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The naval Battle of Riachuelo was a key point in the War of the Triple Alliance. By late 1864, Paraguaymarker had scored a series of victories in the war; on June 11, 1865, however, its naval defeat by Brazilmarker began to turn the tide in favor of the allies.

The Battle Plan

Place where the Battle of Riachuelo took place.
The Paraguayan fleet was a fraction of the size of Brazil's, even before the battle. It arrived in Humaitámarker on the morning of June 9. Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López prepared to attack at Riachuelo the ships supporting allied land troops. Nine ships and seven cannon-carrying barges, totaling 45 guns, plus 22 guns and two Congreve rocket batteries from shore troops, attacked the Brazilian squadron, totaling 58 guns. Paraguay planned to attack before sunrise since most Brazilian troops would leave the steamers in order to sleep on land, leaving thus very few men to guard and handle their fleet. The original plan had been that, under the cover of the night, the Paraguayan steamers would approach the docked Brazilian ones and board them.. No confrontation other than the one carried out by the boarding party was planned, and the Paraguayan steamers were only there to provide cover from the inland forces.

Description of Battle

The Paraguayan fleet left humaita on the night of June 10, 1965, headed to the port of Corrientes. López had given specific orders that they should approach stealthly the docked Brazilian steamers before sunrise and board them, thus leaving the ground Brazilian forces bereft of their navy early on during the war. For this, López sent nine steamers, Tacuarí, Ygureí, Marqués de Olinda, Paraguarí, Salto Guairá, Rio Apa, Yporá, Pirabebé and Yberá; under the command of Captain Meza who was aboard the Tacuarí. However, some two leagues after leaving Humaitá, upon reaching a point known as Nuatá-pytá, the engine of the Yberá broke down. After losing some hours in an attempt to fix it, it was decided to continue with only the remaining 8 steamers.

The fleet arrived at Corrientes afer sunrise, however, due to a dense fog, the plan was still executable since most, if not all, Brazilian forces where still on land. However, Captain Meza, not following López'es orders, ordered that instead of approaching and boarding the docked steamer, the fleet was to continue down the river and fire at the camp and docked vessels as they passed by. This new course of action proved catastrophic.

The Paraguayans passed in a line parallel to the Brazilian fleet and continued down the stream. Upon Captain Meza's order, the entire fleet opened fire on the docked Brazilian steamers. The land troops hastily, upon realization that they were under attacked, boarded their own ships and began returning fire. One of the Paraguayan steamers was hit in the boiler and one of the "chatas" was damaged as well. Once out of range, they turned upstream and anchored the chatas, forming a line in a very narrow part of the river. This was intended to trap the Brazilian fleet.

Admiral Barroso noticed the Paraguayan tactic and turned down the stream to go after the Paraguayans. However, the Paraguayans started to fire from the shore into the lead ship, Belmonte. The second ship in the line, Jequitinhonha, inadvertently turned upstream and was followed by the whole fleet, thus leaving Belmonte alone to receive the full firepower of the Paraguayan fleet—it was soon put out of action. Jequitinhonha ran aground after the turn, becoming an easy prey for the Paraguayans.

Admiral Barroso, on board of the steamer Amazonas, trying to avoid chaos and reorganize the Brazilian fleet, decided to lead the fleet down the stream again and fight the Paraguayans in order to prevent their escape, rather than save Amazonas.
Battle of Riachuelo.
Four steamers (Beberibe, Iguatemi, Mearim and Araguari) followed Amazonas. The Paraguayan admiral (Meza) left his position and attacked the Brazilian line, sending three ships after Araguari. Parnaíba remained near Jequitinhonha and was also attacked by three ships that were trying to board it. The Brazilian line was effectively cut in two. Inside Parnaíba a ferocious battle was taking place when the Marquez de Olinda joined the attackers.

Barroso, at this time heading upstream, decided to turn the tide of the battle with a desperate measure. The first ship that faced Amazonas was the Paraguarí which was rammed and put out of action. Then he rammed Marquez de Olinda and Salto, and sank a "chata". At this point Paraguari was already out of action. Therefore, the Paraguayans tried to disengage. Beberibe and Araguari pursued the Paraguayans, heavily damaging Tacuary and the Pirabebé, but the nightfall prevented the sinking of these ships.

Jequitinhonha had to be put afire by Paraguari and Marquez de Olinda. In the end, the Paraguayans lost four steamers and all of the "chatas", while the Brazilians only lost the Jequitinhonha, coincidentally the ship responsible for the confusion.

Aftermath and Consequences of the Battle

After the battle, the eight remaining Brazilian steamers salied down river and were met by fire from Captain Bruguez batteries on June 12 and 13. The Paraguarí, which had been rammed by the Amazonas, was set ablaze by the Brazilians;however, the ship had a metal hull. López would a few months later order for the Yporá to retrieve the hull, tow it to the Jejui River and sink it there. Also, under oders from López, a month after the battle, the Yporá would return to the scene and, again under the cover of the night and stealthily as to not alarm another Brazilian steamer which was in the location, boarded the remains of the Jequitinhonha and stole one of its cannons.

Meza was wounded by a gunshot to the chest during the battle. While he did leave the battle alive, he would die eight days later from this wound while at the Humaitá hospital. López, who upon learning of Meza's death said "Si no hubiera muerto con una bala, debia morir con cuatro" (Had he not died from one gunshot, he would have to die from four), gave orders for no officers to attended his burial.

Manuel Trujillo, one of the paraguayan soldiers to take part in the Riachuelo battle recalls "When we sailed down river on full steam, passing all the Brazilian steamrs on the morning of the eleventh, we were all shocked since we knew that all we had to do was approach the steamers and 'all aboard!'". He also recalls that, during the battle, the land troops who had been taken on the steamers in order to board the Brazilian fleet were shouting "Let's aproach the steamers! We came in order to board them and not to be killed on deck!".

Barroso had turned the tables by creatively ramming the enemy ships. The Brazilian navy won a decisive battle. General Robles was effectively stopped in Rio Santa Lúcia. The threat to Argentina was neutralized.

Forces involved

Brazil

Unit
Tonnage
Horsepower
Firepower
Notes
Amazonas
1050
300
1 70 lb and 5 68 lb
Flagship - paddle steamer
Belmonte
602
120
1 70 lb, 3 68 lb and 4 32 lb
Jequitinhonha
647
130
2 68 lb and 5 32 lb
Beberibe
637
130
1 68 lb and 6 32 lb
Parnaíba
602
120
1 70 Lb, 2 68 lb and 4 32 lb
Ipiranga
325
70
7 30 lb
Araguari
415
80
2 68 lb and 2 32 lb
Iguatemi
406
80
3 68 lb and 2 32 lb
Mearim
415
100
3 68 lb and 4 32 lb


Paraguay

Unit
Tonnage
Horsepower
Firepower
Notes
Tacuarí
620
120
2 68 lb and 6 32 lb
Ygureí
650
130
3 68 lb and 4 32 lb
Marquez de Olinda
300
80
4 18 lb
Captured from Brazil earlier in the war
Salto Guairá
300
70
4 18 lb
Paraguarí
730
130
2 68 lb and 6 32 lb
Yporá
300
80
4 guns
Gun rates unavailable
Yberá
Pirabebé
150
60
1 18 lb
Rio Apa
2 Chatas
40
1 80 lb gun each
Barges - Towed
5 Chatas
35
1 68 lb each
Barges - Towed
Shore troops
22 32 lb and two congreve batteries
Shore troops


References

Sources

  • - by Ulysses Narciso
  • Fragoso, Augusto Tasso. História da Guerra entre a Tríplice Aliança e o Paraguai, Vol II. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa do Estado Maior do Exército, 1934.
  • Schneider, L. A guerra da tríplice Aliança, Tomo I. São Paulo: Edições Cultura, 1945.



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