CDG 67 – Falklands War Battle, 1982
The March 2015 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Falklands War Battle, 1982.” This CDG placed readers in the role of British Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike, commander of 3d Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 Para), a light infantry unit which was part of 3 Commando Brigade. Pike’s mission on June 11, 1982 was to attack and defeat Argentine forces occupying Mount Longdon. The mountain was dominant terrain whose possession by the enemy blocked any further British advance to recapture Stanley, the Falklands’ principal town and administrative center. With British forces in the Falkland Islands operating at the end of a tenuous 8,000-mile long supply line while Royal Navy task force ships supporting the campaign were receiving devastating air attacks from Argentina-based enemy warplanes, bringing the war to a rapid conclusion was vital – and the key to accomplishing that was seizing Mount Longdon.
The Falklands War had begun on April 2, 1982 when Argentina – which had long claimed sovereignty over the islands it calls “Islas Malvinas” – sent a military expedition which invaded and quickly occupied the Falklands. The British government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hastily assembled an amphibious force of two infantry brigades and dispatched them aboard a heavily reinforced carrier battle group on the long sea voyage to the South Atlantic to recapture the lost British territory. On May 21, the Royal Navy task force disembarked the infantry brigades on East Falkland Island and the fight to defeat the occupying Argentine force began.
After defeating Argentine defenders in the western part of East Falkland – the fighting included a pitched battle to overcome surprisingly stiff Argentine resistance at Goose Green on May 28-29 – the British effort shifted 50 miles eastward to defeat the remaining main Argentine force deployed to defend Stanley. After a long and difficult cross-country forced march over barren terrain in miserable weather, 3 Commando Brigade prepared to launch what British commanders hoped would be the final, war-winning attack on the night of June 11-12.
Although several 3 Commando Brigade units launched attacks that night, 3 Para’s attack to seize Mount Longdon was the most important British objective.
Lieutenant Colonel Pike, judging that the young Argentine conscripts manning the enemy defenses of Mount Longdon would prove no match for his superbly trained and highly motivated paratroopers, decided that the quickest way to seize the vital objective was to launch a two-company surprise frontal assault under cover of darkness to roll over the enemy defenses (COURSE OF ACTION ONE: FRONTAL ASSAULT). He assigned A Company to attack the Wing Forward objective on Mount Longdon’s northern slope and B Company to assault Fly Half on the mountain’s western slope. Once those objectives were seized, the attack would continue on, capturing the mountaintop, Full Back objective and, eventually, Wireless Ridge.
Pike held C Company in reserve, prepared to reinforce the other two companies if necessary. He placed the weapons support company (mortars, machine guns and MILAN anti-tank missiles) in a base of fire position along Free Kick stream to the west of Mount Longdon. The paratroopers’ night operation began at 10:15 p.m. on June 11 with a four-hour march to the companies’ attack position. But, after completing the exhausting approach march in the dark and in miserable weather around 2:00 a.m. on June 12, things began to go wrong for 3 Para.
The vital element of surprise was lost before the attacking companies were able to close with the Argentine defenders when one of B Company’s paratroopers stepped on a land mine. The mine’s explosion alerted the enemy to the attack and the defenders began engaging Pike’s paratroopers with a high volume of fire from small arms, recoilless rifles, mortars and machine guns (including .50-caliber Browning heavy machine guns for which the British had no counterpart). With difficulty, B Company paratroopers advanced over Fly Half objective; but in the dark and confusion they missed numerous pockets of Argentine defenders which continued to pour a heavy volume of fire on the British attackers. A Company’s attack was initially repulsed, causing Pike to lead C Company from its reserve position to take over the assault on Wing Forward objective.
The confused and costly combat, often fought at point blank range, raged unabated until dawn when the last Argentine defenders had been killed, captured or driven off Mount Longdon. The stiff defense mounted by the young Argentine conscripts proved an unpleasant surprise to Pike and his paratroopers — 3 Para’s casualties were 17 killed and 40 wounded, while Argentine defenders lost 31 killed and 170 taken prisoner (120 of them wounded).
All 3 Commando Brigade objectives were taken, but the Battle of Mount Longdon was the costliest in British casualties. However, with Mount Longdon and all of the dominant terrain west of Stanley secured by the British, the remaining Argentine forces faced an untenable situation. On June 14, the Argentine commander at Stanley surrendered, ending the Falklands War in a British victory.
ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: FLANK ATTACK or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles for a light infantry night attack. Unlike the historical course of action, COA Two concentrates all three light infantry companies for the strongest possible attack directed at a single point in the enemy defenses. This plan allows 3 Para to approach the objective from an unexpected direction and to avoid coming under fire from enemy weapons on Wireless Ridge. It also facilitates the unrestricted use of supporting firepower while preventing the enemy from employing all of its firepower.
Although it eventually ended in a hard-fought victory, the historical plan, COURSE OF ACTION ONE: FRONTAL ASSAULT, unnecessarily produced heavy casualties for 3 Para’s attackers. Seriously underestimating the fighting ability of the young Argentine conscripts defending Mount Longdon, Pike overconfidently launched a head-on frontal assault conducted by only two-thirds of his infantry strength at the strongest part of enemy defenses. Moreover, spreading the two companies across a wide area resulted in the attack lacking the concentration necessary to overwhelm enemy defenses at a vulnerable point.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: DOUBLE ENVELOPMENT diffuses battalion strength even more than COA One by isolating all three companies in three widely spread, non-mutually supporting positions. This plan complicates fire support and increases the risk of friendly fire casualties when the companies converge on the mountaintop in the darkness. Finally, this course of action exposes the right flank enveloping attack company to fire from enemy weapons positioned on Wireless Ridge.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
KEY POINTS FOR A LIGHT INFANTRY NIGHT ATTACK
- IDENTIFY advance route, obstacles and enemy positions via daylight reconnaissance.
- EVALUATE enemy strengths and weaknesses; don’t underestimate enemy fighting ability.
- REHEARSE all phases of the attack with key leaders or, time permitting, entire force.
- SURPRISE the enemy as to location, timing and strength of the attack.
- CONCEAL the attacking force from enemy observation as it moves to contact.
- CONCENTRATE attack force on the enemy’s most vulnerable point.
- SUBSTITUTE skillful maneuver for light infantry’s lack of heavy firepower.