Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Terribly Obscure Battles, Wars and Revolts 3 (C)

The Chaco War (1932-35).
Not so terribly obscure a war as the previous two but rather more obscure than it deserves. This was South America's largest war and whilst Osprey has released a book on the war it remains one of the more neglected wargame subjects that is very much possible to play. The Spanish Civil War gets all the attention though both wars have some parallels. Firstly both lasted about three years and secondly (and for the SCW fan importantly) both used a lot of European equipment. Not only did they use the surplus WWI equipment such as old planes and MG's but they also used modern equipment very much as was later used in the SCW so if you already play this period you have some flexibility.

The Disputed Area.
Gran Chaco was an area that could well be described as an a place God had forgotten. It's fair to say that both Bolivia and Paraguay had also forgotten about it as well! A nasty mix of jungle and scrub desert with daytime temperatures rising to over 40 degrees C but can fall below freezing at night. Dust ridden in the Summer and a sea of mud between December and March. The only fertile parts being along the two rivers within the area. Gran Chaco was in parts owned by Bolivia and Paraguay as well as Argentina but none of the three paid attention to this almost uninhabitable wasteland. So what was it that brought the former two to such a bitter three year conflict? Oil. The area was thought to be rich in oil reserves, this was to prove inaccurate but before this was discovered 400,000 troops had been drawn into the conflict with 90,000 killed and a waste of an equivalent of US$500 million.

Paraguayan Troops Enter The Chaco to protect their settlers.
Paraguay had the unenviable distinction of being the first League of Nations member to declare war on another member state. Ironic as the League was brought into being to ensure the future would hold no more wars! Though this is jumping forward in the tail as 11 months of unofficial war and discussion predate the declaration (10th May 1933). The conflict supply a ready mix of battles for the enterprising wargamer from skirmish battles such as the Paraguayan capture of a Bolivian post on the 16th of July 1932, starting the armed conflict  through to pitched battles of 1933 and 1934 to the Trench warfare that ended the war. Sieges, air battles, tanks and river boat actions all have a place in the war making it the surprise missing guest at the wargames table.

Paraguay had the best of the first months of the war as both countries had fairly small armies deployed at the start of the conflict ( a form of National Service meant a large pool of trained and semi-trained troops could be brought into service). But the Larger, better equipped and trained Bolivians were soon retaking lost positions and forcing the Paraguayan troops back. Paraguay had ordered full mobilisation whilst Bolivia only a partial as they expected an easy victory. By the end of 1934 Paraguay held most of the Chaco and even managed to invade Bolivia itself in 1935 before being pushed back. This was the high water mark for the Paraguayan forces but Bolivia was never able to use it's strength effectively enough to win the war. 1935 saw the war take on a static nature and the cost in men and material had left both countries with little left to conduct an operation that would bring about the others defeat and as such after many attempt to solve the war Diplomatically through the years of conflict first a truce then finally a Peace Treaty with Paraguay retaining most of the Chaco whilst Bolivia given access to the Atlantic via Paraguay and Parana rivers plus the use of Puerto Casado as a free port. So a lot of blood spilt for no real gain for Paraguay though Bolivia gained trade advantages it was at a shocking cost.

Ju52 in Bolivian Service
If you are interested in wargaming the period I can not recommend The Green Hell by Adrian J. English as a great place to start. Not only does the book cover the whole war but has descriptions of the actions and best of all for the wargamer supplies lists of equipment and Regiments allowing the gamer to reproduce accurate units on the battlefield.


  1. Very interesting, I'm sure a company, (can't think who?) has just released some figures for this war.

  2. cool. I Love south America. that I why my fantasy nation is set in a made up south american reagion

  3. I've heard of this one! Good write-up though

  4. This is yet another Latin American conflict on my To Do list. Thanks for the 'Green Hell' recommendation.

  5. @Ray, yes I am the same, should remember but I don't, though you could use a mix of others antway.

    @ Gowan and Kobold, It has it's moments. The Great Depression and the rise of Fascisum etc. meant that the war went almost unreported in the West and America which goes a long way towards it's failure to gain much notice since.

    @Phyllion, well I must try harder next time ;-) I think it may start to get more interest, what with the new figures available, the Osprey book as well as an old Campign Issue and boardgame.


  6. "If you are interested in wargaming the period I can not recommend The Green Hell by Adrian J. English as a great place to start."
    I hope you can't recommend it enough...?
    Anyway, good write-up. I'll probably buy the book, as these obscure early thirties wars are fascinationg.

  7. Really interesting post. I have heard of this war but knew little about it.