Skirmish at Top Malo House

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The Skirmish at Top Malo House was fought on 31 May 1982 during the Falklands War, between 1st Assault Section Argentine Special Forces from 602 Commando Company and a patrol formed from staff and trainees of the British Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre, a training detachment of the Royal Marines who were under the Control of 3 Commando Brigade for Operation Corporate.[4]

Background[edit]

Captain Rod Boswell of the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre and 18 of his men conducted the operation following a report on the 27 May by a four-man patrol sited in an observation post (OP) on Bull Hill.[5] This patrol had established their OP on 21 May as one of a number of Brigade forward reconnaissance teams [5] and observed two Argentine UH-1 helicopters drop a patrol of about "sixteen" men in the vicinity of Top Malo House, a deserted shepherd's house 400 metres (440 yd) from their position.

As it was getting dark, a Harrier GR3 strike against the house was ruled out and as the location was out of artillery range, this option was also dismissed. Instead, the British planned an assault early on the morning of 31 May, with the designated force landing by helicopter in dead ground about 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) away from the objective.

Prelude[edit]

The four-man observation post (OP) was well forward on Bull Hill on the route from Teal Inlet to Stanley. They had just reported back to say that this could be their last message as two Argentine UH-1 helicopters were in the general area.[5] The helicopters flew off in the direction of Mount Simon and the sergeant commanding the OP believed that the aircraft had dropped off troops in the vicinity of Mount Simon.[5]

The Argentine patrol leader 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 a Blowpipe missile launcher. There was also a medic, First Sergeant Pedrozo and First Sergeant Helguero from 601 Commando Company was the scout, twelve men in total.[6] The previous night the Argentine patrol had to endure a snowstorm without proper equipment and they decided to take shelter in the house as further bad weather was predicted.

During 29 May the Argentine patrol radio operator, after trying all morning, managed to get a message through to 10th Brigade HQ, that there was an air corridor to and from San Carlos to Mount Kent before contact was immediately lost and never re-established.

Battle[edit]

Embarked in a Sea King HC4 of 846 Naval Air Squadron, attached to the Royal Marines, the Arctic Warfare Cadre team was loaded with sufficient supplies and ammunition for a week in the field. The overloaded helicopter took off on a 45 km flight, depositing the team in the area to allow disembarkation for the short transit to the target. A seven-man fire support team moved off to the left to take up a position on a hillock 150m away from Top Malo House to provide supporting fire to the twelve-man assault group led by Boswell.[5]

There was a significant risk of compromise as the team was wearing dark uniforms against the snow, leading to the likelihood of visual detection by sentries.[5] 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 commenced the engagement by firing a green flare. At around the same time Lieutenant Horacio Losito, who was second in command of the Argentine patrol, says that Lieutenant Espinosa (who was standing sentry) raised the alarm and opened fire on the assaulting British troops allowing the Argentines withdraw from the house.[7]

The British fire support group fired six M72 LAW 66mm light anti-armour rockets. As the rockets hit the house it burst into flames and ammunition stacked inside exploded. 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 for the remaining Argentines as they exited the single door. Two British attackers, a sergeant and a corporal, were wounded.

As the British assault group moved forward the smoke from the burning building and wind provided screening from the accurate fire from the Argentine commandos firing from a stream bed.[8]

The firefight went on for about 45 minutes.[9] and with ammunition running low and with six members of his patrol wounded, Captain Vercesi had no alternative but to surrender.

Aftermath[edit]

Two Argentines were killed,[10] six wounded and four taken prisoner,[11] with two of Boswell's assault force (Sergeant Groves and Corporal Stone) having been badly wounded.[10] Two British NCOs of the fire-support team (Sergeants Doyle and McLean) had also been shot and injured. After the battle Captain Boswell's comment to the Argentine Commander was: "Never in a house...".[12]

Lieutenant Espinosa and Sergeant Sbert were awarded the posthumous Argentine Nation to the Heroic Valour in Combat Cross for this action.

The 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.[13]

A Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre patrol under Sergeant David Lazenby later played an important part in the capture of Sapper Hill, crossing a frozen minefield in order to secure a landing zone for the helicopter-borne Welsh Guards and Alpha and Charlie Companies of 40 Commando tasked with taking the important Argentine Marine stronghold.[14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Remembering The Falklands Day By Day
  2. ^ "Sergeant McLean was wounded in the hand when a round hit the 66mm LAW he was about to fire." Nine Battles to Stanley, Nick Van Der Bijl, Pen & Sword, 2014
  3. ^ "The fire group quickly destroyed the target house, but the Argentines stormed out, firing back and very quickly two Marines, Sergeant Terry Doyle in the assault group and Sergeant Rocky Stone of the fire group, had been shot and injured. Then Corporal Steve Groves was shot in the chest. The assault group had almost charged down on to Top Malo, blazing firepower from the hip and with Boswell leading." Commando, David Reynolds, p. 146, Sutton, 2001
  4. ^ RAF personnel 2004.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Spirit & Carter 2009.
  6. ^ Losito 2006[page needed]
  7. ^ Bilton & Kosminsky 1990, p. 195.
  8. ^ Thompson 1985, p. 96.
  9. ^ Arostegui 1997, p. 205.
  10. ^ a b Freedman 2005, p. 587.
  11. ^ Ruiz Moreno 1986, pp. 253-271.
  12. ^ Ruiz Moreno 1986, pp. 271.
  13. ^ James Paul & Martin Spirit (2009). "Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre". Britains Small Wars. Archived from the original on 26 September 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Recce squad leader recalls fight for the Falklands

References[edit]

Coordinates: 51°37′S 58°27′W / 51.617°S 58.450°W / -51.617; -58.450