The War of the Pacific

April 5, 1879 – October 20, 1883

Chile vs Bolivia & Peru

Guerra del Pacífico





The Chilean Navy 


The Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane


Under the direction of Rear Admiral  Juan Rebolledo Williams ( 1825 - 1910 ), the Chilean Navy and its powerful battleships — Almirante Cochrane and Blanco Encalada — started to operate on the Bolivian and Peruvian coast. The port of Iquique  ( Part of Peru at the time ) was blockaded, while Huanillos, Mollendo, Pica and Pisagua were bombarded and port facilities burned. Rear Admiral Williams hoped that, by disrupting commerce and especially saltpeter  and guano exports or weapons imports, the Allies' war effort would be weakened and the Peruvian Navy would be forced into a decisive showdown.



The Blanco Encalada , sunk in 1891



 Historical movie on Admiral Grau


The smaller, but effective, Peruvian Navy did not oblige. Under the command of Admiral Miguel María Grau Seminario ( 1834 - Oct 8, 1879 ) aboard the Huáscar, Peru staged a series of blockade runs and harassment raids deep into Chilean waters. The plan was to disrupt Chilean operations, draw the enemy fleet back to the South while avoiding at all costs a fight against superior forces; as a consequence the Chilean invasion would be delayed, the Allies would be free to supply and reinforce their troops along the coast, and weapons would still flow into Peru from the North.


 The War at Sea


The Naval Battle of Chipana, the first of the war at sea, took place off Huanillos on 12 April 1879, as Peruvian corvettes Unión and Pilcomayo found Chilean corvette Magallanes on its way to Iquique. After a two-hour running artillery duel, Unión suffered engine problems; the pursuit was called off and Magallanes escaped with minor damage.


The Esmeralda versus the Huascar





 Combate Naval de Iquique - Battle of Iquique


In the Naval Battle of Iquique of 21 May 1879, Peruvian ships Huáscar and Independencia lifted the blockade of Iquique by Esmeralda and Covadonga, two of Chile's oldest wooden vessels. Huáscar sank Esmeralda, while Covadonga forced the larger Independencia to run aground at Punta Gruesa (some historians consider this a different engagement and call it the Battle of Punta Gruesa)



 Peruvian historical drama about the Naval Battle of Iquique


Having gained control of the sea, the Chilean Army started the invasion of Peru. Bolivia, unable to recover the Litoral province, joined the Peruvian defence of Tarapacá and Tacna. However many Bolivians would abandon their allies in the heat of the battle, demoralizing both armies.


 The Chilean Navy lost a wooden corvette and elevated Captain Arturo Prat of Esmeralda as a martyr to their cause: he died leading a handful of sailors boarding the ironclad after it had rammed his ship. The Peruvian Navy lost a powerful ironclad frigate and saw Admiral Miguel Grau's renown grow among friend and foe as a result of his actions: he rescued the survivors of Esmeralda after the battle and wrote condolences to the widow of Captain Prat. Significantly, Huáscar remained the only Peruvian vessel capable of holding off the invasion.


The Huascar



 video of the Huáscar


The Huáscar's Exploits 




For six months, the Huáscar roamed the seas and effectively cut off the Chilean supply lines. In an impressive display of naval mastery, Captain Grau was able to hold off the entire Chilean Navy, recover captured Peruvian vessels and severely damage many ports used by the Chilean Navy. These actions are known as the "Correrías del Huáscar" (Huáscar's Exploits) and as a result Grau was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. A brief listing of these actions include:



 Monitor Huáscar vs Blanco Encalada


Captain Grau of the Huascar

  • Damaged ports of Cobija, Tocopilla, Platillos and Mejillones, Huanillos, Punta de Lobo, Chanaral, Huasco, Caldera, Coquimbo & Tatal
  • Sank 16 Chilean vessels
  • Damaged Chilean vessels Blanco Encalada, Abtao, Magallanes, and Matías Cousiño
  • Captured Chilean vessels Emilia, Adelaida Rojas, E. Saucy Jack, Adriana Lucía, Rimac, and Coquimbo
  • Recovered Peruvian vessels Clorinda and Caquetá
  • Destroyed artillery batteries of Antofagasta
  • Destroyed Antofagasta-Valparaiso communications cable

The whole Chilean fleet, consequently, concentrated only on one objective: To hunt and destroy the Huascar .It took the Chilean Navy a full day of sailing with six ships in order to corner the Húascar. Soon the Huascar, armed with four guns and one Gattling, would engage in one of the most fierce and unequal naval encounters against two powerful Chilean battleships protected by double armor and provided with an artillery of 42 guns, six machine-guns and eight torpedo-tubes.After the Huascar was trapped nearly two hours of bloody combat ensued with their Chilean battleships Blanco Encalada, Covadonga and Cochrane to cause her to founder with 76 artillery hits in the Naval Battle of Angamos on 8 October 1879. The dead included Admiral Grau.

With the capture of Huáscar, the naval campaign was over. With the exception of local skirmishes, Chile would control the sea for the duration of the war.

The Chileans were now in absolute control of the sea, and could land an army when and where they pleased.The Bolivian sea-coast, inhabited almost exclusively by Chilean miners, and inaccessible over- land from Bolivia proper, had fallen into Chile's hands at the opening of the war, but Grau's success in immobilising the Chilean navy had been taken advantage of by the Peruvians to ship nine thousand troops to their own nitrate province, where they could conveniently attack the Chileans who occupied the Bolivian territory to their south, or defend their own most valuable piece of property. But although this army was in Peruvian territory the naval victory of the Chileans isolated it almost completely.


On 2 November 1879, naval bombardment and amphibious assaults were carried out at the small port of Pisagua and the Junín Cove –some 500 km North of Antofagasta. At Pisagua, several landing waves totaling 2,100 troops attacked beach defenses held by 1,160 Allies and took the town; the landing at Junín was smaller and almost unsuccessful. By the end of the day, General Erasmo Escala and a Chilean army of 10,000 were ashore and moving inland, isolating the province of Tarapacá from the rest of Peru and cutting off General Juan Buendía's 1st Southern Army from reinforcements.






   Battle of Topáter

March 23, 1879


The Land War

 The Battle of Arica  

 The march on Lima

 Death of Juan Fanning

Occupation of Peru

Long-term consequences of the war