Bombing of Plaza de Mayo
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|Bombing of Plaza de Mayo|
|Part of the Cold War|
Civilian casualties after the massacre
|Argentina||Anti-Peronist elements of the Armed Forces|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Juan Domingo Perón
Pedro Eugenio Aramburu
Samuel Toranzo Calderón
|Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers
Buenos Aires Motorized Garrison
1st Palermo Regiment
3rd La Tablada Regiment
Argentine Air Force
Part of the Argentine Air Force
|330 Mounted Grenadiers
4 Sherman tanks
Armed Peronist civilians
At least 875 anti-Peronist civilians
|Casualties and losses|
|9 Mounted Grenadiers killed
5 policemen killed
|30 rebels killed
3 aircraft shot down
|364 civilians killed
Over 700 wounded
The Bombing of Plaza de Mayo was a massacre which took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 16 June 1955. On that day, thirty aircraft from the Argentine Navy and Air Force strafed and bombed Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, in what remains to this day the largest aerial bombing ever on the Argentine mainland. The attack targeted the adjacent Casa Rosada, the official seat of government, as a large crowd was expressing support for president Juan Perón. The strike took place during a day of official public demonstrations to condemn the burning of a national flag allegedly carried out by detractors of Perón during the recent procession of Corpus Christi. The action was to be the first step in an eventually aborted coup d'état.
The absolute disregard for human life and the violence with which the act was carried out, of a magnitude never seen before in Argentina, makes it comparable with the wave of state terrorism that would appear years later in the country.
Bombing, strafing and ground fighting
At 12:40 pm, thirty Argentine Naval Aviation and Air Force airplanes, consisting of 22 North American AT-6, five Beechcraft AT-11 and three Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats, took off from Morón Air Base. Perón had been warned of the movements beforehand by the Minister of War, Franklin Lucero, who advised him to retreat to a bunker under the Libertador Building.
The surprise factor was crucial in the number of civilian casualties, as it was a Thursday. Among the first recorded victims were occupants of public transport vehicles. The first bomb to be dropped fell upon a trolley packed with children, killing everyone on board.
At 01:12 pm, union leader Héctor Hugo Di Pietro, who was in charge of the CGT due the absence of the Secretary-General, spoke on national broadcasting and called all workers in the Federal District and Greater Buenos Aires to concentrate immediately around the CGT building to defend their leader. Moreover, union officials were already mobilizing workers from factories around Buenos Aires towards the city center.
Perón ordered his adjutant, major Cialceta, to inform Di Pietro that a clash strictly between soldiers was taking place and that no man was to be in Plaza de Mayo. Historian Joseph Page claimed, citing a report originating from the US Embassy as his source, that this order was not given until 04:00 pm.
Elements of the 4th Infantry Battalion (marines) arrived to Plaza de Mayo on trucks and attempted an assault on Casa Rosada, but were repelled by machine gun fire from loyal Grenadiers, whilst on the outside Army troops were marching from the Treasury on General Lucero's orders, backed by armed Peronist civilians.
The 4th Infantry Batallion (marines) fought its way in disarray towards the premises of the Ministry of the Navy, where they were surrounded by loyal Army units. Lucero ordered the use of heavy machine guns against the rebels, and 80 mm mortars were brought in to reinforce the assault. The civilian commandos, under Zavala Ortiz's orders, began clashing with the police and sniping from the roofs of various buildings. During the afternoon, rebel reinforcements coming from the Central Post building repeatedly tried to break the siege on the Ministry of the Navy, without success.
As ground combat raged in the center of Buenos Aires, the loyal forces ordered the Morón Air Base to intercept rebel fighters. The pilots were in heated discussions over whether to join the coup or not. A squad of loyal Gloster Meteors took off and one of them shot down a rebel AT-6 over the Río de la Plata. Another two warplanes were downed by hastily-mounted anti-aircraft batteries.
When the loyal pilots landed, they found that the Morón Air Base had been captured. The rebels seized the Meteors and pressed them into service. The airstrikes and strafing continued until the final surrender. At the last moment, with the coup on the verge of failure, the warplanes launched a second attack on the seat of government. Having run out of ordnance, one pilot dropped his auxiliary fuel tank as if it was an incendiary bomb, which fell on the cars in a parking lot near the Casa Rosada.
Retreat and surrender
After heavy urban fighting, which included a false surrender incident, the besieged rebels finally opted for handing over the Ministry of the Navy to the Army units posted outside. Fire ceased at 05:20 pm local time. Between 9.5 and 13.8 tonnes of ordnance were dropped, killing between 150 and 364 people (mostly civilians) and injuring over 800. Nine Mounted Grenadiers, members of the presidential guard, and five police officers were killed in action.
Faced with the failure of the intended coup (as neither the Army nor the bulk of the Air Force had joined in), the pilots received orders to fly towards Uruguay and ask for asylum. Thirty warplanes headed towards Carrasco Airport, along the way strafing anything that moved. Some pilots did not reach Uruguayan soil, as they had used up their fuel during the attack on Plaza de Mayo. Thus, they had to crash-land in the Río de la Plata or the fields of Carmelo.
At 03:00 am on 17 June, the leaders of the ill-fated coup, Olivieri, Toranzo Calderón and Gargiulo were told they were to be tried under martial law, and they were each offered a pistol to end their lives. Olivieri and Toranzo Calderón declined, as they wished to face the consequences of their acts. At 05:45 am, just before dawn, Gargiulo committed suicide in his office.
That same night, angry Peronist crowds burnt down eight churches, two basilicas and a cathedral, in revenge for the hundreds of civilians killed during the attacks. Neither the police nor the firefighters intervened to stop them.
In September of that year, the bulk of the armed forces would join in the Revolución Libertadora, which overthrew president Perón and started a period of military rule that ended with the 1958 presidential elections, won by Arturo Frondizi of the UCRI. Even though the Peronist party was not allowed to enter the ballot, Frondizi's victory was influenced by Perón's instructions to his loyal base, given from his exile in Madrid, to tactically vote for Frondizi.
One of the naval pilots who took part in the bombings, Máximo Rivero Kelly was promoted and was second-in-command of the Argentine Navy during the presidency of Raúl Alfonsín. He claimed the naval pilots aimed to hit the presidential palace but that one aircraft missed, causing about 20 deaths among the civilians.
Bullet and shrapnel marks are still visible on some buildings on the south side of the square as of 2015.
- Enrique Oliva. "9 Granaderos" (in Spanish). Nac&Pop.
- Rouquié, Alain (1982). Poder militar y sociedad política en la Argentina: 1943-1973 (in Spanish). Emecé Editores. p. 108.
- Bombas sobre Buenos Aires: Gestación y desarollo del bombardeo aéreo sobre la Plaza de Mayo del 16 de junio de 1955, Daniel E. Cichero, p.163, Vergara Grupo Zeta, 2005.
- "A 54 años del día en que bombardearon al pueblo reunido en la Plaza de Mayo". El Argentino (in Spanish). 16 June 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
- "Celebran resarcimiento a sobrevivientes del bombardeo" (in Spanish). Parlamentario. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
- «Los ataques de los aviones produjeron numerosos daños en los edificios, resultando gran cantidad de muertos y heridos entre los transeúntes y ocupantes de automóviles particulares y de transporte colectivo de pasajeros, especialmente en la esquina de Paseo Colón e Hipólito Yrigoyen y frente al Ministerio de Hacienda.» Police report dated 22 June 1955 and relayed by commissar Rafael C. Pugliese to President Juan Domingo Perón.
- Moreno, Isidoro Ruiz (2013). La Revolución del 55 (in Spanish). Claridad. p. 193. ISBN 978-950-620-336-8.
- Alfredo Aulicino, Rodolfo Nieto, José María Bacalja, Ramón Alderete and César Augusto Puchulu, according to page 4 of the Clarín newspaper from 18 June 1955
- Moreno, Isidoro Ruiz (2013). La Revolución del 55 (in Spanish). Claridad. p. 280-282. ISBN 978-950-620-336-8.
- Testimonios del Bombardeo
- (Spanish) El bombardeo de Plaza de Mayo
- (Spanish) Galasso, Norberto (2005). Perón. Ediciones Colihue. ISBN 950-581-399-6