Auction: 12002 - Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals & Militaria
The Unique 1982 ´Defence of South Georgia´ D.S.M. Group of Five to Colour Sergeant P.J. Leach, Royal Marines, The Senior N.C.O. and Sniper of The ´Tiny Force of Less than Two Dozen Men´ Who ´Held - For More Than Two Hours - Two Naval Vessels, Two Helicopters and Eighty Special Assault Troops´, 3.4.1982, Accounting For One of the Helicopters and Severely Damaging the Argentine Frigate Guerrico During the Course of the Action a) Distinguished Service Medal, E.II.R. (Sgt. Peter J Leach P031491S RM) b) General Service 1962-2007, three clasps, Borneo, Malay Peninsula, Northern Ireland (RM.22075 P.J. Leach. Mne. R.M.), second and third clasps loose on riband as issued c) South Atlantic 1982, with rosette (Sgt P J Leach P031491S RM) d) Naval Long Service & G.C., E.II.R. (Sgt P D [sic] J Leach P031491S RM) e) Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal, generally nearly very fine or better, first four mounted as originally worn, with the following original related items: - Central Chancery letter regarding the Investiture for the recipient´s D.S.M., dated 14.10.1982 - Five Letters of congratulations to the recipient on the occasion of the award of his D.S.M., including from Admiral Sir Desmond Cassidi, K.C.B., Chief of Naval Personnel and Second Sea Lord; Lieutenant General Sir Steuart Pringle, Bt, Commandant General Royal Marines; Rear-Admiral G.M.K. Brewer, C.B., Flag Officer Medway and WO1 W.F. House, R.M., the Regimental Sergeant Major Fleet, all mounted on card - Congratulatory Telegram to recipient´s wife from Alan Clark MP, mounted on card - The Ammunition List written by Leach, 21.3.1982, when planning with Keith Mills for the seizure of Leith Harbour - Specialist Wing Commando Training Centre Royal Marines Certificate of Sniping Ability - Two Half Year Royal Marines Reports on Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Candidates, dated 30.11.1981 and 4.8.1982, both signed by Nick Barker and Keith Mills, both mounted on card - Interim Certificate of Discharge From Royal Marines Service, dated 30.4.1982 - Certificate of Discharge From Regular Service in the Royal Marines, dated 28.7.1982 - Testimonial Certificate, dated 30.4.1986 - Testimonial Letter from Officer Commanding Royal Marines Detachment, H.M.S. Warrior - Certificate of Discharge from the Liverpool & Bootle Constabulary, dated 16.3.1973 - Invitation to the South Georgia Exhibition at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, 2.11.1982 - A large file compiled by the recipient filled with a number of photographs from various stages of his career, newspaper cuttings and copies from various publications regarding the Falklands (lot) Estimate £ 50,000-60,000 D.S.M. London Gazette 4.6.1982 Sergeant Peter James Leach, Royal Marines P031491S ´Sergeant Leach was responsible for establishing Observation Posts at Leith, South Georgia to monitor the activities of an Argentine party illegally landed on the island. When it became clear that a full scale Argentine assault was about to begin, on the night of 2/3 April 1982, the decision was taken to recover the men to the main base at Grytviken. Using Gemini inflatable boats Sergeant Leach and his men moved across open seas, although they knew that Argentine warships were nearby. However, they successfully reached the base and whilst the commanding officer conducted initial negotiations with the Argentines, Sergeant Leach acted quickly to consolidate defensive positions. When the attack eventually came he displayed sound judgement, leadership and great discipline although the detachment was heavily outnumbered by the invading forces.´ P031491S Colour Sergeant Peter James Leach, D.S.M., born Woolton, Liverpool, 1944; joined the Royal Marines from the Reserve, 1963; served as a Leading Scout, 40 Commando, during two tours of Borneo; served with H.M.S. Zest, 1966-67, qualifying as an Observer on Sioux and Scout helicopters with the Brigade Air Squadron, 1970; having completed nine years´ service Leach joined the Liverpool and Bootle Constabulary, 1972; after fourteen months as a Police Constable he rejoined the Royal Marines and was advancing to Corporal; further service included in Northern Ireland and in the Intelligence Section in Cyprus, 1974; qualified as Air Photography Instructor and Small Boat Coxswain; promoted Sergeant, 1976, and qualified as a sniper; employed as Seamanship Instructor at H.M.S. Raleigh, 1978-81; joined H.M.S. Endurance (Antarctic Ice Patrol Ship), as part of her R.M. detachment of thirteen men, and sailed with her from Southsea, October 1981, ´After calling at Gibraltar, Funchal, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo, the Endurance [Captain N. Barker] reached Bahia Blanca, an important Argentine naval base, on 26th November. The principal Argentine naval unit currently in port was the cruiser General Belgrano. The visit lasted only six days but, during that time, the British established a particularly happy relationship with the ship´s company of the big warship´ (Operation Paraquat. The Battle for South Georgia, R. Perkins, refers); during the visit several events were held including a football match between the two crews - the final score being H.M.S. Endurance 3, General Belgrano 2, with Leach as Manager and Captain of the British team; the Endurance dropped anchor in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, 6.12.1981; from here the Endurance and her complement embarked upon her survey work and visited many of the research stations in the Antarctic region, also visiting ports in Argentina and Chile, ´I found the visits [to Argentina] especially interesting, as with the relationship between the two countries continuing to be poor, there was a lot of military activity, especially naval. We had a few opportunities to meet Argentine and Chilean troops, who were generally very friendly and we were always very well looked after… I have often remarked to people, regarding what came after this period, that our ship spent nearly a month of this period in Argentine ports.´ (Typed extract by recipient refers). Included in these visits soon to be ´enemy waters´ was a trip to Mar del Plata, February 1982, where Leach was able to meet and watch Argentine Marines carry out training including practicing Section Attacks; at ground level there was little to suggest that armed conflict was imminent, despite the increasing level of negative statements being made by the Galtieri regime in relation to the ´Islas Malvinas´; the Endurance left Mar del Plata on the 22nd of February, arriving at Port Stanley 3 days later; she set sail again, almost immediately, to commence her third and final work period in the Antarctic, ´on 1st March, in foul weather, she reached the BAS base at Rothera, four months earlier a violent storm had wrecked the two Twin Otter aircraft normally operated by the BAS at this station, so the Endurance´s Wasp flight was particularly welcome. Other bases around the Antarctic Peninsula were visited and serviced, and various evolutions carried out to satisfy the needs of a Royal Naval camera crew filming sequences for a projected public relations feature entitled ´Endurance´. An important hydrographic survey was completed before she headed back to South Georgia to collect a Joint Services Expedition from Molke Harbour. On 16th March she anchored off King Edward Point´ (Operation Paraquat. The Battle for South Georgia, R. Perkins, refers); with almost all her duties complete for the summer season the Endurance´s crew were scheduled to be back in the United Kingdom by the 20th May; however as things turned out, their much awaited arrival was not to occur until the 20th August. South Georgia Scrap Merchants On the 11th March an Argentine scrap-metal merchant named Constantino Davidoff applied to the British embassy for permission to take up a contract negotiated with a Scottish-based shipping firm called Salvesen; the contract was to clear the abandoned whaling station at Leith in South Georgia; Davidoff´s vessel was the Argentine navy transport Bahia Buen Suceso; the British embassy agreed to Davidoff´s request on the proviso that he would need formal authorisation from the British Antarctic Survey base at Grytviken once he had arrived on the island; Davidoff´s ship arrived unannounced at Leith on the 19th March, the same day that the Endurance returned to Port Stanley; a four man BAS team were carrying out routine transport of stores when they stumbled upon Davidoff´s men in Leith Harbour with the Argentine flag raised; they reported by radio to the Governor in Port Stanley (Rex Hunt) that the Argentines appeared to be a mixture of genuine contractors with a number of other men dressed in military style uniforms; the scientists were told to order the Argentine Captain to lower the flag and seek proper authorisation; the flag was lowered but no further action was taken; all of this information was relayed to H.M.S. Endurance on the night of the 19th and Hunt and Captain Barker came to the conclusion that Davidoff´s landing was ´nothing more than a cover for the establishment of an Argentine navy base on South Georgia, leading later to assertions of sovereignty over the whole island´ (ibid); on the same night the Governor recommended in his report to London that the entire Argentine group should be ordered immediately off the island; he proposed that ´H.M.S. Endurance should return to South Georgia as heavyweight bailiff.´ H.M.S. Endurance - The Heavyweight Bailiff The following day, a few hours after sending his report, Rex Hunt was presenting the Stanley Shield to Peter Leach, as the Endurance´s football team had once again triumphed, this time beating the Stanley Football Club 6 goals to 3 in the final, after the celebrations ´At 0615 on Sunday morning, however, they were awakened by an urgent radio message from the ship, telling them to re-embark immediately. They were sailing in three hours´ (ibid). Mrs Thatcher with ´remarkable promptness agreed with Lord Carrington to send Endurance from Port Stanley, taking with her two dozen marines from the Port Stanley garrison under the command of a 22 year old Lieutenant named Keith Mills. They arrived of the BAS station at Grytviken four days later and were told to await orders; (The Battle for the Falklands, M. Hastings and S. Jenkins, refers); with the Marines now up to platoon strength, ´Lt. Mills and Sergeant Leach set about the task of planning the seizure of Leith Harbour. It was assumed that the Royal Marines landing party might encounter armed resistance. Mills prepared his men accordingly. They would go ashore fully equipped, with a generous scale of ammunition and, if it was forced upon them, ready to fight. The prospect of imminent action sent morale soaring´ (Operation Paraquat. The Battle for South Georgia, R. Perkins, refers). On the 23rd March the Bahia Buen Suceso departed from Leith having left a number of workmen ashore; the next day, however, the Argentine naval survey ship Bahia Paraiso (Captain Trombetta) took her place, putting ashore a full marine detachment with orders to ´protect´ the remaining Leith workmen; on the 24th the Royal Marines took over from the BAS team for the observation of the Argentines at Jason Peak; having noted the arrival of the Bahia Paraiso, it was decided to establish a second observation post much closer to the Argentine position; the new post was set up on Grass Island, 3 miles south of Leith; using the Wasp helicopters from H.M.S. Endurance the marines were covertly flown in at very low altitude each day for three days; the observers were withdrawn to the British ship each night, ´the Grass Island observation post was able to report activity in general terms, but it did not have a direct line of sight into the area of the buildings. On 27th March, therefore, it was decided that Keith Mills and Peter Leach would make a secret close-range reconnaissance. They were taken by launch to Carlita Bay and put ashore, at first light, at the foot of the Olsen Valley. Carrying their side arms, but with minimal equipment and no radio, the two men trekked through squalls of rain and sleet around the shore of Stromness Bay. They passed through the old abandoned whaling stations of Husvik and Stromness - where there was no sign of Argentine activity - until they came to the high ground south of Leith Harbour. Carefully ascending the 500 foot slopes of Harbour Point, they hid themselves in a rocky outcrop only 600 yards from the settlement. They watched the busy scene on the jetty and counted the oil drums, crates and containers. The Argentines evidently intended to stay on the island for a long time and in strength… After 45 minutes, satisfied that they had noticed everything of importance, Mills and Leach withdrew from Harbour Point… They covered 14 miles… over exposed terrain, without apparently being detected. Shortly after leaving Harbour Point, however, they were forced to take cover in a patch of tussock grass. An Alouette helicopter had taken off from the Bahia Paraiso and it started to patrol the coastline. The two marines lay hidden for a long time as the aircraft cruised back and forth and, for a short while, dipped low over the track which they intended to follow´ (ibid); the two marines safely returned, and over the next few days the two naval forces shadowed each other, with Barker keeping his two Wasps busy with constant reconnaissance. Time to Make a Stand On the afternoon of the 31st March the Endurance received orders to return to Port Stanley with all haste, ´the mounting volume of evidence arriving in London was indicating that invasion of the Falkland Islands was now a very strong possibility. Barker was told to put ashore his ship´s detachment of Royal Marines at King Edward Point before sailing. In the same way that the Royal Marines on East Falkland gave some credibility to Great Britain´s stance on the question of sovereignty there, a military presence was required on South Georgia for the same purpose. The military personnel could also provide protection - if required - for the unarmed BAS civilians. One platoon defending an island a hundred miles in length could be nothing more than a token force, but there was no alternative´ (ibid); that evening the marines and their ammunition were brought ashore and they entrenched themselves at the BAS station; they were alone, as the Endurance made her way back to the Falklands, ´the Argentine fleet was at sea and within striking distance of the Falklands and South Georgia. Reports spoke of major units to the north of the islands, with a second force approaching from the south, possibly two frigates, armed with Exocet missiles, were deployed somewhere between the Falklands and South Georgia… and a submarine was rumoured to be en-route… To counter this display of power, Rex Hunt and Nick Barker had 73 marines on East Falkland, 22 marines on South Georgia, and the dear old ´plum´ wallowing along halfway between the two. The nearest support was at Gibraltar, 5,500 miles and two weeks´ steaming away.´ The Argentine landings on East Falkland occurred on the 1st to 2nd April 1982, and despite brave resistance, against overwhelming odds, the Marines were forced to surrender Port Stanley; whilst this was occurring Mills and his marines were preparing as best as they could with the following orders, ´Firstly, it was his duty to maintain a British military presence on the island. Secondly, he was to protect the BAS personnel at King Edward Point in the event of an "emergency". Thirdly, he must maintain a continuing surveillance of Leith Harbour´ (ibid); one positive of the situation was that Mills had obtained the detachment´s full war allowance of arms and ammunition before leaving Port Stanley, ´a quantity of anti-tank missiles; twenty 66mm rockets and a Carl Gustav launcher with twelve rounds. In addition, he had two general purpose machine guns (GPMG) and two Bren guns (LMG). Each marine was armed with the self-loading rifle (SLR), the standard individual infantry weapon. He himself carried a Sterling sub machine gun (SMG) and Sergeant Leach, a qualified sniper marksman, was armed with the L42 sniper´s rifle´ (ibid); the marines and the BAS personnel on South Georgia had gathered around the radio and listened in shock as the invasion of the Falklands had taken place; they prepared for the worst; it was agreed that the BAS personnel should be removed from the vicinity of the Marines´ main defensive position; Steve Martin, as Base Commander, stayed with the marines whilst the remainder mainly withdrew to the old whaler´s church behind Grytviken, ´Mills knew that he could not remain for long on King Edward Point if faced with a superior force, but his men were all trained in Arctic warfare techniques and were extremely fit… Each man had his full issue of Arctic warfare clothing and other equipment. With a little luck, they could sustain themselves for weeks in the empty wastes of the hinterland´ (ibid). Count Down to Contact The basic plan was to resist the initial landing, make a fighting withdrawal under the cover of darkness and then fight a guerrilla campaign from the higher ground; preparatory defensive measures were undertaken, including rigging the landing jetty at King Edward Point with explosives; a seaborne assault was expected and this was problematic considering there were two beaches and Mills lacked the firepower to cover both; Mills employed his explosives expert Marine Les Daniels to build ´home-made´ mines and bury them along the east beach; these were to be detonated if necessary by electrical impulse from the central control post; slit trenches were also to be dug in front of Shackleton House and continued for approximately 150 yards; the weather was atrocious, with up to Force 10 gales, severely hampering the Marines, ´by 0930 on that Friday [2nd April]… visibility was very limited. The marines were struggling to dig their trenches and Daniels had great difficulty in fixing the petrol drum under the jetty. He had not yet even started to lay his beach mines. In tactical terms, the detachment was extremely vulnerable. It was at this point that a large ship was seen to emerge from the curtain of driving rain at the entrance to Cumberland East Bay. It was the Bahia Paraiso. "Stand to, stand to!" Everyone threw themselves flat or tried to crouch in the half-dug water-filled trenches. Mills left Peter Leach in charge and hurried down to the jetty to receive possible visitors´. (ibid) Captain Trombetta spoke via the radio to Steve Martin informing him that he would receive an important message the following morning; having imparted his message the ship turned and left, ´with hindsight, it is evident that the Argentines intended originally that their seizure of South Georgia should coincide with their invasion of the Falkland Islands. Only the foul weather prevented them... The wind was much too strong for the launching of helicopters and the seas too violent for the operation of landing craft. Thanks to the storm, Keith Mills was granted twenty-four hours of additional breathing space in which to complete his preparations. As Peter Leach commented later: ´If it hadn´t been for the lousy weather we would have been caught with our pants at half-mast´ (ibid); with the extra time afforded additional defensive measures were untaken including laying booby-traps in Quigley´s House and several other buildings. Leach at the Helm Whilst the majority of the marines were working on the defences, surveillance was still being undertaken on Stromness Bay; a four man team was stationed on Jason Peak around the clock; on the 1st April they had been taken to Jason Harbour at dawn by Peter Leach and Steve Martin in the BAS launch Albatross, ´the party consisted of Marines Poole, McCallion and Combes under the command of Corporal Nigel Peters. They worked a ´two on, two off´ routine, one pair watching the Bay and its sea approaches, the other pair resting in the Jason Harbour refuge hut. For communication they relied upon a BAS transceiver´ (ibid); in the early hours of Saturday 3rd April the weather calmed completely and ´Peter Leach went to his officer and suggested that it was time to retrieve the observation party… They had very little fighting value where they were, but they represented a fifth of the total Royal Marines force on the island. If it came to a fight at King Edward Point, their firepower would be badly needed. Mills agreed and authorised Leach to bring them in. A heated argument then followed between Peter Leach and Steve Martin. With unlimited visibility, this was precisely the wrong sort of day for a secret evacuation by sea. Leach wanted to depart immediately in the Albatross, and with two other marines, motor across Cumberland West Bay to Jason Harbour. He calculated that he could complete the round trip in little more than two hours. Martin was opposed to the plan because he did not believe that the sergeant could handle his boat, especially if its diesel engine failed, and he rightly regarded the venture as extremely hazardous… Apart from the possibility of colliding with the chunks of ice which continually break away from the nearby glaciers, there was a real fear that the launch might be attacked. A radio report had just been received by Nigel Peters, announcing the arrival in Stromness Bay of an Argentine frigate. In the words of Keith Mills, "this threw a whole new light on the situation". The warship was reported going alongside the Bahia Paraiso and taking on fuel but that task would soon be completed and she would then be free to take the offensive. The powerfully built Leach informed the Base Commander that he intended to take the launch, with or without his permission, and Steve Martin reluctantly agreed to show him how to operate the controls. The Albatross departed King Edward Point shortly after 0630. Astern, she towed a Gemini assault boat. It was Leach´s plan that, if the Albatross was attacked and damaged, he would abandon her and try to make his escape in the smaller boat which was much faster and highly manoeuvrable. Peter Leach stood holding the wheel as the heavy launch plodded northward along the coast at a steady eight knots. There was plenty of time to think, to ponder the curious circumstances in which he found himself. He was the father figure of the Endurance marines´ detachment. Thirty-seven years of age, a Liverpudlian, married with two children, he could look back over nearly eighteen years´ service with the Royal Marines. Like many other members of the Corps, he was a man of many parts: air photography instructor, qualified helicopter observer, weapons instructor, and unarmed combat expert. In the 1960´s he had seen action as a leading scout in Borneo, had later served a tour in Northern Ireland, and had witnessed the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It had been a long and varied career, but he could recall no other episode remotely comparable to this one. His immediate worry was the possibility that one of the Bahia Paraiso´s helicopters might see and attack him. Initially he hugged the cliffs of Sappho Point, but then he had nearly six miles of open water, crossing Cumberland West Bay. Peter Leach´s other anxiety was the lack of medical facilities on the island. Unlike the rest of the detachment, Leach had been in battle before. He had seen the horrendous injuries inflicted by modern high velocity ammunition. Each man had been given a morphine ampoule… and they had a small first aid bag and the usual field dressings, but none of the group was medically trained. Given the isolation and severe climate of the island, there was every chance that any man wounded by gunshot would subsequently die from lack of treatment… Peter Leach´s determination was rewarded when he collected his very chilled passengers from the beach at Jason Harbour and brought them safely back, at 0900, to King Edward Point.´ (ibid) Enter the Guerrico Upon their return the men were quickly debriefed and they provided Mills with details on the newly arrived Argentine warship - the frigate Guerrico; her formidable armament included twin MM38 Exocet rocket launchers, a 100mm semi-automatic gun on her forecastle and a 40mm gun on her stern. The two guns were immediate cause for concern; however, like many modern warships her superstructure was mainly composed of aluminium and as such if she were to come close to the shore she could be penetrated by small-arms fire; within half an hour of the observation party´s return, ´the morning stillness was broken by the sound of a distant engine. Several voices shouted together: "Chopper!", "Freeze!", "Take cover!", "Don´t move!" In the event everyone leapt into his trench except Sergeant Leach. He had been too busy to dig one for himself, so he lay down in a fold in the ground just in front of Shackleton House "Watch your front and report. Don´t shoot. Don´t point your weapons. Pass the word." Leach shouted his orders to the nearest marines and they shouted to the others on the flanks. Everyone watched as a helicopter circled over Cumberland East Bay and then came lower to make several fast passes over King Edward cove.´ (ibid) The helicopter was one of the Alouettes assigned to the Bahia Paraiso; it carried out a reconnaissance of the area and then flew away after ten minutes; within moments of its departure the Bahia Paraiso came into sight and transmitted a radio message requesting that Steve Martin surrender his position to prevent any further loss of life; Captain Trombetta also asked that Martin bring all of his BAS personnel out into the open so that they could be counted; Martin replied that there was a British military presence on the island and that it would be defended if the Argentines tried to land; it appeared that the Argentine captain did not believe Martin, and he announced that he intended to send troops ashore by helicopter; to add to the tension of the situation the Guerrico appeared with her two guns trained on the shore. Whilst the marines were focusing on the warship, ´there, only fifty yards away, was the Alouette, already on the rough ground of the Point, with armed men jumping out and running for cover… Mills turned and faced the new arrivals, his SMG slung across his shoulder, with the idea of letting them know that he was a soldier, to confirm that there were British troops on the island, he waved to the Argentines and pointed to his combat jacket. The fifth man - just leaving the Alouette - saw Mills and his face registered total surprise…The second soldier swung around, spotted the British officer and started to swing his rifle up to his shoulder. His stance was clearly that of a man about to fire´ (ibid); Mills chose this moment to turn and run back to the defensive positions, ´On the other side of King Edward Point, immediately in front of Shackleton House, was a section of five marines commanded by Lance-Corporal George Thomson… He and the rotund Marine Jock Hunter lay in a natural fold in the ground, concealed by the long tussock grass. To their right and rear, in a large L-shaped trench were Marines Holding, Hare, and James with a GPMG. This section had been positioned by Keith Mills with the objective of putting enfilade fire across the beach if anyone tried to land on it. They had been told to be prepared for an assault by landing craft, but to stay out of sight until ordered otherwise. One of those crouching in the bottom of the trench, Brasso Hare, an eccentric, otherwise known as the ´mad axeman´, heard the throb of marine engines. Overcome by curiosity, he peered over the parapet. There, four hundred yards away, was the long low grey shape of the Guerrico. "Hellfire! That ain´t no bloody landing craft!"... Up on the plateau, Peter Leach and the other marines viewed with alarm the scene unfolding before them. Entirely cut off from their officer, they had watched the Guerrico cruising into the cove.´ (ibid) With Argentine troops already landed and advancing towards the Marines´ position, a Puma troop-carrying helicopter hove into sight, ´Corporal Al Larkin, one of the steadiest men in the detachment, shouted anxiously: "Sir, what are we going to do?"… The thought flashed through Keith Mills mind: "If this thing lands, we´re in the shit". He hesitated only a few seconds before bellowing the order: "Hit it!" Instantly, every weapon opened up and raked the helicopter at a range of between fifty and one hundred yards… Nearby, concealed in the tussock grass, Peter Leach did not need his telescopic sight to score repeated hits on the huge target with his sniper rifle.´ The helicopter crash landed and ´despite the intense excitement of having such an unexpected target at point blank range, Thomsen´s men had not lost sight of the beach, their area of responsibility. They now saw seven Argentine soldiers from the Alouette advancing along the shoreline. Holding shouted up to Sergeant Leach who was some yards to his rear, "Pete, look at those daft buggers in the open down there" Leach bellowed back: "Well, don´t just look at them - shoot the bastards." (ibid) Thomsen´s men accounted for three of the seven, forcing the remainder to seek cover; up to this point the engagement had gone as well as could be expected from Mills´ perspective, however, ´at this moment he was startled to see the Guerrico coming back toward the shore. At no more than three knots… This time… her guns were not simply trained on the British position, they were firing. The marines ducked down in their trenches as 100mm high explosive shells screamed over their heads… The 40mm quick-firer at the frigate´s stern came into action, also firing slightly too high, but tearing holes in the ground all around the area. The salvation of the marines was the fact that the Guerrico was so close to her target that the 100mm guns… could not "lob" her shells.´ (ibid) Due to the dangerous Hobart Rocks at the mouth of the cove the Guerrico had to sail closer to the Point than she would have normally wished; in an effort to lure her in closer Mills gave the order to cease fire, ´obligingly, the Argentine frigate cruised gently into everyone´s gun sights. "Fire!" Mills screamed the command and every weapon on the Point burst into action´ (ibid); the marines hit her with the Carl Gustav rocket launcher and a hail of rifle and machine gun fire, a lot of which penetrated her hull and thin superstructure, damaging equipment and silencing the 100mm gun; the 40mm gun continued its fire on the marines position, ´as the ship progressed deeper into King Edward Cove, however, they became exposed to Marines Steve Parsons and Steve Chubb… Parsons squinted down the barrel of the Bren… Squeezing the trigger, he sent a series of tightly grouped bursts…Two Argentines fell to the deck and the survivors ran forward to shelter behind the ship´s superstructure. The gun remained silent throughout the remainder of the battle.´ (ibid) A Lesson in the Art of Sniping In an effort to extricate herself the frigate tried to turn in the narrow waters, ´her manoeuvres could not be followed from the marines´ trenches… so Peter Leach ran into Shackleton House and went upstairs to the first floor. From here he could see almost the entire sweep of the cove. Moving to the extreme right-hand room, he bashed out the window with his rifle butt, dragged a table to the centre of the room and, lying down on it, adopted the prone firing position. Taking a firm grip of his L42, he carefully adjusted his telescopic sight for a range of 500 yards. Slowly the Guerrico turned a half circle, her bows facing towards the sniper. He was presented with a perfect frontal view of the ship´s bridge. Steadily and methodically, he fired the five rounds in the magazine, reloaded, fired five more, and then five more again. His shots went directly through the windows of the bridge housing. The effect of this fire - upon the people who were attempting to con the stricken vessel - must have been devastating. Later reports suggested that Leach´s shots killed the Captain and severely wounded another officer. Having finally turned, the frigate belched a stream of black smoke from her funnel and rapidly gained speed… She started to exit from the cove… As the Guerrico moved from left to right, so did Peter Leach, racing from room to room, smashing windows and loosing two or three shots from each before moving on to the next vantage point. The reserve ammunition dump was sited under one of the windows. Marine Brasso Hare was collecting fresh supplies from here when a shower of glass splinters fell on him. Startled, he looked up and demanded to know what was happening. Leach poked his head out of the empty frame: "Sorry, pal." The moment of unintentional humour almost ended in tragedy. As Leach hurried to the next window, a burst of Argentine machine gun fire blasted glass and timber work to the rear. He flung himself to the floor, resolving to be more careful in future.´ (ibid) As the Guerrico had retreated out to sea the marines turned their attention to the Alouette which had been constantly ferrying more Argentine troops ashore; despite being up to 1500 yards away they still managed to score several hits on the helicopter; the arrival of more Argentine troops, however, meant that the Marines planned escape route was threatened; the Argentine marines advanced towards Grytviken where the BAS personnel were hidden, and with this in mind, and the fact that the Guerrico´s 100mm gun had started to function again, Mills decided that their time was running out; up until that point only Corporal Peters had been wounded, but the odds were starting to stack up against Mills´ small command. ´He waited for the next lull in firing and poked his head cautiously over the parapet: "Well, guys, that´s it. We´ve made our point, that´s enough. I´ve decided to surrender. Does anyone have any violent objections?... Good. Because that is what I have decided." Seventy yards to the rear, high in Shackleton House Peter Leach could hear Mills shouting but did not understand what he was saying. Then the word was passed that his officer wanted to speak with him. Calling for covering fire, Leach ran downstairs, sprinted across the open ground and threw himself down beside Mills´ trench. Despite his initial forebodings, prior to the battle, Leach´s blood was up. "What´s the problem, Sir?" Mills told him of his decision to surrender. "What the hell for? We´re winning hands down." Mills briefly gave his reasons and confirmed his decision. "Ok, whatever you say. Personally I would like to carry on. But you´re the boss." Sergeant Leach felt highly incensed by this reversal of their fortunes, but he darted back into the building while the order to stop firing was shouted along to the trenches on the flanks.´ (ibid) Prisoner of War Mills advanced alone towards the Argentine position to discuss terms, ´placing his weapon on the ground, Mills approached the man [an officer]: "Hello, do you speak English?" "Yes, I do." Much relieved, Mills launched into the speech which he had rehearsed on the way down from Shackleton House: "Look, you are in a difficult position. We are well dug in and can go on fighting for a long time. You shall lose more and more of your own men. To avoid needless casualties on both sides, I am prepared to surrender now if you will guarantee good treatment for my men." The Argentine officer reached out, seized Mills´ hand, and shook it fervently. A smile of delight on his face, he promised there would be no reprisals... Mills was now feeling the reaction of battle and did not fully comprehend the speed with which Argentine troops seemed to appear from every direction. He was told to call his men forward. Gradually they advanced, unarmed, and walked down to the beach. As they arrived, they lined up and were counted. Suddenly there was tension in the air. The Argentines could account for only twenty-two prisoners. Uneasily they fingered their triggers, looking up at the cliffs, searching for the bulk of the British force. They suspected that Mills had tricked them into an ambush. Surely this tiny force of less than two dozen men could not have held off - for more than two hours - two naval vessels, two helicopters and eighty special assault troops?´ (ibid) Having finally convinced the Argentines that this was their entire force, the marines were searched before Mills met with Teniente de Navio Alfredo Astiz (officer commanding the military element of the invasion); the wounded Corporal Peters was brought down to the beach and ´Peter Leach injected morphine into the back of his thigh and covered him with the spare clothing... Mills and Leach were told that they could return to Shackleton House, under escort, to collect the small valuable possessions of their men. They did so, selecting everything of obvious financial or sentimental value... Before leaving, Peter Leach scribbled a note - addressed to the BAS - apologising for the broken windows and promising to return soon ´to clear up the mess´. It was a prophetic pledge´ (ibid) All the marines, with the exception of Mills, were transported to the Bahia Paraiso by landing craft, ´crossing the bay, they passed the Guerrico. The guards ordered them to lay down in the well-deck so that they could not admire the damage which they had inflicted on the warship´ (ibid); by 1800 hours the Bahia Paraiso was ready to sail, with Mills and the thirteen BAS personnel having also embarked; the ship sailed at full speed for the next three days heading directly for Argentine waters; Captain Trombetta had a large number of wounded troops aboard who needed proper medical attention; by a quirk of fate several of the guards were Argentine Marines who the men of H.M.S. Endurance had socialised with during their visit to Mar de Plata in February. The British were placed in cabins located under the Bahia Paraiso´s helicopter deck and immediately above the engine room, ´time passed slowly in the crowded cabins. Conversation centred upon two main topics: the prospect for returning to the United Kingdom, and reminiscences of the recent battle. Peter Leach admitted to Keith Mills that he had been wrong in wanting to fight on when the decision to surrender was made. Steve Martin cleared the air by telling Peter Leach that he now accepted the wisdom of having risked the Albatross on his journey to retrieve the observation party from Jason Harbour.´ (ibid) On the 7th April the Bahia Paraiso arrived off the port of Rio Grande; the wounded, including Peters, were evacuated by several helicopter flights; three days later, after a week of incarceration, the prisoners were allowed on deck for the first time; on the 14th April they landed at Bahia Blanca and were transported to the naval base; here they were kept for four days, with Corporal Peters returning to the party on the second day; Peters brought with him the news that he had heard a BBC World Service report announcing the sailing of a British task force; whilst excited by the news they were unsure as to what direct effect this would have on their guards and them as a consequence; however, they continued to be treated well; both Mills and Martin were questioned before a tribunal of naval captains and ´later it was agreed that Sergeant Leach should appear before the tribunal but, as he declined to offer anything more than his name, rank and number, the Argentines made no further progress.´ (ibid) On the afternoon of the 16th April they were taken to a nearby airfield, and by the early hours of the following morning they had landed at Montevideo International Airport, Uruguay; after 15 days of captivity they had been freed, ´the former captives were stunned by their reception... Apart from dozens of journalists and cameramen, representing the world´s media services, there was a crowd of cheering British ex-patriots who had fled to Uruguay from Argentina... The British Ambassador was there to welcome them... Blinded by the television lights and trying to fend off the swarm of pressmen, the marines and BAS personnel suddenly realised that their release was world news. Instead of returning as an embarrassment to their government - having been defeated and flung of a British island - they were being hailed as popular heroes.´ (ibid) Repatriation - Straight Back Into the Fray In the early hours of the morning of the 19th April Mills and his men were taken back to the airport and flown home; they arrived at RAF Brize Norton at 0430 on 20th April to a similar reception; after a final debrief Leach was allowed to go home on a short period of leave, ´now... Mills and his men were equally anxious to get back to their shipmates [H.M.S. Endurance]. Specifically, they wanted to avenge their enforced surrender. South Georgia had been re-occupied by British forces, on 26th April, but the Argentines still held the Falklands... The detachment departed Poole for the long haul back down to the edge of Antarctica. The convalescent Corporal Peters stayed in England, his place being taken by Corporal Steve Gogerty. After a brief stop at Ascension Island - where they had the quiet satisfaction of guarding Alfredo Astiz for two days - they boarded the Cable ship Iris which delivered them, on 25th May, to their own ship off Grytviken. For Mills and his men, the wheel had turned full circle.´ (ibid) Operation Keyhole With the surrender of all Argentine forces on the Falkland Islands, 14.6.1982, the only British territory still in Argentine hands was Thule Island; an Argentine naval base called Corbetta Uruguay had been established on the tiny island six years prior to the start of this conflict; on the 15th June a task group, of four ships and a force of Marines, under the command of Captain Barker (H.M.S. Endurance) was given orders to clear the island of the Argentine presence; the sailing of the task group was announced on an international distress frequency in an effort to give the Argentine commander the opportunity to surrender prior to any further military action; the message however remained unanswered. The Endurance and H.M.S. Salvageman arrived off Thule in the early hours of the 19th June; at first light a reconnaissance patrol led by Sergeant John Napier was inserted on to the island by helicopter; the conditions were horrendous - the air temperature was minus twenty degrees Celsius, with the wind gusting at 60mph causing a chill factor of minus 52 degrees Celsius; further appeals to the Argentine base were broadcast by the Endurance throughout the night, but they remained unanswered; by 0400 on the 20th June all four ships of the task group were present; the wind eased slightly and at 1140 Captain Barker launched the operation; the Endurance cruised to within a few hundred yards of the naval base but without armed response; the helicopters landed with the assault force, only to be informed that a flag of surrender had raised; the Argentines had spent the previous night destroying equipment and paperwork. The Marines, including the detachment from the Endurance, carefully searched and cleared all the buildings; the prisoners - one civilian and nine military personnel (believed before the attack to number as many as eighty) were flown to the Olmeda; the Captains of the British ships gathered in the Endurance for the surrender document ceremony, at which Leach was also present; once the Argentine base commander Corbeta Enrique Martinez had completed the ceremony the prisoners left almost immediately with the Olmeda and H.M.S. Yarmouth as escort, ´the Endurance and the Salvageman remained in the vicinity of Hewison Point overnight and, on the morning of 21st June, Lieutenant Keith Mills returned with ´the plum´s´ detachment to complete the search of the bright orange base buildings, ensuring that no explosives were concealed in the area. Mills and his men were disappointed that the affair had ended so tamely, but they had the satisfaction on this operation of being captors instead of prisoners. According to Lieutenant Mills: "I wasn´t happy when Captain Barker took us so close inshore - I knew the effect of infantry weapons at close range - but the white flag went up as soon as the people ashore saw the ship. The Wessex 5 was ready to go, so I quickly obtained permission to take the detachment ashore. Lieutenant-Commander Blight put us down by the Argentine base more or less simultaneously with the arrival of the Sea King. It was a great moment. After that it was a race between us and ´M´ Company to see who could raise the Union Jack first´ (ibid) H.M.S. Endurance finally departed South Georgia on 16th July; she arrived in the UK, via a stop at Port Stanley and the Ascension Islands, on the 20th August, ´national coverage of her triumphant return began when the Endurance appeared in the Medway at 1400. More than eighty journalists were on hand to record the event. A crowd estimated at fifteen thousand waved from the Strand at Gillingham and thousands more cheered as she passed Grain and the river at Hoo. Hundreds of yachts and pleasure boats trailed in her wake... overhead circled helicopters and light aircraft chartered by television companies. It was all in great contrast to the Endurance´s mundane departure from Portsmouth in October of the previous year.´ (ibid) With the war over Leach subsequently served as Security NCO and Training NCO at H.M.S. Warrior, HQ Northwood, before being discharged as Colour Sergeant to Pension, 4.6.1986; two days after leaving the Marines he joined the Merseyside Police; Leach served six years as a Patrol Officer in Huyton, Merseyside, and as a Sniper Instructor, 1990-99; he joined the Merseyside Police Tactical Aid Unit, 1991, and completed 320 armed operations; Peter Leach retired 14.12.1999.
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