war-and-conflict

War and conflict

War and Conflict

The 1914 to 1918 First World War created a huge demand for whale oil from South Georgia's whaling stations. The oil was needed to make glycerol for the manufacture of nitro-glycerine for explosives. Whale oil was also used for in edible fat production. To increase production, restrictions on the number of whale catchers were relaxed, as was the utilisation of the whole carcass.

The Second World War (1939 to 45) interrupted not only the whaling industry but also scientific and other expeditions. Whale oil continued to be important in the production of edible fats, but other ingredients were used for manufacturing high explosive. British and Norwegian floating factories and many whale catchers were requisitioned for the war effort. Only the station at Grytviken operated throughout the war; Leith was used intermittently (1940/41 & 1942/43).

German ships operated in Antarctic waters against allied whaling fleets. Two First World War 4-inch naval guns were deployed to protect the whaling stations at Grytviken and Leith.
HMS Ajax and Exeter that were involved in the action at the River Plate to sink the German Battleship the Graf Spee, had visited South Georgia before the start of hostilities in November 1938 and deployed their Walrus aircraft and took the first aerial photography of South Georgia used for mapping and glacial study. After the action at the River Plate HMS Exeter was repaired at South Georgia and her wounded hospitalised there.

The prelude to the 1982 conflict in the Falkland Islands commenced in Leith Whaling Station. In 1980, an Argentine scrap merchant, Sr Constantino Davidoff had arranged with Christian Salvesen to extract scrap metals from Husvik, Stromness and Leith for £115,000. On 19th March 1982 Davidoff arrived at Leith with 41 workmen in the Argentine Navy ship Bahia Buen Suceso commanded by Capitan Briatore. The ship did not report to Grytviken as ordered and landed Argentine military personnel who raised the Argentine flag. Davidoff and his men set to work. British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Scientists observed and reported the illegal Argentine activities.

On 2nd April the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands. Lieutenant Astiz at Leith paraded his men under the Argentine flag and addressed them saying the island was to be called "Isla San Pedro". On 3rd April the Argentines moved onto Grytviken. A sharp engagement followed with the Royal Marines detachment that had been landed by HMS ENDURANCE following the BAS reports. The Argentines lost a Puma helicopter and the Frigate Guerrico was badly damaged, injuries occurred on both sides although no one was killed. South Georgia was taken forcibly by the Argentines.

A strong naval force was assembled  at Ascension Island with Captain Brian Young RN in command. The force - HMS Antrim, Plymouth, RFA Tidespring and now joined by HMS Endurance - sailed into South Georgia waters on 20th April. Reconnaissance missions by special forces to determine Argentine dispositions ashore were launched on 21st April. The next day two helicopters crashed in bad weather on the Fortuna Glacier.  RFA Tidespring, a large oiler which was carrying M Company (Captain Chris Nunn Royal Marines) of 42 Commando Royal Marines, was despatched  well out to sea on 24 April after the appearance of the Argentine submarine Santa Fe. The same day the force was joined by HMS Brilliant (Captain John Coward) sent down from the Fleet off the Falkland Islands. Early in the morning of 25th April the Santa Fe was attacked and abandoned, disabled, at the King Edward Point jetty. A scratch military force of 75 men under command of Major Guy Sheridan Royal Marines was assembled on HMS Antrim and landed by helicopter on Hestesletten with naval gunfire support from HMS Plymouth and Antrim. The Argentine garrison at King Edward Point surrendered without a fight and 137 prisoners were taken in the early  evening of 25th April. The small Argentine garrison at Leith surrendered to HMS Endurance (Captain Nick Barker) and Plymouth (Captain David Pentreath) the next day.

 

The Argentine Submarine "Santa Fe" was scuppered in Cumberland Bay West.

The Argentine Submarine "Santa Fe" was scuppered in Cumberland Bay West.

 

One of the crashed helicopters on the Fortuna glacier. Strictly copyright of Guy Sheridan

One of the crashed helicopters on the Fortuna glacier. Strictly copyright of Guy Sheridan.

 

King Edward Point with the Santa Fe abandoned at the jetty

King Edward Point with the Santa Fe abandoned at the jetty taken as the British force advanced across the slopes of Brown Mountain. Strictly copyright of Guy Sheridan.

    

An aerial view of the Santa Fe tied up at the King Edward Point jetty taken on 26 April. Strictly copyright of Guy Sheridan.

An aerial view of the Santa Fe tied up at the King Edward Point jetty taken on 26 April. Strictly copyright of Guy Sheridan.