Engagement at Many Branch Point


Engagement at Many Branch Point

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Commandos Clash at Many Branch Point
partof=Falklands War
campaign=


caption=
date= 10 June 1982
place=Port Howard, West Falkland
result=Argentine victory
combatant1=Flagicon|Argentina Argentina
combatant2=Flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
commander1=First Lieutenant
José Martiniano Duarte
commander2=Captain John HamiltonKIA
strength1=4 commandos of the 601 Company
strength2=4 SAS personnel
casualties1=none
casualties2=1 killed
1 prisoner
On 10 June 1982, during the Falklands War, Many Branch Point, a ridge near Port Howard, in West Falkland, was the site of a minor skirmish between Argentine and British elite forces. The engagement ended with the death of the SAS patrol commander, Captain John Hamilton.

Background

While the 35 mm radar-guided and 20 mm antiaircraft guns in Port Stanley and Goose Green forced the Sea Harriers to carry out air strikes from high altitude, [Woodward, page 36] the Argentine garrisons at West Falkland relied only on 12.7 mm machine guns for their own protection, which left them exposed to strafing and undisturbed low-fly bombings.

In order to reinforce these units, the Argentine command-in-chief deployed a special forces company, the 601, to Port Howard, then headquarters of the 5º Regiment of Infantry. The commandos were equipped with British-made, shoulder-fired Blowpipe missiles [Ruiz Moreno, page 141 and page 146] . After a 24-hours trip from Port Stanley, the company reached its destination. [Ruiz Moreno, pp. 144-145]

Some days later, with the British landing at San Carlos bay still ongoing, the Argentine troops found their mark when they shot down a GR3 Harrier on a recce mission. The pilot, Flt. Lt. Jeffrey Glover, bailed out safely and was taken prisoner. [ [http://www.naval-history.net/F63braircraftlost.htm#prof British aircraft losses, 21 May entry] ]

Once the British achieved overwhelming air supremacy over the islands, the Argentine elite force became isolated. [Ruiz Moreno, page 333] The helicopters which should have flown them back to Stanley were destroyed by GR3 Harriers near Mount Kent and Shag Cove House. [ [http://www.naval-history.net/F64argaircraftlost.htm#prof Argentine aircraft losses, 22 May and 23 May entries] ] Afterwards, the missions ordered to the commandos were mainly aimed to collect information about enemy activity on the opposite coast of the Falkland Sound.

In the meantime, SAS patrols had been active around the main Argentine advanced posts. On June 5, a 4-men party led by Captain Gavin John Hamilton moved as close as 2.5 km from the enemy to gather intelligence around Port Howard. [Strawson, page 239] Hamilton was an officer in the squadron that raided the air base at Pebble Island on May 16.

The action

On the morning of June 9, a routine reconnaissance patrol of the Argentine special forces, under the command of First Lieutenant José Martiniano Duarte marched to Many Branch point, a hill located 5 miles to the north of Howard. The days before, an observation post had been deployed on Mount Rosalie, but it had been compromised due to British presence. Nevertheless, the Commandos managed to slip away without been detected. [Ruiz Moreno, pp 338-339] The squad was originally composed of 9 men; by the afternoon, with no enemies in sight, five men went back to their base, while the other four remained on the ridge. From this position, they were able to determine that a British airfield had been built near San Carlos. [Ruiz Moreno, page 304]

The following day, while in alert, Duarte heard some voices behind a rocky formation. The patrol gathered at the entrance of the cave-shaped rocks, guessing if a British section was hidden there, or simply they were local shepherds. Suddenly, a dark-skinned man, wearing a balaclava used by Argentine Navy personnel, showed up. Initially there was some hesitation, but while recovering from the surprise, Duarte cried: "Argentinos o Ingleses"?". After a short silence, Lieutenant Duarte ordered: "Hands up!". The answer was a 5.56 mm burst, which bounced off the stones behind him. Then, the shooting raged out of control. An Argentine Sergeant launched two grenades, but a British 40 mm grenade exploded a few meters behind the Commandos. The fire of Duarte's patrol forced their British counterpart to get out from the rock's shelter and run down the hill's slope. One of the men attempted to cover the other, but was cut down by automatic fire and a rifle-launched grenade, falling apparently unconscious. The other soldier surrendered shortly after.

The fallen soldier was indeed killed. The prisoner was a signal corps member of Goan origin, Corporal Charlie Fonseca. [Bicheno, Hugh (2006) "Razor's Edge: The Unofficial History of the Falklands War". London. Weidenfield & Nicholson. ISBN-13 978-0-7538-2186-2] . The dead man was blonde, with no rank insignia. The commandos identified him by his dog tag; he was the Captain Hamilton. They found a photograph showing him with his family. The Argentines also captured a radio, an M16 and an AR-15 rifles, a beacon, cartography and a communications code. [Ruiz Moreno, pp 340-343] The other two soldiers of Hamilton's party managed to conceal themselves and were later rescued by friendly forces. [ [http://www.britains-smallwars.com/Falklands/sas.htm#prof British Small Wars] ]

Aftermath

That night witnessed the inaccurate shelling carried out by British frigates on Port Howard. ["Apenas había concluído esta tarea cuando se escuchó una explosión, que en un primer momento fue atribuída al estallido de una mina. Pero al rato se percibieron claramente tres cañonazos navales y todos buscaron cubiertas: los observadores ubicados en Monte María, atrás y arriba de Howard, indicaron posteriormente que se trataba de tres fragatas desde la distancia habitual de diez a doce kilómetros. El bombardeo duró hasta las tres de la mañana y fue muy impreciso: le faltaba observación. El teniente primero Fernández supuso que el primer disparo, aislado, fue un llamado al observador, al no recibir su comunicación: y los posteriores se limitaron a dirigirlos hacia las posiciones previamente marcadas -la ubicación de la Compañía B, sobre un cerro-, pero sin causar efectos." Ruiz Moreno, pp. 345-346] It led to speculation among Argentine officers that the mission of Hamilton was to act as Naval Gunfire Support Forward Observer (NGSFO).

The autopsy revealed that Hamilton was killed by a 7.62 mm shot in his back. Another bullet hit his arm. He was buried at Port Howard, along with an Argentine conscript who died of starvation, a clear signal of the hopeless scenario for the troops in West Falkland. The islanders refused to provide a British flag for Hamilton's burial. [Ruiz Moreno, 346] The fate of Captain Hamilton became known to his comrades only when the garrison surrender to the British on June 15. [Ruiz Moreno, page 420] Hamilton's grave can still be seen up the hill from Port Howard.

When the Argentine Commander of Port Howard was interrogated after the Argentine surrender, he asked that 'the SAS Captain' be decorated for his actions as he was 'the most courageous man I have ever seen' [SAS Heroes by Pete Scholey. Osprey Publishing. p.260] In the event Captain Hamilton was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. [ [http://www.sama82.org/garden/2/3/2/gaz.htm#prof "London Gazette" citation] ]

Notes

References

*Ruiz Moreno, Isidoro:"Comandos en acción". Emecé editions, 1986. ISBN 9500405202.

*Strawson, John:"A History of the SAS Regiment". Secker & Warburg, 1984. ISBN 0436499924.

*Woodward, Sandy:"The one hundred days". Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 0002157233.


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