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Special operations

The two special forces of opposing sides fought in Falklands War

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sas in falklands - The two special forces of opposing sides fought in Falklands War

Argentina’s 601 & 602 Commando Company battled against Great Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), the Mountain & Artic Warfare Cadre and the 45 Commando Royal Marines.

During the South Atlantic Conflict in 1982, the Argentine forces defending the islands -and to counter British Forces-, deployed two Commando units which operated under the command of the Argentine Army.

The Argentine special operating forces consisted of two Companies with numbers 601 and 602. Company 601 began operating since the beginning of the conflict, while the 602 Company was assembled later and saw action once the war was already reaching it’s most violent peak.

Company 601 was led by 34-year-old Major Mario Castagneto. 39-year-old Major Aldo Rico was in charge of Company 602. 601 & 602 Commando Companies fought bravely in several occasions including Top Malo House, Mount Kent, Murrel River Bridge and Many Branch Point.

Action at Port Howard

After the British landed in San Carlos in the Soledad Island (East island) on May 21st, 1982, the 601 Commandos were sent to the Gran Malvina (West Island) island at Pt. Howard precisely, to gather intel on the enemy who had been spotted in the surrounding area, and provides anti-aircraft cover with Blowpipe missiles to the 5th Regiment stationed at Port Howard, which lacked AA capabilities.

The commando units gathered information close to enemy lines, and set up observation posts. Company 601 was responsible for downing a Harrier GR3 in May 21st, 1982.

Combat at Top Malo House

Around the 29th of May 1982 a patrol of twelve 602 Commandos led by Capt Vercesi, had been walking up and down of Mt. Simon located in Soledad Island. They had been trying to communicate with their HQ to report enemy movement. After crossing several creeks, the commandos were beginning to develop hypothermia.

Temperatures were below 0. The patrol reached the Top Malo House, which was an abandoned sheep establishment and decided to enter the house in order to dry their clothes and rest through the night.

Capt. Vercesi, recalled later that he made a terrible choice entering the house but he knew that they were not equipped to survive the cold night, wet as they were.

Little they knew that they had been spotted by an observation post of the SAS which quickly notified the British Command who dispatched the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre to locate and destroy the Argentine special forces.

A group of 19 men led by SAS Captain Boswell, reached the house the next morning and attacked the Argentine commandos with 66 mm LAW rocket launchers, Carl Gustav anti-tank rockets and M-79 grenade launchers.

The house was quickly set on fire as a result of these attacks. A Lebanese Argentinean commando Sgt. Mateo Sbert was killed in the process and so was Lt. Espinosa who was the group sniper. Espinosa drew fire upon himself from the second story allowing his friends to come out from the house to return fire.

The Argentine commandos included 1st Lt. Horacio Losito, a brave man who counter-attacked and received multiple wounds in the process. Losito and his commandos ran towards the British shooting from the hip round after round of 7.62 mm caliber. The British were caught by surprise and could not believe the Argentine was counter-attacking after having been subject to rocket fire.

The British were shooting with American made M-16 and their 5.56 mm caliber bullets somehow allowed the Argentines to get up even after being hit. Lt. Losito collapsed several times, and in one occasion while shooting towards the enemy, he shouted:

Cristina! I won’t be able to return! Cristina was his wife. Losito eventually fainted due to blood loss.

The 602 Commandos, were eventually surrounded and reported running out of ammo. Several men were already wounded and therefore Capt. Verseci ordered surrendering.

Captain Verseci upon seeing his friend Mateo Sbert lying dead on the ground said in an emotional tone:

“Turco que me has hecho!” “Turk* what have you done to me!” (*All Lebanese and Syrian immigrants had historically entered Argentina with Ottoman passports).

Sgt. Mateo Sbert’s wife who was pregnant at the time of his death would deliver a young boy which would later become a commando too, and would eventually marry Capt. Verseci’s daughter.

Assault on Mount Kent

At the end of May, advanced patrols of the G-Squad Special Air Service had established that a number of high summits overlooking the Argentine defenses around Port Stanley were largely defenseless, especially after the Argentine air assault team- the Solari combat team (Company B, 12 Infantry Regiment)- went by helicopter to Pradera de Ganso (Goose Green) and the fourth infantry regiment had been ordered to leave Mount Challenger and take up new positions in the Mt. Two Sisters and Harriet.

An initial element of reconnaissance of the D Squadron Major Cedric Delves was inserted into the Mount Kent area by helicopter on May 25th, and allowed the rest of the squadron to arrive safely on May 27th at the time to face a strong insertion of the Special Forces of Argentina, under the command of Captain Eduardo Villarruel, second to the command of the Company of Commands 602.

Commando Company 602 leader, Major Aldo Rico, had instructed the four Argentine patrol commanders seizing the Kent Mountains and surrounding peaks in order to allow additional reinforcements that would later heli-land over there. Namely squadron 601th Special Forces of National Gendarmerie of Major Jose Ricardo Spadaro and Major Oscar Ramón Jaimet.

SAS patrols (in the form of Air Troop, Boat Troop and tactical headquarters of Major Delves) found themselves in trouble and clashed in a series of fierce patrol actions with about 40 of the Argentine Special Forces before which the latter finally retired.

The first engagement during the Mount Kent Assault occurred during the night of May 29 to 30, 1982 when the Third Assault Section of Captain Andres Ferrero of Commando Company 602 encountered a British patrol of Squadron D of 22 Special Air Service (SAS) on the slopes of Mount Kent.

The British took control of the situation, but at the expense of two wounded SAS soldiers.

The next day, Captain Tomás Fernández’s 2nd Assault Section attempted to seize Bluff Cove Peak. The Argentine commandos led by Captain Fernandez had literally stumbled into a camp occupied by 15 SAS soldiers. They sent out the following radio message from the slopes of Bluff Cove Peak at about 5 PM on 30 May:

“We are in trouble” and then forty minutes later: “There are English all around us… you better hurry up”.

On Mount Simon, Captain Jose Verseci’s 1st Assault Section, listening to Captain Fernandez’s patrol attempts to escape the British encirclement, decided to abandon his position and attempt to link up with the 601st Combat Engineer Battalion forces guarding Fitzroy.

That following day, another SAS ambush takes place when Lieutenant-Commander Dante Camiletti’s Marine Special Forces patrol -after returning from reconnoitering San Carlos- are ambushed by Captain Gavin Hamilton’s Mountain Troop on the lower slopes of Estancia Mountain and sergeants Jesús Pereyra and Ramón López are seriously wounded and captured along with corporals Pablo Alvarado and Pedro Verón who are captured alive.

The SAS would be reinforced with 105 mm guns by helicopter, but on attempting to leave the area, the Helicopter would be shot down by Argentine commandos shooting with small arms.

A British Harrier GR3 aircraft was also disabled by small arms fire from the Argentine commandos while it tried to provide Close Air Support to the SAS.

Stinger Missiles

There was a SAS operative by the name O’Connor that had just rotated from the USA where he had trained with a group of SOF and had brought with him a couple of Stinger SAMs plus the manuals and the know how to employ them in combat.

O’Connor would shoot down an Argentine Army Puma helicopter and four gendarmerie commandos would find a horrible death as a result.

This man intended to teach other SAS operatives on how to use the Stinger missiles but would perish in a helicopter accident when cross-decking from the HMS Fearless towards HMS Avenger. A total of 22 SAS commandos would die drowned when an Albatros crashed was sucked into the helicopter turbine.

As a result of all these actions in Mount Kent, the British lost a total of 5 men and suffered dozens of wounded including half a dozen SAS members.

Skirmish at Murrel River Bridge

On the night of June 6th, 1982, Captain Rubén Figueroa of the 601 Commando Company led the 3rd Section of the Commando Company and attacked a British patrol base near Murrel River Bridge, northwest of Puerto Argentino, which consisted of members of the 3 PARA.

After a vicious firefight that lasted almost 40 minutes, the British abandoned the outpost under heavy fire from mortars and light arms, leaving behind much of their equipment. The outcome of this engagement compelled the British to set patrol bases closer to their own lines.

According to the British version of events:

On 6 June two patrols under Corporals Brown and Haddon rendezvoused 200 yards north of the Murrell Bridge and observed an enemy patrol crossing the skyline to the east of the river (…) They were forced to evacuate their position rapidly, leaving behind their packs and radio, but succeeded in withdrawing without suffering any casualties. The location was checked on the evening of 8 June by another patrol, but there was no sign of the packs or radio, which meant the battalion’s radio net could have been compromised.

Private Colin Charlton from Corporal Peter Higg’s patrol recalls:

We nearly got hit by their mortars. All we heard was ‘pop, pop, pop’. The mortar shells landed either side of Colin and Paul’s patrol, close enough to kill or injure the men in other circumstances. We saw the shells land but the peat absorbed the impact. Had it been concrete, there would have been a lot of debris.

Film animation reenacting the fight between the Argentines and 3 PARA.

Skirmish at Many Branch Point

The 10th of June of 1982, while on patrol around Many Branch, Captain Martiniano Duarte of the 601 Commando Company ordered the four men patrol a full silence discipline. Capt. Duarte knew that any sound could alert the enemy of their presence. At some point they overheard two men talking in a loud voice.

They discovered four figures in the dark. One of the men had dark skin and a long mustache. He had an Argentine Marine Balaklava and camouflaged trousers. His name was Charles Roy Fonseca and was a Goan Sgt. assigned to the Royal Signals Rgmt. Charly Fonseca was surprised by the site of the Argentines and froze.

Captain Duarte said: Hands Up! Hand Up!

Sgt. Fonseca threw himself to the ground and began shooting. The Argentine commandos threw two grenades. A man called Gavin Hamilton who was commander of the SAS unit ordered him to retreat while he provided suppression fire. The British commandos fired a 40 mm rocket which impacted close to Capt. Duarte.

Drawing representing the skirmish at Many Branch. Sgt. Fonseca has held prisoner while Capt. Hamilton lies on the ground. (Credits Juan Manuel Terradas e Ignacio Amendolara).

After a few minutes, the fight was over. Hamilton lay dead on the ground and Fonseca had been captured. The other two SAS fled the scene abandoning their fellow commandos.

Fonseca identified himself as a cook speaking Italian. Martiniano Duarte escorted him to Pto Argentino. They walked several miles when suddenly the patrol realized that Charly Fonseca had been holding his hands up -as ordered- since the beginning for at least two hours! He was ordered to rest.

Conclusion

The several confrontations between the SAS and the Argentine 601 & 602 Commando units, showed that the two units were extremely capable and that on equal conditions, the result would be frequently tied.

The advantage came usually on the British side given that their patrols could be inserted and extracted easily by means of helicopters which were not always available on the Argentine side.

It should be noted that the SAS could rely upon naval artillery and CAS from their Harrier fleet. Plus they could easily jamm Argentine communications.

The SAS were, in general, better equipped than the 601 & 602 Commandos, as shown in Top Malo House. The use of rocket launchers was far more effective than the Argentine combination of FAL and grenades.

The Argentine commandos were limited by their superior’s lack of criteria to send them to fulfill missions in which they were not always properly supported.

On the other hand, the SAS had clear targets and could call for support on demand.

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Assault Rifles / Carbines

Portuguese Army new Assault Rifle: SCAR-L in 5,56x45mm

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Exercito Portugues substitui a espingarda automatica G3

On the 20th February 2019, FN Herstal was awarded a major contract for thousands of assault rifles,  by NATO’s Support & Procurement Agency (NSPA) on behalf of the Portuguese Army.  The contract is for the 5.56x45mm  caliber FN SCAR L assault rifles. Included in this contrat, FN will also supply other guns, namely the FN40GL grenade launchers, MINIMI 5.56 and 7.62 Mk3 light and medium machine guns respectively, and the designated Marksman Rifle SCAR-H in 7,62x51mm.

C57I5366 4 640x427 - Portuguese Army new Assault Rifle: SCAR-L in 5,56x45mm

The NSPA, is the main logistics and procurement agency of NATO and is able to handle and support procurement for member nations. NSPA described the contract as a ‘major milestone’ for the agency. The contract was signed by FN’s sales director and NSPA General Manager.

NSPA made a short statement:

“NSPA awarded today a contract to Belgium-based FN Herstal, one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers of small caliber weapons. This is for the Agency a major contract to produce FN SCAR® assault rifles and FN MINIMI® machine guns as new standard issue weapons for the Portuguese Army’s.

The contract includes the manufacture and supply of 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO caliber FN SCAR® assault rifles, FN40GL grenade launchers, MINIMI® 5.56 and 7.62 Mk3 Tactical light machine guns, and all related accessories.

The Portuguese Army’s standard issue service rifle is currently a Portuguese license produced variant of the Heckler & Koch G3, while the MG3 and HK21 are used in the General Purpose and Light Machine Gun purpose. The exact size of this new contract and its worth have not yet been announced, but In 2017, when the program was released, the acquisition called for 11 000 assault rifles in 5.56x45mm. The value of this weapons package procurement would be €42.8 million ($50.3 million).

This is a major acquisition for the Portuguese Army as the old G3 Battle Rifles are outdated, even in its class, and are obvious not adequate for the assault role. This purchase does not only manage to replace the G3 Battle rifle with one of the best current assault rifles, if not the best, but it will allow that the Portuguese Army to change the fire dynamics of it´s small units, increasing firepower and combat capabilities and being able to have more Hit probability on the enemy.

C57I5761 3 640x461 - Portuguese Army new Assault Rifle: SCAR-L in 5,56x45mm

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Special operations

Ansariya Ambush: Israel’s SOF Greatest Military Defeat

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shayetet 13 commandos in Ansariya Ambush - Ansariya Ambush: Israel's SOF Greatest Military Defeat

The 12 Israeli soldiers killed in an ambush in southern Lebanon on September 5, 1997 were betrayed by a Lebanese double agent. It was Israel’s greatest military humiliation in Lebanon since 1985 and Hezbollah’s most crushing intelligence operation ever. Even the Israeli map that led the soldiers to their deaths was allegedly drawn by the pro-Iranian militia, the Independent reported.

On September 5, 1997, the unit suffered a major blow during a raid in Lebanon. A force of sixteen Shayetet 13 commandos landed on Lebanon’s coast, south of Sidon between the towns of Loubieh and Ansariya. Speculation about their mission was that they were trying to assassinate a senior Shia Muslim cleric of the Hezbollah movement. In fact, it was this same leader – the assassination target of the Israelis – who set up what can only be described as a classic guerrilla ambush.

Ansariya Ambush 1997 - Ansariya Ambush: Israel's SOF Greatest Military Defeat

Ansariya Ambush Lebanon, 1997

They landed in the dark early hours of that Friday and started moving inland. The IDF said the force had been “on its way to its mission” when it was ambushed. Hezbollah and Amal commandos were lying in wait for them. The clash took place outside a 15-km deep security zone which Israel occupied in south Lebanon. The soldiers were ambushed after entering an orchard booby-trapped with bombs, which exploded as they entered.

The IDF knew that on September 4, 1997, while the Shayetet commandos were sailing toward Lebanon, Hezbollah went radio silent. The MID estimated at the time the decision had to do with the raised level of alert in Hezbollah, which was worried about Israeli retaliation for a terror attack in Jerusalem earlier in the day, which claimed the lives of three Israelis. No one even imagined the possibility Hezbollah raised the level of alert in the organization because of an intelligence leak. Radio silence normally means the enemy was waiting, Ynetnews revealed.

“Even in a group skydive, there comes a moment when the skydivers let go of each other, and then each is left to himself, alone with the parachute.”

The commandos were knocked to the ground and came under heavy fire, killing the force’s commander, Lt. Col. Yossi Korakin almost immediately. More commandos were killed when the firing triggered the explosives one of the commandos was carrying. Israel immediately dispatched a rescue team in a CH-53 helicopter. A rescue force of helicopters and missile boats arrived, joining in a battle that lasted until dawn as the rescuers evacuated the dead. Mortar shells exploded nearby, killing a doctor in the rescue force, and shrapnel hit the CH-53, but it was able to take off.

The IDF lost twelve dead, including eleven Shayetet 13 commandos, while six Hezbollah and Amal fighters and two Lebanese soldiers were also killed. The uncollected remains of the Israeli soldiers were returned to Israel on June 25, 1998 in a prisoner exchange deal.

After 14 years, Hezbollah revealed that they knew the position of the commandos in advance thanks to the interception of video footage broadcast by Israeli UAVs that were hovering over the area in the days before the mission.

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