South Georgia was home to a defunct whaling station and had no value as such, however its symbolism meant that, to the Argentine Government, it was almost as important to possess as the Falkland Islands themselves.
On 3 April, 1982, Argentine forces moved in to occupy the island of South Georgia - such was the symbolism of this locale that its possession meant almost as much to the country as the Falkland Islands. This occupation sent a clear message to the British, who while initially were not in place to rail against the landings, soon responded with military force.
An RAF Victor flew over South Georgia on 20 April 1982 in order to work out the coastline dimensions and details. Following this research, the submarine HMS Conqueror set sail off the cost of the island just one day later. Men from the Special Air Service (SAS) arrived via Wessex helicopter at South Georgia’s Fortuna Bay on 21 May, however as a result of increasingly inclement weather, they were extracted the following day. Unfortunately the weather was such that a helicopter was lost during this process, but all men were safely removed. Alongside this extraction, a Special Boat Service (SBS) observation post was created at Grytviken.
Further research from Britain’s air defence between 22 and 24 April found no indication of Argentine shipping close to the key South Georgia areas and it appeared that enemy troops had been given little back up from the Argentine Government.
However, an Argentine submarine, the Santa Fé, was spotted by British troops on 23 April and British ships were moved away immediately in case the submarine proved to be a threat to them, The Task Force sent three warships, Antrim, Plymouth and Brilliant to attack the submarine and remove this potential threat. The submarine travelled back to Grytviken following the 25 April attack, but it was assaulted once again, this time by British helicopters while anchored in the harbour and was abandoned by its crew.
These men boosted the Argentine defence of South Georgia to 140 men, meaning more of a threat for the British, so they sent for an additional 75 men from the Royal Marines, SAS and SBS. These soldiers were brought in by helicopter to Grytviken and, almost immediately, the Argentinean men surrendered. 26 May saw South Georgia come back under British rule, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saying: “Just rejoice at that news and congratulate our forces and the Marines.”
Despite this success, there was still the battle over the Falkland Islands themselves on the horizon.
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