Monday, 26 August 2013

2013- A Tale of Two Veterans

Cliff Caswell : A Tale of Two Veterans
By Cliff Caswell

A defence correspondent who has travelled extensively with the British Army, Cliff Caswell has covered operations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. In a career spanning two decades, he has been an assistant editor of the Forces Weekly Echo newspaper and was deputy editor of Soldier magazine for several years. Cliff has also visited the Falklands-Malvinas Islands twice, accompanying British war veterans to the battlefields of Goose Green, San Carlos and Mount Tumbledown.

He became involved with the Nottingham-Malvinas group after calling on Professor Bernard McGuirk and Dr Eduardo Gerding to help with securing the necessary clearances to interview former Argentinean combatants in Buenos Aires in 2007. Cliff is currently the editor of, a website covering UK domestic law enforcement issues but continues to write extensively on the military. He lives in southern England. 
Commander(Ret) Diego García Quiroga
Commander(Ret) Diego García Quiroga
Steve Duffy
Steve Duffy

Enlightened by fire

Argentinean Falklands veteran recalls how experience of being wounded and trapped in no mans land help lead him on a path of reconciliation

Three decades after he was left bleeding, in shock and with his sense of reality warped by morphine, retired Argentine naval commander Diego Garcia Quiroga still clearly remembers the moment when he thought his number was up.

As a lieutenant in 1982, he had been cut down by a barrage from the Royal Marines as the first Argentine forces on the Falkland Islands came under contact. He was left limp against a tool shed in a vegetable patch at Government House in Port Stanley on the soil his country had claimed, afraid to look at his wounds.

By the time he was taken to hospital in the capital he was already aware that his superior officer, Lt Cdr Pedro Giacchinowho had been hit alongside him – had bled to death as the first battle of the Falklands War raged around them. Then a nurse confirmed the junior officer’s worst fears. You’re through baby.

Speaking following a seminar on the Falklands at Nottingham University, Cdr Quiroga pointed out that he had long since established the turn of events that left him fighting for his life – and how he was saved by the work of Argentine and British medical teams. But back on the morning of April 2, his life was a mixture of chaos, pain and confusion. He faced every soldier’s worst nightmare – being wounded and exposed in the no-mans land of a fierce battle.

Now involved in reconciliation work for veterans of the conflict and met many former adversaries he has written a book – Stories of My Time without a Skin – in which he reflects on his experiences through a series of fictional portraits of men in the wake of a battle. And he certainly has a great deal of experience to impart.

In particular, the heightened sense of mortality was very real for him as nurse’s words rang around his head – and he recalled pondering over whether he might already be dead. From what he could piece together of what had happened, the prognosis was far from good. His memories were scrambled, but he remembered the lights of Stanley and the time being around 0530 Hours. He recalled all hell breaking loose and being swiftly cut down in an ambush.

Earlier events were, however, easier to put into context. As an operations officer in the Agrupacion de Buzos Tacticos, a professional and respected navy special forces unit, he had been among the first to be ordered to land on the Falklands as part of Operation Rosario – the Argentine action to take the islands.

After arriving by inflatable boats at midnight on April 1, the men were ordered to head for Government House and attempt to snatch Governor Rex Hunt in a move to take control of the territory. But the team were compromised as they moved on their target location and found themselves on the receiving end of a volley of rounds from the handful of defending Royal Marines.

Even 30 years later I still remember seeing bullets from a machine gun impacting on a door, then turning around to see Giacchino spinning, Cdr Quiroga – who retired from the Argentine Navy in 1999 and now lives in Geneva – told Sixth Sense.

And that is when I was hit – it was like being kicked by a mule. I was lying against a tool shed I could feel a huge pain in my back. I have to admit that I was actually afraid to look at the wounds I had taken. I knew I had been badly hurt.

Although he did not know what had happened at the time, Cdr Quiroga had actually fallen victim to three different snipers – one of the bullets passed through his right elbow while another pierced his lower torso. A third was stopped by a Swiss army knife fastened to his belt over the left side of his groin.

The 28-year-old lieutenant and Lt Cdr Giacchino who had taken a fatal round to the chest – were left in a horrifying situation. Both were now caught in a crossfire between the Royal Marines on one side and the Argentine special forces on the other and could see the tracer zipping over them.

Although the South American troops tried to dispatch a medic to administer first aid to their fallen soldiers he was also shot and injured – and three men lay wounded and exposed to the contact as Argentine troops waited for reinforcements.

There was further alarm among both the casualties and the British defenders when Cdr Quiroga’s superior, who was by now fighting to stay conscious from the mortal wound he had received, revealed that he was clutching a primed grenade in his hand.

I remember speaking to him for a while and he told me this,” he revealed. “I could also hear voices shouting in English, and they were telling him to throw the grenade away. All the while I remember being in pain, in my arm and my back.

Cdr Quiroga recalled that the two sides traded rounds for more than 90 minutes, with his own consciousness blurring as the morning wore on. In a surreal twist, the three men also found themselves trampled and harassed by geese plodding around the garden. As he felt himself weakening, the junior officer remembered the sun rising to reveal a beautiful, deep blue Falklands morning.

He was then dimly aware of somebody – a soldier – probing around his chest. In addition he remembered fleetingly seeing RADM Carlos Busser, the commander of the Argentine landing forces, and recalled hearing the rotor blades of a helicopter.

The images were coming and going – but I do recall the face of this huge guy over me. He was a Royal Marine, not one of ours, and I later found out he was injecting me with morphine. He used my blood as ink to write the letter M on me as a precaution to make sure that I did not get a second dose.

After receiving initial treatment in Stanley, Cdr Quiroga was flown to a hospital ship where the crew battled along narrow corridors to bring his stretcher on board. He was again forced to further question his chances of survival.

In all of this, I remember a few things – there was a medical officer who said something like: ‘We can do nothing here’, although I later found he was talking about Giacchino. And at one point at some stage there been the nurses who remarked that I had turned blue. But it had not dawned on me that my face was still camouflaged.

Finally returned to Argentina, and with his sense of reality returning, Lt Quiroga was later relieved to be joined by his parents, when he was finally able to hear the news that none of his vital organs had been damaged in the battle.

It was the beginning of months of recovery, which would eventually culminate in the continuation of his naval career and tours of duty that would include service on Antarctic Support Ships and the Tall Ships School in Buenos Aires.

It is his time on the Falklands, however, that still holds a place as a defining period of his life and he admits that his recent reconciliation with his old opponents has given him a fresh insight into how war defines the later lives of combatants.

In Stories from My Time Without a Skin, I look at a fictional group of people who fought in 1982 and reveal what happened to them later on,” Cdr Quiroga said. “None of them individually speak with my voice, but taken together they do.

While he admitted that his own reflections on war are also played out in his book, he said that it is the faithfulness to his comrades, and their own loyalty to him that shines through when he remembers his own part in the battle for the Falklands.

I have enjoyed the privilege of fighting alongside brave men and surviving almost unscathed,” Cdr Quiroga said in his personal account about the battle for Government House. “I gained the satisfaction of proving my faithfulness to my comrades, professional and country – and I cannot imagine a better deal.

Facing The Bitter Last Stand

Former Germany-based veteran recalls the final night of fighting on the Falklands – and squaring up to the Argentine elite who had their backs to the wall

BEING in combat for the first time on an enemy-occupied island 8,000 miles from home would be intimidating for any soldier – but when your job is to be a decoy and draw fire from an entrenched opposition, you are into the stuff of nightmares.

But Steve Duffy, who in 1982 was a Guardsman in the Recce Platoon of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, had never been more awake. And as the tracer fire lit up the pitch black of the hostile Falklands landscape, the lethal reality of his situation hit home.

Under the cover of darkness on June 13, he and a group of 28 colleagues were given the task of mounting a diversionary action against the Argentine forces dug in around Tumbledown – a craggy, mountainous area that was the gateway to the capital Port Stanley. The action would culminate with him seeing comrades wounded and killed before he was seriously injured himself.

But the 21-year-old soldier, who served in Germany during his Army career, and his colleagues had a crucial job. As they traded rounds with a well-prepared enemy, the Left and Right flank companies of the Battalion moved under cover of darkness to strike a hammer blow against the enemy, forcing them into retreat. It was ultimately the decisive action of the war, which led directly to the Argentine surrender hours later.

We had been told that we would be fighting the Argentine marines, who were very capable, and that was the responsibility we were given,” Mr Duffy recalled. “I just remember wanting to finish the job – by this time the cold had become a huge issue and I knew that when we got to Stanley it would all be over.

At the time I never had any doubt that we would win the war – with the passing of 30 years, however, it is clear to me that might well not have been the case.

By all accounts, Mr Duffy and his comrades in the Scots Guards faced a demanding task. The battalion had been correctly told that they were facing the best of the Argentine military – assembled against them among the rocks of the mountain and dug into the peat were the troops of the 5th Marine Infantry Battalion.

Under the command of the charismatic Cdr – later RADM – Carlos Hugo Robacio, the soldiers had a fearsome reputation and had been assembling their defences for several weeks. While the Argentine military relied heavily on conscripted men, this battalion fielded a strong contingent of professional troops and was well-equipped with kit including the latest-generation night sights.

Despite being pounded with well over 15,000 artillery shells and rounds from Royal Navy ships before the Tumbledown assault was launched, the marines were well prepared for a fight – and moved to attack the Scots Guards as soon as they arrived in the area.

We were flown by helicopter to Goat Ridge, near Tumbledown, and quickly came under mortar fire,” recalled Mr Duffy. “It went on to last for the whole day. But we were soon heading for our objective – to make us much noise as possible to convince the Argentineans that ours was a battalion attack – and then withdraw.

The diversionary attack was, however, immediately greeted with the full force of the Argentineans. Two of the young soldier’s comrades were killed rapidly and others wounded as the enemy rained down fire from their positions.

Despite the lethal barrage, however, the men pressed on aggressively to keep up the façade. “We took high casualties, but three decades on I still think we helped to save our battalion – we made an awful lot of noise during the battle.

We were fighting at night and it was really difficult – but we kept up the attack and moved through the Argentine position – it was a case of being very aggressive. We are very well organised in what we were doing and that paid off.

As the diversionary attack reached its conclusion, a fierce battle for main objective had begun. At its height, the men of the Left and Right Flank companies were just metres from the Argentine defenders, and the hand-to-hand fighting ensued. But although the spoof assault had served its purpose well, the Recce Platoon troops found the weakened enemy remained highly lethal.

I was injured at the very end of the engagement,” said Mr Duffy. “Our withdrawal was underway but a wounded Argentinean soldier gave us a parting present with a grenade. I actually heard it roll in and I was injured badly in the explosion¨

The Argentine soldier was shot quickly afterwards, but I remember lying their and coughing up blood, knowing this was bad news – I thought I was dying¨.

I remember a sergeant, Gary Nicholson, shouting at me to stand up and I will always be grateful to him because that is what I did – I stood up. He pretty much carried out of there – but we ended up in a minefield where we were mortared.

Mr Duffy had sustained injuries including a collapsed rights lung and shrapnel to his chest. But under contact, the two men had to fight every instinct and remain standing, despite the incoming bombs, if they were to avoid the threat of the mines. Both walked of trouble and headed for the regimental aid post – from Mr Duffy was moved to a Falkland islander’s home for treatment.

It was strange but I remember it vividly – there was a field ambulance team and I was stabilised on the dining room table,” he said. “It was incredible that, having been through the intensity of battle, I felt completely safe when I was with the medics.

As Mr Duffy was under the knife, the battle was concluding. His battalion provided the hammer blow that led to the Argentine surrender. The Scots Guards, ultimately, provided the resolution and firepower that was to ultimately end the Falklands conflict.

The young guardsman went to make a full recovery, and conclude an 11-year period of service in 1988. After leaving the Army he joined the Police Service and after a highly successful career in uniform and plain clothes roles, he is now approaching retirement as a detective inspector in Thames Valley.

But his involvement with the regiment continues. As well as making many life-long friends forged through the shared experience of one of the most brutal and pivotal battles of the Falklands War, one of his sons is now in the 1st Battalion Scots Guards and has seen service against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There is always a strong bond between those of us who fought on those islands,” said Mr Duffy. “Within 18 months of leaving the Army, I was lucky enough to find my second career in the police – and there are many others who took the same course¨.

I learned a lot that continues to serve me well today, particularly about making important decisions with little critical information and remaining strong in the face of difficulties – and I took all that knowledge with me into later life.