Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
Attack on Bueycito
SEVERAL PROBLEMS AROSE due to our independent life. Now it was necessary to establish a rigid discipline, organize the command and set up some sort of Staff in order to insure the success of future combats. It was not an easy task due to the lack of discipline among the new men.
No sooner was the detachment organized when a dear comrade, lieutenant Maceo, left on a mission to Santiago. We never saw him again. He was killed in the city.
William Rodriguez, Raul and Casero Mercader were promoted to lieutenant, in an effort to consolidate a small guerrilla force. One morning, we heard the unpleasant news that a man called Wong "the Chinaman", had deserted, carrying with him his 22 caliber rifle, a most valuable weapon under the circumstances. It was presumed he had returned to his neighborhood in the foothills of the
Sierra. Two men were sent to chase him but we lost all hope when Israel Pardo and Banderas returned following a fruitless search for other deserters. Taking into account Israel's strong physical condition and experience with the surrounding area, he was ordered to join my group, for special missions.
We began to work out a very ambitious plan: to attack Estrada Palma first, at night, then continue on to the nearby towns of Yara and Veguitas, seize the small army posts, and return to the mountains. This would mean taking three enemy positions in one single attack, depending on the factor of surprise. We did some target practice, using ammunition sparingly, and found every weapon in good shape, with the exception of the Madzen machinegun rifle that was old and dirty. We wrote to Fidel asking whether or not he approved our plan. We received no answer from Fidel but on July 27 we heard the news on the radio: Raul Castro, leading 200 men, had attacked Estrada Palma.
The magazine "Bohemia," in the only non-censored issue of that time, published a special article showing the damage our troops had inflicted on Estrada Palma, where the army headquarters had been destroyed. The article mentioned Fidel Castro, Celia Sanchez, and a myriad of revolutionaries who had come from the mountains. It was a mixture of truth and myth, as usual, and the reporters could never figure out what had happened. The attack had been carried out by a small group of men led by captain Guillermo Garcia. Actually, there was no battle because Barreras had expected the 26 of July to be the date for strong attacks and had withdrawn his forces, not trusting his position. What came to Estrada Palma was something like an expedition. The next day, the army began the pursuit of our guerrillas and one of our men was caught asleep near San Lorenzo.
When we heard the news we made up our minds to move on and attack some other post on a date as close as possible to July 26 in order to maintain a state of affairs favorable to the insurrection.
On our way to La Maestra, near a place called La Jeringa we were met by one of the men who had gone in search of the deserter. He said his comrade had told him that he was a close friend of Wong's and could not betray him. Then he invited him to desert, saying that he was not returning to the guerrillas. Our comrade had warned him to stop, and when the man kept going away, he shot him. I gathered my troop on a hill nearby and told them that they were going to witness the outcome of an attempt at desertion. I explained why the crime of desertion was punishable by death, the only sentence that could be applied to anyone betraying the Revolution. We marched by the body of the dead man, single file. Many of our new comrades where shaken by the sight of death, by the sight of a man who had attempted to leave his post. Per haps many of them were moved more by a certain affection toward the man, together with a political weakness - understandable at that time - than by a feeling of disloyalty to the Revolution. These were hard times, and the shooting of the man was considered as exemplary. It would be meaningless to mention the names of the protagonists in this drama. Let us simply say that the deserter was a young man, a humble peasant of that very same zone.
We were now traveling through familiar zones. On July 30, Lalo Sardinas contacted an old friend, one of the zone's merchants named Armando Oliver. We set a rendezvous in a house on California zone and there we met the merchant and Jorge Abich. We told Abich of our intention to attack Minas and Bueycito. We were risking a great deal by confiding in these people but Lalo had full confidence in them.
Armando reported that Casillas visited these zones on Sundays. Following the inveterate habits of all army officers, he had a girl friend there. However, we were more inclined to carry on a quick attack, based on surprise, instead of trusting to luck and try to capture this notorious officer. The night of July 31 was set for the attack. Armando Oliver was to get trucks, guides, and a sapper whose job was to blow up three bridges between the Bueycito road and that of Manzanillo-Bayamo. The following day at 2 p.m. we started our march toward the Maestra. It took us two hours and once there we hid our knapsacks and went on. It was a long walk and on the way we passed a few houses. There was a party going on in one of the houses and we stopped and gave the people a lecture, and holding them responsible for any leaks about our whereabouts. Then we continued on at full speed. Of course, in this case there was no great danger involved; there was no telephone or any other means of communication in the Sierra. An informer would have to run fast to get ahead of us.
A comrade named Santiesteban had a truck ready for us, together with two others that Oliver had sent, Sardinas climbed aboard the first truck, Ramiro and I got on the second one, Ciro and his group boarded the third, an we began the three-hour trip to the town of Las Minas. Practically all the army vigilance was focused upon as Minas, so it was our job to keep anyone from going to Bueycito. We left a rear guard, headed by Vilo Acuna, and went on to the outskirts of Bueycito.
At the entrance to town we stopped a coal truck and sent it ahead with one of our men to check up on the sentries. We knew that sometimes the army would set up a post and search everybody going in or out. This time there was no sentry. Every soldier was peacefully asleep.
Our plan was simple, although a little pretentious: Lalo Sardinas was to attack the west side of the post, Ramiro would encircle it, and Ciro was to attack the front, using the Staff's machinegun. Oliver was to arrive in an automobile and turn his headlights on the guards, then Ramiro was to break in and capture everybody. Guards sleeping at home would bc taken by surprise. Lieutenant Noda's squad kept their eyes open for any road traffic prior to the attack, and William was sent to blow up the bridge connecting Bueycito with the Central highway.
The plan never materialized. It was too much for a group of' men unfamiliar with their surroundings and lacking experience. Ramiro lost some of his men in the dark, arrived late, and the automobile never came. There was a tense moment when we were placing our men and the dogs began to bark furiously.
I was walking along the town's main street when a man came out of a house. I gave him the order to halt and the man taking me for a comrade, replied: "Rural Guard." When I pointed my gun at him, he jumped into the house and I could hear furniture and glass flying around inside. He escaped through the back of the house. I suppose it was something of a silent agreement between us: I did not want to raise an alarm by firing, and in turn, he did not warn his friends.
We were still looking for favorable positions when the sentry came out, puzzled by the dogs' barking and perhaps by the noise made by my unexpected meeting with the soldier. I came face to face with the sentry. I was ready with my Thompson and he was carrying a Garand rifle. Israel Pardo was standing next to me. I gave the. man the order to stop and he made a slight move. For me, that was more than enough: I pressed the trigger and nothing happened. Israel tried to fire his 22 caliber rifle and it jammed. I cannot imagine how Israel escaped unhurt. All I remember is running like a madman under the rain of bullets from the soldier's Garand. I turned a corner and stopped to get my gun back into firing condition. The soldier had inadvertenly given the signal to start the attack, since his shots were the first heard that night. When the fire became generalized, the soldier hid behind a column and that is where we found him when the attack ended. It had taken only a few minutes.
While Israel went on to make contact, the shooting ended and we received the surrender. Ramiro's men had attacked the building as soon as they heard the first shots. They had riddled a door leading to the back of the building.
We found twelve soldiers, six of whom were wounded. We had lost one man, Pedro Rivero, a newcomer to our ranks, who was shot in the chest. Three others were slightly wounded. Once we had removed everything that was useful to us, we set the building on fire and boarded the trucks. Whe had captured the sargeant and an informer named Oran.
It was already daylight and everybody in town was offering us beer and cold drinks. The bridge to the high way had been blown up and we blew up another small bridge over a stream. The sapper came back with Oliver and he remained with us as a full-fledged member. He was a priceless acquisition. His name: Cristino Naranjo, who became a Major and was murdered by counter-revolutionaries following the triumph of the Revolution.
Our group came to Las Minas where we stopped and held a little meeting. Playing his role to the hilt, one of the Abich, a storekeeper, asked us in the name of the people, to release the sergeant and the informer. We replied that we kept them as prisoners to safeguard the lives of the inhabitants, but as long as the people insisted, we would agree. Thus, we settled two things: the prisoners were released and the townspeople were safe. On the way to the Sierra we buried our comrade in the town's cemetery. Very few recognizance planes were flying over us at the time, so we stopped at a grocery store to take care of the wounded. One man had been shot in the shoulder, a surface wound, but it had torn the flesh away, making the treatment a little difficult; the other one was hit in the hand by a small caliber bullet. The third man had a tremendous bump on his head. It seems that the army mules became frightened during the battle and began to kick right and left. One of the kicks landed on the wall and a piece of plaster had landed on our comrade's head.
At Altos de California, we left the trucks and distributed the arms. Although my participation in the battle had been insignificant and none-too-heroic, since I had presented my posterior to the few shots fired in my direction, I took a Browning machinegun rifle, the best one in the post. I threw away the Thompson and its unpredictable ammunition. The best fighters were given the best arms, and those who had performed worst were given leave of absense, these included the "wets" a group of men who had fallen into the river when they had tried to escape at the beginning of the battle. Among the best fighters we can mention captain Ramiro Valdes, who led the attack, and Raul Castro Mercader, who played a decisive role in the short battle.
Back in the hills, we heard about the state of siege and the censorship. We also heard the terrible news of Frank Pais' death. Frank had been murdered in the streets of Santiago, and this represented an enormous loss to the Revolution. It was the end of one of the purest, most brilliant figures of the Cuban Revolution. The people of Santiago and Havana, in fact the entire population of Cuba, went into the spontaneous August strike, the government's partial censorship became complete, and we entered a new stage; one of absolute silence on the part of the pseudo-oppositionists on one hand, and of savage murders committed by Batista's henchmen all over the island, on the other. This time, the people of Cuba were ready for war.
When Frank Pais was murdered, we lost one of our most valuable fighters, but the people's reaction to the crime showed that additional forces were joining the struggle and the people's fighting spirit had increased.