Brigadier Rupert van der Horst, volunteers for SSAFA's Salisbury division
Rupert van der Horst, 75, served 33 years in the Royal Marines, commanding the Special Boats Squadron and 42 Commando during that time. He saw active service including Borneo, three tours of Northern Ireland and the Falklands conflict and retired a Brigadier. He is now a caseworker with SSAFA’s Salisbury Division.
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During the Falklands conflict Rupert, then 40, was a Major and second in command of 45 Commando. He landed on May 21, 1982, at Ajax Bay, San Carlos Water with 650 men. Unlike many of the troops sent to the Falklands they were well aware of the problems they would face. He said: “An awful lot of Royal Marines would have known where the Falklands were because for many years before we had a detachment in the Falklands. We also knew it was a hell of a long way away.
“Ajax Bay wasn’t really a beach – just water and rocks. We were there for five days. We saw Antelope being sunk, Ardent being sunk, other ships being bombed. On the afternoon of the first day these four Argentinian aircraft flashed over the hill firing their machine guns. We would see aircraft being shot down crashing into San Carlos Water, the odd Argentinian pilot ejecting and landing.”
On May 27 45 Commando started the long journey across the Falklands carrying everything they would need on their backs. Rupert said: “We walked further carrying more than anyone else. We walked across the Falklands. I was carrying two mortar bombs as well as my own ammunition. It was very wet, very windy and very cold. The average marine was carrying 120 lbs. We headed to Douglas Settlement but we were going very slowly because of the heavy loads and the rain. We stopped for a few hours in the night but because it was so cold everyone wanted to go on. Once we got to Douglas Settlement we were able to put the whole company under cover for the night. One whole rifle company of 120 men went into a sheep-shearing shed with the sheep. I was lucky enough to find a tool shed. We only stayed there one night and then we went on to a place called Teal Inlet. On our way there we picked up a number of Paras who had dropped out of their own marches and put them in the back of our vehicles. We were at Teal Inlet one or two nights. The settlement manager was brilliant and first thing in the morning came round with jugs of steaming tea.”
Rupert wrote down all the dates and details of his experiences in the Falklands on the long journey home by sea to Southampton. The Commando was meant to be taken forward by helicopters from Teal Inlet but the helicopters were all being used to transport artillery and ammunition.
“We had run out of food by then. The Brigade Commander came to see us and I said, the average marine is a bit like a lorry and if it runs out of food it won’t go anywhere, so please can we have some food? We went on to Bluff Cove Peak close to where we were going to do our final attack. We temporarily lost 15 men to foot and ankle injuries just because it was so rocky and pretty hard terrain though by then we were getting used to it. Altogether we covered 90 miles carrying those packs.”
45 Commando was tasked with taking Two Sisters, the central of three mountains held by the Argentinians outside Port Stanley, with 3 Para and 42 Commando targeting the other two.
“I have still got my orders for the attack now. It was Friday, June 11. The Paras went first and you could see the tracers going down. Then our Commandos set off up this mountain. We had people killed and wounded and ammunition states got low so, as arranged, in the middle of it all I went up the mountain with six of our oversnow vehicles. We went up to the top of the ridge. Shells were close enough for us to feel their blasts. It was all pretty unreal but we were able to take the vehicles among the rocks and unload the ammunition. Every 30 seconds a shell would burst and there was awful black smoke everywhere. We had these wounded and killed and I was desperate to get them out of there. I asked for a helicopter and I remember a Royal Marines Scout helicopter flew in through the shell fire many, many times and took out our wounded and that was really quite something. I was incredibly grateful. The battle lasted three hours altogether. We had 14 marines killed during the operation and many more wounded.”
Afterwards the marines found a store of Argentinian ration packs. “They all had a can of beef in them and even better they had a small bottle of whisky. You can imagine the joy. I remember sitting down with the RSM having breakfast…. tea, beef and whisky!”
Just before the ceasefire the Commando came upon a badly wounded Argentinian soldier and Rupert was tasked with getting him to Port Stanley. “The Colonel said to me this guy is going to die if we don’t do something – can you take him in one of the oversnow vehicles and give him to the Argentinians. So off we set. We were quite worried about being shot at by Argentinians. We got there and there was all sorts of shouting and screaming but I pointed to the back of the vehicle and they saw their wounded soldier and then could not have been more helpful. One of their soldiers climbed on board and we got right into Stanley. Everyone was saying thank you and then back we went through the lines.”
After the ceasefire they stayed in Stanley for a few days and were allowed on board a ship to shower. Rupert said: “We hadn’t changed our clothes for three weeks! We got some clean clothing and then suddenly we were told you’re going home on the Canberra. So I took 450 men on the Canberra. I remember we came in to an unbelievable welcome of cheering and shouting from the Isle of Wight onwards.”