Perhaps it is because the war only lasted ten weeks and occurred during a period when the US-Soviet Cold War was the backdrop for most international relations, but the Falklands War is often neglected as a significant military engagement in history.
However, for the men that fought it and for the nations involved, they might have a word or two to say about that. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones, also known as H. Jones, stepped into the halls of military history during that war when he was awarded the Victoria Cross. One of only two men to receive such an honor during the conflict, it is worth noting that as an officer of a high rank who would typically be further back from the front lines he led the charge on an Argentine trench.
His actions cost the 42-year-old warrior his life, but his legacy lives on and brings attention to a war often neglected in history.
A Long Path to War
Born in Putney at the dawn of WWII, world events meant it was a long wait for Herbert Jones to see combat. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1960 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant into the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. Subsequent promotions saw him rise to the rank of Major in 1972 and serve with the 3rd Infantry Brigade in Northern Ireland. There, he served in the ongoing conflict against the Provisional Irish Republican Army and their efforts to secure Northern Ireland from the British.
In 1977, he received recognition for his efforts there and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1979, he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and joined a parachute regiment in the British Army. It was while in command of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment that he distinguished himself.
In 1982, the Military dictatorship ruling Argentina at the time faced a stagnant economy and increasing civil unrest. To bolster their dwindling popularity the dictatorship embarked on a doomed strategy in the hope of playing upon Argentine nationalism and pride.
Off the coast of Argentina and scattered out into the South Atlantic, the Falkland Islands – along with the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands – have been under British control since the colonial days of the British Empire. Argentina has long laid claim to the islands citing history that pre-dates British control.
While the islands have long been a source of friction between Argentina and Britain, the Argentine military dictatorship decided to take it up a notch when they invaded the Falklands on April 2, 1982, and the subsequent islands the following day. The British were initially caught off guard and were not prepared to offer an immediate defense of the action.
Argentina took control of the islands and awaited a British response. The United Nations condemned the invasion; with China and the Soviet Union abstaining. The United States offered material and logistical support to the British while not becoming directly involved.
Retaking the Islands
While the British military was considered vastly superior, retaking the islands was not easy. For Britain to assemble a task force large enough and send it to the South Atlantic with enough air cover was a considerable challenge. The Argentine military had the advantage of fighting a defensive war on the islands while offering substantial air cover that threatened the British Fleet.
By late April, British forces were approaching the islands, and the conflict began in earnest. Among those charged with retaking the islands was the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment commanded by one H. Jones.
For Jones, it was the Battle of Goose Green which took place on 28 and 29 May that earned him a role in military history. As the Falklands War dragged on, there was intense political pressure for a substantial victory. On the 28th, Jones’ battalion was ordered to attack entrenched Argentine positions south of Darwin.
From their well prepared and entrenched positions, the Argentine military held up the 2nd Battalion with intense machine-gun fire. Having sustained some casualties, Lieutenant Colonel Jones headed to the front to evaluate the battle better.
Once he was on the front lines, Jones realized the assault was on the verge of faltering under the heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. Rather than allow his battalion to remain targets for the entrenched enemy positions, he picked up a sub-machine gun and with complete disregard for his own life charged the enemy trenches. He was knocked down by the enemy fire, but picked himself back up and continued the assault.
Just short of the enemy position, he was struck again and killed. Within a short time, the battalion was pushing the assault up the ridge after being inspired by their leader’s actions and took the enemy position. Most of the Argentine defenders surrendered in the face of the continued assault.
The Victoria Cross
For his actions that day, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones became one of only two men to receive the Victoria Cross during the conflict. While few doubted the gallantry it required to lead the charge as a senior officer in the face of heavy machine-gun fire, there were questions about the wisdom of his actions.
Some claimed his actions caused him to lose sight of the overall battlefield. They point to the subsequent surrender of the Argentine forces saying that a different path could have been taken against the demoralized conscripted forces of Argentina. Meanwhile, others suggested his actions were the reason for the defending forces to lose heart.
The Battle of Goose Green offered British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher the substantial victory she sought. She said of Jones that “his life was lost, but his death was a turning point in the battle.” Argentina capitulated during the War, and it was a tactical and strategic victory for Great Britain.
Regardless of what one might think about this war or Jones’ actions, the history of war will always recognize the gallantry of those who lead from the front in the face of intense enemy fire.
After the Falklands War, it was over 20 years before another VC was awarded to continue the legacy set by H. Jones and all those who went before him.