Wednesday 25 April 2012

South Georgia Recaptured

Thirty years ago today, 25 April 1982, British forces recaptured the island of South Georgia from occupying troops of Argentina. The island, which had been seized on 26 March 1982, had been renamed Isla San Pedro by the Argentines. In response to the occupation of South Georgia, before the invasion of The Falkland Islands, the British government had sent the submarines HMS Splendid and HMS Spartan to the south Atlantic area on 29 March along with the RFA Fort Austin to support HMS Endurance (pictured below along with a stamp featuring a view of King Edward Point, both stamps being issued by South Georgia on 20 June 1992 to commemorate the recapture of the island along with two other stamps - one is shown at the head of this piece - and a miniature sheet. All 4 stamps carried a surcharge which made a contribution to SSAFA, the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airforce Association).
The force that Britain sent to attack the Argentines in South Georgia consisted of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, a troop of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) and they were all embarked on RFA Tidespring, shown above on a South Georgia stamp designed by Anthony Theobald which was issued on 28 May 2001 as part of a set of 4 stamps which depicted ships of the Royal Fleet Auxilliary. The first ship to arrive at the island was the submarine HMS Conqueror on 19 April. The SAS landed on South Georgia on 21 April but the weather was too bad for further landings. On 24 April the British forces regrouped and headed in to attack. The following day a Westland Wessex helicopter from HMS Antrim attacked the Argentine submarine, Santa Fe, with depth charges and a Westland Wasp helicopter was launched from HMS Plymouth and HMS Brilliant launched a torpedo at the Santa Fe. The Wasp from HMS Plymouth and others from HMS Endurance fired anti-ship missiles at the submarine and scored hits damaging it so that it could not dive so that the crew abandoned the ship at the jetty at King Edward Point which is depicted above. The helicopters and HMS Plymouth are depicted on stamps shown below, a Wasp is featured on the 65p stamp of a set of 4 issued on 7 May 2009 to commemorate the centenary of Royal Navy aviation; the Wessex is shown on the 50p value of a set of 4 and a miniature sheet released on 25 April to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the recapture of South Georgia and HMS Plymouth was shown on the £1 value of a set of 6 designed by Anthony Theobald and issued on 26 April 2004 which depicted ships of the Royal Navy.
The British force, 76 men under the command of Major Guy Sheridan RM, made a direct assault on the Argentines. The attack was accompanied by a naval bombardment demonstration from the Antrim and Plymouth and the Argentines surrendered without giving any resistance. The British force sent a message to London:- "Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign (the flag of the Royal Navy) flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God Save The Queen" On the steps of 10 Downing Street, her residence, the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, called on people to "Rejoice! Rejoice". The miniature sheet issued in 2007 is shown below. Silhouettes of the ships involved in the operation are depicted in the right-hand and lower borders, clockwise:- HMS Conqueror, HMS Endurance, HMS Plymouth, HMS Brilliant, HMS Antrim, RFA Tidespring, RFA Brambleleaf and RFA Fort Austin. The 60p value depicts 42 Commando Royal Marines at Sheridan Peak and the £1.05 value depicts a Royal Marines Detachment with Mills Peak in the background.
I also include in the illustrations a post card from my collection which was produced in 1982 to celebrate the recapture of South Georgia which was produced by KCP Limited of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. This was one of a pair, I have already shown the other card in the blog of 3 April 2012 ("The Empire Strikes Back").
The miniature sheet of 1992 is depicted below. The 29p value depicts the passenger liner, the Queen Elizabeth II, which was used as a troop carrier to The Falkland Islands which sheltered in Cumberland Bay, away from the action in The Falklands, where it would have been an irresistible prestige target for attack by the Argentine Air Force.
Finally I illustrate one of a set of 6 stamps issued on the 31 December 1999 to commemorate the new millennium which depicts the church at Grytviken and was issued with a label attached, "Peace Be With You". A sentiment which seems very relevant for this tiny, usually uninhabited island which experienced its own war.

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