British ground forces moved within 30 miles of the Falklands capital of Stanley today as the Defense Ministry here announced that a battalion of 600 British paratroopers had overcome more than 1,400 Argentine soldiers in recapturing the strategic Darwin and Goose Green settlements yesterday.
The ministry also confirmed tonight that Royal Marines, advancing east, had retaken settlements at Douglas and Teal Inlet, about halfway between the British land base around San Carlos and Stanley, where the major Argentine garrison is dug in. There were no reports of fighting or casualties.
In what could be a prelude to another major British military move, Harrier jets from aircraft carriers in the British naval task force off East Falkland today attacked the Stanley airport and nearby military installations, the Defense Ministry announced tonight. British correspondents with the task force said warships today conducted what they described as the heaviest British naval bombardment of the war against Stanley.
The ministry announced new details concerning Friday's fierce, day-long battle for Goose Green and Darwin, in which about 120 Argentine soldiers were wounded and an undetermined number--believed to be fewer than 100--were killed. According to the latest reports from the Falklands, defense officials here said, 12 British troops were killed and 31 wounded.
The paratroopers took about 1,400 Argentine prisoners and freed 112 Falkland Island residents who had been held under guard for a month in the recreation hall at Goose Green, site of the Falklands' second-largest airstrip.
"The lives of the Falkland Islanders in that area are safe," said Col. Christopher Dunphie, military advisory staff chief for the commander in chief of the British fleet.
The paratroopers who retook Goose Green and Darwin were aided by naval shelling, aerial bombardment, artillery and helicopters. But they still had to fight "a hard infantry slogging match" throughout Friday to "bottle up" the Argentine troops in Goose Green and force a negotiated surrender yesterday, a senior British military officer told reporters today.
The paratroopers' commanding officer, Lt. Col. Herbert Jones, 42, was among those killed when he led a raiding party that knocked out two menacing Argentine machine-gun positions that could have been "fatal" to his advancing troops, Dunphie said.
Jones's deputy, Maj. Chris Keeble, took over and "rekindled the momentum of the attack" to surround the Argentine troops dug in around Goose Green and the airstrip, Dunphie said. Contacting the Argentines by radio overnight, Keeble negotiated their surrender at a "dignified ceremony" yesterday morning, according to Dunphie.
In the same manner, several thousand British troops, slowly moving across East Falkland along northern and southern routes around a spine of mountains, are expected by military analysts here to lay siege to the garrison of as many as 7,000 troops around Stanley.
There has been persistent speculation here that several thousand British troops taken to the South Atlantic on the luxury cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2 also may soon be landed on East Falkland near Stanley.
The British said they lost a Scout helicopter in the battle for Darwin and Goose Green. A Royal Air Force Harrier jet also was shot down by Argentine antiaircraft fire while bombing and strafing the Goose Green airstrip Thursday in preparation for the ground attack. Its pilot ejected behind Argentine lines and waited for the gunfire around Goose Green to end yesterday before signaling for help. He was picked up by a British helicopter today.
Four of six Argentine Pucara ground attack planes from the Goose Green strip that attacked the advancing British troops on Friday were shot down by British Blowpipe shoulder-held missile launchers and small-arms fire, Dunphie said. The other two Pucaras were captured at the airstrip, along with four antiaircraft guns, three pieces of artillery and large quantities of mortars, small arms and ammunition.
The British base at San Carlos was attacked yesterday afternoon by Argentine warplanes for at least the sixth time since thousands of British troops were landed there May 21. The two attacking Argentine fighter-bombers, an A4 Skyhawk and a Mirage, caused little damage, British officials said, and the Skyhawk was shot down by a Rapier missile fired from the base.
In the first censored news reports released in four days, British correspondents at San Carlos described today how they and the troops hid from attacking Argentine warplanes by digging into foxholes, covering themselves with blackening cream and mud and camouflaging the large amounts of weapons, equipment and supplies brought ashore.
But they said the Argentine air raids had inflicted little damage since a number of British ships were hit early last week when the destroyer Coventry was sunk and the cargo ship Atlantic Conveyer disabled. The correspondents also said there have been no ground attacks on the British base, the perimeter of which has been extended as troops moved east toward Stanley and south to Darwin and Goose Green.
British defense officials here said they were surprised by the large number of Argentine defenders at Darwin and Goose Green--more than twice the number given in the most recent estimates of military planners and British commanders in the Falklands. Dunphie called the British victory "one of the most brilliant and courageous battalion actions that has been conducted since World War II."
According to accounts of defense officials here and British correspondents with the troops on the Falklands, the operation began last Wednesday when an advance company of 120 paratroopers, carrying 30-pound packs, started making their way south over steep terrain from the edge of the British base around San Carlos. By Thursday, they reached two small wooden buildings eight miles away called Camelia Creek House. This was to be the gathering point for the rest of the force.
The advance troops ran into an Argentine patrol there and took four prisoners after "a sharp encounter," according to Dunphie. During the rest of Thursday, the other nearly 500 troops joined them. Under cover of darkness, two 105 mm light artillery guns and a number of mortars were flown in by helicopter.
At 2 a.m. Friday, the attack began as a British warship in the nearby sound began shelling Argentine positions. The paratroopers moved five miles onto the narrow neck of land and overran Darwin, the smaller of the two settlements, "without much difficulty" as the Argentine troops dropped back to well dug-in positions around Goose Green and the airstrip.
As they moved across the two miles of open ground to Goose Green, firing their own automatic rifles and submachine guns, British troops came under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire.
By this time, a break in the cloud cover allowed three Harriers to drop massive shrapnel bombs on Argentine positions, reducing their resistance. But two heavy machine-gun teams continued to pin down the British troops at a point where Dunphie said the whole attack "could have faltered."
Lt. Col. Jones, in the vanguard of his forces, then led a 20-man team in the attack in which he was killed. The machine-gun nests were wiped out.
Under Keeble, the advance continued until, by nightfall, the four companies of paratroopers had surrounded the Argentine forces in Goose Green on all sides but the waterfront. British reinforcements, 120 Royal Marine commandos, also arrived during the night.
Shortly after news of these developments was flashed to London, the Defense Ministry erroneously announced late Friday night here that both Darwin and Goose Green had been "taken." The Argentine government correctly insisted that resistance was continuing.
With 112 residents of Goose Green and Darwin, some of them elderly and ill, in danger inside the Goose Green recreation hall, Falkland Islanders in Goose Green and San Carlos used their short-wave radios to set up negotiations between Keeble and the Argentine commanders about the captive islanders.
At 9 a.m. yesterday, Keeble met with Argentine Air Vice Commodore Wilson Doser Pedroza and Army Lt. Col. Halo Piaggi under a white flag at Goose Green airstrip. The negotiations led to an agreement by the Argentines to surrender at an official ceremony a few hours later. According to two British correspondents who attended the ceremony, the Argentine troops appeared relieved as they piled their weapons onto the ground.
British officials said the prisoners would be moved to barbed-wire pens being constructed inside the British ground base at San Carlos, and then be taken to Ascension Island for repatriation to Argentina. A British hospital ship is being moved into Grantham Sound to pick up both the British and Argentine wounded, officials here said.
London also announced today that nine other British troops have been injured, one seriously, during patrols outside the British base around San Carlos. Britain's Press Association news agency reported today that some of these men were injured when two British patrols failed to recognize each other and mistakenly exchanged fire. The Defense Ministry said it could not confirm the report.