Mount Harriet &Two Sisters
The Argentinian Story
by David Aldea
As the battle for Mount Longdon raged, 45 Commando, under Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Whitehead, in the centre, moved off towards their start-lines for the attack on Two Sisters Mountain. Captain Ian Gardiner's 'X' Company spearheaded the attack. The Royal Marines preferred to attack under the cover of night. Such was the importance attached to lives.
45 Commando's 'X' Company would assault the lower ridges of the southern peak ('Long Toenail') of Two Sisters from the west, 'Z' Company would attack the northern peak, known in 45 Commando as 'Summer Days', and 'Y' Company would then assault the eastern ridge. The local commander on the Two Sisters ridge was Major Ricardo Cordon, second in command of the 4th 'Monte Caseros' Regiment.
The first attack against 'Long Toenail' came in around 2330 local time and Lieutenant David Stewart's 3 Troop - a Royal Marine Troop is like an Army Platoon - managed to get very close to Second Lieutenant Marcelo Llambias-Pravaz's 3rd Platoon, 'C' Company, 4th Regiment. But the attack was beaten off by rifle and machinegun 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 Czekalski 105 millimetre anti-tank guns and defied the attackers. Lieutenant Stewart's men flung themeselves again at the Argentines but, were driven off much to the frustration of Captain Ian Gardiner. Despite this, some Argentines 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, 'C' Company, fell back from 'Long Toenail'.
The great fight at 'Long Toenail' cost Llambias-Pravaz's 3rd Platoon a third of its strength. The assault on 'Long Toenail' was supported by forty Milan anti-tank missiles and innumerable machineguns. 'X' Company found the Milan missiles to be a very effective way of dislodging Llambias-Pravaz's defiant 3rd Platoon, but expensive at 35,000 US dollars each.
Second Lieutenant Llambias-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.
The British attack on the northern peak started at 0030 local time their machinegun, mortar and artillery fire never ceasing. The British bombardment on the northern peak lasted two hours. The northern peak was soon enveloped in dust and smoke and several Argentines were forced to keep their noses to the ground. Breathing became a desperate and urgent business. Still the defenders in the form of Second Lieutenant Jorge Perez-Grandi's 2nd Platoon, 'C' Company, 4th Regiment, went from one rock to another firing their rifles, rifle-grenades, making as much of a show as they could.
The Argentinians on the northern peak fought with determination and vigour as Sergeant-Major George Meachin who was there testified:
We came under lots of effective fire from 0.50 calibre machineguns (...) At the same time, mortars were coming down all over us, but the main threat was from those machinegunners who could see us in the open because of the moonlight. There were three machineguns 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. (Bruce Quarrie, The World's Elite Forces, p. 55, Octopus Books Limited, 1985)
The battle raged on and the 3rd Artillery Group 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 liason officer of the British cruiser 'Glamorgan'. The whole operation was proving to be a disaster.
Then to the astonishment of the Argentines on the northern peak, 'Z' Company, below, at about 0230 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 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.
It was not over yet. The task of ridding the 6th Regiment's 'B' Company remained. On the eastern ridge the fighting was equally tough. The defenders brought down heavy machinegun fire and mortar fire on 'Y' Company.
Private Oscar Ismael Poltronieri's baptism of fire was perhaps the most hair-raising of all. For several days after the British arrival the 6th Regiment company was kept in reserve in the rear of Two Sisters ridge with nothing to do. Suddenly Poltronieri 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. (Martin Middlebrook, The Fight for the Malvinas: The Argentine Forces in the Falklands War, p. 239, Viking, 1989)
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 'Y' Company destroyed a 6th Regiment machinegun post, killing the crew, somehow avoiding the booby-traps laid by the 1st Amphibious Engineer Company. A counterattack at the Xth 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. Second Lieutenant Franco's platoon formed the rearguard and it filed off, leaving three killed. Time and time again Second Lieutenant Aldo Franco - he became an Army commando after the war - reported his platoon could hold, but was ordered to abandon Two Sisters.
Despite occassionaly fierce fighting, 45 Commando's losses were only 4 dead and 11 wounded. The Argentine losses were put at 10 dead. Second 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.
One thing is for certain. 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 'General Juan Viamonte' 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 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. (Robert Fox, Eyewitness Falklands, pp. 255-256)
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.
So ended the Battle for Two Sisters Mountain, five hours after 'X' Company came under heavy fire from Second Lieutenant Llambias-Pravaz's platoon on 'Long Toenail'.
A grateful Argentinian Army awarded 6th Regiment Private Luciano Pintos a Gallantry in Combat Medal for his rescue of his wounded section commander on the Two Sisters ridge.
To the south, Mount Harriet proved to be more formidable, being surrounded to the west and south by minefields. 3 Commando Brigade's last target for the night was alloted to 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion (under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Vaux).
Under the cover of darkness of June 12, 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion's 'K' Company "secretly crept" through First Lieutenant Carlos Alberto Arroyo's lines and arrived at the eastern end of Mount Harriet by 2215 local time. The 4th Regiment sentries; despite all preparations were caught by surprise. The Royal Marine Commandos were magnificently trained at silent approach.
The advance of 'K' Company, 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion was made with dazzling rapidity. In vain Lieutenant-Colonel Diego Alejandro Soria called down on the eastern slopes the fire of the Argentinian Artillery knowing very well that the Heavy Mortar Platoon was positioned there.
So large were the column of dejected prisoners that it was obvious the strength on the eastern ridge had been greatly underestimated. Nevertheless it was not all a pushover. Some Argentinian conscripts had fought with great tenacity. Private Daniel Jose Sanchez had proved particularly courageous, causing the Royal Marine Commandos to dive for cover as he liberally sprayed them with fire with his Browning 12.7 millimetre machinegun. Sanchez "loved being in Malvinas".
Meanwhile Lieutenant-Colonel Diego Soria hurriedly sent an officer for reinforcements, to the reserve platoon on the southern slopes of Mount Harriet. The platoon to be sent eastward was not the 12th Regiment platoon but the dismounted cavalry platoon of the 1st 'General Jose de San Martin' Horsed Cavalry Regiment.
To Soria's credit the cavalry platoon was able to move forward and establish a formidable defence line.
It was while storming this Argentinian Reserve Platoon (under Second Lieutenant Emilio Samyn) lying in wait to ambush 'K' Company that Corporal Steven Newland had a brush with death when he was wounded in both legs. Despite his wounds, he still managed to stagger away and gain 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion's aid post.
The close quarter combat is here described first-hand by Corporal Steven Newland:
All the time we were lying there rounds were ricocheting off the rocks at us and the cold was freezing our bollocks off. On the radio I heard Sharkie talking to his boss. He said 'we're pinned down by a sniper and we can't move.' I thought 'Right, someone's got to go for this bastard.' So I took off my 66 [millimetre bazooka] shells, got on the radio to our boss and said 'Wait there and I'll see what I can do'.
I crawled around this mega-size boulder, climbed up a little steep bit, went over the top on my stomach, rolled into cover, crawled a bit further and looked around the corner of this rock, thinking that the sniper had to be there somewhere. There was more than a sniper - there was half a platoon! About ten of them were lying on a nice, flat, table-top rock overlooking our positions. It was perfect for them. They had a machinegun on the left and the rest of them were lined out with rifles. Everytime one of ours tried to move forward, one of them would shoot at him, so to us it looked as if there was only one sniper who was keeping on the move. They were waiting for us to break cover and try and clear this one sniper - then they would just waste us with their machinegun.
I sat back behind this rock and whispered down my throat-microphone to Sharkie about what I'd found. I told him to keep the lads there and I'd see what we could do. Then having made my mind up I picked up my SLR rifle, changed the magazine and put a fresh one on and slipped the safety catch off. I then looped the pin of one grenade onto one finger of my left hand and did the same with another. I was ready. So I thought 'Well, you've got to do something.' I pulled one grenade, whack - straight onto the machinegun. Pulled the other, whack - straight at the Spics. I dodged back around the rock and heard the two bangs. As soon as they'd gone off I went in and anything that moved got three rounds. I don't know how many I shot, but they got a whole magazine. I went back round the corner of the rock, changed the magazine and I was about to go back and sort out anyone who was left, when Sharkie called on the net: 'Get out. We're putting two 66s in' So I ran back down the hill, dived into this little hollow I'd seen on the way up. Over the net I told him to 'Let it go!' The 66s exploded and the next thing I heard was Sharkie on the radio again. He said 'It's clear. They've given up. Go back to where you were and make sure they don't get out the back.' I went up by a different route and as I rounded this rock, I saw one of the guys that I'd hit. I'd only got him in the shoulder but he'd gone down like the rest of them and in the dark, I'd automatically thought he was dead. But he was far from that, because as I came back round the corner, he just squeezed off a burst from his automatic rifle. He must've realised he was going to die unless he got me first. I felt the bullets go into both my legs. I thought 'Shit, the fucker's got me'. I was so angry, I fired 15 rounds into his head. (Extract from War in Peace magazine, Volume 10 Issue 112, Orbis Publishing Limited 1985)
Newland shot several, one fatally.
The fighting on Mount Harriet was fierce, casualties were heavy and passions ran high. Yet a sense of restraint existed in 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion.
Meanwhile, to the southwest of Mount Harriet, the vanguard of 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion's 'L' Company had had a nasty moment when it stumbled onto the IIIrd Infantry Brigade's Security Platoon, commanded by Second Lieutenant Pablo Oliva, entrenched on the southern approaches to Mount Harriet. The Argentinians with their MAG 7.62 millimetre machineguns and FAL rifles opened up on 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion's 'L' Company, spitting fire into the ranks. The weight of fire was incredible. The attack of the Royal Marine Commandos faltered and disaster on a gigantic scale threatened to overwhelm 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion.
Then quite unexpectedly, with a collective roar, the Royal Marine Commandos began to advance, firing magazine after magazine. To the profound dissapointment of Lieutenant-Colonel Diego Soria, Oliva's men did not survive the British onslaught.
Savage fighting ensued as 'L' Company, 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion encountered some of the stiffest opposition of the night from Second Lieutenant Eugenio Cesar Bruny's 2nd Platoon.
Throughout the night most of the Argentinian platoon held, a young belligrent Guarani soldier, continued to harass 'L' Company, 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion, until he was blasted out by an 84 millimetre Carl Gustav rocket.
The flickering flames from a burning Mercedes jeep cast a glow over the facade. Visibility was poor owing to a heavy mist. Naval shelling which had been continuous added to the confusion. The defence was unraveling.
Nevertheless from their positions on the northern slopes the platoon under Second Lieutenant Lautaro Jimenez-Corvalan continued to contest the Royal Marine Commandos' advance and so fifteen machineguns were moved into position to hammer the Argentinian platoon and 5 Troop moved into close quarters. As they closed in the Argentinians withdrew.
By 07.30 local time the craggy peaks of Mount Harriet were secure, at a cost to 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion of two fatal casualties (Corporals Jeremy Smith and Laurence Watts) and twenty wounded.
Goat Ridge was secured after a fierce gunfight, and 'J' Company (under Major Mike Norman) then reinforced 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion.
At the end of the night 42 Commando had driven the Argentinians out of the position but were forced to abandon their attempt to move through to Mount William.
The remnants of the 4th Regiment's 'B' Company were virtually surrounded and First Lieutenant Carlos Alberto Arroyo and his men were forced to surrender:
It hurt me a lot to have to take the decision to surrender, but the situation then gave no alternative, and all I could have achieved was further casualties in my personnel, who were already in a bad state. But I was very sad to surrender. (Denys Blakeway, The Falklands War: A Major Television Series of [Britain's] Channel Four, p. 156)
The British fired over one-thousand shells onto Mount Harriet that night, which was one of the main reasons why they won. The accuracy of the British gunners enabled the British Commandos to call down fire only 100 metres ahead of their advance. "If it wasn't for the British Artillery there would have been a lot more British casualties" said Lieutenant-Colonel Diego Soria.
The Argentinian defensive works on Mount Harriet and Two Sisters Mountain were far less elaborate than claimed by Brigadier-General Julian Thompson in No Picnic. 3 Commando Brigade had conducted five company-sized attacks against 'Fuerza de Tareas Monte Caceros' (Task Force Monte Caseros), killing around 20 Argentinians and capturing 300. Despite popular myth the soldiers of the 4th Regiment did not lack bravery, what he lacked was night-sights and manpack radios necessary for modern warfare.
The 4th Infantry had lost nearly all of its platoons and half of the platoon commanders were battle casualties. Second Lieutenant Emilio Samyn was wounded and captured as was Second Lieutenant Bruny. Both officers were decorated for their heroism that night. On his own initiative Bruny decided to go to Second Lieutenant Pablo Oliva's assistance.
It is a measure of the Argentinians' determination and training that they made the British fight for every boulder.
It was agreed that 'L' Company had to be backed up by Milan wire-guided missiles as a means of eliminating die-hards. "It was a pretty expensive way of doing it," admits Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Vaux. No less moving was a tribute to Second Lieutenants Oliva and Bruny, from British war correspondent Kim Sabido:
For a couple of hours it seemed as if it might all go wrong. Pinned down on the slopes by heavy machine-gun and sniper fire, progress was painfully slow. I saw several men fall with bullet wounds, others were hit by flying fragments from the constant shelling. The men in front of us were not giving up without a bitter fight. (Paul Eddy & Magnus Linklater, The Falklands War: Sunday Times Insight Team, p. 249, Andre Deutsch, 1982)
According to the book No Picnic eleven Royal Marine Commandos fell to the canisters spewed out by the Argentinian Artillery.
Accurate casualty figures, as always, are impossible to obtain, but the Argentinian Army admits around 30 Argentinians died defending the Harriet-Two Sisters defence line. These losses occured in patrol clashes, bombardments and on the night of 11-12 June. It was not a cheap victory for the British either. Ten Royal Marine Commandos were killed (if casualties during the night of 9-10 June are included) and over 40 wounded, including Marine Mark Curtis who had to be carried for 7 hours before he could be evacuated. (See Julian Thompson, No Picnic, p.125, Leo Cooper, 1985)
It was during the night or 9-10 June that the most interesting and controversial action of the period covering 1-11 June took place. A returning British fighting patrol had allegedly stumbled on colleagues at the bottom of Mount Kent and they shot them as they lay asleep. (See Vincent Bramley, Excursion to Hell, p. 73, Bloomsbury Publishing Limited, 1991)
Sergeant Robert Leeming, Corporals Andrew Uren and Peter Fitton and Private Keith Phillips were lost in this costly little affair. (See Falklands Deaths: Ministry of Defence Denies Marines Cover-Up by Peter Davenport, Defence Correspondent, The [London] Times newspaper, Wednesday 6 December 1986 Issue, p. 2)