Chaco War

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Chaco War
Map of the warring parties Bolivia and Paraguay with the area that passed from Bolivia to Paraguayan control after the war
Map of the warring parties Bolivia and Paraguay with the area that passed from Bolivia to Paraguayan control after the war
date June 15, 1932 to June 12, 1935
place Gran Chaco , South America
Casus Belli Control of the northern Chaco Boreal
output Paraguayan victory
Territorial changes Paraguay annexed about 52,000 km² of the disputed area
consequences Far-reaching upheavals in Bolivian economic and domestic politics. Access to the sea continues to be a hot topic both domestically and internationally.
Peace treaty Peace treaty on July 21, 1938
Parties to the conflict

BoliviaBolivia Bolivia

Paraguay 1842Paraguay Paraguay


Daniel Salamanca Urey
Hans Kundt
Enrique Peñaranda del Castillo

Eusebio Ayala
José Félix Estigarribia

Troop strength
about 250,000 about 140,000



The Chaco War ( Spanish Guerra del Chaco , in the Bolivian parlance La guerra Estúpida "The stupid war") was from 1932 to 1935 ongoing military conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay to the northern part of the deserted and economically uninteresting Gran Chaco . Decades of territorial disputes finally led to war, in the course of which, contrary to all expectations, the heavily inferior Paraguay succeeded in defeating Bolivia. In the peace treaty, Paraguay was given most of the disputed area. In Bolivia, the war led to great social upheavals.


Postage stamps from Bolivia and Paraguay showing the mutual territorial claims
Card of the chaco

Argentina , Bolivia and Paraguay have claimed parts of the Chaco Boreal since the 1850s .

In the Triple Alliance Treaty of 1865 Argentina was granted the Paraná and Paraguay as a border. After Paraguay's defeat in the Triple Alliance War in 1870, Brazil was no longer interested in a common border with Argentina, encouraged Bolivia to assert its claims and put pressure on Argentina to renounce its rights. Under pressure from Brazil and Bolivia, Argentina limited its claims to the Rio Verde and later to the Pilcomayo . If Argentina had insisted on its claims and enforced them, the area expansion would have separated Bolivia and Paraguay and made the later Chaco War impossible.

After the Triple Alliance War , US President Rutherford B. Hayes decided on November 12, 1878 in an arbitration award between Argentina and Paraguay that the entire disputed Chaco area was Paraguayan territory.

Both Bolivia and Paraguay justified their claims to the Chaco Boreal with the Uti possidetis of 1810, the year of the deposition of the viceroy of the Rio de la Plata . Bolivia argued that the Chaco belonged to the jurisdiction of the Real Audiencia of Charcas since 1561/63. Paraguay, in turn, relied on the administration by the Intendencia de Asunción (also called Intendanz Paraguay , directed by the Intendant ) since 1782, as well as the conquest and missionary work of the area by conquistadors and Jesuits , i.e. both property by uti possidetis and de facto .

Bolivia became a landlocked country after the Saltpeter War and could have gained access to the Atlantic via the Pilcomayo and Paraguay rivers . Thus the area was of economic importance for Bolivia. At the end of the 19th century, quebracho wood became economically interesting due to its high tannin content.

Both states tried to secure their claims through settlement and military occupation of the Chaco. Bolivia sought to achieve this by setting up military bases, while Paraguay also established civilian settlements such as Villa Hayes . By the late 1920s, Paraguay had developed the area through infrastructure, the development of a quebracho industry with Argentine capital, Mennonite colonies and cattle ranches.

Several border treaties were drawn up at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, but one of the two sides always refused to ratify them. The conflict continued to smolder.

In February 1927 an armed incident occurred at the Bolivian outpost of Sorpresa. Subsequently, an agreement was sought through Argentine mediation, but this failed because of the maximum demands on both sides. While Paraguay would have obtained the economically interesting part of the Chaco if a border had been drawn due to the actual ownership structure, only the access to the Río Paraguay was of interest to Bolivia. As a result, there were repeated skirmishes and reciprocal conquests of forts. Further mediation attempts by the United States, Argentina and the League of Nations led to no result. In the meantime, the armed clashes continued to escalate.

Between June 1929 and June 1930, Bolivia, dependent on tin exports, was hit hard by the collapse in world market prices. The international tin cartel then imposed restrictive export quotas, which led to a sharp increase in unemployment. The social cut and inflationary monetary policy under President Daniel Salamanca Urey , who has been in office since May 1931, made the situation even worse. A war could have averted the danger of a revolution from below and led to integration among the political elites. Salamanca used to strike Paraguay in a belligerent tone, and the progressive military occupation of the Chaco by both sides had threatened to develop into war for at least a generation. As the military clashes got further and further out of control, Salamanca had little more political leeway and either had to find a diplomatic solution from a position of weakness or come across as an aggressor. In an armed conflict, Bolivia seemed to have the better hand because of its military superiority.

On December 5, 1928, a Paraguayan patrol discovered the new Bolivian outpost of Vanguardia. A Paraguayan officer was killed in the ensuing clash. The Paraguayan commander of the Bahía Negra garrison , Captain Rafael Franco (later President of Paraguay ), ordered the conquest, with all defenders killed or captured. Bolivia responded by occupying Boquerón in the south. Both sides began mobilizing and war seemed inevitable. The Paraguayan mobilization ended in chaos and so a diplomatic compromise was agreed in which both sides turned the occupied outposts over to their original owners.

Course of war

From the beginning of the war to Campo Via

There was a large void in the Bolivian chain of outposts in an extremely waterless region. Reconnaissance flights led to the discovery of Lake Pitiantuta on April 24, 1932 , which made it possible to set up an outpost there. After a first Bolivian expedition under Major Oscar Moscoso had failed, a second reached the lake on June 15, 1932, only to find that it was already secured by the Paraguayan outpost of Carlos Antonio López . Moscoso ordered the attack, killing a Paraguayan corporal. The survivors fled and reported the attack to the commander of the Paraguayan 1st Division, José Félix Estigarribia , in Casanillo . Estigarribia ordered the reconquest, which took place on June 16, 1932. Bolivia's President Salamanca, for his part, called for the capture of some Paraguayan outposts in the south in order to be able to undertake an exchange later, as in the precedent of the outpost Vanguardia.

Paraguay had been preparing for a possible war since the Vanguardia incident. A general staff was set up, officers were trained in their own country and in France, weapons were purchased and a mobilization plan was drawn up. Mobilization was costly for poor Paraguay and the deployment plan had to be used with caution in order not to lose the element of surprise. In the days that followed, President Eusebio Ayala's government had the impression that Bolivia was preparing for war, and on July 23, 1932, ordered the mobilization. Within 36 days, three divisions with a total of 16,000 trained soldiers were to be armed in the field.

On the same day, President Salamanca ordered the 1,200-strong 4th Division, deployed in the south, to advance until it encountered resistance. Corrales fell on July 27, and Toledo the next day. Paraguay had not strengthened its weak frontline outposts to pull the Bolivians away from their supply base in Muñoz and shorten their own supply lines. On July 31, Boquerón was captured and the 1,200 Bolivian soldiers penetrated deep into Paraguayan territory without encountering much resistance. On August 2, 1932, the Bolivian General Staff gave the order to hold and prepare for counterattacks. The extremely long supply routes in the Chaco meant that new units would only arrive after three months.

After the Paraguayan deployment was over, President Ayala ordered Lieutenant Colonel Estigarribia to retake Boquerón on September 1, 1932. On September 9th, a first frontal attack failed and Estigarribia launched a siege. After several days of artillery and mortar fire and with no prospect of reinforcement or relief , the Bolivian commander capitulated on September 29. Toledo was retaken on October 2nd, followed by Corrales shortly afterwards. In view of the military development, the Bolivian General Staff ordered the retreat via Saavedra to Muñoz.

After Arce fell after a containment maneuver on October 23, a patrol captured the burning, abandoned Alihuata on October 26. Since the Paraguayans had met little resistance by then, Estigarribia feared a trap, without there being any evidence. He therefore turned off the 1st and 3rd Divisions in order to counter a possible counter-offensive. The demoralized Bolivian army withdrew without a fight, so that on November 6, Platanillos was occupied by Paraguay. An advance to the Pilcomayo could have cut off the wavering enemy and prematurely ended the war, and an advance to Saavedra with the 4th Division would have cut off some Bolivian units. But Estigarribia ordered his bandages to stop and let the opportunity slip by.

On the Bolivian side, generals such as the new commander of the I. Corps Arturo Guillén were already beginning to doubt victory. The setbacks led to calls for the return of the German general Hans Kundt . He had directed the establishment of the army until 1930 and was highly regarded among officers and soldiers. In addition, Salamanca did not trust its officers and Kundt would make a good scapegoat if defeated as a foreigner. On December 5, 1932 Kundt arrived in La Paz, where he was given far-reaching powers. The Bolivians now focused on defending Saavedra to give their army time to retreat on Muñoz. The Paraguayans advanced only hesitantly, and an advance by two Paraguayan regiments was successfully repulsed. Therefore, the withdrawal of the associations up to Muñoz was rejected; Saavedra should now be held.

On December 8th, Estigarribia's offensive began. The Bolivians employed the 2nd and 4th Divisions at Saavedra, while the 1st Division was supposed to bypass the enemy to the west. In the meantime the Bolivians had extended their line of defense westwards and the offensive failed with heavy losses. Further attacks were unsuccessful and the front froze in trench warfare from December 1932 to March 1933 . In the meantime, the partial mobilization had taken effect and Kundt also had the newly established 8th Division. This captured Platanillos on December 13, 1932 and Corrales on January 1, 1933. Another move was problematic because of the logistics. The trucks had to travel 1,000 kilometers on unpaved roads, while the endpoints of the Paraguayan railway were only 200 kilometers behind the front.

West of Nanawa there was good grazing land on which Bolivian cattle, unlike the Chaco bush, could survive. This would relieve the supply, since more gasoline, weapons and ammunition could be transported instead of food. In addition, Nanawa provided a good target for the Bolivian artillery and was a good position for further advances to Paraguay and north. Since the offensive on Corrales was still ongoing and created a diversion, Kundt ordered the conquest of Nanawa. The poorly coordinated attack began from multiple directions on January 20 and failed four days later.

The relatively effortless capture of Corrales and nearby bases led the Bolivians to believe that northeastern Toledo was just as easy to conquer. However, due to the lack of water, these places were only sparsely occupied. Toledo, on the other hand, had water sources, and so General Juan Ayala had built defensive trenches and provided them with reinforcements. On February 10, the Bolivians began a 16-day artillery preparation. An air bombing followed on February 25th. The next morning, prepared by barrage , the attack of the infantry began, which soon got stuck in the crossfire of the skillfully created enemy position. Two more frontal attacks failed on February 27, with the Bolivians recording 1,200 casualties. After a patrol had provided the information that the enemy’s 3rd division was running out of manpower, General Ayala ordered a counterattack on March 10th. The Bolivians fled immediately and two of their regiments mutinied. Considerable quantities of ammunition and supplies remained. However, a pursuit was not possible because Estigarribia needed soldiers and trucks for the beleaguered 1st Division.

Meanwhile, the 9th Bolivian Division with 1,200 men had advanced through the jungle on Alihuata and on March 10, 1933 began their attacks on the 250 defending Paraguayans, who managed to repel all attempts to capture them. Alihuata was almost trapped and only had ammunition and food for a few days. Colonel Carlos José Fernández asked for permission to retreat, but General Estigarribia refused. When the situation became untenable, Fernández ignored the order and ordered the retreat to Gondra , a decision that saved the 1st Division with its 3,000 men from surrender.

After the capture of Alihuata, the front stabilized, so that an armistice with subsequent demarcation seemed possible. President Ayala and Estigarribia were ready to negotiate. Paraguay had already suffered many losses that it could not afford with its small population. President Salamanca was also ready for a negotiated solution and instructed Kundt to remain on the defensive if he could not be sure of success. The last victories had encouraged the officer corps and the army was now so large that Kundt declined further reinforcements because he could no longer maintain soldiers due to the tense supply situation. Kundt knew that his government could not accept a ceasefire so far away from the desired border river Paraguay. He and his officers overestimated their options and on May 14 began an attack by the 8th and 9th Divisions on Arce and Fernandez . On June 1, the offensive ended without success after heavy losses. Once again the morale of the Bolivian army was shaken and the lack of competent officers evident. The Paraguayans, however, considered the Bolivian army to be outnumbered. Once again a peaceful solution was in sight. On June 6, an Asunción newspaper published an article exploring the possibility of peace without a winner.

But an enthusiastic Bolivian officer corps endorsed another attack on Nanawa. In the meantime, the Paraguayans had reinforced Nanawa and had learned of the plans from prisoners. The attack began on July 4th. Main attacks were scheduled in the north and south, while an attack in the west was only intended to provide a diversion. In the south, two tanks managed to break through the enemy lines. They had no infantry support and withdrew again. As expected, the attack did not advance in the west. The attack in the north was making progress, but a mine which was supposed to take out the main enemy position, Isla Fortificada, had been detonated before the target and with insufficient dynamite. The Bolivian Air Force had not switched off the artillery as planned. Counterattacks recaptured the lost trenches. The Bolivians lost 5,000 men, while the Paraguayans lost 159 dead and 400 wounded. Bolivian confidence was badly shaken and never recovered for the remainder of the war. The army was undermined by the losses at Nanawa and received only untrained recruits as replacements. Desertion and self-mutilation were common, and only a third of the soldiers on home leave returned.

The Paraguayans, however, had regained the initiative. On August 20, an attack on Alihuata began to distract the Bolivians in the center. The weak front made it possible to encircle two Bolivian units, one in Campo Grande and one in Pozo Favorito . Colonel Toro tried, contrary to Kundt's orders, to reinforce Campo Grande with the Loa regiment and lost this too when the 2,000 men enclosed surrendered on September 15.

In October 1933 the Bolivians were no longer capable of offensive operations and, despite their numerical superiority, were too thinly distributed to defend their positions. Kundt asked for his release, but President Salamanca refused to grant him. He emerged strengthened from this meeting and decided not to take the front back any further, but to hold Alihuata. Alihuata had an exposed location and could be flanked from the west. Even the cautious General Estigarribia felt that the time had come for an offensive and persuaded President Ayala to give his consent. A surprise attack near Nanawa brought in 428 prisoners and prevented Kundt from ordering reinforcements to Alihuata. The attack on Alihuata began on October 23, 1932. The Paraguayans suffered unnecessarily high losses in repeated frontal attacks. Kundt was of the opinion that the 9th Division could withstand the onslaught and began to send reinforcements from the 4th Division to the exposed Alihuata. On December 6, however, the Bolivians had to withdraw in the face of impending containment after Paraguayan troops cut the road connection to Saavedra and counterattacks failed.

Estigarribia decided to concentrate his forces in the north. Colonel Franco, on the other hand, hoped for a breakthrough at Gondra. He received two regiments on loan from Colonel Fernández and made a breakthrough on December 7th with a surprise attack. Franco had enclosed the opponent's 4th and 9th divisions and another advance on Saavedra could cut off the entire Bolivian army. Estigarribia was reluctant to release further troops. This allowed 1,000 Bolivians to withdraw leaving their equipment behind. On December 11, 10,000 Bolivians surrendered at Campo Via , leaving behind large quantities of new weapons and equipment.

The entire northern front of the Bolivians had ceased to exist and the way to Muñoz and the Pilcomayo was free. This advance could also have trapped the Bolivians off Nanawa. The Bolivians fled in a panic, but Estigarribia again failed to pursue the enemy. It was not until December 13 that the 6th Division occupied Saavedra and only three days later received the order to occupy Muñoz.

President Ayala believed the war was over and a diplomatic solution possible, and on December 18 proposed a 10-day ceasefire from the following day.

From the first armistice to the end of the war

Generals Estigarribia and Peñaranda after the armistice

Paraguay had interrupted the war-decisive push for a truce, a grave mistake that was intended to prolong the duration of the war. General Kundt was deposed and, at Colonel Toro's instigation, replaced by General Enrique Peñaranda del Castillo . In truth, Colonel Toro was in power behind the scenes.

Just ten days later, there was serious disagreement between President Salamanca and General Peñaranda. Salamanca was unable to remove Peñaranda for fear of a coup.

Meanwhile, a new army was set up, which was soon twice the size of Paraguay's army. General Kundt had refused any further expansion, but the withdrawal had shortened the supply lines. However, the drafted reservists were even less inclined to take risks and required vast amounts of ammunition and artillery support. The Bolivian officer corps was of poor quality and attempts were made to remedy this shortage by recruiting 300 Chilean officers. These arrived in May, and indeed the performance of their Bolivian units improved considerably. In return, Chile received political and economic advantages. Paraguay protested and temporarily cut off diplomatic relations with Chile. Surprisingly, Argentina did not respond to Chilean interference.

After the armistice expired in the morning hours of January 7, 1934, the Paraguayans resumed their advance without meeting any resistance. Colonel Toro's first attempt to offer resistance with the 8th Division almost led to its encirclement, which could only be prevented by a panic retreat. After Margarino was taken on February 10, the advance halted due to torrential rains that lasted until the end of February.

The front was now divided into two sections: a western front, which ran northward from the Pilcomayo and a subsequent northern front, which ran to the Parapetí . The latter was held by two corps under Colonel Franco. In the meantime the Bolivians had developed Ballivián into a strong defensive position.

Meanwhile, the Paraguayans were preparing an attack on Cururenda upstream and chopping paths in the bush. On March 28, 1934, Garrapatal fell and 1,200 Bolivians were taken prisoner. The Paraguayans had also come across a code book and detailed maps of the northern and central Chaco, unknown to them.

The 2nd and 7th Divisions on Lobregostrasse followed in mid-May, where they encountered the 8th Bolivian Division waiting in the prepared trenches. An attempt to flank them failed. The 9th Bolivian Division marched into the area on prepared paths and completed the containment of the two opposing divisions. The 7th Division managed to break out without losses, but the 2nd lost 1,400 men and most of their equipment when it broke out. This was the largest number of prisoners the Bolivians captured in one battle during the war. This battle is mistakenly called the Battle of Cañada Strongest. The so-called intersection is located 90 kilometers northwest.

The offensive spirit of the Paraguayans was unbroken, but frontal attacks on Ballivián failed with heavy losses. On July 13, the attacks stopped. The time for a Bolivian counterattack on the exhausted Paraguayans had come. But Colonel Ángel Rodríguez knew that massive numerical superiority was needed to offset their better tactical and leadership skills. A superiority of two to one was necessary just to hold positions, and only provided the soldiers were well equipped and had overwhelming fire support on their side. As a result, 7,000 Paraguayans tied 18,000 Bolivians at Ballivián and the remaining troops were barely enough to hold the rest of the front.

Colonel Rodríguez suggested giving up Ballivián and carrying out a surprise attack on the unsuspecting 1st and 2nd Corps with the troops that were released. President Salamanca agreed on the condition that this take place as part of an offensive. Colonel Toro, the commander in chief of Ballivián, opposed the withdrawal and the nominal commander in chief, General Peñaranda, refused to intervene. Again the opportunity for a diplomatic solution seemed to come. President Ayala was ready to accept the existing front line as a border. President Salamanca, however, wanted to undertake one last offensive to advance from Ingavi in the north to Paraguay and to conquer a port. The officer corps protested and did not want reinforcements and supplies withdrawn from the decisive front. Since Salamanca had control over units and supplies that left La Paz, he began the III with them. To set up anew corps. He expected the Paraguayans would not defend the worthless jungle, but in Asunción the possibility of an advance down the Paraguay was seen as a deadly threat.

The Paraguayans decided to counter the danger by cutting off the supply route to Ingavi at 27 de Noviembre . Franco ordered the II Corps to Garrapatal, left a weak unit behind for defense and began an advance on August 13 in a north-westerly direction. Instead of encountering heavy resistance as expected, his troops took Picuiba on August 15th . An advance detachment had overrun the enemy position, captured 450 Bolivians and captured vast amounts of material, ammunition and weapons. The next day they reached the intersection at El Cruce . The 6th Division took Yrendagüe to the west on August 17 , the other on the same day the 27 de Noviembre to the north. Ingavi was cut off as planned and Franco asked for more reinforcements and trucks.

The 6th Division had meanwhile advanced further west from Yrendagüe and occupied Algodonal on August 22nd, 1,000 men being captured or killed. Another advance on Carandaiti failed and the advance came to a standstill.

Meanwhile, all commanders on the Bolivian side, with the exception of Colonel Toro and President Salamanca, were in favor of giving up Ballivián and using the troops that were freed for the offensive. As an alternative, Toro suggested marching eastwards and taking Garrapatal, thus cutting off Franco's II Corps. The rest of the commanders agreed, but thought the plan was unrealistic. However, he would remove Colonel Toro from Ballivián and make an eventual withdrawal possible.

Toro withdrew troops from El Carmen and ordered them to Carandaiti. He unwittingly predicted a Paraguayan attack on Carandaiti and ordered the attack on September 5th. On September 8, the Paraguayan 6th Division was encircled, but escaped through a gap and retreated to Algodonal, where it was surrounded again on September 22. The Paraguayans began a counterattack on the pocket, and the 6th Division was able to fight its way free with heavy losses. Franco retreated eastward on Yrendagüe and awaited the next attack. The Bolivians had no more strength for further attacks and were satisfied with the conquered area.

Estigarribia decided to take Ingavi. Attacks from 27 de Noviembre from eastwards had failed due to strong opposing defensive lines and so he came up with a daring plan. Since 1932, Pitiantuta had only been stopped by a train. Now 150 men marched from there, supported by five trucks, through 220 kilometers of almost impenetrable jungle, surprised the defenders and occupied Ingavi on October 5th.

While the Bolivians were discussing their next offensive, Estigarribia had prepared the next plan of attack. The II Corps under Franco received no reinforcements and was used as bait to lure the Bolivians to the southeast. Meanwhile, the III. Corps to keep pressure on Ballivián. The 1st Corps was to break through to the north at El Carmen. El Carmen had been poorly manned since Toro had withdrawn units from there for his offensive on Garrapatal. The 1st Division was supposed to distract the defenders with frontal attacks, while the 8th Division should circumvent El Carmen north and the 2nd Division south. Meanwhile the place had received reinforcements and the defenders outnumbered the attackers.

Meanwhile the Bolivians were ready to start their long-planned offensive. On November 8th, the Paraguayans noticed an attempt to evade the area and twice escaped the encirclement despite the numerical superiority of the enemy. The Yrendagües case on November 10th cut off the Paraguayans at 27 de Noviembre and gave the Bolivians possession of newly dug wells. Estigarribia decided to carry out the offensive at El Carmen anyway and to trust that Colonel Franco could withstand the enemy long enough.

The attack began on November 11th. The 2nd division had not advanced far enough in their bypass and by chance came across El Carmen, where the division's sole source and archives fell into their hands. The 8th Division flanked too short and was stopped by the Méndez Division. On November 16, the 8th had fought its way to the 2nd division and closed the ring. The Paraguayans lost 100 men, the Bolivians lost 8,000 men by capture. With dead and wounded, the losses were over 10,000 men.

Ballivián was surrendered on November 16, against the resistance of Colonel Toros. The III. Corps followed so quickly that the Bolivians could not occupy a second fortified line at Guachalla , which was captured on November 21. Esmeralda followed on November 25th. Colonel Fernández also pursued the enemy with his I. Corps and pushed into the gap that the victory at El Carmen had left in the opposing lines. Another 10,000 men were captured during the persecution and many others fled to Argentina via the Pilcomayo.

President Salamanca decided to remove General Peñaranda from his post as commander-in-chief and went to Villa Montes for the purpose . When he announced his plans there on November 26th, Colonel Toro conspired, arrested Salamanca and forced him to resign in favor of its Vice President, José Luis Tejada Sorzano .

Toro's advance was connected with great logistical problems and only the capture of Yrendagües with its water sources prevented the collapse of the supplies. Nonetheless, Toro pushed on against the strong resistance of the Paraguayan II Corps and took Picuiba on November 20 with heavy losses.

After the collapse of the front at El Carmen, the Bolivians should have given up the exposed Picuiba, and Toro asked for reinforcements or permission to withdraw. The commanders, without political supervision after the overthrow of Salamanca, did not want to damage their reputation with a retreat shortly after the coup and set reinforcements on the march.

In the west, the Bolivian resistance began to stiffen. Estigarribia ordered the 8th Division to walk north to aid Franco's II Corps. He had made the plan to advance the 8th Division west parallel to the road to Picuiba north through the bush and take Yrendagüe. One day after the 8th Division had left, the two other divisions of the II Corps were supposed to occupy the road north of Picuiba near El Cruce, thus encircling Toro's troops. A quick occupation of Yrendagües and its source was important here, as each soldier carried a maximum of four canteens full of water.

On December 8, the 8th Division cut off Yrendagüe from El Cruce in the east. The defenders of Yrendagües were mainly wounded and convalescent and withdrew in panic to the west of Algodonal. The Bolivians in Picuiba had been waiting for water supplies for a day when the order to withdraw was given. The retreat to 27 de Noviembre was only possible because the II Corps had lost its way in the bush and had not occupied El Cruce in time. Many Bolivians died of thirst on the 87-kilometer route to 27 de Noviembre, and the survivors hoped that tankers would meet them on their march. This did not happen because of a mixture of incompetence and congested streets, and many men would rather commit suicide than endure thirst longer. On the night of December 10th, there was a downpour without which none of the retreating Bolivians would have survived. Troops pursuing Colonel Franco made little progress on the road, which was clogged with trucks, material, weapons, ammunition and corpses, but they were able to save the lives of many Bolivians who were dying of thirst and 2,000 prisoners.

On December 11th, a Paraguayan division reached 27 de Noviembre and overran the emaciated regiment that had been assigned to its defense. The remnants of the Bolivian divisions had already pulled through. The encirclement had failed, but apart from the prisoners, 10,000 Bolivians had died or disappeared and the survivors were initially in no condition to return to the front. The destruction of so many Bolivian units left a huge void, and Franco's II Corps was able to advance without resistance.

More important was the psychological impact of the catastrophic defeat at Picuiba. In contrast to the complete encirclement at El Carmen, many soldiers had escaped, and their reports on the gruesome scenes during the retreat were printed in the Bolivian press. What shocked the public most was the incompetence of their own officers. After years of nationalist propaganda, the public mood turned.

On December 10, 1934, Bolivia announced general mobilization and created a new army. The doubling of the world market price for tin generated high revenues. In contrast, Paraguay was poor, had all capable men at the front and could not muster any reinforcements. Bolivian prisoners had to work on farms and in private households. The herds of cattle also dwindled and food for the soldiers was slowly becoming scarce. The only things that were not lacking were captured weapons and ammunition.

On January 16, the II Corps reached the Parapetí. The Andes were in sight and the Chaco was behind the Paraguayans. Colonel Franco asked for trucks to make another foray into the undefended Charagua and the oil fields beyond. Estigarribia did not assign him any and the advance did not take place.

Representatives from the province of Santa Cruz visited Colonel Franco and asked for weapons in order to declare an independent state. Franco advocated this, but President Ayala waved it off - a mistake from a military point of view, as this would have cleared the entire northern front for a march westward.

On January 23, the II Corps captured the Carandaiti junction .

The Parapetí represented the limit of Paraguay's maximum territorial claim and Estigarribia now concentrated its resources on the western front. Conquering further areas in the north in order to have a bargaining chip for negotiations did not occur to him. He ordered the III. and I. Corps forward. On December 28, Ibibobo was surrounded on its land side. The arrested Bolivians panicked and tried to swim through the Pilcomayo. After 200 soldiers drowned in the attempt, the remaining 2,000 men surrendered. A pass road over the first range of hills was won.

On January 11th, the 1st Corps reached Capirenda and surrounded the two defending Bolivian regiments. They managed to fight their way through with the loss of 500 dead and 1,000 prisoners. The 1st Corps was now near Franco's 2nd Corps. A major joint attack on the oil fields was possible.

Instead, Estigarribia decided, against all logic, to take Villa Montes, which had meanwhile been massively expanded by the Bolivians. The positions there consisted of 43 kilometers of trenches and bunkers in two rings. These were defended by 17,000 men with 1,200 machine guns, 823 cannons and 43 mortars. On February 16, Estigarribia launched a massive frontal attack. The outer ring managed to break through, but the inner one held out. After heavy losses, the pointless attack was stopped.

The Bolivians launched a counterattack on February 20 to recapture the lost positions, which they succeeded in spite of the chaos. However, 500 Bolivians died and thousands deserted to Argentina. The Paraguayans lost 80 men.

Meanwhile Argentina, which had previously supported Paraguay, restricted its fuel deliveries and supported the lifting of the arms embargo against Bolivia by the League of Nations, while it remained against Paraguay.

Estigarribia ordered the advance of the II Corps and Colonel Franco's soldiers captured the fortified Boyuibe in a daring attack on December 8th. Five Bolivian regiments were wiped out, but new ones formed before the Paraguayan positions.

Since the general mobilization, untrained soldiers have been thrown directly into combat in the hope of overwhelming the enemy with sheer numerical superiority. Desertions were the order of the day and soldiers who mutilated themselves were shot.

The II Corps was now to advance north and take Charagua to flank the Bolivian units off Boyuibe. The plan fell into the hands of Bolivian diplomats in Buenos Aires, who bought detailed reports on the offensive from the Argentine General Staff. The Bolivians then planned to lure the Paraguayans to Charagua and then launch a major attack against Boyuibe in order to cut off the II Corps from the rest of the army. Subsequently, Carandaiti and Yrendagüe should be advanced. The Bolivian General Staff was ready to sacrifice Charagua for this purpose and to move the line of defense to the west to the mountain range. Franco withdrew the 8th Division from Boyuibe for the attack, which was only held by the strong 3rd Division. The Paraguayans began the offensive on April 12th. The Bolivians withdrew in an orderly manner to the prepared positions west of Charagua and left a regiment behind for defense.

On April 15, the 8th Division flanked the Bolivian regiment without any problems. The line of defense dissolved and on April 17th Charagua was occupied. The case of Charaguas, a real town, caused panic in Santa Cruz de la Sierra , to the north, and the separatists there were difficult to bring under control. Political pressure forced the Bolivian General Staff to strike earlier than planned.

On April 16, three Bolivian divisions advanced on the weak 3rd Paraguayan division in Boyuibe. With a superiority of five to one and the element of surprise on their side, the Bolivians should manage to split the front in two. But rugged terrain and dense forests meant that the untrained recruits lost their orientation and only reached the lines of the 3rd Division after nightfall. The attack had lost its element of surprise and was only resumed at daybreak. In the meantime Colonel Franco had brought his reserves. Nevertheless, the massive superiority of soldiers and artillery meant that his positions were breached. At the end of the day Franco organized a new line of defense made up of drivers, soldiers from the administration and the wounded. This gained him time and the attack lost momentum.

Estigarribia began a relief attack with the I. Corps, in order to bind enemy troops as possible or to withdraw from the offensive. Franco knew that his 8th Division was in great danger, but still dared a risky counterattack. He ordered to maneuver south and attack in the rear of the enemy advance. The Bolivians managed to counter this and in turn encircled part of the 8th Division. Franco attacked the Bolivian ring and after three days the trapped parts fought their way free. The Bolivians were too exhausted to pursue and the Paraguayans slowly retreated across the Parapetí, taking every opportunity to counter-attack. On May 3, the Bolivians began to cross the river. The Paraguayans held many crossings and inflicted heavy losses on them. But because of his massive superiority, the enemy was unstoppable. On May 2, a Bolivian patrol fell into the hands of documents that revealed the list of the enemy. A reconnaissance unit had meanwhile discovered a path into the enemy’s back. The entire 6th Division followed him and appeared on May 16 at Mandyyupecua in the rear of the enemy, tearing a large gap in his lines. The high command abandoned its plans for a southward advance and ordered units intended for this purpose into the gap that had arisen. The front stabilized at Mandyyupecua for the remainder of the war.

Estigarribia hoped, however, with massive artillery support to capture Villa Montes. For this purpose, gunboat guns and bank batteries were removed. Before there was an offensive, the 6th Division appeared in front of Ingavi on April 24th to conquer a route to Paraguay again. The Paraguayan garrison in Ingavi held their positions. Parts of the II Corps rushed to the aid and included the 6th Division. This was the last cauldron battle of the war.

Paraguay was exhausted and Bolivia questioned its ability to carry out a successful offensive. The new government of Luis Tejada Sorzano definitely wanted to keep the oil fields and the fertile province of Santa Cruz and did not attach any importance to the almost worthless Chaco. On June 12, both sides signed an armistice that came into effect on June 14, 1935 at 12 noon.

Second armistice and peace negotiations

E. Martínez Thedy (Uruguay), Luis A. Riart (Paraguay), Tomás M. Elío (Bolivia) and Carlos Saavedra Lamas (Argentina) at the Peace Conference in Buenos Aires

On June 12, 1935, the representatives of Bolivia and Paraguay signed a protocol in the Casa Rosada in which the commencement of the armistice at noon on June 14, 1935, the dispatch of a neutral military commission to the war zone, a ban on imports of war material, the demobilization of both armies agreed within 90 days and a peace conference in Buenos Aires . Another commission should determine who was responsible for the outbreak of war.

The demobilization lasted from July to August. During this time, 54,105 soldiers on the Bolivian side and 46,515 on the Paraguayan side left the army. Both sides were allowed to keep 5,000 soldiers under arms.

The Chaco Conference began on July 1, 1935, under the chairmanship of the Argentine Foreign Minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas and excluding the League of Nations. Agreements on demobilization and the demarcation line were quickly reached. However, the negotiations on basic principles lasted longer. While Bolivia insisted on its pre-war position that the Chaco was part of the Real Audiencia de Charcas , Paraguay was unwilling to simply give up its military conquests. Nevertheless, on October 28, 1935, the Chaco War was declared over.

A committee of three, consisting of Brazil , Chile and the United States, led by the Brazilian Foreign Minister José Carlos de Macedo Soares , his Chilean counterpart Miguel Cruchaga Tocornal and the American Spruille Braden worked on an area compromise for two years. This stipulated that Paraguay should receive 247,000 square kilometers of the disputed area and Bolivia 160,000. In addition, Paraguay should allow Bolivia free passage between Puerto Casado and Bahía Negra . Puerto Casado was available to Bolivia as a free port and was given a narrow access to the Paraguay River near Puerto Busch. Bolivia received its desired port, while Paraguay received the greater part of the Chaco and only had to give back little conquered areas. The Paraguayan President Eusebio Ayala presented this agreement as an arbitration judgment in order to evade allegations of indulgence.

In January 1936, both sides agreed to exchange prisoners of war. Paraguay had made far more, 17,000 men compared to Bolivia's 2,550 men, and was able to claim 2,800,000 Argentine pesos in expenses for them in contrast to the 400,000 pesos of the Bolivians.

From February 1936 to August 1937, a series of coups and counter- coups in both countries delayed negotiations.

On June 20, Paraguayan voters ratified the draft treaty by a large majority in a referendum with 135,385 votes in favor, 13,204 against and 559 abstentions. One day later, the Bolivian parliament followed with 102 to 9 votes. On July 21, 1938, the peace treaty was signed in Buenos Aires. Saavedra received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts .


On the Bolivian side, 250,000 men fought in the course of the war, of which over 56,000 were killed and 17,000 were taken prisoner. Paraguay had 140,000 soldiers and lost more than 36,000 men, 2,500 were captured. The Chaco War was the bloodiest war in Latin America in recent history.

In Paraguay, the Veterans Association gained influence over domestic politics, and the contribution of the common soldiers raised questions about the unequal distribution of property in the country.

On the Bolivian side, the massive spending on the war accelerated the shift from economic liberalism to interventionism and brought devaluation and inflation. The breakdown of the economic base led to fewer opportunities for political compromises. The government and parties collapsed, the society, which had been far less radicalized in comparison to other South American states, was mobilized by the disastrous course of the war and the domestic political landscape changed. New topics such as the labor question, the situation of the Indians, the land question and the economic dependence of the land on mine owners entered the public debate. New parties and revolutionary movements emerged in the late 1930s and 1940s, and finally, in 1952, the social revolution occurred. Economically, the Great Depression and the War marked the beginning of the decline in productivity and production of the tin mines, as well as the expansion of the haciendas , which had led to a large increase in the landless population. Overall, the Chaco War led to a historic turning point in Bolivia.

On April 28, 2009, the final, minor territorial disputes were settled. Under the patronage of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner , Presidents Evo Morales and Fernando Lugo signed a border treaty that resolved the last inconsistencies in the demarcation of the border.

The oil thesis

The oil thesis states that the Chaco War can be traced back more or less to the influence of the Standard Oil of New Jersey on Bolivian and the Royal Dutch Shell on Paraguayan government circles.

In July 1932, Standard Oil of New Jersey acquired the first concessions in Tarija Department and Santa Cruz Department in southeastern Bolivia for two million US dollars . These turned out to be relatively productive, and since the domestic market was not large enough, the oil had to be exported. Standard Oil acquired concessions in the north of Argentina near Salta and intended to build a pipeline to carry it from the oil fields of Bolivia via the Argentine oil fields to a port there in order to be able to serve the world market from there. Argentina denied the necessary rights and Paraguay, it is assumed, also did not approve the construction of a pipeline through the Chaco to the Río Paraguay under pressure from Shell. The rivalry between the two oil companies led to war. This contradicts the fact that Standard Oil is also assumed to have supported Paraguay. This goes back to the discovery of a secret pipeline into Argentina, through which a moderate 700 to 1,300 tons of oil were passed. This was more due to the desire for additional profits. However, in March 1937 the Bolivian government under David Toro confiscated the properties of Standard Oil, the first nationalization of a North American oil company by a country in South America.

US Senator Huey Pierce Long gave a speech in the US Senate in May and June 1934 , in which he accused Standard Oil, among other things, of supporting Bolivian arms purchases, supplying the Bolivian army with fuel and bringing foreign mercenaries into the country for access to the Río Paraguay and to the oil wells in the Chaco. Long had tried to impose high taxes on Standard Oil in Louisiana and had been fought with an oil embargo. Standard Oil was active in Bolivia, but its actions rather weakened the country by depriving it of tax revenue and a lack of supplies of essential fuel. Standard Oil was also of the opinion that most likely no oil deposits existed in the Chaco. However, Standard Oil never contradicted President Salamanca's demands for the Chaco, which is supposedly important for economic reasons. For Paraguay, oil only began to play a role in the closing stages of the war, when its army advanced towards the Bolivian oil fields of the departments of Tarija and Santa Cruz.


  • Walther L. Bernecker: The fight for the "Green Hell". Sources and materials on the Chaco War (1932–1935) . Chronos Verlag, Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-905311-23-3  ( formally incorrect ) .
  • Leslie Bethell (Ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. C. 1870 to 1930 . Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge et al. a. 1986, ISBN 0-521-24517-6 .
  • Leslie Bethell (Ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. Latin America since 1930. Spanish South America . Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge et al. a. 1991, ISBN 0-521-26652-1 .
  • Bruce W. Farcau: The Chaco War. Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935 . Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT 1996, ISBN 0-275-95218-5 .
  • Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay 1932–1935. A historical and structural analysis of the reasons for the war and peace negotiations. In: HISPANO-AMERICANA. History, language, literature. Volume 12, 1996, ISBN 3-631-30297-5 .
  • Gesine Katherina Neumann: Bolivia's right to free access to the Pacific. On the international law problem of the access of inland states to the sea . European Science Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-631-30990-2 .
  • Felix Paiva Alcorta: La Paz del Chaco. Documentos para el estudio de lasertrativas que concluyeron en el Tratado de Paz, Amistad y Limites con Bolivia . El Lector, Asuncion, Paraguay 1983, ISBN 0-275-95218-5 .
  • René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941 . McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina 2006, ISBN 0-7864-2579-2 .
  • Roberto Querezaju Calvo: Aclaraciones históricas sobre la Guerra del Chaco . Libreria Editorial "Juventud", La Paz, Bolivia 1995.
  • Roberto Querezaju Calvo: MASAMACLAY. Historia Politica, Diplomatica y Militar de la Guerra del Chaco . Editorial "Los Amigos del Libro", La Paz, Bolivia 1992.

Web links

Commons : Chaco War  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 326.
  2. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, p. 55.
  3. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 55-56.
  4. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 60-61.
  5. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 101-104.
  6. Walther L. Bernecker: The struggle for the "Green Hell". Zurich 1993, pp. 26-27.
  7. ^ Leslie Bethell (ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. Volume 8, Cambridge 1991, pp. 517-518.
  8. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 340.
  9. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 341.
  10. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 342.
  11. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 348.
  12. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, pp. 353 f.
  13. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, pp. 354-355.
  14. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 355.
  15. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, pp. 358-59.
  16. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 360.
  17. ^ A b René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 361.
  18. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 362.
  19. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 369.
  20. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 370.
  21. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 383.
  22. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, p. 384.
  23. René de la Pedraja: Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. Jefferson 2006, pp. 384-385.
  24. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, p. 75.
  25. Bruce W. Farcau: The Chaco War. Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935. Wesport, CT 1996, p. 236.
  26. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 76-80.
  27. Felix Paiva Alcorta: Aclaraciones históricas sobre la Guerra del Chaco. Asuncion 1983, pp. 230-231.
  28. Roberto Calvo Querezaju: MASAMACLAY. Historia Politica, Diplomatica y Militar de la Guerra del Chaco. La Paz 1992, p. 529.
  29. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, p. 80.
  30. Bruce W. Farcau: The Chaco War. Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935. Wesport, CT 1996, pp. 237-238.
  31. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, p. 79.
  32. Bruce W. Farcau: The Chaco War. Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935. Wesport, CT 1996, p. 240.
  33. Roberto Calvo Querezaju: Aclaraciones históricas sobre la Guerra del Chaco. La Paz, Bolivia 1995, p. 147.
  34. ^ Leslie Bethell (ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. Volume 8, Cambridge 1991, p. 234.
  35. ^ Leslie Bethell (ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. Volume 8, Cambridge 1991, pp. 235-236.
  36. ^ Leslie Bethell (ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. Volume 8, Cambridge 1991, p. 520.
  37. ^ Leslie Bethell (ed.): The Cambridge history of Latin America. Volume 5, Cambridge 1986, pp. 579, 585-586.
  38. Bruce W. Farcau: The Chaco War. Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935. Wesport, CT 1996, pp. 138-139.
  39. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 85-86.
  40. Michael Herzig: The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 81-89.
  41. Walther L. Bernecker: The struggle for the "Green Hell". Zurich 1993, pp. 24-25.