Churchill sent frigate to foil 'invasion' of Falkland Islands by two Argentinians

Cahal Milmo
Saturday 03 January 2004 01:00 GMT

For Winston Churchill it was an infringement of British sovereignty worthy of a muscular response - the dispatch of a task force to claim back a rocky outcrop in the southern Atlantic invaded by a determined force of Argentinians.

The Foreign Office had already sent a telegram to the government in Buenos Aires complaining of an "armed incursion into British territory and waters" and warning that the presence of troops and naval vessels was an indefensible act of aggression.

But as a crack detachment of 32 Royal Marines stormed ashore to reclaim Deception Island shortly after lunchtime on 15 February 1953 - some 30 years before another British fleet would claim back the nearby Falkland Islands - they found that the ferocious occupying Argentine army consisted of a navy sergeant and corporal who were only too happy to be sent home.

Documents released at the National Archives show that during his second stint as prime minister, Churchill was so concerned that Argentina had military designs on the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the south Atlantic that he sent a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Snipe, from Portsmouth.

In a personal minute to defence chiefs, Churchill said: "Certainly a frigate should be kept in the neighbourhood of the Falkland Islands ... I had not realised your resources were so straitened that even an improvised Company could not be sent to Port Stanley." When it emerged a short time afterwards that in February 1953 an Argentinian naval tug, the Chiriguano, had established a hut, tent and flag on Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands, some 400 yards from the British settlement, it was time for action.

A report on the counter-offensive, led by the marines armed with Sten guns, rifles and tear gas, said: "Argentine naval sergeant and leading corporal sole occupants of Argentine hut, Argentines, who offered no resistance, were searched for arms."

It added: "Two detained men are described as resigned and possibly pleased to be leaving island."

Anxious not to portray their counter-invasion as an act of war, the British soldiers were accompanied by the chief constable of the Falklands Islands. The Argentinians were arrested and deported before their hut was dismantled by British troops along with an abandoned rival encampment set up by the Chileans.

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