Thirty-five years ago, on April 2, 1982, 22-year-old Royal Marines Commando Colin Jones was in one heck of a firefight — just 70 British soldiers versus 3,000 Argentine special forces.
It was the beginning of the 74-day Falklands War, as Argentina, in a long festering disagreement with Britain about sovereignty, invaded the islands. The story about that first day’s conflict was always downplayed by the British government. It is now being told in a factual book by a British military history author.
Colin Jones, now age 57 and a Canadian citizen working in the oilpatch who lives in Lacombe with his family, was unable to attend Tuesday’s launch of the book in Portsmouth, England. Many of his former mates from the detachment known as NP8901 were going to be there at the book signing.
On the night of the attack, Jones had been stationed in the Falklands for about year. He was based at Government House in Port Stanley, the Falklands capital, and part of the governor’s personal defence.
“There was a huge firefight at first when they (Argentines) arrived. … There was well over a thousand rounds fired by us, and anti-tank weapons fired.” The Brits did not have large weapons or even any heavy vehicles.
The defence only lasted from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. but the British took out some Argentine armoured vehicles with about 30 soldiers in each one, Jones said. One commando was injured.
Sir Rex Hunt, Governor, Commander-in-Chief and Vice Admiral of the Falkland Islands, decided to surrender. The soldiers, including Jones, were taken prisoner.
Jones said the official word has always been that it was just a minor skirmish and only a couple of Argentines died, but he and the other Brits who were there say many more actually did.
The First Casualty — The Untold Story of the Falklands War by author Ricky D. Phillips April 2, 1982, was launched on Tuesday evening in Portsmouth, England. Some of Jones’s detachment members were in attendance as the author drew attention to those hours when the Argentines arrived.
Jones and the other soldiers who surrendered were only held prisoners for about a day before they were flown to Argentina, then Chili, and finally back to England. They were swamped by the local press but weren’t allowed to talk much about it, Jones said.
At that time all he was thinking was “How do we get back at them?”
Soon after, the British sent a task force to the Falklands. The Argentines surrendered on June 14, 1982. When the conflict ended, 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen, and three islanders, had died.
For the duration of the war, Jones and the original commandos were based on Ascension Island where they gave briefings to troops. They all keep in touch “big time”, said Jones, who is glad the story of his detachment is now being told.
He was discharged with an exemplary record from the British Royal Marines in 1986.