Monday, 30 April 2012

The Falklands War - SBS Operations

SBS Operations in the Falklands

As the task force set sail from Britain in April 1982, to reclaim the Falklands, the Special Boat Service was already reaching the scene. At the time of the Argentine invasion, the SBS was engaged in winter exercises in northern Norway, 40 Commando was training at home, 45 Commando in Scotland and another company was in Brunei. 42 Commando was the only unit to go to Norway because of stringent cost cutting.

The SBS, returning from Norway, were due to go on leave as soon as they returned from Norway, but instead, their departure was blocked the night before the invasion, as the SBS OC, made the assumption that there could be trouble any second. The following morning his fears were confirmed and all his units were alerted to standby.

Within 24 hours of the signal ordering the SBS to stand to, on the 1st April, the SBS were on the move.

First came 2 SBS, setting off with a strong command team by air to Ascension Island, where they would catch either HMS Spartan or HMS Splendid to take them south. However, the plan was aborted en route and 2 SBS was picked up by RFA Fort Austin. At Ascension, D Squadron, SAS, joined them, bringing the force up to a combined total of around 50 men. M Company, 42 RM Commando, soon joined them. The men were at sea before they learned that South Georgia was their intended destination.

6 SBS joined HMS Conqueror at Faslane and set off for the South Atlantic. 3 SBS was the last section to leave, deployed aboard RFA Stromness with a further 12 men joining at Ascension. 1 SBS remained in Poole to deal with any emergency and Special Forces liaison groups.

South Georgia

The assault on South Georgia was codenamed 'Operation Paraquat'. On the way the SBS and SAS tested their equipment and practiced launching from Fort Austin. The elderly outboard motors failed often, and the men found themselves having to paddle back to the ship in these practices.

On 12th April, Fort Austin sighted HMS Endurance, and over the next day the SBS and SAS men heading for South Georgia were cross-decked to HMS Endurance along with their stores, equipment, boats, and supplies for the Endurance. Two Wessex helicopters helped with the shipping. HMS Endurance and Fort Austin were joined by HMS Antrim, HMS Plymouth and RFA tanker Tidespring. The reoccupation of South Georgia was planned aboard HMS Antrim; Endurance would put the SBS ashore at Gryviken and King Edward Point, with the SAS landing at Fortuna Glacier to reconnoitre Leith Harbour, Stromness and Grass Island. For more details see 'Operation Paraquat'.

'Paraquat' concluded with a landing of a 75-man strong force made up of SAS, SBS and Royal Marines from Antrim, which was only half the strength of the Argentine garrison. When the force reached the Argentine garrison at Grytviken, the entire place was covered in white sheets and the Argentineans surrendered.

'Operation Corporate'-The Recapture of The Falkland Islands

The 6 SBS from South Georgia joined 3 SBS in the advance fleet. The SBS would reconnoitre three separate areas of the Falklands and maintain patrols in advance of the main landings.

In addition to being in enemy controlled territory, the SBS had to send reports by Morse code instead of radio, and the beach recce reports and charts had to be delivered in person as these were far too complex for sending by Morse code. Sea King Mk 4 helicopters were used to fly the patrols in, although occasionally the Geminis were used to go ashore. Helicopter movements were only carried out at night, and once dropped off, the SBS teams dug into the coverless hillsides and remained hidden for days at a time, as the Argentine forces searched for them.

As the conflict progressed, the SBS had teams scattered throughout the islands, with patrols deployed to various locations for up to a week at a time before withdrawing to report and then being inserted to another location.

The teams usually numbered four men who, once landed, would proceed on foot to their observation side, lying up in temporary hides during the daylight hours. A trio of hides would be built, one for the men and the other two for the substantial supplies necessary for a seven-day recce.

Although the Argentine forces came close to discovering SBS patrols on numerous occasions, the worst incident of all was when two men went missing from a patrol, which caused concern to SBS control. The two corporals were part of a team that ran into an Argentine patrol and were split up, although they avoided actual contact with the patrol. The two corporals followed their procedures and were eventually, seven days later, picked up and returned to the ship.

The Argentine fish factory-ship provided another SBS task, 2 SBS were despatched to board and apprehend the vessel, but while they were en route, the ship was attacked by two Harriers and was listing badly by the time the SB arrived and boarded her. The SBS discovered charts and operational orders before setting charges, rescuing the crew, and blowing up the ship. The seized orders showed she had been shadowing the British fleet.

Immediately prior to the San Carlos landing, an Argentine company moved into the area and the SBS were tasked with clearing them out before the landing. Using a thermal imager, the SBS located the Argentineans from one of Antrim's Wessex helicopters and HMS Antrim bombarded the target with 4.5-inch naval shellfire for two hours, while the Wessex landed the SBS nearby. The SBS then moved in, calling for the Argentines to surrender, but receiving only gunfire in response. The SBS gave them one more chance to give up before moving forward, killing twelve, wounding three, and taking nine prisoners. The Argentineans had been on Fanning Head manning anti-tank guns and mortars, which would have been able to inflict damage on the British landings if they had not been put out of action. The remainder of the company were in Port San Carlos, sheltering in houses and were not discovered until after the landings began; two Royal Marine Gazelles were shot down by these Argentineans as the landings started.

The landings went on unopposed and on the north coast, by Port Salavdor Water, 6 SBS from HMS Fearless was inserted to establish a forward base on Green Island ahead of the Commando's advance. The section carried out reconnaissance of Port Louis and Green Patch before the Commandos arrived. 2 SBS joined them and operated in the Teal area, guiding 3 Para into Teal, before moving on to observe an enemy company on Long Island Mountain.

These operations were followed by the SBS removing an enemy observation post, during which one member of the SBS was killed in a friendly fire incident. This resulted in closer cooperation, the SBS team leader having strayed onto the SAS's Green Patch operational zone.

The SBS continued its operations, scouting West Falkland for enemy bases and airstrips.

Pebble Island

An Argentine force was located on Pebble Island numbering between 30 and 50 men. The SBS planned an attack with 36 men and two Harriers, however the raid was overtaken by the Argentine surrender at Port Stanley. An SBS major took the surrender of  Pebble Island and its 112-strong garrison.

Final Action

As the main force advanced on Stanley, the SBS and SAS shared a joint action. On 12th June, 2 Para attacked Wireless Ridge, while five miles west of them a six-man team from 3 SBS formed a volunteer raiding party with D and G Squadrons SAS, to divert enemy attention from the main thrust by creating a diversionary assault from the sea. The task was unplanned and a spur-of the-moment operation.

The SBS team spent a day in an observation post, before moving across the Murrell River in Rigid Raiders with a troop from D Squadron, SAS, which were driven by men from the Royal Marines 1st Raiding Squadron. The raiders were hidden off Kidney Island until they were ready for the assault.

On the night of 13-14th June, the men approached the target area, bypassing the berthed Argentinean hospital ship Bahia Paraiso. As they did so, the hospital ship turned on its searchlights, spotting the raiders and opened fire with everything they had, certain they faced a full-scale sea borne assault.

The raiders withdrew, with one of the craft badly damaged. The raiders reached the shore, with an SBS corporal and two SAS troopers having been wounded. The effort provided the needed diversion for 2 Para and saved some lives by diverting Argentine attention from the Para's assault.

Raids on the Argentine Mainland

Additional SBS operations, beyond those mentioned above, remain outside of the public area at this time.

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