During the 1930's, a bloody war was fought in the interior of South America, over a forbidding stretch of land known as the Chaco Desert. The two protagonists, Bolivia and Paraguay, are both landlocked nations surrounded by larger neighbors that had taken substantial land from them in the previous century. Bolivia had lost its seacoast to Chile in the 1879 War of the Pacific. In order to secure an exit by sea for its export goods, it claimed all of the land west of the Paraguay River. Bolivia had a professional army, assisted by German officers. Paraguay's population and land area had been decimated by Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in the War of the Triple Alliance, and was considered almost helpless. However, the Paraguayans did begin covert procurement of weapons during the late 1920's, and received military advice from officers of the French Army.
Leaders of Bolivia
Leaders of Paraguay
Boquerón campaign: Sept. 9 - 29, 1932.
Paraguayan forces launch a pre-emptive attack, isolating substantial Bolivian forces. Lack of water forces defenders to surrender, with 2,000 losses. Toledo taken Sept. 27, Platanillos Nov. 6.
Nanawa campaign: Jan. - July 1933.
Bolivia masses forces and initially succeeds in pushing back Paraguayans, but later frontal assaults fail.
Campo Vía campaign: Oct. - Dec. 1933
After constructing an elaborate system of roads through the dense Chaco bush, the Paraguayans infiltrate troops and attack on Oct. 23. General Kundt (a German advisor to the Bolivians) holds to static positions, and large forces are surrounded. The Bolivian 4th and 9th Divisions surrender on Dec. 11, and the Paraguayans begin a broad advance toward the west. A temporary truce is signed Dec. 19. Thereafter, Bolivia institutes a draft to rebuild its ranks. However, a counterattack May 19, 1934 at Cañada Strongest is contained.
El Carmen - Irendagüe campaign: Aug. - Dec. 1934
After Pres. Salamanca refuses to abandon the town of Ballivián (on the Pilcomayo River) in order to shorten the front, the Paraguayan 6th Division under Franco attacks toward the northwest on Aug. 14, taking Irendagüe and other towns to the west near the foothills of the Andes Mountains, thereby outflanking the Bolivian front. Bolivia redeployed its forces to the north and began to push Franco back, and Paraguay then attacked at El Carmen Nov. 11. Two more Bolivian divisions surrender after being cut off, and President. Salamanca is forced out of office. After the Battle of El Carmen, Franco returns to the offensive, infiltrating Irendagüe and pushing back the Bolivian cavalry to the Andes by Dec. 10. Then another Paraguayan offensive along the Pilcomayo captures the town of Ibodobo, and pushes back the Bolivians to Villa Montes.
The Andes campaign: April - May, 1935
A Bolivian counteroffensive through the mountain passes begun on April 16 has only partial success, due to the unpreparedness and unwillingness of the troops; high casualties result. The difficulty of fighting in mountain terrain precludes further Paraguayan attacks, and a stalemate ensues. Both sides are financially and morally exhausted, and armistice talks begin. The cease-fire goes into effect June 14, 1935. The Peace Conference finished its work and was dissolved January 23, 1939.
Paraguay gained a substantial amount of land in the Chaco Desert area, which was thought to contain a large reserve of petroleum. Deaths from combat: 36,000.
Bolivia was granted a token stretch of river bank along the Paraguay River, but this was never developed into a port. Deaths from combat: 52,397. Desertions: 10,000. Captured: 21,000 (4,264 died in captivity).