We had to set our alarm today as we were due to have an early start, ouch, not used to that!!!!! Due to the forecasted heavy weather our itinerary was changed and today it was our day in the Falklands, looking forward to this.
Early breakfast and then into the theatre, wrapped up warmly to await our turn for the tender service to Port Stanley. We were a little anxious after looking out of the window at the sea, waves and wind!!!
Our turn came and we trundled down to the lower deck and onto our tender. As we were all bundled up space was a premium, I would hate to have to use one of these tenders in an emergency having to wear a life buoyancy aids as well!
The “bumpy” journey to Port Stanley took about 30 minutes and actually it wasn’t too bad, “thank goodness” say’s Christine! Off the tender at Stanley’s jetty and straight into our waiting coach for a trip across the battlefields of the Falklands war following the invasion by Argentina on April 2nd 1982.
Our guide, though ex Army, didn’t take part in this war but was a professional soldier and has lived in these Islands for the past 23 years so was well placed to commentate on these events and could provide technical insights some guides may have lacked.
Today was a day of surprises and the first surprise was that before the war, the ONLY roads in the Falklands were in the town of Port Stanley, the Capital and everywhere else there were just tracks and certainly not made for cars. Apparently all the Shepard’s, yes sheep/wool was the main source of income before the war, went about their business on horse back and what habitation there was was on the coast and was serviced by boat. Following the war, the Government built a road across East Falkland with a few branch roads along the way, however building this road brought its own dangers as all the surrounding areas out of Port Stanley, including the beaches were heavily mined. There were several million of these very small, plastic covered anti personnel mines liberally scattered by the Argentinian army as they retreated after the British started their advance. As we drove along this road, both sides was cordoned off as there are still many mine fields to be cleared, this is an on-going operation that will last for many more years to come.
We drove to our furtherest point of the tour before turning back for a slow trip back being told what happened as we did so.
The next surprise was we were still about 50 miles from “San Carlos” where the British army came ashore but their original plan of invasion was to use the Chinook Helicopters to transport men and equipment to this area where the first line of Argentinian defence was. Unfortunately the Atlantic Conveyor” the ship with all this equipment on was sunk by the Argentinians with an Excocet missile so the troops had to march the 50 miles carrying everything, each soldier had about 112 lbs on his back and the terrain was either very rocky, where twisted ankles were common, or across peat bogs, very unpleasant. I think we all thought they landed nearer to where the actual land battles took place.
The Argentinians had three lines of defence, utilising three ranges of mountains and our boys had to fight, and in several cases hand-to-hand, each mountain as they came up to them. Just to name a few Mounts Longdon, Two Sisters, Tumbledown, Harriet, Wireless Ridge, we saw them all and were horrified at what the boys had to put up with, for example, apart from the rock strewn land and boggy conditions, there was no cover what’s so ever, there are no trees in this region, no big boulders, nothing, just incoming fire from the defenders up the mountains, it was a miracle it wasn’t carnage like the trenches in WW1. Apparently our force was about 3000 but there were 14,000 enemy soldiers on the Islands.
The one place we couldn’t get to visit was Goose Green as it was about 30 miles in another direction and the terrain prevented us from going, no roads!
Apart from the mine fields the only other piece of war residue are the burnt out remains of two enemy helicopters, a Chinook and a Puma, though by looking at these remains no one would know what they were!
From the first landing of British troops on the 21st May the surrender took place on the 14th June, our boys did very well under extreme conditions. What we watched on TV back in 1982 did NOT portray the severity of their task.
Arriving back in Port Stanley we enjoyed a snack and a cup of coffee then walked along Ross Street, their “Main Street” if they have one, it has the police station, post office, town hall, law courts, the memorial for the liberation of the Falklands in 1982, the sheltered housing and “Thatcher Drive” as well as the local supermarket and a number of gift shops.
Next we had booked a “Port Stanley Experience” tour; after having walked along Ross Street we thought we had covered Stanley and wondered why we we had this booking but as it turned out it was a very good tour, we learned much about life here on the Islands and realised there is more to Stanley and the surrounding area. On this tour we stopped by a memorial to the first Falklands battle that took place in 1914, yes it was a surprise to me as well! This was a sea battle where the British South Atlantic fleet defeated and sank all but one of the German Pacific Fleet as they were heading back to Germany. We then stopped at the Stanley Museum where I took the opportunity to read all about the 1914 event as well as see much memorabilia from the ’82 war. We were also taken to Port Stanley Airport, not to be confused with the new one built after the war allowing large aeroplanes to land and if necessary re-enforce the standing garrison should the need arise again! This airport was the one the RAF Vulcan Bomber dropped 21, 1,000 lbs bombs on the night of 1st May 1982: this was a extraordinary achievement bearing in mind the distance from Ascension Island, there were approximately 12 refuelling RAF tankers in the air to enable one to get down to Port Stanley Airport, this raid was followed up with further attacks by Harriers.
We drove past the Oil Exploration Depot where the equipment was stored whilst two companies explore for oil, no wonder Argentina want to take over these Islands. One fact that emerged was interesting, these Islands have been in British hands since the seventeenth century yet Argentina has only been independent since 1816, so how can they have claim to them! One sure thing we understood in no uncertain way was the animosity towards the Argentine, even to the joke that Inhabitants in the Falklands do not play tennis, the winds are so strong that their balls would get blown to the Argentine and these balls would never be returned!!!!!
Since the war, the Falklands is now on the international map and tourists’ is one of their main sources of revenue, Cruise liners have been coming since the nineties and tourists arrive, either through the tortuous route through Chilli or the direct route with the RAF flights from Brize Norton, refuelling at Accession Island.
This was a very informative tour and Nancy, our guide, was extremely thorough,
After a swift pint of Guinness at the local island pub, we boarded the tender back to the ship then straight into the Martini bar before going into dinner. It was during dinner the Captain came over the PA telling us the bunkering ship alongside had hit one of our Tender Davits causing damage that for safety reasons prevented us leaving Port Stanley until repairs were carried out, naturally the implication of this was more changes to our itinerary, we will know more tomorrow once the ship is under way again.
Leaving the dining room walking through the bar the entertainment were just about to start a “pub quiz” so far a laugh we got a sheet and joined in but only managed 10 out 20, still there were several obscure questions about TV soaps.
Off to bed now after an enjoyable day, weary but happy and wondering what tomorrow’s announcement will bring.
Chronological order of 1982 events
April 2 Argentine forces land & occupy the Falkland Islands
April 5 First ships of task force leave Britain
April 10 EEC declare sanctions against Argentina
April 12 Britain declaims 200 mile exclusion Zone around Islands
April 25 South Georgia recaptured by British forces
April 30 Britain declares total exclusion zone around Falklands
May 1 Vulcan bombs Port Stanley airport
May 2 British sink Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano
May 3 HMS Sheffield sunk by Argentine Exocet missile
May 14/15 British Special Forces attack Argentine aircraft on Pebble Island
May 21 British forces land San Carlos, Argentina attacks by air
May. 28 2 Para recapture Darwin & Goose Green, 1,000 prisoners taken
June 1 5 infantry brigade arrive San Carlos
June 8 RFA ships Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram bombed at Fitzroy
June 11/12 Mounts: Harriet, Two Sisters, Longdon retaken
June 13/14 Mounts: tumbledown, William, Wireless Ridge retaken
June 14 PM, All Argentine forces surrender to British General Moore