away, firing as they ran. Lieutenant Espinosa on the top floor was killed by a 66mm rocket while Sergeant Mateo Sbert was shot dead as he gave covering fire as the remaining Argentines exited the single door. Two British personnel, a sergeant and a corporal, were hit and wounded. The ammunition stacked inside the house exploded. As the British assault group moved forward the smoke from the burning building provided screening from the accurate fire from the Argentine commandos firing from the stream bed.
The firefight went on for about 45 minutes. With ammunition running very low, and most of the patrol killed or wounded, Captain Vercesi had no alternative but surrender.
Two Argentines were killed, six wounded and another four taken prisoner, with three of the British force having been wounded. After the battle Captain Boswell's comment to the Argentine Commander was: "Never in a house...".
Unknown to the British the entire assault had been watched by members of Red de Observadores del Aire or ROA (the Argentine Air Force forward deployed ground observation teams) on Malo Hill and Mount Simon. Fourteen R.O.A. personnel from these positions surrendered to 3 Para and 45 Commando the next day.
Lieutenant Espinosa and Sergeant Sbert were awarded the posthumous Argentine Nation to the Heroic Valour in Combat Cross for this action.
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