The Argentine Commandos on Mount Kent
by David Aldea
The Argentine Army mounted only one counter-offensive in the Falklands, along the chain of mountains west of Murrell River, capturing briefly Estancia Mountain. By the end of May 1982, Major Cedric Delves' 'D' Squadron, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, had established an outpost on Mount Kent. Mount Kent gave the British a much-prized view of Port Stanley and Argentinian troop movements.
On Argentinian Army Day, 29 May, Mount Kent became the focus of an Argentine Special Forces offensive, called Operation 'Autoimpuesta'. The Argentinians aimed at establishing a forward defence line in the Kent ridge line. The Mount Kent area was rugged, with uneven ridges and cut by valleys which would help conceal both defenders and attackers.
The 65-man 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron was given the job of taking Mount Kent, the highest point, known as "little Cerro Aconcagua". The idea was that Major Oscar Jaimet's 'B' Company, 6th Regiment was to follow the Gendarmerie Commandos and reinforce the ground they took. Bluff Cove Peak was allotted to 602 Commando Company. Mount Kent and Bluff Cove Peak were crucial features in the planned forward defence line. Once those points were taken, 601 Commando Company would take Estancia Mountain and the forty Commandos of the Special Operations Group, who had trained to mark out Paratroop drop zones and guiding attack aircraft, would march to Smoko Mount.
Shortly after 1700 local time on Saturday 29 May 1982 the Army Green Berets and National Gendarmerie Commandos were loaded into Unimog lorries for the short drive to Stanley Soccer Field. Soon the Soccer Field was swarming with Special Forces. In all 170, mostly Army Commandos waiting to be taken to the Mount Kent zone.
The thankless task of defending Mount Kent against this overwhelming force was Major Cedric Delves'. It was necessary to hold Mount Kent for Brigadier Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands. It was the wish of Brigadier Thompson to fly-in Captain Peter Babbington's 'K' Company of 42 Commando Battalion on to Mount Kent on the night of 29-30 May.
Major Delves had just about 30 men from Air Troop, Boat Troop and Mountain Troop. Their task would be to delay the Argentine Special Forces for as long as possible before withdrawing to Estancia House. The date for the occupation of Mount Kent was set for the night of 29-30 May. However, a vicious storm was in the making and the commander of the 601st Combat Aviation Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Scarpa, ordered the operation postponed for the night. Upon checking with meteorologists Scarpa learned that early on the morning of 30 May, the weather would begin to improve. For the present 'Escuadron de Fuerzas Especiales 601 de la Gendarmeria Nacional Argentina' (EFE601GN) and the 'Grupo de Operaciones Especiales' (GOE) settled in and were briefed on the Kent ridge by their colleagues in 601 Commando Company.
Indeed, General Winter was causing severe problems. Unfortunately for Major Cedric Delves and his men worn down with lack of sleep and food and fighting in severe cold, when 'K' Company were heading over Wickham Heights, a full blizzard was encountered and the anxiously awaited reinforcements from 42 Commando had to turn back. (See Julian Thompson, No Picnic, p. 101, Leo Cooper, 1985)
Nick van der Bijl at 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters was to recall in Nine Battles to Stanley (Leo Cooper, 1999) seeing Brigadier Julian Thompson concerned. It seemed 'D' Squadron were fighting for their lives against hordes of Argentine Special Forces and Brigadier Thompson considered bringing Major Cedric Delves and his men off the Kent ridgeline.
Martin Arostegui in his book Twilight Warriors: Inside The World's Special Forces (1995) wrote an extensive work on the fight for Mount Kent entitled Like a Thief In The Night, which Bloomsbury Publishing Limited distributed both in and outside Britain. It was the first systematic compilation of the diverse facts known about the small and deadly skirmishes between the Special Air Service and Major Aldo Rico's 602 Commando Company. It began:
The cold South Atlantic wind drowned out the throbbing engines of the two remaining Argentine Chinooks landing on low ground near Mount Kent under the cover of darkness. The forty well-camouflaged commandos who emerged divided up into three teams and crept slowly towards the base of the mountain, stopping, listening, observing the green and black images in the Night Vision Goggles to pick out any heat sources. The pointman of an SAS patrol moving along the lower slope failed to notice the half-dozen Argentines who had spotted his smudgy silhouette. Slithering through waist-high, soaking wet peat, half the commandos crawled around the flank of the British patrol for an L-shaped ambush. When they were within twenty yards of the patrol they opened fire. The SAS man was immediately struck down by 7.62 millimetre rounds hitting his stomach and chest, coughing up blood as he fell. The three others spaced out some distance behind him and dived for cover, returning fire in all directions as they became enveloped by a barrage of automatic arms fire and grenades which injured another SAS man with shrapnel. He had to be partially carriedby the other two survivors as they withdrew ...
Around 1700 unaware that they had beaten to the draw, the 3rd Assault Section, 602nd Commando Company landed at Mount Kent. Captain Andres Ferrero remembers:
The Malvinas War is all so long ago now that it is difficult to recall it, even more to sort out the details sufficiently to compare one's experience there with Comandos en Accion. However, reading Isidoro Ruiz-Moreno's official history, again and again, to refresh myflagging memory has proved a salutary experience. Our mission briefing told us little more than we were to get on the ground, deal with any opposition as best we could and wait for the National Gendarmerie Commandos. Our task was to block the advance of 3 Commando Brigade.
We'd been divided into two waves. I didn't like the idea of being split from the rest of the Commandos, but I could see why we had to do it. To fly in the turbulence between the peaks was a sure way to lose further helicopters. Bad weather had been forcast. Dark clouds on the horizon were blowing in Puerto Argentino's direction. To add to the problem, only four helicopters were available. Major Aldo Rico had agreed that the second wave should be postponed until the next day and since he and others in the company had failed to hitch a helicopter lift, to pass the time that night, he achieved his goal to learn to ride a motorbike. Rico had asked Major Mario Castagneto if he thought Mount Kent could be reached by foot but, because of the new minefields, he realized it would not be possible. In any case, it was too late to do anything by land that day.
We were issued grenades, bandoliers and ammunition, and two MAG machineguns, along with anti-tank rocket launchers and ratpacks. We were tired after a sleepless night. First Lieutenant Horacio Fernando Lauria, a charismatic engineer-commando in his early thirties, in an attempt to take his mind of what lay ahead had been studying Mount Kent zone maps and intelligence reports. Lauria was over six feet tall and was all blond. He went on to represent our Blue Helmets in Angolia with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. We were making our way through the gymnasium when Captain Ricardo Frecha of the 601st approached us. 'It's your turn lands. God bless you all. Success to your mission.' We boarded a Unimog, which Captain Fernando de la Serna told us would be taking us to our helicopter. We were dressed in reversible white camouflage suits.The helmets came off, the berets on, and the 602nd was driven to the Soccer Field. It was around 4 in the evening and darker than usual because the sky was overcast. Journalist Eduardo Rotondo was filming us and taking pictures. This was a unique period for the Army; to be in a war zone accompanied by journalists.
It was Argentinian Army Day. A day to be proud of our Army. It was even more important for Major Rico as it was his son's birthday. The helicopter we boarded - Huey AE 418 - was stripped bare inside and we sat on the floor. There was little talking among us. Corporal Arturo Oviedo broke the atmosphere by asking, 'Would you say we're going to San Carlos, captain?' Oviedo was in his late twenties, with dark hair and brown eyes, and he was more outgoing than the other patrol members. At last, at about 5 in the evening came the order to go. Captains Eduardo Villarruel and Jorge Duran were coming too. The pilot lifted his helicopter into a low hover, about 3 feet off the ground. The whine of the engines was deafening. We were in the air, and this time it wasn't a training exercise. The pilot, lowered the helicopter's nose and picked up airspeed. It was a 6 or 7 minute flight - something like that. As we started to approach the noise was incredible. When we landed, I could not get off fast enough. As soon as we got off clear of the blades we began to off-load the weapons and equipment. The helicopter was loaded to the roof with spareammunition, Instalaza missiles and medical packs. We watched the ascent of the helicopter until it dissapeared.
Not surprisingly, some insertions were badly scattered: Captain Eduardo Villarruel's headquarters group was so thoroughly lost that they did not rejoin the 602nd until the next day. We had landed 500 metres off course - northeast of Mount Kent. The night had fallen like ice into a glass, sharp and cold. With First Lieutenant Francisco Mucked, an experienced mountaineer, leading, we moved higher up the mountain. It was awful terrain, with rocky outcrops all over the place. It was extremely difficult going for, while the sides of the mountain were not sheer, they were very steep and made up of boulders. One thing all of us had in common was that we were in reasonable shape.
The average age in the 602nd was between 28 and 33. Otherwise my combat patrol couldn't have undertaken the six grueling patrol missions that lay ahead. The thought of bumping into a British patrol, or even worse, walking into an ambush, was uppermost in my mind. This was the Lion's den. We'd gone 500 metres when, I signaled a stop. 'I can hear water, ' I said. I got edgy. I turned to Lauria who caught up with me when I stopped and he asked, 'Why not let Mucked and me go on a reconnaissance, to see what's around?' I thought for a moment, then said, 'Okay, but that I along with Mucked would be going, with Oviedo.' The rest were to stay behind some boulders and wait for us to signal with the torch. Our communications were to be with a torch that could be seen at night only if you wore special glasses. There was a code. For example, one flash would mean 'Danger, stop'; two meant 'Okay, come forward'; and the meaning of three flashes or more was, 'Get the hell away as fast as you can.' Before I knew it we were moving again, at the same agonizing pace. When we had gone about 50 metres all hell broke out. The rest of the patrol under Lauria, came under accurate machine-gun and mortar fire.
Only one man was wounded though - First Sergeant Raimundo Maximiliano Viltes. He received a bullet through a heel. For a few seconds, pandemonium reigned. Only a few managed to get rounds off. Lauria thought they were part of Combat Team Solari that was known to have been dug in the area. When he explained to me what happened, it was obvious he was very shocked. Returning fire with his FAL rifle, Lauria managed to hit some Special Air Service Commandos. First Lieutenant Enrique Rivas, later a lieutenant-colonel, also managed to fire. He could see shadows moving some 200 metres in front of him. He was desperate but the range was short enough to use some of his rifle grenades. By now it was about 7 in the evening and I heard two helicopters flying over head, returning with the 601st's 2nd Assault Section from Big Mountain, but saw nothing because of the low clouds. I had to make myself calm down. I had already experienced combat, being under fire from People's Revolutionary Army guerrillas. I had been a Commando since 1975 and had served in Tucuman Province. I tried to work out how to hit back. We crawled towards them, heard they were British and decided to take them ourselves. The problem was that we had to sprint over the top, World War One style. I had little hope that anyone could have survived that ambush. I was filled with confusion as well as desperate with anxiety. By this time mortar flares were up, illuminating portions of the area. Later I learned that at the first sound of mortar fire most had run away. It wasn't exactly the reaction Lauria had wanted. Lauria and Viltes, who were last away, had a grim withdrawal under mortar fire all the way. First Sergeant Jose Nunez helped Viltes.
That night Lauria lay listening to the storm of fire as the Kent ridgeline blazed under the fire of 'D' Squadron of the Special Air Service Regiment. I started to pray. I put myself in God's hands and I know this is going to sound corny, but it started snowing very hard. We didn't dare wait too long. The signal we'd agreed on was one, two, then go. When finally we were calm enough, I put up one finger, then two, and we made our move. We were now scrambling downhill. It was slippery, dangerous. We slid down the mountainside on our backs and bottoms, sending small avalanches of grey stone, cascading down the mountain. During the getaway we lost Oviedo. The British Commandos did not follow up. There were about 20 of them with two machineguns but they also fled. This is not uncommon in war. It was later learned that the British Commandos, thinking that they were on the point of being outflanked by Maqueda, Oviedo and me, decided to retire. Realizing their mistake, they returned to the Kent ridgeline just as Captain Tomas Fernandez's patrol closed on Bluff Cove Peak.
First Lieutenant Ruben Marquez was point-man in 2nd Assault Section. Taking Sergeant Humberto Blas and First Lieutenant Daniel Oneto he edged forward to have a look. Marquez was spotted almost immediately by at least a section of Special Air Service Commandos, all of whom had assault rifles. Oneto says Marquez with all the goodwill in the world couldn't use his FAL rifle. If he only had taken off his mittens he wouldn't have died. Captain Tomas Fernandez had no other reason why he had died. It was discovered later that Marquez hurled grenades causing some injured before he was killed. Blas was near Marquez and gave the British everything he had. He even used hand grenades and this allowed 2nd Assault Section to escape. The only thing Oneto heard was the shouts of 'Watch out! Ambush!' For this action both were awarded a posthumous medal. Had Fernandez's patrol been just a little earlier and been able to consolidate on the hilltop, all would have probably been very different. (To learn more about this action see Conflict Malvinas: Informe Oficial del EjercitoArgentino, Volumes I & II, 1983 and 1984) When we got down on the plain it was no better. It was still dark. The night was almost continuous; and it was bitterly cold, probably- 12 degrees. I was dazed and shocked, with no humour, nothing to say. We both continued moving cautiously to Mount Estancia thinking we were heading to Puerto Argentino. It was now raining and we were wet and freezing.
In spite of the intense discomfort, Mucked and I managed to rest in this dip in the ground carved by the sheeps and I studied my map. Typical of some of the senior officers in the 602nd, Maqueda had false teeth. He had taken one too many falls in training. At about 5 in the morning we came to a rocky rise and made our way wearily up the hillside. We could now see Puerto Argentino. The lights of the capital of Malvinas were clearly visible. Since we now knew where we were, we decided that we better stop there. It made an ideal lying-up position for the forthcoming day. We got into the sleeping bags. I sat out the remainder of the night - my third without sleep. We tried to keep alert. I never in my life have been as tired as I was then. I unwrapped a chocolate bar which Captain Frecha had given me and we shared it. We waited in the sleeping bags until the rays of the sun were upon us. A realization of what had happened began to come tome. Our baptism of fire, after only 48 hours in Malvinas, had been a shocking experience, an ambush that none should really have survived. The fight for Mount Kent is one of those clashes that sits uneasily in the public mind. It was not part of the Malvinas War, or was it? (Courtesy of Colonel Alberto Gonzalez)
(The Malvinas Veteran Welcome Home March staged in Buenos Aires on 2 April 1992 had particular meaning for Ferrero. It attracted a nestimated 30,000 participants and a huge crowd of spectators. No one who was there could forget the emotion as Raimundo Viltes in crutches with his crisp brown officer uniform and green Commando beret, led the march past President Carlos Menem.)
In the meantime, the 602nd Commando Company's 2nd Assault Section, commanded by Captain Tomas Fernandez, after a pause, continued its advance up Bluff Cove Peak. It was here that First Lieutenant Ruben Eduardo Marquez and First Sergeant Oscar Humberto Blas won posthumously the Gallantry in Combat Medal in a patrol clash in which they wounded two Special Air Service Commandos with hand grenades. They literally stumbled on Major Cedric Delves' headquarters group, says Martin Arostegui. (See Twilight Warriors: Inside The World's Special Forces, p. 205, Bloomsbury, 1995)" There was nothing for it but to squeeze as many as possible into caves near the top of Bluff Cove Peak," admits Captain Tomas Fernandez. That same morning, before dawn, as Captain Eduardo Villarruel led his headquarters group back to Argentine lines, he ran into a heavily armed British patrol on the foggy slopes of Mount Kent heading to Estancia House. The Argentine Commandos went to ground and deployed into a skirmish line ready to open up. Sergeant Mario Cisnero, had the 7.62 millimetre belt-fed machine-gun and got very excited. Villarruel, for some reason told Cisnero to hold his fire. It was a serious misjudgment and probably cost the Argentines the battle for Mount Kent. It later transpired that the British patrol were members of 'D' Squadron, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment. Unfortunately because of the blizzard, communications were lost on both sides. But for the first time Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Rose's 22nd Special Air Service Regiment was in control of the situation after the initial confusion. By 1700 on 30 May when Captain Tomas Fernandez's radio operator, First Sergeant Alfredo Flores, at last came on air, he passed the dramatic message, "We are in trouble" and 40 minutes later, "there are English all around us.. you had better hurry up."
With temperatures dropping and Unimog radiators freezing up, 601 Commando Company, the Special Operations Group and the 601st NationalGendarmerie Special Forces Squadron, at about 0600 local time on 30 May, advanced to Stanley Soccer Field. There was a delay of around 3 hours to get the 3rd Combat Section, 601st National GendarmerieSpecial Forces Squadron airborne. Had the Puma lifted off at, say 0830, it might have been a different story. John Smith:
The first bombing attack of the day was just after 9 o'clock, out towards the airport [Throughout 30 May Harriers were active over Stanley one of them in responding to a call for urgent aerial assistance from Major Cedric Delves to fight off an anticipated helicopterborne assault from Wall Mountain, swooped in at low leveled that led to its loss, but the pilot was recovered]. We all went along to Mass at ten; lots of Argentine officers there, with military police standing in the porch. Across the road outside the gymnasium are stacked a lot of Blowpipe missiles in cases. Lingering about long enough to count them is impossible; perhaps that's why the MPs were in the chapel porch. There is an extremely tense atmosphere in the town; the troops are very jumpy. In fact before Mass this morning one of the officers [Major Carlos Dioglioli] asked the Monsignor why the church bell was being run. I think it took him a great deal ofre straint and patience to explain that it was the normal practice toring the bell of a church on sundays, not only in Port Stanley, but all over the world. Maybe the Argetines thought that it was some kind of signal to a possible resistance movement in the town. (John Smith, 74 Days: An Islander's Diary of the Falklands Occupation, p. 190)
The story of the tragic operational accident that destroyed the 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron's 3rd Combat Section under Captain Jorge San Emeterio, and canceled the movement of EFE601GN, 'Grupo de Operaciones Especiales' and 601 Commando Company is well known. Captain Andres Ferrero on Estancia Mountain watched in horror as two Royal Air Force Harriers (XZ963 and XZ789) made a pass over the Puma, firing as they went. The Puma crashed in the ground trying to avoid the cannon fire and started a fire in which six Gendarmerie Commandos died: First Lieutenant Ricardo Sanchez, Second Lieutenant Guillermo Nasif, Corporals Marciano Veron, VictorGuerrero, Carlos Pereyra and Lance-Corporal Juan Treppo. Those Gendarmerie Commandos who could jumped out, some of them braving the fire and exploding ammunition to rescue eight injuredcolleagues. Sergeant (EFE601GN) Victor Miguel Pepe sat in the snow and wept. It was the end of the mission and the end of his dream to force the British to sue for peace. John Smith again:
Lots of air activity. Just before 11 there were huge explosions towards Mount Kent, possibly a bit to the north of it. There was a great deal of smoke which hung about for a long time. Shortly afterwards saw two Harriers [XZ 963 and XZ 789] over the town. I think they must have hit an ammunition dump in the mountains. The airport has been plastered by bombs for much of the day, with very little return fire at the Harriers (...) Lots of sporadic small-armsfire firing going on up towards Mount Kent/Estancia direction. (John Smith, op. cit, p. 191)
The Argentinians however exacted rapid revenge and Royal Air Force Harrier XZ 963 flown by Squadron-Leader Jerry Pook was shot down.Squadron-Leader Jerry Pook, whose GR-3 Harrier was carrying rockets, gives this description of his bad day:
En route to the target area, my radio began playing up and went dead for a short time. Fortunately the problem cleared itself for awhile just before the attack. I flew through concentrated small arms fire from the ground just before the target and my aircraft was hit. I felt a fairly heavy thump, but everything seemed all right so I carried on with my attack which was on a helicopter landing site [Four Huey helicopters had landed at the bottom of Wall Mountain in the morning to help the 4th Regiment relocate to Mount Harriet and Two Sisters Mountain]. This was deserted, so I flew on to the secondarytarget, an artillery position about 2 miles away. Coming over a hill saw the position in front of me and fired both 2 inch rockets at it, swamping the area with weapons. It was then I realised that things were not at all well. My wing man signalled that I was losing fuel -that must have been the heavy thump earlier. Just before my radio packed up totally my wing man told me that thefuel loss rate was increasing; by now I also had a hydraulic failure the Number 1 system. The radio failed again and I felt totally on my own. I decided to try to fly as far as I could towards the carriers I turned out over the sea and flew in the direction of the carrier force. But only minutes later I realised I wouldn't make it. My only hope lay in getting as close to the task force as possible. (John Godden, Harrier: Ski Jump to Victory, p. 53, British Aerospace Publishing, 1983)
Pook was almost certainly shot down by the 4th Regiment, not by fire from the 35 millimetre anti-aircraft guns at Stanley Racecourse. Captain Carlos Lopez Patterson, the Operations Officer of the 4th Regiment, remembers:
On this occasion two Harriers were strafing the regiment and on their climb away one was hit by concentrated fire from Second Lieutenant Marcelo Llambias-Pravaz's 3rd Platoon, 'C' Company. I'll never forget the green tracer and then the fuel falling like, tinfoil, turning and reflecting in the sun. (As told to Colonel Alberto Gonzalez)
The forward elements of the 3rd Parachute Battalion marched into Estancia House after first light on 30 May where they set up company headquarters. Captain Andres Ferrero saw them marching in. Brigadier-General Oscar Jofre came under criticism from the national commission on the war for deciding not to bomb Estancia. Jofre remembers:
There were Canberras loaded with one-thousand pound bombs on the alert ramp in Patagonia waiting for Malvinas Joint Command to give out the orders to attack. But I didn't agree. There were Kelpers there.
Captain Peter Babbington's 'K' Company, 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion, after much delay, was helicopter lifted to link with 'D' Squadron, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment on Mount Kent on the night of 30-31 May. The 2nd Assault Section of the 602nd Commando Company chose this moment to emerge from their hides and soon came under intense fire. The relevant extract follows:
The SAS finally managed to surround the main commando group, consolidating into a position near the peak, and ambushed them with one of those devastating, explosive onslaughts of automatic fire and GPMG fire for which the regiment is famous. (Martin Arostegui, op. cit, p. 205)
On sighting the 2nd Assault Section the SAS spread out and opened a sharp fire on the Commandos from the cover of boulders. Within minutes the Argentinian patrol began to crumble as the Commandos came under fire from an enemy they couldn't even see. "We would have fought" said Captain Tomas Fernandez, "if we had seen anyone to fightwith. "One of the Argentine Commandos, Sergeant Alfredo Flores, was captured on Bluff Cove Peak and he stated later that he had been "left behind by his commander."
Major Mario Castagneto, who commanded 601 Commando Company was itching to get to grips with the British on the Kent zone. Authorised to make a reconnaissance in force to the Kent ridgeline, he turned this into an "advance to contact". The Special Operations Group was to have reached the Kent ridge line in jeeps with Major Mario Castagneto on Monday 31 May but, because Malvinas Joint Command believed the British aircraft carrier 'Invincible' had been sunk the day before, the forty Air Force Commandos under Wing Commander Alberto Cajihara, were redeployed to guard the TPS-43 long-range radar against an expected Special Air Service attack. (See Isidoro Jorge Ruiz-Moreno, Comandos en Accion:El Ejercito [Argentino] en Malvinas, p. 292, Emece, 1986) It was 0955 Falkland Islands time on Monday 31 May when 602 Commando Company on Estancia Mountain saw 601 Commando Company in a column of Land Rovers and Kawasaki motorbikes coming to the rescue but the rescue bid failed when 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion's 81 millimetre Mortar Platoon dispersed Major Mario Castagneto's Special Forces Company. The bike ridden by Drill Sergeant Juan Salazar was thrown into the air by a near-miss and seconds later his bike recieved a direct hit. The 601st Commando Company was deluged with mortar rounds and Major Mario Castagneto received a nasty wound when a piece of shrapnel cut through his belt buckle. Faced with such opposition, the force had no option but to withdraw to Two Sisters Mountain. Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Vaux on Mount Kent was later to recall in his memoirs (March to the South Atlantic, Buchan & Enright, 1986) the ground around Major Mario Castagneto and his men erupt in gouts of peat and rock splinters under the sustained impact of dozens of mortarbombs. At 1030 Captain Eduardo Villarruel on Estancia Mountain muttered "we have to give in". After conferring with Captain Ferrero, Villarruel ordered the withdrawal of the 602nd Special Forces Company. The 3rd Parachute Battalion closing in from Estancia House convinced Villarruel of the futility of further resistance. "If the Argentinian withdrawal had begun a day later, it would have been disastrous for the Commando force," wrote Isidoro Jorge Ruiz-Moreno, the official historian of the 601st and 602nd Commando Company and the Elite 25th Regiment of the 'Ejercito Argentino'.
The magnificent defence of Mount Kent in which the Special Air Service covered itself with glory is now an epic of Britain's military heritage. From the citation for the Distinguished Service Order won by Major Cedric Delves:
Following the successful establishment of the beachhead in San Carlos Water, Major Delves took his squadron 40 miles behind enemy lines and established a position overlooking the main enemy stronghold in Port Stanley where at least 7000 troops were known to be based. By a series of swift operations, skillful concealment and lightning attacks against patrols sent out to find him, he was able to secure a firm hold on the area after ten days for the conventional forces to be brought in. (Falklands Aftermath, p. 44, Marshall Cavendish, 1984)
The cost was heavy. Argentinian Special Forces casualties between 29 and 31 May totalled thirty-two killed, wounded and captured according to the Argentinians (if casualties during the fight for Top Malo House are included). Both the British and Argentinian wounded were taken to the field hospital at San Carlos Bay. The survivors of the 602nd Commando Company's 1st Assault Section, under Captain Jose Arnobio Vercesi, were touched by the kindness, with which they were treated. Brigadier-General Julian Thompson, the brilliant British commander in the Falklands, after consolidating Mount Kent on the night of 31 May, wasted no time in preparing to soften the Port Stanley fortress with artillery and fighting patrols. The perimeter defenses were manned almost exclusively by the 10th Brigade - 3rd 'General Manuel Belgrano', 6th 'General Juan Viamonte' and 7th 'Colonel Pedro Conde' Infantry Regiments. The British hoping for a quick and easy success, sent aircraft to scatter surrender leaflets urging the defenders to hoist white flags. During 1 June, British helicopters inserted elements of 42 Commando Battalion and a Royal Air Force forward air controller on to Wall Mountain to mark targets for laser guided bombs. The attacks fortunately for many of the 4th 'Monte Caseros' Regiment were never delivered. The Royal Air Force GR-3 Harriers had been ordered to reduce Mount Harriet to rubbles with 1,000 pound laser-guided bombs. Commando-trained First Lieutenant Carlos Alberto Arroyo, commanding' B' Company, 4th Regiment, became aware of the observation post on Wall Mountain on the night of 2 June and during the next day there was a hard and furious skirmish on the slopes of Wall Mountain and resulted in a reverse for the British. It was an interesting start to 42 Commando Battalion's battle for Mount Harriet. Thursday 3 June was a day of fog which reduced visibility next to nothing. That day when the British top-brass thought the Argentine Army was on its knees, the 4th Regiment achieved a success in No-Man's-Land which must be ranked with the most brilliant of the British patrol operations. There was still a lot of bravado left in the 4th Regiment. It was around 1100 local time and 42 Royal Marine Commando Battalion's Reconnaissance Platoon, under Lieutenant Chris Marwood, together with Captain Nick D' Appice's forward artillery observation party, were lying up and around Wall Mountain. They were efficiently concealed. Second Lieutenant Lautaro Jimenez-Corvalan's 3rd Platoon, 'B' Company, 4th Regiment had moved forward to investigate. Suddenly rifle fire poured down without warning from the Royal Marine Commando platoon and the Argentinians began calling in mortar support. The shells started to drop so close to Corporal Nicolas Odorcic that he could smell the burnt cordite after they bursts. Corporal Odorcic received a bullet through the helmet. Never the less he and his section returned a devastating hail of fire and Second Lieutenant Marcelo Llambias-Pravaz's 3rd Platoon, 'C' Company, 4th Regiment, moved forward to try to surround the British platoon. Many of Llambias-Pravaz's men were from the Guarani Indian clan. The relevant extract follows:
On the second day, at around 1100 hours local time, an Argentine patrol of about twelve men came from the front edge of Harriet and split into two sections, one to the north side of Wall Mountain, one to the south. Lieutenant Marwood decided to sit tight, but members of his recce sections insisted they'd been seen - and opened fire. This uncontrolled, rather ill disciplined action ended all hopes of remaining covert. At ranges of 20 to 50 metres, the British throwing grenades and firing 66 mm anti-tank rockets, M16s and SLRs, some of the Argentine patrol were killed [The Argentines sustained two fatalities: Privates Celso Paez and Roberto Ledesma]. With no radio communications to call in artillery fire, Marwood decided to withdraw. On the road below, two Argentine trucks appeared and dropped troops off their OP position, to cut them off. Captain D' Appice and his artillery team were already moving towards Mount Challenger to get through on the radio, and started bringing down artillery fire. (Hugh McManners, The Scars of War, p. 237, Harper Collins Publishers, 1993)
The Royal Marine Commandos finally retreated under the fire of the 4th Regiment Heavy Mortar Detachment on Mount Harriet, leaving their rucksacks and heavy weapons. Close on the heels of the Royal Marine Commandos was Second Lieutenant Llambias-Pravaz and his platoon of young soldiers screaming taunts in guttural Guarani, instilling fear and confusion in the Royal Marine Commandos. Captain Nick D' Appice remembers:
We were separated from our heavy bergans with the radios and all our gear. The patrol was spread over quite a large area, with lots of shouting, noise and firing going on. The Marines abandoned all their equipment, and although no one told us, it became clear that we were to withdraw. With no information, and the likelihood of having to fight our wayout, Dave Greedus and I decided to abandon our equipment, destroying as much as we could. The two radio sets (HF and UHF) were tough enough, but the HAZE unit of the laser target marker was designed to with stand the weight of a tank! (Hugh McManners, op. cit, p. 238)
Llambias-Pravaz's platoon was destined to suffer the heaviest casualties of the war. Of the forty-six men in his platoon five were killed and sixteen wounded. The next 42 Commando-4th Regiment encounter had a less happy outcome. On 8 June at 2330 local time along fight took place between Second Lieutenant Lautaro Jimenez-Corvalan's 3rd Platoon and Royal Marine Commandos in and around a rocky outcrop on the northern slopes of Mount Harriet, the British withdrawing without casualties, after two Argentines, Corporal Hipolito Gonzalez and Private Martiniano Gomez, had been killed. When the attack on Second Lieutenant Jimenez-Corvalan's platoon took place, First Lieutenant Arroyo could do little to assist. He ordered the 12th Regiment reserve platoon on the southern slopes to help, but this platoon under Second Lieutenant Gustavo Mosteirin were not very well equipped to carry out a night counterattack. But before the final attack was called, a fresh reserve under Second Lieutenant Emilio Samyn was sent up from Port Stanley. This platoon was in fact well equipped, if less numerous than the 12th Regiment platoon, with cold-weather clothing and several head-mounted night sights and better communication equipment. Brigadier-General Oscar Luis Jofre in his memoirs called it 'Seccion de Apoyos Especiales'.