|One of the 11 Pucara aircraft destroyed by the SAS|
What distinguishes the SAS from the rest of the British Army is that they are a smaller but nimbler force. The RAF air-strike was not the best option in this case as the bombings could harm the civilian settlers on Pebble Island. The SAS's hit-and-run operation would achieve the result they wanted more efficiently. As the day for the British main landings approached, there was no time to waste - the SAS must eliminate the enemy threat without delay.
The sensitivity of the timing was not only for the British ground troops, but also for the SAS themselves. During the day, the British ships stayed away from the Argentine air-attack range, but sailed closer to the Falklands during the night. That meant that the SAS raiding team must go in under the cover of darkness and finish the job before daylight, so that they could return to HMS Hermes when the ship was close enough for helicopters to bring back the SAS. With a limited amount of fuel, the helicopters could fly only a certain distance.
Peter Ratcliffe's D Squadron was assigned to the operation. 45 soldiers from Air, Mobile and Mountain troops** armed themselves with M16 assault rifles, GPMGs, motor bombs and anti-tank missiles. They were joined by a naval gunfire support team and Royal Artillery who were to direct the gunfire from the ships stationed off shore. As he smeared cam cream on his face, Sgt Ratcliffe felt a surge of adrenaline inside. On the night of the 14th of May, the raiding team boarded the Sea King helicopters for the argent mission on Pebble Island.
The SAS Raid on 14/15 May
The British Main Landings on 21 May
It was going to be a classic SAS operation, attacking the enemy when & where they weren't expecting. However, it wasn't plain sailing from the start as the bad weather caused a delay in the helicopter landings on West Falkland. Furthermore, Peter Ratcliffe's Mobile troop fell behind the other troops as they got lost on the way to the target! Those days, they didn't have a high-tech navigation device, and unlike the other troops, his troop wasn't led by one of the recce team who were familiar with the local geography.
My impression is that Mr Ratcliffe was upset about being late, not necessarily because he was worried about the time limit of the operation, but because his troop was relegated to a supporting role as a result. Instead of playing a leading role, blowing up the Argentine aircraft, Sgt Ratcliffe's troop was told over the radio that the other troops would go ahead with the raid without waiting for his troop. If you are an SAS, you would prefer to get your own hands dirty, rather than watching the others do the nasty work, wouldn't you?
Once the SAS arrived in the target area, the members of Mountain troop ran to the airfield and placed PE (plastic explosives) on the Argentine aircraft, making sure that it wouldn't be easy to repair them. As Pucara is a tall plane, one SAS rode on another's shoulders to attach the explosives under the wings. A couple of Argentine soldiers bravely came out from their building, but it was too late. The SAS destroyed every one of the Argentine aircraft on Pebble Island without suffering casualties except for a few minor injuries from the impact of the blasts.
Pebble Island is not only close to San Carlos where the British troops were going to land, but the SAS also suspected that the Argentine force were extending the airstrip and setting up a radar. The Battle of San Carlos took place between the 21st and the 25th of May when the British Task Force ships came under severe air-attacks by the Argentinians. The British ground troops managed to land nonetheless, and established a beachhead in East Falkland - the beginning of the end of General Galtieri's war.
|British Troops landing at San Carlos|
You can read the full account of the SAS Pebble Island Raid in Peter Ratcliffe's Eye of the Storm.
*A British aircraft carrier which was in service from 1959 to 1984.
**Each Squadron of the SAS consists of 4 troops: air, boat, mobility and mountain. On Pebble Island, D Squadron's boat troop was doing recce.
To read more about the Falklands War, go to BLOG ARCHIVE at the top right-side of the page and click on my following posts:
The SAS and the Falklands War (September 2012)
Desperate in the Falklands (December 2012)