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Battle of Angamos

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oranphil View Drop Down
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    Posted: 09 Nov 2015 at 02:00

On 8 October 1879 a decisive and critical battle took place off the coast of Bolivia (now part of Chile), this battle is known as the Battle of Angamos and was a major defeat for Peru. So what happened and who was involved?
The War of the Pacific started in 1879 and lasted to 1883; it was fought between Bolivia, Chile and Peru and started over the control of Antofagasta, a region rich in guano and also taxes. Peru and Bolivia ultimately lost the war and land was ceded to Chile, Peru lost Tacna and Arica and Bolivia lost access to the sea becoming a landlocked country.

Now the Battle of Angamos was the standoff between Chilean Vice-Admiral Juan José Latorre Benavente (1846-1912) and the Peruvian Admiral Miguel María Grau Seminario (1834-1879). At this time Bolivia had no navy, so Peru was left with the heavy task of gaining dominance in the Pacific Ocean. 
For a long time before the war Peru had a stronger navy however, at the break of war Chile acquired ironclads, namely the Cochrane and the Blanco Encalada which were larger but slower than the faster and smaller ironclads of Peru, the most well-known one being the Huáscar. 
Miguel Grau began life on the waves at a young age, from the age of 9 after enrolling in the Paita Nautical School he worked on many ships across South America till 1853 when he left the merchant marines and became an officer candidate in the Peruvian Navy. In 1864 he travelled to Merseyside, UK to oversee the building and delivery of the new ironclads. On returning to South America he was quickly put to the test when the Chilean and Peruvian Navy joined forces to fight back the Spanish who wanted to gain control of their old colonies. In 1876 he rose the rank of admiral and his flagship was the Huáscar.
At the outbreak of the War of the Pacfic,Peru had the upper hand and this was evident as the Peruvian Navy swept across northern Chile causing havoc on the supply lines, one such victory for Peru was at the Iquique, a port in Southern Peru that was blockaded by the Chilean ship The Esmeralda on 21st May 1879. The Esmeralda was a small wooden ship while the Huáscar, an advanced ship of the time had numerous armaments and has thick iron armor. When Miguel Grau arrived to the port and confronted the Chilean Navy Captain Arturo Prat, a defiant captain who refused to surrender even if the odds were against him. It is said that Miguel Grau pleaded to Captain Prat to surrender due to the heavy losses on the Chilean side however, his plea was unheeded and he was forced to sink The Esmeralda, Captain Prat lost his life after boarding the Huáscar. The water was littered with the dead and the drowning, Grau gave an order to save as many of the survivors as possible and took them back to land. 
The Huáscar proved to be a huge problem for Chile, Chile needed dominance of the sea so it could land troops on the shores and start the land invasion. Many Peruvian ships had been sunk so the Chileans hatched a plan to trap the Huáscar and end its activity. On the 8th October 1879, the Chilean fleet of two ironclads the Cochrane and the Blanco Encalada and three corvettes were sent up north to meet Grau. Grau now realizing he was severely outnumbered tried to flee but became trapped at Punta Angamos, the Chilean ships now opened fire and the Cochrane fired an armour piercing round that hit the command tower killing Miguel Grau instantly. Command fell to Lt Captain Elias Aguirre who bravely fought on despite the grim fate; the Chileans continued to bombard the Huáscar and Aguirre fell. The command then fell to a lieutenant who with rest of the crew thought it was a good idea to scuttle the ship however, it was too late the Chileans boarded the ship and captured the Huáscar. 
This devastating loss meant that the Chileans had free reign of the sea and were able to land troops on the coast without issues. 
Admiral Miguel María Grau Seminario was buried with military honors in Chile but his remains were returned to Peru in 1958 and his flagship the Huáscar was kept by the Chilean Navy who utilized it during the War of the Pacific against Peru and was also used in the Chilean Civil War (1891). The Huáscar in the end was renovated and is now floating museum which you can visit in Talcahuano, Chile.
Miguel María Grau Seminario is well-known and respected throughout Chile and Peru, he is known as the Gentleman of the Seas due to the fact that despite being under enemy fire he tried to recuse people from both sides. In 1967 Grau was posthumously awarded the rank of Grand Admiral of Peru.
The 8th of October is now a national holiday in Peru, a day set aside to remember Admiral Miguel Grau, the Gentleman of the Seas and those that fought along side him.

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