Remembering: Lt-Col Willy McCracken

Lieutenant-Colonel Willy McCracken, who has died aged 62, commanded an Artillery and Naval Gunfire Forward Observation (NGFO) party in the Falklands campaign and was awarded an MC.

McCracken and his NGFO team were initially ordered to support the operation to recapture South Georgia, and on April 9 1982 flew to Ascension Island, where they joined Antrim and Plymouth. After a naval bombardment, the Argentine garrison at Grytviken surrendered without resistance.
A much bloodier experience came on May 4, when they were in the frigate Arrow and went alongside Sheffield to help take off survivors following an deadly Exocet missile attack. After rejoining the main Task Force, McCracken operated by helicopter from Invincible and conducted a series of naval gunfire support engagements by day and night. The four-man team was then deployed from Alacrity in a dinghy with a Special Boat Service team to establish a forward OP on Sussex Mountain, East Falkland.
They paddled the last 200 yards to avoid noise and prevent their propellers becoming entangled in kelp. It was pitch black, and even through their nightscopes they could see nothing. As they crept stealthily off the beach, by the light of the rising moon they spotted what looked like an enemy patrol.
They expected to be ashore for a fortnight, and the last thing they wanted was a firefight that would reveal their position. As they released their safety catches and picked their targets, the “patrol” was reinforced by 200 more penguins that came waddling over the skyline.
It took four nights to reach their OP, which overlooked the Darwin and Goose Green peninsula. They subsequently supported 2 Para during the attack on Goose Green.
On June 12 McCracken’s team was grouped with B Company 3 Para for the attack on Mount Longdon. A silent attack under cover of darkness was planned, but as they advanced up the feature an infantryman stepped on a mine and, as McCracken said later, “all hell broke loose”. He and his team came under heavy small-arms, mortar and artillery fire; but McCracken had registered all his targets and engaged the enemy positions with naval and artillery fire in close proximity to British troops. On the night of June 14 they were grouped with 2 Para for the attack on Wireless Ridge. McCracken, deployed in an exposed position on Mount Longdon and under constant enemy mortar and artillery shelling, called down accurate naval fire on the enemy positions and played a notable part in the success of the attack. The citation for the award to him of an MC stated that he was always in the thick of the fight and paid tribute to his courage and skill which “undoubtedly accounted for many enemy casualties and greatly assisted in minimising our own”. William Andrew McCracken was born on June 21 1950 at Coleraine, Co Londonderry, and educated at Dungannon Grammar School. A fter attending Sandhurst he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1976. Following a spell at the United States Military Academy West Point, he was posted to 47 Light Regiment RA, based in Colchester. A tour of duty in Belize was followed by a move to Belfast as assistant regimental intelligence officer. Promoted to captain, he was posted to 29 Commando Regiment RA and, after rigorous training with 148 Meiktila Commando Forward Observation Battery at the Royal Marines base, Poole, he qualified as an NGF Observer. In early 1982, at the outset of the Falkland Islands campaign, he was recalled urgently from deployment in New Zealand. After two years on the staff of HQ 5th Airborne Brigade, in 1986 he rejoined 29th Commando Regiment RA as a battery commander based in Arbroath with 45th Royal Marine Commando Condor Group. During the next two years he took his unit to Kenya, Canada, Norway, Gibraltar, Italy and the Falkland Islands. In 1988 McCracken became Chief of Staff at HQ 43rd Wessex Brigade, and after a three-year tour was appointed MBE. He took command of 101st (Northumbrian) Regiment RA (Volunteers) in 1991. It was his final appointment and he retired in 1993 . He became president of the Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery Association and, in 1995, enrolled at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, for courses in agricultural, equine and estate management. During this period he was mobilised for a nine-month operational tour in Bosnia Hercegovina. He was transferred to the Regular Army Reserve Officers Retired List in 2004 and settled at Great Linford, Buckinghamshire. Willy McCracken was thrice married. He is survived by his third wife, Jacquetta , whom he married in 2005, and by a daughter of his second marriage.   Lt-Col Willy McCracken, born June 21 1950, died October 19 2012 Source: Telegraph.
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