It seemed as if the little house was crammed with thousands of men, two Para had commandeered the house and as many men as could squeeze a place inside were using it to lay low and keep dry. After days in the South Atlantic climate they were all scrabbling for as much of the little warmth as possible before they began the assault on the Darwin Parks peninsula.
Chris shivered as he remembered the previous week’s march through boggy, waterlogged terrain, such shitty conditions to move across land in, one guy had even fallen in up to his neck; he survived but the incident added to the miserable atmosphere over the unit.
He looked round the room he was squished into with what looked like a hundred others, fingers tingling as they warmed up unbearably slowly. He began opening and closing them in an attempt to speed up the painful, slow and ultimately pointless process by increasing the blood flow.
“Sergeant!” Hearing a whisper and feeling the slight nudge he turned toward the source and found the young Private – Cole – grinning widely.
“What you so fuckin’ chuffed about?”
“Look…” the lad produced a camping stove from the cupboard he’d been rummaging through, looking extremely pleased with himself.
“Nice one!” Chris nodded approvingly. “Now get some water on the boil for a brew.”
The teen set to work getting set-up and clearing a space so he didn’t burn the house down.
“I hope there’s enough for everyone, Sergeant.” The voice of the Major gently carried over the ambient chatter.
Never misses a trick, does he? Chris smiled to himself.
“Bit short on water, Sir. Give the lad some more and he’ll do it.” Cole looked a little put out by being “volunteered” as the tea lady but quickly shrugged it off, it’s the army, no use complaining.
The Major nodded and Chris flashed a smile although with the mud and cam-paint it looked more of a grimace.
“Right boys, we’ll do this troop-by-troop, pass your canteens down and they’ll boil the water for you. Everyone will get some eventually so no stealin’ ya tealeafin’ bastards!”
The time dragged by as canteens of cold and hot water passed through Private Cole and Sergeant McCall’s hands, it was back and forth tedious and slow work but at least their hands warmed up.
All too soon the murmurs grew as the orders to move out filtered their way through the house.
Automatically Chris checked his L1A1 rifle; clicking the safety off then back on to ensure it wasn’t stiff; releasing and slamming the magazine back in place to ensure it was secure and pulling back the chamber cover to ensure the first round had been loaded in to the firing chamber.
“Check your shit before you even consider shiftin’!” He yelled to his platoon above the activity and voices.
A chorus of metallic thuds and clicks followed as they all performed the basic pre-battle routine.
Moments later a shout and the rhythmic rumbling of boots on the floorboards signalled the house was clearing room by room.
Tension filled the air as fear tried to assert its presence in everyone’s mind. Chris’ breath caught in his throat more than once as he fought to keep his fear from freezing his limbs, willpower slowly but surely overpowering the gut-wrenching dread of so many unknown future possibilities.
Eventually the fear subsided, not completely as the butterflies had moved from his stomach to somewhere behind his lungs, but he had regained control over his actions again.
At length all platoons were formed up outside and the plans were relayed and discussed with each individual unit. All going well they’d have Goose Green “By breakfast.”
Flashes off to the east drew Chris’ gaze, as he watched there were more and more explosions, the sounds drifting to them on the South Atlantic winds as Her Majesty’s Frigate HMS Arrow shelled the Argentine positions along the Isthmus 2 PARA were preparing to attack.
Just over an hour later Chris and his platoon crouched waiting and fretting on the back slope of a small mound, listening to the continuing bombardment of the Argentine positions. All praying that they move out sooner rather than later, each worried that their fear will turn them to stone if they stooped there too long.
Flicking the light of his watch on, Sergeant McCall checked the time, staring at the face for a few moments before his mind registered it – 0228. Those of the men close enough to others whispered nervously as they waited for the inevitable order to attack.
Please surrender you idiots, don’t make me kill you, he pleaded silently while glancing at the dark sky. The shelling from HMS Arrow continued, as it had for over an hour already, in an attempt to destroy – or at least disrupt – the enemy positions up on Darwin Parks, all so 2PARA could sweep through and take Goose Green.
Tactically speaking Goose Green was not important in the counter-invasion target to liberate the capital of the islands – Port Stanley – however due to the large contingent of Argentine forces stationed there it was too dangerous to ignore. So Chris’ unit was among those tasked with attacking the well-prepared forces as the Marines, Scots and Welsh Guards prepared to fight their way toward Stanley.
At 0229 or thereabouts the shelling began to slow - the gaps between impacts becoming clearly longer before fizzling out completely.
“Right dickheads move it!” the bodiless voice boomed from out the pitch-black night.
“You heard ‘em guys, get yer arses in gear,” Chris yelled, more to motivate himself than his men.
Another silence-shattering cacophony of clicks as they all checked their weapons. He smiled; they were all doing their part to ensure there was no “dead-man’s click” in the midst of battle. The rifle could still jam – God forbid – but their actions were ensuring that it didn’t happen through negligence in the worst possible moment.
The platoon fanned-out and began to move forward in loose, staggered lines; easily in position to offer fire support if any other troop became pinned down.
As he led the way towards their objective – the first of the heavy machine gun emplacements – Chris noticed the ground was slowly rising. Fear tried to assert itself in his body and only succeeded in triggering adrenalin to explode in to his veins in response. The ground continued to rise and all too soon the summit loomed ahead. They were slowly coming into the scything firing-arcs of the enemy’s heavy infantry weapons.
Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes briefly Chris had to exert a serious effort to block the images of impending death from his mind. He held his breath in the deathly silence; afraid it would give their position away. The telltale “thunk-thunk-thunk” from the mortar unit working tirelessly behind them put Sergeant McCall a little more at ease as he realised the platoon and he were not alone.
“Thank you.” He whispered to the darkness towards where he guessed the unseen spotter would be located calling back grid co-ordinates.
A sudden burst of tracer sent Chris sprawling flat on the soggy ground in reaction. The water seeping in to his DPM’s as he realised the enemy were aiming for the out of range mortars.
Rising slowly to his feet Chris gave the hand signal to stand up. Gradually getting his breathing and shaking body under control, he moved on - his men following behind. Still no incoming fire directed at them, only the occasional flash of tracer as some jumpy conscript reacted to gunfire elsewhere.
Slowing and eventually stopping as he came to the last point where they could remain hidden. Chris signalled for his under-officers to join him and the Corporals quickly gathered round him.
Through whispers and hand gestures they eventually came to an agreement on how to proceed and everyone was dismissed to rejoin their individual troop and relay the plan.
What seemed like an eternity passed as Chris crept into position, to wait for the torch flash that would indicate the flanking units were ready to go. The nest they were to assault had three heavy machine guns manned by two men each. Also entrenched were riflemen to offer small arms support – these were un-numbered but estimated at around 30-50 men either on the hill or within firing range.
The plan itself was simple; three groups from three directions. The positions of attack were far enough apart to panic the enemy but not so far as to make friendly fire any more than a slight-possibility.
Going through the plan over and over, thinking out all the contingencies and possible fuck-ups he almost missed the flash. Luckily a second flash was to follow a minute later, that one he saw for sure. Shielding the light from the view of any alert – or jumpy – sentry above, he flashed the pre-determined signal for the other assault-team to start countdown to the attack. Chris began to count.
“1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…” Right on cue muzzle flash and shouting erupted from the left as the first group led off the assault.
“11…12…13…14…” More shouting and firing – this time from round to his right – indicated the second assault team had gone, a little early but that was no matter. “15…16…17…18…19…20!” Chris sprung to his feet roaring incoherently but so loud he almost startled himself before being drowned out by the lung-bursting growls from the men behind as the third and final phase of the attack rolled into play.
The men on the hill were giving ground but still fighting hard against the first two assault-teams… the roaring echoing round the hill heralded the arrival of the third team. The enemy’s will to fight broke and they surrendered.
Those who weren’t dead, wounded or paralyzed with fear threw down their weapons rather than face a third wave of the professional soldiers. Chris drew in a deep breath to fill his lungs and slowly exhaled, trying his best to control the thumping in his chest.
Looking around he could see his men were in good spirits, the first action had gone well.
“Casualties? Prisoners?” he yelled, as his mind began to clear. “Signaller? Get on to HQ for the sitrep... the rest of you, secure the area!”
There was no direct acknowledgement to his order, just a flurry of movement and shouting coming from the Corporals as they handed out assignments to their troops. Minutes passed as Chris watched chaos forming back in to an organised unit.
“Yes, Corporal?” He replied distractedly whilst watching the signaller setting up the radio.
“Four enemy dead; four injured; thirty-five prisoners. Ours...” The Corporal paused as he finished the final calculation. “Zero killed; 5 injured but they are all minor and one complete twat!” Chris’ head shot round and he gave the young man a searching look.
“The idiot tripped on a fuckin’ sandbag 3 minutes ago and looks to have dislocated his knee in the process. He wasn’ looking where he was goin’. The medic has told him it’s done in ‘n’ll need to come off. ” The look on the young man’s face at the time of the news came back in to his mind and caused the Corporal to laugh.
Suppressing his own smile, Chris shook his head. “There’s always one! Thank you Corporal, dismissed.”
Turning back to the signaller as the radio crackled to life. Rubbing and blowing into his hands, he waited for news and further orders.
“..Yes Sir! He’s here. Wait one...” The young communications soldier turned to Chris indicating he was wanted.
Placing the headset on, Chris could hear the hammering of several heavy machine guns in the background and the yelling of orders.
“Sergeant McCall here.”
“Chris, what's your situation up there?”
“Good Major! Five minor injuries, one relatively serious. Most of the enemy have surrendered at this position.”
“Brilliant mate, absolutely brilliant!, listen in, I need you t’ wait out. Secure the area, I’m still waiting to hear from the other guys near you but we’re gettin’ pinned down here. The bombardment has done fuck-all other than leave 500 severely pissed off dug-in Argies between us and Goose Green.”
“...by breakfast, my hairy arse!” Chris mumbled.
“Exactly!” replied Major Harkness – just as sarcastically.
“Sergeant, jus’ sit tight, secure your position ‘n’ await further orders. Good job son!”
“Sir – Thank you – Sir!” The Major cut the transmission without another word.
“Private?” He turned to find the signaller sitting a few yards away. “Keep listening and let me know the second any orders come in!”
“Will do, Sergeant.”
“Corporals, on me, now!” As the section leaders arrived, Chris explained what each of them were to do; two of them were to take the first and second stag shifts, the rest would be getting their heads down whilst they had the chance.
They all jogged off to pass the various orders on, leaving Chris to find a thoroughly darkened corner of the captured emplacement, he bedded down as best he could and waited.
Eventually, he slept.
© Copyright 2016 M K Brown. All rights reserved.