Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
Battle of El Uvero
ONCE WE HAD SETTLED on our objective, the next step was to plan the attack. We, had to find out about the number of soldiers, sentry post's, type of communications, access roads, civilian population and its distribution, etc. Comrade Caldero, now a Major in the Rebel Army, did a wonderful job in this department. Caldero, I seem to remember, was the sawmill manager's son-in-law.
We presumed that the army had more or less precise information about our presence in the zone, because we had captured two informers who confessed that Casillas had sent them to find out about the Rebel Army's whereabouts and its meeting points. The sight of the two informers, pleading for their life, was disgusting as well as moving, but the laws of war could not be disregarded in those difficult moments, and both men were executed,
That same day, the Staff and all the officers held a meeting, and Fidel announced that we would go into action within the next 48 hours; he told us to remain fully dressed and equipped, ready to leave. No instructions were given at the time.
Caldero was to be the guide, He knew the post at El Uvero, every way in and out, and every access road. We started an our way at night. It was a long march - about 16 kilometers - but luckily, all downhill, along the roads built by the Babuns, Yet, it took us about eight hours to cover the distance, because of the extreme precautions taken as we neared the danger zone, Finally, the orders came, and they were very simple: take the sentry posts and riddle the wooden structure holding the garrison,
We knew that the post had no major defenses except a few logs distributed around the building; the strong points were the sentry posts, of four soldiers each, placed strategically outside the building. Our Staff, was to be established atop a hill overlooking the post, a good vantage point from which to direct the action. It was easy to approach within close range of the post by crawling . through the dense woods. We had strict orders not to shoot toward the civilian area where women and children lived. The manager's wife, who knew of our plan, also lived there, but she had refused to leave in order not to arouse suspicion. The civilians were uppermost in our minds as we took our positions to begin the attack.
El Uvero post was located at the very edge of the water so we had to attack only three sides.
Platoons led by Jorge Sotus and Guillermo Garcia were sent to the spot overlooking the road running alongside the coast. It was Almeida's job to liquidate the sentry post facing the mountain more or less to the North; Fidel was to be at the hill overlooking the post, and Raul was to make a frontal attack. I was assigned an intermediate post with my machinegun rifle and my aides. Camilo and Ameijeiras were to attack from the front, between 'my position and Raul's, but they lost their way in the dark and began the attack at my left. Crescencio Perez' platoon was to advance along the road leading to Chivirico and stop any reinforcements coming that way.
We expected the attack to be of short duration, due to the element of surprise, but minutes went by and we still could not place our men in the ideal positions. Our guides, Caldero and one of the zone's guides, named Eligio Mendoza, went back and forth with reports. Soon it would be daybreak and the planned surprise attack was doomed to fail. Jorge Sotus sent word that he was having trouble pinpointing his target, but it was too late to figure out new maneuvers. When Fidel opened fire with his rifle we were able to locate the post by the flashes of the soldiers' fire. I 'was up on an elevated area and was able to see the post, but- the distance was too great and we moved in, looking for' a better position.
Everybody was advancing:, Almeida was headed for the sentry post covering the entrance, and on my left I could see Camilo's cap, with a piece of cloth sticking from the back, Foreign-Legion style, but bearing the insignia of the Movement. We went on advancing, amidst heavy gunfire, taking all the necessary precautions.
We began to receive reinforcements: men who had become separated from their units. A comrade nicknamed "Bomba," Mario Leal, and Acuna, joined our small group. The soldiers were putting up a stiff resistance and now we had reached the flat, open spaces where we had to be very careful of the soldiers' accurate fire. I was about 50 or 60 meters from the enemy's advance guard and saw two soldiers come out of a trench. I fired, but they took refuge in one of the houses. Firing toward the houses was out of the question, so we kept pressing forward across open ground and the bullets kept whizzing by. I heard someone moaning and I though perhaps he had a wound in his head. I made a quick. inspection of the wound: the bullet had hit him on the temple. Leal was fainting and his side was paralyzed; I can't recall whether it was his left or right side. The only bandage I could lay my hands on was a piece of paper, so I placed it on the wound. Joel Iglesias came to help Leal, while we continued the attack, A few seconds later, Acuna fell. We could no longer advance, and we kept firing to- ward a trench and getting plenty of return fire. We were gathering our courage to go for a final attack as the only means to finish the enemy's resistance, and at that very moment, the post surrendered.
It takes only a few minutes to describe the battle, but the actual time was two hours and forty-five minutes, counting from the opening shot to the time we entered the post. On my right - I believe it was Victor Mora - and other comrades had captured several soldiers who had put up a last struggle; a soldier came out of the trench in front of us, holding out his weapon in a gesture of surrender; we could hear cries of surrender coming from all sides. We ran toward the building and there was a burst of machine- gun fire. It was that last burst that killed lieutenant Nano Diaz.
Reaching the civilian area, we captured the two soldiers that had escaped my fire, and also the post physician and his assistant. A curious incident occurred, involving the physician, a calm, gray-haired man whom I never saw again. I do not know if he is now part of our Revolution. I was never too much of a physician and the number of wounded men being carried in was on the increase. Moreover, I was not too inclined to Medicine at the moment. When I went to turn the wounded over to the army physician he asked me how old I was and the date of my graduation. I told him I had several years experience and he said: "Look, you take care of this; I have just graduated and I have very little experience." His lack of experience and his fear at finding himself a prisoner had made him forget whatever he knew about his profession. From that moment on, I had to exchange my soldier's uniform for a physician's robe; actually, all I did was wash my hands.
Following the combat, one of the bloodiest we ever had, we began to gather data and now' I am able to present a more general picture; up to now the story was based on my personal experience. What happened was more or less as follows. When Fidel opened fire, giving the signal to begin, everybody began to attack the pre-determined objectives, and the army returned the fire, especially toward the hill where Fidel was. Julito Diaz was killed while standing next to Fidel. The soldiers' resistance was increasing and it was practically impossible to press on toward our goal. The most important task had been given to Almeida, at the center. He was to liquidate the sentry post to open way for his men and Raul's. We were told how Eligio Mendoza, the guide, had grabbed a rifle and joined the attack, He was a very superstitious man, and when he was warned to take care of himself he scornfully replied that his "saint" would take care of that. A few seconds later, he was practically cut in two by a burst of machinegun fire. The enemy's fire was heavy and we lost a few men. We were finding it very difficult to gain any distance through the center. Jorge Sotus, on the road to Peladero, tried a flank maneuver, accompanied by his assistant, nicknamed "The Policeman" but the latter was killed almost immediately and Sotus had to dive into the sea to escape. Others in his platoon made an effort to advance but were repelled. A peasant named Vega was killed, Manals was hit in the lungs, Quike Escalona was hit in the arm, hand and buttocks. Hiding behind the log barricade, the soldiers were cutting our small troop to pieces. Almeida called for z final attack to take the enemy position. Cilleros, Maceo, Hermes, Leyva, and Pena were wounded, and Almeida himself was hit in the left leg and shoulder. Moll was killed. However, this last rush overtook the sentry post and opened our way to the fort. On the other side, Guillermo Garcia's accurate machinegun fire had killed three soldiers; another one tried to escape and was also killed. Raul, his platoon divided into two groups, began a rapid advance toward the post. It was the attack carried out by Guillermo Garcia and Almeida that turned the tide; they had liquidated their respective enemy posts allowing for the final attack, A praiseworthy performance was that of Luis Crespo, who left the Staff to join the fight. As we reached the building, where somebody was waving a white handkerchief, someone in our troop must have fired and the enemy replied with a burst that killed Nano Diaz, who had been using his machinegun very effectively against the soldiers. Crescencio's platoon was practically out of action due to a jammed machinegun, so they had continued covering the road from Chivirico, and had captured two soldiers who had tried to escape along that road. The battle had lasted two hours and forty-five minutes and no civilians were hurt, despite the intense fire.
Our casualties were: Moll, Nano Diaz, Vega "The Policeman," Julito Diaz, and Eligio Mendoza, dead; Leal and Cilleros, badly wounded. Others, more or less seriously wounded, were Maceo, hit on the shoulder; Hermes Leyva, surface wound in the chest; Quike Escalona, right arm and hand; Pena, shot in the knee, Manuel Acuna, right arm, and Manals shot in the lungs, no other symptoms. A total of 15 comrades out of action. The enemy had 19 wounded, 14 dead,. 14 had been captured and 6 had escaped. A total of 53 men, they were commanded by a second lieutenant who had raised the white flag after he was wounded.
We had 80 m n, and the enemy 53,. a total of 133, with 38 - over one-fourth - out of action in less than two and a half hours' fighting. It had been a reckless, wide-open attack upon an enemy that was badly protected, and we , must admit that both sides showed tremendous courage. For us, it was a victory that meant that our guerrillas had reached full maturity. From that moment on, our morale increased enormously, our determination and hope for victory also increased, and although the months that followed were a hard test, we now had the key to the secret of how to beat the enemy. This battle sealed the fate of every garrison located far from larger concentrations of troops and every small army post was soon dismantled.
One of the very first shots fired in the combat had cut off telephone communication with Santiago, and the enemy recognizance planes arrived hours later, when we had already reached the mountain. The following will give an idea of the concentrated fire we had poured into the army post: in addition to the 14 dead soldiers there were 3 dead parakeets - the guards had five of these as pets - and it must have taken a veritable deluge of bullets to hit such small animals.
My return to the medical profession had its sad moments. My first patient was Cilleros. A bullet had broken his right arm, had gone through his lungs and imbedded itself in his spine, paralyzing his' legs. His condition was very serious, and all I could do was give him some drugs and bandage his chest tightly so that he could breathe a little more comfortably. We tried to save his life by doing the only thing we could do at the time: take the fourteen prisoners with us and leave our two wounded men, Leal and Cilleros, with the enemy, under the guarantee of the doctor's word of honor. When I told Cilleros about our decision, adding a few words of comfort, he looked at me with a sad smile on his lips 'that was more eloquent than any word. He knew this was the end. We knew it too, and I was tempted to kiss him on the forehead but I realized that it would mean signing his death sentence. It was my duty riot to make his last moments any worse by doing something that would only confirm what he already suspected. I said a fond goodbye to my two comrades. They insisted on staying with us even if it meant death for them, but it was our duty to fight for their lives to the last minute. We left them there, fraternizing with the wounded soldiers, who had also been taken care of to the best of our ability.
Our comrades were treated very decently by the enemy soldiers but one of them, Cilleros, never reached Santiago. The other one survived, and was sent to the Isle of Pines prison. He still bears the marks of that important episode of our revolutionary war.
We loaded one of the Babuns' trucks with every sort of item, principally medicines, and went on to our hideout in the mountain where we arrived in time to attend the wounded and pay our last respects to the dead. We expected that the army would be in hot pursuit and we decided that every man who was able to walk was to go as far as possible from the place. The wounded were 'to remain with me and Enrique Lopez was to find transportation, a hide- out, a few helpers to carry, the wounded, and contact-men to bring medicines.
Throughout the night me kept discussing the battle. No one slept, and they all had something to say about what they 'had seen or done. Out of curiosity, I kept a record of the enemy dead and wounded - according to the story- tellers - and they seemed to surpass the actual number of enemy soldiers. Each man's story reached the realm of fantasy. This and other similar experiences taught us that all data should be checked and re-checked by several per- sons. In our exaggeration, we went so far as to demand physical proof, such as items taken from enemy soldiers, before we accepted it as an enemy loss. Our main concern was to broadcast the truth. This was the central theme of any information given by the Rebel Army and we made every effort to make our comrades realize how important it was to have respect for truth, and to realize that truth was to be placed above transitory victory.
At dawn, we bid farewell to the victorious troop. I remained with Joel Iglesias and Onate, a guide named Sinecio Torres, and Vilo Acuna - now a Major in the Rebel Army - who remained to take care of his uncle.