Battle of Tacna

Battle of Tacna

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Tacna

caption="Drawing of the Battle of Tacna"
partof=War of the Pacific
date=May 26, 1880
place= Department of Tacna, Perú
result="Decisive Chilean victory
End of the Peru-Bolivian alliance"
commander1=flagicon|Chile Gen. Manuel Baquedano
commander2=flagicon|Bolivia|1825 Gen. Narciso Campero
strength1=11,779 soldiers [cite web |url= |title= Las Relaciones Nominales |author= Ejército de Chile, Dirección General de Movilización Nacional | accessdate= 2008]
37 cannons
strength2=10,000 soldiers
31 cannons
casualties1=2,200 casualties
casualties2=3,500 - 5,000 casualties

The Battle of Tacna, also known as the "Battle of the Halt of the Alliance" (Spanish: "Batalla del Alto de la Alianza"), effectively destroyed the Peru-Bolivian alliance against Chile, forged by a secret treaty between both countries signed on 1873. On May 26 1880, the Chilean northern operations army led by General Manuel Baquedano Gonzalez, conclusively defeated a Peru-Bolivian army commanded by the Bolivian President General Narciso Campero, after almost five hours of fierce combat. This battle took place at the Intiorko hill plateau, a few miles north of the Peruvian city of Tacna. As a result of this battle, the Bolivian army returned to its country, and never participated in the conflict again, leaving Peru to fight the rest of the war by themselves . Also, this victory consolidated the Chilean domain over the Tarapacá Province, territory definitively annexed to Chile after the sign of the "Tratado de Ancón" (English: "Treaty of Ancon"), on 1884, which ended the war.


After the Bolivian government threatened to confiscate and clinch the Chilean "Antofagasta Nitrate & Railway Company" by a decree on February 1, 1879, a Chilean disembarkment at Antofagasta, on February 14, took control of the city. Obliged by a secret cooperation treaty signed on February 6, 1873, Peru was forced into the conflict. Although this country tried to mediate between the other countries, Chile - aware of this secret pact - issued a war declaration against the Allied countries on April 5, 1879. Once the state of war was declared, the conflict initially developed on a naval campaign, due to the strategic relevance of dominating the sea. The Chilean Navy had serious problems with its Peruvian counterpart at the beginning, as the Peruvian monitor "Huáscar", commanded by Captain Miguel Grau Seminario inflicted the Chileans several defeats at Iquique and other battles. An 8 month chase conducted by the Chilean fleet, concluded in the final capture of the Peruvian vessel and the death of their highest naval figure with the decisive victory of the Naval Battle of Angamos on October 8. This event marked the end of the naval stage of the conflict and moved to a terrestrial phase. The next step planned by the Chilean command was an invasion of the Tarapaca Department.

Accordingly to this purpose, and in order to isolate the two Allied strongholds in the Peruvian department, Arica and Iquique, from each other; the Chilean army launched an amphibious operation at Pisagua, on November 2, successfully pushing the Allies inland. This initial success was consolidated after the consecutive victories at Germania, on November 6, and the Battle of San Francisco or Dolores , on November 19. This chain of Chilean victories came to an end with the Peruvian victory at Tarapaca, on November 27, 1879. In this battle, a Chilean force of 2.000 men attacked recklessly an Allied army of 4.000 soldiers, suffering a heavy defeat.

The Allies

Despite their victory at Tarapacá, the demoralized Allied army led by General Juan Buendía left the entire Peruvian Department under Chilean control, retreating to Arica in an extenuating and perilous march. In fact, almost 2.000 men died in this long travesy to the northern citycite book |author= Mellafe, Rafael; Pelayo, Mauricio |title= La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios |year= 2004 |publisher= Centro de Estudios Bicentenario] . Besides, the lack of results generated popular turbulence both in Peru and Bolivia with the manner their governments had conducted the war, and it was determinant for the deposition of the President of Peru, Mariano Ignacio Prado, and his Bolivian counterpart, Hilarión Daza. Both men were replaced by Nicolás de Piérola and General Narciso Campero, respectively. Also, the loss of the Tarapacá Department stopped the earnings of the saltpepper trade, making the financial weight of the war heavier for the Allied countries.

The Chileans

After Tarapacá, the Chilean army didn't make any incursions for some time. The Chilean government thought that with the loss of Tarapacá, Perú would try to sign a truce, and kept the recently gained Tarapacá territory in order to take a huge war compensationcite web| url= |title= La Batalla de Tacna | author= Harun Al-Rashid | accessdate= 2008] . Also saw how civilian volunteers increased the Army number of soldiers up to 10.000 men. Besides, the control of Antofagasta meant an extra cash-flow from the exportations of saltpepper. This new income source made possible to buy weapons, clothes, food and anything that the growing army required, easing the war expenditures.

Allied Army

The Allied Army had about 11.000 men between Tacna and AricaCite web |url= |title= La verdadera epopeya |author= Basadre, Jorge |accessdate= 2008] . Also, the new Bolivian President Campero managed to send another infantry division to Tacna. There were disagreements between Peruvian Admiral Lizardo Montero and Piérola's deputy, Pedro del Solar, wasting precious time in internal disputes, whilst the Chilean army marched towards Tacna. The troops equipment were deficient. Meanwhile, the Peruvian vessel "Unión" made through the Chilean blockade on Arica, bringing supplies, medicines and shoes to the garrison at the port. The army present in Tacna had about 10.000 men and 31 cannons - 6 Krupp cannons, 6 Machine guns, 2 La Hitte cannons, 7 4" strayed cannons and 12" Blackey cannons..

Chilean Army

The Chilean High Command planned a landing at Ilo and Pacocha in order to scout the country and to make an idea of the Allied army status. After two incursions, a main landing took place at Ilo, unshipping 10.000 men. After the resignation to the High Command of Gen. Erasmo Escala, due to the constant arguments with the War Minister Rafael Sotomayor, the Chilean Minister named General Manuel Baquedano, a veteran of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation war who had the sympathies and respect of the soldiers as Commander-in-Chief of the Operations Army. Since the beginning of the conflict, the infantry soldiers were equipped with Comblain rifles. The artillery had 37 cannons, between 20 Krupp cannons model and 17 mountain batteries.

Preliminary moves

A Chilean expeditionary force disembarked at Ilo, on December 31, with the order to take the port and eliminate the resistance in the region. This task was commended to Lt. Col. Arístides Martínez, who achieved control of the town and severed the telegraph line to Moquegua, allowing the Chilean troops to move freely in the zone. After this, the forces took the train to Moquegua, taking the population for surprise, surrendering the town the following morning. After this events, Martínez' troops returned to Ilo, taking the ship back to Pisagua on January 2. Sotomayor decided to attack Tacna and Arica with the entire army, leaving Moquegua alone.

Due to the scout mission success, a massive landing took place between February 18 and 25. 9.500 troops were disembarked in three divisions, whereas another one stood back at Pisagua, waiting for the convoy to return. On February 27, the Chilean Navy starts the bombardment of Arica. In this events died the "Huáscar" new captain, the Chilean Captain Manuel Thompson. On March 8, a Chilean armed expedition of 900 soldiers was sent to Mollendo, led by Colonel Orozimbo Barbosa. On the 18, Gen. Campero's 5th Division reached Tacna. On the 22, a battle took place at Los Ángeles hill, ending with a definitive victory of the Chilean Army, after the Chilean "Atacama" Bn. climbed the abrupt slope of the hill and caught the Peruvian troops from the rear. On April 9, the Peruvian port of El Callao is put under naval blockade. After the battle at Los Ángeles, the Chilean army started to march across the desert to Tacna. The artillery however, was embarked again and shipped to Ite, taking four days to unload these batteries. On May 20, War Minister Rafael Sotomayor died due to a stroke at Las Yaras. The Chilean President Anibal Pinto appointed José Francisco Vergara as the new War Minister in Campaign.

Whilst the Chilean Army evolved in the Tacna Department, the Allies had their own problems. Montero wanted to wait the Chilean troops at Tacna, but Col. Eliodoro Camacho supported the idea to march and ambush the Chileans at Sama river valley, easing the communications with Arequipa [cite web | url= | title= Allied war council act at Tacna, April 7th, 1880 | author= Pelayo Mauricio | accessdate= 2008] . Trying to avoid any confrontation, Gen. Campero traveled to Tacna to take charge of the Allied Army, assuming his command on April 19. On the night of May 25, Campero's troops tried to ambush the Chileans at Quebrada Honda, but the night and the mist prevented the Allies to do so, returning to Tacna for defense preparations. The next day, about 11.000 Chileans would fight against 10.000 Allies.

The Battle

The Battlefield

The Allied command decided to present battle at the Intiorko hill top. This plateau is an arid and flat terrain located a few miles from Tacna, extending from east to west, over the valley leading to Arica. The field had a northern edge were the infantry were deployed.

Allies plan and distribution

The Allied plan consisted in exploiting the terrain tactical advantages. The troops didn't entrenched, but just waited the Chilean Army deployed in a 3 km defensive line. On the far right were the Bolivian troops with 5 Krupp cannons, and the "Murillo" Battalion, followed by the Peruvian 1st Division commanded by Justo Pastor Dávila. At the line center, had been deployed the Bolivian "Loa", "Grau", "Chorolque" and "Padilla" battalions. Right next to this troops were the Caceres' and Suárez divisions. To the left of the previous units were 9 cannons and the Col. Luna's division. On the far left were the Bolivian "Amarillos", "Aroma" and "Colorados" battalions. The right wing was under the command of Lizardo Montero, the center was led by Col. Castro Pinto, and the left flank by Col. Eliodoro Camacho.

Chilean plan and troop deployment

Two plans were presented to Gen. Baquedano. The first one was a flanking maneuver on the Allied right flank. On the other hand, Velásquez had the idea to engage in a simultaneous frontal charge on the entire front, so the troops couldn't be moved from one point to another, not allowing the reinforcement of weaker points generated during the battle, exploiting the thinness of the Allied defensive line, susceptible to be broken at any point. Besides, the lack of trenches and fortifications would make this breaking easier.

Baquedano decided to use the plan of Velásquez. Thus, the army was split into five divisions, placing on the first line the 1st Division of Col. Santiago Amengual and the 2nd Division of Col. Francisco Barceló. Right behind them was Col. Orozimbo Barboza's 3rd Division. Col. José Amunátegui's 4th Division deployed on a third line, and behind this last one, the reserveCite web |url= |title= La Batalla de Tacna |author= Ojeda Frex, Jorge | accessdate= 2008] .

The Beginning

The battle started with a useless artillery cross-fire, because the projectiles buried in the sand without any detonation. According to Velázquez' plan, around 10:00 Amengual's 1st Division marched against the Allies left flank, followed by Barceló's 2nd Division which charged the line center. The two divisions advanced under heavy fire, but failed in their objective of engaging the defensive line at the same time. Amengual's forces, formed with the "Valparaíso" Bn, followed by the "Esmeralda" and "Naval" regimentsCite web |url= | title= Batalla de Tacna | author= Gonzalo Bulnes | accessdate= 2008] , entered into battle first, allowing Campero to send reinforcements from the reserve at the rear center, sending next two battalions from the right flank. The 2nd Division charged the center, and the "2nd Line" Regiment noticed the "Zepita" Bn. - unit which took its banner at Tarapacá - in front of it, and charged driven by vengeance. Until this time, only 4.500 Chilean soldiers had assaulted the Allied front.

The fight continued until 12:30, when the Chilean fire started to fade as ammunition ran out. Due to this, both divisions refolded, using their last bullets, chased by the "Colorados", "Zepita" and "Aroma" battalions. The Allies began to counter-attack, advancing their left and center units, specially the ones on the left wing. The Chilean "Atacama" and "Santiago" regiments of the 2nd Division suffered heavy losses while retreating.

Decisive maneuvers

Witnessing this persecution, War Minister Vergara took the cavalry under his command and charged the Bolivian battalions. Although this charge didn't make the Allied infantry to retreat, stopped their advance, allowing the refolding divisions to refill their weapons.

Furthermore, Col. Pedro Lagos, taking notice of the detain of the Allied offensive, asked Barboza's Division to reinforce the retiring divisions. The "Coquimbo" Battalion strengthened Barceló's troops, as the "Chacabuco" and "Artillería de Marina" regiments reinforced Amengual's Division. Once reinforced and resupplied with ammunition, both 1st and 2nd divisions advanced in "guerrilla" formation, making an intense fire upon the Allies and forcing their battalions to return to their initial positions. The Allied soldiers who couldn't return to their positions in time were surrounded and shot. The Chilean infantry continued their deployment until both armies were at close range, when the infantrymen drew their bayonets and "corvos", engaging the Peruvian linecite web |url= |title= Batalla de Tacna |author= Ejécito de Chile | accessdate= 2008] . The "Victoria" Battalion gave under the thrust of this attack and withdrew, collapsing the defensive line, deciding the battle.

The Ending

Meanwhile, the 3rd Division engaged the weakened - due to the constant reinforcement of the left flank - Allied right wing, encountering light resistance, so the Chilean troops outflanked the Peruvian 1st Division. Once the Peruvians were outmaneuvered and forced to retreat, Barboza's forces focused its efforts on the artillery batteries on this sector. Gen. Baquedano sent the reserve to the front, when the Allies began to retreat to Tacna, and the "Atacama" Battalion made a conversion to the left, engaging the Allied right flank. With this final maneuver, the entire Allied front collapsed. The Allies began to retreat and left the battlefield after 5 hours. While the Allies retreated to Tacna, Amengual's Division chased the retreating troops until they reached the city. The city was shelled by the Chilean artillery in order to surrender it. Col. Santiago Amengual entered into Tacna around 18:30.


Military and political results

The Chilean Army lost 2,200 men between dead and wounded. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions, which added up 6,500 men, had 1,639 casualties. Amunátegui's 4th Division lost 15% of its force. The Chilean reserve almost didn't fight, in fact, had only 17 wounded. The units "Atacama" and "Santiago" lost almost 50% of their effective force. Also the units "2nd Line", "Naval" and "Valparaíso" infantry regiments had severe losses. The "2nd Line" Regiment estandard lost at the battle of Tarapacá was found on a church in Tacna by Ruperto Marchant Pereira.

The Allies had casualties estimated between 3,500 and 5,000 men. The Bolivian Army lost 23 officers from Major to General. The "Colorados" Bn. had only 293 survivors. The "Sucre" Bn. - also known as "Amarillo" - lost 388 soldiers, since these units chose to fight instead of retreat. The Peruvian army lost 185 officers, and died more than 3.000 soldiers. Accordingly to a relation of Solar to Piérola, only 400 Peruvian men escaped from the battle.

This victory had a decisive impact on the Allies. Gen. Campero withdrew to Bolivia taking the road to Palca. Montero retired to Puno, passing through Tarata. Bolivia would never participate in the conflict again, leaving its ally alone with no support whatsoever. Hence, Peru had to face the Chilean army alone for the rest of the war, receiving no help of any kind from his former ally.




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