Battle of Ocotal
|Battle of Ocotal|
|Part of the Occupation of Nicaragua, Banana Wars|
Fort Ocotal, held by marines during the occupation of Nicaragua
| United States
|Commanders and leaders|
| Gilbert D. Hatfield
Ross E. Rowell
Grover C. Darnall, Thomas G. Bruce
|Augusto César Sandino
47 national guardsmen
|Casualties and losses|
|9 killed & wounded;
1 killed, 5 wounded
|40–80 killed; 56 killed, ~100 wounded|
The Battle of Ocotal occurred in July 1927, during the American occupation of Nicaragua. A large force of rebels loyal to Augusto César Sandino attacked the garrison of Ocotal, which was held by a small group of US Marines and Nicaraguan National Guards. Ultimately the rebels were defeated with heavy losses, while the Americans and their Nicaraguan allies suffered very light casualties.
In May 1927, United States Marine Corps Captain Gilbert D. Hatfield left Managua in command of forty-one marine officers and men with the intention of patrolling the Nueva Segovia area. Upon arriving at the town of Ocotal, Captain Hatfield expected enemy activity so he had his men dig in around Fort Ocotal to wait Sandino's offensive. Hatfield also requested reinforcements and in early July, forty-eight guardsmen, under two officers, arrived at the American base. The United States Marines and the Nicaraguan guards did not have to wait long for a battle. On July 15, Captain Hatfield doubled his watch and that same night, Sandino's rebels began entering the town, two or three men at a time. At 1:15 am on July 6, a lone marine patrolling the town spotted a suspicious man walking through a street so he fired what became the first shot of the engagement. With the element of surprise lost, Sandino immediately ordered his men to charge the marines and the guards. In the first few minutes of fighting, three charges were repulsed at close range and for the next few hours there was only minor skirmishing between the garrison and rebel snipers. At daybreak heavy fighting commenced again until 8:00 am when Sandino demanded Hatfield's surrender. Captain Hatfield refused to concede, apparently believing that his fortified positions were strong enough to repel any further attack.
Daylight also brought two marine aircraft into the battle. At around 10:00 am, one of the planes, piloted by Lieutenant Hayne D. Boyden, landed near Ocotal to inquire about the seriousness of the situation while the other plane, piloted by Gunner Michael Wodarcsyk, strafed the enemy's positions. A little later, Lieutenant Boyden reboarded his plane, made a few more strafing runs and then flew back to Managua where he informed Major Ross E. Rowell of the battle. Major Rowell responded by forming a squadron of five De Havilland DH-4 biplanes armed with machine guns and four twenty-five pound bombs each. At 2:35 pm, Rowell's squadron arrived at Ocotal and began dropping bombs on the rebels at 300 to 1,000 feet for about forty-five minutes. Most of Sandino's men, who had never been attacked by aircraft before, began to retreat at this point while the remainder took cover behind a stone wall, only to be flanked by Hatfield's men shorty afterwards. After that the battle was over.
Fifty-six dead rebels were collected and over 100 more were wounded, while the US Marines and the Nicaraguan National Guards suffered only light casualties. (The exact casualties suffered by the victors vary between accounts: Nalty stated only one man killed and five wounded, while Beckett stated a total of nine killed and wounded.) While this action was by no means the end of the insurgency – it was to last another five years – it was the last time that the rebels attempted to concentrate for a massed attack of this kind. As with early British successes with aircraft in counterinsurgency in Somaliland in 1920, it had forced the insurgents to change their tactics.
- Beckett, p.118
- Nalty, p.7
- Nalty, p.6
- Beckett, I.F.W. (ed., 1988) The Roots of Counter-Insurgency, Blandford Press, London: ISBN 0-7137-1922-2
- Nalty, Bernard C. (1968). The United States Marines in Nicaragua. Washington DC: US Marines Historical Branch.