21st April 1982 marked the beginning of the actual conflict to retake the Falklands. On this day, the SAS made an aborted attempt to land on South Georgia.
HMS Conqueror (the hunter-killer submarine which would later sink the ARA General Belgrano) was just off the coast when a Wessex helicopter from HMS Antrim landed a small party from the SBS near the Fortuna Glacier. Their aim was to attack the small Argentine force at Grytviken (some 25-30 miles away) from an unexpected direction.
However, it was not to be – the South Atlantic autumn was setting in, and the party were caught in heavy snow. When they were rescued on 22nd April, two helicopters were lost when they crashed in the thick fog.
A few days later though, a force of around 75 men from M Company, 42 Commando returned along with SAS and SBS, and after a demonstration bombardment from the supporting ships, re-took the island when the Argentine garrison surrendered.
The event was marked by two of the most memorable quotes from the war. Firstly, British Landing Forces’ commander Major Guy Sheridan RM’s message 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.
When this was announced back in Britain, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s response was:
Just rejoice at that news and congratulate our forces and the Marines.
This initial skirmish in the war wasn’t quite completed without a shot being fired (the Argentine submarine Santa Fe was attacked when trying to leave just before the final assault). But it was still seen at the time as a sign of how the main Falkland Islands might be re-taken with minimal bloodshed.
The main task force was still almost 2,000 miles from the Falklands, and I know that like many of us, my fictional character Jo Elliot would have been listening to every news bulletin, reading every headline and watching the TV news every night. Her older brother Colin was an army bandsman aboard the requisitioned QE2, and close friend Mark Duggan was aboard the (also fictional) HMS Gateshead – a Type 21 Frigate just like ill-fated HMS Antelope and HMS Ardent.
2,000 miles was just over a week’s sailing time – you can read how Jo coped with the events in the South Atlantic in my book, For Love and Glory – currently just £1.91 on Amazon.