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Chile Navy - History

Great Britain always favored Chile ever since her merchantmen, headed by the gallant Admiral Thomas Cochran, Earl of Dundonald, created the Chilean navy which swept the West Coast clean of Spanish ships in the Wars of Independence. It was the Chilean navy that enabled San Martin's troops to reach Peru and strike at the last stronghold of Spain in South America. In those days, most of the vessels were commanded by English and Scottish officers. The tendencies of the navy remained British, and this extended even to the uniform of both officers and cadets. In a word, the navy was as English as the army was German. Furthermore, it long maintained its preeminence among the navies of South America.

Chile first attempted to form a navy in 1813, when the United States-built frigate Perla and the brigantine Potrillo were acquired to break the Spanish blockade of Valparaíso. However, royalist elements succeeded in bribing the mercenary crew of the Perla, with the result that both vessels fell into the hands of the Spaniards.

The official history of the Chilean Navy (Armada de Chile) dates from February 26, 1817, when the brigantine Águila was acquired by the nationalists. Armed with sixteen guns, the Águila was commissioned as the first naval vessel of the Republic of Chile, under the command of Raimundo Morris, an Irish mercenary and former lieutenant in the British Royal Navy. Under the overall command of Manuel Blanco Encalada, the first rear admiral of the Chilean Navy, the tiny fleet rapidly tripled in size with the capture of the Spanish merchant vessel San Miguel and the recapture of the Perla. Additional vessels were added by purchase, the arming of merchant ships, and further captures from the enemy. With those acquisitions, the revolutionary fleet consisted of a small ship of the line, two large frigates, and four corvettes.

The beginnings of the Chilean Navy dates to 1817, following the Battle of Chacabuco, General Bernardo O’Higgins prophetically declared “this victory and another hundred shall be of no significance if we do not gain control of the sea”. Once Chile had been proclaimed a Republic in 1818, Bernardo O’Higgins, known as the “Liberator” of Chile, gave momentum to the creation of the First National Fleet, thus setting in motion the first naval actions that would contribute to the unification of the nation. This led to the development of Chile’s Naval Power, and the first legal resolutions outlining the organization of the institution were created. Chile’s First National Fleet and the Academy for Young Midshipmen (predecessor of the current Naval Academy), were founded, as were the Marine Corps and the Supply Commissary.

After Chile's independence, she quickly became the leading naval power in South America. In 1818 the Naval School (Escuela Naval) was established, later named the Arturo Prat Naval School (Escuela Naval Arturo Prat), after Arturo Prat Chacon, naval hero of the War of the Pacific. Then, on November 28, 1818, the famous British admiral Thomas Alexander Cochrane (Lord Dundonald), who had been forced to resign from the Royal Navy following a financial scandal, assumed command of the revolutionary fleet from Blanco Encalada. Within two years, Cochrane's fleet had established control of the sea, and it was then possible to prepare for an amphibious invasion of Peru. With the help of the Chilean fleet, the allied army, headed by San Martín, liberated Lima on July 9, 1821, and the independence of Peru was declared on July 28.

When Cochrane left Chile in 1823, Blanco Encalada reassumed command of the navy, which was reequipped in 1824. The allies--now joined by a substantial force from a republic known as Gran Colombia (consisting of present-day Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela) and led by Simón Bolívar Palacios and Antonio José de Sucre--scored successive victories at Junín and Ayacucho in August and December 1824, respectively. That year Blanco Encalada fought in Callao, Peru, under Bolívar's command. Meanwhile, despite their defeats on the Chilean mainland and in Peru, the royalists had continued to hold out on the Isla de Chiloé, off the southern Chilean coast, and were only finally defeated in 1826 after two amphibious campaigns by Blanco Encalada and several nationalist reverses.

But following a long period of peace Chile's advantage was eroded. In 1865 Chile supported Peru in her war with Spain. In the Naval Action off Papudo (26 November 1865), the victory of the Chilean corvette “Esmeralda” against the Spanish schooner “Virgen de Covadonga” was a decisive display of strength at a time when Chile’s seafaring powers were experiencing a period of great weakness. The ship’s capture at this moment of the conflict enabled Chile to increase its weakening fleet as a result of the conflict, to three vessels.

After a Spanish Naval Squadron had bombarded Valparaiso, it became evident that Chile needed a strong navy to protect her long coastline. Under the President Errazuriz, Chile's Navy was re organised and re-built. After an interval of peace, the War on the Pacific began. For many years the rights of Bolivia and Chile, respectively, in certain mining lands bordering on the Pacific Ocean remained without definition; but in 1874 an agreement was entered into between the two countries which apparently disposed of the question at issue. The exploitation of these lands by Chileans increasing, Bolivia reopened the dispute by imsing an export tax on the nitrate, obtained Bolivian territory. A Chilean company refused to pay the tax, alleging that it contravened the treaty of 1874.

The Bolivian government's reply was an order for the sale by auction of the property of the offending company, on 13 Feb. 1879. Thereupon the Chilean government sent a man-of-war to seize the port of Antofagasta. It soon became apparent that Chile would be obliged to deal with Peru against whom a secret offensive and defensive alliance had been formed by Bolivia and Peru in 1873. On 05 April 1879 Chile declared war against the latter republic. Tacna and the neighboring port of Arica were occupied by the presidents of Peru and Bolivia with their troops; the defense of Iquique was entrusted to a sufficient force, and at Lima a reserve of about 10,000 men was held in readiness to meet the Chileans at any point that might be attacked. The plans of the allies seemed to have been well laid, and some initial successes fell to them.

This war with Peru (over territorial boundaries) was mostly fought at sea. This war was the first time that modern "Iron Clad " warhips has been used on the high seas. During this war some small naval ship to ship engagements took place. The Chilean Navy’s lifelong allegiance to its country has been shaped throughout the years by notable men who, when needed, have been ready to give their lives. The most outstanding example of this commitment is that of Commander Arturo Prat, whose name went down in history on the 21 May 1879 for his exceptional heroism demonstrated on that day at the Naval Battle of Iquique, during the “War of the Pacific” against Peru and Bolivia. Two Chilean warships, the Esmeralda and the Covodonga, blockading Iquique, were attacked by the Peruvian frigate Independencia and the monitor Hudscar. Prat, while in charge of the fragile corvette “Esmeralda” and despite the inferiority of his own forces, fought to the end against the imposing Peruvian ironclad monitor “Huascar”. He valiantly chose to give his life alongside his crew rather than surrender his ship to the enemy. Prat’s act of bravery is commemorated every year on 21 May, the only national holiday in Chile to recall a military feat. On that day, the country pays tribute to the courage shown by Prat and his men, whose deeds motivated the nation and it’s military forces to victory of the “War of the Pacific”.

The Esmeralda was sunk by the Hudscar, but the latter on 18 October fell in with the Cochrane and Blanco of the Chilean navy north of Point Mejillones. A fight of great severity ensued. Only 86 men were left alive on board the Hudscar, out of the complement of 216, when she was obliged to surrender. This vessel was repaired and added to the Chilean navy. Pisagua was captured from the Bolivians by Chilean warships. On 18 Nov. 1879, the allies were defeated in the battle of San Francisco. The War was a total success for Chile and proved her naval superiority in South America 1870s and 1880s.

By 1890 the Chilean navy consisted of 27 vessels, as follows: 2 ironclads, 1 monitor, 2 corvettes, 2 cruisers, 4 steam transports, 2 frigateB, 3 steam tugs, and 11 torpedo boats. The number of effective seamen and oflicers in the service, 1,200. The merchant marine number 74 vessels of all grades.

The expansion of the navy continued in the decade following the Civil War of 1891, under the added impetus of an increasingly bitter boundary dispute with Argentina. The danger of war was defused as both countries agreed to mediation by King Edward VII of Britain. The mediation resulted in the General Arbitration Treaty of 1902, under which all subsequent territorial disputes with Argentina were settled [until the late 1970s].

By 1901 the Ministry of the Navy had in its charge, through the intermedium of the general direction of the navy, which was dependent upon it, whatever refers to the naval service of the Republic; the preservation and improvement of materials; the management and instruction of the personnel; the military administration of the ports; the defence and lighting of the coasts, and hydrographic studies. The fleet was composed of 40 vessels, among which were: 9 iron clads and protected cruiser, 5 gunboats and torpedo cruiser, 1 training-ship, 4 destroyers and 13 torpedo boats, not including transports and other auxiliary vessels. The personnel was composed of I Vice-Admiral, 5 Rear Admirals, 18 Captains, 28 Commanders, 38 Lieut.-Commanders, 60 Sen1or Lieutenants, 70 Junior Lieutenants, 50 Ensigns, 75 Midshipmen, 120 Staff Officers and 450 Warrants, Petty Officers and Men. Naval instruction was given principally in an Academy for that purpose which existed in Valparaiso, having as headquarters a first-class building; it was also given in the training ship "General Baquedano," on board of which the midshipmen were sent to other parts of the world to perfect their knowledge, as well as in special schools for training, existing in Valparaiso and Talcahuano.

But over time Chile's position weakened and by the turn of the century Chile was the last of the big three South American Countries (the others being Argentina and Brazil) to enter the Dreadnaught battleship race. Its fleet strength during 1906 was three aging Battleships, six cruisers, and ten destroyers. The navy of 1907 was composed of the following battleships and cruisers: Capitan Prat, of 7,000 tons; O'Higgins, Esmeralda, Blanco-Encalada, Zenteno, Presidente Pinto, Presidente Errazuriz, Almirante Cochrane, Huascar, five small cruisers from 2,500 tons to 4,000 tons, nine torpedo destroyers from 500 to 1,000 tons, 25 torpedo boats from 100 to 800 tons, 10 schoolships or special ships and twelve large steamships of the Compania Sud-Americana, which can be armed in time of war. The navy and the army were said to be "in perfect condition and have no cause to envy the finest armies in the world."

By 1918 the Chilean navy included nearly 50 vessels of various classes: the armor-clads Capitan Prat, O'Higgins and Esmeralda; 4 protected or armored cruisers, '3 torpedo gunboats1, 13 destroyers, 6 modern torpedo boats, 1 mine ship and 1 hospital ship. Two Chilean dreadnoughts being built in England were purchased for the British navy; and two submarines were taken over by Canada. There was a naval academy at Talcahuano and a government naval school at Valparaiso.

Chile received no matériel assistance from the United States during the war period because the Chilean Navy had refused to sell the 28,000-ton battleship Latorre, the six destroyers of the Serrano class, and the submarine depot ship Araucano to the United States Navy following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Chile received only some coastal artillery equipment for the defense of the copper-mining zone, whose products were considered vital to the Allied war effort.

Following the conclusion of World War II, and with the signing of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance of 1947 ( Rio Treaty), additional United States matériel was also acquired by the army and air force. This time, acquisitions were also made by the navy. The formation of an amphibious warfare force equipped with United States war-surplus gear stimulated expansion and reorganization of the Coast Artillery (Artillería de Costas), which had been subordinate to the navy since 1904. The name of the organization was changed from Coast Artillery to the Navy Infantry Corps (Cuerpo de Infantería de la Marina--CIM), a reflection of the newly dominant role of the CIM's marine mission. Naval aviation was revived in 1953. Initially equipped with a few light transports and helicopters, the naval air force operated from a new naval air base at El Belloto, Valparaíso. In 1958 a group of frogmen commandos, modeled after the United States Navy SEALs (sea-air-land team), was also formed.

The navy -- founded largely by British, Irish, and North American mercenaries and commanded in its formative years by Thomas Cochrane, one of the most brilliant British naval officers of the day -- consciously modeled itself on the British Royal Navy. In the early 1990s, the Chilean Navy continued to show a strong British influence, which had been reinforced by British training missions until the eve of World War II. The navy, not immune to the German influences at work on the army for more than half a century, achieved a synthesis of the better elements of the Prussian military and British naval traditions. However, it did not lose its essentially British orientation, underlined in its repeated return to British shipyards for new matériel. As in the case of the army, the influence of United States naval missions was largely confined to the areas of tactical and operational doctrine.

The navy, with a strength in the mid-1990s of 25,000 -- including conscripts and the Navy Infantry Crops (Marines), Naval Aviation, and Coast Guard) -- divided the long Chilean coastline into four naval zones, headquartered in Iquique, Punta Arenas, Talcahuano, and Valparaíso. The First Naval Zone (Valparaíso) corresponds approximately to the coastal portions of AM 1 and AM 2 and contains most of the training establishments. These include the Arturo Prat Naval School, the Hydrographic Institute (Instituto Hidrográfico), the Naval War Academy (Academia de Guerra Naval), and the Supplies and Services School (Escuela de Abastecimientos y Servicios), all in Valparaíso, as well as the School of Operations (Escuela de Operaciones), the Armaments School (Escuela de Armamentos), the School of Naval Engineering (Escuela de Ingeniería Naval), and the Marine Corps School (Escuela de Infantería de Marina), all in Viña del Mar.

The Second Naval Zone (Talcahuano) corresponds approximately to the coastal portions of AM 3 and AM 4 and contains the main naval base, the Submarine School (Escuela de Submarinos), the Seamen's School (Escuela de Hombres de Mar), and the Naval Artisans' School (Escuela de Artesanos Navales), all at Talcahuano. It also includes the Chiloé Naval District (Puerto Montt). The Third Naval Zone (Punta Arenas) corresponds to the coastal portion of AM 5 and includes the Beagle Channel Naval District, which is headquartered at Puerto Williams. In the early 1990s, a new naval dockyard was under construction at Bahía Catalina. The Fourth Naval Zone (Iquique) corresponds to the former Northern Naval District, which until 1991 formed part of the First Naval Zone and covered an area corresponding to the coastal portion of AM 6.

The major operational command is the fleet, which in the mid-1990s included four missile destroyers, two of which had been converted to helicopter carriers. The Submarine Command (La Fuerza de Submarinos) forms a separate operational command, with four submarines, a depot ship, and a subordinate group of frogmen commandos. The Transport Force (La Fuerza de Transportes) also forms an operational command. In addition, some minor patrol vessels, auxiliaries, and service craft are distributed among the naval zones and districts.

Naval Aviation, with 750 personnel in the mid-1990s and a total of forty-five aircraft and forty-two armed helicopters, is organized into four squadrons: the General Purpose Squadron VG-1, the Helicopter Squadron VH-1, the Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron VP-1, and the Training Squadron VT-1. Naval Aviation began a modernization process in 1990 with the acquisition of new French and German helicopters and United States patrol aircraft. The principal naval air base is at Torquemada, twenty kilometers north of Viña del Mar. The Torguemada Aeronaval Base has an efficient airport of 1,750 meters and is supported by the Naval Aviation Repair Center (Centro de Reparaciones de la Aviación Naval--CRAN). There are minor bases at Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams.

The Coast Guard, a component of the General Directorate of the Maritime Territory and Merchant Marine (Dirección General del Territorio Marítimo y de la Marina Mercante), is an integral part of the navy and had 1,500 personnel. The Chilean coastline is segmented into thirteen maritime administrations (gobernaciones marítimas), comprising a total of forty-six port captaincies (capitanías de puerto). The seagoing elements of the service consist of two converted fishing vessels (employed primarily as buoy tenders), four coastal patrol craft, and ten high-speed cutters. There are also eleven inshore patrol craft, in addition to numerous small surface skimmers and Zodiac craft used for inshore patrol and rescue. The service also operates a floating medicaldental clinic, mainly in the coastal waters off the Isla de Chiloé, and an air-sea rescue launch, based at Easter Island.





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