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Rear-Admiral Juan Williams Rebolledo


Juan Williams Rebolledo (Curacaví, Melipilla Province, 1825 - Santiagomarker, June 24, 1910) was a Chileanmarker rear admiral who was the organizer and commander-in-chief of the Chilean navy at the beginning of the War of the Pacific.

Early life

Williams was the son of John Williams, a British navy officer, and of the Chilean lady Micaela Rebolledo. His father came to Chile to serve in its recently formed navy under the command of Lord Thomas Cochrane.

He joined the navy in 1844. After rising quite fast through the ranks, in 1855 he was appointed General Commandant of the Arsenals and Maritime Governor of Atacamamarker, then the northernmost province of Chile.

Chincha Islands War years

In 1865, he became commandant of the Esmeralda, which he sailed during the Chincha Islands War against Spain. During this war he became a national hero when he managed to capture the Spanish schooner Covadonga at the Naval Battle of Papudomarker, on November 26, 1865. For years thereafter, he trained all the officers that later were to participate in the War of the Pacific, and also was in charge of the complete reorganization and modernization of the Chilean navy.

In 1867, he was elected a Deputy to the Chilean Congress, representing the port of Valparaísomarker, and six years later he became a city councillor for the same. In 1874 was appointed General Commandant of the Navy.

War of the Pacific

In 1879, at the beginning of the War of the Pacific against Perumarker and Boliviamarker, he was named commander-in-chief of the Chilean navy. The government plan was to attack the Peruvian navy immediately, as it was undergoing repairs in the port of Callaomarker and was thus virtually defenseless. He completely opposed this course of action, insisting on a blockade of the southern Peruvian ports in order to impede the export of nitrates, then the main source of revenues for the Peruvian government. This course of action gave a much needed respite to the war preparations of Peru, and by the time Williams decided that the blockade was not working fast enough to suit the needs of the war, the Peruvian navy was ready and at sea.

At the end of April, 1879, Williams finally decided to attack Callao. He left behind his two oldest and weakest ships to blockade the port of Iquiquemarker, since they could not keep up the pace with the rest of the fleet. These turned out to be the "Esmeralda" and the "Covadongamarker", who went on to battle the Peruvian navy's first division on May 21 during the Naval Battle of Iquique and the Naval Battle of Punta Gruesa. The loss of the "Esmeralda" and the triumph of the "Covadonga" made public opinion forget for the time being the near disaster that his indecision had caused and the general failure of his war plans.

At the end, his constant infighting with Rafael Sotomayor, Chilean minister of war, and with General Justo Arteaga, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, together with his inability to capture the "Huascarmarker", forced him to resign on August, 1879. He was then replaced by Captain Galvarino Riveros.

Later life

After being appointed to several positions within the navy, in 1890 he rose to Commander General. Nonetheless, after the rebellion of the Chilean Navy that marked the start of the Chilean Civil War of 1891, he resigned and chose to remain loyal to President José Manuel Balmaceda.

Two years before his death he was promoted, by a special act of the Chilean Congress, to Rear-Admiral. He died in Santiago on June 24, 1910.


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