Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Under Dogs

There is a little-known war that is full of surprises. It happened between 1932 and 1935 and had around 100,000 killed, but is almost unknown. This is the Chaco War. What's surprising is how one side lost. It was fought in a baking hot area between Paraguay and Bolivia, with areas of desert and jungle but always sweating heat. This plateau was considered to belong to Bolivia, however they never exploited or worked upon the area. The people of the area also had historic links to the population of Paraguay. Both sides of the divide had claimed the area and there were skirmishes for decades. Then oil was discovered, with thoughts of an oil rush both sides staked their claims and the war began.
Paraguayan soldiers.
On one side there was the Paraguayan Army, which had been trained by exiled White Russians and the French. However, the Paraguay was largely without money and this was reflected in the state of the army. Many men lacked boots. Even guns were hard to come by, with enough elderly cast off rifles from her neighbours to equip about 1 in 7 men. As the war loomed agents in Europe brought what small arms they could with Paraguay's limited funds. Mostly rifles and the occasional batch of light machine guns. Support weapons were limited to mostly mortars, although a few heavier conventional pieces were purchased. The rest of the men were armed with machetes. Oddly machetes were the one thing that the Bolivian forces lacked. During the phase of re-armament, the Bolivians began to buy weapons from abroad, mainly from Vickers in the UK; planes, machine guns and armour. Along with the artillery from continental countries, the Bolivian Army was as well supplied as a modern army could be, although it may have lacked numbers of some of its more sophisticated weapons. For example, the total number of tanks was limited to just five armoured vehicles. These were a pair of Carden-Loyd tankettes, a pair of Vickers six tons with the twin machine gun turret arrangement, and a lone Vickers six ton with a single turret, these were even equipped with radios. They also had a veteran German commander in the shape of Hans Kundt, who had served as a Regimental Commander on the Eastern Front in World War 1, rising through the ranks to the rank of General by the end of the war. He had been present at some of Germany's big victories against the Russians
One of the Bolivian Carden-Loyds
The war began, and its exact course would take too many pages to cover, and there are many perfectly good books on the subject. But instantly things went wrong for the Bolivians. Due to the nature of the terrain the logistics of supply to the troops was appallingly hard. Even so the Bolivians began a grand offensive with overwhelming force to push the Paraguayans out of the disputed land. Almost instantly the two Carden-Loyds were knocked out by small arms fire when they were used as assault tanks. After several months of grinding battles one of the Vickers tanks was destroyed when it was hit by one of the few Paraguayan artillery pieces, which damaged its transmission. It was then blown up by sappers after it had been abandoned.
Bolivian Conscripts being taken away from their homes.
The reason for the Bolivians poor performance was several fold, General Kundt wasn't a good general. He often used human wave attacks without preparation bombardments, and would ignore his officer’s recommendations. He also neglected the need for logistics. Morale of the army was falling and self-inflicted wounds spread like wild fire. After a year the Bolivian soldiers had been at the front for the entire time with no leave. In an effort to improve morale home leave was awarded. Of the troops given leave only one third returned, with the others all deserting. Even the Bolivians equipment was proving troublesome, with many of their radios being damaged by the humid moisture of the jungles.
The Vickers six ton after it had been blown up to prevent capture..
The lighter equipped Paraguayan infantry was also more mobile in the primal jungle. In late 1933, Gen Kundt carried on receiving aircraft reconnaissance reports of a large force of Paraguayans out flanking one of his forward positions. Kundt had so far constantly failed to recognise the military manoeuvres of the enemy and misjudged their plans. He'd also shown an utter lack of willingness to adapt, just going on with the headlong charge into defended positions. He'd also been on record as saying that air reconnaissance was of no use as pilots always exaggerated. This, tied to his lack of understanding about outflanking a position possibly lead to the battle of Campo Vía. Unsurprisingly the Paraguayans cut off a large force of Bolivians, consisting of two divisions. Several times the General had been prompted to withdraw the forward forces, or do something. But every time he had issued the order of failure, to hold all their ground! (can anyone think of a time when that order has actually worked and not resulted in a severe beating?)
One of the two twin turreted Vickers six tons, maybe even in place after its capture.
To open up the road to Campo Vía, General Kundt ordered a counter attack, being led by his last two tanks. However, the Paraguayan forces arranged a surprise. One cavalry regiment, the Seventh "San Martin", comprised mostly of Argentinian volunteers prepared an ambush. As the tanks advanced slowly through the dense jungle on an arrow winding trail, the Paraguayans waited. As the tanks entered their ambush the cavalry men felled several trees in front, and behind the two Vickers tanks. Blocked in on all sides by impassable terrain the two tanks put up as much resistance as they could, slashing at the jungle about them with their machine guns. This fire fight carried on for two hours. Then as the temperature rose with their morale sapped by the constant hammering of small arms, the crew surrendered. The temperature inside the tanks was said to have reached over 50 degrees centigrade. The attempt to reopen the road to Campo Vía failed, and the Bolivians were pushed out of the eastern part of the Chaco region. About 7500 Bolivians surrendered. Along with the prisoners came a mountain of weaponry, including 8000 rifles, over 500 machine guns, 25 mortars and 20 artillery pieces, as well as two tanks. One of the tanks was mounted as a monument in Paraguay and only returned to Bolivia in the 1990's, where it was lost.
The Captured tanks on its war memorial.
After the defeat a twenty day cease fire was agreed, and both sides halted to prepare for the next phase of the war. Gen Kundt was dismissed from his job. However, things didn't go well for the new appointee, even with 12 Italian CV3's, some with flame throwers fitted, the war still went against the Bolivians. In June 1935 a cease fire was agreed, with Paraguay holding most of the Chaco region.

Image Credits:
civilianmilitaryintelligencegroup.com, theunion4ever.com and www.latinamericanstudies.org.