Monday, April 2, 2012

Falklands War diaries

Today is the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the British territory of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas in Spanish). The UK responded by sending a military force which recaptured the islands in under three months. Several diaries written by those involved in the conflict have been published or are available on the internet. Most recently, Viking has brought out Down South: A Falklands War Diary by Chris Parry.

The war began on 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, a territory it had been claiming sovereignty over since the 19th century. The acting president General Leopoldo Galtieri calculated the invasion would bring him popularity at a time when the country was suffering from an economic crisis and widespread civil unrest.

Very quickly, the British sent an expeditionary force to retake the islands. After short but fierce sea and air battles, they landed at San Carlos Water (also known as Bomb Alley), on the west coast of East Falkland. A land campaign then followed with the British eventually surrounding the capital Port Stanley on 11 June. The Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June.

The war’s death toll included 255 British and 649 Argentine military personnel, and three civilian Falklanders. Within days, Galtieri was removed from power. He subsequently spent some time in prison for mismanagement of the Falklands War, but was pardoned in 1989. In the UK, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the ruling Conservative Party gained in popularity as a result of the success of the Falklands campaign.

The 30th anniversary of the start of the war was commemorated in Britain with a service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire (see BBC). Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement saying: ‘Today is a day for commemoration and reflection: a day to remember all those who lost their lives in the conflict - the members of our armed forces, as well as the Argentinian personnel who died.’ But he also reiterated Britain’s commitment to uphold the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner also reiterated her country’s claim to the islands.

A raft of new books about the conflict is being published in the first half of 2012 to coincide with the anniversary - see Amazon for a listing. At least one of these, published by Viking, purports to be a diary: Down South: A Falklands War Diary by Chris Parry, an officer on a Wessex III helicopter on HMS Antrim. For a review see The Scotsman.

‘Within days,’ the book’s blurb says, ‘Parry and his crew were trying to land SAS members on the formidable Fortuna Glacier in a near white-out. Buffeted by storm-force winds and driving snowstorms, they managed to disembark the men - only to be forced to return the following day when it was clear they couldn’t survive the extremely hostile conditions. A few days later a sombre Parry was releasing the depth charges which disabled an Argentinian sub lurking in the freezing waters of South Georgia. He went on to take part in the landings at San Carlos and experience the intensity of Bomb Alley.’

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Five years ago in 2007, coinciding with the 25th anniversary, Maritime Books published The Red and Green Life Machine by Rick Jolly. This was billed as ‘the amazing story of a very British band of Brothers who met M.A.S.H in the Falkland Islands war of 1982’. A lot about this book can be read here. Although called a diary and although based around dated texts, it is clear that this text was written in retrospect (the dated entries often include information that could only have been known about later).

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Also in 2007, the BBC’s website published a Falklands war diary. This was by Tony Groom, a diver in the Royal Navy’s bomb and mine disposal team, who had just turned 23 when he was sent to the Falklands. Here is one extract.

30 May 1982
‘Went to sea in the middle of the night, woke up expecting to be in Bomb Alley. Gone to do an RAS (replenishment at sea) with RFAs [Royal Fleet Auxiliaries] and join up with the Invincible and Exeter.

Nice to be away from Bomb Alley, we thought, we’ll get a restful night’s sleep. Well, that’s what we thought anyway.

About 0100, I was half way up the vehicle ramp, on my way to the helo pad. Three rockets flew overhead. They make a deafening noise. I and everyone else hit the deck, waiting for the bang, it didn’t come. [. . .] The rockets were ours fired from the bridge; they exploded in a pattern around us and dropped millions of pieces of silver paper. [. . .]

About 2145, some of the ship’s company was watching Dirty Harry Crazy Larry on film. Those bloody rockets went off again. It worked again, everyone dived under the tables. This time Exocet had been fired toward the three ships, when two miles away, this thing picks out its own targets. Action stations, anti-flash, close all red openings etc. One of us was to be hit.

After the Standard had fired its Exocet, the Exeter shot her down with sea dart. Then the arrow opened up with her four to five guns on the missile and two or more sea darts were fired from Exeter. One of them hit the Exocet, both claim it of course. All this was done by Radar of course. Of course, of course!

The two Skyhawkers that exoceted the Standard were chased off by Harriers. It’s weird, sat waiting to hear either a bang or something over the tannoy. You can see fright in people.

We’ve decided we prefer Bomb Alley. At least we know what to expect and you can swim to the shore if need be. Exocet frightens me more, I think. Out here, we have sweep stakes on, that it’ll be Exocet or torpedo tonight.

Bomb Alley in the morning. What a thing to look forward to.

On a big downer all day, tooth has stopped me from talking, to everyone else’s delight, I’m sure. Hacked off with it all and can see no quick end. Home please!

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There are various other Falkland War diaries freely available on the internet. The Royal Air Force website offers two. The first is the No 1 (Fighter) Squadron Operation Corporate Diary. This operation, the RAF says, ‘was the Harrier’s first war, and the fact that the squadron and its aircraft flew from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier alongside Sea Harriers of the Fleet Air Arm was testament to the versatility of the Harrier and the flexibility of it’s pilots’.

The second is by Squadron Leader Mel James, Commander of the Vulcan Engineering Detachment on Ascension Island. This diary, the RAF says, is reproduced exactly as written by James in order to best communicate the situation of the personnel found themselves in on arrival on Ascension Island. The ground crew engineering team maintained the Vulcans used in the Black Buck operations, and this, ‘as will be seen from these pages, was no easy task, with spares and equipment in short supply and the detachment being at the end of a long and protracted supply line’.

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A much zippier read (though with poor spelling) is provided by Neil Randall of 29 Commando Regiment who also put his diary online to mark the 25th anniversary five years ago. This does read, mostly, as if it were written at the time, i.e as a daily diary, but there are sections that could only have been added at a later (as in, ‘I still don’t know what it was but I can still smell it from time to time’).

30 May 1982
‘We moved down to goose Green through the battlefields of the day before, there was little or no cover for the advancing forces. As we approach some areas it seemed like there were discarded water proofs & ponchos laying around, it soon became clear that they were in fact the bodies of the dead Argie defenders. We could see first hand the effect our fire had on the guys in uncovered trenches “poor buggers stood no chance, why the f..... didn’t they get some over head cover on the trenches?” “I for one am glad they didn’t we might still be here trying to move the buggers, think of the blood split on both sides then!”

On the approach to the settlement Rick called the gun to a halt to grab himself a souvenir, he’d spotted a helmet laying beside a trench so he leap over and gleefully picked it up waving his prize in the air. He didn’t at first notice something sliding from it until bits hit him on the shoulder, it appeared that part of the previous owner were still inside. Needless to say Rick’s prize was quickly discarded.

It was a bloody cold night & we woke to a blanket of snow everywhere and a strange smell hanging over us, I still don’t know what it was but I can still smell it from time to time. We got to look around the devastation at the settlement, it looked like the Argies had no regard for sanitary conditions they seemed to have squatted anywhere. “We could’ve left them to it, if we hadn’t invaded the dirty sods would’ve died of dysentery all we’d had to do would’ve been send in the Pioneer corps to clean the place up.” I said.

The airfield was covered in small arms & ammunition lined up in rows where the soldiers had stood when they grounded them & walked into captivity. The locals were pleased to see us, they had been locked in the village hall for the past 30 days without any knowledge of what was happening.’

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Finally, here is Peter Green who was with the Royal Navy on HMS Yarmouth. He says: ‘What follows are extracts taken from the diary I started whilst onboard HMS Yarmouth in Gibraltar when we first heard the Falkland Islands had been invaded. It contains records made at the time, my own notes, notes given to me by various members of the ship’s company, newpaper reports, memorabilia and personal photographs of those one hundred and nineteen days.’

1 May 1982
‘0700-0900 Vulcans bomb Stanley airport.
1040 Action stations
1043 2 Mirage 230° - 95 miles
1044 launched 2 SHAR
1057 CAP
1106 Air Yellow
1135 Exocet released 260° - 100 miles
1142 The Exocet reaches its maximum range without doing any damage to us
1216 Air yellow
1300 270° closing fast enemy
1304 Mix up - friendly helicopters
1308 Air yellow
1325 Super Entendards 245° - 180 miles outward bound
1410 Air red; during this time YARMOUTH and BRILLIANT are to the North of East Falkland doing an ASW whilst ARROW, ALACRITY and GLAMORGAN are to the South of the Islands doing an NGS.
1412 235° - 130 miles
1425 Air yellow
1500 Air red 200° - 200 miles
1543 Splashed one aircraft, two dropped their bombs and scattered
1557 245° - 100 miles
1612 240° - 26 miles
1613 Airborne engagement
1739 275° - 100 miles
1811 Action mortar
1820 Bearing 188° torpedo HE
1832 Mortar fired
1845 Mortar fired
1847 Mortar fired
1915 Periscope sighted
1940 One Mirage ditches
1953 150° - 9 miles patrol boats
1956 Surface red
2008 3 Canberras in the area
2011 Depth charges dropped
2100 Action mortar
2123 Mortar fired
2123 Air yellow
2153 Fall out - our first day at war.’

For a peek at the diary of the captain of HMS Yarmouth see the vessel’s own website.

1 comment:

Carl said...

Interesting post. I may well check out some of the diaries that you have mentioned on here.