Bombing of Plaza de Mayo

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Bombing of Plaza de Mayo
Plaza-Mayo-bombardeo-1955.JPG
Civilian casualties after the massacre
Date 16 June 1955
Location Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Result Failed magnicide and coup d'état attempt
Belligerents
 Argentina Anti-Peronist elements of the Armed Forces
Commanders and leaders
Juan Domingo Perón
Franklin Lucero
Samuel Toranzo Calderón
Benjamín Gargiulo
Aníbal Olivieri
Units involved
Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers[1]
Motorized Garrison Buenos Aires[2]
1st Regiment[2]
3rd Regiment[2]
Argentine Air Force
Argentine Naval Aviation
7th Air Brigade
4th Naval Infantry Battalion
Part of the Argentine Air Force
Strength
330 Mounted Grenadiers[1]
4 aircraft
4 Sherman tanks[2]
Armed Peronist civilians[2]
700 marines
30-34 aircraft
At least 875 anti-Peronist civilians
Casualties and losses
17 killed[note 1]
55 wounded[3]
30 rebels killed[5]
3 aircraft shot down
308 civilians killed and an additional number that could not be identified[6]

The Bombing of Plaza de Mayo was a massacre which took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 16 June 1955. On that day, 30 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 number of identified bodies was put at 308 —including six children— plus an indeterminate number of victims that couldn´t be identified.[6]

The absolute disregard for human life and the violence with which the act was carried out, makes it comparable with the wave of state terrorism that would appear years later in the country.[7]

The attack[edit]

Bombing, strafing and ground fighting[edit]

At 12:40 pm, thirty Argentine Naval Aviation 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.[6]

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.[8] The first bomb to be dropped fell upon a trolley packed with children, killing everyone on board.[9]

The rebel troops of the 4th Battalion were deployed around the Casa Rosada with the intention of capturing it. They were divided into two: a company was deployed 40 m from the northern esplanade, and the other took refuge in the Automóvil Club Argentino parking lot, between Colón Park and the Central Post Office, 100 m from the rear.[2] However, they were repelled from the inside by members of the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers and from the outside by Army troops marching from the sector of the Ministry of Finance, under the command of General Lucero.[6] The defense of the Casa Rosada consisted of two 12.7 mm Browning M2 machine guns located on the roof, while defenders in the lower floors used various small arms, including Mauser 1909 rifles.[10] Loyalist troops were accompanied by Peronist civilians who took up arms.[11]

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 the constitutional government. Moreover, union officials were already mobilizing workers from factories around Buenos Aires towards the city center.[6] 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.

The rebel ground offensive started to lose steam by 3 o'clock. The marines from the northern esplanade of the casa Rosada came under fire from army artillery units positioned in a building located at the corner of Leandro N. Alem and Viamonte streets. Olivieri contacted the Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics in an effort to gain reinforcements, but it was already surrounded by the 1st Regiment.[2]

The 4th Infantry Battalion (marines) fought its way in disarray towards the premises of the Ministry of the Navy, where they were besieged 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. At 03:17 pm, after two telephone conversations between Olivieri and Lucero, the rebels waved a white flag from the Ministry of the Navy, but when Generals Carlos Wirth and Juan José Valle arrived to communicate with the rebels, a second wave of bombings began. The attack destroyed two floors of the south wing of the building, killing a soldier and a general.[2] A Sherman tank fired on the second floor of the Ministry of the Navy, causing a fire in the admirals room.[2]

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.[6]

Aerial combat[edit]

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, scoring the first air-to-air kill of the Argentine Air Force. Another two rebel warplanes would be downed by hastily mounted anti-aircraft batteries.[6]

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[edit]

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[12] (mostly civilians) and injuring over 800. Nine Mounted Grenadiers, members of the presidential guard,[1] and five police officers were killed in action.[13]

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.[14]

Aftermath[edit]

Bullet-ridden outer wall of the Ministry of Economy, pictured in 2009.

That same night, angry Peronist crowds burnt eight churches, two basilicas and a cathedral, in revenge for the hundreds of civilians killed during the attacks, because of the Catholic Church support to the coup. Neither the police nor the firefighters intervened to stop them.

In September of that year, the bulk of the armed forces would join in a coup de etat known as the Revolución Libertadora, which overthrew president Perón and started a period of military dictatorship 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 a pact made between Perón and Frondizi.[15]

One of the rebel leaders, radical Miguel Ángel Zavala Ortiz, was official during the Revolución Libertadora dictatorship and then was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship by radical President Arturo Illia in 1963.[6]

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.[16]

Bullet and shrapnel marks are still visible on some buildings on the south side of the square as of 2015.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 9 grenadiers, 5 policemen, 2 soldiers and an armed Peronist civilian.[1][3][4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Enrique Oliva. "9 Granaderos" (in Spanish). Nac&Pop. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "El bombardeo a Plaza de Mayo" (in Spanish). El Ortiba. 
  3. ^ a b "Recuperar la historia, a 60 años del bombardeo". InfoNews (in Spanish). 14 June 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  4. ^ Clarín, 18 June 1955. Page 4.
  5. ^ Rouquié, Alain (1982). Poder militar y sociedad política en la Argentina: 1943–1973 (in Spanish). Emecé Editores. p. 108. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Portugheis, Elsa (2010). Bombardeo del 16 de junio de 1955 (PDF) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Nación Argentina. 
  7. ^ "Celebran resarcimiento a sobrevivientes del bombardeo" (in Spanish). Parlamentario. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2015. 
  8. ^ «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.
  9. ^ Moreno, Isidoro Ruiz (2013). La Revolución del 55 (in Spanish). Claridad. p. 193. ISBN 978-950-620-336-8. 
  10. ^ "Bombardeo del '55: testimonios de los que defendieron la Casa Rosada". Puntal. 18 June 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  11. ^ 56 years Bombardment in the Plaza de Mayo (Spanish)
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Moreno, Isidoro Ruiz (2013). La Revolución del 55 (in Spanish). Claridad. pp. 280–282. ISBN 978-950-620-336-8. 
  15. ^ Luna, Félix (1995). "La Propuesta Desarrollista". Historia de la Argentina (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Hyspamerica. ISBN 950-752-292-1. 
  16. ^ Testimonios del Bombardeo

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cichero, Daniel (2005). Bombas sobre Buenos Aires. Gestación y desarrollo del bombardeo aéreo sobre Plaza de Mayo (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Vergara. ISBN 950-15-2347-0. 
  • Portugheis, Elsa (2010). Bombardeo del 16 de junio de 1955 (PDF) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Nación Argentina. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°36′30″S 58°22′19″W / 34.60833°S 58.37194°W / -34.60833; -58.37194