The Battle for Goose Green was the first major land conflict of the Falklands War. By the end of the Battle for Goose Green, men from 2 Para, the Parachute Regiment, had captured Goose Green and the surrounding area but had lost their commander, Lieutenant-Colonel ‘H’ Jones who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his leadership and bravery during the battle.
2 Para had landed at San Carlos Bay on the west coast of the East Falklands at ‘Blue Beach 2’. Here they were deployed to the south of the bay to protect the men there from an attack from Argentine troops based in the south of the island.
From here, the battalion was ordered south to fight the Argentineans based at Goose Green and Darwin. Knowing that they were going into battle, men from 2 Para left behind their sleeping bags and other equipment that would have got in their way during a fire-fight. They took two days rations, weapons and ammunition. Stationed at Goose Green was Argentina’s 12th Regiment. Within the area known as Goose Green, over 100 civilians were known to live. In fact, the 114 people who made their living around Goose Green were under guard in the Goose Green community centre.
After the war was over, some questioned the wisdom of attacking the 12th Regiment as they were based in an area that was in the opposite direction to Port Stanley and could have been quarantined by British troops. However, British commanders on the ground came to the decision that while it remained as an intact fighting unit, the 12th Regiment posed a threat to British forces as they marched east. They also threatened the British bridgehead at San Carlos. Hence why 2 Para was dispatched south to attack the Argentines based there.
Another reason that has been put forward is that the government in London needed a ‘spectacular’ for the British public to compensate for the losses at sea, culminating in the loss of the ‘Atlantic Conveyor’ and all the equipment she was carrying. A victory on land would deflect attention away from these serious losses – and a successful attack on the nearest Argentine forces (based at Goose Green) would do just this. However, the initial delay in 2 Para’s log states that the indecision with regards to the necessity of the attack came from London.
It is known that senior military commanders, primarily Brigadier Julian Thompson, queried the military value of sending a force south when the land troops were going from west to east across the Falklands. It is said that ‘H’ Jones pushed for the attack despite Thompson’s reservations. Jones was quoted as saying:
“I’ve been waiting twenty years for this and now some f****** Marine has cancelled it.”
It is difficult to quantify how much pressure was put on Thompson to give the go-ahead for the attack. What we do know is that after a number of conflicting orders, the go-ahead was given.
British forces had landed at San Carlos on May 21st. On May 23rd, the decision was taken for 2 Para to attack Goose Green. The attack was to start on May 25th. However, sometime on May 24th, the attack was cancelled (the log for 2 Para stated that the attack was not favoured in London) but was then reinstated on May 26th. On the evening of May 26th, 2 Para started their march from their base at Sussex Mountain, to the south of the San Carlos bridgehead.
2 Para targeted Camilla Creek House as their starting point for the attack. On the night of May 27th, eight men from C Company, 2 Para, were sent out to scout the surrounding terrain. Their reports gave Lt. Col Jones a detailed knowledge of Argentine strong points – where heavy machine posts were based etc. With this knowledge, Jones planned his attack. However, none of the scouts had seen the trenches that the Argentines had dug along Darwin Hill as the contours of the hill had hidden them. Such a lack of knowledge was a major weakness as it was while attacking the guns in these trenches that Jones was killed.
The actual attack started at night. Goose Green and Darwin were on an isthmus and the Argentineans had set up their defences with care. B Company, 2 Para, moved from northeast of Burntside Pond along the western coastline. A Company, 2 Para, attacked from the east of Burntside Pond, via Burntside House along the east coast. Both companies faced heavy fire from the Argentines. Argentine artillery was given accurate co-ordinates from spotters based away from Goose Green and Darwin but near enough to see the advance of the Paras. A Company’s target was Darwin. It was while attacking an Argentine trench at Darwin Hill, that ‘H’ Jones was killed. He had moved forward with A Company accompanied by his small tactical HQ. Jones led a two-pronged attack on an Argentine position but no one knew that there were a further six Argentine trenches to the west of the one being attacked and some of these had a perfect view of what was going on. Argentine soldiers in one of these trenches opened fire on the assault killing Jones. However, by opening fire, those in the trench had given away their position. A Company used 66mm anti-tank rockets to destroy these trenches. Approximately, 20 minutes after the death of Jones, the Argentine garrison at Darwin surrendered.
B Company, supported by D Company, had successfully moved forward to a position where they could attack Goose Green. It was as D Company moved forward close to a position by the airstrip that an incident occurred, which 2 Para referred to as ‘The White Flag’ incident. Lieutenant Jim Barry and a sergeant from D Company were killed while taking the surrender of Argentine soldiers flying the White Flag. Whether this was a tragic accident will never be known. Hemmed in by B Company to the south, D Company to the west and C Company to the north, the only way out for the Argentineans was via the sea to the east. However, the means to do this form of evacuation did not exist.
On May 29th, the acting commander of 2 Para, Major Chris Keeble, sent a message via a POW to the commander of Argentine forces at Goose Green. It gave the Argentine commander the following options:
“1) That you surrender your force to us by leaving the township, forming up in a military manner, removing your helmets and laying down your weapons. You will prior notice of this intention by returning the POW under the White Flag, with him briefed to the formalities, no later than 08.30 hours local time.
2) You refuse in the first case to surrender and take the inevitable consequences. You will give prior notice of this intention by returning the POW without his White Flag, although his neutrality will be respected, no later than 08.30 local time.
3) In any event, an din accordance with the terms of the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war, you will be held responsible for the fate of any civilians in Goose Green and we, in accordance with the laws, do give you prior notice of our intention to bombard Gose Green.”
The POW returned with the White Flag just after first light. It was only after this that it became clear just how large the Argentine force was at Goose Green and Darwin. At the actual surrender were 983 men; about 100 had been taken prisoner during the battle. More than 200 Argentineans had been killed in the fighting; 2 Para lost 17 men killed.