As Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike, YOU must lead British paratroopers to seize a key position held by Argentine defenders.
In April 1982, an undeclared war broke out in one of the world’s most unlikely places – the remote, windswept Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Although the Falklands had been a British possession since 1841, Argentina had long claimed sovereignty over what it called the “Islas Malvinas.” On April 2, an Argentine military expedition invaded the islands, quickly overcame resistance by a small number of British Royal Marines and civilian volunteer defenders, and began an occupation of the sparsely populated territory. A day after the Falklands invasion, Argentine forces occupied two other British possessions in the region, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
The British government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hastily assembled an amphibious force composed of two infantry brigades – 3 Commando Brigade and 5th Infantry Brigade – and dispatched them aboard a heavily reinforced carrier battle group on a more than 8,000-mile journey across the sea to recapture the lost territory. Over a month later, on May 21, the Royal Navy task force disembarked the infantry brigades in the sheltered waters of San Carlos Sound on the western side of East Falkland island.
The British forces quickly set about consolidating the beachhead area and bringing in more troops and equipment. During the first three weeks they endured numerous Argentine air attacks, and on May 28-29 they fought a pitched battle against determined enemy defenders to recapture Goose Green,situated south of the beachhead. The British effort then shifted 50 miles eastward, since the key to recapturing the Falkland Islands was to defeat the main Argentine occupation force deployed to defend Stanley, the Falklands’ principal town and administrative capital. After a long and difficult cross-country march over barren terrain in miserable weather, 3 Commando Brigade was prepared to launch what British commanders hoped would be the final, war-winning attack.
Armchair General® takes you back to June 11, 1982, on East Falkland island, where you will play the role of British Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike, commander of 3d Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 Para), a unit attached to 3 Commando Brigade. Your mission is to attack and defeat Argentine forces occupying Mount Longdon, dominant terrain whose possession by the enemy blocks any further British advance eastward to recapture Stanley.
Although 3 Commando Brigade units are conducting multiple attacks in the Falklands, seizing Mount Longdon is the most important objective for the British forces. With the British expeditionary force operating at the end of a tenuous 8,000-mile-long supply line and Royal Navy task force ships coming under devastating air attacks, bringing the war to a rapid conclusion is vital – and doing that depends on the success of your mission.
Set in the South Atlantic, the Falkland Islands consist of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, and encompass a total land area of 4,700 square miles. While the Falklands are over 8,000 miles from Britain, they are only about 300 miles from the coast of Argentina and thus well within range of Argentine air bases.
Resembling the Scottish Highlands, the Falklands’ treeless terrain is generally hilly and rocky with sparse vegetation consisting of short grasses and small bushes. Numerous low mountains rise up to 2,000 feet and are surrounded by lower ground cut by small streams and gullies. While the high water table and rocky ground makes digging entrenchments problematic for both sides, the ubiquitous boulders and gullies provide effective cover for the Argentine defenders.
The islands have no improved roads beyond those in the few coastal settlements,and the isolated dirt tracks used by the islands’ sheepherders are incapable of supporting the movement of large troop formations or heavy vehicles. Thus, the troops must make exhausting, long-distance foot marches over difficult terrain while carrying all of their weapons, ammunition and equipment.
The climate is cold, wet and windy, and exacerbated at this time of the year (nearly winter in the Southern Hemisphere) by temperatures that hover near or below freezing. Heavy fog is common, reducing vision to only a few yards and thereby interfering with enemy observation and unit command and control. The frequent rain, driven by strong prevailing winds, often turns to sleet and, at higher elevations, light snow. The combination of inhospitable weather and difficult terrain makes for miserable conditions for everyone involved in the war.
The Parachute Regiment is one of the elite formations of the British army. A rigorous selection process and incredibly demanding training has produced tough, skilled and highly motivated paratroopers in whose combat abilities and fighting spirit you have the utmost confidence. You have been a Parachute Regiment officer for 20 years, and you took command of 3 Para in 1980 upon your promotion to lieutenant colonel.
Your battalion is composed of a headquarters element of 15 men; three 80- man parachute infantry companies, each divided into three platoons; and a weapons support company. Your paratroopers’ primary weapon is the semi-automatic 7.62 mm L1A1 self-loading rifle, a British army version of the Belgian FN FAL, the main battle rifle of several NATO countries and other nations around the world. Some of your paratroopers are armed with 9 mm Sterling submachine guns, and your officers carry 9 mm pistols.
In addition to small arms and hand grenades, each of your infantry platoons has three 84 mm recoilless rifles and three 7.62 mm L7 general-purpose machine guns. About 15 paratroopers in each infantry company also carry 66 mm light anti-tank weapons (LAWs). Although you will face no enemy tanks in this war, LAWs are highly effective at destroying enemy bunkers and strong points.
The weapons support company has six 81mm mortars, eight L7 machine guns, and a section manning Milan anti-tank wire-guided missiles. Like LAWs, Milans are effective at destroying bunkers and strong points, plus they have excellent thermal sights that make them particularly valuable for acquiring targets at night or in foggy conditions. Additionally, the battalion can call on the 105mm artillery fire of 79 Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, and the 4.5-inch naval gunfire of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Avenger steaming offshore. Weather permitting, you can also request airstrikes to be delivered by Royal Marine aircraft.
The defenders at Mount Longdon are generally armed with weapons similar to those of 3 Para. The standard Argentine army rifle is the 7.62 mm Belgian FN FAL,manufactured under license in Argentina.However, unlike your men’s L1A1s, the enemy’s weapons have a fully automatic mode and many are equipped with night vision scopes. Some Argentine soldiers also carry 9 mm submachine guns, and the enemy employs 7.62 mm Belgian FNMAG machine guns that are virtually identical to the British L7s.
Mount Longdon’s defenders are also supported by several .50-caliber M2HBBrowning heavy machine guns – exceptionally deadly weapons to which 3 Para has no counterpart. Other supporting weapons are similar to yours, including 105 mm recoilless rifles, 81 mm and 120 mm mortars, and105 mm artillery guns. Additional defensive means available to the enemy include anti-personnel land mines and RASIT ground surveillance radar that can detect troop movement to a range of 10 miles, although the Falklands terrain often limits that range to only one to five miles.
Weapons, however, are only as effective as the men who use them, and you along with many British commanders doubt the overall skill, training and morale of the Argentine soldiers your elite paratroopers face. Although Argentine army officers and noncommissioned officers primarily are long-serving professional soldiers, the enemy ranks are mostly manned by conscripts– many of them only 17 or 18 years old.While you are convinced that the conscripts will be no match for your men in combat,you must remember that they fought well at the Battle of Goose Green. At that clash,690 British paratroopers of 2d Battalion,the Parachute Regiment (2 Para), attacked about 1,000 Argentine troops, and the defenders killed 2 Para’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones, and inflicted over 80 casualties (killed and wounded).
Intelligence and patrolling by 3 Para over the last week has determined that Mount Longdon’s defenders number about 280 Argentine soldiers, most of them conscripts in B Company, 7th Infantry Regiment, backed by a platoon of Argentine marines. In addition, an Argentine special forces platoon atop nearby high ground known as Wireless Ridge has heavy machine guns, mortars and recoilless rifles that are within firing range of any British force attacking along the southern slopes of Mount Longdon. Although additional Argentine units are farther south occupying Two Sisters and Mount Tumbledown, they are to be attacked by other elements of 3 Commando Brigade.
Brigadier Julian Thompson, the Royal Marine who commands 3 Commando Brigade, has ordered your attack to be launched only hours from now, on the night of June 11. You therefore summon your company commanders to your headquarters tent to brief them on three courses of action you are considering. Once you have heard their frank assessments of each plan, you will choose one and order the battalion to implement it.
You open the meeting by familiarizing your officers with the terrain of Mount Longdon, the presumed size and capability of the Argentine force, and 3 Para’s mission. You explain that you have selected three terrain objectives on the mountain that the battalion must seize and have named them Wing Forward, Fly Half and Full Back after Rugby football positions. You stress that since this will be a night attack, you will be unable to call in airstrikes unless the combat lasts into the daylight hours of June 12 – and even then, airstrikes are possible only if the weather cooperates. You then launch into your explanation of your three different plans.
COURSE OF ACTION ONE: FRONTAL ASSAULT
“The first course of action,” you begin, “is to hit the enemy hard and fast with a surprise frontal assault. A Company will target the objective called Wing Forward and B Company will take Fly Half and then move across the top of Mount Longdon to seize Full Back. C Company will be held in reserve, prepared to reinforce the other two companies and, on order, extend our attack to target the enemy position on Wireless Ridge.
“Meanwhile, the weapons support company will establish a base of fire support and use everything at its disposal to engage the enemy targets once we have launched our surprise attack. Artillery and naval gunfire support will be called in as necessary to strike targets on the mountain and Wireless Ridge.”
Major Argue, commander of B Company, voices his approval. “Colonel,” he says, “given the superior training and morale of our paras, I think this plan is the quickest way to roll over the enemy positions and capture all our objectives in one bold rush. The element of surprise will give us an additional edge over the conscript soldiers, who are likely hunkered down just trying to stay warm.”
Major Collett, A Company’s commander, urges caution. “This course of action runs head-on into the strongest part of the Argentine defenses, which are focused on Mount Longdon’s western slope,” he warns. “If the conscripts show the same backbone that their comrades did against 2 Para at Goose Green last month, our lads could be in for a very rough time.”
COURSE OF ACTION TWO: FLANK ATTACK
“The next plan I am considering,” you continue, “is a flank attack against the north side of Mount Longdon conducted by all three infantry companies. A Company will lead off and seize Wing Forward, and then B Company will pass through A Company and take Fly Half. Meanwhile, C Company will capture Full Back and then, on order, continue on and seize Wireless Ridge.
“As in COA One, the weapons support company will establish a base of fire support opposite the west slope of Mount Longdon, and artillery and naval gunfire support will be on call to strike targets on the mountain and Wireless Ridge.”
Major Collett enthusiastically declares, “This is an excellent plan! It not only allows us to avoid the strongest defenses on the mountain’s western slope but also lets our attack proceed in a sector that cannot be hit by flanking fire from Wireless Ridge due to the intervening high ground of Mount Longdon.”
Major Argue, however, is not convinced. “Colonel,” he complains, “I think this plan wastes too much time, as it will take us several hours to get all three companies into their attack positions on the north flank. We’ll have to send them on a wide swing to the north to avoid detection by Argentine ground surveillance radar and any enemy patrols or outposts. I still favor the first plan – let’s get at ’em!”
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: DOUBLE ENVELOPMENT
“My final course of action,” you conclude, “is to hit the enemy on both flanks simultaneously with a double envelopment. A Company will strike the north flank and capture Wing Forward, and C Company will hit the south flank and seize Full Back. Once both of those objectives are secured, the two companies will converge on Fly Half to complete the capture of Mount Longdon. B Company,meanwhile, will be positioned in our center opposite Mount Longdon’s western slope to support both flank attacks with fire and to reinforce either company if necessary.
“As in COA One and COA Two, the weapons support company will establish abase of fire support to the west of Mount Longdon, and artillery and naval gunfire will be on call to engage targets on the mountain and Wireless Ridge.”
Captain McCracken, the battalion forward observer and principal fire support coordinator, sees problems with this plan. “Colonel,” he explains, “maneuvering two forces onto the objective from opposite directions severely complicates the coordination of our various fire support systems. Therefore, I strongly recommend against using this course of action. As our forces converge, the risk of friendly-fire casualties from the infantry companies’ small arms and my artillery, machine guns, mortars and naval supporting weapons greatly increases. This is the worst plan as far as providing effective fire support is concerned.”
Having heard enough feedback to make a decision, you end the discussion. “Gentlemen,” you announce, “thank you for your candid assessments of my three courses of action. Now, please return to your companies and prepare them for tonight’s attack. I will issue my orders forthwith. Good luck!”
What is your decision, Lieutenant Colonel Pike?
Andrew H. Hershey holds a doctorate in medieval history from the University of London. He contributes to the “USMC Gazette” and is a fourtime winner of its Tactical Decision Game design contests. He also designs World War II tactical-level wargames for Heat of Battle and Le Franc Tireur.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For further reading about the May 28-29, 1982, Battle of Goose Green, see You Command, January 2007 ACG. For more on Britain’s Parachute Regiment, see Great Warriors, July 2008 ACG.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.