A Brilliant Success
The Battle for Mount Harriet
Following reconnaissance patrols, in which two Marines in L Company lost their legs when they triggered anti-personnel mines, the 42 Commando Royal Marines located the minefields around Mount Harriet. K Company worked alongside L Company in this task, and was tasked with the route for the attack and to put out fighting patrols to ensure that the Argentine garrison remained in their bunkers.
A fighting patrol by 1 Troop worked its way to within 20 yards of enemy positions on Mount Harriet, where they came under fire. But their reply with 66 mm, 81mm anti-tank weapons and gunfire enabled them to withdraw without loss after killing six Argentines. Shell-fire from Argentine 105mm and 155mm guns and bitterly cold weather made life unpleasant for the men of the Commando as they prepared for the next phase. Diarrhoea and trench foot had already affected a number of men.
Lt.-Col. Vaux told his men; 'Surprise and absolute silence are vital. If necessary, you must go through the old business of making every man jump up and down before he starts to check that nothing rattles. Persistent coughers must be left behind. If you find yourself in a minefield remember that you must go on. Men must not stop for their opposite numbers, however great the temptation. They must go through and finish the attack, or it will cost more lives in the end. The enemy are well dug-in in very strong position but I believe that once we get in among them they will crack pretty quickly.'
The Reconnaissance Platoon of the Welsh Guards secured the start line along with J Company, but the Guardsmen failed to link up in the dark and there was an hour delay. Once they were in position K Company moved off. Lt.-Col. Vaux kept his men well spaced out as they weaved through a minefield to the south of the mountain. They reached a point 100 yards from the enemy position before they were detected. The fight began with grenades, small arms, 66 mm and 81mm fire all coming into use. HMS Yarmouth provided gunfire support and 105mm light guns and 81mm mortars hit the positions in front of the men as they advanced. The Commando had four batteries on call to give a 'full regimental shoot'. The CO of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery co-ordinated fire support for the night action and had a list of 47 targets on call. During the night his guns fired 3,000 rounds with some shells falling only 50 yards from friendly forces.
The men of K Company recalled later that Corporal Newland appeared to be relaxing against a rock pulling on a cigarette. He had, in fact, been shot through both legs but continued to man the radio and command his section. Lance Corporal Koleszar had the surprising experience of finding that two 'dead' Argentine soldiers, whose boots he was trying to remove, were very much alive and jumped up to surrender. As the men reached the summit, an enemy hut caught fire and gave the Argentine gunners a good aiming point. Artillery fire wounded members of the Company HQ including the second in command. The shellfire also interrupted the firefight as each side dived for cover. With first light, the Sergeant Major of K Company collected nearly 70 prisoners.
L Company assaulted uphill through the rocks. Though artillery fire forced them to take cover, the real threat was from the .50in machine guns and groups of snipers with German bolt-action rifles. Royal Marine Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre had pinpointed many of the bunkers around Goat Ridge and Lt.-Col. Vaux was able to use Milan anti-tank missiles against them. By first light the men had overrun their objectives with two officers and five marines wounded.
J Company was ready to move off on the very cold morning of 12th June. All went well until they reached the slopes of Mount Harriet where enemy artillery fire was falling. It ceased before the Marines were on the upper slopes. At dawn, J Company began to sweep through the positions to clear the remaining enemy who seemed happy to surrender. Within three hours, 58 prisoners had been dispatched to Company HQ. J Company was made up of men who had been in Naval Party 8901 so the victory was a more personal triumph for them. Harriet yielded over 300 prisoners as well as very valuable documents, which were of great value to the intelligence staff at 3 Brigade.
Elsewhere on the mountain, among the bunkers, there was a litter of ammunition. In the simple shelters the Marines found foam rubber mattresses and ration packs. A battlefield radar set was found in an unopened crate near the summit.
42 Commando Royal Marines
BATTLE OF MOUNT HARRIET 11-12 JUNE 1982
On the night 11/12 June 1982, as part of the night attack by 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines to break into the Argentine positions defending Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, 42 Commando Royal Marines assaulted and captured the key Argentine position on Mount Harriet. This night attack by 42 Commando Royal Marines had been preceded by 9 days of intensive and brilliantly conducted night patrolling over very rough ground and extensive minefields in adverse weather conditions.
The information acquired so painstakingly by the Commando patrols was sufficiently detailed to enable the commanding officer to make a bold plan to outflank the enemy positions and assault them from the rear. This attack from an unexpected direction aimed to catch the enemy, consisting of the best part of the 4th Argentine Infantry Regiment and their Regimental Headquarters, by surprise. Further more it would avoid frontal assault through the main minefield and the enemy's planned killing ground.
After a long approach march, the assault started about 2 hours after midnight. K company, the leading company, got within 150 meters of the enemy before being fired on. The battle was on and the fighting was fierce. Bold and decisive leadership, combined with great aggressiveness, established K company on the crest of the feature and then the long process of winkling out the enemy began. L company then began their clearing operation through the heavily defended western end of the enemy position. Meanwhile J company, who had diverted the enemy's attention before the attack began, supported K and L Company on to their objectives.
Despite the stubborn resistance by the enemy machine gunners and enemy defensive artillery fire on the objective, the attack by 42 Commando Royal Marines was a brilliant success. The battle was fought with great dash and determination by the Commando, many of whom were suffering from cold and injuries sustained in the preceding 10 days of appalling weather on Mount Kent and Mount Challenger. For the loss of two killed and 26 wounded, the Commando secured this vital feature, killing at least 50 of the enemy and taking over 300 prisoners, including the Regimental Commanding Officer and great quantities of equipment.
For this great feat of arms the Commando was awarded the following decorations.
KILLED IN ACTION