Battles of Mount Harriet and Two Sisters Mountain
During the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War the battle for the high ground on Mount Harriet and neighbouring Two Sisters Mountain was pivotal to both British attackers and Argentinian defenders as both sought to secure the approaches to Port Stanley. The battle began on the night of May 29th, 1982 but didn't reach its conclusion until June 12th and, even then, only after several heavy British naval bombardments as well as Royal Air Force Harrier attacks and Royal Marine Commando raids.
Following Operation Rosario (Falklands/Malvinas War), the Argentinian occupation of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, 42 Commando and 45 Commando (40 and 45 CDO) of the British Royal Marines were deployed as part of Brigadier Julian Thompson's 3 Commando Brigade to retake the islands in Operation Corporate.
Following Kilo Company's helicopter flight forward on the night of May 31st to reinforce D Squadron 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment defending Mount Kent from Argentinian Special Forces attacks, the rest of 42 Commando arrived in helicopters, and were eventually ordered to secure Mount Challenger.
45 Commando's march to Bluff Cove Peak from San Carlos Water via Teal Inlet ended on June 4th, and the next week was spent patrolling No-Man's-Land, leading to a number of bloody clashes with the Argentinians.
Lieutenant Chris Fox's Recce Troop reached the western end of Two Sisters on the night of 5th June. The next day, they killed five of the Argentinians, including three Marine Sappers: Corporal Jorge Sisterna and Privates Ramón Olavarría, Víctor Ordóñez and Vicente Díaz that were part of a mine-laying team. The Argentinians in the form of 2d Lieutenant Marcelo Llambías Pravaz's 3rd Rifle Platoon (C Company, 4th Infantry Regiment) counterattacked and Fox's patrol having regrouped opposite Murrell River had to call in artillery fire and a smoke screen so that they could make good their escape
On the night of 9th June, Lieutenant David Stewart 3 Troop of X-Ray Company, 45 Commando attempted to raid the forward positions of 2d Lieutenant Llambías Pravaz's platoon. Stewart's platoon, reinforced by a dozen sappers, mortarmen and recce troops, clashed 50 Argentinian Special Forces spread in ambush positions near Murrell River. The Argentinians lost 2 special forces battling Stewart's men while the British report losing 4 Royal Marines killed on this night. According to British military historian Bruce Quarrie, it was a hard-fought and costly action:
|“||A constant series of patrols was undertaken at night to scout out and harass the enemy. Typical was the patrol sent out in the early hours of the morning of 10 June. Lieutenant David Stewart of X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, had briefed his men during the previous afternoon, and by midnight they were ready. Heavily armed, with two machine-guns per section plus 66 mm rocket launchers and 2-inch mortars, the Troop moved off stealthily into the moonlit night towards a ridge some 4 km away where Argentine movement had been observed. Keeping well spaced out because of the good visibility, they moved across the rocky ground using the numerous shell holes for cover, and by 04.00 [1 am local time] were set to cross the final stretch of open ground in front of the enemy positions. Using a shallow stream for cover, they moved up the slope and deployed into position among the rocks in front of the Argentine trenches. With the help of a light-intensifying night scope, they could see sentries moving about. Suddenly, an Argentine machine-gun opened fire and the Marines launched a couple of flares from their mortar, firing back with their own machine-guns and rifles. Within seconds three Argentine soldiers and two Marines were dead. Other figures could be seen running on the hill to the left, and four more Argentine soldiers fell to the accuracy of the Marines' fire. By this time, the Argentine troops further up the slope were wide awake, and a hail of fire forced the Marines to crouch in the shelter of the rocks. The situation was becoming decidedly unhealthy and Lieutenant Stewart decided to retire, with the objective of killing and harassing the enemy well and truly accomplished. However, a machine-gun to the Marines' right was pouring fire over their getaway route, and Stewart sent his veteran Sergeant, Jolly, with a couple of other men to take it out [They knew they were cut off with what looked a poor chance of escape. In these circumstances any panic or break in morale and the game was up]. After a difficult approach with little cover, there was a short burst of fire and the Argentine machine-gun fell silent. Leapfrogging by sections, the Troop retreated to the stream, by which time the Argentine fire was falling short and there were no further casualties.||”|
Lieutenant Mark Townsends's 1 Troop from Kilo Company, 42 Commando raided the forward Argentinian positions on Mount Harriet from Goat Ridge on the night of 8th June killing two defenders (Corporal Hipólito González y Private Martiniano Gómez) in 2d Lieutenant Lautaro Jiménez Corbalán's 3rd Rifle Platoon and wounding the platoon sergeant and a private.
Sergeant Ian Allum's Recce Platoon from the 2nd Scots Guards Battalion attempted to pinpoint the heavy weapons emplacements on Harriet from their cover in Port Harriet House but heavy mortar fire dispersed them on 9 June.
As the Battle of Mount Longdon and Wireless Ridge commenced, 45 Commando, under Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Whitehead, in the centre, moved off towards their start-lines ('Pub Garden') for the attack on Two Sisters Mountain. Captain Ian Gardiner's 'X-Ray' Company spearheaded the attack. The Royal Marines preferred to attack under the cover of night. Such was the importance attached to lives.
'X-Ray' Company would assault the lower ridges of the southern peak ('Long Toenail') of Two Sisters from the west, 'Zulu' Company would attack the northern peak, known in 45 Commando as 'Summer Days', and 'Yankee' Company would then assault the eastern ridge. The local commander on the Two Sisters ridge was Major Ricardo Mario Cordón, second-in-command of the 4th 'Monte Caseros' Infantry Regiment.
The first attack against 'Long Toenail' came in around 11.30 PM Falklands time and Lieutenant David Stewart's 3 Troop – a Royal Marine Troop is like an Army Platoon – managed to get very close to 2d Lieutenant Marcelo Llambías Pravaz's 3rd Platoon, 'C' Company, 4th Regiment. But the attack was beaten off by rifle and machine-gun fire. Second Lieutenant Llambias-Pravaz rallied his men with the old Guarani war-cry of 'Sapukay!' The Royal Marine Commandos in 'X' Company pushed hard when prudent, but avoided rash moves.
The Argentine conscripts on 'Long Toenail' stood to their machineguns and Instalaza anti-tank rocket launchers and defied the attackers. Lieutenant Stewart's men flung themeselves again at the Argentinians but, were driven off much to the frustration of Captain Gardiner. Despite this, some Argentinians had to pull in a bit or be overrun. The combat was extremely rough being fought in cold wind over a bare rocky ridge and around huge boulders.
Eventually the Argentines had to retreat. After about 3 hours of chaotic night fighting the men of 3rd Platoon fell back from 'Long Toenail'.
The great fight at 'Long Toenail' cost Llambías Pravaz's 3rd Platoon a third of its strength. The assault on the southern peak was supported by 40 Commando's Anti-Tank Troop and innumerable 66mm LAW anti-tank rockets. 'X Ray' Company found the Milan missiles to be a very effective way of dislodging Llambías Pravaz's defiant 3rd Platoon, but expensive at 35,000 US dollars each.
2d Lt Llambías Pravaz was one of the recent April 1982 graduates from the Army Academy. His outstanding courage was recognized by the award of the Gallantry in Combat Medal.
Soon after midnight as X-Ray Company continued its fight for 'Long Toenail', 'Zulu' Company followed by 'Yankee' Company to their right, moved off from 'Pub Garden' on their silent uphill approach. As the Argentinian 1st and 2nd Platoons were still distracted by 'X-Ray' Company's attack, the other two companies closed in until an Argentinian flare illuminated 'Zulu' Company and 8 Troop opened fire in response.
Yankee and Zulu Companies attacked the northern peak of Two Sisters at 1230 local time and engaged in a two-hour firefight, during which the Argentinian mortar platoon commander (Lieutenant Luis Carlos Martella) was killed.
The 3rd Artillery Group's pack howitzers and Major Oscar Jaimet's heavy mortars were brought into play, giving the 4th Regiment's 'C' Company effective support. In this way 45 Commando began to suffer serious losses, including the loss of two platoon commanders (Lieutenants Dunning and Davies) and the naval gunfire liaison officer of the British cruiser 'Glamorgan'. The whole operation was proving to be a disaster.
Then to the astonishment of the Argentinians on the northern peak, 'Zulu' Company, below, at about 02.30 local time rose, charging with fixed bayonets and screaming at the top of their voices swept the defenders aside. Lieutenant Clive Dytor, commander of 8 Troop, 'Z' Company had tipped the scales and defeated Major Ricardo Cordon. At about 0300 Major Cordon and his staff threw up their arms when Royal Marines entered their bunker. Had Lieutenant Clive Dytor dithered in closing with and defeating Perez-Grandi's 2nd Platoon, 'Summer Days' would have most probably been reinforced in time by the 6th 'Mercedes' Regiment's 'B' Company which was currently preparing. Commando-trained Major Oscar Ramon Jaimet was naturally anxious to help Major Cordon. This would have changed the picture of the Battle for Two Sisters Mountain completely.
The task of ridding the 6th 'Mercedes' Mechanized Infantry Regiment's 'B' Company remained. On the eastern ridge the fighting was equally tough. The defenders brought down heavy machine-gun fire and mortar fire on 'Yankee' Company. Private Oscar Ismael Poltronieri, as a machine-gunner found himself very busy indeed. Part of his citation for the Heroic Valour Cross, the highest decoration for bravery, reads:
|“||Always volunteering for dangerous missions, manning a machine-gun, holding up attacks, always the last man to withdraw, sometimes overrun by the English, twice given up for dead but always returning to his platoon.||”|
Ahead of 'Y' Company was a ridgeline and there Second Lieutenant Aldo Franco's 3rd Platoon, 'B' Company, 6th Regiment, lay in wait. Franco had harrangued his young soldiers and had gained their confidence. While the fight for the eastern ridge was in progress, an Exocet anti-ship missile was launched from a trailer, causing serious damage to the cruiser 'Glamorgan', which had been bombarding Two Sisters Mountain.
Major Oscar Jaimet was confident of holding the British thrust, now coming from the northern peak. During the advance on the eastern ridge 'Yankee' Company destroyed a 6th Regiment machine-gun post, killing the crew, somehow avoiding the booby-traps laid by the 1st Amphibious Engineer Company. A counterattack at the 10th Mechanized Infantry Brigade Headquarters in Stanley House was contemplated but rejected. Then Jaimet received orders at 0445 to abandon the ridge and retire to Tumbledown Mountain. With the breach on Two Sisters Mountain, where Major Ricardo Cordon's company was supposed to be, the 6th Regiment company had no option but to withdraw with dawn fast approaching. 2d Lieutenant Aldo Eugenio Franco's platoon formed the rearguard and it filed off, leaving three killed. Time and time again 2d Lt. Franco - he became an Army commando after the war - reported his platoon could hold, but was ordered to abandon Two Sisters.
So ended the Battle for Two Sisters Mountain, five hours after 'X' Company came under heavy fire from 2d Lt Llambias-Pravaz's platoon on 'Long Toenail'. 45 Commando's losses were 8 dead and 19 wounded. The Argentine losses were put at 20 dead. 2d Lieutenant Miguel Mosquera was wounded during the fighting on the northern peak. Lieutenant Luis Carlos Martella on 'Long Toenail' was killed. Second Lieutenant Perez-Grandi was also down. His conscripts carried him away, severely wounded. Perez-Grandi had spent a year in the 4th Airborne Artillery Group as a conscript before entering the Buenos Aires Army Academy.
Naturally the Army needed a scapegoat and Major Ricardo Cordon was court-martialed and sacked. Bad luck played at least a malignant part as the loss of his reserve platoon and communications in the 4th Regiment's 'C' Company.
The Royal Marines now chose to demonstrate that gung-ho as they could be, they also had a human side. When the remnants of 1st Platoon, 'A' Company, 4th Regiment were withdrawn, their wounded platoon commander was overlooked in the dark and taken by the Royal Marines. When it became apparent that the Argentine Artillery was about to bombard Two Sisters, the Royal Marines moved the wounded officer to a place of safety where he could be shielded from the incoming fire.
British war correspondent Robert Fox recalls that:
|“||A second lieutenant with a smashed lower leg said he couldn't walk. I hoisted him so that he could put his arm on my shoulder. He was about 6 foot 4 inches tall and felt almost one and a half times my weight. I asked him how badly he was hurt. 'Agua, agua', (water, water) was all he could whimper in reply. We laid him on the ground and managed to get a helicopter to take him away.||”|
The reserve platoon under Second Lieutenant Juan Nazer had been heavily mortared and had given up ground almost immediately. Nazer's platoon had failed to prepare a firm platoon defence line facing Murrell River, possibly as a result of exhaustion following their long debilitating period on Beagle Ridge.
Sergeant-Major George Meachin of Yankee Company, later praised the fighting spirit of the Argentinian defenders:
|“||We came under lots of effective fire from 0.50 calibre machine guns …At the same time, mortars were coming down all over us, but the main threat was from those machine-gunners who could see us in the open because of the moonlight. There were three machine-guns and we brought down constant and effective salvoes of our own artillery fire on to them directly, 15 rounds at a time. There would be a pause, and they’d come back at us again. So we had to do it a second time, all over their positions. There’d be a pause, then ‘boom, boom, boom,’ they’d come back at us again. Conscripts don’t do this, babies don’t do this, men who are badly led and of low morale don’t do this. They were good steadfast troops. I rate them.||”|
While 'Kilo' Company was fighting on the eastern end of the summit and coming under artillery fire, 'Lima' Company was making its way up the southern slopes of Mount Harriet under heavy machine gun fire from 2d Lieutenant Pablo Andrés Oliva's platoon of conscripts which opened fire soon after Captain David Wheen's men crossed their start-line, wounding three British marines in the process. British artillery fire and MILAN anti-tank missiles were successful in knocking out these and other troublesome enemy machine-gun sangars further up the slope, but it took a number of hours and 14 wounded from Argentinian artillery and automatic fire, before 'Lima' Company reached the summit, still in the dark. Lieutenant Jerry Burnell's 5 Troop of 'Lima' Company was then sent forward to the next objective, an outcrop of rocks just to the south of Goat Ridge, but was initially forced to retreat until the defenders in the form of 2d Lieutenant Lautaro Jiménez-Corbalán 3rd Rifle Platoon crumbled under heavy fire from fifteen GPMG machine-guns, mortar and artillery fire.
With dawn and 'Lima' Company still fighting forward, 'Juliet' Company was ordered on to Goat Ridge, by which time the defending rifle platoon under 2d Lt Oscar Augusto Silva (a paratrooper) had retreated to new positions on Tumbledown Mountain and 'Kilo' Company had cleared the summit of Harriet. In taking its objective, 42 Commando had lost two killed and thirty wounded.
The battles proved good planning and deception was effective even against a resolute enemy in good defensive positions. Ten British Marines were killed and fifty wounded. Forty Argentinians were killed defending Mount Harriet and Two Sisters Mountain. 42 Commando received one DSO, an MC and 4 MM's for Mount Harriet. 45 Commando were awarded a DSO, 3 MC's, a DCM and 4 MM's for Two Sisters.
First-hand accounts of the battle from both sides debunk the commonly held opinion that the Argentinian conscripts were no match for the Royal Marines opposing them. For nearly 2 weeks the 4th 'Monte Caseros' Regiment held their positions along Murrell River and fought bravely. In the end the Argentinian defenders were undone because they expected a mass British helicopter-borne infantry assault to materialize from the west.
In 2012, in an interview with the British newspaper Chester Chronicle, Lieutenant Chris Caroe, a 21-year-old platoon commander in the fighting for the southern peak, reported that "Despite being a conscript army... the Argentinians were a force to be reckoned with because they were led by skilled regulars."For Lieutenant Cliver Dytor, who had joined the Royal Marines in 1980, the Argentinian heavy machine-gunners and protecting rifle teams protecting on the northern peak had fought to the bitter end, "The Argentine marines all fought to the end and were killed with bullets and bayonets. We had to fight through lots of positions, clearing the enemy."
- The Argentines must have put up a good fight because British records show that their patrol had to call on artillery shelling and smoke so that they could withdraw. Argentine Fight for the Falklands, Martin Middlebrook, pg 228, Pen & Sword, 2003
- Bruce Quarrie, The Worlds Elite Forces, pp.53-54, Octopus Books Limited, 1985
- The Fight for the Malvinas: The Argentine Forces in the Falklands War, Martin Middlebrook, p. 239, Viking, 1989
- Eyewitness Falklands, Robert Fox, pp. 255-256
- The FN FAL Battle Rifle, Bob Cashner, Page 57, Bloomsbury Publishing 2013
- "2 COYS OF 42 CDO HAD TAKEN A REGIMENTAL POSITION FOR 2 KILLED AND 30 WOUNDED ... WE HAD BEEN ORDERED TO BE PREPARED TO PRESS FORWARD THE ATTACK ONTO MOUNT TUMBLEDOWN AND MOUNT WILLIAM IF THE ENEMY FLED OUR INITIAL ATTACK, AND TIME ALLOWED. BY DAWN IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT WE WERE IN NO POSITION TO ATTACK. WE WERE EXHAUSTED, OUT OF AMMO AND SUFFERING SIGNIFICANT CASUALTIES. MY 21C, A RADIO OPERATOR, MY TAC HQ MACHINE GUNNER AND ONE OF MY TROOP COMMANDERS HAD ALL BEEN SHOT, AND A FURTHER 10 ALSO WOUNDED. ANOTHER TROOP COMMANDER I DISCOVERED WAS SUFFERING FROM SHELLSHOCK". A Rifle Company Commander's Perspective, Major David G. Wheen, Royal Marines
- Ex-marine Chris Caroe from Chester recalls the Falklands War
- Falklands War hero explains why he entered the church after being awarded the Military Cross