FALKLANDS WAR REMEMBERED: Marines take fight ashore
30 years ago on Monday, Royal Marine commandos from Plymouth spearheaded the biggest British amphibious assault since D-Day. Tristan Nichols talks to a former Plymouth Royal Marine who took part in the landings.
AN EERIE silence fell over the assembled Royal Marines huddled together on their landing craft storming towards the Falkland Islands.
What was perceived by many servicemen as simply being a 'jolly down south' had taken a very serious turn.
Here in the dead of night these marines – joined by members of The Parachute Regiment – were taking part in the largest British amphibious assault since 1944.
In the previous days and weeks British and Argentine warships had been lost with deaths on both sides.
And now the battle was about to begin on land.
"I remember the cold heavy swell of the South Atlantic as we left HMS Fearless on our landing craft," said former Royal Marine Alec Watt who was 19 and serving with the then Seaton Barracks-based 40 Commando at the time.
"Some of the guys were being sick because of the sea conditions, and there was a strange feeling of trepidation and excitement.
"It had been talked about but we didn't think we would actually land.
"It wasn't until we were handed grenades that the penny dropped.
"We entered the sound and silence fell on us. I remember the sound of the landing craft engines but nothing else.
"It was pitch black and it was only the occasional flash of naval gun fire which gave us any view of where we were going.
"We knew that the Argentines didn't fly at night but we still felt under threat. Our adrenalin was pumping."
Within a few hours up to 4,800 servicemen had successfully landed on the islands and they were planning the next stage of the mission – advancing on enemy positions.
"It was strange to travel all that way and find something that resembled home," Alec added.
"It was very surreal because it looked like Dartmoor. Within 10 or 15 minutes of setting off after first light the first air strike came in.
"The planes were targeting the shipping, and of course we all took cover.
"We were all curious and it was funny to see heads keep poking up over the fences and terrain.
"I'll never forget the roar of the planes' engines as they flew past and the thump and banging of munitions going off."
In the previous days' fighting 45 Commando's anti-tank weapons had been destroyed so Alec – as an anti-tank specialist – was drafted over to the unit.
He sailed around to Teal inlet to meet up with the unit and, before he knew it, all the talk was about the proposed assault on Two Sisters.
"With any battle you have a start-line," added Alec who now lives in Yealmpton.
"And when you are ready the battle commences. It sounds very Napoleonic but that's how it is.
"I wasn't far away from the Company Commander and I heard him ask 'have the men fixed bayonets?'
"That's when I realised we were going to be fighting up close with the enemy – much closer than any of us expected."
The attack by the 600+ men of 45 Commando on the evening of June 11 and 12 was planned as a 'silent approach' and 'noisy battle'.
Eight British servicemen lost their lives compared to 20 Argentines.
The successful capture of Two Sisters – as well as Mount Harriet and Mount Longdon – ultimately led to the liberation of the Falklands.