Peter Kennedy was a 25-year-old Lieutenant when suddenly thrust into leading the final attack of the first decisive land battle of the Falklands War.
He assumed control after his Commanding Officer was killed and his Company Commander wounded at Goose Green - the first major battle the British Army had fought in a generation, and one our forces came very close to losing.
Now, forty years on, he will mark the anniversary by recounting the life-or-death drama of the battle to retake the islands in a talk at Army Foundation College Harrogate.
Colonel H Jones, the Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, was killed in action leading a bayonet charge during the battle.
As Company Second in Command, Yorkshire-born paratrooper Peter led the final attack to capture the last hill and the enemy flag on its summit.
The first part of the talk will be the history behind the conflict, the Argentinian invasion, and the response of the UK to immediately launch a taskforce, as well as the sailing out, the training, on-off nature of peace talks and the adventure of the whole experience.
It all started in unconventional fashion for Peter and his comrades. He said: “There had been the sinking of the Belgrano and the Sheffield with huge loss of life. It suddenly became very real.
“We were sailing on a North Sea ferry and very concerned that if a modern warship could be sunk, what would a torpedo or Exocet do to a commercial vessel?
“When we did land, the kit we had was extremely heavy and almost impossible to carry, and we had to get it all to Goose Green.”
The second part of the talk will cover the battle itself, including the preparations and the ground being fought over, which was completely bare, with no cover, having excellent lines of fire for the Argentinian troops and very difficult to get close enough to attack them.
Peter said: “We came under intense fire from artillery, machine guns, mortars and anti-aircraft cannon. My Company suffered 12 casualties in about 15 minutes, having to move forward on a very exposed slope in daylight.
“We had very limited support. As we moved to Goose Green, the Commando Brigade was moving towards Stanley. The day before we set off on battle, the Atlantic conveyor store ship was sunk by Exocet and most of our helicopters were wiped out.
“We should have had six artillery guns in support but only had three and very limited ammunition as it takes a lot of lifting from helicopters to move the ammo forward. We were also meant to have eight mortars but could only take two and had to carry all of the mortar rounds which were very heavy.”
And the problems didn’t end there. Peter explained: “We were meant to have the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Arrow in support, but the gun broke on the ship as we were about to call fire from it, and it sailed away.
“We were also told we could have Harrier attack aircraft support but, because of mist at sea, they were only available for the last hour of the battle before it got dark. They would have made a huge difference had they been available earlier.”
It was the third day of the battle when Peter assumed control of his Company and the situation was on a knife-edge.
He said: “There was a period of about six hours when A and B Companies were pinned down on a strip of land when there was a real threat we would be beaten back but, even after the death of H Jones, we were able to break through two parts of the deadlock within an hour, due to the sheer tenacity of the soldiers and officers getting their heads up and firing at the enemy until they broke.”
As H Jones was dying, one of corporals from A Company fired an anti-tank weapon, killing Lieutenant Estevez, the Argentine Commander at Darwin Ridge, the key point of the battle. Shortly after, his soldiers surrendered. Within 50 metres of each other H Jones and Lt Estevez were awarded the VC and its Argentinian equivalent.
Peter said: “We managed to capture the final hill and flag. Negotiations were ongoing the following day. We were preparing to mount a final assault when the Argentinians surrendered.
“At that point, we discovered there were more than 1,000 of them - two to every one of us - when we expected only a few hundred at most. That came as a real surprise.”
The talk is open to the public (recommended minimum age 14) and will be illustrated with photos, film clips and maps to bringing to life how this close-run battle was fought and almost lost, revealing the buzz and occasional terror of combat. All money raised will go to Support Our Paras, Sue Ryder Hospice, ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity and Royal British Legion.
The Battle of Goose Green, a talk by Peter Kennedy will take place at Army Foundation College Harrogate Theatre, Penny Pot Lane, HG3 2SE at 7pm on Friday 27 May 2012.
Tickets, priced £15, are available at The Battle of Goose Green - The Falklands' War 40th Anniversary Tickets, Fri 27 May 2022 at 19:00 | Eventbrite