Saturday, April 11, 2009


Peru was not the only nation whose army contained too many officers commanding too few men. Bolivia created its first military academy in 1823. Like its Peruvian counterpart, the school functioned only intermittently. Indeed, in 1847 the military institute for the third time closed its doors. Not until 1872 did these reopen when President Tomás Frías entrusted the Colegio Militar and its cadets to the care of a French general and a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War. (The defeat sustained by the French in the Franco-Prussian War should have given the Bolivians pause.) Regrettably, this school did not meet its founders’ expectations, and even if it had, it never trained enough officers to change dramatically the tone, or level of skills, of Bolivia’s officer corps. Just before the War of the Pacific ended, the Bolivian government called for the creation of both another academy and a school to train noncommissioned officers. In short, Bolivia’s officers lacked the education or training to fight a conventional war.

The military, additionally, lacked the institutions of a modern army: when it existed the general staff, rather than consisting of the army’s intellectual elite, had become a dumping ground for officers considered too untrustworthy to command troops in the field; it had even lost most of its copies of its own Código Militar. Although General Daza apparently revived and reorganized the general staff in the early months of the War of the Pacific, it did not actually function until 1880.

The Bolivian army of 1877 included not only a smaller number of men but fewer units as well: three battalions of infantry, the Daza Granaderos 1 de la Guardia, the Sucre Granaderos de la Guardia, and the Illimani Cazadores de la Guardia; one cavalry detachment, the Bolívar 1 de Húsares; and a mobile squadron of four Gatling machine guns. The Regimiento Santa Cruz de Artillería also contained four cannons, purchased in 1872, as well as ten to fifteen older weapons. In 1880 Bolivia organized the Bolívar 2 de Artillería, which consisted of sixteen artillery field and mountain guns.

The small arms that these troops carried—ranging from Martini-Henrys to flintlocks—proved as varied as their uniforms. Worse, not one unit carried the same weapons into battle. La Paz’s minister of war attributed this problem to the countless cuartelazos that had consumed so many weapons that there was no uniformity of small arms within each of the army’s units. This lack of standardization not only led to supply problems but, according to the 1877 Memoria, “caused many, grave troubles in practical training as well as in their use.” Of the three combat arms, only the infantry seemed marginally acceptable. Certainly the artillery appeared blighted: it possessed two heavy and two light machine guns, and three three-inch artillery pieces. But the unit lacked the horses to transport them to the field and the technical skills needed to fire them accurately. Thanks to a lack of decent mounts, the product of the constant civil unrest, one minister called the cavalry the least efficient branch.

In fairness, Bolivia tried to remedy these problems. Unfortunately, its attempt to improve the troops’ living conditions, increase junior officers’ salaries, purchase draft animals, and acquire small arms plus four Krupp cannons foundered due to a lack of funds.45 In 1878, with war in the offing, Bolivia had requested and received permission from Peru to import, duty free, fifteen hundred Remington rifles plus some other military items. And in mid-1879 it received another two thousand Remingtons to add to the approximately three thousand rifles of the same make. By 1881, thanks to shipments from Panama, Bolivia acquired six modern Krupp artillery and enough rifles that it could to lend some to Peru, though it still continued to carp about the lack of ammunition. La Paz, however, had yet to standardize its arsenals’ contents.

By 1881 La Paz had improved the lot of its troops by providing food and clothing, as well as a general education. It also created various militia units such as the Guardia Republicana and hoped to train another ten thousand militiamen.

The Bolivian soldier’s stolid endurance, his stoicism, and his ability to endure privation did not make a skilled soldier. As Campero observed, training an illiterate Indian, “who does not know how to hold a rifle, [and who] has a very little idea of the motherland or of its elevated ends,” proved extremely difficult. Before the army could make these men into soldiers, it had teach them to be citizens, “to impart notions of civilization” or culture for the soldier “to know and to practice his duties to the motherland.

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