A Night to Remember
3 Para's Battle for Mount Longdon
With the weather closing in and resupply becoming a problem, the high ground of Mount Longdon was a key objective of 3 Commando Brigade's plan of advance. On the night of 11-12th June, having been under bombardment from the Argentine 155mm artillery, 3 Para were ordered to take it. The mountain was defended by B Company, 7 Infantry Regiment reinforced by specialist elements and snipers from 501 Company of the Argentine Special Force and from the Marines. Numerous minefields and bunkers also protected the feature. 120mm mortars, numerous machine guns and 105mm recoilless guns and anti-tank missiles supported the position. Each of the positions turned out to have been pre-registered as defensive fire targets and the feature was the linchpin of the Argentine defences of Port Stanley and they were prepared to fight long and hard to keep it.
The feature had to be taken piecemeal from the west, and the summit was such that only one company could fight along it at a time. Outflanking was not an option as a large minefield was to the south and known enemy positions were to the east on Wireless Ridge. The summit dominated the open ground around it for several thousand yards, increasing the risks of night movements. The reconnaissance patrols had surveyed the hill for nearly two weeks and were fairly certain of the locations of the antipersonnel mines. Two principle positions defended the mountain; on the east one was called Full back and on the west was Fly Half. The latter was an enemy command post and well defended, whereas Full Back was known to be heavily defended by machine guns and snipers. The northern side of the summit was code named Wing Forward and the start line for the attack, which also served as a report line, was called Free Kick. This was located on the forward edge of the forming up point, on the far bank of a stream that runs south to north onto the Murrel River.
The companies would move by independent routes under D Company patrol guides. A Company would take on Full Back, B Company was to attack Fly Half and C Company was in reserve. Fire support was provided by HMS Avenger and 79 Battery RA. The Battalion's own machine guns and mortars of the support company would establish two fire bases; one at the 300 foot contour west of the mountain and another at Free Kick. 2 Troop, 9 Parachute Squadron RE would provide engineer support. The sappers also provided defence for the 300 ft contour firebase by manning a .30in Browning machine gun, to neutralize a similar weapon operated by the Argentines on Two Sisters to the southwest.
intention after the attack was to pass C Company through and onto Wireless
Ridge, but proved impossible to do so as Tumbledown was not captured
that night and dominated the ground and the ridge. The attack began at
about 2100 hours and the approach required a four-hour long night infiltration
march under a good moon, revealing the jagged nature of the feature and
the extent to which it dominated the surrounding countryside. Major Mike
Argue, B Company commander, altered his approach when one of the fire support
groups cut the B Company column with the result that part of Five Platoon
and Six Platoon lost contact with the rest for about 30 minutes. As a consequence
of the lost time, Major Argue decide to approach the objective directly,
traveling well south of the original route and well to the right of A Company.
The picture on the left shows Support
Company 3 para getting their brief to go on Mount Longdon, Major Dennison OC SP COY, is standing on the right giving the brief, on the floor is a rough model of Longdon, the tall thin man in the front is Cpt Tony Mason Anti Tanks.
The excellent night vision provided by the moon allowed the platoons to move closer to the rocks for better cover in the fight through. Three rifle platoons were formed with the Company HQ slightly to the left and rear. Six Platoon was on the right attacking from the southwest of the feature. Four and Five Platoons were to the west and northwest with Four Platoon on the left. Once the rocky ground was reached, Five Platoon fanned out and upwards into improved cover but Four Platoon were still 700 yards away from the first Argentine trenches and on low ground. At this point, the section commander of Four Platoon stepped on an anti-personnel mine and received serious leg injuries, losing the element of surprise. The Argentines responded with mortar, artillery and machine gun fire, which fortunately was somewhat inaccurate. Five Platoon was in good cover behind the rocks and Four Platoon raced forward through the minefield to close the enemy. Six Platoon made contact at the same time, having occupied Fly Half without any fighting, but having grenaded a number of bunkers on their way through. In the dark they missed a bunker and the enemy within opened fire in the Platoon's rear inflicting some dead and wounded before they were dealt with.
Six Platoon now advanced through Fly Half and came under accurate fire suffering eight casualties, four of them fatal. The Platoon commander asked to be allowed to pause to reorganize and treat the wounded. This was granted but he was informed that he might have to move forward to support Four and Five Platoons with fire support. Four Platoon had moved up on the left of Five Platoon and one of its sections had become intermingled with the other platoon for a while. Five Platoon came under heavy fire from Argentine machine guns as they advanced up the hill. A GPMG team was pushed farther up the rock face to fire into the enemy positions and the Argentine GPMG was taken out with 66mm LAWs and 84mm MAW fire. Enemy fire now came from the 0.50in Browning further east and was dealt with by a section attack. The gun group gave covering fire as Privates Gough and Grey charged forward and grenaded the position. At this time Four Platoon was still to Five's left and slightly to the rear but was engaging targets to Five's east and above Five's forward elements.
Pictured right is L/cpl John Kennedy. One our readers wrote to us recently saying : The man holding the drip on Mount Longdon ( in the regimental aid post) deserves a mention he was an excellent battalion medic who helped save many lives as did all the battalion medics including Chris Lovett who was killed administering first aid, the medic in the photo is L/cpl John Kennedy.
The two platoons arrived at an area forward of the summit of Fly Half where the rock ridges started to break up and the ground began to slope away to the east, while the Full Back feature could be seen in the distance. Both platoons came under fire immediately. Their immediate problem was a well-sited platoon position reinforced with at least two FN MAG 7.62 GPMGs, a 105mm Recoilless gun and a 0.50in heavy machine gun. The position also had a number of snipers equipped with passive night sights. The commander of Four Platoon had been hit in the thigh in the initial burst of fire and the signaller of that platoon had been hit in the mouth. They continued to fire from their position and the signallers carried on transmitting until relieved some time later. It was while attempting to take out the heavy machine gun that Sergeant Ian McKay VC was killed. McKay and his team managed to reduce the enemy resistance but failed to neutralize the gun.
From the start of the advance, the artillery guns had been firing on recorded targets from Fullback while the guns and mortars had been pounding the targets throughout the action with rounds landing sometimes only 50 yards away from their own troops. The Battalion commander had also arrived by this time and had brought a fire support group under Major Peter Dennison, which had occupied a position on the summit of Mount Longdon and was bringing down fire on the enemy further east along the ridge.
B Company HQ was in an OP overlooking the enemy position and was laying heavy automatic fire on them. Everyone available plus artillery and mortars provided covering fire for the withdrawal from contact of the two platoons. The casualties were recovered and one fatality was sustained during the withdrawal as well as several minor casualties, with the withdrawal supervised by the company sergeant major.
A left flanking attack was mounted on the 50-cal position supported by machine gun fire from the summit of the mountain and mortar and artillery fire. Four and Five Platoons were merged into a composite force and accompanied by a small group from Company HQ, they approached along the route just used for the withdrawal as this was known to be clear of mines. They moved up the ridge to the north and waited while the final fire for effect hit the enemy positions. As the artillery moved east, the composite force moved forward and immediately came under fire from point blank range, having only gone some 30 yards. The muzzle flashes could be seen by company HQ but not the Platoon. The commander ordered the artillery to fire a 66mm round at the position to identify the target. The Platoon commander was still not sure where the fire was coming from and extracted himself and his radio operator while being covered by his rear section throwing grenades, which silenced the position. No more fire came from the position, so the Platoon commander and a rifleman both fired 66mm LAWs into the position and ran forward firing their rifles. Three enemy dead were found immediately and more after first light.
The 50-cal had been quiet for some time and it was hoped it had been neutralized. As B Company left cover to move forward they came under fire from two flanks, one from a position further east than the 50-cal and the other from the northeast where a number of enemy trenches were known to be. It was decided to move back and up onto the ridge and try and come at the enemy from behind. As this move was being carried out more fire came down, causing three more wounded. B Company's numbers were now critical and it was decided to pass A Company through to continue the action eastwards.
A Company approached their objective from the north, coming under increasingly accurate fire from the Argentine positions at the east of the feature due to a lack of cover. They moved forward to a series of peat banks with One Platoon to the left and Two Platoon on the right. Tac HQ was behind One Platoon and Company HQ to the left and rear. Three Platoon was on the right rear. Seeking the peat banks cost the Platoons their first casualties. The initial Argentine fire had been into planned defensive position and soon began to adjust to indirect fire back onto A Company and C Company positions. A Company could not move forward across the very open ground without sustaining more casualties from the accurate machine gun and sniper fire from the very high ground to their front. A Company pulled back and moved round to the western end of the mountain, passing back through B Company to assault Full Back from the west.
B Company's attack had established that outflanking the Argentines from the north would be too costly. A Company decided to attack along the ridge and Company HQ Support Group moved forward to position their GPMGs to cover the advance. The Forward Observation Officer began to call down artillery fire on the enemy positions. The Platoons moved across the ridge crawling on their stomachs towards the Argentine positions. The advance was slow and under accurate enemy fire. The lead section had to use all their own and the following sections, 66mm LAWs and grenades despite the covering fire as they moved forward. As the third section of the leading platoon crossed the crest, the enemy began to withdraw. As One Platoon followed Two Platoon over the crest the supporting fire stopped to prevent friendly fire casualties. The Two Platoon fixed bayonets and proceeded to clear the Argentines with bullet, grenade and bayonet. As the Platoons advanced more of the enemy withdrew and the support groups engaged these.
After a ten-hour action, Mount Longdon was in British hands. Daybreak brought a heavy mist that shrouded the mountain from Argentine guns as the Companies were reorganizing on the mountain. The cost of victory had been high, as the Paras had lost 23 killed and 47 wounded, 8 being killed in the actual battle and the rest during the following 36 hours of shelling. The Argentine casualties had been much higher. The mist later cleared and Argentine guns claimed six more lives and many wounded on Mount Longdon. The picture on the right shows Lance-Corporal James being lifted from 3 Paras forward aid post at the base of Longdon. The 3rd Parachute Battalion suffered the most losses for a single unit lost with 23 killed during the Battle of Mount Longdon and two days of shelling.
Shown right is a picture of Lance Corporal James being lifted by two other paras, Lcpl Stephon Bishop is on the left of the picture.
3 para on Longdon, the man on
the right is Vince Bramley authur of Excursion to Hell
3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment
The Memorial on Mount Longdon
The above photo Shows the Memorial Cross to the members 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment who lost their lives during the battle for Mount Longdon The Memorial cross stands on Mount Longdon
Is a close up of the plaque on the cross. It reads:
IN MEMORY OF THE TWENTY THREE NON COMMISSIONED OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS SERVING WITH THETHIRD BATTALION THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES ON MOUNT LONGDON11 - 13 JUNE 1982
We are very grateful to Mr. John Belcher who kindly sent us these photos he took while stationed in the Falklands while serving with the RAF
Further suggested reading on the Battle for Mount Longdon