Battle of La Plata


Battle of La Plata

The Battle of La Plata (11 July 1958-21 July 1958) was part of Operation Verano, the summer offensive of 1958 launched by the Batistia government during the Cuban Revolution. The battle resulted from a complex plan created by Cuban General Cantillo to directly attack Castro's mountain base in the Sierra Maestra. The battle end with the humiliating surrender of the assault battalion and the loss of some 500 Cuban army soldiers (killed, wounded, and captured).

Background

General Cantillo's plan was to bring a direct attack on Castro's base in the Sierra Maestra. Earlier attacks into the hills from the north and east had failed miserably, as the attackers had run into ambushes and mine fields. Thanks to local support, Castro's forces knew about the army's attacks well beforehand and were able to stop them.

This attack would be different, a surprise amphibious assault from sea by Cuban army Battalion 18, under the command of Major Jose Quevedo. Once the Battalion 18 had landed, Battalion 17 was to move into the Sierra Maestra and attack Castro's base from the north.

The Battle

The landing took place on July 11 at La Plata, a tiny village where La Plata river reaches the sea. The landing was successful and the battalion headed in towards the mountains. Castro's forces took positions on either side of the advancing soldiers and suddenly attacked. Within half an hour, Battalion 18 was surrounded and under attack from all directions. The Cuban soldiers proceeded to dig trenches and then waited for help.

General Cantillo ordered 200 men that had been held in reserve to land at a nearby beach west of La Plata so they could attack Castro's guerrilla from behind. But this sea attack was driven off by machinegun fire and so the reserves ended up landing at La Plata behind Battalion 18 where they did nothing useful.

Next, Battalion 17 was ordered to attack into the hills. Once again, the move by the Cuban army into the Sierra Maestra was stopped by a small detachment of Castro's skilled guerrillas using road blocks, mines, and sniper fire.

Meanwhile, Castro was trying to convince the commander of the surrounded Battalion 18 to surrender using propaganda broadcasts over loudspeakers and personal letters. Quevedo was a former classmate of Castro but he resisted the call to surrender for days. Finally, on July 21, Major Jose Fernando Quevedo did surrender his command.

Results of the Battle

Battalion 18 lost 71 dead and injured while the rest, some 240 men, surrendered. All told, Castro's troops captured some 400 Cuban army soldiers (later they turned them over to the Red Cross) along with hundreds of weapons and nearly a ton of ammunition.

The battle demonstrated, yet again, that the Cuban Army under Batista was nearly incapable of launching an attack. Even when surrounded and under fire, the Cuban soldiers of Battalion 18 did nothing more than hold their position and wait for someone else to help them. With the lives of their fellow soldiers on the line, Battalion 17 staged an ineffective attack into the mountains and then stopped. The end of the battle left Battalion 17 halted south of Las Mercedas lake in the mountains. Their withdrawal would lead to the Battle of Las Mercedes.

Major Jose F. Quevedo stayed with Castro and eventually switched sides, joining with Castro and working against the Batista government. He later wrote two books (published in Cuba) about the battle and the last six months of the revolution.

Sources

* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1984/BLJ.htm The Spirit Of Moncada] by Larry Bockman (Major, USMC) 1984.

* [http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/jigue.htm Battle of Jigüe] by Terrence Cannon, includes lots of quotes from Castro himself who is not a trustworthy source.

* [http://www.themilitant.com/1996/604/604_16.html Interview with Colonel Quevedo] published in The Militant (a Communist journal), 1996.

ee also

*Battle of Las Mercedes 29 July - 8 August 1958
*Battle of Yaguajay 19-30 December 1958


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