Saturday, June 23, 2012

TFH 6/23: Two Victoria Crosses from the Falklands

It had been my original intent to feature the major events of the 1982 Falklands War on their thirtieth anniversaries, which sadly, a family loss and other things (like work) got in the way of me keeping up with the project. Looking at my list of draft posts, I see the unfinished one for the Battle of San Carlos staring at me saying, "fail".

There is a task from retelling Falklands history that I must go back and complete, even though I'm past the actual anniversaries. I've chosen June 23 for this post as my slate of Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, or Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor recipients is empty for this date.

The Victoria Cross is the United Kingdom's equivalent of our Medal of Honor. It was instituted in January 1856 to recognize the most conspicuous acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It has only been awarded 1,356 times in 156 years. It was awarded posthumously to two British soldiers for actions in the Falklands.

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert "H" Jones, OBE was the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment. During the Battle of Goose Green on May 28, 2 Para was attacking a much larger enemy force (how much larger wasn't known to them!) and Lieutenant Colonel Jones' command group was an element that he couldn't afford to have their firepower not employed along with that of his other soldiers.

"H", demonstrating conclusively that leadership is from the front, charged an enemy position. Here is his Victoria Cross citation:

On 28th May 1982 Lieutenant Colonel Jones was commanding 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment on operations on the Falkland Islands. The Battalion was ordered to attack enemy positions in and around the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green. During the attack against an enemy, who was well dug in with mutually supporting positions sited in depth, the battalion was held up just South of Darwin by a particularly well-prepared and resilient enemy position of at least 11 trenches on an important ridge. A number of casualties was received. In order to read the battle fully and ensure that the momentum of his attack was not lost, Colonel Jones took forward his reconnaissance party to the foot of a re-entrant which a section of his battalion had just secured. Despite persistent, heavy and accurate fire the reconnaissance party gained the top of the re-entrant, at approximately the same time as the enemy positions.

In his effort to gain a good viewpoint, Colonel Jones was now at the very front of his battalion. It was clear to him that desperate measures were needed in order to overcome the enemy position and rekindle the attack, and that unless these measures were taken promptly the battalion would sustain increasing casualties and the attack perhaps even fail. It was time for personal leadership and action. Colonel Jones immediately seized a sub-machine gun, and, calling on those around him and with total disregard for his own safety, charged the nearest enemy position. This action exposed him to fire from a number of trenches.

As he charged up a short slope at the enemy position he was seen to fall and roll backward downhill. He immediately picked himself up, and charge the enemy trench firing his sub-machine gun and seemingly oblivious to the intense fire directed at him. He was hit by fire from another trench which he outflanked and fell dying only a few feet from the enemy he had assaulted. A short time later a company of the battalion attacked the enemy, who quickly surrendered. The devastating display of courage by Colonel Jones had completely undermined their will to fight further.

Thereafter the momentum of the attack was rapidly regained, Darwin and Goose Green were liberated, and the battalion released the local inhabitants unharmed and forced the surrender of some 1,200 of the enemy.

The achievements of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment at Darwin and Goose Green set the tone for the subsequent land victory on the Falklands. They achieved such a moral superiority over the enemy in this first battle, that despite the advantages of numbers and selection of battle-ground, they never thereafter doubted either the superior fighting qualities of the British troops, or their own inevitable defeat. This was an action of the utmost gallantry by a commanding officer whose dashing leadership and courage throughout the battle were an inspiration to all about him.

Lieutenant Colonel Jones today rests in peace at the Blue Beach Military Cemetery at San Carlos in the Falklands.

Sergeant Ian McKay was a trooper with 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment. He was the platoon sergeant of the 4th platoon of 3 Para's B Company. On the night of June 11-12, 1982, 3 Para assaulted Mount Longdon - a vital piece of high ground on the approach to the Falklands' capital of Stanley.

As Jones' charge at Goose Green changed the course of that battle, so did McKay's on Mount Longdon, as his Victoria Cross citation reads so clearly:

During the night of 11/12 June 1982, 3rd Battalion The Parachute regiment mounted a silent night attack on an enemy battalion position on Mount Longdon, an important objective in the battle for Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Sergeant McKay was platoon sergeant of 4 Platoon, B Company, which after the initial objective had been secured, was ordered to clear the northern side of the long east/west ridge feature, held by the enemy in depth, with strong mutually supporting positions.

By now the enemy were fully alert, and resisting fiercely. As 4 Platoon's advance continued it came under increasingly heavy fire from a number of well-sited enemy machine gun positions on the ridge, and received casualties. Realizing that no further advance was possible, the platoon commander ordered the platoon to move form its exposed position to seek shelter among the rocks of the ridge itself. Here it met up with part of 5 Platoon.

The enemy fire was still both heavy and accurate, and the position of the platoons was becoming increasingly hazardous. Taking Sergeant McKay, a corporal and a few others, and covered by supporting machine gun fire, the platoon commander moved forward to reconnoitre the enemy positions but was hit by a bullet in the leg, and command devolved upon Sergeant McKay.

It was clear that instant action was needed if the advance was not to falter and increasing casualties to ensue. Sergeant McKay decided to convert this reconnaissance into an attack in order to eliminate the enemy positions. He was in no doubt of the strength and deployment of the enemy as he undertook this attack. He issued orders, and taking three men with him, broke cover and charged the enemy position.

The assault was met by a hail of fire. The corporal was seriously wounded, a private killed and another wounded. Despite these losses, Sergeant McKay, with complete disregard for his own safety, continued to charge the enemy position alone. On reaching it he dispatched the enemy with grenades, thereby relieving the position of beleaguered 4 and 5 Platoons, who were now able to redeploy with relative safety. Sergeant McKay, however, was killed at the moment of victory, his body falling on the bunker.

Without doubt Sergeant McKay's action retrieved a most dangerous situation and was instrumental in ensuring the success of the attack. His was a coolly calculated act, the dangers of which must have been only too apparent to him beforehand. Undeterred he performed with outstanding selflessness, perseverance and courage. With a complete disregard for his own safety, he displayed courage and leadership of the highest order, and was an inspiration to all those around him.

Ian McKay rests in peace at the Aldershot Military Cemetery, Hampshire, United Kingdom.

I'm going to make an extra effort to include more Victoria Cross recipients among the honorees here. The heroes from our mother country and her commonwealth realms have made every bit the intrepid stands against the enemies of liberty as our own.

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