Argentine artillery hit and damaged the cruiser Glamorgan, the largest British vessel to be damaged in the South Atlantic fighting, and killed nine seamen during the weekend bombardment and ground attack on the Falkland Islands capital of Stanley, the British Defense Ministry announced today.
The ministry reported that British troops today were consolidating the positions they captured from Argentine forces during an assault begun after dark Friday night. In the fighting, which continued until just before dawn yesterday, the British took about 400 Argentine soldiers prisoner, according to the ministry.
Argentina said slackened fighting today was a demonstration that the British were unable to launch a sustained assault on Stanley, Washington Post correspondent Jackson Diehl reported from Buenos Aires. The joint chiefs of staff acknowledged that Argentine troops had been driven back about two miles yesterday by an advancing force of about 4,500 British but said that the Argentine force had reestablished its defense position on a north-south line nine miles west of Stanley.
Argentine planes carried out attacks on Two Sisters Hill, a piece of high ground captured yesterday by the British, the Argentine military command said. The attacking Argentine planes were believed to be light Pucara prop planes based at remaining Argentine garrisons on West Falkland Island.
Military officials in Buenos Aires maintain that the British have been stalled in an effort to sweep into Stanley in a single action, Diehl reported. "The light activity of the enemy is presumably due to the great effort carried out yesterday, which has obligated Britain to reorganize its forces before reinitiating the attack," the communique said.
British Defense Secretary John Nott revealed today a new death toll from Argentine air attacks last Tuesday on British ships landing troops southwest of Stanley. He said that 50 British soldiers and seamen were killed in addition to the six dead announced earlier and that at least 46 were injured in the attacks.
The figures, which Nott said were withheld until today for security reasons, bring Tuesday's death toll to 56 and raise the total of officially confirmed British military deaths in the South Atlantic conflict to 201.
Defense officials here reported no new ground combat in the war zone today. They said British forces were consolidating the three Argentine positions they took during the surprise assault that began after dark at approximately 8 p.m. EDT Friday and continued until just before dawn Saturday.
The ground troops were said to be preparing for an expected Argentine counterattack. But a ministry official said tonight it had no information on the Argentine report of an aerial counterattack on Two Sisters Hill.
The Defense Ministry added today that there was evidence to support Argentine claims that two Falklands residents have been killed and four injured since the battle began for Stanley, the last remaining Argentine military stronghold on East Falkland Island. British officials called for Argentina to agree to an International Red Cross proposal that the 600 islanders said to be caught in Stanley--twice as many as earlier British estimates--be sheltered in a declared neutral zone.
The Argentine Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying it had agreed to the proposal.
Nott hailed the weekend ground attack as "another significant step to securing the complete and final withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands. There is some way still to go, but the outcome is not in doubt."
In a pooled dispatch from the islands, British journalist Jeremy Hands quoted Maj. Gen. Jeremy Moore, commander of the Falklands ground forces, as saying after the battle, "We now have our lead positions exactly where the Argentine lead positions were last night. There was some extremely good fighting by our young men."
The cruiser Glamorgan is the third-largest vessel in the British task force in the Falklands, after the two aircraft carriers. It is a 5,440-ton light cruiser, 520 feet long, with a normal crew of 471--about half the size of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, which was sunk by British bombers early in the fighting with more than 320 presumed dead.
The Glamorgan was hit by Argentine return fire while it participated in the massive round of shelling by the Navy and Air Force on Argentine positions Friday night and early yesterday that accompanied the ground assault, a defense official said. The official added that it was unclear by what means the Glamorgan was struck but said it was not from aerial bombardment.
Besides the nine deaths, 17 seamen were reported injured aboard the cruiser, which sustained unspecified damage but remained operational, according to Nott.
According to Hands' dispatch, which was subject to military censorship, Royal Marines and paratroopers moved out after dark in what he called "a classic commando assault." The battle raged through the night, Hands said, with British forces being temporarily halted at several different points by heavy machine-gun, mortar and sniper fire.
By daybreak, Hands said, the British had secured positions at Two Sisters, Mount Longdon and Mount Harriet. He said Argentine losses were heavy and British casualties light but gave no figures. He described the mood of British troops as "buoyant" following the assault.
In his statement tonight, Nott said Vulcan bombers flying 3,300 miles from Ascension Island had attacked the Stanley Airport during the assault. A Defense Ministry official said the airport, which has been pounded frequently by British planes since the Falklands offensive began early last month, might still have been used by light Argentine aircraft such as Pucaras.
Nott said large quantities of military equipment, including mortars and antitank weapons, were taken in the assault. He also reported that Harrier jets from the aircraft carrier Invincible had attacked and disabled an Argentine patrol craft today.
The defense secretary said British secrecy about Tuesday's death toll had contributed to the success of the weekend assault by keeping the Argentines guessing about the degree of the British setback.
"It is clear that the Argentinians greatly overestimated the extent of the casualties and damage resulting from their air attack," he said. "We wished them to remain uncertain about our strength on the ground and our capability to mount an early attack."
Nott said 43 soldiers, most of them Welsh Guards, and five seamen were either killed or missing and presumed dead aboard the landing ship Sir Galahad, while two crew members died aboard the sister ship Sir Tristram.
Correspondent Diehl added the following from Buenos Aires:
The Argentine government took exceptional measures today to prevent the general public from seeing 1,051 Argentine prisoners who arrived home after surrendering to British troops on East Falkland Island. The government never has admitted the loss of so large a force.
Government spokesmen refused to reveal where the prisoners were arriving or at what time today. The two boats filled with the troops were discreetly docked early this afternoon at a naval base near the Argentine town of La Plata, southeast of Buenos Aires.
The soldiers, who were captured by British troops at the East Falkland bases of Darwin and Goose Green, were loaded onto buses bound for Buenos Aires without any official announcement of their arrival. In the past, returning Argentine troops have been disembarked with great ceremony in Buenos Aires' central port.
The outbreak of heavy combat Friday and yesterday seemed to have dampened the effect of two days of fervent appeals for peace by Pope John Paul II during his visit here.
Shortly after the pope held mass for a crowd estimated at more than a million persons in the Buenos Aires district of Palermo yesterday, an angry crowd, unimpeded by police, demonstrated and burned an American flag in front of the nearby residence of the U.S. ambassador here, according to reports today.
Progovernment newspapers and government-controlled television were also quick today to interpret the pope's visit and the mass gatherings it prompted as a reaffirmation of Argentina's unity.
President Leopoldo Galtieri, who met privately for 25 minutes with John Paul before his departure yesterday, told reporters last night that "I feel spiritually happy and see our people as being the same way" after the pope's 32-hour visit.