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Chilean Attack Tactics

After the Commander of the Chilean Forces, General Erasmo Escala resigned as a result of his continued discrepancies with the War Minister; the later promoted General Manuel Baquedano, a veteran from the Peru-Bolivian Confederacy war, who enjoyed the sympathies and respect of the soldiers.

The units under the command of General Baquedano were cohesive. An example of this happened during the Battle of Tacna. The criticized frontal attack tactics exposed the Chilean formations to the effects of fires from allied artillery and machine guns, but Chile was able to overcome the allies’ counter attack by the use of combined arms. A concentric and precise attack by the Chilean artillery killed about eighty percent of the counter-attacking soldiers within one hour. Later, a cavalry charge, and Amunategui’s division battle handover allowed an assault on the final defensive line. Leading Amunategui’s division was Colonel Pedro Lagos, who was latter responsible for planning the capture of Arica on his own.

5.2 Create Shared Understanding

General Baquedano relied on Lieutenant Colonel Vargas’ cavalry troops to provide him with the details of terrain and the Peruvians’ disposition. However, the enemy’s security elements attacked them by surprise, and not to become decisively engaged, they retreated to reorganize and rest in the middle of the desert. Next day at dawn, after they restarted their mission, a violent explosion that blew up the road traced next to the river’s shore surprised them again. Despite this attack, they could capture two individuals, Peruvian engineer Elmore being one of them. His capture provided critical information, since he had been in charge of setting up the first electrically-activated minefields introduced to the War, with their control post treacherously hidden in Arica’s hospital, protected by the Red Cross’ insignia.

On June 6th, one battalion from the Chilean regiment “Lautaro” conducted a Reconnaissance by Force, in order to obtain more details regarding the enemy’s disposition and also to deceive the direction of the planned main effort, a successful initiative since Colonel Bolognesi ordered to reinforce the Forts defending the coastline.

As a result of the thorough knowledge of the terrain (particularly the reinforcing obstacles), the enemy’s disposition and composition, and his own capabilities, Chilean Colonel Lagos conceived a Scheme of Maneuver that surprised the Peruvian leaders, enabling mass and concentration in the enemy’s weaker defenses.

5.3 Provide a Clear Commander’s Intent

All maneuver and support units participating in the attack had a shared understanding of the mission and the commander’s intent. The importance of capturing Arica, and particularly its cape, was clear to all as the port was a key enabler for future expeditionary operations, and to release the Navy from the blockage function it had executed until then. Subordinate commanders were aware of the scheme of maneuver and their particular role in it. The 4th Line Regiment had the Eastern Fort as their objective, and the Commanders of the 3rd and 1st Regiment even raffled which unit was to attack Fort Ciudadela.

In order to ensure surprise, Lagos gave strict orders regarding the discipline required during the movement to the enemy battle positions, and ordered a deception by setting fires in the unoccupied base camp. All these measures led to the Chilean Forces lying down ready to attack as close as one thousand meters away from the enemy battle positions, without being spotted, waiting for the order to begin the assault. The movement began nearly at 5 a.m., and it was not until around 6 a.m. that the first security element could provide with alert, starting the defense, but it was too late as the massive Chilean formations were too close.

Finally, the knowledge of the commander’s intent enabled the 1st Regiment (Buin), initially acting as the reserve, to join the 3rd and 4th line regiments to capture the most powerful fort located at the top of the Cape. This concentration of force led to a rapid victory. After 55 minutes into battle, the Chileans were capturing the fort on top of the Cape Arica. This chaos-coordinating management measures proved to be crucial, especially in a context of an attack conducted on steep slopes, against a well-prepared, tenacious defender, without the means available today to transmit orders and maintain a common operational panorama.

5.4 Exercise Disciplined Initiative

Chilean troops demonstrated initiative by acting in the absence of orders when they realized the arousal of an unforeseen opportunity.

Colonel Lagos’ scheme was to assault the lower forts located in the south, and wait for reinforcements to arrive before the final assault on the cape. Nevertheless, history describes that after the unexpectedly fast success obtained in the attack against the Ciudadela and East Forts, an unidentified soldier shouted “¡Al Morro muchachos!” (To the cape, lads!), triggering a massive assault. This initiative led to an impressive offensive that allowed capturing the cape in less than 55 minutes (since the initial attack), but it also led to a widespread killing of the defeated Peruvian soldiers by the enraged Chilean troops.

Some authors describe that the common Chilean privates considered the Peruvian introduction of minefields as a coward mean of fighting and that they wanted to avenge the casualties suffered to this sneaky explosive obstacles .

Due to the initiative of the 3rd and 4th regiments, the Chilean army honors the seventh of June as the Infantry Day, in commemoration of the heroism of the thousands of Chilean infantrymen who fought this battle to its victorious end.

While Chile still celebrates the fiercely spirit of the Chilean infantrymen, leading to an impressively short recorded time to conquer this fortified defense, the reported atrocities seen after the Peruvian defeat display a picture that questions if this could be called a “disciplined initiative”, leaving space to improve in terms of the commander’s intent role in defining the limits within which the subordinates may exercise initiative. Adhering to applicable laws and regulations when exercising initiative will build credibility and legitimacy, both being key factors for trust and not to endanger success at all levels of war. An atrocity at a squad level can have strategic repercussions.

5.5 Use Mission Orders

Lacking the means to keep up-to-date information regarding the outcome of each of the unit’s efforts, and to transmit timely instructions to guide the progression of the maneuver, Colonel Lagos had to use mission-type orders. At each level, leaders gave directives emphasizing the expected results; General Baquedano provided Colonel Lagos with the freedom of action to determine how to attack the cape and create his own scheme of maneuver; then Colonel Lagos took care of each of the Line Regiments clearly acknowledging what was their expected contribution.

5.6 Accept Prudent Risk

By leaving the Cavalry in the campsite, Colonel Lagos accepted the risk of leaving one unit behind, ordering them to stay at the campsite to keep the fires on, instead of his prior idea of using them to clear enemy reconnaissance assets on the onset of battle. He mitigated this risk by choosing his more mobile unit for this task, in order to be able to rapidly move to the main battle zone if it was required. This proved to be a success; the Deception effectively hid the Chilean main effort and after the assault began, the Cavalry moved to the east of the Cape, to prevent eventual enemy reinforcements.

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