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Bolia RS, Jul-2005. The Battle of Darwin - Goose Green, Military Review

Bolia RS, Jul-2005. The Battle of Darwin - Goose Green, Military Review

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Published by: Foro Militar General on Jun 20, 2012
Copyright:Public Domain


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July-August 2005
The Battleof Darwin-Goose Green
Robert S. Bolia
FFICERS STUDY the history of past battles to learn how to be better command-ers. Yet more often than not, military history isthe study of failures rather than successes. Mostinteresting battles have been close affairs, in thesense that, at least at one point in the action, vic-tory might have gone to either side. In many of these battles, the final result was decided not somuch by what the winner did right, but by whatthe loser did wrong.For example, the rapid, decisive character of thevictory of Prussia over France in 1870-1871 owedas much to the French’s incompetence as to theGermans’ superior tactics. The same can be saidof many of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’svictories over Union armies in the American CivilWar or of Israeli victories in 1948, 1956, 1967,and 1973. Indeed, it would probably not be muchof an exaggeration to suggest that battles in whichthis was not the case are the exception rather thanthe rule.The Falklands War between Argentina and GreatBritain was not one of the exceptions. Although theinvasion of the Falkland Islands began well enoughfor the Argentines, most subsequent operations didnot. Despite being thousands of miles from their nearest base, the British were able to mount anunopposed amphibious landing at San Carlos, winevery land engagement, and maintain air superior-ity throughout the campaign. While the Argentinesdid have some successes, including sinking at leastsix British ships, these came at a heavy cost in pi-lots and aircraft to the Argentina Air Force (FuerzaAerea Argentina [FAA]) and Argentina Naval Avia-tion (Aviacion Naval Argentina [ANA]).
What is most interesting about the Falklandsconflict is that, based on commonly acceptedmilitary doctrine and the forces available in thetheater of operations, Argentina should not havelost so easily. From a strictly military point of view,an eventual British victory was inevitable, but itshould not have been such a walkover. Further-more, such a victory might have required a higher cost in human lives than the British public waswilling to pay, which might have led to a negoti-ated solution. Yet such a strategy of attrition couldnot succeed in the wake of repeated tactical andoperational failures.At least as interesting as the question of whyArgentina so easily lost the war is why British his-torians have failed to consider the conflict from theArgentine perspective. Saying that the British were better trained or had better tactics and doctrine isfine, but war depends as much on what an adver-sary does as on what one does oneself. Amongthe dangers inherent in failing to consider anadversary’s possibilities—even after the fact—arethe learning of inappropriate tactical lessons andthe complacency caused by overconfidence. Israel,for example, had fallen into both traps in the yearsleading up to the Yom Kippur War.
After the unopposed landing of 3 CommandoBrigade at San Carlos on 21 May 1982, the Britishoccupied the hills surrounding the settlement andconsolidated defense of the beachhead. Despitestrikes by the FAA and ANA that resulted in thesinking of four British ships, the Argentine Armymade no attempt to prevent the amphibious land-ing.
First among the many reasons for this wasthat they did not have land vehicles capable of traversing the terrain of the islands, which had fewroads. Second, British air superiority made it toodangerous to fly helicopters. Finally, a march wasout of the question: the nearest Argentine troopconcentration was at Goose Green, more than 20kilometers away.
By the time these troops reachedSan Carlos, the five British battalions would havealready adopted their defensive positions in thehills.Brigadier Julian Thompson, commanding thelanding force, ordered Lieutenant Colonel Herbert“H” Jones, commanding 2 Battalion, Parachute
July-August 2005
Regiment (2 Para), to plan a raid on Argentine positions at Darwin and Goose Green. These po-sitions, located on a narrow isthmus connectingEast Falkland with Lafonia, were of no strategicimportance for Thompson, whose objective wasStanley, the capital. However, his brigade wouldnot be ready to advance on Stanley for severaldays, and he wanted to use the time to “establishmoral and physical domination over the enemy,” asinstructed by Major General Jeremy Moore, whotook command of the land forces when he arrivedin the Falklands 2 weeks later.
Nevertheless, whenthey discovered how little artillery could be movedwith the helicopters available, the raid was calledoff. Thompson was not willing to risk a battalion by sending it without adequate artillery support ina raid that was not absolutely necessary.Joint headquarters in the United Kingdom proved more willing to take the risk, concernedas it was that the war might not appear to be go-ing well to the British people, who had seen novictories and four of Her Majesty’s ships sunk.Thompson was therefore ordered to send 2 Para tocapture the positions at Darwin and Goose Green,regardless of the availability of artillery, to secure avictory for the British public. While 2 Para movedsouth to the Darwin isthmus, three of the brigade’sother battalions marched east toward Stanley, withthe last battalion remaining at San Carlos to defendthe beachhead.
When planning the advance, Jones did not ad-here to Helmuth Carl von Moltke’s dictum that“no plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s mainstrength.”
Instead, he planned a complex six-phaseoperation requiring exquisite timing and coordi-nation between his three rifle companies and his patrols company. The battalion would march southto Camilla Creek House, about 8 kilometers northof Darwin, where it would reform and rest beforecrossing the start line halfway between CamillaCreek and Darwin. The plan was for one companyto move down either side of the isthmus. The other companies were to follow to provide support and,depending on the phase, pass through to attack their own objectives. Artillery support would comefrom three 105-millimeter (mm) cannons, as wellas from the guns of HMS
, which would beavailable for naval gunfire support until forced bythe onset of daylight to retreat to the relative safetyof San Carlos Water. Much of the fighting was to be done before dawn.
To meet the advance, Lieutenant Colonel ItaloPiaggi, commander of the 12th Infantry Regimentand garrison commander at Goose Green, had anassortment of men from three different regimentsof infantry, including two companies (A and C) of his own 12th Regiment; a reduced C Company of the 25th Regiment; and a section of C Companyof the 8th Regiment, which gave him a total of 554officers and men, a total approximately equal to aBritish infantry battalion (620 officers and men).This mixed unit was named Task Force Mercedesafter the city in which the 12th Regiment had its peacetime garrison. In addition to the infantrycomponent, Piaggi had three 105-mm guns and ahandful of antiaircraft guns. Also at Goose Greenwere 202 Air Force troops under the commandof Vice Commodore Wilson Pedrozo, who wascharged with manning Air Base Condor. Pedrozo’s planes (Argentine-built Pucarás designed for counterinsurgency operations) had all been sent toStanley for safety.
 Because the British had control of the air andsea around the islands, an attack on Goose Greencould theoretically have come from the north, bya direct march from the San Carlos beachhead;from the south, by an airborne landing on Lafonia;or from the beaches on either side of the isthmus.With no intelligence on British intentions, Piaggihad to deploy his troops so he could meet a threatfrom any direction.
As a result, he divided hisforces, placing a detachment in the small hills northand west of Darwin, a detachment in the south,and a reserve at Goose Green. In the days beforethe British landings, the northern troops had posi-tioned themselves across the isthmus, from wherethey could fire on troops approaching from thenorth and redeploy rapidly to meet an amphibiousoperation. In addition, they placed minefields and boobytraps in front of the prepared positions tofurther impede the British advance.
Despite the extensive defensive preparations,on 26 May, Piaggi was ordered to move out of the positions in the north and adopt a more aggressiveresponse toward the anticipated British attack. So,when the British advance made contact with thefirst line of Argentine defenders on the morningof the 28th, the British were not confronted withan entrenched unit with minefields in its front but,rather, with a detachment out in the open withminefields along its line of retreat. Not unexpect-edly, the surprised Argentine conscripts did notstand up well to the British advance and began toretreat almost immediately.
The British advance along the eastern side of theisthmus drove the retreating Argentines back intotheir prepared positions, where they were able toregroup and halt the forward progress of the attack.Meanwhile, the troops on the British right had metheavy resistance—a company of reinforcementshad arrived by helicopter from Stanley to shore
July-August 2005
up the Argentine defenses and counterattack andstopped the British on the western side of the isth-mus. In an attempt to break the stalemate, Jonesled a charge toward one Argentine position on hisleft, but was hit by rifle fire from another trench.Although this resulted in Jones’s death, it also pro-vided the Paras with the momentum they neededto overrun the Argentine positions near Darwin.Outflanked on their right by this attack and on their left by a company of Paras sent along the beach,and suffering heavy casualties and a shortage of ammunition, the Argentine forces withdrew towardGoose Green.
As the Argentines fell back to the settlement, theBritish began to encircle it, completely surroundingGoose Green by dusk. Although it seemed therewas little hope for the men of Piaggi’s task force,around this time they were reinforced by CombatTeam Solari’s 132 officers and men, who had beentransported from Stanley by helicopter and landed just south of Goose Green around dusk.
Thesetroops increased the total number of combat troopsavailable by nearly a third and might have beenused effectively in a counterattack.Major Chris Keeble, 2 Para’s second-in-com-mand, who assumed command of the battalionfollowing Jones’s death, felt there was no point infighting any longer. He did not have enough menor ammunition for an assault on the village, buthe knew both were on the way. The Argentineswere surrounded and would eventually have tosurrender or die fighting. Keeble did not want tohave to fight his way into Goose Green, whose 114residents—held during the battle in the communityhall—might suffer in the subsequent combinedartillery and aerial bombardment. In an ultimatumdelivered to Piaggi, this is precisely what Keeble proposed to do. Specifically, the ultimatum notecalled for the surrender of the Argentine troopsunder Piaggi’s command, the alternative to whichwould be the bombardment of the settlement.While artillery and air support had not been effec-tive during the fighting, three Harriers had droppedcluster bombs near the Argentine positions just before dusk, and Piaggi and his men were wellaware of what a precise strike on their positioncould accomplish. Keeble also pointed out that, because he was informing Piaggi in advance of the bombardment, the Argentines would be heldresponsible for any civilian casualties under therules set forth by the Geneva Conventions.
Piaggi did not see any point in continuing thestruggle. He explained the situation to the jointcommander at Stanley, who authorized, but wouldnot order, a surrender. Ultimately it was up to theofficers in the settlement to make the decision,and they decided—although not unanimously—toavoid any further bloodshed.
On the morning of 29 May—ironically, the Argentina Army’s NationalDay—the soldiers and airmen of Task Force Mer-cedes surrendered to 2 Para, officially ending theBattle of Darwin-Goose Green.
Should Argentina Have Won?
The Argentina Army had few natural advantagesin the Falklands conflict. Its troops were not as welltrained or as well supplied as those of the British. Nor could the Army benefit from naval gunfireor close air support. Despite these disadvantages,however, Argentine troops had at least four major areas in which they should have had the upper hand: parity in numbers, the ability to use airmenas infantry, counterattack, and national spirit.
Parity in numbers.
In the early 19th century,Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitzwrote, “Defense is the stronger form of wagingwar.”
Modern military doctrine has attemptedto quantify this statement by recommending thatwhen attacking prepared positions the ratio of attacking to defending troops should be three toone. While such a ratio is seldom attained, it doessuggest the magnitude of the advantage held bydefending troops. At Darwin-Goose Green, 2 Paradid not come close to achieving that force ratio.Indeed, the numbers of troops engaged in combaton both sides were roughly equal. Further, this parity extended to artillery and machineguns, aswell as to close air support, although the Britishfailure with respect to the latter was largely caused by the weather. The Argentines could have donemore to exploit the natural advantage granted bythe defensive. Perhaps their greatest failure in thisregard was the abandonment of their prepared positions for positions further forward in the days before the battle.
The use of airmen as infantry.
Another wayin which the Argentines could have exploited adefensive advantage would have been to use FAAtroops as infantry, an option which they seem notto have even considered. Despite having not beentrained as combat troops, the more than 200 airmenat Goose Green could certainly have been used tostrengthen the defensive positions in the north,especially as they were serving no other useful purpose. This option would have given the Argen-tines a potentially decisive advantage over their British attackers at the point of the attack.
Insteadof having their value as fighting men impressed onthem, they were left at Goose Green to defend theairport, a position they abandoned as the Britishapproached, leaving a gap in the Argentine line thatallowed the penetration by D Company, 2 Para, in

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