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Battle of Tacna

Battle of Tacna

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Battle of Tacna
Part of War of the Pacific
DateMay 26, 1880
LocationDepartment of Tacna, Perú
ResultDecisive Chilean victory
Chile Peru
Commanders and leaders
Chile Gen. Manuel BaquedanoBolivia Gen. Narciso Campero
37 cannons
4 machineguns[3]
8,930[4] - 12.000[5]soldiers
16 cannons
7 machineguns
Casualties and losses
2,200 casualties3,500 - 5,000 casualties

The Battle of Tacna, also known as theBattle of Alliance Heights (Spanish: Batalla del Alto de la Alianza), effectively destroyed the Peru-Bolivian alliance against Chile, forged by a secret treaty between both countries signed on 1873. On May 26, 1880, the Chilean northern operations army led by General Manuel Baquedano Gonzalez, conclusively defeated a Peru-Bolivian army commanded by Bolivian President, GeneralNarciso Campero, after almost five hours of fierce combat. This battle took place at the Intiorko hill plateau, a few miles north of the Peruvian city of Tacna. As a result of this battle, the Bolivian army returned to its country, and never participated in the conflict again, leaving Peru to fight the rest of the war alone. Also, this victory consolidated the Chilean domain over the Tarapacá Province, territory definitively annexed to Chile after the signing of the Tratado de Ancón (English:Treaty of Ancon), on 1884, which ended the war. Tacna itself would remain under Chilean control until 1929.




Battle of Tacna according to Diego Barros Arana's "Guerra del Pacifico"

After the Bolivian government has threatened to confiscate and clinch the Chilean Antofagasta Nitrate & Railway Company by a decree on February 1, 1879, a Chilean disembarkation at Antofagasta on February 14 seizes control of the city. Obliged by a secret cooperation treaty signed with Bolivia on February 6, 1873; Perú is forced into the conflict. Although the latter tries to mediate between both nations, Chile — by then aware of the secret pact — issues a war declaration against the Allied countries on April 5. Once the war has started, the conflict initially develops in a naval campaign, due to the strategic relevance of sea domination. The Chilean Navy has serious problems with its Peruvian counterpart at the beginning, as the ironclad Huáscar, commanded by Admiral Miguel Grau Seminario inflicts the Chileans several defeats at Iquique and other confrontations. An eight month chase conducted by the Chilean fleet concludes with the capture of the Peruvian vessel and the death of Perú's highest naval figure with the decisive victory of Angamos on October 8. With this encounter Chile controls the sea, so its headquarters are ready to move the theatre of operations. The next step planned by the Chilean command is the invasion of the Tarapacá Department.

Accordingly to this purpose, the Chilean army launches an amphibious operation at Pisagua on November 2, successfully pushing the Allies inland and isolating their strongholds in the Peruvian department, Arica and Iquique, from each other. This initial success is consolidated after the consecutive victories of Pampa Germania, on November 6, and Dolores, on November 19. However, the chain of Chilean victories ends with the setback at Tarapacá on November 27, when a Chilean force of 2,000 men recklessly attacked an Allied army of 4,000 soldiers, suffering a heavy defeat.

[edit]The Allies

Despite their victory at Tarapacá, the demoralized Allied army led by General Juan Buendia leaves the entire Peruvian department under Chilean control by retreating to Arica in an extenuating and perilous march, losing almost 2,000 men in this long voyage.[6] Additionally, the lack of results generates popular dissatisfaction in the Allied countries with their government's conduct of the war, and it was determinant for the deposition of the President of Perú, Mariano Ignacio Prado, and his Bolivian counterpart, Hilarión Daza. Both saw themselves deposed and replaced by Nicolás de Piérola and General Narciso Campero, respectively. Also, the loss of the Tarapacá Department stopped the earnings of the saltpetre trade, making the war financial weight heavier for the Allies.

[edit]The Chileans

Krupp artillery

After the defeat of Tarapacá, the Chilean army doesn't make any incursions for some time. The Chilean government believes that with the loss of Tarapacá Perú would be inclined to sign a truce, so keeping the recently gained Tarapacá territory as a huge war compensation.[7]Also, he sees how civilian volunteers increase the number of soldiers up to 10,000 men.[8] Besides, the control of Antofagasta means an extra cash-flow from the saltpetre exportation, making possible to buy weapons, clothes, food and anything that the growing army requires, easing the war expenditures.[9]

[edit]Allied Army

The Allied Army had about 11,000 men between Tacna and Arica.[10] Also, the new Bolivian President Narciso Campero manages to send another infantry division to Tacna. There are disagreements about how to face the Chilean development between Peruvian Admiral Lizardo Montero and Piérola's deputy, Pedro del Solar, wasting precious time in internal disputes whilst the Chilean army marches towards Tacna. Meanwhile, the Peruvian vessel Unión makes through the Chilean blockade on Arica, bringing supplies, medicines and shoes to the port garrison.[10] The army present in Tacna has about 10,000 men and thirty one cannons — six Krupp cannons, six Machine guns, two La Hitte cannons, seven 4" strayed cannons and 12" Blackey cannons.[7] Also, the Allied infantry has to fight with different types of rifles, making harder to supply them.

[edit]Chilean Army

Chilean infantrymen

The Chilean High Command planned a landing at Ilo and Pacocha in order to scout the country and to make an idea of the Allied army status. After two incursions, a main landing take place at Ilo, unshipping 10,000 men. After the resignation to the High Command of Gen. Erasmo Escala, due to the constant arguments with the War Minister Rafael Sotomayor, the Chilean Minister appoints General Manuel Baquedano Gonzalez, a veteran of the Peru-Bolivian Confederacy war who has the sympathies and respect of the soldiers as Commander-in-Chief of the Operations Army.[11] Since the beginning of the conflict, the infantry is equipped with Comblain and upgraded Gras rifles, using the same type of bullets. The artillery had thirty-seven cannons — twenty Krupp cannons and seventeen mountain cannon.[10]

[edit]Preliminary moves

A Chilean expeditionary force disembarks at Ilo on December 31, with the order to take the port and to eliminate the resistance in the region. This task is commended to Lt. Col. Aristides Martinez, who achieves control of the town and severes the telegraph line to Moquegua, allowing him to move freely in the zone. Afterwards, the expedition took the train to Moquegua, taking the population by surprise and accepting the surrender of the town the following morning. After these events Martínez' troops return to Ilo, sailing back to Pisagua on January 2. With the result of this campaign, Sotomayor decides to attack Tacna and Arica with the entire army leaving Moquegua alone.[10]

Due to the scout mission success, a massive landing takes place between February 18 and February 25. 9,500 troops disembark in three divisions, whereas another one is unshipped a few days later. On February 27, the Chilean Navy begins the bombardment of Arica where dies the ChileanHuáscar (new captain) Manuel Thompson. On March 8, another Chilean expedition of 900 soldiers under ColonelOrozimbo Barbosa is sent to Mollendo. Ten days later, Gen. Campero's 5th Division reaches Tacna reinforcing the Allied position. On the 22, Baquedano defeats Peruvian Col. Andres Gamarra at Los Angeles hill,[12] a position considered unbreakable by the Allies. Shortly after this victory the Chilean army marches across the desert to Tacna, but the artillery is re-embarked and shipped to Ite, taking four days to unload these batteries; while on April 9, the Peruvian port of El Callao finds itself under naval blockade. On May 20, War Minister Rafael Sotomayor dies due to a stroke at Las Yaras. The Chilean President Anibal Pinto appoints José Francisco Vergara as the new War Minister in Campaign.

Whilst the Chilean Army evolves in the Tacna Department, the Allies have their own problems. Montero wants to wait the Chilean troops at Tacna, but Col. Eliodoro Camacho supports the idea to march and ambush the Chileans at the Sama river valley, easing the communications with Arequipa.[13] Trying to avoid any confrontation, Gen. Campero travels to Tacna to take charge of the Allied Army, assuming his command on April 19. On the night of May 25, Campero's troops tried to ambush the Chileans at Quebrada Honda, but the night's darkeness and mist prevents the Allies from doing so, forcing their return to Tacna for defense preparations.[10]

[edit]The battle


The Intiorko plateau is an arid and soft-sloped terrain located a few miles north from Tacna, becoming an excellent shooting ground. It has on the rear a series of little sand accumulations, allowing the concealment of reserve units behind them. The flanks are protected by the Sama-Tacna road from the east, and to the west by an almost impossible to walk terrain, where no artillery could ever been placed, and a harsh field for the movement of infantry or cavalry.[14]

[edit]Allies plan and distribution

Allied defenses at Tacna

The Allied plan consists in exploiting the terrain tactical advantages, so it was decided to fight on the southern edge of the Intiorko plateau. The troops did not make any defenses or trenches, apart of little sand defences for the artillery on their right wing, but just wait the Chilean Army deployed in a 3 km. defensive line.

Campero divides his army into three major sectors, with the right wing under the command of Lizardo Montero, the centre led by Col. Castro Pinto, and the left flank commanded by Col. Eliodoro Camacho.[10] The Southern Peruvian Army and the Bolivian Army add up twenty one battalions and eight machine guns with nine cannons, plus eight cavalry squadrons.

[edit]Chilean plan and troop deployment

Two plans are presented before Baquedano. The first one is a flanking manoeuvre on the Allied right proposed by Minister Vergara. On the other hand, Col. Velasquez has the idea to engage in a simultaneous frontal charge on the entire front, so the troops could not be moved from one point to another, avoiding the reinforcement of weaker points generated during the battle, exploiting the thinness of the Allied defensive line which makes it susceptible to be broken at any point. Besides, the lack of trenches and fortifications would make this breaking easier.[14]

Baquedano decides to use Velasquez' plan.[15] Thus, the infantry splits into five divisions, placing on the first line the 1st Division of Col. Santiago Amengual right next to the 2nd Division of Col. Francisco Barceló. Right behind them is Col. Jose Amunátegui's 3rd Division and Col. Orozimbo Barbosa's 4th Division deployed on a third line, and behind these two is the reserve of Col. Mauricio Muñoz.[16]Velasquez' artillery has thirty-seven cannons and four machine guns, and the cavalry is composed of three regiments, with a fraction detached to the 2nd Division and the rest with Baquedano's chief staff. The Chilean army presents at Tacna a total of sixteen battalions, three cavalry regiments and thirty-seven cannon.

[edit]The beginning

Bolivian Colorados Regt. soldier

The battle starts with a useless artillery cross-fire, because the projectiles bury in the sand without any detonation. According to Velázquez' plan, around 10 am Amengual marches against Camacho's sector followed by Barceló's soldiers who are to charge the Allied center. Both divisions advance under heavy fire, but fail in their objective to engage the Allies at the same time. Amengual's men enter into battle first,[17] allowing Campero to send in Herrera's division, followed by the Alianza and Aroma battalions from the right flank reserve.[18] When Barceló approaches to Castro Pinto's forces, the 2nd Line Regiment notices the Peruvian Zepita Battalion — unit which took its banner at Tarapacá — in front of it, and charges driven by vengeance, disregarding a superior order to detain.[19] Until now, only 4,500 soldiers have assaulted the Allied front.[17]

At 11 am, Camacho lined up several units, among them the Amarillos, Libres del Sur and Viedma battalions. A brief calm due to Chilean 1st and 2nd divisions' reorganization makes him believe in a Chilean vacillation, and he then sent his soldiers to attack Amengual’s infantry. However, an unseen maneuver performed by Velásquez proves deadly and decimates the Allied left by entire ranks; soon entered into battle, the new Allied battalions are literally obliterated by a precise and concentric artillery fire, causing them to lose 80% of their effectives within an hour. Camacho urged reinforcements, and the Allies elite units, the Colorados and Aroma battalions, are sent in his help. Once reaching its destination, the reserve counter attacks Amengual[20] who is forced to retreat due to his soldiers having exhausted their bullets.[21] So the Esmeralda, Santiago and Navales battalions retreat under heavy fire. Barceló faces the same problem, and is forced to retreat as well, sustaining heavy casualties, as his Atacama Regiment loses almost half of its personnel in this maneuver.

[edit]Decisive manoeuvres

To retire the divisions and resupply them, War Minister Vergara ordeeds Yávar’s grenadiers to charge the Bolivian battalions, but the this is rejected shortly after being received in square formations. Nevertheless, the charge put the Allied advance at a standstill, allowing the refolding divisions to refill their weapons. But, after the cavalry withdraws, the Artillería de Marina and Chacabuco battalions, part of Amunátegui’s division, assails the Colorados and the Aroma suddenly, catching them along with the 1st Division in a cross fire and tearing apart what’s left of them.

The Chilean infantrymen continue pushing forward until both armies are at close range, when the soldiers draw their bayonets and corvos and rush the defensive line in a melee.[14] The Peruvian Victoria Battalion gave under the attack pressure and withdrew, splitting the defensive line and so deciding the battle.

Burying soldiers after the battle

[edit]The Ending

Meanwhile, the Chilean 4th Division engaged the weakened (due to the constant reinforcement of the left flank) Allied right wing, encountering light resistance and outflanking the position. Once the Peruvians are outmaneuvered and forced to retreat, Barboza's forces focused on the artillery batteries on this sector[16] taking them with a bayonet charge. Baquedano sent the reserve to the front, with the Atacama Battalion making a conversion to the left, engaging the Allied right flank too. With this final movement, the entire defensive front collapsed, and the Allies left the battlefield after 5 hours. While the Allies retreated to Tacna, Amengual chased them until reaching the city. Later Tacna was shelled in order to force surrender, and finally Col. Santiago Amengual enters into the city around 18:30.


Battle of Tacna monument

The Chilean Army had causualties 2,200 men. Amengual's, Barceló's and Amunátegui's divisions, which added up 6,500 men, had 1,639 casualties. Barbosa's division lost 15% of its force. The Chilean reserve almost didn't fight, having only 17 wounded.[22] The Atacama and Santiago regiments lost almost 50% of their effective force. Also the 2nd Line, Navales and Valparaíso regiments had severe losses. The 2nd Line Regiment banner lost at the battle of Tarapacá was found on a church in Tacna by Ruperto Marchant Pereira.

The Allies had casualties estimated between 3,500 and 5,000 men. The Bolivian Army lost 23 officers from Major to General. The "Colorados" Battalion had only 293 survivors, while the Aroma Battalion — also known as "Amarillo" - lost 388 soldiers, since these units chose to fight to the end instead of retreating.[10] The Peruvian army lost 185 officers, and more than 3,000 soldiers died. Accordingly to a communication of Solar to Piérola, only 400 Peruvian men escaped from the battle.[23]

[edit]Military and political results

The Chilean's victory had a decisive impact upon the Allies. Gen. Campero withdrew to Bolivia, taking the road to Palca.[24] Montero retired to Puno, passing through Tarata.[10] Bolivia would never participate in the conflict again, leaving its ally with no support whatsoever. Hence, Peru had to face Chile alone for the rest of the war.

[edit]See also


  1. ^ Ejército de Chile, Dirección General de Movilización Nacional. "Las Relaciones Nominales". Retrieved 2008.
  2. ^ according to official sources "Historia del Ejército de Chile, Volumen 6" page 86 by "Estado Mayor General del Ejército de Chile"
  3. ^ Mackenna Vicuña "Historia de la campaña de Tacna y Arica, 1879-1880"
  4. ^ according to Nicolás de Pierola Archives cited by Jorge Basadre
  5. ^ Gonzalo Bulnes. "Batalla de Tacna". Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios, p. 169
  7. ^ a b Harun Al-Rashid. "La Batalla de Tacna". Retrieved 2008.
  8. ^ When the war started, Chile had only a 2,995 men strength, divided into six battalions and three cavalry regiments
  9. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios, p. 173
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Basadre, Jorge. "La verdadera epopeya". Retrieved 2008.
  11. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios, p. 181
  12. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios, p. 181-183
  13. ^ Pelayo Mauricio. "Allied war council act at Tacna, April 7, 1880". Retrieved 2008.
  14. ^ a b c Ejécito de Chile. "Batalla de Tacna". Retrieved 2008.
  15. ^ Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones Militares del Ejército de Chile. "General Jose Velasquez Borquez' biography". Retrieved 2008.
  16. ^ a b Ojeda Frex, Jorge. "La Batalla de Tacna". Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2008.
  17. ^ a b La Guerra del Pacífico 1879-1884, p. 170
  18. ^ "Lizardo Montero's official report of the battle of Tacna". Retrieved 2008.
  19. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios, p. 192
  20. ^ Efraín Choque Alanoca. "Battle of the Stop of the Alliance". Retrieved 2008.
  21. ^ "Biografía Ignacio Carrera Pinto". Retrieved 2008.
  22. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico 1879-1884, p. 177
  23. ^ La Guerra del Pacífico 1879-1884, p. 176
  24. ^ "Pedro del Solar's official report of the battle of Tacna". Retrieved 2008.


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