The fighting unfolded because of the claims of the parties to part of the Chaco region. The war, which lasted more than three years, claimed the lives of more than 100 thousands of people from both warring countries. The cause and catalyst of this war was oil, or rather its reserves. In 1928, real assumptions emerged that the area was rich in black gold. The two largest oil corporations entered into the struggle for the possession of the region: the British Shell Oil, which supported Paraguay and the American Standard Oil, which supported Bolivia.
There were other reasons for this military conflict, for example, long-standing territorial disputes between countries that arose on the ruins of the Spanish colonial empire in South America. So the territorial disputes between Bolivia and Paraguay over the Northern Chaco began almost immediately after these states gained independence. One of the reasons for the emergence and development of the conflict was the fact that the Spanish colonial administration did not produce at the time a precise separation of administrative units - the vice-kingdoms of Peru and La Plata. The border in this resource-poor and poorly populated area was very conditional and the Spaniards themselves were little concerned.
Ivan Timofeevich Belyaev, 1900 Year
These events would be of little concern to us today, if not for the active participation in them of officers of the Russian army, who were forced to emigrate from the country after the victory of the Bolsheviks in the civil war. Only during the Crimean 13-16 evacuation in November 1920, about 150 thousand people left the country: servicemen of the Russian army, General Wrangel, officers, members of their families, as well as civilians from the Crimean ports. All of them joined the ranks of the white emigration, while many Russian officers scattered around the world. Some of them were in Latin America and in particular in Paraguay. Thus, during the Chak War, the chief of the General Staff of the armed forces of Paraguay was Russian General Ivan Timofeevich Belyaev, who became an honorary citizen of the Republic of Paraguay.
Paraguay became one of the countries that agreed to host refugees from Russia, here Russian White emigres settled at the beginning of the 1920s. The leadership of this country was well aware of the fact that it was hosting representatives of the Russian military school, which was rightly considered one of the best in the world. For example, Major General Ivan Timofeevich Belyaev, who was a member of the Russian diaspora in Paraguay, was almost immediately invited to head a military academy in the capital, Asuncion. A few years later another general from Russia, Nikolay Frantsevich Ern, became a professor of the academy, and later became a lieutenant-general of the army of Paraguay.
It so happened that during the Chak War, the command of the Bolivian army was the 120 German emigre officers (among them the commander of the Bolivian army, Hans Kundt). At the same time, the army of Paraguay was served by the 80 officers of the former Russian army, mainly White Guard emigrants, including two generals, Ivan Belyaev and Nikolay Ern, as well as 8 colonels, 4 lieutenant colonel, 13 majors and 23 captain. One of them commanded a division during the fighting, 12 - with regiments, the rest - with battalions, companies and batteries of the Paraguayan army. Both German and Russian officers were in their time participants of the First World War and again became opponents of each other, but already in Latin America. At the same time, both of them tried to actively use the experience they gained during the years of World War II in combat.
In October, 1924, on the instructions of the Paraguayan Defense Ministry, Ivan Belyaev traveled to the Chaco-Boreal region (the interfluve of the Paraguay and Pilkomayo rivers) to conduct studies of poorly studied terrain and topographic surveys. The study of the Chaco territory in 1925-1932 was a very important contribution of Belyaev and his few satellites from Russia to the world ethnographic and cartographic science. In total, he made here 13 expeditions, making an extensive scientific study on the geography, climatology, biology, ethnography of this region. The general studied life, languages and culture, as well as the religions of local Indians, in addition, he compiled dictionaries of local Indian languages. The research of Ivan Timofeevich helped to understand the complex ethno-linguistic and tribal structure of the Indian population of Chaco. These expeditions were definitely useful in the future during the Chak War, as the Paraguayan army knew this area better, and the few local Indian people considered themselves more Paraguayan than Bolivians.
The controversial territory of Chaco, which gave the name to the coming war, was a semi-desert, hilly terrain in the north-west and a marshy territory in the south-east. This territory was considered by both Bolivia and Paraguay. However, until the 1928 year, when signs of oil were found here, the border in this area did not particularly worry both countries. In the same year, on August 22, the first battle between the Paraguayan cavalry patrol and the Bolivian militia unit took place in this area. 6 December 1928, the Bolivian troops were able to capture the fort of Vanguardia in Chaco, and in January of the following year three Bolivian aircraft bombed the Paraguayan fortified point near the town of Baia Negro. After that, sluggish fighting began in the region, which was accompanied by exchanges of fire and clashes of patrols of the two countries.
Soon the League of Nations intervened in the beginning conflict, which included almost all the states of Latin America, which made it possible to achieve a cease-fire. 16 September 1929 Bolivia and Paraguay signed an armistice agreement between the countries, and in April 1930 restored bilateral diplomatic relations, in the same year 23 July, the Bolivian military left Fort Vanguardia, withdrawing troops from it. However, these events were only a prelude to the conflict, fueled by the prospects for oil production in this region. Both sides, formally returning to peaceful relations, began to actively prepare for war, purchasing weapons and military equipment.
"Cardin-Lloyd" wedge of the armed forces of Bolivia
From the end of 1931, Bolivia and Paraguay began to actively re-equip their armies. After the civil war of 1922-1923, military reform was carried out in Paraguay. During it, a regular army of 4 thousands of people was created in the country, 20 thousands more could be quickly mobilized if necessary. In addition, the system of training army personnel was revised, two military academies were created in the country. In the course of ten prewar years, Paraguay carried out fairly large-scale arms purchases. In Spain, 10 thousands were purchased first, and then 7 thousands of Mauser rifles, Denmark purchased Madsen light machine guns, in the USA large-caliber 12,7 mm Browning MXNXX machine guns, in France 1921 Xnemx Schneider 8 mountain guns 105 models of the year, as well as 1927 mountain 24 mm guns. Just before the start of the war, Paraguay acquired the 75 mortar of the Stokes-Brandt system, caliber 24 mm. At the same time, one of the most expensive purchases, which the Paraguayan military men allowed themselves to be, was two gunboats, the Paraguay and the Umaita, each with a displacement of 81 tons. The gunboats purchased in Italy in the 845 year were armed with two 1930-mm and three 120-mm guns, as well as two automatic anti-aircraft guns of the 76-mm caliber. For a poor country, such military spending was a very heavy burden.
Bolivia, which had a significantly larger population (3,5 times) and a more developed economy, and hence financial capabilities, could buy much more weapons. For example, in 1926, the country entered into a major contract with the British company Vickers for the supply of 36 thousand rifles, 250 heavy and 500 light machine guns, 196 guns of various calibers, and other weapons. This contract was severed at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, so it was only partially implemented. Despite this, Bolivia had a regular army of 6 thousand people and had about 39 thousand Mauser rifles, 750 machine guns, 64 modern guns, and even 5 tanks. In the UK, Vickers 6-ton tanks were purchased in a two-turret machine gun configuration and Carden-Lloyd wedges. In addition, by the beginning of the war, the Bolivian army had a large number of combat aircraft, which, however, did not play a decisive role in the hostilities.
In order to achieve at least some parity in future battles, Colonel José Félix Estigarribia, who was the commander of the Paraguayan army, had to appoint Russian General Ivan Timofeevich Belyaev as Chief of the General Staff. In addition, many key posts in the Paraguayan army were occupied by Russian officers, they became commanders of regiments, battalions, and chiefs of staff of Paraguayan formations. Paraguay compensated for a smaller number of army and armaments with available well-trained Russian officers.
Paraguayan soldiers, 1932 year
At the same time, on the orders of Bolivian President Daniel Domingo Salamanca Urey, the Bolivian army was led by German General Hans Kundt in 1932, an old acquaintance of Russian officers in the fields of the First World War. Being a military adviser to the Bolivian general staff in 1911, with the start of the war in Europe, Kundt was recalled to the Eastern Front. After participating in the 1920 year in the so-called Kapp putsch, he was forced to flee Germany to Bolivia with a group of like-minded officers. He and Belyaev had at their disposal a sufficient number of officers tested in battles, however, the theater of military operations in Latin America differed significantly from European, which was clearly manifested after the start of active hostilities.
By 1932, Bolivia had amassed sufficient military forces and on June 10 its troops attacked Paraguayan forts in Chaco without a declaration of war (curiously, only 15 was declared war on May 10). According to the plans of General Kundt, his army was due to an offensive operation to go to the Paraguay River, cutting off the enemy’s rear communications. The army of Paraguay was not yet mobilized by that time, but the country managed to carry out a mass conscription for several weeks, bringing the number of troops to 1933 thousand people. At the same time, peasant recruits not only had to teach military affairs and the treatment of weaponsbut also wearing shoes. The basics of military science were completely comprehended by the recruits, but the real problem with shoes came out. From childhood, Paraguayan peasants, accustomed to walking barefoot, could not get used to army boots, their shoes literally crippled their feet. For this reason, in the Paraguayan army there were whole units that fought solely barefoot.
Due to the suddenness of the attack and the superiority in numbers of the Bolivian army at the beginning of the war, they managed to delve into the territory of Paraguay, but the areas occupied by Bolivia were almost deserted, while they needed to be defended from the Paraguayan troops. In all likelihood, the Bolivian command did not even imagine before the start of the war all the problems that would arise with the supply of troops in the enemy’s territory. The nearest railway station in Bolivia is Villa Montes, 322 kilometers from the Paraguayan border. From the front line itself to the border, there were still kilometers of 150-200. Thus, the soldiers of the Bolivian army (mainly mestizos and Indians, accustomed to the cool mountain climate), in order to reach the frontline, it was necessary to go through the heat in a fairly arid area of the order of 500 kilometers. Any reinforcement after such a march needed rest.
Unlike the Bolivian army, Paraguayan soldiers had well-established supplies. The necessary ammunition, equipment and reinforcements were delivered along the Paraguay River to the port of Puerto Casado, after which they walked along the narrow gauge railway to Isla Poi (200 kilometers), from which only 29 kilometers remained to the front line. Thanks to this, the advantage of the Bolivian army in numbers and weapons was nullified. To supply their troops, the Bolivian military often had to use transport Aviation, which was both expensive and imposed serious restrictions on the volume of goods delivered. There were practically no roads in Chaco, and the lack of fodder and the murderous heat did not allow the efficient use of horse-drawn vehicles. For the same reasons, the cavalry of the two countries almost did not participate in the Chuck war. On top of that, the local population of the disputed area - Guarani Indians - was mostly sympathetic to the Paraguayan side. The war, which was already quite fierce, took the lives of soldiers of the warring parties not only in battle, many died due to illnesses and terrible living conditions in their positions.
At the first stage of the war, hostilities were often indiscriminate skirmishes in the jungle and fighting for individual fortified points. Gradually, the front line began to form. Both sides of the conflict built wooden and earth fortifications on the territories controlled by them, proudly calling them forts. Paraguayans have added a fairly large network of minefields to this. Both armies tried to dig into the ground whenever possible and entangle their positions with barbed wire - in a word, sometimes it all looked like World War I, so the German officers who were in the service of the Bolivian army felt in their native element.
In this case, unpleasant for the Bolivian military discoveries were clearly manifested. It turned out that the technical superiority of their army plays almost no role in the war. Tanks and tankettes were often stuck in the swamps, if not idle, because of the lack of fuel and ammunition or improper operation and breakdowns, and the artillery often could not find targets in the jungle. Aviation also proved to be almost completely useless. The dispersed actions of the Bolivian aircraft in the jungle, most often, were the bombing of hollows. General Kundt did not trust the air reconnaissance aircraft, and there was no person at the headquarters of the Bolivian army who could organize massive air raids on the communications of the defending garrisons of the Paraguayan army.
One of the first major battles of the Chak War with the participation of Russian and German officers was the battle for the fortress of Boquerón, which was held by the Bolivians. 29 September 1932, after a long siege, the fortress fell. 20 January 1933, Kundt threw the main forces of the Bolivian army into the storming of the city of Nanava, but Russian generals Ern and Belyaev were able to unravel the enemy’s tactics and defeated the advancing units of the Bolivians, after which Kundt was dismissed. And in 1934, in the battle of El Carmen, German military advisers abandoned their subordinates to the mercy of fate, leaving the battlefield to flee.
By the beginning of 1935, the sides were so exhausted by each other and suffered such serious losses that the armies of the two countries could no longer carry out large offensive operations. In the end, active hostilities ceased in March, and in the middle of 1935, the parties entered into a truce through the mediation of Argentina. During the war, Bolivia achieved for itself only a narrow corridor along the Paraguay River, which allowed it to build a port on the river and open shipping in the future. At the same time, Paraguay, in whose army the guiding and leading role of the Russian military school was felt, was able to take over three-quarters of the disputed territory of the Chaco-Boreal.
Today, it is safe to say that the participation of Russian officers in the Chak war has helped turn tens of thousands of mobilized illiterate Paraguayan peasants into a real army that was able to defend their country. Paraguayans did not remain ungrateful towards the heroes of this war - after its completion and to this day, the Russian community occupies an important place in the life of this state, and many Asuncion streets and even entire settlements in Paraguay were named after the distinguished Russian officers.
Trophy Bolivian Vickers Tank
The bitter irony of fate was that the oil in the disputed territory, for which the parties shed so much blood, was never found, and even the port on the Paraguay River, built for its transportation, was unnecessary - Bolivian oil was exported via a pipeline through Brazil. Oil in this area was discovered only in the 2012 year. The fact that oil was found on the territory of the semi-desert Chaco, the President of Paraguay Federico Franco announced on November 26 of the year 2012. According to geologists, the oil found is of good quality, and its reserves are sufficient. Thus, Paraguay managed to benefit from its military victory in the bloodiest war in Latin America of the 20th century only in the 21st century, more than 75 years after the end of the conflict.
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