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The War with the Great Colombia (1828-1829)

The first international conflict that the nascent Republic of Peru had to face was against the Great Colombia, due to the claim of that nation for the territories of Jaen and Maynas, legitimately belonging to Peru since before its independence. The declaration of war on the part of the Great colombian nation occurred the 3rd of July of 1828, causing the Peruvian government to enlist its terrestrial and naval forces.

As far as the naval campaign is concerned, the first encounter of this conflict occurred in August 1828, when Corvette Libertad, under the command of LCDR Carlos Garcia del Postigo, was in international waters off the Gulf of Guayaquil, with the purpose of controlling and intercepting the ships that entered or left that port. On August 31st, 1828, the Colombian ships Pichincha and Guayaquileña attacked the Peruvian corvette off Punta Malpelo, being rejected and forced to withdraw with heavy losses on board.

Then, the Peruvian forces established the blockade in Guayaquil and on the Great Colombian coast from Tumbes to Panama. The national squadron, under the command of Vice Admiral Jorge Martín Guise, went to Guayaquil and made several incursions before attacking the defenses of that river city, from November 22 to 24, 1828. In this action, many enemy artillery was destroyed, but on the night of 23 to 24, the frigate President ran aground and the defenders took advantage of the situation to attack. At dawn, with the rebound of the river, the frigate came back afloat, but the last enemy shot hit Vice Admiral Guise, who died soon after. The command of the squad was assumed by the LT Jose Boterín, who continued the siege on the enemy place, which finally surrendered the 19th of January of 1829. After this action the corvette Arequipeña and brigantine Congress entered Panama, managing to rescue one of the merchant ships captured by the Colombians.

Guayaquil would remain occupied by Peruvian forces until July 21st, 1829. This conflict would conclude after the signing of the Armistice of Piura signed on July 10th of that year, but the border situation would still remain pending.

The War between the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation and Chile (1836-1839)

During the viceregal period, the territory that constituted the audience of Charcas or Upper Peru, dependent at first of the Viceroyalty of Peru, since 1776 passed to form part of the viceroyalty of Buenos Aires. This territory was independent in 1826, being born the Republic of Bolivia. Years later, an ambitious political project emerged, pushed by Bolivian Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz, who advocated the creation of a confederate state based on the territories of Peru and Bolivia, historically linked by various ties, especially economic ties. This integration sought among other things to restore the old mercantile circuits established in both territories from ancestral times, as well as to promote a policy of free trade with foreign countries. After an intense period of political crisis, the Confederation was established in 1836, conformed by three confederate states: the Nor Peruvian State, the South Peruvian State, and Bolivia.

The formation of this new nation was highly welcomed in the departments of southern Peru to be able to benefit from free trade, but instead was not well received by the Lima and northern Peruvian elites who traditionally had a closed trade with Chile, which in turn saw this confederation as a threat to its economic interests.

The naval actions by the Chilean Navy were not long in coming: on August 21st, 1836, the Chilean brig Aquiles arrived in Callao, in what was supposed to be a visit of goodwill. However, taking advantage of the disarmament that the Peruvian warships found in the anchorage, due to the internal struggles of the previous years, that same night carried out a surprise attack that allowed him to capture  the boat Santa Cruz, the Brigantine Arequipeño and the Peruvian corvette. Thus began the war between Chile and the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation.

The first phase of this war had to be defined at sea, and that was why both sides tried to gain control of it. In the case of the Confederation, this phase of the campaign was in the hands of the Peruvian Navy, whose flotilla made up of corvettes Socabaya and Confederation and the brigantine Congress sailed in November of 1837 with the purpose of penetrating enemy territory. First they attacked the islands of Juan Fernandez, where they surrendered the garrison that was in charge of the prison and released the political prisoners, then bombarded the Chilean ports of Talcahuano, Huasco and San Antonio, arriving also to disembark troops of Navy in San Antonio and Caldera.

For their part, the Chilean government and the Peruvians opposed to the Confederation prepared an expedition which, under the command of Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada, landed in the south of Peru and advanced to Arequipa. After staying in that city for a longer time, the expeditionary force of Blanco Encalada was forced to surrender, by Marshal Santa Cruz, signing the Treaty of Paucarpata on November 17th, 1837 and re-embarking for his country. The treaty was later repudiated by the Chilean government, which sent a squadron composed of five warships under the command of the British sailor Roberto Simpson to harass the Peruvian coast. These ships were met on the outskirts of the Peruvian port of Islay, a Peruvian squadron formed by the corvette Socabaya and the brigs Junin and Founder under the orders of the CDR Juan Jose Panizo. Simpson tried to destroy that naval force the 12th of January of 1838, but Panizo managed to maneuver intelligently during several hours managing to put to safety to its ships before a superior enemy in number and force. That action, known as the Naval Combat of Islay, was a Peruvian triumph, which ended with the withdrawal of the Chilean ships.

However throughout the year, Chile managed to obtain control of the sea and in September was able to dispatch a new and powerful restoration expedition with 5,400 soldiers commanded by General Manuel Bulnes. Bulnes's forces, reinforced by Peruvians opposed to Santa Cruz, among whom were Gamarra and Castile, succeeded in defeating Orbegoso in August; And then to Santa Cruz in the decisive battle of Yungay on January 20, 1839. Eight days earlier, on January 12, 1839, the Chilean naval squadron commanded by Simpson and some ships that had transported the expedition of General Bulnes were attacked in the port of Casma by the Confederate squadron formed by the Esmond corvette, the Mexican barge, the Arequipeño brig and the schooner Peru, under the orders of the French sailor Juan Blanchet. The action lasted several hours, passing Blanchet and losing the Arequipeño, but causing considerable losses to the Chilean ships. Regarding the Confederation, after the withdrawal and resignation of Santa Cruz after the defeat of the Confederates in front of the restoration troops in the Battle of Yungay, its existence concluded with its dissolution, giving way to a restorative government to the control of Agustín Gamarra.

The introduction of steam propulsion and the emergence of Peru as a naval power in South America

The large-scale exploitation of the guano deposits on the Peruvian coast facilitated the stabilization of Peruvian governments from the late 1940s until the early 1970s. Among those who gave the Navy the most attention during that period were Marshal Ramón Castilla and General Rufino Echenique, who helped make Peru a naval power through an aggressive acquisition program.

Among these ships the Mercedes frigate, which was the first warship purchased by Castilla, and then the Rimac, the first steam warship in South American waters, built in the United States of America and arrived in Callao on July 27th of 1848. The frigates Callao and Amazonas were ordered to England in the following decade. Other warships and transports were also acquired, to the point that the Peruvian Fleet became the most important in South America in those years.

However, an unfortunate fact, happened when the frigate Mercedes shipwrecked in front of Casma on May 2nd, 1854. That terrible accident, which cost the lives of more than 800 people, left a magnificent lesson of more value beyond the line of duty, when the commander, Captain Juan Noel, preferred to sink with his ship before abandoning it in such a difficult trance and with a large number of people still onboard.

Another important event had been raised a few years earlier. The discovery of gold in the Californian coast of the United States, caused a massive migration of adventurers in search of so valuable metal, that arrived in quantity by sea. Many of these ships not only disembarked their passengers, but also lost a good part or even all their crew attracted by the so-called "gold rush." In 1848, some Peruvian ships were abandoned in San Francisco, so their owners asked the government to send a warship to protect their interests. It was thus that the brig General Gamarra, commanded by the captain of frigate Jose Maria Silva Rodriguez, was sent to San Francisco, where it remained almost ten months. During their stay in that port, there was great disorder on land that the local authorities could not quell, and should request assistance to the foreign warships that had been fired at the bay. For that reason, an armed detachment disembarked of the Gamarra and helped to put order in the city. In this way, Peru took part in the first and only armed intervention of a foreign naval force in US territory.

The trip around the world of the Amazonas frigate

On October 25th, 1856, the frigate Amazonas, under the command of captain Jose Boterin, sailed from Callao on demand from Hong Kong to carry out some urgent work on the dock of that port. Arriving at his destination, he found the surprise that the Second Opium War had exploded, motivating him to go to Calcuta, where he made the repairs he needed. Several of the frigate crew members, cholera victims, died during their stay there. From there he passed to London, where Boterín was replaced by LCDR Francisco Sanz, and the weapons of the frigate were completed. Finally, the Amazonas sailed from London in demand for Callao, arriving at our first port on May 28th, 1858, after completing the first round the world of a South American steamer, in which 17 midshipmen also took part.

The Conflict with Ecuador (1857-1860)

In 1857 the Ecuadorian government signed an agreement for the payment of a debt with British creditors, giving in concession territories territories belonging to Peru. The Peruvian protest was unanimous and President Castilla ordered the blockade of the Gulf of Guayaquil, the same that was carried out by a squadron under the control of Rear admiral Ignacio Mariátegui. The blockade began on November 4, 1858, and lasted more than a year, a period during which Ecuador was the victim of deep internal struggles that led President Castilla to decide to occupy the port of Guayaquil, landing Peruvian forces in that Port in mid-November 1859. On January 25th, 1860, the Treaty of Mapasingue was signed, which ended the conflict.

The Conflict with Spain (1864-1866)

After the Battle of Ayacucho, all Spanish-American countries, except Peru, had signed peace treaties with Spain, through which this nation recognized its independence. This had not been an obstacle to the occurrence of various acts of goodwill between Peru and Spain, but there were certainly no official relations.

In that context, in the middle of 1863, a Spanish squadron was made up of the frigates Resolution and Nuestra Señora del Triunfo, as well as the Covadonga schooner, which had on board a Scientific Expedition for the purpose of studying the old Spanish possessions . In these circumstances there was an incident in the hacienda Talambo, in which a Spaniard was killed.

The Spanish Admiral Luis Hernández Pinzón, protested to the Peruvian government, and incited by Eusebio Salazar and Mazarredo, whose position of Extraordinary Commissar for Peru had not been recognized by the Peruvian government, caused that in retaliation, the Spanish forces captured 14 of April 1864 the Chincha Islands, from which came most of the guano that Peru exported.

After these events, Spain reinforced its Squadron of the Pacific with the frigates Blanca, Berenguela and Villa de Madrid, the schooner Vencedora and the armored Numancia. The Peruvian government, unable to face such a threat, was forced to sign a treaty known as Vivanco-Pareja, which ended the conflict, but was promptly rejected by the nation Colonel Mariano Ignacio Prado in Arequipa and after nearly a year of civil war managed to seize power, repudiating the aforementioned treaty and restarting hostilities. Previously an agreement had been signed with Chile, which was joined by Bolivia and Ecuador, so as to act united against Spain and neutralize any attempt to reestablish its dominion in America.

Combat of Abtao (1866)

When the War with Spain took place, the Peruvian Fleet did not have ships capable of dealing directly with the powerful Spanish naval force, since the armored Huáscar and the armored frigate Independencia were still under construction in England. That is why they were sent to our four main ships to the south of Chile, where they had to wait for the arrival of the two new armored ships to act next jointly against the enemy force. Three of these ships, the Apurimac frigate and the corvettes Union and America, recently acquired in France, took part in the Abtao Naval Combat on February 7th, 1866 in the Challahué Channel, forming between Abtao Island and the mainland . Also in that opportunity was the Chilean schooner Covadonga, conforming all these ships called the Allied Squadron that under the command of the Peruvian Naval Captain Manuel Villar brilliantly rejected the attack of the Spanish frigates Villa de Madrid and Blanca, fighting for several hours until the enemy ships chose to withdraw.

The decline of Peruvian naval power

The conflict with Spain led to the government seeking to increase Peruvian naval power, even if not always correctly, as was the case of the acquisition of the monitors Manco Capac and Atahualpa. Acquired in the United States of America, both ships were towed from New Orleans to Callao on an epic voyage that demanded more than a year (January 1869-May 1870) which was not without its difficulties.

In the early 1970s, Peru began to feel the effects of a deep fiscal crisis, accelerated by the excessive expenditure incurred on the basis of compromising guano revenues. That was why it was not possible to react firmly to the growth of Chilean naval power, which with the construction of two armored vehicles, Cochrane and Blanco Encalada, happened to have the most powerful fleet in the South American Pacific. Before that, Peru could only incorporate to the fleet the small gunboats Chanchamayo and Pilcomayo, the first of which was lost in 1876, in front of Falsa Punta Aguja. Another notable loss of those years was the corvette America, stranded as a result of the tsunami that struck the port of Arica, on August 13th, 1868. The commander of the ship, LCDR Mariano de los Reyes Saavedra, died in that tragic accident.

The Naval Combat of Pacocha (1877)

On May 6th, 1877, a group of supporters of Nicolas de Piérola onboard of the Huáscar in Callao, raised against the government of President Mariano Ignacio Prado. He reacted by declaring the vessel outlaw and offering rewards to whoever captured or destroyed it.

Under the command of Captain Germán Astete, the Huáscar went to the sea heading south to board the caudillo. On this voyage several British ships were detained, breaking international law.

This event motivated Rear Admiral Alghernon M. De Horsey, commander in chief of the British Naval Station in the Pacific, to intervene in the matter.

With the frigate Shah and the Amethyst Corvette, he sought the Huascar monitor and found it on May 29th, 1877, in front of Pacocha. The English admiral intimated surrender to the Peruvian commander Luis German Astete, who refused to surrender his ship and prepared to fight affirming the Peruvian pavilion. The action was carried out for several hours, in which the British ships despite their great artillery advantage could not surrender the monitor, who responded the fire and maneuvered with a skill, evading not only the enemy shots, but also a self-propelled torpedo that The British made use for the first time in the history of the torpedo. Having failed in its attempt, the British ships retired of the scene, whereas Huáscar surrendered to the national authorities the following day.

The War of the Pacific (1879 - 1883)


The reasons for this conflict may be far behind in history and its deep roots can be traced back to the mid-seventeenth century, when the Chilean economy was reduced to a condition of true dependence on prices imposed by Peruvian shippers and merchants. The struggles for independence changed this relationship to Valparaíso, but the enormous Peruvian potential remained a latent threat to reverse the situation. The Chilean ruling class soon became aware of this and, much more cohesive and austere than its Peruvian counterpart, managed to lay the foundations of a political stability that brought greater coherence in its long-term plans.

Peru, for its part, subjected to a multitude of internal disputes, failed to cohere and wasted the enormous wealth with which nature has endowed its territory. Early as it was narrated, Marshal Santa Cruz tried to reunite the Upper and the Lower Peru, forming the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation. Chile felt threatened by it and instigated and supported the Peruvians who rejected Santa Cruz. He finally declared war and destroyed the Confederacy.

On the other hand, the definition of the boundaries between Chile and Bolivia were a latent problem since the republican dawn. However, the growing importance of saltpeter, exploited mainly by Chilean capital and labor in the Bolivian coast, prompted the Bolivian government to impose certain economic measures that were rejected by those affected. The government of Santiago saw in it a reason to intervene militarily and invaded the Bolivian coast. Peru, united to Bolivia through an alliance treaty signed in 1873, tried to stop the war by various means. However, the Chilean decision was firm and our country was forced to honor its commitment and entered the war in really deplorable conditions of readiness.

The Army was far from constituting an efficient military apparatus, with politicized commandos and an officiality arisen in the heat of revolutions. All this meant that he had a strong body spirit. On the other hand, the troupe, mostly mountainous, did not feel totally identified with the concept of Peruvian nation, the equipment was disparate and in many cases obsolete, and the training was practically null. Although the Navy had a professional corps, the high replacement costs had made us have an outdated fleet, with units that had reached a noticeable level of deterioration.

Chile, for its part, had invested considerable sums in its army and navy since the early 1870s, having attained a high degree of combative efficacy in both arms. On the other hand, it was clear that political stability, achieved since the 1830s, had contributed to consolidate a professional sense in its armed forces which was reflected in the permanence of its high commanders.

The Chilean navy counted on two armored ships much superior to the Peruvians, as much in fire power as in armor. The infantry had homogenized their armament with the rifles Grass and Comblain, both with the same type of ammunition. The artillery was Armstrong and Krupp, of the last models, and their servants counted on Winchester carbines for their protection. The cavalry was also endowed with these carbines, in addition to the usual white weapons.

The Peruvian and the Chilean Fleet

Due to the characteristics of the Bolivian coast and the Peruvian South end, in which the Atacama Desert extends, and considering the experiences of the War of Independence and against the Confederation, Chile knew that it was necessary to raffle this territory by sea to be able to transfer to its troops and to invade the Peruvian territory. For this he would have to achieve mastery of the sea. Peru, for its part, also understood that this was the logical maneuver that the enemy would adopt. Thus, both nations began the naval campaign as the first part of the war.

The Peruvian fleet, commanded by Captain Miguel Grau, was formed by the armored Huascar monitor, the Independencia frigate, the Manco Capac and Atahualpa monitors, the Union corvette, the Pilcomayo gunship and the Chalaco, Oroya, Limeña and Talismán transports. The latter were to play a very important role during the conflict, keeping the Peruvian supply route open with continuous trips between Callao and Panama, as well as other parts of the coast, transporting troops, ammunition and ammunition, mocking the powerful enemy squadron .

The Chilean fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Juan Williams Rebolledo, consisted of the Blanco Encalada and Almirante Cochrane armored vehicles, the Chacabuco, O'Higgins and Esmeralda corvettes, and the Magallanes and Covadonga gunships, as well as several transports. The balance of power was favorable to the Chilean navy, since its ships, especially the two armored ones, had better artillery, speed and armor, compared to the Peruvian ships.

The approach was very clear on both sides. The Chilean squad was superior materially to the Peruvian, not only in number but also in the quality of its ships. They must then seek and destroy the Peruvian fleet as soon as possible. The Peruvian squadron, on the other hand, given its inferiority in means, should prolong its presence as much as possible as an effective threat at sea, not so much for the enemy squadron but for the Chilean maritime traffic, engaging in combat only when it was in superiority of Conditions or where this is unavoidable. The time that would be gained in this would be in benefit of the preparation of the defenses in the Peruvian South and the acquisition of new ships and armament.

The Naval Campaign and the Huáscar

The first action took place only seven days after the war was declared, on April 12, 1879, when Corvette Union and gunboat Pilcomayo attacked and chased the Chilean Corvette Magallanes off Punta Chipana. For its part, the enemy squadron bombarded Mollendo, Pisagua, Mejillones of Peru and Iquique, before heading towards Callao with the purpose of destroying the Peruvian squadron. However, they failed in this attempt because the national ships had sailed days before its arrival, going to Arica with the Supreme Director of War, the General Mariano Ignacio Prado.

  • 1892