November 1982 – April 1983
1st Royal Hampshire under the command of Lt Col Hastings Neville deployed to the Falkland Islands as the garrison battalion relieving 1st Queen’s Own Highlanders. Following the Falklands Conflict in 1982, the British Government decided to deploy an infantry battalion to the Falkland Islands with a detachment on South Georgia to be a more effective deterrent that the Royal Marine platoon which had been there before, should Argentina contemplate another invasion. 1st Royal Hampshire were to be the second infantry battalion deployed there after the war, at a time when the scars of battle were evident everywhere.
The Falklands had been recaptured from the Argentinians with the conflict over by middle of June. The situation remained tense. On return from Fermanagh, the Battalion had already taken on some of the tasks the other battalions involved in the conflict should have done, including Public Duties, range parties at Bisley and assisting other units with NI training. Although the support platoons had managed some live-firing, there had been no real training with the rifle companies. The skills required for NI were not the same for fighting in the Falklands. The Battalion had not had the time to carry out the training for this role, but it embraced the challenge.
The main body travelled by air to Ascension Island and then by sea to the Falklands Islands and operational command was assumed on 5th December 1982. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, it was summer in the South Atlantic, though with no land mass between them and Antarctica soldiers found that they needed to build a wind-break if they wished to get a tan as otherwise wind burn was more likely.
The Falklands consists of two large islands, West and East, as well as several smaller islands. The Companies deployed with their support sections from the Mortars and Anti-tanks as well as ancillary staff as follows:
Battalion Tactical HQ – Shag Cove
A Company – Fox Bay
B Company – Roy Cove, moving to Stanley and the main airfield in the New Year
D (Gurkha) Company – Port Howard, moving to Port San Carlos in the Spring.
Y Company – Goose Green
Z Company – North Arm
HQ Company – Stanley
The soldiers lived in a mixture of accommodation, mainly making use of disused settlement accommodation with generators provided by the Royal Engineers providing the power; cooking was usually done on field petrol cookers at the back of the buildings. Overall, living conditions were basic and for most the tour, soldiers made use of their sleeping bags for their entire time, as sheets were not available. With the Battalion dispersed, re-supplying the various outstations with food was often a challenge, with RN Sea King and RAF Chinook helicopters being the supply beasts of burden. But with, appalling weather at times, and a shortage of fuel, B Company sometimes found themselves at the end of the supply circuit resulting in the Chinook not reaching Roy Cove.
The Falklands Islands provided an excellent opportunity for infantry training; away from the settlements was miles of heathland, resembling a very large Dartmoor, and providing the necessary range safety measures were taken it was ideal for low level live-firing tactics to be practised. A specific training camp was set up at Black Hill House and every advantage was taken to run specialist training cadres which would not have been possible back in the UK due to resources being needed elsewhere. Towards the end of the tour, each Company was tested on a company live firing exercise complete with live mortar and Royal Artillery fire, and Fighter Ground Attack support from the RAF.
With the improvement in the weather with the Falklands summer and an approach to normality meant that it rapidly became ‘Open Season’ for visitors and it seemed as if everyone wanted to come to see what it was like. The Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, was able to provide 1st Royal Hampshire with the best publicity that it had had for a long time when she visited Goose Green. Others visitors included the House of Commons Defence Committee, the Chief of the General Staff and the Adjutant General to name a few.
1st Royal Hampshire’s tour coincided with the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the establishment of the settlement on the Falklands resulting in several ceremonial events and the local population greatly appreciated the presence of the Regimental Band. The Falkland Islanders were excessively patriotic to the Crown, but the building good relations with the local population was as important as in Northern Ireland. The patience of the local residents must have been put to the test with the sudden influx of such a large number of soldiers.
Another task the soldiers found themselves involved with was the setting up the cemeteries and the reburial of the both the British and Argentinians who had been killed in the conflict. The first pilgrimage of the British Next of Kin to the cemetery took place at the end of their tour.
Meanwhile two and a half days away by sea a detachment of soldiers had to protect South Georgia, the place where the conflict had originally started. Accommodation was based in the British Antarctic Survey hut in the disused whaling station of Grytviken. Being so far away with no roads and with only a small coastal vessel that could carry half a dozen people, movement was limited other than by foot; the only medical support was one doctor should anyone be injured. The detachment was changed 3 times by ship from the Falklands and a Hercules C130 airplane provided an air-drop of post by parachute into Cumberland Sound once during each deployment.
1st Royal Hampshire finally handed over to the Royal Irish Rangers just as the first pilgrimage of relatives were arriving a year after their relatives had been killed in the war. All personnel were back in the Great Britain by the middle of April 1983. The tour had been both demanding and interesting and there was a general feeling that the soldiers had benefitted from the training opportunities which the Falkland Islands had been able to provide.