Amtracks on Falklands beach
Falklands

"Did Royal Marines Really Surrender After Falklands Invasion?"

Ricky D Philips, author of "The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War", tells us what he believes really happened when the...

Amtracks on Falklands beach

Ricky D Philips, author of "The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War", tells us what he believes really happened when the Falkland Islands were invaded in 1982.

"It is important to me personally that this story gets told as it happened, since I suspect there are those who would rather it wasn't".

With these words, the Falklands' most beloved governor Sir Rex Hunt opened his memoirs and told us (as much as he could) that, whatever we believed about the Falklands invasion of April 2nd, 1982, there was much more to the story than some, in the UK, would rather we know.

Sir Rex couldn't say it all and yet he told us in almost as many words to look beneath the surface of what has been 'established fact' for almost 36 years.

Curiously, it seems that everybody else missed it entirely until I saw it.

The books tell us that during the Falklands invasion 60 Royal Marines as good as laid down for a small group of Argentinian Commandos, promptly surrendering after firing off a few shots - killing one and wounding three.

That's the story we have all read for over three decades. Any casual look at a history of the Falklands War will show that this episode gets, at best, a page or two to itself before moving on to the better-known aspects of the conflict; the sunken ships, Goose Green, Tumbledown… we know the rest.

"The First Casualty" was not a book I ever set out to write or a case I set out to 'prove'.

It just happened like that. The fact is that I always knew – or thought I knew – that there MUST have been something more to this story.

Do 60 Royals really just surrender, throwing in the towel after a token defence?

The answer to that – perhaps not surprisingly – is no.

It was an almost casual curiosity which led me to begin to compile the facts and analyse the conjecture of that day; especially the stories of the Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901, which told a very different tale.

This, however, was always seemingly 'explained away' by a convenient Argentinian cover story.

When the Royal Marines themselves appeared and seemed overjoyed that someone, at last, believed what they had always said, I began to speak with them all.

I made notes, conducted interviews and saw for myself that the story we were always told about that day wasn't just wrong. It was virtually criminal in its inaccuracy.

WATCH: "We never ever surrendered" - Jim Fairfield is one of the Royal Marines Philips spoke to. 

In short, it was contrived. Yet I know enough, as a historian, not to just take someone's word for it and the idea struck me that, perhaps, the Argentinian veterans who fought that day might want their stories told too. In this, I was not to be disappointed.

From conscripts to full naval commanders, the Argentinian veterans wanted to add their stories to the tale and more than a few said that the 'official' version had largely written them out of it altogether and made the whole action look like the merest of skirmishes: 

"They made it sound as if we just turned up and the Royal Marines surrendered", one officer told me. 

"It wasn't like that. This was a battle."

This was excellent news. The Argentines were saying the exact same thing and when the Falkland Islanders themselves started to come forward and tell their stories, there was no doubt whatsoever.

In all, almost 300 accounts from three countries, complete with private diaries, personal photographs and more, concurred that the story which had lasted for decades and had become 'set in stone' history, was one big, elaborate lie.

My first task was actually to 'unlearn' the story you can read anywhere else.

It was so full of holes that it was virtually unusable in the light of primary evidence which, from three sides, stacked up absolutely.

It amazed me that nobody had ever seen through it… but then, nobody had ever asked the Royal Marines or the Falkland Islanders.

The Argentines, meanwhile, had given their accounts in several books, yet they admitted that, as serving officers, the interviews on base were largely a sham, with the words; "Get it right" issued as a warning before they went in and told their stories.

Now, as retired men, they could say what they liked. And they did.

The Sun "surrender" Falklands headline
"Surrender!" - Headlines convinced the public of a walkover.

The Falklands invasion began with the Argentinian Commandos hitting Moody Brook barracks, hoping to catch the Marines asleep in their bunks.

The barracks had been evacuated but the story we are told is one of stun and gas grenades tossed into rooms.

Ask anyone who saw it afterwards – I did – bullets through every bunk, fragmentation and phosphorous grenades, the electrical cables hanging out of the walls where grenades and bullets had torn the place to pieces.

This wasn't a peaceful takeover. This was attempted murder.

The Royal Marines, luckily, had had word of the invasion and were already deployed at Government House and along the Airport Road to Stanley, ready to face the invasion.

The next chapter of the story concerns a landing craft which sailed in through the narrows of Stanley - the thin neck of water leading to the inner harbour.

That landing craft doesn't make it into the histories. Argentinian records state that they never used them.

It would take several Argentinian officers to provide photographs to show that they had.

Landing craft - Falklands conflict
The LCVP Landing Craft which was dragged from the narrows, still denied after 35 years.

You can hear Rex Hunt on the radio, broadcasting at the time and he mentions it twice.

Then it just disappears from the story. The reason for this was that the landing craft, packed with Argentinian soldiers, ran into an anti-tank rocket and turned over, taking its tightly-packed crew down with it.

People even saw it get hit and explode.

The story could, of course, have been apocryphal until we went looking for it and suddenly there it was, dragged up from the narrows on its back with a gaping hole in the side, right about the water line.

Then came the main amphibious landing with 21 'Amtrack' APCs, each loaded with 28 men, including crew.

You will hear, no doubt, how the Royal Marines 'were encouraged to think' they had blown one up with anti-tank rockets on the Airport Road, yet Argentina produced an Amtrack, scarred by bullets and with the gunner's scope shot out, to prove that they had not.

Sadly for them, that wasn't the one the Royal Marines ever claimed to have hit!

With one 84mm round through the nose, just right of centre, a 66mm rocket through the back of the commander's cupola and another one to the left rear as the vehicle had swung right, off the road and become stuck on a bank, the Royal Marines claimed, credibly, to have left the Amtrack a smoking wreck from which nobody emerged.

This was one of the most fascinating aspects of the battle and more so when a rear left light cluster from an Amtrack turned up in the Falklands, with a 66mm rocket hole straight through it.

Indeed, I have held it.

Then we found the Amtrack itself, complete with a large, ugly wound in the nose, just right of centre. A 66mm hole shows through the back of the commander's cupola – right where the Marines remember hitting it – and finally, although the rear left cluster was replaced, the armour around it is heavily pitted and damaged.

Amtrack front view, Falklands
Amtrakl 17, which supposedly never went to the Falklands and never saw any combat. It shows a large, ugly patch over a hole, exactly where Royal Marines claim to have hit it.

The left side of the vehicle had many bullet scores commensurate with a vehicle which had indeed turned right off the road… the Amtrack Argentina that had always put up as merely damaged had turned left, as confirmed by all.

It wasn't the same vehicle.

Then, finally, certain people admitted it and others came forward to describe seeing the gory scene inside after the battle.

The Argentines who had been surrounding Government House and who had already taken three casualties in the back garden were being shot down in droves.

Not just 16 men, as we were always told (tell that to the Royals and they can't stop laughing) but scores of them.

They were rushing in, four abreast, shoulder-to-shoulder, SWAT-style (incredible but confirmed by Argentinian sources) and were too easy to hit.

Several of the Royal Marines described it as a 'turkey shoot' and the Marines' top sniper, Geordie Gill, is known to have killed a section commander, a rifleman and heavy machine gunner up on the ridge behind the house, to add to several other claimed 'kills'.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Stanley (where the official accounts state that there was no fighting and no Argentines) an eight-man section battled the odds, making several more confirmed kills as they fought street-to-street, firing off no less than 3,450 rounds… and we are told there was no street fighting?

Falklands casualty report
Major Mike Norman's official casualty report, listing only the casualties absolutely seen and confirmed immediately after the battle by the Marines themselves, with five killed, 17 wounded, 3 prisoners and 1 Amtrack destroyed. It was never released.

Eventually, when the damage to the town was increasing and Government House surrounded, Rex Hunt determined upon a ceasefire to save the people of Stanley. There was no surrender. Later he was to say: 

"I deliberately never used the word surrender as I knew it wasn't in the Marines' vocabulary".

And yet, almost incredibly, that word 'surrender' is still used.

There was no surrender.

From accounts of Royal Marines, their Argentinian opponents, people who found bodies in their gardens, on street corners and saw dozens floating for days afterwards in the harbour, from interviews with the hospital staff who described endless casualties, wards full of injured men, operations to save lives and 48 of the most hectic hours of their careers, I can physically count 107 Argentinian casualties. And that's without the records for their field hospital, which was also very busy indeed.

The Royal Marines walked out without a scratch.

As to the Argentinian bodies, what became of them? They burned them with napalm on April 21.

The accounts are numerous, mentioning the unmistakable smell of the bodies which moved from one place to another, travelling to the nearby Tussac Islands just outside of Stanley, from where a change in the wind blew the carrion smell unbearably back towards the town.

And then finally that unforgettable pall of white and then black smoke as the bodies were disposed of and the smell of burning flesh.

I could have filled another book with these harrowing accounts and even a photo of the incident, which was feebly explained and then totally denied.

This was a battle like few others; of a handful of men against thousands of opponents and an epic defence which was hushed up.

The only question is, why? There are theories aplenty and they are, of course, dangerous things.

There are some very, very good reasons which I have explored in detail, while Marines still have the letters handed to them when they came home, warning them to say nothing about what had really happened that day.

The full story, of course, is in my book and it is one which has received rave reviews in 40 countries and especially from the veterans and the civilians who saw this battle rage on their very doorsteps.

The Battle of Stanley is one which was blotted from the history books. No more. The book – a rollicking action story which has gripped and thrilled readers – is backed up by swathes of evidence and absolute proof.

It seems that the old saying was right; the first casualty in war really is the truth.

"The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War" by Ricky D Philips is available at www.beicbooks.com/shop

This piece was sent to Forces News by the author and has not yet been independently verified by our news team.

The first casualty book cover