• Si Biggs

Operation Paraquet - Recapture of South Georgia

Unit/ Formation: 42 Cdo RM Location: South Georgia Period/ Conflict: The Falklands War


Year: 1982 Date/s: 25 April 1982


South Georgia was lost after a two-hour Battle of Grytviken on 3 April 1982, against superior numbers Lieutenant Mills' detachment of 22 Royal Marines inflicted damage on the Argentine corvette ARA Guerrico, hitting her with an 84mm anti-tank rocket and many rounds of small arms fire, and shot down a Puma helicopter, read more here 'Mills Marauders'


Later that month and prompted by the British war cabinet who needed a demonstration of political resolve, the operation was ordered by Admiral John Fieldhouse at Northwood Headquarters and planned by staff at 3 Commando Brigade. Major General Jeremy Moore was told to provide a Commando company group for a secret mission.


42 Commando were selected who had recently been on a winter deployment to Norway. The second-in-command of 42 Commando, Major Guy Sheridan, an experienced mountaineer, was selected to be Landing Force Commander.


M Company of 42 Commando, commanded by Captain Chris Nunn, was augmented by specialists from the Reconnaissance Troop, the Support Company, signals and medics; a total of 132 men.


Sheridan requested the support of the Royal Marine Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre, but was instead given 19 (Mountain) Troop from D Squadron Special Air Service (SAS) from Ascension Island. In the event, the whole of D Squadron comprising not only the Mountain Troop, but also 16 (Mobility) Troop, 18 (Air) Troop and 17 (Boat) Troop along with the Squadron HQ all joined the force at Ascension. Finally, 2 Troop, Special Boat Squadron (2 SBS) and, as requested by Sheridan, two Naval Gunfire Forward Observation Parties (NGFOs) also joined the task group.



The already crowded accommodations in available ships became difficult with the inclusion of additional troops. The task group sailed from Ascension on 11 April, pausing to redistribute the SAS troops between ships on 13 April. The final disposition was that M Company were on the tanker RFA Tidespring, 2 SBS, and the Mountain and Boat Troops SAS on the frigate, HMS Plymouth, with the rest of D Squadron on HMS Antrim. Finally, 6 SBS were embarked in the submarine HMS Conqueror. This group, known as CTG 317.9 or Task Force South Georgia, was commanded by Captain Brian Young of Antrim.


The task group met with HMS Endurance on 14 April and on the following day, received written orders (dropped by an RAF Nimrod aircraft) for the operation from Admiral Fieldhouse dated 12 April and giving a landing date of 21 April


On 23 April, the British learned through radio intercepts that an Argentinian submarine was approaching South Georgia, the ARA Santa Fe, (former USSCatfish), part of Argentina's submarine fleet of four boats. The arrival of the submarine posed a significant threat to the British Task Force, and Young was ordered to disperse his ships, except Endurance, outside the South Georgia total exclusion zone.


The Argentinian submarine successfully landed reinforcements at Grytviken, under moonless cloud cover in the pre-dawn hours of 25 April, and was underway by 0500


At 0855, the submarine was located by Antrim's Wessex using radar and engaged with depth charges. One charge bounced off the boat's deck but the other exploded alongside, rupturing the port ballast tank and piercing an external fuel tank. Now unable to dive, she was forced to reverse course towards Grytviken.


Attacked by Wasps firing AS-12 missiles the last missile destroyed the periscope standards and nearby pumps and injured a sailor who was manning a machine gun. By 1100, the crippled Santa Fe was once again moored at Grytviken pier, where she was abandoned by her crew


With Santa Fe disabled, Major Sheridan judged that the Argentines would be demoralised and that an attack should be made immediately. However, his main force, M company was still onboard Tidespring, 200 miles away. A scratch force was put together with various forces on board Antrim. These included M company's command element and mortar troop, 2 SAS troops and the 2 SBS command and signal elements, for a total of 79 men.


There followed a helicopter assault with two Royal Navy vessels Antrim and Plymouth conducting a naval bombardment demonstration on the low hills opposite Grytviken. The garrison at Grytviken and the crew of the disabled Santa Fe surrendered to M Company, 42 Commando, Royal Marines, after 15 minutes at 17.15 GMT.

Royal Marines on patrol in Grytviken Harbour, South Georgia, pass the conning tower of the sunken Argentine submarine Santa Fe

The garrison at Leith Harbour, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Alfredo Astiz, surrendered the following day.


An Argentine prisoner of war, Navy Petty Officer Felix Artuso, a crewman of Santa Fe, was shot dead on 26 April after a British marine believed he was sabotaging the submarine.


A message that was widely publicised in the UK was made by the Task Group Commander, Captain Brian Young, after the surrender at Grytviken:


Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God save the Queen.


Just rejoice at that news, and congratulate our forces and the Marines! Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher


Sequence of events: (Naval History Homepage)


1. 21st -Mountain Troop SAS landed on Fortuna Glacier for move to Leith, but stopped by blizzards.

2. 22nd -Mountain Trooppicked up by Antrim Wessex after both Tidespring Wessex crashed.

3. Gemini assault craft from Antrim then put Boat Troop SAS ashore at Grass Island to observe Leith.

4. From 22nd -SBS landed at Hound Bay and tried to move across Cumberland Bay East by Gemini to a position south of Grytviken. Stopped by ice and laid up. Later picked up and reportedly landed at Moraine Fiord.

5. 23rd - Submarine threat; Task Force ships except Endurance moved out to sea.

6. 24th - Argentine Boeing 707 overflew Endurance and Task Force ships (except Tidespring with M Coy, 42 Cdo) ordered back in to hunt for submarine.

7. 25th - Task Force helicopters damaged submarine Santa Fe (abandoned at King Edward Point jetty) and then put landing force ashore.

8. 25th - As Antrim and Plymouth bombarded from out in Cumberland Bay, SAS/SBS/RM landing force went ashore at Hestesletten and advanced through Grytviken towards King Edward Point. Argentines surrendered. 9. 26th - Argentine force surrendered to Plymouth and Endurance


See it mapped here: www.royalmarineshistory.com

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