The Battle of Goose Green

The British landings on East Falkland Island from the San Carlos Water went well despite Argentine air attacks that mauled the defending task force, and sunk a destroyer, a converted container ship, and two frigates. Unfortunately, the Battle of San Carlos was perceived as a defeat for the British in the international media. The Thatcher government needed a victory on land to compensate for the losses at sea.

The Argentine 12th Infantry Regiment outside of the towns of Goose Green and Darwin, just south of the landing site, became the target. The Argentine position at Goose Green was initially intended to be isolated and bypassed during the move on Port Stanley. However, the British convinced themselves that the Argentinians there could potentially threaten the landing site when the British began their attack east toward the capital. Despite the media woes, both the Thatcher government in London and the British command in the Falklands balked at the idea to attack, but they were finally won over by the commander of the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) Lt Col Herbert “H” Jones’ determination. During a period of conflicting orders on the 26th, Jones was heard saying in the command post, “I’ve been waiting twenty years for this and now some f*****g Marine has cancelled it.” Eventually, 2 Para was ordered to attack.

Aerial reconnaissance was unavailable and the details of the Argentine defense were provided by an infantry squad sent ahead of the main body and an SAS observation post to the east. They did an admirable job of identifying the main Argentine defenses and minefields in front of Goose Green and the small town of Darwin, but completely missed mutually supporting perpendicular trenchlines on the east side of the Darwin Hill saddle, and the two reserve companies around the airfield. Since their air transport and most of their vehicle transport was at the bottom of the San Carlos Water, 2 Para conducted a “yomp” or approach march of 13 miles with full kit across the cold, wet, and barren island to their assault positions, on the evening of the 27th. To make matters worse, the Argentinians were expecting them because the BBC announced to the world about the impending attack the night before.

In the early morning hours of 28 May 1982, the 690 paratroopers of 2 Para assaulted over the open terrain at the dug in positions of the 1100 Argentinian defenders of the reinforced 12th Infantry Regiment and supporting air force personnel manning anti-aircraft guns. The tough defense of Lt Col Italo Piaggi’s soldiers caused significant delays in the attack. Most British troops were pinned down with accurate direct and indirect fire, and many trenches had to be stormed and cleared at bayonet point. Lt Col Jones and his command group eventually moved forward to rally the men. He was killed early in the battle by fire from the unknown trenches on the east side of Darwin Hill while he personally assaulted a trench line. His command fell to his 2IC, Major Chris Creeble. It was through his calm leadership, and the leadership of several other junior officers and NCOs, that kept the attack from breaking down in the face of determined Argentine resistance. Had the Argentinians counterattacked in strength at any point in the battle, the British would probably have been defeated in detail.

By the early afternoon, 2 Para cleared Darwin and Darwin Hill of defenders, but the attack culminated in front of the town of Goose Green. Inside the town, were 600 Argentinian soldiers and 200 British civilians, and 2 Para was exhausted and disorganized. Via Argentinian POWs, Creeble asked for their surrender to spare the civilians in the town the inevitable airstrikes and artillery bombardment. LtCol Piaggi, with nowhere to withdraw to, agreed.

2 Para’s assault at Goose Green inflicted 190 Argentine casualties, and captured over 900 for the cost of 18 killed and 65 wounded. The Battle of Goose Green is the textbook example of a successful hasty dismounted infantry attack by a battalion sized force against a numerically superior enemy force in a deliberate defense.

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