A68a, a huge iceberg five times the size of New York City, is heading toward South Georgia, a small British island in the South Atlantic with a rich special operations history.
The A68a, as scientists have named the humongous iceberg, is almost the same size as South Georgia and has the potential to ruin the island’s economy and, worse, devastate its ecosystem.
A68a has a relatively low draught of around 200 meters, meaning that it could approach very close to South Georgia.
The British island, however, is no stranger to iceberg attacks. Its proximity to Antarctica and the strong currents around it mean that any iceberg that frees itself from the western tip of the frozen continent ends up in South Georgia.
“Ecosystems can and will bounce back of course, but there’s a danger here that if this iceberg gets stuck, it could be there for 10 years,” said Professor Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to the BBC.
South Georgia is no stranger to adversity.
Αpproximately 900 miles southeast of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia was the first battlefield of the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina in 1982. It was there where the Argentinians struck first, before launching the main invasion in the Falklands.
And yet the small Royal Marines detachment (22 men) stationed there gave them an unfortunate surprise. Before capitulating, the British commandos shot down a helicopter, damaged a corvette (with an anti-tank weapon), and inflicted several casualties on the invading force.
A small naval task force detached from the invasion armada and headed toward South Georgia to recapture the island. Operation Paraquat involved approximately 50 Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) operators.
Divided into boat and mountain patrols, their objective was to recce the island and determine the number of Argentinian defenders and their defensive positions. The boat patrols would infiltrate from the sea, while the mountain patrols would insert by helicopter. They were to relay their information back to the Royal Marines assault force that was waiting aboard the detached task force.
The atrocious winter conditions made their infiltrations and missions nigh impossible. Each operator was carrying around a hundred pounds worth of gear on his person, and the mountain teams also had a 200-pound sled per patrol packed with additional gear.
Despite their arctic survival training and the fact that all of them were experienced mountaineers, the SAS patrols were forced to evacuate. The conditions were so adverse that two helicopters crashed trying to rescue the mountain teams. Eventually, the operators and the downed helicopters were rescued.
The SBS boat patrols fared only slightly better. Stormy seas scattered the men, who were using inflatable rubber craft—not the best vessel to battle the tempestuous southern Atlantic and force seven gales.
The SAS had it worse because they weren’t accustomed to arctic environments like their SBS brethren and didn’t have the appropriate gear. However, the US government quickly fixed that through Delta Force. The US Army’s Tier 1 special missions unit shares a close relationship with the SAS, from which they were modeled. When they learned that the British were lacking cold-weather gear, they sent Gore-Tex equipment. Later in the war, when the Argentinian Air Force was wreaking havoc on the Royal Navy, Delta sent FIM-92 Stingers to their SAS friends.
In the end, after repeated frustrations, a combined assault force of Royal Marines and SBS and SAS operators stormed the Argentinian defensive positions at Grytviken, the largest settlement in South Georgia, only to found out that the Argentines weren’t interested in a fight and surrendered immediately.