Marines who have faced 35 years of humiliation after an armada of Argentinians invaded the Falklands have finally been vindicated.
For 35 years, the 60 brave men of Naval Party 8901 were branded as cowards who surrendered the islands with ‘barely a shot fired’.
Now, the heroic Marines have stepped out of the shadows to tell the full story of their actions on the morning of April 2, 1982.
It comes on the eve of the 35th anniversary of their struggle for survival.
Written by military historian Ricky D Phillips, the book offers first-hand accounts from those involved in the fight, including Marines, Argentinian troops and people living on the island at the time.
Among those featured is retired Sergeant Mark Gibbs, who was born in Portsmouth and grew up in West Leigh.
Aged just 22, he had only been on the island for two days when a force of 2,800 invaders swarmed the British territory.
He said: ‘What we did on that day was all swept under the carpet. It was as if it had never happened.
‘I’ve never been an emotional person, but it’s nice to know the truth is finally coming out and Joe Public is going to see it and not write us off as a bunch of cowards.
‘People calling us cowards, without knowing what we had done, made me feel pretty sick at the time. But it’s one of those things you just have to get on with. We know what we did.’
Entitled The First Casualty, the new book chronicles the fight from all sides of the battle. It also sheds new light on the previously untold casualty figures.
The fight began just before dawn, at 6.05am. The first series of landing craft and armoured personnel carriers splashed on to the shore in Yorke Bay, at ‘Orange Beach’.
Another force caught the thinly-stretched band of Marines by surprise from the rear, raking the commandos’ empty barracks with automatic fire and grenades.
Soon the fighting spread to the island’s only airport and into the streets of Port Stanley.
The Marines split into small teams, battling ferociously against the unstoppable tide of Argentinian commandos.
Tracer rounds and bullets smashed through buildings and windows, while terrified civilians in Port Stanley cowered in their homes.
Eventually, after about five hours of fighting, the Marines were ordered to stop fighting and hand themselves in by the island’s governor.
The defeated fighters were then marched into the town and forced to lie face down, as photos were taken marking the invaders’ victory.
Many of the men of NP8901 feared they were about to be executed.
Sgt Gibbs – who is still battling with post-traumatic stress disorder from his 22 years of service – said: ‘I was quite surprised when we were marched back and put on the lawn outside of Government House that we weren’t neck shot. I honestly believed we were going to be bumped off.’
UK newspapers hit out at the Marines’ efforts, with headlines ranging from ‘Shame’ to ‘Royal Marines surrender with no shots fired’.
Official reports at the time claimed they had killed one Argentinian commando and injured three others, firing a off a handful of shots.
But eyewitness accounts in the book put this figure far higher – with almost 100 Argentinians killed or wounded, with others reporting how the bodies were later incinerated by the Argentinians using napalm, on Tussac Island on April 21, 1982.
Author Ricky Phillips said: ‘These men are heroes. They fired no fewer than 6,462 rounds and 12 rockets during their defence.
‘The Falkland islanders see it as their own Rorke’s Drift and say the Marines fought like lions to defend them. This story deserves to be told to set the history books straight.’
Havant MP Alan Mak recently returned from the Falkland Islands and had a chance to meet Sgt Gibbs.
He said: ‘Mark and his fellow Marines are British heroes whose courage and patriotism defending the Falklands deserves our recognition and gratitude.
‘I’m delighted The News is highlighting Mark’s service and sacrifice, which is still helping Falkland Islanders live in freedom and security.’
LOSING WAS A ‘SICKENING FEELING’, SAYS EX-MARINE
Seeing the Union Flag being ripped down by Argentine invaders was something that sickened retired Royal Marine Ray Bloye.
Ray was one of the 60 British commandos tasked with attempting to repel the armada as it stormed the Falkland Islands 35 years ago.
The 56-year-old was part of 6 Section, Naval Party 8901 and eventually handed himself into the enemy after the Marines were ordered to stop fighting.
He said fear flooded through him.
‘What stuck with me back then – I can still remember it now – was that we all thought we were going to die,’ explained Ray, a former police officer for Hampshire Constabulary.
‘We fully expected a bullet in the back of the head. We didn’t expect to survive.
‘Not one of us said that though. We all thought ‘‘this is our job’’. We knew no help was coming and we all expected to die.’
He added: ‘To see our flag being dragged down was devastating. It’s a sight none of us wanted to see. It was sickening.’
Despite being beaten, Ray said his comrades remained defiant.
‘We did have a minor triumph,’ he explained. ‘When they first tried to put their flag up, it failed and it fluttered down.
‘We all cheered – and got a rifle butt to the back for it.’
Father-of-two Ray left the Marines on Christmas Day, 1987 and joined the police.
But he said he was always taunted for being ‘one of the Marines who surrendered’.
He said: ‘They had no idea what we did. I felt like I was the butt of a joke. You don’t let it wind you up, but it does grind you down over time.’
The First Casualty is available to buy online for £25. To order, visit beicbooks.com/shop
A rocket slammed into a landing craft and exploded, shattering the cold silence near the Falkland Islands capital.
Soon after, a ferocious firefight erupted around Port Stanley as thousands of Argentinian invaders swarmed the British territory. All that stood between the armada of commandos was a band of 60 heroic Royal Marines and a handful of civilians.
The young men did not expect to survive the battle – the opening confrontation of the Falklands War.
Scattered in small teams, the commandos battled relentlessly, with motorcycle teams armed with heavy machine guns peppering landing crews as defenders fortified the main town of Port Stanley, while others fired off rockets and anti-tank rounds at armoured personnel carriers.
Sergeant Mark Gibbs had only been on the island for a matter of hours and recalled his first engagement.
‘We were ordered that nobody could open fire until the 84mm anti-tank gun had fired,’ he said.
‘The problem with the weapon was that it had never been boresighted - it had never had the sight matched to the gun.
‘The first shot landed. As soon as they engaged with their first round I fired a 66mm rocket, it hit a single strand of wire fencing and detonated.
‘I fired my second 66mm, which hit the amtrack in the passenger compartment. The rest of the section opened up with rifle fire and machine guns. It was an intense firefight.’
After missing two shots with the anti-tank gun, Marines Stephen ‘George’ Brown and Danny Betts fired a third round which found its target, blasting through the armoured vehicle.
‘It rocked on its springs, belched out a big gush of exhaust smoke and died. Nobody came out of it,’ added Sgt Gibbs.
As the enemy pressed closer to the island’s heart, many of the Marines retreated back to Government House, while some remained at their outposts, battling with the invaders.
After about five hours, the defenders were told to stand down and hand themselves in. They were forced to drop to the ground, face down with their hands on their heads. Eventually the men were flown out to Argentina, before being transported to Uruguay and then back to Britain a few days later.