A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.
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Mon, 27 Jun 2022 01:00
In the final phase of the battle for Port Stanley, the momentum of the initial assault continues as British forces assault Wireless Ridge and the Battle of Mount Tumbledown begins.
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Hello and welcome to Battleground the Falklands. I'm Saul David and with Patrick Bischerva I'll be talking about the final phase of the Battle of the Port Stanley. We ended last time at the epic fight on the three mountains surrounding the capital, London, two sisters and Harriet, which ended in victory for three parrots and the Marines of 45 and 42 commandos, all from three commando brigade. They're now exhausted and all have suffered casualties, heavy ones in the case of the parrots. The original idea had been that once they had taken their objectives they would exploit forward to the next features, but the battles have taken longer than expected and the night had not been long enough for them to advance further. While they're drawing bread, it's time for five brigade advancing along the southern flank to get into the battle, pushing across the low open ground and onto the next objective, mount, tumble down. The charges led by the spot's guards, they had arrived by ship at Bluff Cove on scale, unlike the four Welsh guards who were caught in the Sogalaead air attack, but they were still drying out and sorting themselves out. Communications would be gave headquarters work as usual in Shambolic. Now according to the plan that had been handled, they were supposed to advance on tumble down on the night of 12 June. That's a meudgetty after the three brigade battles. It was of course vital to keep momentum going, but it was still a big ask. They'd only just arrived and they needed at least a day to scope out the objective and to shake out as it's called that is to kind of get themselves in fighting order. Their CEO, Mike Scott, tells us now what happened when he discussed things with his commander, Bigadilla Tony. We were very chuffed to be selected to go. I'm somewhat to my surprise, but there we were and we weren't going to question it. There was a nasty suspicion that we were going to be the garrison troops when everybody else had won the war. I mean, if you've got the commanders and the parrots who were probably at least the best shot troops in the world, well quite clearly they were going to win. And then who was going to look after the fought consafews and who better than the footguards? Painting everything blue, red, blue, do double century outside government house. However, that was not at the forefront of our minds. We could be doing anything. So we trained as hard as we could as if our lives depended on it, which of course they did. So that was fine. Let's fast forward to the events after you arrived at Buffkova. Yeah. When did you first hear about your objective? 7th of June, I was summoned to Brigadier quarters and the Brigadier gave us a plan. I stress it was a plan. It wasn't an order. People later said, oh Mike, you disavaged your orders. It didn't. It was a plan. And the plan was for us to advance to contact a new military expression on the track leading from West to East into Stanley in daylight. And if Tumble Down hadn't been taken by the Gurkhas by patrolling whatever that meant, we were to wheel left and attack Tumble Down uphill in the daylight. I didn't say to the Brigadier at the time, I don't think this is a good idea. But I went back to my nearest and dearest, my company commanders, my operations officer, my machine gun officer and so on. I said, this is the plan. And they were absolutely horrified. Our patrols had found a minefield across the obvious track. And the Argentinians have read the same books that us, a minefield, is going to be covered with fire. Any obstacle has to be covered with fire. So the likelihood would be that they would have some ground troops the other side of the minefield. Plus they would have direct fire from Tumble Down with the heavy machine guns. And of course, mortars and artillery would have registered targets. And I said to the Sapa troop commander who I had with me, very good, very good, though. How long will it take to get the battalion through the minefield? And he said, all night. So we would have appeared the far side of the minefield in daylight under all sorts of aggravation from the Argentinians. Anyway, I said to my cronies, it's no good me going back to the Brigadier saying we're not for it. I've got to go back to him and say, with the greatest respect, sir, we've got another idea. So they put together the idea. It wasn't my idea. I don't have any original thought. But my job was to persuade the Brigadier. And the much better idea was for us to assault Tumble Down from the west at night, from the safety of the commandeers on Harriet and two sisters. And meanwhile, at the same time, put in a diversionary attack with some 30 men under Richard Bethel on the track into Stanley to make the Argentinians think, obviously, that was the way we're going to come, very obvious to them. And I went then back to the Brigadier, slightly in trepidation, because Brigadier can easily say to commandeers, do what you told, or get somebody else. Anyway, he agreed with a lacrity. I was then summoned on the twelfth of June, about the middle of the afternoon, down to a no group with the Brigadier. And he said to me, tonight's the night. And I got a sinking feeling that this is what was going to happen. At that stage, I knew from my gunner that the 105 guns have basically run out of ammunition, because they've been supporting the commandeer attacks on Harriet and so on. And they needed to be replenished. There was no way they had enough ammunition to support us. And I said to the Brigadier, could we have 24 hour delay, A to replenish the guns, and B, I've still got time, there were about two hours of light left. I can go back, get my company commanders, and they can get their battoon commanders up to the saddle between Harriet and Goat Ridge. And we can see Tommel done, and we can see to a certain extent our objective. Certainly the first phase, G company's objective, we can easily see, and then a bit of left flank, not the last company's route. But anyway, we could see the mountain. And we would then be neatly prepared. We would then have the day to sort ourselves out and attack that night, which was the thirties. I knew that the commanders in the parrots who were freezing on their mountains would be exceptionally miffed. That's a polite word of saying it. And so did the Brigadier, and he must have known that the general would not like it very much either, who were these idle guardsmen sitting around. But he agreed immediately. And so I then was able to whizz back, get hold of the company commanders up. We went to the, we flow up to the saddle, chatted to the Marine commanders on Harriet and Goat Ridge. And we could look over, and then they had time to bring up their platoon commanders and do the same with them. So we were all content, very happy. Got ourselves sorted out, laid out how we were going to our formation to attack that night, have a bit of food, make sure our ammunition was right up to scratch, and get ourselves really nicely balanced. So tell us about your tech. The attack went very well to start off with. G company, who was the leading company, got onto their position almost without a shopping fad to our immense surprise, because I had marked on my map, Argentinian heavy machine guns on their position. And then their flank took over and came up against very, very stiff opposition. And it was a very long night at that stage. One of the things which was brilliant was our radio communications. You know, we always complain about how we lose touch. I wasn't in touch with the diversionary attack because they were basically shielded by, aren't Harriet, but Richard Bethel got on with it, who's a highly, highly competent XAS officer. But I could talk to my company commanders, just like I'm talking to you now. And when they were rusting around, I could talk to their signolars, who I knew, for instance John Kissley's signol launched, Lance Corp will marry. And I could talk to him, like I'm talking to you now. We were held up then, and another problem was there was a rogue gun. I think that's what the artillery call it. There was one gun which they didn't know where it was firing. So they had to stop each gun and fire it individually. And the Ford observation officer with John Kissley then had to say where the round was landing. And of course, this is, again, what the gun is called, danger close. It's not a thing they're ever allowed to practice on training because it's right up as close as possible. And it was very good. The other great advantage was the naval gunfire support. Which is incredibly accurate. If you're a very ordinary, a level science person like me, higher ship, which is floating about, can fire so accurately. It was absolutely amazing. But of course, I didn't know anything about that. I mean, if you served in Germany and Northern Ireland, you don't actually have too much to do with naval gunfire support. But they were brilliant and that helped. But of course, they ran out of rinds at about one o clock in the morning and pushed off. So there we were. But left flank did an incredible amount. And really the whole hinge of the success of the Battle of Tumble Dine rested on John Kissley's shoulders, remarkable. And then about three or four in the morning, he'd pretty well cracked his bit. And right flank was Simon Price and Command, then took over. And pretty well polished it off by daylight. I was well to the rear. But what I could do rather than charging around in the dark, whether they would see me anyway, what I could do is, as I say, talk to them on the radio and encourage them and basically look after them on the radio. And that seemed to work. Nick Vorks who listened to our transmissions was very complimentary, but it's not what sort of tender voice they use in the command is. But so there it was. And so by. Something a bit more about that about how the difference in style. Yeah, he puts it, he says it sounded like as though people had just stepped out of the rolling closure and asked, or something like that. Well, that was Mike Scott. And it's good to hear, I think, him putting a point in favor of Tony Wilson and since Wilson's come in from quite a lot of stick, both then and since and during the podcast itself. And it's interesting that Wilson agrees very sensibly and very quickly to that crucial 24 hour delay and also the decision to launch the attack at night and not in daytime. You know, Mike Scott certainly thought that they were being sent down to the Fultons as a garrison force, but nonetheless doesn't take that granted decision. He puts it trainers if their lives depended on it, which of course it has it turned up in wood. And the battle that followed was really a huge test of any troops, who they elite forces like the Paris Lecremandos or regular, not quite the right word, but troops whose physical fitness is not as a paramount importance as it is for the other Paris Lecremandos. But they equipment so as incredibly well. And I think partly it's there, the late qualities of soldiers, but it's also got a hell of a lot as Mike says to do with the morale of the e class of the unit. Yeah, and you can see again from, you know, he makes the point, doesn't he? This very close bond, unusual in some senses, bond between the upper class officers landed gentry. I mean, my first book was about the Highland division and you very much had the same thing in 1940 where they would come from the landed classes and their men were just ordinary bloke working class bloke from cities. And yet by leading by example, they were able to gain the trust and the cooperation of their men in crucial battles like this. Yeah, I'm going to say that's illustrated by the casualty figures eight killed and 40 wounded on Tumbledown. And of those casualties, for 50% were officers, warrant officers, and then CO. So once again, we see this picture of a battle where decisions have been taken at a very low level battle willing choices are made by young men with no huge experience and they get the right one. So at the end of it, the Scotscars at level five were gay, proudly done themselves, proudly added another illustrious picture to their list of battle models. Yeah, and one name that's not mentioned, but any of the listeners who were around at the time of a remember the BBC documentary Tumbledown, that name is Robert Lawrence and Robert Lawrence was a young cartoon commander who actually in an interview very recently described going in with the bayonet himself, the bayonet breaking off in a trench when he's attacking an Argentinian and he am using the broken bayonet to dispatch the Argentinian. I mean, it's pretty grim stuff, but it absolutely illustrates that the platoon commanders were right up there at the point of the battle leading their men. Yeah, cold steel. I think that's the last time we'll ever hear that phrase used in connection with a British army battle. It should never say never, of course, in warfare, but it does have a very primitive, aftervistic feel to it. It's one of the commanders that coverage flanky was on, but anyway, John Kisley dispatched three Argentinians, one of them with the bayonets. He went on to become a Lieutenant General. He's rather a scholarly, distinguished figure. When one sees him, it's quite hard to put him in those circumstances. Now, another unit that added to their battle on us that night was the Blues and Royals, equipped with Scorpion and Simiter Armored Cars. Jeremy Thompson regretted not using them at Goose Green, and during the battle for Mount Tumble Down, a truth of Blues and Royals commanded by 23 year old Second Lieutenant Mark Corath played a key role. I was tasked to do a diversion attack below Mount Harris and my Tumble Down, and four Scots guards on that night of the 13th. I was going with Richard Bessel, Major Richard Bessel, who had an effect on the platoon of headquarters company. They were cooks and butterbusters, bosses, but we were going to make a diversion attack below, on the road below Tumble Down, and are, so before, Scots guards were to go up over the high ground. A diversion attack is always a dodgy thing, because we're doing exactly what the enemy assumed we were doing. There is that one metal road, so I mentioned between Bluff Cove and Tumble Down, off to the left, and a wonderful map, which you may or may not have. The metal roading from Bluff Cove to Stanley, Richard Bessel and I made a foot reky forward onto some rising ground, looking down that road onto a company of Argentine Marines, and they were well dug in just south of the road. And quite plainly, that was the access they expected us to take. Therefore, as we discovered previously, their artillery was very good with their DPS. So that high ground that we were on, which we had to get over, was almost inevitably going to be a DPS and a big one. And I could look down and see the mine boxes all over the place besides the road, but empty, they're lit sort of. So everywhere around there, I could assume was a minefield. And so my aim, therefore, was to lead from the front, because I knew exactly where I need to go, and really sort of used speed to get over that bridge down, where the road bent slightly off to the left. I could then do effectively a broadside onto the enemy company position, far Richard Bessel's chaps in, and then direct the fire onto my William beyond and make it clear that we were heading towards stand here, and that was the access they attacked. What actually happened, because nothing quite happened as planned in war, when we came to cross the start line, I got onto that high ground, and the day, the night turned the day with starshells absolutely everywhere, but along with those starshells, they came very, very accurate, 155, 105 artillery, and landing on our position, like two or three yards either side of the vehicles, and it's just extraordinarily accurate and very, very heavy far. Luckily, the storm could hit the bridge and so that absorbed the blast. But coming up that rise, on the top of the rise, I found there was a fucking great crater in the middle of the road, so I slammed on the anchors and had a quick scratch from my helmet and think what to do, because it was either a 155 round, which could well have been, oh, it was a blown culvert, it was inevitable that it was going to be mined either side, but I was pointing directly at the enemy at this time, at this point, and I needed to get further down to get that broad side effect that I wanted to achieve. So I remember just telling my kind of driver to bat down the hatches and left stick, every minute and a half, three or four meters into the rubble, when I hit a bandit tank mine, and we were blown so four or five feet in the air. We got away with this, none of us, and I called it to a crewman and they were both fine. The family is the wrong word, they were distinctly rattled, but they were alive, so I got them onto the vehicle, walked them down the tracks and two of them did just get the hell out of it, just disappeared on the road out of the artillery bomb barbed. And I then brought the other vehicles up, one at a time to where I could direct them to far on the enemy position, and just to kind of find the vehicle or far out as men and the shells came in, I just jumped into a ditch, which was a very handy ditch, but it was thinking back, it was just a bloody dangerous, this is the truth of it. And I'm thank God for adrenaline, really. But anyway, we fired onto the positions until I reckoned that as possible that Major Bessel and his law could be getting close to the company position when I direct the fire into William. So yes, it was a very successful attack. Unfortunately, Major Bessel lost a couple of men there and they got in and amongst the company position, then when withdrawing, had a couple of people hurt with anti pass no mind. So it was sad in that respect, because otherwise it was fighting can extremely successful the version of attack. Well that was staring stuff from Mark Corath, who went on to say that the blues and rolls had earlier done good work in an anti aircraft role at Bluff Cove, shooting down at least one Piccara aircraft and helping to ferry casualties to hospital. Anyway, in part two, we're going to be looking at the final battle of the war as it turned out, the action on wireless ridge, which looks down directly over standing from the north. And this is where two par are going to action for the second time. Welcome back. Now while the Scots guards were hard at it on tumbledown, two parrow were assaulting the Argentine positions on wireless ridge. Now this is the high ground that looks out the cross Stanley harbour to the capital. This is the second battle of course, the two parrow fought. The first was a goose screen where their COH Jones was killed. And then now under the command of David Chandler, who was flying a desk at the Minister of Defence in London when the war broke out. So it's server allowing the highly competent seconding command Chris Kebel, who really had taken control at the Battle of Gusegrener after Colonel H was killed, gripped it as they would say in military parlance, and then got on to with it handsomely instead of giving him the command. The decision was made to insert Sean Glad to take over. In the most dramatic fashion imaginable, he was flown by C133 Hercules from Ascension to the skies over the Fultons, a journey that took 18 hours to use the nutritious weather and required two inflied refuelings. He then jumped at the aircraft, parrhoes it into the scene, being the hope that he would be picked up by a small boat which could send out from one of the destroyers. Incredibly, the plan actually worked out and he was picked up, taken the shore and sent it take over. What I love about that story, Patrick, the parent is the first time Chandler had ever parachuted into the sea and he did this in the freezing cold South Atlantic. I mean, it was fraught with danger, almost courting disaster, but as you say, he got away with it. Now, when he actually arrived in the Fultons, there were no complaints about his leadership. Here's Julian Thompson's assessment of his handling of the battle. I laid out the axis of advance to avoid standing, you theory. So I said, you know, you're going to go that way, you're going to go that way. I knew that he'd well, that if they open up on it, she was standing there, he had to go and fight that. I mean, I off full the Argentines, he'd hit their 155 guns in standing. They hit a lot of their kids in standing. I don't think there had any compunction about fighting in standing there. They decided to, and we had to afford the back. So it would have been a disaster had we had to fight in standing, killing all people we'd come to rescue. And of course, this was a combined attack by Fibregade on Tumble Down, on My Brigade, two parrots on Wattis Ridge. It's coming in, Pinser attack, where the Wattis Ridge from the north and Tumble Down coming in from the west. And the battle on Wattis Ridge was a textbook battle, brilliantly fought by two parrots. They had plenty of fire support, they had two ships in support. I had the equivalent of two batteries plus two batteries of 105's plus their own mortars, plus three parrots mortars had machine gun battuum. And they also had the advantage of using the CVRT, the light tanks, which you couldn't have used on the other features because they were too rough. But here the Wattis Ridge is a rolling country, not as steep as the other places. And David Chawne, the fort, beautifully coordinated battle, which was interrupted, I have to say, or nearly interrupted by a call for help by the SS, who decided to have a sort of last minute free throw attacking some oil tanks in stand. Why you want to attack an oil tanker about to take capturing any idea? And if they were joined by the SPS in this last hurrah and the raiding squadron, who were then fired on by a gun mounted on a hospital ship, please or not, causing a lot of casualties. And so they asked the help. And I went back into my CP, having been out from it, to see my, well here my jealistar talking to the SASLO, saying, bloody special forces, you think the whole world's got to stop for you until you will go to your rescue when we can, which won't be right now. So I wasn't in order to stop going that way and go off into the blue at night to find some chaps who'd been wounded some five or six thousand meters away. I mean, we had absolutely tailor made from blue and blue. So it was a diversion, but a slightly unwelcome one. Julian Thompson, they're giving once again a slightly lukewarm tribute to the forwards of special forces. Yes, you very much get a sense that for Thompson in particular, he's not highly appreciative of the SASL's determination to get involved whenever they can. In fact, he describes it as an unwelcome distraction rather than the key parts of the plan. And I think we can see a bit of a trend here with the SASL. Of course, they do some pretty credible things on the island, Pebble Island, the destruction of planes there, which we've discussed earlier. And one or two other things, but they also get themselves into a bit of trouble. And this is another good example of that. Of course, it's interesting that the SPS are also involved in this. And it goes horribly wrong for both groups. Yeah, for all the kind of terrible qualities of the SASL meant to possess, there is a tendency to when in doubt blow something up or shoot something, without actually thinking through whether this is any great value for the overall military purpose. And I think we see a little bit about there. There's also, I mean, the criticism of the SAS, I think it's also something to do with the place they hold in the public's imagination. I was at this gathering which I mentioned before, down at the foot of 420, I'm not sure if you can remember the victory on Mount Harriet a little while ago. And people were making some rather skeptical remarks about the SASL there. But I think it's not so much what they achieved. It's this sort of slightly contradictory stance they have of pretending to be tremendously secretive. Well, at the same time, managing to who wrap vast amounts of publicity. Yeah, I mean, this very much is something that you've got from the Second World War. It's interesting there's been a new biography of the founder of the SAS, David Sterling, which pretty much takes him down. It says he was a great one, feeling other people's thunder. Paddy Maim was the real half of the original operations of the key to a lot of the early success. And after Maim's death, Sterling pretty much steals a lot of the credit. And you just wonder if the ethos that was begun by Sterling is somehow seat at least into some of the modern SAS. Yeah, it's interesting. It's gathered more than that was the author of this book. And it's quite a bold thing to do to take on this iconic figure. But I think he's approached his pretty fair. I would even actually take a little bit of issue about Paddy Maim. Paddy Maim was an amazing soldier, but I think he was also, I think in other circumstances, he might well be classified as an associate, but certainly more peacetime, but in both famous, he just couldn't exist in a peaceful trunk or situation. He's a very dangerous man, both to the enemy, but also to those around him. So there's something very theatrical about the SAS from the outset. And something slightly suspect about the motivations, I think, of the founding fathers. And in particular, the case of Sterling, who by all accounts was a pretty hopeless, regular soldier, and war brings great opportunities. So it becomes a sort of playground for people like him. Some of them turn into a great success as he did in terms of reputation. Others go a right and end up dead or disgraced. Yeah. Now, one other thing we should mention to give the SAS some credit, actually, is their role in trying to prevent a civilian massacre in Stanley. I mean, the real fear of the military commanders, we've already heard Julian Thompson mention it, is that the fighting would have actually gone on into Stanley if the Argentines had kept fighting right to the end. And so to try and prevent this, to give him his due, Mike Rose, the CO of 22 SAS in the Falklands, and Rod Bell, the Spanish speaking, Rohmereen Officer, managed to get on to the open radio link to someone called Alison Blini, who was where hospital in Stanley. And through her, urge the Argentinians, who they know are listening in, who spared the civilians. But that's far, of course, there's been no response from the Argentinians. It was very easy actually, living down on Stanley, that these flimsy buildings to imagine all sorts of horrors if the Argentinians didn't see sense and do the decent thing. You could very easily picture a scene where the civilians tried to flee in a bit of a battle with horrendous consequences. So really a great concern, live concern at that time. Okay, we've had the overview of the battle from Julian Thompson. We're now going to hear from the ground up from someone we've heard from before, Spud Ealy. He gave us an incredibly graphic account of goose green. And now he tells us of his memories that night of the attack on wireless ridge by graphically describing the effect the massive fire support Tupara had on the defenders. Well, wireless ridge was a second battle, Tupara fought. It was only battalion that actually fought two battles in that war. See, companies were objective was a small pimple to the left of wireless ridge. Wireless ridge was generally taken by decomptly Tupara. But my was small pimple. The SES were meant to put an attack in which they did across the bay by Stanley to take away our attack so they would alert another position. But this little pimple, we've got the top fixed bay in it. And you could hear the Argentinian voices again on top of my phone. Oh my god, we're not going to survive this. It's just absolutely crazy. We got up there and to hear the last of the Argentinians run off. Come first light. We then traversed across wireless ridge decomptly had basically taken it. We had full support by them. We had simulators and scorpions giving covering fire. So it was a typical attack on a fixed mountainous location. And they bombarded it. They 105 packed how it's just softened up the target. And what I remember is seeing the dead bodies of the arges. There was one that had been cut by this sliver of rock. This sliver of granite, I think it was something similar, something hard in the shop. About 30 foot long this was. This rounded completely split it and cut this poor argy in half. And his torso was just cut clean like you would do in our surgical knife. There was bits of bodies all over the ridge. Not many survived. First light, we saw them running down towards Moody Brook. We took the odd pot shot. Yes, we did. Yeah, can't deny that because you don't know if they're going to go down in really group. That's the point, if people don't understand, they could be running away, but they could be running away, get down into cover and then start an attack again or we group. I think there's a fair point. Don't you saw okay, the enemy's running away, but he could very easily turn around a counter attack. Yes, I do think it is. It reminds me interesting enough of some of the stuff that was going on in the Pacific in the Second World War. I've just written a book about the Marines, that is the US Marines fighting that. And you see again and again this situation, they take a feature, the enemy in this case, the Japanese retreating and they're taking pot shots of them as they go. You know, it's justified, but there's also an element I think where it almost becomes a bit of sport. You get enormous numbers of Marines in the case of the Pacific actually firing a single guy just trying to get back to his lines. And there's one infamous incident where an officer comes up and tries to put a stop to all of this, thinks it's really out of order. And he's almost fracked, that is, US parlance for taking out by his own members. They're so furious that he's literally stopping their sport. Yeah, in another theater, thinking about the strategic bombing campaign in Europe led by the RAF and the Americans. When I was researching Dresden and trying to work out how it came to occupy this place as a sort of semi war crime in the ISF, some sort of war, committed by the Allies, I counted this argument. They're willing to be going to attack this city when the war is almost over. The end is in sight. And to which the answer is, but of course, that's how it looks now, but it was certainly not the case then. The Germans were fighting with the same determination when they were attacking in defense. They were just as fierce, just as ruthless. All this pointless expenditure of life using in the ground. And so nothing could be taken for granted. So for me, that's not really valid argument at all. Either it's a practical war or a moral level. Yeah. So I think in this specific case of two Paranagel, Ely's comment about shooting it guys were drawing. Well, if it happens, of course, it's absolutely right. There is a chance that they're going to regroup and start fighting again. And we should also remember that these are the Paris, the Paris and the Marines, they are toughest assault troops. They are trained to be aggressive. They've had it drummed into them. You keep going, you keep momentum going. This in their minds would have just simply been the same part of that equation. You keep going until the campaign is over. Okay, well, that's it for this week. Join us next time to find out how Julian Thompson got his wish and avoided a strictly battle to take far