The Assault On Mount Kent
The Assault on Mount Kent was the only time a battle was fought primarily between British and Argentine special forces.
The SAS received particular praise for their defence until their relief.
The Assault on Mount Kent was a series of engagements during the Falklands War, primarily between British and Argentine special forces.
In late May 1982 Special Air Service patrols from G Squadron found that a number of high peaks overlooking the Argentine defences around Port Stanley were largely undefended, after the Argentine heliborne reserve ‘Combat Team Solari’ (B Company, 12th Infantry Regiment) had been dispatched to support the fighting at Goose Green and the 4th Infantry Regiment had received orders to abandon Mount Challenger and take up positions on Mounts Two Sisters and Harriet.
An initial reconnaissance by Major Cedric Delves’ ‘D’ Squadron was deployed by helicopter on 25 May, with the remaining of the squadron arriving on 27 May in time to counter the arrival of an Argentine Special Forces unit under the command of Captain Eduardo Villarruel, second-in-command of 602 Commando Company. His commander, Major Aldo Rico, had instructed Argentine patrol leaders to move into positions around Mount Kent, secure the area and await reinforcement by Major Jose Ricardo Spadaro’s 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron, and Major Oscar Ramon Jaimet’s heliborne trained. B Company, 6th Infantry Regiment who had also undergone night-combat training the previous year.
SAS patrols from Air and Boat Troop squadrons and Major Delves’ tactical headquarters (THQ) fought a number of actions with the Argentine Special Forces before the Argentines were forced to withdraw. The SAS’s Air Troop patrol was at first driven but managed to hold onto the summit of Mount Kent until Royal Marine reinforcements arrived. The first engagement occurred during the night of the 29–30 May 1982 when the 3rd Assault Section of 602 Commando Company, led by Captain Andrés Ferrero, ran into Air Troop from D Squadron, 22nd SAS, on the slopes of Mount Kent, sustaining one casualty (First-Sergeant Raimundo Viltes), abandoning much of its equipment to the anger of Major Aldo Rico, their Commanding Officer. The SAS sustained two wounded soldiers during the contact.
That night, HMS Glamorgan (D19) shelled the 40-man Argentine Air Force Special Operations Group (GOE) at Stanley Airfield guarding the Skyguard fire-control radars, killing Lieutenant Luis Castagnari and wounding four others who were preparing to take part in the occupation of Smoko Mount in support of Argentine Army commandos. The Argentine survivors thought the missile was a Shrike anti-radar missile, but it was a Seaslug missile launched in the surface to surface role.
The next day, Captain Tomás Fernández’s 12-man Assault Section attempted to seize Bluff Cove Peak. The radio operator, First Sergeant Vicente Alfredo Flores, sent out the following radio message from the slopes of Bluff Cove Peak at about 5 PM on 30 May: “We are in trouble” and then forty minutes later: “There are English all around us… you had better hurry up”.
First Lieutenant Rubén Eduardo Márquez and Sergeant Oscar Humberto Blas were both killed and showed great personal courage in the firefight and were posthumously awarded the Argentine Nation to the Valour in Combat Medal. The Argentine Commandos under Captain Fernandez confronted a camp occupied by 15 SAS troopers, with the SAS reporting two wounded (Corporals Ewen Pearcy and Don Masters) repelling Fernandez’s patrol.
On Mount Simon, Captain Jose Arnobio Verseci’s 1st Assault Section, listening to Captain Fernandez’s patrol attempt to escape British encirclement, decided to abandon the feature and attempt to link up with the 601st Combat Engineer forces guarding Fitzroy.
That following day, another SAS ambush took place when Lieutenant-Commander Dante Camiletti’s Marine Special Forces patrol (minus Camilletti and corporal Juan Carrasco who had been captured at Verde Mountain and Teal Inlet respectively) were returning from reconnoitring San Carlos and were ambushed by Captain Gavin Hamilton’s Mountain Troop on the lower slopes of Estancia Mountain. Sergeants Jesús Pereyra and Ramón López were seriously wounded and captured along with corporals Pablo Alvarado and Pedro Verón who were unwounded. During the reconnaissance of San Carlos, a British gunner, (George Joblin) was shot and wounded by friendly fire.
On the night of May 30th, Captain Peter Babbington’s K Company of 42 Commando, Royal Marines and a supporting field artillery battery boarded three Sea King helicopters and the surviving RAF Chinook (Bravo November) and moved forward from San Carlos. At about the same time, the 2nd Assault Section under Captain Fernandez, having hidden all day, emerged from their hides intending to withdraw from the area but came under prompt and heavy fire from Mountain Troop.
The Marines took cover and after the firefight had died down Major Cedric Delves of D Squadron, 22 SAS appeared and assured them that all was well. There were no Argentine casualties, although one member, Sergeant Alfredo Flores with the Thompson Manpack Radio, was captured after knocking himself out in a fall. One British Intelligence Corps NCO on loan to the SAS is reported wounded in this action. The SAS claim to have come under mortar bombardment while evacuating their wounded, and the Royal Marines from 7 ‘Sphinx’ Battery of the 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery report the loss of one gunner (Van Rooyen), who suffered a broken arm while taking cover among the rocks during the bombardment.
Flight-Lieutenant Andy Lawless, the co-pilot of the sole surviving RAF Chinook, took part in the mission to deliver artillery guns and ammunition to the SAS. The action in the Mount Kent area continued on the morning of 31 May, the recently arrived Royal Marines spotted Major Mario Castagneto’s 601 Commando Company advancing on jeeps and motorbikes to rescue the stranded patrols of 602 Commando Company. Castagneto’s men were forced to withdraw after coming under mortar fire injuring Castagneto and Drill Sergeant Juan Salazar.
There were aircraft losses on both sides from operations carried out by British and Argentine Special Forces.
On May 30th Royal Air Force Harriers were active over Mount Kent.
One of them, responding to a call for help from D Squadron SAS, was badly damaged by small arms fire while attacking Mount Kent’s eastern lower slopes.
Sub-Lieutenant Llambías-Pravaz’s platoon was later credited with the destruction of Harrier XZ963 flown by Squadron Leader Jerry Pook with another claim going to 35 mm Oerlikons of the 601st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Roberto Enrique Ferre. The Harrier crashed into the South Atlantic 30 miles from the carrier HMS Hermes, Squadron Leader Pook ejected and was rescued.
At about 11.00 am on the same day, an Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-launched Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS. Six National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight wounded.
The only British death in the SAS operations to counter Argentine commando patrols in the Mount Kent area, occurred when a SAS patrol fired on an SBS patrol near Teal Inlet who had strayed into an area patrolled by the SAS in the early hours of 2 June. SBS Sergeant Ian ‘Kiwi’ Nicholas Hunt was killed.
The Special Air Service won praise for defending Mount Kent and the surrounding peaks, the citation for the Distinguished Service Order won by Major Delves. After sustaining significant losses in the form of four wounded (Carl Rhodes, Richard Palmer, Don Masters and Ewen Pearcy) in 16 and 17 Troops, the exhausted men in ‘Air’ and ‘Boat’ Troops were withdrawn from the frontline for much-needed rest and replaced by 23 Troop, G Squadron SAS. 18 and 19 Troops, in the meantime, commenced operations against the Argentine garrisons at Fox Bay and Port Howard in West Falkland.
With the loss of the high ground, Argentine Air Force Canberra bombers carried out several bombing runs against British troops in the area. In the first raid on June 1, six Canberras attacked British troop positions in the Mount Kent area. Captains Ferrero and Villarruel were given a map of the area and told to pinpoint the British positions.
On June 8th, a British helicopter inserted a 3-man special forces team to establish an observation post on Mount Kent but were discovered and long-range Argentine artillery fire wounded one man, forcing the remainder to vacate their hide and retreat with their wounded man to the rear positions of the 29th (Commando) Royal Artillery Regiment.
During the night of 9–10 June, a fighting patrol fired on several members of a mortar platoon from 45 Commando on the lower slopes of Mount Kent, killing four and wounding three Royal Marines.
According to Captain Ian Gardiner, from 45 Commando Battalion’s X-Ray Company, the fighting patrol spotted the mortar section approaching from the direction of the enemy positions in the valley between Mount Longdon and Two Sisters Mountain and opened fire believing them to be an Argentine patrol.
Early on the 10th of June, a Gurkha company moved forward from Bluff Cove to a position near Mount Kent to establish a patrol base but the Forward Observation Officer on Mount Harriet, Captain Tomás Fox spotted the company and directed 155mm artillery fire against it, wounding three Gurkhas.
On June 11th, the Royal Marine and Parachute battalions of 3 Commando Brigade attacked and captured Mounts Longdon, Harriet, Goat Ridge and Two Sisters Mountain, ending any Argentine Special Forces plans in winning back control of the Mount Kent area.
The Assault On Mount Kent Written by Harry Gillespie
Harry Gillespie is a military historian who resides with his wife in the United Kingdom.
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Gracious thanks to the Imperial War Museum for the use of images: Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)