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Chile Army - History

The Chilean Army was born with and for the country. Its history summarizes not only its vocation of service in the defense of the Homeland, but also recalls its triumphant history in the battles fought for her in the past. Chile's national history was mainly the history of its Army, which allowed it to show a single saga, where civilians and military personnel filled the country with pride and glory. Since its creation in 1603, it has played a relevant role in the defense of its fatherland and national security matters. Its men and women have exhibited testimony of the most cherished Chilean values; likewise, they have created the motto: "Always victorious; never defeated." This permanent Army, was improved by constant reforms according to the needs of the country.

Chile's indigenous Mapuche people established themselves as tenacious warriors in the fifteenth century. An attempted invasion by the forces of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (1438-71) in 1460 was held off by the Mapuche in the Valley of Coquimbo. The Incas withdrew, defeated, six years later. A second effort at invasion, this time by Huayna Cápac, son of and successor to Yupanqui, enjoyed greater success in 1491, penetrating as far as the Central Valley (Valle Central) of Chile before it, too, was turned back by the Mapuche.

The first Spanish attempt at conquest, led by Diego de Almagro in 1535-37, was undertaken by a force of 500 to 700 Spaniards and as many as 15,000 native Americans. Although this expedition penetrated as far as the Río Maule, Almagro's forces, finding no sign of hoped-for riches and constantly harassed by the Mapuche, retreated across the Atacama Desert and returned to Peru without establishing any permanent settlements. In 1540 Pedro de Valdivia launched a much smaller but longer expedition, leading some 150 Spaniards and 1,000 native Americans. Valdivia's expedition succeeded in establishing the first permanent European settlements in Chile. However, Araucanian (particularly Mapuche) resistance kept Valdivia from penetrating to any significant degree beyond the Río Bío-Bío. In a Christmas Day battle in 1553, an Araucanian army of warriors on foot, led by Lautaro, a legendary chief, met and defeated a force of Spanish cavalry commanded by Valdivia. Lautaro had studied the Spaniards and their tactics when he was a slave for Valdivia during a period of captivity. After that initial success, the indigenous warriors adapted rapidly to European-style warfare and soon, using captured horses and weapons, fielded their own cavalry against the invader.

The Araucanians were contained only with difficulty throughout the next three centuries. The Río Bío-Bío remained the effective southern frontier throughout the colonial period. The Araucanians made frequent incursions northward, one of which threatened to destroy the Spanish settlement in Santiago in 1554. In an attempt to defeat these native Americans, Alonso de Rivera created a Chilean army of sorts in 1603. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Araucanian wars had already cost the lives of more than 40,000 Spaniards and untold thousands of native Americans. Throughout this period, the coastal region was also subjected to sporadic attacks by English, French, and Dutch buccaneers.

The Hispano-Amerindian society that evolved in Spanishcontrolled Chile thus developed in an environment that was under a constant shadow of real or potential external threat. These circumstances produced a people for whom military defense and prowess were important attributes. During the latter years of the colonial period, Chile depended for its defense principally on a militia, which numbered 16,000 by the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Spanish colonial administration was overturned with relative ease in 1810, and a small volunteer militia, consisting of one battalion of infantry, two squadrons of cavalry, and four companies of artillery, was established.

In 1814 the royalist forces, based in Peru, took advantage of internal dissensions among the various factions of the nationalist movement in Chile to mount an invasion. The 5,000-man royalist army defeated the 1,800-man nationalist force, led by Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme and Juan José Carrera, in the Battle of Rancagua on October 2, and the remnants of the routed army (300 men) fled to Mendoza in present-day western Argentina.

The leaders of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, a short-lived (1813-26) federation of the provinces that had made up the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, realized that their position remained insecure following independence in 1816 so long as Chile and Peru remained bastions of Spanish power. It was decided, therefore, to send an expeditionary force, named the Army of the Andes, across the mountains to confront the royalists. The combined Argentine-Chilean Army of the Andes, under the joint command of O'Higgins and José de San Martín, set out from San Juan in northern Argentina on January 12, 1817.

The army consisted of 2,795 infantry, 742 cavalry, and 241 artillerymen, who carried with them twenty-one guns and sufficient arms to equip a force of 15,000. Crossing the Andes at Paso de Uspallata and Paso de los Patos, this sizable army took the royalist forces in Chile completely by surprise. With only half of the total royalist strength of approximately 4,000 available to meet the invaders (the other 2,000 were deployed mainly in defense of the southern frontier), the royalists suffered a decisive defeat at Chacabuco, northeast of Santiago, on February 12, 1817. By the end of 1817, the Chilean Army (Ejército de Chile), consisting of 5,000 soldiers and officers, had been established. Despite reverses at Talcahuano on December 16, 1817, and at Cancha Rayada on March 19, 1818, the allied army swept to final victory at Maipú on April 5, 1818. Peru, however, remained a royalist stronghold, separated from Chile by the Atacama Desert and approachable only by sea.

Once liberated from the Spanish rule, which insured the life of the new republic, Chile organized and financed the Liberating Expedition of Peru (1823-1825), with troops made up by 86% of a national force (4,000 men) and 14% by Argentinean (600 men). Diego Portales Palazuelos, Chile's main political strongman from 1830 to 1837, reorganized and streamlined the army, putting it on a firm basis with three infantry battalions, two regiments of cavalry, a squadron of hussars, and a regiment of artillery. The General Bernardo O'Higgins Military Academy (Escuela Militar "General Bernardo O'Higgins"), founded by O'Higgins on March 16, 1817, was also reorganized. It provided an uninterrupted flow of professional officers from 1832 onward. Portales also reestablished the civic militias, which were important elements in the defense of cities and towns during the colonial period.

Between 1836 and 1839 Field Marshall Andros de Santa Cruz formed the Peru-Bolivian Confederation which wanted to restore the ancient Inca empire. The Chilean government saw that as a threat, because that empire included half of the Chilean territory, and sent an army to defeat the Confederation. This war ended at the Battle of Yungay with the victory of Chilean troops.

Over the next decades, these militias, whose officers were appointed and removed by the ministers of interior, proved to be a significant countervailing power to that of the army. They thus contributed to the stability of the constitutional government. During the civil wars of 1851 and 1859, the authorities relied on the combination of civic militas and some army units to defeat the insurrectionists.

The regular army of the Republic was reduced in 1878 to 2,700, and up to that date had never exceeded 3,500 men In times of peace. In 1879, Chile was again in war against Peru and Bolivia, in the so called War of the Pacific, which stimulated the development of the important industrial economy that served in large measure to supply the Army in the field. At the same time, the pacification of the Araucano territory concluded with the occupation of Villarrica in 1883. This bloody quest culminated and its fields began to be colonized. Finalizing the War of the Pacific in 1884, Chile obtained territory from Peru and from Bolivia.

In 1881 there were 22.000 men in the field, and over 00,000 had been enlisted. The Army high command initiated the evaluation of the conflict, understanding the necessity of modemization, and committed itself to the task of changing the old organizational methods by adopting the German-Prussian doctrine. By 1890 the National Guards, liable to be called into active service, were — for economic reasons — only 20,400. The Republic possessed 500 cannon, and 100,000 stand of arms. All her forts were well fortified.

French influence was perceptible in the Chilean Army from the mid-nineteenth century up to the War of the Pacific. However, following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870- 71, admiration of Prussian military institutions grew. This led to the appointment in 1885 of a German, Captain Emil Körner, who had fought with distinction against France, to reorganize the Chilean military instruction system. On beginning his duties in 1886, Körner reorganized the General Bernardo O'Higgins Military Academy, inaugurated a staff school (the War Academy), and quickly consolidated the growing German influence in the Chilean Army.

The Civil War of 1891, found the Army in the middle of the modernization process. When most of the army sided with the winning congressional forces (Congresionalistas) in the Civil War of 1891, Körner acted as chief of the General Staff and was largely credited with the victories of the army. In that war, the majority of the navy also supported the congressional faction. However, the new torpedo gunboats, the Lynch and the Condell (the only major naval units that supported the president), scored a spectacular victory when they attacked and sank the flagship of the congressional fleet, the ironclad Blanco Encalada, in Valparaíso harbor on the night of April 23.

After the Civil War, Chile enjoyed a long period of peace. After the Civil War, Körner, now a general, was joined by thirty-six other German instructors and was confirmed as chief of staff of the army, a position he held until 1910. German instructors organized the army into four divisions and developed the General Staff. German reforms also included establishment of the Noncommissioned Officers' School (Escuela de Suboficiales y Clases) and other military schools. The Chilean Army undertook successful military missions, collaborating in the re-organization of other armies in Latin America (Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua), increasing its prestige in the region.

By 1901 the Ministry of War had under its dependency the headquarters of the five military zones into which the country is divided; the general staff and the general headquarters of the army, and attends generally to all the services concerning the direction, organization and instruction of the army. The Army was composed of 6 regiments of artillery, 10 of infantry, 8 of cavalry and I of military engineers. Compulsory service existed, and by it 15,000 men were instructed annually. The National Guard had 500,000 citizens registered. For the command of the army there were: 10 Generals, 18 Colonels, 135 Commanders and 700 Off1cers. The Academy of War, the Military School and the School for Sergeants and Corporals, are the principal establishments for military instruction existing in Chile.

The country was organized on a military footing in case of foreign war. By 1905 the regular army, reinforced by a part of the national guard, amounted to 150,000 men; the remainder of the national guard, those having made the compulsory service, to 350,000. The infantry was armed with the Mauser rifle (Chilean model); the cavalry with the carbines of the same system and with lances. The equipment, management and ambulance service were on an excellent footing. The military academies, cadet corps and schools for non-commissioned officers were complete in organization, which made the army a model of training and discipline.

The military spirit is a scourge which is unknown in Chile, where the civil element alone predominated. Sailors and soldiers busied themselves with their profession only, because the army was an organization in which obedience was exacted and where an inquiry into reason was not permitted. The generals in the Chilean army were not numerous, divisions being commanded by colonels. The number of officers in 1906 was as follows: Four generals of division, six brigadier generals, 125 superior officers, 300 captains and 390 lieutenants. The navy and the army were said to be "in perfect condition and have no cause to envy the finest armies in the world."

All males born in Chile, whether of native or foreign parentage, were, under the law of 1910, subject to compulsory service from the ages of 18 to 45; and in 1919 the nominal strength of the permanent army was 23,216, of which number 17,132 were in the land forces. A system of military instruction and drill was enforced which practically rendered a much larger number available in an emergency; the National Guard comprising all other men between the ages of 20 and 45. Plans for the army included three regiments of field artillery, two of mountain artillery, one section of machine guns, four companies, of sappers and miners, six regiments of cavalry, 16 of infantry, and one battalion of railway troops, besides the administrative units. The war strength of the first line was estimated at 150,000 men. The artillery units were armed with Krupp guns (7 and 72 centimetre) ; the infantry with 7 millimetre Mausers.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, the army was reduced from four to three divisions, and its troop strength was reduced to 12,000. An improvement in the economic situation in the mid-1930s, however, permitted an expansion back to four divisions. Chile remained officially neutral during most of World War II, although it sold its copper at a fixed price only to the United States; however, a perfunctory declaration of war on the Axis Powers was made in February 1945. As was the case for most other neutral armed forces, the war years were lean ones for the Chilean military, which was forced to rely on its own resources for the maintenance of increasingly obsolete matériel. Despite Germany's defeat in the two world wars, German influence remained stronger in the Chilean Armed Forces as a whole than in those of any other Latin American country.

Postwar expansion of the army also brought some organizational changes. The Magallanes military district was raised to the status of a full Military Area (área militar--AM); its garrison was expanded into the army's Fifth Division. The Sixth Division was later established in the region adjoining the Bolivian and Peruvian borders; it also acquired the status of an AM. In 1965 the army formed a paratroop/special forces battalion, and in 1970 it regained its own aviation arm with the establishment of the Army Aviation Command (Comando de Aviación del Ejército--CAE). The CAE was initially equipped with a few light communications and observation aircraft transferred from the air force. In 1970 a leftist coalition was elected with 36% of the popular vote (there were three main candidates). This minority tried to make fundamental changes in the way of life ofthe country; as a consequence of this experiment Chile fell into the worst economic, political andsocial crisis in its history. Congress and the Supreme Court declared that the government of Salvador Allende was unconstitutional, thus the Armed Forces and Police saw it as their obligation to assume control of the nation on 11 September 1973. This military government ruled the country from 1973 to 1990.

In that same period, Chile had to face the international crises of 1974 (Peru) and 1978, (Argentina) in which the Armed Forces were successful in their role of national defense, acting as a deterrent in the presence of external threats, which permitted them to continue in a tradition of peace enjoyed for more than a century. The Seventh Brigade, raised in the southern part of AM 4 during the tension with Argentina over the Beagle Channel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was raised to divisional status in 1990. This brought the total number of AMs and divisions to seven.

Ever since 1953 the Chilean Army has been establishing a presence throughout the length of the national territory and has cooperated in the development and flexibility of the land route system. By 2002, these works had enabled the Chilean State to build more than 3,500 kilometers of roads, 6,000 linear meters of runways and air fields and 3,000 linear meters of bridges, thus promoting territorial integration and generating centers of development which, along with the improvement of the socioeconomic conditions of their inhabitants, have improved the presence and action of the State. The Army through its Military Work Corps (CMT), and in close contact with the Road Construction Office of the Ministry of Public Works, focused its attention on consolidating the axes of action defined by the Andean Route, the Main Coastal Highway and the Longitudinal Southern Highway and their secondary roads, with emphasis in Regions I, II, IX, X, XI and XII.

In 1993 the army totaled about 54,000 personnel, including 27,000 conscripts. The army previously divided the country into seven military areas (AMs) headquartered in Antofagasta, Santiago, Concepción, Valdivia, Punta Arenas, Iquique, and Coihaique. AM 1 (Antofagasta) embraced the province of Antofagasta and Atacama Region. AM 2 (Santiago) included the capital and the provinces of San Felipe de Aconcagua, Colchagua, and Valparaíso, as well as Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins Region and Coquimbo Region. AM 3 (Concepción) encompasses the provinces of Bío-Bío, Concepción, Curicó, Linares, Malleco, Ñuble, and Talca, as well as Maule Region. AM 4 (Valdivia) contains the provinces of Cautín, Llanquihue, and Valdivia. AM 5 (Punta Arenas) shares its borders with Magallanes Province. AM 6 (Iquique) consisted of Tarapacá Region. AM 7 (Coihaique) encompassed the provinces of Aisén and Chiloé.

The Army was organized into seven divisions--one for each of the seven AMs. Five of the divisions are grouped under two army corps headquarters. The First Corps, based in Iquique, comprised the First Division and the Sixth Division. The Second Corps, headquartered in Punta Arenas, controlled the Fourth Division, the Fifth Division and the Seventh Division. In the early 1990s, it appeared that the Second Division and the Third Division might ultimately be grouped under a third corps headquarters in keeping with the strategic doctrine developed during the 1970s, which envisaged the formation of the army into three divisions of varying sizes in time of war.

The composition of the divisions had varied considerably. The Second Division and the Third Division have between two and three times the strength of the other five. Each division essentially incorporates an artillery regiment and a regiment or battalion each of engineers, signals, and logistic troops, plus a variable number of infantry and mechanized cavalry units.

The First Division, headquartered in Antofagasta, included a commando battalion and adds three motorized infantry regiments and one armored cavalry regiment, plus an antitank guided-weapon (ATGW) company to the basic elements. The Second Division, based in Santiago, adds three motorized regiments and five mountain infantry regiments, an armored cavalry regiment, and a motorcycle reconnaissance group to its basic support units. The Third Division, headquartered in Concepción, includes two infantry regiments, three mountain regiments, and two armored cavalry regiments. The Fourth Division, based in Valdivia, includes a commando battalion and adds two infantry regiments, one mountain regiment, and two armored cavalry regiments, plus a tank battalion to its basic support units.

As of 1993 the Fifth Division, headquartered in Punta Arenas, also included a commando battalion, plus two infantry regiments, two armored cavalry regiments, and an antitank battalion. The Sixth Division, based in Iquique, had a full commando regiment, plus two infantry regiments, one mountain regiment, and two armored cavalry regiments. The Seventh Division, based in Coihaique, was raised from brigade status in 1990 and comprised an infantry regiment, a reinforced mountain infantry regiment, a commando company, a horsed cavalry group, a motorcycle reconnaissance squadron, an artillery regiment, an aviation section, an engineer company, and a logistics battalion.

Army troops included an army headquarters battalion, an aviation regiment, engineer and signals regiments, and a transport battalion. Each infantry regiment contains one to four battalions. Eight of the battalions were designated as reinforced (reforzado) because they have additional attached combat and logistic support elements to enable them to function as semiindependent combat teams.

The difficulty in acquiring matériel during the period of international ostracism that followed the 1973 coup resulted in an extremely varied equipment inventory likely to cause considerable logistics problems. In 1993 the army's aviation regiment, created in 1970, operated 111 aircraft. Each major army unit had a close defense antiaircraft artillery section.

A 1992 political espionage case involved a cellular telephone conversation recorded and subsequently played on a national television program, destroying two candidates' presidential campaigns. The army acknowledged that an army captain had "misused" its espionage equipment to record a private conversation and leak it to the media. The Supreme Court ruled that the law on telephone intercepts only covered conversations carried on wire, not on cellular telephones, and ordered the defendants freed of all charges. The military courts punished the army captain only for neglect of duty, but he was discharged from the army in November 1993.

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Page last modified: 29-11-2012 20:18:50 ZULU