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The Battle of Goose Green: The Devil's Battalion


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The Battle of Goose Green: The Devil's Battalion


Fighting with 2 Para in the Falklands, John Geddes experienced the true horror of modern warfare.
Now, in a brutally honest and vivid book, he tells the inside story of the crucial battle of Goose Green, in which Colonel 'H' Jones died.

Here, in our second extract, Geddes describes the moment he was almost blown to shreds - and the harrowing aftermath of the first phase of the battle...

Blood pounded through my head, almost drowning the sound of explosions and machine-gun fire all around me.
My chest heaved and I greedily sucked in more air as I ran across the wet peat turf, trampling the tussocks of grass underfoot.
Run! For God's sake just keep running! A seemingly endless stretch of freezing bog lay ahead of us and some South American with a mortar was tracking us and trying to drop high explosives on our heads.
Move! Move! Move! Then the shrill whistle warning of an incoming mortar round. We hit the ground. All four of us.
'Boom!' The Argy was getting closer. His first shot had been a hundred yards short. This was his third try and he was gaining on us. Forty yards. Too damn close.
"Come on, lads! Move it! Run like f***!" I shouted, and we did. Stumbling blindly, we sprinted across the soggy terrain, struggling against the boot-clutching peat as our hearts pumped frantically and our muscles strained to keep up the manic pace.
The next mortar round whistled and exploded and we hit the ground as the shrapnel mixed with great sods of peat to make lethal potting compost. And we were the ones they were trying to plant.
Flat on the ground, my face full of soil, I put my head up and wondered why the lads in my patrol had ended up so close together. We were trained to disperse and that was always the way we did it on exercise; we never squashed up like this.
"What the f*** are we doing bunched up?" I yelled.
"Because no f***** wants to die on their own, that's f****** why!" one of them shouted.
He was right. We'd instinctively drawn together in the face of death, seeking comfort in closeness.
Dotted all around, the other lads from C Company were running their own race with the mortars and machine-guns.
We were on our way to support A Company, who were pinned down in a gully ahead of us under a barrage of Argy fire, but we'd been caught out in the open.
Like bolting rabbits with nothing taller than the endless clumps of foot-high bog grass to hide in, we couldn't have been more exposed if we'd had our trousers down.
In the midst of the battle, we'd barely registered that the black of night had given way to the watery light of dawn a couple of hours earlier, except that the vivid flashes from the tracer rounds no longer seared onto the backs of our eyes.
Lads fanned out behind me as we ran desperately for a gully 700 yards away. We were willing ourselves not to collapse to the ground and die like frightened rats.
We hadn't come to the Falklands for that, we'd come to fight - but that Argy on the mortar knew what he was doing. I swear I could hear him in my head calling out to his number two "30 metres left", or whatever the translation would be.

Can't say they did Spanish in my school back in Newcastle.

As he reset his sights, eyeing us up for dismemberment, we were dead men running. It was only a matter of time.

The louder the whistle, the closer the round will land. That's the rule of thumb when you gauge mortar fire, though most people who've heard the loudest whistle never live to talk about it.

The next one was loud, it was clear and it was jeering at us as it came in. We were as good as dead as we all dived for the ground at the same time. Whack! Something landed right among us and I expected to die.

I pushed my face into the ground and waited helplessly for the shock of pain and then oblivion.
Nothing. I could still taste the earth in my mouth; still feel my heart pounding. Why wasn't I dead?
"F****** hell," said one of the lads. "Look at that!"

The rest of us lifted our heads off the ground at the same time, spitting grass and peat from our mouths. Then we saw it and for a while we couldn't look at anything else.

Nothing in the world seemed to exist and time stood still as we stared at the mortar bomb that had struck the boggy earth and failed to explode. It was stuck upright in the ground. A set of smoking tail fins marked the spot.

"Move! Move! Move!" I urged the lads on and as we began to sprint again, I started weaving from side to side. How the hell I thought that would help I've no idea.

The Argy had been put off his stride by the misfire. Wouldn't be long though. Hell! Here we go again.
This time a rush of air flew about us and it wasn't the perpetual wind that etched the island. It was another mortar blast, followed by a rush of panic.

Where the hell was our gunner, Kev? With the weight of the machinegun and ammo he was carrying, he was always tail-end Charlie and I couldn't see him through the wreath of smoke from the explosion.
I raced back and saw him lying in the bracken. Oh, no! Oh, please no! Not Kev! Then he lifted his head off the ground and his body followed.

The blast had bowled him over, but Kev had been a talented amateur boxer. Really gutsy. He got to his feet but he didn't bother giving himself a standing count. He was dizzy and disorientated but he was game.

"All right, mate?" I called out to him. "This way. Come on, this way."

Voice was like the round bell and Kev came out of his corner running. I turned and ran too, fearing that the thug with the mortar might have zeroed us in his sights good and proper this time.
The Argies set it up well. To our right was a minefield. We'd watched one of our lads find it at the start of our race across no-man's land. Poor devil.

That meant we had to head left and into the arcs of fire of their guns. We'd walked into the killing ground they'd created and they were letting us have it.

Then a thump, thump, on the hill ahead of us and a lifting, billowing cloud of blue-grey smoke told me that one of A Company's mortar-fire controllers had eyeballed our enemy tormentors.
Smoke bombs marked the Argy position out as a target, followed quickly by a short, merciless barrage of high explosives which spelled the end of our persecutors.

Our luck was in. Theirs was out. Thank God for that.

The firing had stopped and an eerie silence had fallen over the battlefield when we entered the gorse gully where A Company had fought their hearts out during the night.

Here and there tracer rounds and white phosphorous grenades had set the gorse on fire and the peculiar acrid smoke of a heath fire blew over us, but it failed to fumigate the stench of battle.
Some of A Company's lads were standing in ones and twos; some were slumped on the ground, drained of all feeling by the hours of fighting and fear. A few slept on rough beds in the furze.

Wounded men being tended by their mates were scattered around the position. Some of the lads who'd come out of it unscarred stared into the void and drew heavily on cigarettes; others busied themselves making a brew.

Everywhere was the litter of war. Discarded weapons, spent cartridge-brass sown on the ground like seed, empty ammo magazines, bloodstained combat jackets and ration packs scattered like ugly confetti by mortar bombs.

We hadn't been able to break free soon enough to come to their aid, so what the hell could I say when I found one of my best mates, Gerry Toole, swaying like a tree in the tailwind of a storm, almost too exhausted to move.

"All right, Gerry?" I asked. It was one of the thickest questions of my entire life, but I didn't know what else to say. Gerry shook his head. He was in shock. "John, John, where the f*** were C Company?" he asked.

"Sorry, mate," I replied, "I'm really sorry. We got pinned down."
How lame did that sound? We got pinned down? We should have done more. We should have unpinned ourselves. What use had we been to our mates?
I put my arm around him. Then he spoke again and his words were like knives stuck into my heart. "They're all dead, mate. They're all dead."
They weren't all dead of course, but a few of the special ones were, including our boss, Colonel 'H' Jones, and his adjutant, Captain Dave Wood.

"Who's dead, Gerry?" I asked as gently as I could in that harsh, uncompromising place.
"Steve Prior. Jock Hardman. They're dead," he said. Two names, two body blows.
Comrades-in-arms, mates; they were both men I would have died for. The trouble was they'd died for me - at least that's how I saw it then through eyes blurred by silent tears.

Gerry nodded towards a line of bodies covered by rain ponchos. "The boys are over there," he told me.
As I walked slowly across to them, I felt as though my spine had been injected with ice but I had to see them and pay my last respects. I had to say goodbye.

Steve Prior was one of the best friends I ever had. On the way out to the Falklands, I listened to him talking to a young para who was fretting about the battle to come.

Grasping him firmly by the shoulder, Steve was full of resolve. "Listen, mate," he said, "don't worry. If it comes to it I'll die so that you can live."

His words had been eerily prophetic. I learned that he had died so that someone else could live, shot in the back of the head as he ran out into the enemy's killing ground to drag an injured mate back to cover.
That's what paras do. They help their mates, not listening to that tosh about one wounded man taking four of his comrades out of the action to help him.

They reckon one para is worth four of everyone else's conventional troops in any event, so that makes it about right.

Alongside Steve was Jock, a corporal shot up in an ill-fated assault on the Argy positions. One of the other lads had been forced to use his body for cover and felt it twitching with enemy fire as Jock defended him, even in death.

As I pulled the makeshift shrouds from my friends' faces, I paid silent tribute to them both. For each of them I had a personal thought; memories of some shared danger or a great night out on the town.
I pledged then that I would keep fighting for them. I'd sworn an oath to serve Queen and country but now it would be their memory I'd fight for. I've got a feeling Her Majesty would understand.
There was no time for long goodbyes, no time for indulging our mourning. We had work to finish. "Right, lads, let's move on," said my boss, Captain Paul Farrar. "We've got a mopping-up job to do."
We climbed up to the enemy lines on the ridge above, rifles at the ready, to make sure there was nobody left to fight. There we found beaten, demoralised Argies still in shock and with bewilderment on their faces.

When the battle began they'd sat on top of a hill holding all the aces. They out-numbered, out-gunned and out-positioned the force attacking them, but they were completely undone by the ferocity of an enemy that had out-fought them against all the odds. As we moved into the Argentine positions in depth, we were entering a ghastly waxworks where the models were their dead.

Some were sitting up, others were lying on their backs, but all had faces white and translucent in death with very little blood anywhere. The cold was so intense that it had quickly frozen in their bodies.
Most of those in the waxworks were Argentine conscripts and reservists taken from South American towns and thrown onto a wind-scoured island far from their homes. Young as they were, I didn't feel sorry for them because behind me were the dead and broken bodies of my friends who'd been killed or wounded by these youthful invaders.

Around us were discarded weapons. Many of the rifles had brightly coloured images of the Madonna and Child on plastic cards taped to the butts.

Some even had rosaries tied around the neck of the weapon behind the trigger. Totems that were meant to protect them, rendered useless in the fury of war.

"So this is what happens when you lose?" said one of my mates.

"It's not so hot when you win either," I replied, nodding in the direction of our boys' bodies back down the hill.

"Stay down!" I heard a warning shout to my right as someone spied an Argy crawling out of a dug-out with a gun in his hands.

We moved into firing positions and then the silence of the waxworks was broken. Crack! A bloke in another patrol fired and killed the Argy with a single shot. He had paid the price for not coming out with his hands up. It was him or us. He ended up as a waxworks dummy. That's war.

We moved on, probing deeper into the layers of trenches and prepared positions that had already been fought over. Suddenly, someone spotted a movement and his gun was up in an instant.
"Over there!" he shouted. I moved up with Kev our gunner covering me and found another Argentine. He was in bits, half sitting up on the edge of a trench.

A young bloke, he wore an officer's insignia and his helmet was discarded on the floor alongside him, leaving him wearing the black, woollen helmet liner. He was holding a .45 pistol but it was gripped loosely and he clearly hadn't the strength to lift it.

He was clearly on his way out. He looked like he'd been hit by mortar fragments and then, as if that wasn't enough, unzipped by heavy machinegun fire. Giving me his pistol in formal surrender, he began speaking in poor English.

"We have fought the devil's battalion," he sighed.
"We're 2 Para," I answered and made a kind of mental salute.

I looked down at him more intently and saw that he was about the same age as me. He was dark, a Latin type and a handsome man.

Maybe on a different kind of field he might have been a dashing Argentine polo player. If so, there was no more polo for this young officer and he certainly didn't cut a dash any more. The man I was looking down at was smashed and broken before his time.

It was a sobering sight and I wondered if the generals in the junta who'd sent him to such a pointless end would have been cured of their lust for war if they'd seen him in that state. I doubted it.
Then the faces of my dead mates came into my mind and any sympathy I had drained away. "Why don't you just f****** die?" I thought. "What the hell were you doing here anyway?"

The young officer lying in front of me was beyond anger. He was about to pay the ultimate price for his trip to the Malvinas, so I said what any decent para would say.

"If you're ever in Aldershot, look me up and I'll buy you a pint," I told him.

It was better than cursing the man, but it couldn't have meant a thing to him. His eyes were empty then and he died a few moments later, sighing again as his life ebbed out of him.

Later Captain Farrar called us together for a debriefing after we'd mopped up the Argentine positions. We stood together in a semi-circle around him, trying to get some heat from a smouldering gorse fire nearby.

All we wanted was to have a brew, get something to eat, have a kip and then go and find some Argies to fight. We'd been on the receiving end all night, and unlike our mates in the rifle companies we hadn't had the chance to hit back.

It seemed as though we were to be disappointed. We knew there were still Argies at the settlement at Goose Green, about a mile and a quarter away, but the captain didn't think they would put up a fight after the utter demolition of their positions above the gorse gully.

"They'll be surrendering soon," he said. "It's going to be pretty academic from now on."
Some understatement that. He couldn't have got it more wrong. The Battle of Goose Green wasn't over yet. Not by a long shot.

• Abridged extract from Spearhead Assault: Our Fight To Save The Falklands by John Geddes with Alun Rees, to be published by Century on May 17 at £14.99. To order a copy (free p&p) call 0870 161 0870.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-454561/The-Battle-Goose-Green-The-Devils-Battalion.html#ixzz0SirFoT6y


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Looks interesting, a quick search on Amazon.ca does not show the book being available.  Just wondering if anybody has read it or if you can only get it in the UK?