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Zarumilla War 1941
Ecuadorian-Peruvian War of 1941

The Zarumilla War was associated with control over disputed territory in the Amazon drainage. The "Zarumilla War" was also known as the Ecuadorian-Peruvian War of 1941. The 1941 Zarumilla War, resulted in more than 500 combatant casualties. Peru's army of 13,000 soldiers quickly overwhelmed Ecuador's. The 1941 border war between Ecuador and Peru over the disputed Zarumilla province took place during World War II, it was unconnected with the global conflict. Peru, backed by a superior air force, defeated Ecuador handily, but the two nations would engage in three subsequent "wars" culminating in a 1995 peace agreement.

The border between Peru and Ecuador begins, east to west, between the border cities of Zurumilla and Huaquillas. While World War Two was raging across the world, Peru and Ecuador fought a brief war. Since there had never been a border treaty before 1941 between Ecuador and Peru, it's not possible to define which part of territory "belonged" to what country. Actually both countries had claimed that territory for many years.

In 1939, Manuel Prado y Ugarteche (1939-45), a Lima banker from a prominent family and son of a former president, was elected president. He was soon confronted with a border conflict with Ecuador that led to a brief war in 1941.

The conflict dated back to the post-independence period. Following independence, Ecuador had been left without access to either the Amazon River or the Río Marañón, the region’s other major waterway, and thus without direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. In an effort to assert its territorial claims in a region near the Río Marañón in the Amazon Basin, Ecuador’s military occupied the town of Zarumilla along its southwestern border with Peru. The Peruvian army responded and defeated the Ecuadorian army.

As with all other such incidents, there are conflicting accounts as to which side fired the first shot. Peru's version of events (well documented in Peruvian sources) is that Ecuador had been making incursions into its territory since 1937 and occupied several border locations by 1940.

President of Peru Manuel Prado Ugarteche, ordered the formation of the North Grouping, a military unit in charge of the Northern Operational Theater, on 11 January 1941, consisting of two light divisions with three battalion each, plus four other independent batallions and three artillery batteries (one of the with six 105 mm guns)(Delgado). Against these forces, the Ecuadorian Border Security command had under its orders two Army battalions, the "Montecristi" and the "Cayambe", each one consisting of around 250 troops, armed with 7,92 mm Mauser rifles and a couple of Czech 7,92 mm ZB-26 light machine-guns, plus two Vickers-Maxim machine-guns. There was also a "Córdova" batallion, made up of around 100 troops, and a so-called "Mariscal Sucre" artillery battery, with 71 troops and no artillery pieces. In fact, the only artillery in the whole province of El Oro consisted of six Italian 65 mm mountain guns, sold to Ecuador as leftovers from the Great War, and almost without shells. These guns were never put into action.

For antiaircraft defenses, the Ecuadorians had only a pair of 20 mm Breda guns deployed on Puerto Bolivar, which was the only port of entry for supplies, reinforcements, and weapons to arrive to the province, by sea, from the port-city of Guayaquil. The Ecuadorian Army of 1941 had not a single warplane.

Before the invasion, Peru unleashed a succession of hostilities and aggression, with the manifest intention of pressing the attitude and behavior of the Government of Ecuador in the border. However, despite evidence that the southern country was preparing to openly launch offensive operations, the Ecuadorian Government, diplomat, and the military did not take appropriate action they or faced the situation of pre-war with the responsibility that the case warranted.

It is claimed that on 05 July 1941, the Huaquillas unit of the Ecuadorian army invaded Peruvian territory, initiating combat that extended across the entire Zarumilla front, up to a region known as Quebrada Seca. While one of Ecuadorian patrols was the usual route and control in the sector of "El Bramador" (sector Huaquillas) was, without any warning, attacked by fire from automatic weapons. The aggressive action of the Peruvian troops was immediately repulsed by the Ecuadorian patrol, which had to mourn the death of the soldiers David Narváez and Francisco Coronel.

Ecuador's version of events is that Peru's invasion was an unprovoked act of aggression carried out with the explicit purpose of forcing Ecuador to sign an unfavorable treaty that would impose the status quo border line. A communiqué by Ecuador's Foreign Ministry indicated that Peruvian forces had been seen advancing north towards the border; all of the Peruvian troops stationed in Tumbes had left Zarumilla and those in Piura and other nearby sites were in turn advancing towards Zarumilla.

According to the Ministry, the actions of the Ecuadorian army were limited to repelling the invasion which was occurring across much of the border. Supporting its arguments, Ecuador repeatedly cited the obvious difference in military might between the two countries, and the lack of preparedness of its forces. It was speculated that Peru prepared to carry out an all-out invasion and could have been simply waiting for the slightest provocation.

Ecuador also cited Peru's history of conflict with its other neighbors as evidence of its belligerence. But these circumstances did not preclude Ecuador from attempting to lay claim to territories it still considered its own. Also, during the War of the Pacific, Ecuador military occupied a portion of the disputed territories.

The much larger and better equipped Peruvian force of 13,000 men quickly overwhelmed the 1,800 Ecuadorian troops guarding the province of El Oro. The Peruvian army had at its disposal a battalion of armor made up of Czech tanks, with artillery and air support. Peru had one of the strongest military forces in South America [even as recently as 2005 ranked second after Brazil and stronger than Argentina].

Peruvian aviation on 06 July were bombarded stocks of farms and Guabillo, while the military posts of Rancho Chico, and Upper Matapalo suffered continuous land-based attacks. The hostilities of the Peruvian Army fell from that day to reset them with all intensity on July 23 at the border to the province of El Oro.

Ecuadorian units were attacked by troops of infantry, by means of artillery and the Peruvian aviation. Despite the significant numerical inferiority in personal and arms, the forces resisted the attack of intense and overwhelming; inclusive, of the continuous bombing of aviation enemy. On 25 July the Ecuadorian troops occupied a second line of resistance materialized by the quebrada Bejucal.

The Peruvian offensive operations were extended to the jurisdiction of the province of Loja. On July 25 in the afternoon, the town of Macará and frontier garrisons were also attacked. The Ecuadorian president, Carlos Arroyo del Río, kept Ecuador's best forces in Quito, for fear of his political opponents. (Arroyo would later resign on May 31, 1944 after much unrest in the country.) The Government of Dr. Carlos Arroyo del Río decreed, for purposes of instruction, called "to the service of arms" the Ecuadorian people born in the years 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1919.

Peru carried out the first use of paratroops in combat in the Western Hemisphere, dropping three paratroopers over the port-city of Puerto Bolívar (Delgado), one of them having been rescued by Ecuadorian fishermen when he landed on the waters of the Jambelí channel. This attempt was largely successful in allowing the takeover of El Oro towns, devoid by then of any Ecuadorian military presence after the short-lived ceasefire of July 26, brokered by the mediator countries (USA, Brazil and Argentina).

On July 25, 1941 a group of brave sailors Ecuadorian commanded by then Lieutenant Commander Rafael Moran Valverde fought one of the battles that would become one of the most glorious episodes of Ecuador's history. The Naval Combat Jambelí represented the victory of small gunboat Calderon on a larger Peruvian destroyer. The shots were effective, as their impacts damaged vital parts of the Peruvian ship, causing casualties on staff, forcing him to retreat. The gunboat Calderon suffered no damage despite that piques the enemy passed very close.

Ecuador remembers the heroism of the sailors as each July 25 the National Navy Day is celebrated. On July 25, 1941 "David" won aginst the giant "Goliath". The country remembers the triumph of gunboat Calderon over the Peruvian destroyer Admiral Villar.

After the ceasefire, most of the Ecuadorian troops, by now exhausted and without ammunition, left the field of battle and made their way out of El Oro, towards the city of Cuenca. The cessation of hostilities materialized with the attacks suffered by Ecuadorian units and the intended advancement of the Peruvian troops toward the province of Azuay.

When Peru reopened the advance on July 29, which began with simultaneous bombings on the Ecuadorian towns of Machala, Puerto Bolívar, Pasaje, Santa Rosa, and Arenillas, plus a mission to the city of Guayaquil to drop leaflets, the Peruvian forces easily occupied the deserted towns of the province. A new ceasefire having been decreed to enter in effect on July 31 at 18h00 forced the Peruvian command to step up its efforts to occupy Machala and Puerto Bolívar, which they did with troops disembarked directly on Puerto Bolívar from the sea in the afternoon of July 31.

Even then, hostilities didn't cease, as Peruvian forces began operations against the Ecuadorian posts on the Amazonian jungle, most of which were easily overrun. With Peru occupying El Oro and menacing Guayaquil, plus pressure from the United States and Latin America to stop the hostilities as a sign of hemispheric unity against the Axis powers (in World War II), Peru and Ecuador signed the Rio de Janeiro Protocol.

The iconic Peruvian aviator Grand General of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP) Jose Abelardo Quiñones is considered one of the period's leading figures during the Peru-Ecuador War of 1941 as he represented the ideas and hopes of the Andean nation at that time. During the Battle of Zarumilla in July 23, 1941, he sacrificed his life crashing into an Ecuadorian battery. Following his death he was declared a national hero by law on May 10, 1966.

A permanent peace agreement signed in October 1998 ended a 150-year border dispute with Peru, which had led to war in 1941, periodic skirmishes and another brief war in 1995. Since then, relations with Peru have been normalised, and bilateral trade has grown rapidly.

This settlement, sponsored by Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States, established territorial limits between Peru and Ecuador but failed to delineate clearly their border in a 78-kilometer section of the Andean foothills. Further disputes over the border in this region led to additional clashes in 1981 and 1995. In the latest clash, thousands of soldiers from each country fought an intense but localized war in the disputed territory of the upper Cenepa valley.

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Page last modified: 10-03-2016 20:01:41 ZULU