I don't know who would be surprised at hearing this. This is absolutely normal in war. When you hear that people are offended when a dog gets killed or a book gets burned in A'stan then you know just how clean that war is. But hey, some will always whine.
A very dirty war: British soldiers shot dead by enemy troops waving the white flag and Argentinian prisoners bayoneted in cold blood. An ex-Para tells of the horrors of the Falklands
Last updated at 8:06 PM on 2nd March 2012
In this brutally candid series, ex-Para Tony Banks tells of his emotional journey from battlefield atrocities to forgiveness and redemption.
The Falklands War was short, sharp and very nasty. The fighting I experienced as a young soldier in the Parachute Regiment was, at times like something out of World War I. We fought at close quarters, clearing trenches of Argentinian troops with bayonets and grenades.
I saw close friends killed and mutilated, crying for their mothers as the life ebbed from them. I witnessed wounded and badly burned men writhing, screaming in agony.
But I was a Para a tough guy in one of the toughest units in the British Army and all that death and destruction did not bother me. Or so I thought.
I was just 20 years old when I went as part of the Task Force sent to recapture those wind-swept islands in the South Atlantic in 1982. I was full of life and fighting spirit and ready to do a job I loved.
Heroic: Victorious members of 2 Para in the Falklands during the 1982 conflict
I came home little more than two months later hard and cynical, tormented by harrowing memories.
Back in my home town of Dundee, I spent long nights with only a bottle of whisky for company, drinking myself into a haze to evade the nightmares. I became angry, moody and difficult, and my marriage disintegrated as a result.
One day my mother sat me down and spelled it out to me. I had no heart any more, she said. Id left it 8,000 miles away on the Falklands.
Pulling myself together and dealing with the past took years but eventually, as Ill describe in this series, I turned by life around, became a successful businessman and even appeared on TVs Secret Millionaire.
For a long time, I doubted whether the sacrifice of my friends lives and the trauma inflicted on those of us who survived had really been worth it. But I came to see the value of what we achieved and be proud of it.
Two hundred and fifty eight British servicemen paid with their lives for the recapture of the islands, and a further 775 were wounded. Many of the rest of us paid with our peace of mind.
But, with the Argentinian government again rattling sabres, it is important to know that 30 years ago we did the right thing. The islanders are British through and through. Despite what we soldiers had to do and endure, there is no doubt in my mind that wresting back the Falklands from the Argentinian invaders was justified.
And if there were to be another war to fight down there, I know now that I for one would want to fix bayonets and do it all over again.
The first time we went into battle back in 1982 I was as scared as Id ever been in my life. We were engaged in an all-out war in which two national armies were trying to pound each other into submission by killing as many of the enemy as possible. We were heavily outnumbered and far from home.
It was unbelievably cold on those barren hills. Many of us were suffering with frostbite and trench foot from the soggy conditions under foot.
We were also a little dazed because we had never actually thought it would come to this. We had been on board ship for six long weeks heading down from Britain. My battalion, 2 Para, was on a requisitioned North Sea car ferry, the Norland, and for most of the way, we believed we were on a fools errand.
There wasnt going to be any fighting. It would all be sorted out diplomatically, the fleet would turn around in mid-ocean and we could all go home. But we ploughed on southwards relentlessly, and the training and the drill took on greater urgency. There was no last-minute peace deal. We were going ashore.
Mentally scarred: Tony Banks during his days in the regiment
Our landing on the remote western coast was unopposed, and at first things were quiet as we dug in and waited in the bitter weather. After a week we were ordered to march on Goose Green, the second-largest settlement in the Falklands. The Argentinians had an airstrip there and had imprisoned more than 100 villagers in the community hall. It was to become the site of one of the wars most famous engagements.
As we advanced, machine-gun bullets whipped through the air, mortars and grenades exploded and white phosphorus illuminated the sky. Men were screaming in terror and pain, and, as our officers urged us on Move! Move! Move! all I could think was, Please God, get me through this battle.
Then the adrenaline kicked in, and my fear vanished. Trust in your training, I told myself. Remember the teamwork and do the job.
As we fought our way forward, two of our men charged ahead, firing from the hip and killing two Argentinian soldiers before being hit themselves. Short on fire-power, we desperately needed to retrieve their machine gun, which was lying just feet from the enemy trench. Get out there and get that gun, I told myself.
Suddenly I was sprinting the 15 yards to the two fallen men. One was limp and lifeless, but the other was alive and I hauled him and the gun back to our position. While I was doing that, the others advanced and obliterated the trench and its occupants with a phosphorous grenade.
Then, all of a sudden, snipers opened up on us from well-concealed positions. One of our platoon was dead, a bullet through the front of his helmet and out through the back.
It affects you deeply when you lose someone from your own platoon. There are only 30 of you, and you live in each others pockets day in, day out. Its like losing a member of your family.
This particular chap was one of the older ones and had been due to leave the Army, but been talked into doing another six months. But thats the way it goes in war. Survival is all down to luck, as my good mate Dave discovered when he was also hit.
A medic dashed to where he lay groaning on the ground, cut away his clothing and discovered, to his amazement, that the bullet was lying in his belly button. It had struck his webbing and travelled along his belt, leaving him winded and bruised, but still in one piece.
We inched forward to each enemy machine-gun nest in turn and got as close as we could before lobbing in grenades. Afterwards, wed find a lot of dead Argentinians, and for a split-second you couldnt help but pity them.
There would be rifles with pictures of the Virgin Mary pasted on the butts. They were Catholics, like me. Young lads, like me... But I knew that if I was to survive, I could not afford to feel sorry for them. It was kill or be killed.
As we went through the enemy positions, we saw gruesome sights heads blasted off and faces with gaping holes. One man was still alive but his arms lay yards away from him on either side of the trench.
It was staggering and dangerous in the long run how quickly we became used to these macabre scenes. We would take the boots, which were better quality, and wear them instead of our own, literally stepping into dead mens shoes.
As we pressed forward, we found ourselves taking fire from a heavily fortified schoolhouse and the trenches surrounding it. I heard a cry and saw that Steve, my best friend all through training, had been shot. By the time I got to him, the colour was already draining from his face and his breathing was shallow.
Abandoned: Steel helmets left by Argentine armed forces who surrendered at Goose Green to British troops
He sighed, I saw a tear roll down his face and he was gone. Every detail of his last moments was seared into my consciousness. Nearly 30 years have gone by since then but that vivid image still haunts me. It always will.
Finally, a white flag appeared at the schoolhouse, and our platoon commander and two others went forward to take the surrender. As they approached, the enemy shot them dead.
We all stared in disbelief. Then, I have to admit, we went nuts. We jumped up as one and opened up with machine guns, a rocket and grenades. By the time wed finished, the building had been obliterated and dozens of them were dead.
Soon after, the rest surrendered, and the battle for Goose Green was over. We herded hundreds of prisoners into a huge shed. They were mainly conscripts and a pathetic lot, sheepishly scuffing the dirt with their boots.
They were clearly undernourished, despite the plentiful food stockpiles that we found. They had endured tough treatment at the hands of their own officers, who had starved them and kept the best rations for themselves. They were barely trained and had just been told to dig in and hold their positions. Now they were just glad it was all over. They had not been up for the fight, and we heard stories that their own special forces had executed those who tried to desert. We looked after them better than their own people did.
But one prisoner stood out from the crowd, with an air of superiority about him, as if was above it all. Arrogance of the sort he was displaying had started this whole thing, and it made me angry as I thought of the deaths of Steve and the others.
I walked up to him and knocked the beret he was wearing off his head. He looked at me with defiance, and I smashed my rifle butt into his face. If Id been caught mistreating a prisoner, I would have been in serious trouble, but Id had more than enough by then. I almost wanted one of the Argentinians to step out of line because I would have had no qualms about shooting him.
Goose Green was a great victory,
achieved without full artillery or air support and against superior
numbers who were well dug-in. But it had been costly. Seventeen of our
comrades were dead and many more wounded. Those of us who made it
through were not unscathed either. We wandered around with glazed
expressions. In the past 36 hours we had cheated death again and again,
and that stress would take its toll in later years.
I reflected on the battle, I knew we had been lucky. We had defeated
some stiff resistance despite being overstretched and under-resourced
and despite a series of mistakes, poor artillery and faulty
Tragedy: HMS Sir Galahad ablaze after an Argentine air raid on June 8, 1982 at Bluff Cove near Fitzroy settlement on East Falkland
There had also been the unnecessary loss of 2 Paras colonel, H Jones, in a suicidal charge against enemy machine-gun posts. He should never have put himself in that position. He was in the Falklands to lead the whole of the battalion, not a small gung-ho assault force.
He was brave but irresponsible. It rankled with me that he was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
A week later, I was on a barren hillside overlooking the slate-grey waters of a place called Bluff Cove. Down below, two troop-carrying ships slipped into the bay with reinforcements of Welsh and Scots Guards for the assault over the mountains to Port Stanley, the Falklands capital.
As the Sir Tristram and the Sir Galahad rode at anchor and supplies were being unloaded, I remember wondering why it was taking so long to start to move the men themselves to shore. They were sitting ducks for an air strike.
Suddenly Argentinian Skyhawks screamed in on the ships, and thick black smoke billowed out as fierce fires engulfed them. Men were jumping into the freezing water and being caught in the burning oil floating on the surface.
Before my eyes, Britains biggest disaster of the whole war was unfolding.
We raced down to the shore and did what we could. Men stumbled up the beach in complete shock, holding out arms with ribbons of skin trailing down from bubbling flesh. We rushed them to the regimental aid post and tried to calm them: Dont worry, mate. Youll be fine. I knew I was lying, but reassuring words were all we had.
Fifty-six men died and more than 150 were wounded. I was angered by the waste and loss of life caused by the sheer stupidity in not getting them off to safety earlier.
And I never forgot the terrible odour of burning flesh. Years later I was driving down the M6 and passing a site where animals culled during the foot-and-mouth epidemic were being incinerated. The smell wafted into the car and suddenly, in my head, I was back in Bluff Cove.
The loss of the Guards meant we would now be called back into the front line for the assault on Stanley. Our particular task was to take Wireless Ridge on Mount Kent. The enemy had an entire regiment up there waiting for us.
Wounded: Survivors being helped onshore at Bluff Coveafter two British landing ships, the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram, suffered air attacks
We set off for the starting point of the attack at night, marching in single file in the snow over tussocks of grass and peat bogs. Then we dug in beneath a hill, out of sight of the Argentinians, to wait.
In the early hours, we got our first proper sight of the ridge we were to take. It was a perfect defensive position. We were going to have a hell of a fight on our hands.
The attack began with a massive artillery barrage pounding the enemy positions for hours to soften them up. As we prepared to advance, I thought: This is crazy. Its like going over the top in the trenches at the Somme. Were all going to be mown down by machine guns.
My stomach tightened. I did not want to die and, above all, not an agonising death on a freezing-cold, dark hillside in the middle of nowhere.
The big guns finally fell silent and out of the gloom came an order that would have been familiar to the Tommies in 1916: Fix bayonets, lads! Here we go, I said to myself. Then came an even more awful instruction: No prisoners, lads.
This battle had to be all about momentum keeping going and getting on with it. Fighting in the pitch dark, we simply did not have the resources to take prisoners.
And we felt that they had little cause for complaint. They had started the war and they had not shown much respect for the white flag when they had shot my three mates who went forward to take the surrender at Goose Green.
The word was given to advance and we scrambled through peat bogs and what we later learned was a minefield. We reached the first enemy trenches, but there was nobody there. Theyd bolted. But as we started out along the ridge, a scene from Star Wars erupted with tracer rounds flying everywhere. We were up against well armed, well disciplined and highly motivated enemy soldiers in good positions.
We called up artillery support, with
disastrous consequences. Ten shells from our own artillery came crashing
down almost on top of us. I threw myself into a shell hole half full of
water, which left me soaked and freezing for the rest of the battle.
When I scrambled out, I saw a body. It was Dave, whod had such a narrow
escape at Goose Green when a bullet lodged in his belly button.
a few days recovering at the rear he had come forward voluntarily to be
with his buddies in 2 Para. Now he was dead as a result of so-called
our way along the ridge, throwing grenades into enemy positions.
Sometimes the occupants fought to the bitter end. Sometimes young
conscripts just pulled their sleeping bags over their heads in the hope
that it would all go away.
I thought: This is crazy. Its like
going over the top in the trenches at the Somme. Were all going to be
mown down by machine guns
But we could not take any chances with any of them. A terrified young soldier stood up with his hands in the air jabbering away in Spanish and obviously wanting to surrender. He looked like a teenager a boy, much like ourselves.
He was pleading for his life. We looked at each other and hesitated. A brief argument broke out between us. Somebody shouted at us to follow orders: Shoot him. Out of the darkness, another voice replied, No, you shoot him.
As the argument went on, the boy crumpled to his knees. Finally, somebody threw a tarpaulin over him, shot him, and finished him off with a bayonet. That was it. We moved on. Whenever we heard Spanish spoken we fired into the darkness, ripping off spurts of fire, and then continuing in an eerie silence.
As dawn broke, we could make out lines of enemy soldiers retreating towards Port Stanley, silhouetted against the rising sun. One of our platoon opened up on them as I fed the ammunition belt into his machine gun. It was a turkey shoot really, and we took out quite a few of them before the gun jammed.
As I tried to free up the mechanism, splinters of granite and turf flew up around me. Enemy snipers had us in their sights. A 50-calibre bullet ricocheted off a rock and landed in the lap of the guy next to me. We looked at the bullet, looked at each other, then burst into laughter as the snipers continued to fire all around us.
It was bizarre here we were laughing our heads off right in the middle of all this death and destruction. We must have looked like madmen. But what else could we do?
Soon it was all over. We had taken Wireless Ridge. All the other objectives Tumbledown, Twin Sisters, Mount Longdon and Mount Harriet were also now in British hands. Port Stanley lay open, and surrender negotiations were under way.
Later that day a white flag was flying over the Falklands capital. We in 2 Para, I am proud to say, were the first into the town.
I was shocked by the state it was in. Stinking corpses were lying in the streets and the place was filthy, with human excrement and garbage everywhere.
Anti-aircraft guns had been installed in the school playground, and the Argentinians had painted red crosses on their ammunition stores and officers billets. That disgusted us even more than the mess.
Later there was a memorial service for our dead. We all crowded into Port Stanley Cathedral to hear the padre tell us that the stark realities of what we had been through would change our lives for ever. I dont think many of us believed him at the time. It would be many years of private suffering before we did.
But now it was time to send our prisoners home. There were 6,000 of them in Stanley alone, a cold and miserable bunch. A lot of them were going back to Argentina on the Canberra, the P&O cruise liner that had transported thousands of British troops south to win back the Falklands.
As they climbed aboard, this must have been a big surprise for them, because they had been told by their leaders that it had been sunk early on in the war.
I felt no real animosity towards them, now that they were no longer trying to kill us. I knew too that, whereas we would be going back to the UK in triumph, they were going home with the shame of defeat.
Nonetheless, as we processed them, if any of them gave us any attitude, they got a rifle butt in the belly or a kick up the backside. I have to admit too that, in the time-honoured military tradition, we pinched war trophies. Bayonets, compasses and revolvers were all eagerly sought.
Down on the dockside, I saw one prisoner about the same age as me clutching a shiny black box. I took it from him and opened it. Inside was a shiny regimental trumpet. This would be a fantastic memento, I thought, so I took it from him with barely a thought.
Little did a realise as I stowed away my special souvenir and set off home myself a few days later how important that trumpet and Omar, the man it had belonged to would be in the hard years ahead as I struggled to come to terms with the delayed horrors of my Falklands war.
Adapted from Storming The Falklands by Tony Banks, published this week by Little, Brown at £20. © 2012 Tony Banks. To order a copy for £16.99 (including p&p) call 0843 382 0000.
An unavoidable war is called justice.
When brutality is the only option left,
it is holy.
Machiavelli - The Prince 1513.
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take"
I'm not American, I'm from Flanders.