Mount Kent is captured by SAS and 42 Cdo RM
Unit/ Formation: 42 Cdo RM
Location: Falkland Islands
Period/ Conflict: The Falklands War
Date/s: 30 May 1982
The job of seizing the 1,300ft mountain fell to Captain Peter Babbington's Kilo Company of 42 CDO, who would be flown in by helicopters. Major Cedric Delves' D Squadron was told to locate and secure a suitable landing zone below the Mount Kent summit, but the lack of helicopters, coupled with blizzard conditions, meant it took five nights to airlift the 120 Royal Marines forward.
The British High Command 8,000 miles away in Northwood, impatient for victories, questioned the need to use up valuable time on reconnaissance. Fortunately the British commander in the Falklands ignored their orders, because when the Royal Marines did land on the lower slopes of Mount Kent they discovered that strong enemy special forces patrols were still trying to penetrate the British lines.
Brigadier Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade, wrote later that without the SAS presence on Mount Kent, the Argentine patrols "would have had a turkey shoot on the vulnerable helicopters and the troops as they jumped out, temporarily disorientated in the darkness; the operation would have been a disaster."
On the night of 30 May, the spearhead of K Company of 42 CDO boarded three Sea King helicopters and moved forward of San Carlos to secure the commanding heights of Mount Kent—at 1,504 feet, the tallest of the peaks surrounding Stanley—where Major Cedric Delves' D Squadron from the Special Air Service (SAS) had already established a strong presence.
However, when the Royal Marines reinforcements and 7 'Sphinx' Battery of the 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery aboard a Chinook helicopter arrived at their landing zone, some 3 kilometres (2 miles) behind the ridge of the mountain, the Marines were surprised to see the gun-flashes, mortar detonations and lines of ammunition tracer lighting up the night.
A second clash involving D Squadron was taking place, this time in the form Captain Gavin Hamilton's Mountain Troop that had spotted enemy movement in the form of Captain Tomás Fernández' 2nd Assault Section, 602 Commando Company that was trying to exit the area after having taking cover among the boulders and caves on Bluff Cove Peak the day before.
By the end of May, D Squadron had secured Mount Kent at the cost of two wounded in Air Troop from small-arms fire, and Boat Troop with Tactical HQ commenced patrolling Bluff Cove Peak, which they took with the loss of another two SAS wounded hit by hand grenades, including one Spanish-speaking warrant officer attached from 23rd Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) who had joined Delves to properly interrogate the captured Argentine Army Special Forces.
At the same time, Captain Matthew Selfridge's D Company scouting ahead of 3 PARA took Teal Inlet Settlement, at the cost of one wounded through an accidental discharge. The SAS soldiers claim to have come under mortar bombardment while evacuating their wounded, 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.
The action in the Mount Kent area continued on the morning of 31 May, the recently arrived Royal Marines spotted 601 Commando Company advancing on jeeps and motorbikes to rescue the stranded patrols of 602 Commando Company. They were forced to withdraw after coming under mortar fire injuring the commander and at least 1 other.
The rest of 42 Commando made a desperate march across the hills north of Mount Simon to reinforce Mounts Kent and Challenger overlooking Port Stanley. The weather conditions were atrocious, with the Marines marching through steep slippery hillocks and stone-runs to their objectives.
On 11 June, the Royal Marine and Parachute battalions of 3 Commando Brigade attacked and captured Mounts Longdon, Harriet, Goat Ridge and Two Sisters Mountain, scuttling Argentine Special Forces plans in winning back control of the Mount Kent area.
It was fortunate that I had ignored the views expressed by Northwood that reconnaissance of Mount Kent before insertion of 42 Commando was superfluous. Had D Squadron not been there, the Argentine Special Forces would have caught the Commando before de-planing and, in the darkness and confusion on a strange landing zone, inflicted heavy casualties on men and helicopters Brigadier Julian Thompson