I’m still getting through SBS: The Inside Story of the Special Boat Service. I know, I know, it’s taking me ages.
Every military book looks interesting to me and I grab one that’s lying around and start reading, ignoring that I have another four on the go.
The SBS conducted many recces before the main troops landed, they were vital to the task force and without them, the British could have landed into a hotbed of contacts and lost many men.
The Falklands War
When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands on 2nd April 1982, Thatcher sent a Task Force right away.
The thing is, the Falkland Islands are over 8,000 miles away so this would take a while. They also wouldn’t be setting sail that day. Stores, equipment, ammunition, the troops, everything had to be sorted and packed before they could head off south.
There were a small number of SBS troops already on the way there (there were more troops on the way but I am just covering the bit the SBS did today).
Three weeks before the Marines and Paras landed at San Carlos the SBS were conducting reconnaissance of the Islands. Without a picture of how strong the Argies were and where they had set up their defence, it would have been a lot worse with regards to casualties.
The SBS landed ashore mainly via Sea King helicopters but also used Gemini boats. They inserted at night via pilots using Passive Night Goggles for the first time for real. They borrowed equipment at the last moment and these shiny bits were among them.
The skilled pilots were flying just 50 feet above sea level as they covered 180 nautical miles towards the enemy held islands. The patrol had to hide immediately. To avoid detection by the enemy forces was crucial.
Patrols to Cover the Main Areas
Patrols covered Ajax Bay, Johnson’s Harbour, Campa Menta Bay, Eagle Hill (twice), San Carlos and Port San Carlos. Up to a week was spent at each location before reporting their findings. They would then head off to another location.
Parker says in his book:
The stretched resources of its limited manpower also showed up the importance of the SBS in intelligence-gathering: when no patrol was available to cover Port San Carlos for a vital five days, the Argentinians moved an entire company into the area unseen.
Key Argentinian positions were under constant observation. One patrol established a post at the proposed main British invasion site, in a refrigeration plant at Ajax Bay. Another was dug in across San Carlos Water on the Inner Verde Mountains, while the recce team at Port San Carlos observed troop movements for seven days without a break.
The men found it hard to cover everything they wanted to cover at once with the shortage of manpower.
On the islands, the SBS were working in teams of four most of the time. One of the operators would watch out for enemy troops as they cleared the landing site and they moved during darkness across open land to the pre-selected observation point. Often they would set up a temporary base on the way and lie up during the daytime to avoid detection.
They would build sites for themselves and separate ones for their stores. Using a single sentry holding some fishing line attached to a Bergen on the site, he would pull on the fishing line to alert the rest of the men to any danger.
The hides were well hidden. They needed to be in such a barren landscape, with so many enemy troops around that were looking for them, and squeezing the men into space a couple of metres squared was far from comfortable. They kept cuttings to form the roof that was built from chicken wire with netting slung over the top. The cuttings would make a cover not only for the top view but also for their access point.
Argentinian troops on patrol walked right past them and didn’t see them, their masterful hiding skills keeping them invisible.
I didn’t appreciate the size of the job at first. Not only making hides on the move, when they did lie up for a while to conduct the proper recce they built three hides. One for them, one for their food and one for their equipment. The men built them in a straight line so that they could find them in the dark without problems. They were always within a few metres of each other so they didn’t make it overly difficult to move between them.
And the Equipment
The lads needed lots of equipment for a week-long recce, including binoculars, a tripod-mounted telescope and night sights. A difference in the expertise of the two forces was that the SBS used the night-sights to gain vital information about enemy troop movements and strengths.
When it came to the Argies, after they had surrendered to British troops, the British had found night-vision goggles unopened in boxes in their buildings. The punchline being you need to use all the equipment you can get your hands on because it can and will make the difference.
They Had Lots of Firepower
Back to Parker explaining the equipment that the men carried:
The men carried sleeping-bags and duvet trousers, a change of clothes, high-protein ration packs and tinned food that required cooking on hexamine stoves. They carried emergency rations and were well armed. Each man would be equipped with an M-16 Armalite rifle, one M-203 grenade launcher, six high-explosive grenades, one 66-millimetre (2.6-inch) anti-tank missile, 300 rounds of ammunition, smoke and phosphorus grenades, a 9-millimetre Browning pistol and a hunting knife.
The men were stacked with firepower. If you had a firefight them you’d think you were getting smashed by a troop.
When in the hides the men shared the routine. At night times they would have an hour on watch and then three hours off. They would prepare their own food which could take maybe 45 minutes. Shitting in a bag right next to your oppo was far from ideal but that’s life in a green suit.
An enemy helicopter pilot came close to pissing on them at one point. They were in a hide at Ajax Bay for 16 days when a helicopter landed less than 150 metres away. After wandering around, probably choosing his spot, the pilot stopped and almost took a piss on them.
Another helicopter came so close to the SBS hide that the top cover was partially blown away by the downdraft. The pilot surely needed to go to Specsavers. He didn’t see four blokes a few feet below him conducting the recce and this would ultimately lead to his downfall.
The SBS patrols did an excellent job collecting intelligence. They gave the Task Force enough information to make their landings at the best sites so they could attack the enemy and get the job done.
Do you know any more good books about the Falklands? I have a few but if you’ve read one and recommend it then please let me know in the comments. I can grab it if I don’t have it.