Battles of Mount Kent and Top Malo House

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On May 27, 1982, the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) and 45 Commando (45 CDO), Royal Marines had left the British beachhead at San Carlos for Estancia Mountain and Bluff Cove Peak. The 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) were ordered to attack the Argentinian Task Force Mercedes on May 28 located on Darwin Isthmus during the Battle of Darwin and Goose Green, eliminating any future threat from the Argentinian garrison. Major Cedric Delves' D Squadron, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, embarked in Sea King helicopters would seize Mount Kent, while 19 Royal Marine Commandos from the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC) under Major Rod Boswell, embarked in a Wessex helicopter, would capture and clear the forward Argentinian Special Forces patrol located at Top Malo House, allowing the 600 Paratroopers from 3 PARA to capture Estancia Mountain and Estancia House. Captain Peter Babbington's Kilo Company of 42 Commando (42 CDO) was expected to land on Mount Kent on the night of May 29. Delays and snow blizzards meant these helicopter-borne reinforcements would only arrive on the night May 31, perilously close to a firefight.

Argentinian incursion

About 40 men of 39-year-old Major Aldo Rico's 602nd Commando Company (Argentinian Army), were originally scheduled to make an assault landing in six Bell UH-1H helicopters of the 601st Combat Aviation Battalion. A follow-up force, the 65-man 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron under Major José Ricardo Spadaro, would reinforce the Mount Kent position. Argentinian maps had confirmed the overland route was obstructed with minefields and booby-traps. This meant the National Gendarmerie Special Forces would have to arrive in a Puma helicopter the next day, exposed to Royal Air Force GR-3 Harriers in their morning bomb runs. There was additional delay when the Marine Special Forces from Major Guillermo Sánchez-Sabarots 1st Amphibious Commando Grouping in the lead C-130 Hercules aircraft from Comodoro Rivadavia on the Argentinian mainland, had to abort landing on Stanley Airport. A snow blizzard added to the confusion as the Argentinian Special Forces hurriedly prepared their backpacks and gear for the insertions.

Mount Kent

The job of seizing the 1,300ft mountain fell to Captain Peter Babbington's Kilo Company of 42 CDO, who would be flown in by helicopters. Major Delves' D Squadron was told to locate and secure a suitable landing zone below the Mount Kent summit, but the lack of helicopters, coupled with blizzard conditions, meant it took five nights to airlift in the 150 Royal Marines of Babbington.

The British High Command 8,000 miles away in Northwood, impatient for victories, questioned the need to use up valuable time on reconnaissance. Fortunately the British commander in the Falklands ignored their orders, because when the Royal Marines did land on the lower slopes of Mount Kent they discovered that strong enemy special forces patrols were still trying to penetrate the British lines.

Brigadier Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade, wrote later that without the SAS presence on Mount Kent, the Argentine patrols "would have had a turkey shoot on the vulnerable helicopters and the troops as they jumped out, temporarily disorientated in the darkness; the operation would have been a disaster."[1]

When the 42 CDO spearhead flew in on the night of May 30/31 they witnessed the SAS ambush Captain Tomás Fernández 2nd Assault Section of the 602nd Commando Company near the landing site. Fortunately for the Royal Marine reinforcements, though, the Argentinian patrol withdrew after having earlier lost two killed in another ambush on Bluff Cove Peak.

Top Malo House

Having surrounded Top Malo House, Captain Rod Boswell ordered his 12-man assault group patrol to fix bayonets and fire a green flare, the signal for the 7-man support group on a nearby hillock to unleash a volley of six anti-tank rockets at the remote shepherd's house.

First Lieutenant Ernesto Emilio Espinosa on sentry duty on the top stairs window raised the alarm and was shot and killed by Corporal Steve Groves armed with a sniper rifle and moments later the building burst into flames.

As Boswell and his assault group charged forward, two more 66mm rockets smashed into the house and the Argentinian special forces who had taken cover there overnight fled to Mullows Stream 150 metres away.

In the fierce firefight that followed, First Sergeant Mateo Domingo Sbert was killed while covering their retreat to the stream and the Argentinian second-in-command, First Lieutenant Horacio Losito lost consciousness through loss of blood before the remainder threw down their weapons and surrendered.

The battle of Top Malo House, a few miles from Teal Inlet, on May 31 cost the lives of two members of Captain José Arnobio Vercesi's 1st Assault Section of the 602nd Commando Company. The 10 Argentinian survivors, six of them wounded, were taken prisoner.

Just three Royal Marine Commandos were wounded, a testament to the professionalism and skill of Britain's Special Forces. Unknown to Boswell's men, however, the 45-minute fight had been watched by Argentinian Air Force Observation Posts (OPs) manning OPs on nearby hills. So awestruck were they by the textbook assault, that 14 of them surrendered to the Paratroopers and Royal Marines making their way to Estancia Mountain and Bluff Cove Peak.

Captain José Arnobio Vercesi's 1st Assault Section from the 602nd Commando Company and Captain José Ramón Negretti's 2nd Assault Section from Major Mario Luis Castagneto's 601st Commando Company had been using Mount Simon and Big Mountain to report on and harry the British advance towards Mount Kent, the first of several peaks guarding the approach to Port Stanley.

Aftermath

The Battles of Mount Kent and Top Malo House in late May 1982 cost the lives of eleven members of Argentina's Special Forces. Just 10 British special forces were wounded, but five were soon killed as a result of Friendly fire.

References