The war for the Falkland Islands was for the SAS, without a doubt, one of those historical moments that are usually called "finest hour". However, reality is more multifaceted than the official version of events, and is often replete with facts that do not fall into reference books and encyclopedias. This also fully applies to Operation Prelim (which can be translated from English as "entrance examination"), conducted by SAS in May 1982 on Pebble Island and included by the British in the category of classic military operations of their special forces.
Operation Prelim was conducted in support of a landing operation planned by the command in the area of the bays of San Carlos and Ajax and a place called the Port of San Carlos on the west coast of East Falkland Island. It was the first large-scale SAS operation since the time of operations in Omani Jebel Akbar in 1956.
Her main task was to destroy aviation enemy technology, deployed at a small airfield created by Argentines on Pebble Island. To be more precise, by that time, an advanced operational base had been created on the island as part of an airfield, a small fortified point and a garrison of the marine corps, which included units of the 3rd marine corps battalion named after Ilizar Videla with about 100 people armament heavy machine guns and 75-mm recoilless guns.
The question of the need to neutralize the enemy’s strike aviation in the area of the upcoming important landing operation was one of the most important. The situation was complicated by the fact that in addition to the main airfield in the Port Stanley area, there were many reserve landing pads on other islands, most of which were ordinary fields or meadows. There was another problem.
“No one knew how big the threat posed to our ships or to the troops who were supposed to land in the Bay of San Carlos on East Falkland, the airfield on Pebble Island. But when it was suggested that there was a radar on the island, the danger of this place became, of course, very serious. Admiral Woodward believed that the radar could detect the main forces of the British fleet while they’ll be out of range of the radar on the mainland or East Falkland, while the airfield was just a few minutes away, even for piston attack aircraft, from the planned landing site of the main landing forces, ”writes Peter Ratcliffe, a direct participant in the operation “Preliminaries” in the book “Eye of the storm. Twenty-five years of service at SAS. ”
The British were also disturbed by the IA-58 “Pucara” light attack aircraft, and the T-34 “Turbo Mentor” armed training aircraft that could be deployed on Pebble Island. Of course, the Pukars, and there were 5-6 units on the island, could not withstand the British "harriers" in air combat, but they had enough weaponry to strike the landing party: bombs, NAR, napalm containers, two 20-mm guns and four 7,62-mm machine guns. Yes, and "turbo mentors" were also not bad. With a range of at least 1200 km, they could carry blocks of 70-mm unmanaged LAU-6 / 68 missiles and two 7,62-mm machine guns.
The decision of the command was unequivocal - to destroy the airplanes and disable the airfield. This task was entrusted to the company “D” of the 22 SAS regiment (the company commander is Major Cedric Norman George Delves), having also allocated the aircraft carrier Hermes in guarding the frigate URO “Broadsworth” and the destroyer URO “Glamorgan”, which became a special forces ship for the operation. support To coordinate the latter, the special forces were given captain Christopher Charles Brown from the 148 th artillery battery of the 29 th artillery regiment "commando".
Pebble Island is part of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Islands and lies just north of West Falkland Island. Until 1982, the island was known only for its sheep farm, but the war made it "world famous." In mid-May, it first became the venue for one of the largest SAS operations, and then in 10 miles north, Argentine skyhawks sent two bombs to the bottom of the Coventry destroyer costing 37,9 million pounds sterling.
Pebble itself is a small island, its area is only about 103,36 square. km From west to east, it stretches 30 km, and in the widest part it has just 7 km. The shape of the island is two large parts connected by a narrow isthmus, on which the only full-fledged settlement was located, in which the 1982 resident lived in April 22. It was here that the Argentines, who called this settlement Calderon, and built an airfield with a dirt runway. More precisely, the airfield was there before the occupation of the island by Argentine troops, the latter simply expanded its capabilities and built defensive positions. There were a total of four serviceable runways of length 533,4 m, 381 m and two lanes on 228,6 m.
On the night from 11 to 12 in May, a reconnaissance group from Company D was landed on Keppel Island, south of the eastern end of Pebble Island, with helicopters (commander of the group is Captain Timothy William Burles). The next day, the group with the help of special kayaks overcame a small strait and was in the area of the object.
The group managed to organize several observation points, including in the immediate vicinity of the airfield. During the observation, British special forces reconnoitered the objects of the airfield, and also determined the coordinates of the defensive positions of the Argentine garrison. Moreover, during the reconnaissance of the Philips Cove district, the British discovered that a sufficiently large “pond” located at some distance from the coastline was not marked on their maps. In the case of the planned special operations, this could be a very unpleasant surprise, since it was on this beach that the SAS squadron was planned to land.
On the night of 13 on 14 in May, Captain Burles radioed to headquarters: “Eleven, I repeat, eleven aircraft. I consider it real (that is, they were not mock-ups - V.Sh.). Attack company - the next night. After receiving the radiogram, the entire operation was worked out to the smallest detail within literally an hour.
As a result, three helicopters were identified for Operation Prelim, which were supposed to deliver special forces to the 42 island, Major Delves, Captain Brown and Lieutenant Commander Edwards (he was assigned to one of the groups, since he had previously been in these places and was well versed in the terrain) . All - with personal weapons, plus one 81-mm L16 mortar and more than 30 plastic containers with mortar mines - two in each container (one - high-explosive fragmentation, the other - with white phosphorus filling) were loaded onto helicopters. The weight of the container is 8 kg, each member of the special forces then carried one such container. Special Forces officers were sent on mission with the following weapons: 5,56-mm automatic M16 rifle (some with the 40-mm M203 submachine-gun grenade launcher) or 7,62-mm machine gun, 9-mm Browning-High Power pistol, one 66-mm manual grenade-guns XMXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX-XXXX hand grenades, explosive charges, three spare magazines for the M72 and numerous machine gun belts. The latter were all special forces - for 16 – 200 cartridges per person.
OPERATION PLAN CRUSHES ON SEAMS
The first phase of the active part of the operation began on the 20 of 14 hours in May. The destroyer URO "Glamorgan" left the operative connection order and headed for Pebble Island. Half an hour later, the aircraft carrier Hermes and the frigate ERO Brodswold followed. The British were lucky - by that time the Argentines did not have a single Neptune combat aircraft used for long-distance reconnaissance, and the maneuver of the three ships went unnoticed. But then the situation became complicated.
At first, due to the stormy weather and a number of equipment breakdowns, the ships could not arrive at the designated point in time, the British had to take positions “at an accelerated pace”. Then - a hitch with helicopters.
In the end, the start of the operation was delayed by an hour and a half, the departure time came close to dawn. The operation plan had to be adjusted. Now its purpose was only the destruction of enemy aircraft, and the initial task was to cancel the attacks of the garrison located in the village. “The Argentine garrison did not even know how lucky they were and what dangers they escaped,” Ken Connor, a former SAS soldier, wrote in Ghost Troops: A Secret History of SAS in 1998. The group, which, according to the original plan, was to attack the settlement, now had to take a position between the airfield and the village and, if necessary, repel the attacks of the Argentine "marines".
Finally, on 2 hours of 25 minutes on May 15 in May, three helicopters rose from the Hermes and headed towards the island, after which the aircraft carrier and frigate retreated, and Glamorgan took up a position in 6 miles north-west of the airfield ready to open fire. The strike team landed in 3 hours of 50 minutes in about 5 miles from the destination, in the Philips Cove area, and later joined the island reconnaissance group on the island. The fighters of the latter picked up and equipped the position for the 81-mm mortar, with which it was planned to “highlight” the area with lighting mines, and then - to provide fire support. Exactly at 4 hours, Captain Brown received a radio from the destroyer that the ship was in position and was ready to provide artillery support. The helicopters returned to Hermes for refueling and were ready to fly to evacuate the detachment.
ISLAND IN FIRE
In the 6 hours of 10 minutes, the squad reached a position where an 81-mm mortar was to be installed. A little later, two groups of the detachment took up their positions, and the third ... was lost. She left the landing zone last, she did not have enough "guide" and in the dark the group deviated from the course. However, fortunately, this did not affect the course of the operation.
Captain Brown requested the fire from the “Glamorgan” at 7 hours 19 minutes by radio. After another three minutes, lighting shells bloomed over the island. At the first flashes of light, the British special forces clearly saw that there were four “turbo mentors”, six “Pukars” and one “Skyven” from coast guard aviation on the airfield.
The British quickly installed on each of the aircraft "portions" of plastic explosives. Within a few minutes, the light from the burning aircraft became brighter than from the lighting mines. Soon all 11 machines, as well as fuel barrels and ammunition boxes, were destroyed. The enemy made a “shy” attempt to resist, but at the very first shots, Major Delves requested the Glamorgan radio to open fire with high-explosive fragmentation shells at the enemy, and his mortar gunners to highlight the area of operation. Resistance quickly stalled.
The losses among the British "commandos" were minimal - only three wounded: Corporal Devi got a fragment of an 40-mm grenade in the leg, Corporal Armstrong wounded by shrapnel from an exploding radio-controlled mine too close (commander of the Argentine garrison Lieutenant Mareg arrived at the site and failed to organize their demoralized subordinates repulsed, gave the order to blow up in advance prepared charges of the self-destruction system, and Corporal Armstrong, who installed explosive charges on the Pukar, was at an unnecessary time in an unnecessary Este), a Cpl Bunker was the explosion of the Argentine minutes concussion.
And here are two more scouts, non-commissioned officers, received "combat damage" - they had broken faces. The fact is that for several years these special forces had a strong dislike for each other, which became even stronger in the confined space of the ships during the war at hell. And the raid on the island provided them with an excellent opportunity to "figure it out": as soon as the first StarShell fire shells fired by Glamorgan hung in the sky, some scouts were surprised to see two noncommissioned officers mutating each other instead of fighting the task.
However, the task was completed, and this is the most important thing.
Captain Brown recalled: “We destroyed all the planes, began to withdraw, while the planes exploded and burned. The enemy did not attempt to counterattack from the village or to take control of the airfield. If we had more time, we would try to eliminate them, but there was a real danger of damaging the property of local residents or even killing some of the settlers. But in reality, we simply did not have time, so a signal was given for retreat, because we decided to set the task. The destruction of these aircraft eliminated the threat of a future landing operation. We retreated to a safe place, were picked up by Sea King helicopters and delivered to Hermes for breakfast. ”