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The Yompers — winning a modern war on foot the hard way

21 July 2014

The Yompers — winning a modern war on foot the hard way

The Yompers: with 45 Commando in the Falklands War, Ian Gardiner, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84884-441-4, 208 pp.

The Yompers: with 45 Commando in the Falklands War by Ian Gardiner with jacket design by Jon Wilkinson

The Yompers: with 45 Commando in the Falklands War by Ian Gardiner with jacket design by Jon Wilkinson

We have read Ian Gardiner before with his other two excellent books and this one keeps to his high standard of excellent writing of his experiences, now as X-Ray Company Commander in 45 Commando, as well as his wisdom and practical philosophical oversight. In Yompers the author covers logistics through tactics, politics through training as well as humour (we will use the Queen’s English spelling out of respect) and cigarettes.

Gardiner also has much in humour interspersed throughout Yompers and in fact succinctly explains why that trait is vital in when soldiers prepare to go into combat. Succinctness with spectacular writing marks Gardiner’s books as revelatory and educational as the reader not only learns of how it was like for individuals involved but also the strategic context of the issue at hand.

The overthrust of the story is how 45 Commando marched across unimaginably harsh terrain across East Falkland island to fight two night battles securing the western flank of Port Stanley. The story is an awestriking one. Since the heavy lift helicopter capacity was lost due to Argentinian attacks 45 Commando had to “yomp” (i.e., march) with each man carrying a load of 120–150 pounds (55–70kg) over terrain that alternatively had them sinking up to their shins or traversing boot eating stone runs. As noted by Gardiner, this was the first battle fought without motorized vehicles since the invention of the reciprocating engine. From the first day of the march feet and clothing were not dry until its end so day after day men of 45 Commando never slept well. Making matters worse the helicopter resupply was unreliable so food was often short in supply. Artillery ammunition had to be carefully thought out prior to commencing battle and boots often had to be liberated from the Argentine soldiers. But intense night assaults were made and Gardiner excels in describing the intensity of command decision making (advised by others but alone in responsibility) as well as the first hand accounts which are riveting. Only a thinking person who has experienced the event can write this descriptively and informatively.

Some of the above sounds counterintuitive and perhaps so it is but it is how the history unfurled. Gardiner writes an excellent prelude and summary illustrating the mistakes both countries made which brought them to war. His observations regarding the training of the Royal Marines and his comparison to the Argentinian officer corps could not be more stark. Some Argentinians fought well and some did not but the Falkland’s War was a close fought affair with remarkable gallantry on both sides which Gardiner freely acknowledges. His reflection on serving the Queen is both parsimonious, realistic as well as saturated with wry humour.

This book, like his others, is happily challenging to write a short review of as each page is filled with insight or overview — more often both. So, much has to be left out of the material covered by Gardiner but to give an impression of the gamut addressed, and addressed well:

  • Why, in his experience gained in Dhofar, his company armed themselves with nineteen light machine guns (7.62mm) when the normal complement was nine
  • The unsung heroes of Britain’s merchant marine
  • How the Argentine military thought as well as how the British military thought
  • The incredible logistical effort to get man and equipment away is a short time and how some of the proverbial knots were untied along the route
  • How unexploded bombs were left in medical areas as men continued their work to save lives and heal wounds
  • The importance of air assets and how acute the feeling when they are not available
  • The American military has the SNAFU, TARFU and FUBAR whereas the UK military has the AMFU, SAMFU and CMFU 🙂

This book should be read by historians and should be read by those who study leadership alike. The maps are drawn by the author and the many insightful images come from the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum as well as the author and friends.

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Additional books by Ian Gardiner and reviews:

In the Service of the Sultan: a first hand account of the Dhofar Insurgency, Ian Gardiner, 2006 (reprinted several times since), ISBN 978-1-84415-467-8, 189 pp.

The Flatpack Bombers: the Royal Navy & the Zeppelin Menace, Ian Gardiner, 2009, ISBN 9781848840713, 224 pp.

Further:

Ian Gardiner is an interesting fellow who writes and talks about so much more — these can be investigated at this link where his other articles are equally well written and intriguing.

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. shortfinals permalink
    24 July 2014 20:07

    Thank you very much, indeed, for covering this most important book, Joe. Having met more than a few members of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines in my time, I can tell you that they are just as hard and professional bunch of fighting men as you would wish to meet.

    A few small comments, if I may? It is never ‘the 45 Commando’ but always either ‘No 45 Commando’ or just ’45 Commando’ (formally, ‘No 45 Commando, Royal Marines’). Don’t worry, I have seen American authors – in the context of the Battle of Britain – write ‘ the 616th Squadron…’, when the Royal Air Force would NEVER use that nomenclature (either ‘616 Squadron’ or ‘No 616 Squadron’ or even in short orders, just ‘616’ )! Pedantic, I know….

    You mentioned about the use by Royal Marines on the Falklands of many more LMGs than their unit establishment allowed for, massively increasing their firepower. It is not well known, but the two combatants were using similar versions of the same ‘battle rifle’. the British were using the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (which I have shot), and the Argentine Forces the FN FAL, built by the FN factory in Belgium (the L1A1 is a British redesign). Both these weapons used the NATO 7.62mm/51 round, as did the two other British weapons, the L4A2 Light Machine Gun (a conversion of the venerable but much-loved Bren of WW2) and the L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun. This meant that the British would eagerly ‘scoop up’ and use captured ammunition.

    One other interesting item. The Argentine FN FAL was preferred to the SLR because a) some of them had folding stocks b) others a heavier barrel, which allowed fully-automatic fire, and British troops often picked these up. Unfortunately, many of the Argentine weapons were in poor condition due to conscripts not being high on weapon maintenance!

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      24 July 2014 20:27

      Ross, again thanks for your knowledge. I didn’t catch the language trait and used the U.S. convention without realizing it. I’ll change that quickly!

      Yes I can identify with the RM liberating 7.62mm ammunition. The book is an excellent first hand account of an extremely trying mission — more than well worth the read! Gardiner pointed out that the actions they had during their time there were marked by a mix of demoralized Aregentines and highly motivated Argentines in the same action. His comments comparing the RM officer corps and those of Argentina are especially illustrative. No…on to editing that copy…

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