Invasion of South Georgia

Dafato Team | Jan 21, 2024

Table of Content


The Argentine recovery of South Georgia or the first battle of Grytviken was an engagement of the Malvinas War in 1982.

The recovery of South Georgia took place on April 3, 1982, when Argentine naval forces took control of South Georgia Island (renamed San Pedro Island) after surrendering a small group of UK Royal Marines at Grytviken. The Argentine intervention began on March 19, 1982 when a group of civilian workers arrived at Port Leith aboard the transport ARA Bahía Buen Suceso (B-6), raising the Argentine flag. Allegedly, some Argentine Marines had infiltrated among the workers, presenting themselves as civilian scientists, something totally denied by Argentina from the very beginning.

Davidoff contracts

In September 1979, the Argentine businessman Constantino Davidoff, director of the company Georgia del Sur S.A. and specialized in scrap metal business, signed a contract with the Christian Salvensen Co. of Edinburgh, by which he acquired the right to remove the remains of the old abandoned whaling facilities in the ports: Leith, Stromness and Husvik, in the South Georgia Islands.

Davidoff arranged with the British Embassy in Buenos Aires for the service of the polar ship HMS Endurance to transport to the islands the personnel and equipment necessary to dismantle the installations. As the British did not accept the request for the use of HMS Endurance, in August 1981 Davidoff requested permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Argentine Navy to hire tickets on the Antarctic transport ships. Knowing of the British government's decision to withdraw HMS Endurance from service in the South Atlantic and foreseeing the possible evacuation of Grytviken, the Navy signed an agreement with Davidoff allowing her to arrive at the islands at least twice a year.

Project and Operation Alpha

In September 1981, the Navy devised a plan to take advantage of Davidoff's business in South Georgia to establish a secret base in the disputed territory, which was code-named Project Alpha. This action was codenamed Project Alpha, and the plan was to infiltrate military personnel among the workers, under the pretext that they were scientists. Once HMS Endurance had withdrawn from the South Atlantic, it would be joined in April by 14 Marines embarked on a ship destined to re-establish Argentine Antarctic bases, who would establish a permanent military base in South Georgia. This base would have the help of the winter, which would prevent the measures that the British could take for its removal.

Parallel to the project, in October 1981 the Antarctic Naval Commander received an order from the Chief of Operations of the General Staff of the Navy to study the possibility of establishing a scientific base on one of the islands in dispute with the United Kingdom. It was foreseen that the base could be installed during the 1981-1982 Antarctic campaign. This operation was called Operation Alpha. In early December it was decided that the base would be occupied by military personnel and not by civilians as planned, due to the need to keep it secret. The Amphibious Commando Group was ordered to enlist 1 officer and 6 NCOs. The same measure was taken with the same number of tactical divers.

On January 29, 1981, the training of the designated commandos and divers began, with Lieutenant Alfredo Astiz as their chief. The others were Lieutenant Carrilaff, 1 diver non-commissioned officer, 1 nurse non-commissioned officer, 5 divers corporals and 5 amphibious commandos. On February 28 they were embarked in Ushuaia on the Antarctic campaign ship ARA Bahía Paraíso. In order not to interfere in their plans for the Malvinas, on 16 March the Military Committee cancelled Operation Alfa, but the commandos remained embarked preventively and left on 18 March for the South Orkneys accompanying the ship's Antarctic campaign.

Davidoff Travel

The businessman informed the British embassy of his trip, without requesting permission to travel on the icebreaker, and on December 16, 1981, he set sail for South Georgia aboard the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar (Q-5), to carry out an inventory of the facilities to be dismantled in Stromness Bay, arriving there on the 21st and departing a few days later. On December 23, the British magistrate of South Georgia discovered traces of Argentine presence in Port Leith and informed the Falkland Islands Governor Rex Hunt, who relayed it to London on December 31. The British government ordered its embassy to present a note of protest against the violation of its sovereignty by the unauthorized landing, but the Foreign Secretary claimed to be unaware of the incident and on February 9 there was a new formal protest which was rejected by the Argentine Foreign Office on the 18th.

Another Argentine trip to the islands occurred in February 1982, when a business rival of Davidoff's, bank clerk Adrian Marchessi, made an unscheduled visit to Port Leith. Marchessi arrived at the Port Leith facility aboard the Caiman, a yacht registered in Panama, with which he had sailed from Mar del Plata. He reported to Grytviken, claiming to be part of Davidoff's scheme, and gave local British authorities details of the inspection made by Davidoff in December and even of other Argentine trips in the 1970s.

The raising of the Argentine flag

On March 18, 1982, the ARA Bahía Buen Suceso arrived at Port Leith disembarking Davidoff's workers and their equipment, without passing through Grytviken as required by the British government. On that date, the only British presence at Port Leith was a team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). On March 19, 4 members of the BAS on their way to Bahía Carlita discovered the ARA Bahía Buen Suceso unloading equipment in Port Leith, with the Argentine flag flying. About 100 people were disembarked and had occupied a BAS shelter. The BAS team leader, Trevor Edwards, approached Captain Briatore to inform him that their presence was illegal and that they should pass through Grytviken, then notified the British magistrate at King Edward Point. The senior BAS commander at Grytviken, Steve Martin, sent a message to Governor Hunt, who consulted with London. The commander demanded the removal of the Argentine flag and the re-embarkation of the workers. The commander of the ARA Bahía Buen Suceso replied that the mission had the approval of the British embassy in Buenos Aires and ordered the flag lowered, but did not show up in Grytviken as the British demanded.

On March 20, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was informed of what had happened. As the Argentines had not complied with diplomatic formalities, the British government decided to intervene on a small scale and the Foreign Office ordered the dispatch of HMS Endurance to force the operators to lower the flag and prevent the landing of personnel. The ship left Port Stanley on March 16 with a complement of 22 Marines.

On March 21, the British embassy made a diplomatic protest in Buenos Aires, requesting the Argentine government to evict the workers. The Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicanor Costa Méndez, responded by appearing to clear the crisis, assuring that the ARA Bahía Buen Suceso would soon leave the islands and that the incident had no official consent.

On the morning of March 22, the ARA Bahía Buen Suceso departed from Port Leith. However, in the afternoon, a BAS observation post detected the presence of Argentine personnel and passed the information to London. Consequently, the Foreign Office ordered HMS Endurance to evacuate any Argentine personnel remaining in South Georgia.

On March 23, the Commander of the Antarctic Naval Group, Captain César Trombetta, in command of the ARA Bahía Paraíso, which was in the South Orkneys, received orders from the Naval General Staff to proceed at maximum speed to the South Georgia Islands, with the mission of preventing the eviction of the group of Argentine workers from Davidoff by the HMS Endurance, which had left the Falkland Islands for that purpose.

The British moves were met with a series of Argentine countermeasures: the corvettes ARA Drummond and ARA Granville were deployed between the Falklands and South Georgia, being in position to intercept HMS Endurance and rescue any Argentine personnel on board.

On March 24, the Argentine government informed the press of the presence of the workers in South Georgia, while Astiz was ordered to "disembark on March 25 at 00:15 at Port Leith in order to protect Argentine workers."

The ARA Bahía Paraíso arrived at Port Leith on the night of March 24 and disembarked the group of 14 military personnel commanded by Astiz (Alfa Group), with individual weapons belonging to the ship. The ARA Bahía Paraíso remained in the area and patrolled the area with its helicopters during the following hours. News from the south reported an unusual movement of Argentine Navy warships in the South Atlantic Ocean. Arriving at Port Leith, the HMS Endurance found the ARA Bahía Paraíso at anchor, then both ships were chasing and hiding around the islands until they lost contact with each other on March 31.

Faced with the prospect of a possible military conflict, the Foreign Office sought some kind of compromise. Lord Carrington proposed to his counterpart Costa Mendez to pardon the workers present at Port Leith, to give them appropriate documentation, which could include the stamping of temporary permits instead of passports, which was a crucial concession to the Argentine position. Argentina's claim, however, was that the arrival of any of its nationals in South Georgia should follow the procedures agreed in the 1971 communications treaty. Governor Rex Hunt strongly rejected this extension of the agreement, valid only for the Falkland Islands, and conveyed his concern to the British government.

The British plan was that the commander of the British Antarctic Survey, Martin, would be responsible until the Argentine forces demonstrated any hostile intent, if that occurred, Lieutenant Keith Paul Mills would take command.

On March 28, 1982, at 10:57 a.m., the destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad sailed as flagship of the commander of Task Force 40, embarking its commander and the commander of the Malvinas Theater of Operations, Major General Osvaldo Jorge García, initiating Operation Rosario, which concluded with the surrender of the British governor of the Malvinas on April 2. That same day, 40 Marines under the command of Lieutenant Guillermo Luna were embarked in Puerto Belgrano to South Georgia on the corvette ARA Guerrico, traveling precariously and overcrowded for 4 days due to the lack of a ship with the capacity to transport troops and the weather conditions.

On March 30, when it became obvious that the invasion was imminent, the British government ordered the destroyer HMS Antrim, followed by two other surface ships and three nuclear submarines, to head for South Georgia to support HMS Endurance. The rest of the British navy units were put on four-hour alert.

On April 1, the Naval General Staff received Operations Order No. 1, "Operation No. 1

With the available units, Task Force 60.1 was formed, with César Trombetta as commander, made up of the units.

As a consequence, a series of high-level meetings and conversations took place in order to avoid the Argentine invasion. On the night of April 1, U.S. President Ronald Reagan promised Thatcher to talk to the military junta to prevent the attack. However, his telephone conversation with Leopoldo Galtieri was unsuccessful.

April 2nd

On April 2, Astiz announced to the Argentines at Port Leith that his country had regained the Malvinas. He was ordered to execute Operations Order No. 1.

After learning of the fall of Port Stanley, Mills took urgent measures: his men fortified the beach at Punta Coronel Zelaya, near the entrance to the bay, with wire and land mines and prepared defenses around the BAS buildings. HMS Endurance, which was a few miles offshore, provided communication between the small British detachment and London. Mills was authorized to open fire in self-defense after issuing a warning. A subsequent British government statement instructed the Marines "not to resist beyond the point where lives might be needlessly lost.

Due to inclement weather, the ARA Guerrico only entered Cumberland Bay at 17:00 on April 2, so the Argentine forces' plans for that day in South Georgia were frustrated and Trombetta postponed them to April 3. Those plans consisted of Astiz's special forces landing at Hope Point, near Grytviken, to ensure the arrival of the ground forces' equipment, transported by helicopter. The ARA Guerrico was to provide naval gunfire outside the bay, but the corvette's arrival was delayed by a storm, then a new course of action was decided for the following day. According to the new plan, the first landing was to be made by the Alouette helicopter from the ARA Guerrico, followed by three waves of Marines in the Puma from the ARA Bahia Paraiso. After sending a radio message demanding the surrender of the British, Trombetta was to order the ARA Guerrico to make an advance on the Capitán Vago cove where the port of Grytviken is located, just in front of Punta Coronel Zelaya. The corvette was only authorized to use its firearms at the request of the land forces. Astiz's men were to remain in the rear on board the ARA Bahía Paraíso. All forces involved were to avoid enemy casualties as long as possible. Freedman believes that Trombetta made these provisions thinking that he would meet only the BAS team. Apparently, the oversight at that point was due to the absence of the HMS Endurance, which made him think he would deal only with the BAS people, Trombetta ordered the corvette ARA Guerrico to approach the coast, send the helicopter Alouette on reconnaissance, and transport the first group of Marines in the other helicopter, a Puma.

During the night, the two Argentine ships established contact and remained in close waters, the corvette being in Stromness Bay.

April 3rd

On April 3, at 5:00 Luna received a naval message that HMS Endurance was at Grytviken with 22 Marines. However, Trombetta thought that the landing zone would be free of enemy, which would be found on the polar ship. At 7:35 a.m., with better weather conditions, the corvette arrived at Port Leith and transferred the Marines to the ARA Bahía Paraíso, while Astiz's commandos were reembarked, leaving the workers protected ashore by men from the ARA Bahía Paraíso under the orders of Lieutenant Cortez.

At 11:10 from the ARA Bahia Paraiso, Grytviken's surrender was demanded with a message in English, repeated 3 minutes later, stating that Rex Hunt had surrendered in the Falklands. The message stated that Rex Hunt had surrendered in the Falklands. Lt. Mills received and then relayed the message to HMS Endurance, with the intention of gaining time. At the same time, he invited the BAS personnel to take cover inside the church premises. The British soldiers did not accept the surrender. By then, the Alouette was flying over Grytviken reporting that no possible resistance was observed and the ARA Guerrico was making its first entry into the inlet. According to Mayorga, Captain Carlos Alfonso, commander of the corvette, was hesitant to expose her in such narrow waters. Mayorga also validates Freedman's speculation about Trombetta's incorrect assumptions regarding British military presence around the harbor, citing an official report. Trombetta also had some reservations about the corvette's combat readiness, since she had been in dry dock until just days before leaving her home base at Puerto Belgrano.

At 11:25, Grytviken was ordered to the base personnel to go out to a visible place, warning that there would be a marine infantry landing and 10 minutes later from the corvette they noticed the presence of armed personnel.

The Puma put ashore the first group of 15 Argentine Marines (including Lieutenant Luna) with a machine gun at 11:41 at King Edward Point, on the opposite side of Shackleton House, where the Royal Marines were entrenched. By this time, the corvette knew that the Marine deployment zone was on the north shore of the mouth of the inlet. The second wave of Marines left from the ARA Bahía Paraíso aboard the Puma at 11:47, formed by Lieutenant Giusti with 14 other Marines and a machine gun. The commander of the Argentine group already ashore, Lieutenant Luna, requested via the ARA Guerrico - he had no direct communication with the ARA Bahía Paraíso - that the second wave should be the one to arrive in third term equipped with 60 mm mortars, but the Marines were already in flight. The landing took place east of Luna's position, well within sight of the British detachment. The helicopter was within weapons range of Mills and his men at the time. The aircraft was hailed by heavy automatic weapons fire, but the pilot was able to cross the bay and emergency landed the helicopter on the south shore of the bay, on the shore opposite Punta Coronel Zelaya (or King Edward Point). Conscripts Mario Almonacid and Jorge Nestor Aguila were killed and four others were wounded, the rest were out of combat position, but machine gun fire was opened on the hospital, wounding a Marine in the arm. At the same time, Luna's troops began their march towards the Shackleton house, but once the helicopter was shot down, the British fired heavy fire on them. In view of this, Luna asked the ARA Guerrico for fire support.

The corvette then made her second advance on the inlet and at 11:55 opened fire. To her commander's disappointment, the 20 mm guns jammed after her first shot, and with the 40 mm she was only able to fire six volleys. The 100 mm gun was disabled after the first shot. Completely exposed, the ship had no choice but to turn away and she veered into the cove opening fire with her guns located on her other side. The British directed their fire on the ship at 11:59 a.m. The corvette was hit by small arms fire and an 84 mm Carl Gustav anti-tank rocket launcher. According to Mills, his men opened fire from a distance of 550 m (1,000 ft). The attack killed Lance Corporal Patricio Guanca and wounded five other sailors, damaging power cables, a 40 mm gun, an Exocet rocket launcher and the 100 mm gun mount. When the corvette again passed in front of the enemy position to move away, it again came under heavy fire. Argentine sources acknowledge that more than 200 shells hit the corvette.

Meanwhile, the Alouette had transported the other 10 Marines, out of range of British guns, even though it was a reconnaissance helicopter and not a troop carrier. As the damaged ARA Guerrico headed out of the bay, Argentine troops resumed exchanging fire with Mills' Marines. Once out of range of the British guns, from the vicinity of Hobart Rock, the corvette resumed firing with her 40-millimeter guns, repaired and back in service. This convinced Mills that all was over and he ordered his marines to cease fire. This happened at 12:48, according to Mayorga. At 13:00 Mills approached the Argentine positions waving a white cloak and surrendered, being ordered to send his subordinates out individually. Mills and his men were taken into custody by Astiz's group, who had been held in reserve during the battle. At 13:35, it was reported that the British flag had been lowered. HMS Endurance dispatched one of her Wasp helicopters to Cumberland Bay. The helicopter landed there and detected the Argentine corvette and transport ship in the inlet, but found no signs of combat. HMS Endurance remained in the waters of South Georgia until April 5. In the afternoon 13 civilians from the BAS who were scattered in the vicinity were captured. At 23 o'clock the Alfa Group replaced Lieutenant Cortez and his men in the protection of the workers in Port Leith.

The corvette ARA Guerrico, with a loss of 50% of its firepower due to the combat, left Grytviken together with the ARA Bahía Paraíso at 3:15 on April 4, bound for Río Grande. The latter transported the British Marines to Río Grande, from where they were sent by plane to the Marine Infantry Naval Base Baterías where they remained for 12 days and the British wounded received medical attention. They were then airlifted to Montevideo, arriving in the UK on April 20. The Argentine forces desisted from attacking the BAS base on Bird Island, remaining there and in Schlieper Bay, Lyell Glacier and St. Andrews Bay, 15 British BAS personnel remained outside Argentine control until the British recovery of the islands. The Argentine Navy left a detachment of 55 Marines on the islands, together with 39 scrap dismantling workers who remained in Port Leith. South Georgia was retaken by the British forces on April 25, 1982, in the course of Operation Paraquet.


  1. Invasion of South Georgia
  2. Operación Georgias
  3. se infiltraron a bordo, pretendiendo ser científicos, siendo miembros de una unidad argentina de fuerzas navales especiales. Nick van der Bijl, Nine Battles to Stanley, London, Leo Cooper P.8 as reported in Lawrence Freemdman, The Official History of the Falklands Camapign: Vol I The Origins of the Falklands War
  4. "Bahia Buen Suceso set sail for South Georgia on 11 March carrying Argentine Marines" Rowland White, Vulcan 607, London, Bantam Press, p30.
  5. « infiltrated on board, pretending to be scientists, were members of an Argentine naval special forces unit » in (en) Nick van der Bijl, Nine Battles to Stanley, Londres, Leo Cooper p. 8 tel que cité dans Freedman 2005
  6. ^ "infiltrated on board, pretending to be scientists, were members of an Argentine naval special forces unit" Nick van der Bijl, Nine Battles to Stanley, London, Leo Cooper p. 8 as reported in Lawrence Freedman, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign: Vol I The Origins of the Falklands War
  7. ^ "Bahia Buen Suceso set sail for South Georgia on 11 March carrying Argentine Marines" Rowland White, Vulcan 607, London, Bantam Press, p. 30
  8. «infiltrated on board, pretending to be scientists, were members of an Argentine naval special forces unit» Nick van der Bijl, Nine Battles to Stanley, London, Leo Cooper p. 8 as reported in Lawrence Freedman, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign: Vol I The Origins of the Falklands War
  9. «Bahia Buen Suceso set sail for South Georgia on 11 March carrying Argentine Marines» Rowland White, Vulcan 607, London, Bantam Press, p. 30

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