THE CHACO WAR

             

               Bolivian Flag                      Paraguay Flag

 

 

 

 

 

Fought between the states of Bolivia and Paraguay, the Chaco War (1932 - 35) was the most violent and brutal military conflict to take place in South America during the twentieth century.

The discovery of oil deposits on the Andean plains led to speculation that the northern territories of the Gran Chaco Boreal may be rich in petroleum reserves. Foreign oil companies soon became involved in exploration of the region with Standard Oil supporting Bolivian interests and Shell Oil backing Paraguay.

Border skirmishes throughout the early thirty's prompted Bolivian President Daniel Salamanca to order a full scale invasion in June 1932. Salamanca believed it vital that Bolivia strike first to secure the oil deposits and gain control of the Paraguay river, which would have also given Bolivia access to the Atlantic Ocean.

At the start of hostilities Bolivia possessed a highly trained and well equipped army, which could field a striking force numbering 60,000 men. Paraguay in stark contrast could rely on a mere 5,000 regulars to stem the first waves of the attack.

On June 15th, Bolivian advance units quickly brushed aside the 100 Paraguayan defenders stationed at the small outpost of Vangaurdia near Lake Pitiantuta. As the Bolivian Army continued their march southward, they began the systematic extortion of the populace and the plunder of the countryside.

Bolivian forces then occupied the strategic fort of Boqueron on July 31st, this would position the Bolivian army in control of central Chaco and four hundred miles northwest of the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion.

After the fall of Boqueron, Paraguayan President Eusebio Ayala was being harshly judged by the country for being indecisive and far too passive, he was in fact strategically buying his countrymen enough time to mobilize what forces they could. During the first two months of the invasion, Ayala had ordered the complete mobilization of the entire country for war.

the Paraguayan people donated everything of value, foreign assets were confiscated, anything and everything was done to raise money for the purchase of weapons, mandatory conscription was also implemented to include even children of fighting age.

             

                Daniel Salamanca                          Eusebio Ayala

                       DANIEL SALAMANCA                             EUSEBIO AYALA

 

                Hans Kundt                                         Jose Estigarribia

       GENERAL KUNDT                                          COLONEL ESTIGARRIBIA

 

 

 

 

On August 1st, Colonel Jose Felix Estigarribia was placed in overall command of the Paraguayan forces defending the North Western approaches of the country. Estigarribia had observed that his counterpart Bolivian General Han's Kundt (a veteran commander of German forces during World War one) was advancing in a straightforward conventional European style of advance. Estigarribia therefore ordered his smaller army to adapt and fight a more guerrilla campaign against the invaders.

Although Paraguay was still militarily weak, she did possess three immense advantages over her Bolivian advisareys.

First off Paraguay communicated over military air traffic in their native tongue of Guarani, the Spanish speaking Bolivians' did not understand the enemy messages and were completely blind as to Paraguayan intentions. The Paraguayan's on the other hand also understood Spanish and therefore had an easy time of deciphering Bolivian communication's.

Secondly, the familiarity of fighting on home soil and utilizing the Paraguay river for mobilization allowed arms, supplies and troops to reach the front lines much more quickly. On average Paraguayan forces could reach the front lines in five days whereas the Bolivians' with little or no logistical support, traveled the 400 miles in fourteen days.

And last and possibly the most important factor was the climate of the region. Most of the Bolivian army was originally quartered within the mountainous eastern highlands, a more tempered and controlled climate. The Paraguayan countryside in which they now found themselves was extremely hot and dry, supplies of water were always scarce. As a direct result the Bolivians' suffered from thousands of non combat casualties due to dehydration.

President Ayala now ordered Colonel Estigarribia to go on the offensive and regain lost Paraguayan territory. Estigarribia choose to concentrate his efforts in a counterattack that would re claim the fort of Boqueron. On September 7th, Paraguayan forces numbering 7,500 men, encircled the 450 Bolivian defenders occupying the fortress.

From September 8th - 11th, successive Paraguayan attacks to occupy the fort were repulsed with heavy casualties. Estigarribia determined the Bolivian positions were too well fortified to attempt another assault and choose not to withdrawal, but lay the fort under siege.

             

            Battle of Boqueron

PARAGUYAN ARTILLERY OUTSIDE BOQUERON

 

 

 

 

Also on the 11th, the Bolivian high command ordered an immediate relief operation to march to the aid of the trapped garrison. On September 14th however, the 3,500 strong infantry force was ambushed and defeated near the Paraguayan outpost of Yucra, suffering 1,200 casualties. With no relief forth coming, Bolivian commander Manuel Marzana (under the assurances of his superiors to be supplied by air), refused Paraguayan directives to surrender.

With daily average tempetures rising above one hundred degrees farinheight, both sides suffered from a lack of water. The Paraguayan supplies of the precious liquid were 25 miles to the east at Isla Poi. The Bolivians were on the other hand relying on small wells within the compound.

The Bolivian supply drops from the air never really materialized, therefore the garrison had to endure a strict code of water rationing. As the siege progressed into its' third week, conditions within the fortress became desperate. Bolivian soldiers were even reported of have cried out to their Paraguayan enemy for water.

Colonel Estigarribia was now informed that the wells at Isla Poi, were becoming dangerously low due to over extraction. Estigarribia then ordered an all out attack on the outpost on September 26th. Three days later on the 29th, the last 240 Bolivian defenders surrendered.

With the Paraguayan victory, neighboring Argentina now entered the oil sweepstakes by secretly supporting Paraguay with military supplies and intelligence.

On January 20th 1933, General Kundt arrived at the defensive works surrounding the Paraguayan fort of Nanawa, some sixty miles Southeast of Fort Boqueron. The 1,200 strong garrison would find themselves opposite a Bolivian force numbering nearly 6,000 unmounted cavalry ( thier chargers having had succumbed to dehydration and consumption ).

The defenders within Nanawa were well supplied and organized. The surrounding area composed an intricate network of interlocking zig zag trench systems, surrounded with barb wire and protected by mortar, artillery and machine gun emplacements.

In the next six days Kundt would do nothing more than order his men too launch three nearly suicidal frontal assaults at the Paraguayan defenses. Only the onset of heavy rains’ forced Kundt too abandon any further attacks’.

By Januarys’ end, Nanawa had cost the Bolivians’ 2,000 men in relation to Paraguayan losses of only 250.The remaining Bolivian forces did not leave the area however, instead they positioned themselves in a rough semicircle around the Paraguayan trenches.

The only positive news the Bolivian high command would receive during this costly failure was the defeat of Paraguayan forces in the battle of Kilometer 7 ( November 1932 - February 1933 ) in which Lieutenant Colonel Bernardino Rioja, repulsed the final Paraguayan assault to capture Fort Savedra.

Both Paraguay and Bolivia were by now in dire need of reorganization and supply. The rainy season was now also upon them, turning the roads and countryside into impassable quagmires.

Directly these factors would result in the war now developing into a prolonged stalemate of trench warfare as both sides ceased offensive operations and prepared their forces for the renewal of hostilities come the dry season.

It would take another four months’ before the ground would become passable. The Bolivians’ now began excavating a single underground tunnel in the direction of the main Paraguayan defensive positions surrounding Nanawa. Once completed, they filled the end chamber with high explosives and set about finalizing their preparations to capture the fortress.

At 9:00 am on the morning of July 4th, the explosives were detonated just thirty yards from the Paraguayan front lines. The massive explosion killed fifty men outright and tore a huge gap in the defensive fortifications.  General Kundt as he had done at his defeat five months’ prior, once again simply ordered a frontal assault ( the largest of the entire war ) sending 7,000 Bolivian soldiers forward advancing in line.

After some initial Bolivian gains, Colonel Luis Irrazabal reorganized his Paraguayan forces and soon responded with Mortar, Artillery and Machine Gun fire, quickly recapturing the fortifications overrun by the Bolivian Infantry attack. General Kundt would continue to order his men to repeat these tactics for the next six days until his army was bled white and could no longer continue as an organized fighting force.

 

Paraguyan Mortar Crew

PARAGUAYAN MORTAR TEAM AT NANAWA

 

The Bolivian forces comprising the 4th and 5th Infantry divisions suffered 3,000 casualties, where as the Paraguayan 5th division lost 500 men. Once again Kundt had been utterly defeated at Nanawa. The victory was also a turning point in the war, it had allowed the Paraguayan army to regain the strategic initiative which had belonged to the Bolivians from the outset of the war.

This second defeat at Nanawa forced the Bolivian high command to divert troops from the 9th Infantry Division based at Campo via. This decision left but a single Regiment, the “Chacaltaya’’ comprising 700 men to defend the three lone outposts’ comprising Campo Grande.

On August 30th, the Paraguayans’ quickly took advantage of the Bolivian re deployment by surrounding Campo Grande with a ring of Artillery fire bases. On September 1st, Colonel Toro, in command of the Bolivian “Loa’’ Regiment, marched his 500 men from their main barracks at Munoz, to assist the lone Regiment.

On September 2nd, the Paraguayan Artillery began shelling the Bolivian positions’. Within hours Chacaltaya’s head quarters was struck by a direct hit, killing most of the Regiments operational staff including its commander Major Pedro. General Kundt, who was the senior officer in the sector, now assumed overall command

Without any situation reports from the battlefield, nor a personal reconnaissance of the area, Kundts’ first order was to blindly halt the advance of Regiment “Loa” and forbid Colonel Toro any freedom of movement or action without his personal authorization.

On September 3rd, the Regiment “Ballivian” under the command of Colonel Banzer had arrived, taking up positions to the west of the “Chacaltaya” Regiment who were desperately holding the single road to the town of Arce from falling to Paraguayan forces.

Upon Colonel Banzer’s arrival, he quickly radioed General Kundt that he believed the situation to be untenable and recommended a immediate withdrawal to Arce while the main road still lay open. General Kundt at his headquarters to the south at Alihuata, responded with orders to hold all ground.

Colonel Toro now requested permission to join the battle, but was denied. Toro could no longer sit idle while his fellow countrymen’s continuous requests for assistance be denied. Toro chose to directly disobey Kundt and marched the “Loa” Regiment North, towards Campo Grande in support of Colonel Banzer.

Once Kundt learned of Toro’s blatant insubordination, he flew into a rage and relieved him of his command. Kundt now personally traveled to Alihuata to access the situation. Upon arrival, Kundt wrongly concluded that the Chacaltaya Regiment was facing the main Paraguayan attack and did nothing to prevent the 15,000 men of the Paraguayan 7th Division under Colonel Ortiz, to slowly outflank and encircle the camp.

On September 12th, the maneuver was complete, Campo Grande was completely surrounded. The Paraguayan 7th Division had now trapped three Bolivian Regiment’s totaling 1,800 men.

As enemy Artillery began pounding the Bolivian position’s. Loa’s new commander, Colonel Jose Capriles, urged Kundt to attempt a breakout before the Paraguayan’s consolidated their new positions.

When Regimental commander’s, Colonel’s Quint and Banzer agreed, Kundt sternly refused, giving the standing order of no retreat. Kundt then informed his subordinates that he had previously ordered a relief operation which was already underway.

The 600 man force comprising the Regiment Ayacucho based at Campo Via, was to march with all haste and effect a breakthrough of the Paraguayan lines, thus enabling the trapped Bolivian Regiments a corridor of escape.

 

 

 

Early on the morning of September 13th, Bolivian Colonel Julio Baya ordered in the first assault, but was easily repulsed suffering heavy casualties. Around midday Baya’s second attack did manage to capture the redoubt’s comprising the enemy’s first line of defensive work’s. It was however the complete and utter failure of the third Bolivian attack to reach the Paraguayan’s second line of trenches which signaled the end of the relief operation. 

The Bolivian’s had suffered 175 men killed with an equal number of wounded, Paraguayan losses numbered 40 dead. Later that evening the Bolivian supply corps within the pocket informed Kundt the dire news that all supplies of water had been exhausted in the day’s fighting.

By mid afternoon of the next day clear skies and a blazing sun had brought with them scorching temperatures reaching nearly 120’ degree’s farenhight. Although the Bolivian’s had plenty of food stores, extreme thirst had severely swollen thier throats, preventing the soldiers from eating.

During the night very humid tempitures leveling off at 90 degree’s made even breathing difficult for the trapped garrison. By morning of September 14th, all activity within the Bolivian camp had come to a complete stop. Men were collapsing from dehydration and unable to move.

During the day Bolivian soldiers began crying out to their Paraguayan enemy for water. Bolivian officer’s were now forced to draw their weapons on Thier own men to keep them from deserting. Later that evening the Bolivian H.Q. began receiving casualty reports stating cause of death to be severe dehydration.

Colonel Capriles had seen and heard enough, he ordered his command to lay down their arms and formally surrendered the garrison. Paraguayan Colonel Jose Ortiz accepted on September 15th thus ending the sixteen day battle.

Among the 550 troops which capitulated, the Bolivian camp also rendered large amounts of fuel, weapons and food stores, enough to re supply two Paraguayan Regiments.

Soon after the victory at Campo Grande, Paraguayan President Eusebio Ayala traveled to the Chaco and Personally promoted Lieutenant Colonel Jose Felix Estigarribia to General. In that meeting the President also approved Estigarribia’s plans for a new offensive.

Besides local skirmishes the next two months saw very little in the way of major operations along the front lines. A respite the Bolivian’s welcomed, for it gave them time to reinforce and strengthen their depleted units. The Paraguayan’s on the other hand were using the time not to regroup but to secretly move into position to launch their next attack.

By late November the Bolivian’s were amassing large amount’s of men and equipment at their main base camp at Alihuata. Two full Infantry division’s, the 4th and 9th comprising 10,000 men were assembled for an offensive that was to slice through central Paraguay and capture the capital of Asuncion.

On December 2nd just days before the Bolivian assault was to begin, three Paraguayan divisions numbering 18,000 men under General Estigarribia arrived and began blockading the access roads leading from the camp.

The Bolivian’s were completely caught by surprise, the camp was originally erected as a staging area for offensive operations, their were no defensive works constructed or present, for General Kundt believed the Paraguayan’s did not possess the arms nor will to attack such a large Bolivian force.

Kundt now issued orders for the army to dig in and hold all position’s. Colonel’s Banzer and Quint informed their superior they believed the Paraguayan’s were in the process of executing a large scale pincer movement against the fort and urged an immediate withdrawal.

But Kundt would have none of it, his plan was to counterattack the Paraguayan’s once their initial attack was repulsed. For the next two days Kundt awaited an enemy assault which never materialized, the Paraguayan’s were instead completing the total encirclement of the fort, which was completed on the night of December 4th.

The next morning Paraguayan artillery began pounding Alihuata. Kundt believed this was the initial stages of the main Paraguayan attack and ordered his men to hold firm. For the next two days and nights however the Paraguayan artillery barrage was relentless, inflicting numerous casualties amongst the Bolivians.

During a lull in the shelling, Colonel’s Quint and Banzer informed Kundt they must effect a breakout, but Kundt once again disagreed. The Colonel’s then expressed they would not sit by and watch the army shot out from under them and would relive the General of command. Kundt finally relented to his subordinates and agreed to launch an assault the next day.

On December 7th, the Bolivian’s launched a breakout attempt towards the North of Alihuata. After ten hours of fighting it was clear the assault had failed, Kundt ordered a halt to the operation after suffering 800 casualties.

The next afternoon, the Bolivian’s again attacked the Northern approaches to the fort. After some initial success the Bolivian’s broke the Paraguayan lines and for a brief period broke out into the countryside. But General Estigarribia quickly sent in reserve units and closed the breach, inflicting an additional 1200 casualties upon the enemy.

Their were no further attempts by the remaining troops to escape due in part that most of the Bolivian leadership including General Kundt escaped during the break out, after a further three days the remaining Bolivian forces capitulated due to lack of supplies.

The battle of Alihuata had cost the Bolivian’s 2,000 dead and 7,000 taken prisoner, only 1,000 of the original force of ten thousand escaped, Paraguayan losses numbered 800 men. This decisive Paraguayan victory prompted the dismissal of General Hans Kundt from field command and forced the Bolivian army to evacuate the entire western region of the Chaco.

 

                   General KundtAlihuata

                      GENERAL KUNDT AFTER HIS ESCAPE                  THE ROAD FROM ALIHUATA

 

President Daniel Salamanca now promoted Bolivian General Enrique Penaranda as commander in chief of the Bolivian armed forces. Penaranda now had a daunting task before him, the Bolivian army now under his command ( once the finest in all South America ) was clearly a spent force.

The Bolivian army as a whole was close to collapsing as a military organization. The spread of defeatism, low morale, large territorial losses and high casualties had affected its ranks greatly. The only factor the General had to work with was the rainy season was once again upon the battlefields and offensive military operations on both sides would come to a complete halt. This alone would give Penaranda the respite he desperately needed to rebuild his shattered army. 

On April 30th 1934, President Ayala visited Estigarribia’s headquarters and gave the General his approval for a new offensive designed to capture Fort Ballivian and destroy the Bolivian 1st Corps stationed within.              

On May 10th Estigarribia’s army of three division’s ( numbering 9,000 men ) began probing the flanks of fort Ballivian, it quickly became apparent that the Bolivian’s had learned from their disaster at Alihuata and had erected a series of Infantry strong points surrounding the fort ten miles in depth.

The Paraguayan flanking maneuver which had brought so much success throughout the war now clearly struggled against this new form of Bolivian defensive strategy. Critical surprise had been lost, the offensive had been exposed and their movements telegraphed to the Bolivian high command.

Unlike his predecessor, General Penaranda responded to the threat quickly and with acute decisiveness. Penaranda had previously stationed a strategic reserve some fifteen miles to the north at camp Carandaiti, he now ordered the 14,000 strong Bolivian 9th division under Colonel Francisco Barros to march south.

Penaranda’s plan was to split the 9th division into two columns and effect a pincer movement encircling the Paraguayan army besieging Fort Ballivian.

On May 19th however the situation began to rapidly change. The Bolivian I Corps within the fort launched a surprise attack southward, pinning down the Paraguayan center. It was during this time that reports began to reach Estigarribia of strong enemy forces enveloping his flanks.

During the morning of the 20th, Bolivian troops had fought their way into the town of Camancho, effectively cutting the Paraguayan supply route’s from the east. By late afternoon the supply depot at kilometer sixty fell to Bolivian forces, severing the Paraguayans western escape route.

By late evening General Estigarribia ordered Colonel Nunez to pull all troops out the front line and fall back. All throughout May 21st, the entire Paraguayan army was engaged in heavy actions all along their line of retreat. To prevent the withdrawal from becoming a complete route, the Paraguayan 9th and 10th Infantry Regiments fought valiantly to keep the Bolivian pincers from closing.

On May 22nd the attack columns of the Bolivian 9th division linked up and completed the encirclement of the Paraguayan army. Three days later General Estigarribia ordered his men trapped within the pocket to lay down their arms and surrender. Paraguayan losses numbered 700 men killed (most of these from the 9th and 10th Regiments) and 1400 taken prisoner, Bolivian casualties were a mere 150 men.

The battle of Canada Strongest was enough of a victory to encourage the Bolivian’s to continue the war but it was not enough of a defeat to force the Paraguayan’s to seek a negotiated peace.

For the next few months both sides were content with probing the enemy lines for weakness and conducting localized spoiling attacks. It was not until September that General Estigarriba felt it imperative to seize the initiative and began drawing up plans for a new offensive. 

Estigarriba’s plan was to attack the center of the Bolivian lines twenty miles south - east of his intended target of  El Carmen. This area was defended by 6,000 Bolivian soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Reserve Infantry division’s under the overall command of Colonel Moscoso.

Assembled for the assault was the Paraguayan I Corps comprising 12,000 men of the 1st, 2nd, 7th and 8th division’s. General Estigarriba’s plan was for the 7th to attack the Bolivian 1st division frontally, while the 1st and 2nd were to advance and protect the left and right flank’s respectively, the 8th was to advance in support of the 7th.

On November 10th, the Paraguayan offensive began. Almost immediately I Corps pushed the Bolivian 1st division back into El Carmen itself and the 2nd a further five miles North East, initially opening a gap of thirty miles wide and twenty deep within the Bolivian front lines.

On the 11th, the Paraguayan 1st and 2nd Infantry linked up North of El Carmen effectively surrounding the 1st Bolivian. On the 12th, Colonel Murillo ordered a breakout attempt but the effort was repulsed with heavy casualties.

On November 13th, Colonel Mendez ordered the Bolivian 2nd Infantry to launch an attack to relieve their beleaguered comrades. The assault penetrated through the Paraguayan lines however, instead of holding open an escape corridor Mendez advanced directly into El Carmen and joined up with Murillo’s division. On the 14th the Paraguayans closed the ring now encircling both enemy divisions.

Except for the officer corps, the majority of the Bollivian forces trapped within El Carmen were young recruits, fresh graduates from the Bollivian war college and had never been in combat until now.

The intense heat quickly forced the Bolivian’s to exhaust their small supply caches of water. Many soldiers within the pocket now began to desert or surrender.

On November 18th, Colonel Moscoso, with General Penaranda’s permission ordered the forces within El Carmen to surrender. Bolivian losses numbered 2,000 dead ( most of whom died of thirst ) and 4,000 taken prisoner, Paraguayan casualties amounted to 600 men.

The magnitude of the Bolivian defeat was even greater than that of Campo Via, Colonel Mendez was killed, Colonel Murillo and four Regimental commander’s along with one hundred officer’s were among the prisoner’s. The Bolivian’s were also forced to burn and abandon their stronghold at Fort Ballivian.

On November 27, President Salamanca, frustrated by the progress of the war, confronted his military commanders while visiting their headquarters at Villa Montes. During the meeting the Bolivian General staff launched a coup, arresting the former President and replacing him with pro military Vice President Jose Luis Tejada.

The change in President did not favor the Bolivian fortunes of war however. On December 28th the battle of the Pilcomayo River began when the 2nd Paraguayan Cavalry Division ( 5,000 ) strong launched an attack towards Ybybobo, isolating the Bolivian 9th Regiment along the banks of the river. After fourteen days the pocket began to collapse, Bolivian soldiers were now seen jumping into the fast flowing waters of the Pilcomayo to avoid capture. On January 13th the Bolivians’ surrendered, all total they suffered 400 dead, and 1,000 prisoners taken. Paraguayan casualties amounted to 250 men.

This recent defeat had totally shattered the Bolivian North and Northwestern fronts. Bolivian defense lines now fell further back to a line stretching from Palo Marcado to Capirenda. Only the rainy season once again prevented the Paraguayan’s from advancing further. By the close of 1934, Paraguay had taken control of almost the entire Chaco Boreal Region.

 

Chaco War Map

 PARAGUAYAN VICTORIES

 

The Bolivian General Staff now prepared to defend their last major supply base at Villa Montes. The loss of this strategic position would allow the Paraguayan’s to reach the Bolivian southern lowlands and occupy the rich oil fields.

To defend the region surrounding Villa Montes, the Bolivian’s had assembled the last of the best units available to them. Two crack Infantry Division’s the 1st and 18th under the command of Colonel’s Rioja and Moscosco backed by the elite 1st Cavalry under General Penaranda, in all some 12,000 Calvary and 10,000 Infantry.

The Paraguayans also had large forces in the area for the upcoming battle. General Estigarribia could call upon 14,000 Infantry and 4,000 Cavalry. Estigarribia’s plan was to avoid a direct assault to capture Villa Montes but to encircle and starve the Bolivian’s into surrender.

On January 21st, General Estigarribia ordered the Paraguayan 3rd Infantry Division ( 4,500 strong ) to seize the town of Carandayty, thirty miles north of Villa Montes. After two days hard fighting the town was captured. However a Bolivian counterattack on the 25th by units of the 1st Cavalry swept through the streets pushing the 3rd Infantry out into the open countryside were they were easily cut down, suffering 400 dead and 700 taken prisoner. .

Having failed to isolate Villa Montes from the north Estigarribia began making plans for what he dreaded most, a frontal assault. On February 13th he gave the order for 5,000 men to advance. The attack soon began to falter in the face of heavy machine gun and mortar fire. By afternoons end the attack had utterly failed and at a high cost to Paraguayan arms, 1,700 men lay dead strewn across the line of attack.

 

Bolivian Mortars Chaco War

BOLIVIAN MORTAR CREWS AT VILLA MONTES

 

This costly mistake prompted General Estigarribia to once again focus the army’s efforts on capturing the northern approaches to Villa Montes, Estigarribia ordered 3rd Corps ( 6,000 strong ) under Colonel Franco to drive a wedge between the Bolivian 1st and 18th’s left and right flanks and proceed forty miles North East and capture the town of Camiri.  

On March 6th the attack went forward. 3rd Corps quickly forced a corridor eight miles wide between the two Bolivian Divisions. Franco then ordered his reserve units forward to exploit the situation, their arrival expanded the breach to twelve miles wide by twenty miles deep. 

On March 7th, General Penaranda and the 1st Cavalry launched a counter attack which stopped the Paraguayan advance dead in its tracks, Franco’s 3rd Corps now became stuck in a salient with no means of further progress. 

Colonel’s Rioja and Moscoso now began to turn their Divisions and advance towards each other, this maneuver put increasingly strong pressure on the Paraguayan units protecting the army’s flanks.

On March 9th, with enemy forces closing in from three sides, and the army in serious danger of being cut off and surrounded, Colonel Franco gave the order to retreat. After two days of heavy fighting, Rioja’s 1st and Moscoso’s 18th Infantry Divisions linked up closing the escape routes to 600 Paraguayan soldiers now trapped behind Bolivian lines.

For three more days these men had to endure endless Artillery, Mortar and Machine gun fire until with their situation hopeless, they surrendered. On March 14th, the attack to take Camiri was called off. The Bolivian’s lost 300 men in the nine day battle were as their Paraguayan adversaries suffered 800 dead and 300 taken prisoner.

General Estigarribia had now launched three unsuccessful offensives to capture Villa Montes. President Ayala was now urging a complete halt to offensive operations, Estigarribia knew his supplies were running dangerously low, but decided on one last great effort to neutralize the Base. 

For the next attack General Estigarribia brought up the 8th Infantry division and marshaled them with what remained of 3rd Corps and the fresh 2nd cavalry under Major Alfredo Ramos, in all some 9,000 Infantry and 4,000 cavalry.

The plan was for Colonel Franco to capture the town of Charagua and cut the main supply road from the city of Santa Cruz to Villa Montes. On April 15th, Franco pressed forward with the attack. Second cavalry easily surrounded and nullified the lone Bolivian Battalion occupying the defense lines, allowing 8th division to advance unopposed and in good order.

On the evening of the 17th Franco’s divisions occupied Charagua. Mass panic and civilian unrest quickly swept throughout Southern Bolivia. Fearing the hysteria would soon spread to his troops along the border, General Penaranda ordered an immediate counterattack.

On April 19th the Bolivian counter offensive began. In very quick succession Colonel Rioja’s 1st Infantry division  recaptured the towns of Parairi and Mandyjypecua (19 - 20) and Colonel Moscosco’s 18th Infantry along with units of the 1st Cavalry expelled Colonel Franco from Charagua on the 21st. By April 25th Paraguayan forces had been pushed back to their original lines. In all the ten day battle had cost the Bolivian’s 1,400 men were as  Paraguayan casualties numbering close to 1,000.

Although sporadic border clashes and spoiling attacks would continue, Charagua was to be the last major battle of the three year conflict known as the Chaco War. A ceasefire was negotiated on June 12th 1935.

At the time of the ceasefire however the desire to carry on the war was still very high in some political quarters. But appearances were deceptive, both Paraguay and Bolivia were militarily exhausted and on the verge of economic collapse.

For Paraguay which had won most of the battles during the war, her superior leadership and knowledge of the terrain proved decisive. But ammunition stocks had run completely out and the familiar forests of the Chaco Boreal now lay behind her, only the unknown Bolivian mountains lay ahead.

For Bolivia, the nations mineral and oil wealth was mortgaged to the hilt, her costly weapons were gone. Morale within the army was at a low ebb, this coupled with a very high desertion rate in which regular army units were operating at under half strength. It was clear both Paraguay and Bolivia needed peace.

The ceasefire of June 12th 1935, led to the signing of the Chaco Peace Treaty in Buenos Aires Argentina on July 21st 1938. The war was officially over.

 

Estigarribia and Penarande

THE GENERALS MEET AFTER CEASE FIRE

 

Paraguay had captured the entire disputed Chaco Boreal some 250,000 square miles, 60,000 Bolivian’s and 40,000 Paraguayan soldiers lost their lives in the fighting. In a final irony the vast petroleum reserves which had inflamed the cries of war turned out to be false, their was no oil after all.

Neither the victors nor the defeated did well after hostilities had ended. Paraguay succumbed to economic crisis and a series of military coups and dictatorships culminating in General Alfredo Stroessner’s police state which lasted from 1954 to 1988.

Bolivia’s contending ideologies and weak governments dominated the country until the 1952 Revolution which resulted in a military - civilian shared government. Twelve more years of inept leadership led to the 1964 military junta which overthrew the civilian half of government and took full power for the next eighteen years, until civil unrest in 1982 toppled the military regime and evoked democratic elections.

 

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