Battle of Goose Green — How 450 men from 2 Para defeated over 1200 enemy troops

The Battle of Goose Green took place on the night of 27/28th May 1982. The Parachute Regiment fought against a numerically superior enemy in tough conditions, overcoming them while taking a shitload of prisoners to return the area to British hands.

It was Friday 2nd April 1982 when an Argentine military force invaded the islands, thinking — incorrectly — that they actually had a claim to the land. The Royal Marines Naval Party 8901 surrendered to ensure no large loss of life occurred after they smashed up the Argies a bit first.

The Bootnecks on the islands caused some decent damage to the 2800 strong invading force, meanwhile, on the invader’s side, some reports claim just 1 dead and 3 wounded. I haven’t read it yet but Ricky Phillips has just released his book First Casualty — The Untold Story of the Falklands War in which he tells his story of the early days of the invasion. Phillips explains how they killed at least 83 enemy troops and maybe up to 100. It’s a book I want to get my hands on at some point.

Sending the Task Force

A task force was sent by the UK Government — led by Maggie Thatcher — to take back the islands. The ground troops consisted mainly of Royal Marines and Paras but also Gurkhas and a few other army regiments were thrown in for good measure.

The British troops wanted the safest landing they could get on the islands and to sail over 8,000 miles isn’t the ideal start to a military operation so it was decided that the western side of the island would be the site to come ashore.

The Paras went ashore without loss where they were forced to sit tight for a few days. Previously, British special forces had been conducting recces to gauge the size and strength of the enemy forces they were up against and although they didn’t get every bit of information (especially at Goose Green), they had bags of info on who they were facing.

Getting the stores and equipment ashore was a big task. Thousands of troops need a ton of admin behind them to back them up and on the Falklands, it was the middle of winter, with biting cold blizzards taking its fair share of casualties throughout the course of the war.

HMS Bristol loading stores at Ascension Island before heading to the Falklands.

The task force was trying to get the men ashore, with their kit and supplies with the Argentine Air Force fighting fierce battles in the air and conducting bombing missions on the British ships, taking out HMS Sheffield in the first few days of the fighting. The British politicians were getting twitchy arses back in the UK and thought morale was dropping among the British public so wanted to get the tide turning our way as soon as possible.

The MPs considered their options for what they believed was a lack of momentum from the British forces. They could only see the force losing ships with the ground troops remaining static, unaware that Brigadier Julian Thompson was told to get ashore and sit tight while the rest of the men and equipment were sorted. The men were patrolling and digging in positions but not taking the fight to the enemy, something that was come soon enough.

Back home there were fears that the UN would vote for a ceasefire. If the UN did vote for a ceasefire then this would mean holding current positions and nothing else. The British would be restricted to the small area of their landing site, while the Argentinians would have the rest of the islands, a situation that was far from ideal.

Goose Green — A Quick Victory?

To try and appease the public and gain a fast, moral boosting victory, it was decided to take Goose Green. Goose Green sits 10 miles south of the Sussex Mountains where 2 Para had been sitting out since coming ashore, so 2 Para would be the boys to get it back. This was thought of as a bit of an unnecessary mission for no clear tactical gain in the overall war. If Port Stanley fell first then Goose Green would fall automatically but the same couldn’t be said about the opposite situation so questions were asked.

They were told to head on regardless before a problem emerged that could put the whole attack at risk. 2ic Major Chris Keeble wanted to cancel the attack after it emerged that the BBC World Service announced on the radio that the British were poised to attack Darwin and Goose Green. The BBC had literally committed treason by announcing the British plans on the fucking radio for everyone, including the enemy, to hear. Luckily the Argentinians thought nobody would be that foolish and so dismissed it as a bluff. 2 Para were to continue with the plan with HMS Arrow giving naval gunfire support during the hours of darkness.

Heading off to Goose Green

On 26 May 2 Para, led by Col H Jones, were ordered to move south to attack Goose Green. They left from Sussex Mountains just after dusk and headed towards their first stop of Camilla Creek House. The ground was boggy and marshy with feet being submerged with nearly every step, sapping energy from their bodies with every move forwards. The weather was cold; the winter wind from Antarctica had already claimed a few of the lads from frostbite.

Goose Green battle map.

They arrived at the house in the early hours of 27 May, sheltering from the cold for the night. The next evening C Company advanced to clear the route to the start line with the rest of the battalion following behind a few hours later. From the start line they split in to their three companies. B Coy took the western side of the isthmus while A Coy covered the eastern side. D Coy followed behind to mop up any enemy stragglers that were missed by the other two companies.

In total there were 450 British troops that headed towards Goose Green.

At 02:30 on the 28th May, HMS Arrow started getting some rounds down on the Argentine positions. It was time to wake up the fuckers and start dealing with them. The lads prepared to cross the start line, fixing bayonets and ensuring all their kit was ready to go. The going was tough. Ravines, bogs, rocks and more were a constant hazard.

Burnside House — First Stop to Goose Green

Burnside house was the next step in the plan so A Coy started by peppering the house with 66mm anti-tank rockets and machine gun fire. It seems they didn’t appreciate the Paras popping by to say hello and the enemy ran. Two of the Argentinians were killed during the contact but they also found some civvies taking cover when they cleared the house, although none were injured or killed. B Coy pushed on south down the west side of the isthmus with D Coy following behind down the centre to clear up the leftover Argentine defenders.

2 Para members at Coronation Point, near Darwin, Falklands. (Credit)

They came under fire by some well dug in enemy trenches, about six in all so they assaulted the trenches employing machine guns and phosphorus grenades at their disposal. D Coy had three men killed but it was a success. The enemy responded to the attacks by shelling 2 Para as they made their way south. They even came close to hitting the CO and the Adjutant but their lack of information regarding the Paras’ positions meant they didn’t focus on them.

A Coy had a slight setback when they approached Coronation Point. They under the impression of coming up against a company-sized enemy force. Instead, there was no enemy. It’s good that no fighting occurred and they could take a breather but they had to reorganise and adjust their plans before making their way to Darwin Hill.

Darwin Hill

As A Coy was moving to Darwin, B Coy was moving to Boca House on the western side of the isthmus. A Coy met some fierce resistance. They were trying to reach the high ground on a ridge where they could dominate the area and move down into Darwin with fewer problems. They were trapped in the gully and losing men to enemy fire, pinned down with the lead wasps tearing up the ground around them and throwing the soil up into their faces.

A lack of heavy fire support meant it was tough for them to get the advantage. Without the advantage and the momentum to move forwards taking the position was going to be a challenge. The Argentinian’s, although seemingly giving in when pressured, was putting up a solid defence here.

Col H Jones, the CO, sent forward a few men to a lip where they faced the heavy enemy fire. The Adjutant David Wood, the 2ic Chris Dent and Corporal Hardman were killed. Things were not going well at all, losing officers in an attack will always be a blow. It was here that Lance Corporal Toole said to the boss “Sir, if you don’t get out of here now, you aren’t going to.”

Jones then spotted an enemy position that was laying down heavy fire. It was no doubt a vital position for the enemy with men getting hit from these guys. While they were distracted in contact with A Coy, Jones sneaked round to approach from the side of their position. He ran up a gully, towards the enemy position but there was another position behind him. Jones was shot in the neck and killed. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

A Coy attacked again, spurred on by the death of their leader. A Coy fired three Milan missiles at the enemy position, missing with the first one but hitting the target with the next two. They broke through the Argentine defence and saw them starting to surrender. That convinced the rest that surrendering was the best thing to do against a dedicated and well-trained army like this one.

Boca House

B Coy was trying to clear Boca House, also having casualties build up and the men were forced to retreat. A well dug in enemy at Boca House had repelled the attack with fierce fire. B Coy suffered three wounded and Private Illingworth, who had already dragged one of these men to safety, was shot and killed by a sniper as he was pulling one of the wounded to safety. Bravery was shown on a different scale all throughout this battle and Illingworth demonstrated it as clear as it could be.

B Coy needed some extra fire power to take Boca House. They couldn’t use mortars to assist the attack though as all the mortar ammunition had been used. It was down to an arsenal of machine guns, rifles and grenades, with a bucket full of determination and courage that would see them through.

Members of the 2 Para with Argentine prisoners at Boca House, Goose Green, Falklands. (Credit)

The enemy rained down mortars on the Paras and these, added to the white phosphorus grenades, had set alight the gorse in the area, bringing some heat to the barren winter islands. Some maroon elements flanked to higher ground and here they fought on, taking two enemy positions. The enemy were waving more white flags, they didn’t want to be a part of this fight anymore and B Coy took between 40 and 50 prisoners at Boca House.

Pushing for Goose Green

D Coy came up from the beach after the capture of Boca House, exhausted, hungry and cold. Their kit was still at Sussex Mountains and they had had no shelter since the fighting had started. They and pushed on to a ridge that dominated the area around Goose Green and other companies joined them as they came together for the final assault. Now the aim was to clear School house and the airfield.

By this time the enemy were starting to fade. With many positions already taken and many of the conscripts not wanted to be there, or knowing deep down why they were there, it was fighting that neither side wanted. On the forward slope of Darwin Hill the Paras came under heavy enemy fire from anti-aircraft guns, mortars and heavy artillery. The pounding continued as it had for the previous hours. Men were getting hit, screaming in agony and needing help but many were left with the battle needing to be completed. Men pushing forward as their friends lay next to them with horrific wounds, not knowing if they would survive the next few minutes.

It was here when the infamous “white flag” incident happened. In front of School House, the Argentinians had trenches. The Paras were attacking these trenches when Lieutenant Jim Barry saw a white flag over the enemy positions. Relief must’ve flowed through him as thoughts of the fighting being finished entered his mind. He had to move forward to accept the surrender and end this battle. Upon moving towards the enemy they opened fire and killed him along with two NCOs.

Among the men, it is thought that it wasn’t an act of treachery, a cold-blooded murder in the heat of the battle. According to Robert Fox on the right-hand side of the British forces, a machine gun fired on the enemy position. The enemy returned fire and killed the men. Fourteen men attacked school house shortly after, pushing through the fire and with a barrage of M79 and WP grenades and LMG firepower broke through the enemies defence. The explosions from the attack set the house on fire, turning it into a cauldron of death and an unknown number of men perished in the blaze.

Enemy Support

The enemy knew they were on the losing side of the battle, the end was nearing. They sent some support in the form of two A4 Skyhawk and then after that two Pucara. They had already caused so much damage, sinking ships and putting some out of action after bombs failed to explode upon landing. This time the Argentinians didn’t hit any British forces before one of the Pucara was destroyed. A Royal Marine fired a blowpipe which whizzed towards the jet, striking the wing and taking it off. Small arms fire from the Paras took down the second Pucara. The first pilot was killed, the second pilot was captured and taken prisoner like so many other enemy troops.

2 Para Cpl Simon Tomlison with an Argentine plane shot down at Goose Green, Falklands. (Credit)

The men heard more aircraft approaching and their hearts sank for a second. To have more enemy jets coming to bomb them was the last thing they needed, except it wasn’t the enemy. This time three British Harriers arrived and dropped a cluster bomb attack on the Argentine positions. The enemy had guns and radar-controlled cannons and they got a smack right in the mouth from the Harriers.

As first light approached, the scene of devastation became clearer. The death and destruction of buildings and the land from bombs and explosions, the bodies of the fallen soldiers that played their part but could do no more. The Argentine fight started to die down. The Paras had them surrounded, they had the upper hand at last despite being shattered both mentally and physically. They had no cover, no extra clothes and not only had they been fighting for hours but they had been sleeping on the open ground in the biting cold.

Enemy Reinforcements

It wasn’t over yet though as another threat emerged. An enemy Chinook and six Huey helicopters landed just to the south of Goose Green, whipping up the area in a tornado or grass and dirt as reinforcements were dropped to support the weakening enemy. Keeble called for artillery fire on the position and sent some troops down to block an attack by the reinforcements. A sign that the tide was continuing to turn the British way was realised as the enemy troops filtered away into the hills, not wanting to fight British troops that had been so deadly throughout the night. These enemy troops, likely to be more conscripts, were captured in the following days.

2 Para soldier Gary Steele with Argentine weapons at Goose Green, Falklands. (Credit)

One fight remained for the men. One position to take that would ensure a full British victory in this part of the island, Goose Green itself. The enemy had a persistent defence so far, there were probable mine fields that would be a big obstacle and defensive positions would be hard to clear. Keeble contacted Julian Thompson for extra support. Thompson duly agreed to send more troops, with J Coy 42 Commando arriving to cover the southern approach to Goose Green.

More Firepower

Keeble also wanted more firepower. He asked for three more guns with 2000 rounds of ammo, the six unused mortars they didn’t carry with them, with a tub load of bombs for them and the Cymbeline mortar-locating radar. At this stage, they had seventeen dead and thirty-five wounded so a Wessex helicopter was arriving to evacuate the wounded, but attracted heavy enemy fire so left after circling the area.

They waited until morning when Keeble wanted to get the Argentinians to accept surrender, instead of fighting through them. They had two already captured soldiers take a letter drafted in Spanish back to their own lines. The men returned instantly and said their commanders had agreed to meet them where the enemy agreed to surrender. The only request was that they got to do it with dignity. The British accepted the deal.

Max Hastings put it well in his book Battle for the Falklands.

The British expected some eighty Argentinians to march out to surrender. Instead, to their astonishment, they watched a contingent of more than 150 men moving out from Goose Green to form up in a hollow square around Pedroza, just beyond D Company’s perimeter. The Argentinian made a brief patriotic speech. He called on his men to sing their national anthem.

Hastings continued…

Then, as they threw down their weapons, Keeble walked forward to take the commander’s pistol, noticing as he did so that all the men mustered around him wore air-force uniform. Where were the rest of the army contingent? At that moment, the astounded British saw a great column of men emerging from Goose Green, marching towards them in three ranks. More than 900 Argentine troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Italo Pioggi laid down their arms before D Coy. 2 Para had brought about the collapse of an enemy force more than treble its own strength. They buried 50 Argentinian dead and took 1,200 prisoners of war.

The Victory

Keeble was replaced by a new commanding officer after the battle for Goose Green, despite his excellent triumph. 2 Para was excellent. With 450 men they took on and defeated an enemy four times their own size and didn’t know the enemy strength until they were on the battlefield. It set the standard for the rest of the war, before the Royal Marines took Mount Harriet.