Naval Campaign of the War of the Pacific

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The Atacama Desert was a rough terrain to conquer and occupy for long. It was nearly waterless and had few roads and railroads. From the beginning of the war it became clear that, to seize or defend the local nitrate resources in a difficult desert terrain, control of the sea would be the deciding factor.[1]

Navies and ships involved[edit]

In 1879 Bolivia did not possess any ships, but on March 26, 1879, Bolivian President Hilarion Daza Groselle formally offered letters of marque to any ships willing to go to combat for Bolivia.[2] Bolivia had not signed the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law but the United States, Britain and France stood by the treaty and refused to accept the legality of Bolivia's act. Since Bolivia did not have any ports because Chile had occupied them, and because Peru discouraged the use of Letters of Marque, the naval conflict was left to be resolved between Chile and Peru.

The power of the Chilean navy was based on the twin central-battery ironclad frigates, Cochrane and Blanco Encalada. The rest of the fleet was formed by the corvettes O'Higgins, Chacabuco, Abtao, and Esmeralda, the gunboat Magallanes, and the schooner Covadonga.

The Peruvian navy based its power on the broadside ironclad frigate Independencia and the monitor Huáscar. The rest of the fleet was completed by the corvette Unión, the gunboat Pilcomayo, and the coastal monitors Atahualpa and Manco Cápac, purchased from the United States at the end of the Civil War The coastal monitors cannot be classed among the seagoing ships of Perú as they were permanently stationed, one at Callao and the other at Arica.[3] Although both the Chilean and Peruvian ironclads seemed evenly matched, the Chilean ironclads had twice the armor and held a greater range and hitting power.

Warships of Chile and Peru at the beginning of the War of the Pacific[4]
Warship
Chile
tons
(L.ton)
Horse-
power
Speed
(Knots)
Armour
(Inch)
Main Artillery Built
Year
Warship
Peru
tons
(L.ton)
Horse-
power
Speed
(Knots)
Armour Main Artillery Built
Year
Capital ships
Cochrane 3,560 2,000 9-12.8 up to 9 6x9 Inch 1874 Huascar 1,130 1,200 10-11 2x300-pounders 1865
Blanco Encalada 3,560 3,000 9-12.8 up to 9 6x9 Inch 1874 Independencia 2,004 1,500 12-13 2x150-pounders 1865
Coastal monitors
Manco Cápac 1,034 320 6 10 2x500-pounders 1864
Atahualpa 1,034 320 6 10 2x500-pounders 1864
Wooden ships
O'Higgins 1,101 300 12 3x115-2x70-2x12-pounders 1874 Unión 1.150 320 13 12x68-1x9-pounders 1864
Chacabuco 1,101 300 11 1x115-2x70-2x12-pounders 1874 Pilcomayo 600 180 10.5 2x70-4x40-pounders 1864
Abtao 1,051 300 8 3x115-3x30-pounders 1870
Magallanes 772 260 11.5 1x115-1x64-2x20-pounders 1874
Covadonga 412 140 7 2x70-3x40-pounders 1859
Esmeralda 854 200 8 16x32-2x12-pounders 1855

Engagements[edit]

Blockade and battle of Iquique[edit]

In one of the first naval tactical moves of the war, the Peruvian port of Iquique was blocked by of the Chilean Navy. In the Battle of Iquique, which took place on May 21 of 1879, the Peruvian ironclad Huáscar sank the Chilean corvette Esmeralda. At around the same time, the Peruvian frigate Independencia chased the Chilean schooner Covadonga through shallow coastal zones until the heavier Independencia rammed against a rock and ran aground in Punta Gruesa. The strategic result of the naval battles of Iquique and Punta Gruesa were to lift of the blockade of the port of Iquique.

Excursions of the Huáscar[edit]

The outgunned Huáscar managed to avoid engagement with the superior battleships of the Chilean navy for six months. Among the actions of these "Excursions of the Huáscar" are the Battle of Antofagasta (May 26, 1879) and the Second Battle Antofagasta (August 28, 1879). The most successful of the excursions was the capture of the steamship Rímac on July 23, 1879. Not only was the ship captured, but the cavalry regiment Carabineros de Yungay which was on board was also captured, making this the largest loss of the Chilean army so far. This caused a crisis in the Chilean government[5](p78) which in turn caused the resignation of Admiral Juan Williams Rebolledo commander of the Chilean fleet, who was replaced by Commodore Galvarino Riveros Cárdenas, who devised a plan to catch the Huáscar.

Battle of Angamos[edit]

The decisive battle of the sea campaign took place in Punta Angamos, on October 8, 1879.[6] In this battle, the monitor Huáscar was finally captured by the Chilean Navy, despite the attempts of its crew to scuttle the ship and keep it out of enemy hands.[7] Finally the Peruvian Navy was completely defeated during the blockade of Callao,[8] where the Peruvian fleet was set on fire and the coastal defenses of Callao were destroyed or captured and taken to Chile.[9]

Blockade of Arica[edit]

The blockade of Arica was conducted by the Chilean navy's ships Cochrane, Covadonga, and an unnamed armed transport, all three having arrived by the 7th of December, 1879. The town of Arica was relatively well defended, with four batteries including one on a bluff, the other three built of sand and turf. Several foreign ships observed during the blockade, including corvettes from the USA, France, and the UK. They also observed, on the 13th, an allied army of mixed armament, about 2,000 strong, augmenting the garrison to around 8,000. Many were native Amerindians from the mountains.[10]

Arica was later taken by Chile in the Battle of Arica, in 1880, after the town had been weakened by the blockade, which prevented supply from the sea; important in the desert region.

Blockade of Callao[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bruce W. Farcau, "The Ten Cents War", p. 65:
    "As the earlier discussion of the geography of the Atacama region illustrates, control of the sea lanes along the coast would be absolutely vital to the success of a land campaign there"
  2. ^ William F. Sater, "Andean Tragedy", pp. 102 and ff:
    "… to anyone willing to sail under Bolivia's colors …"
  3. ^ Thomas Wallace Knox "Decisive Battles Since Waterloo" p. 435
  4. ^ William F. Sater, "Andean Tragedy", pp. 113–114.
    "There are numerous differences of opinion as to the ships' speed and armament. Some of these differences can be attributed to the fact that the various sources may have been evaluating the ships at different times."
  5. ^ B.W. Farcau, "The Ten Cents War"
  6. ^ Bruce W. Farcau, "The Ten Cents War", p. 83:
    "As long as the odds had been before against the allies, they seemed truly insurmountable now."
  7. ^ William F. Sater, "Andean Tragedy", p. 159:
    "Garezon [the last Peruvian commander] did his best to deny the Chileans a trophy: he commanded Chief Engineer MacMahon to open the seacocks to scuttle the ship"
  8. ^ Elías Murguía, Julio J. (1980). Marinos peruanos en Arica. Peru: Instituto de Estudios Histórico-Maritimos del Perú. p. 38. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  9. ^ Basadre, Jorge (1961). Historia de la República del Perú. Michigan: Ediciones "Historia". p. 2538. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  10. ^ de Lisle, Gerard. Royal Navy and the Peruvian-Chilean War 1879-1881, published on Amazon Kindle, 2009