Mysterious Balaclavas on South Georgia May 3, 2016Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
In 1982 Argentina invaded two British possessions the Falklands (2 April) and South Georgia (19 March). The British, under a determined Margaret Thatcher, sent a task force to retake the islands, something that was finally achieved 14 June of that year. The deadly struggle between the two sides included many moments of tragedy: all too many pointless, but also moments of tragi-comedy. We come to the Britons’ battle with balaclaved men on South Georgia.
25 April, the British began an approach to South Georgia, something that got underway with the crippling of an ancient Argentine submarine, the Santa Fe. In an improvised attack – the British decided to disembark immediately rather than await reinforcements, suspecting that the tiny Argentine garrison had been taken by surprise – 72 Britons were put ashore in the early afternoon to deal with twice as many Argentine troops.
This would be the first real test of British versus Argentine infantry and the British were confident that they would rapidly overrun the enemy: the British were a put-together force of SAS, marines and SBS, among the finest fighters in the world at that date. However, their commanding officer a Major Guy Sheridan was bewildered on approaching the garrison to see that the enemy were mustering on the hillside above the Brits. The ‘Argies’ had come out to fight: their balaclavas were visible. No one had expected this kind of forthrightness.
The British, with a new respect for the enemy, immediately hit their Argentine opposite numbers with everything they had: machine gun fire and Milan missiles, anti tank weapons that could though do serious damage to infantry and that would demoralize an inexperienced foe. The British troops then immediately charged the ‘Argies’: hoping that the defenders would be knocked off balance and, in fact, they were rewarded with no answering fire.
The reasons for this was not Argentine inexperience, however, but a British miscalculation. It transpired that the balaclaved heads were not human! The crack UK troops had just unleashed hell on a small colony of elephant seals whose claims to South Georgia were infinitely more convincing than those of either Great Britain or Argentina. Some of the world’s finest soldiers had just, in fact, massacred what amounted to a native petting zoo. In fact, the only casualties in the South Georgia campaign were an Argentinean (who died because of a stupid misunderstanding after the surrender of the Argentine garrison), another Argentine who lost a leg, and half a dozen seals.
Source: Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, The Battle for the Falklands (1983), 154. I also examined some other sources but was unable to read Sheridan’s Taxi to the Snow Line (if anyone has the relevant passage… drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com)
5 May 2016: Bruce T on a very unlikely bayonet rumour: ‘Didn’t Sheridan order his men to fix bayonets for that famous charge? I vaguely recall a reporter critical of the war writing that possibly the last bayonet charge in British military history would go down as being against a bunch of seals. That war was looked at bit differently on this side of the Atlantic than it is in the UK. More than a few Americans were on the fence in that one. Americans are always wary of European powers knocking around in the Western Hemisphere. Here the war was largely regarded as a pissing match over a group of God forsaken islands down there somewhere, fit only for sheep and penguins.’
Perhaps Bruce remembers the US press taking a dig at the Brits?