Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
Battle of El Hombrito
THE COLUMN had been organized less than a month before, and already we had begun our sedentary life in the Sierra. We had camped in a valley called El Hombrito - The Little Man - because two superimposed rocks, on the summit of the Sierra, resembled the figure of a small person.
Ours was a troop of new recruits, and the men had to be 'trained before they undertook difficult tasks, and yet, we had to be ready for battle at any moment. It was our duty to attack any enemy units that dared invade what was already "free territory of Cuba" that is, a certain section of the Sierra Maestra.
On the eve of August 29, a peasant reported a large number of soldiers headed for the Sierra through El Hombrito road leading to the valley. We were very skeptical about false reports, so I told the man that he would be subjected to all sorts of punishment if he happened to be lying, but he kept swearing that is was all true; that the soldiers were now at the farm of Julio Zapatero, 2 kilometers from the Sierra.
That night, we got into position. Lalo Sardinas' platoon was hidden among some ferns, and their duty was to hit the enemy as soon as they were stopped. Ramiro Valdes and his men with less firepower, were to begin an "accoustic" attack to start the alarm. Although not power fully armed, they were in a less dangerous position as the enemy had to cross a Jeep ravine to get close to them.
The trail the enemy had to enter was on the edge of the hill where Lalo was ambushed, Ciro was to carry on an oblique attack and I, with the best-armed men, was to open the hostilities. The best squad was Mercader's, so they were positioned as shock-troops to reap the fruits of victory. Our plan was a simple one: When the enemy reached a curve on the trail, making an almost 90º turn around a rock, I was to let 10 or 12 men go by, then fire upon the sharpshooters would take care of the men, Raul Mercader's squad would take the dead soldiers' weapons, and we would all withdraw, covered by the rear guard under lieutenant Vilo Acuna.
At dawn, from Ramiro Valdes', position, we noticed some activity around Zapatero's house. A few men were walking in and out, putting on their helmets. We knew that the peasant had been telling the truth. We were all ready for action.
I took my position as we kept our eyes on the enemy soldiers who were beginning their slow climb. I waited for what seemed an interminable period of time, my finger on the trigger of the Browning rifle, ready for the battle. We could hear their voices and shouts as they went on, not suspecting an ambush. The first man went by, then the second. They were so far apart from each other I began to think there would not be any time to wait for twelve of them to pass. As I counted six, I heard a shout and one of the soldiers raised his head in a gesture of surprise. I opened fire, hitting the sixth man. The fire became generalized, and at the second burst of automatic rifle fire the six men disappeared from the trail. I told Mercader's squad to at tack while a few volunteers joined the attack on the same spot; now we had opened fire from both sides. Lieutenant Orestes and Mercader were on their way in, and other men, protected by a rock, concentrated their fire on the enemy column that was part of a Company commanded by Major Merob Sosa. Rodolfo Vazquez took the weapon away from the man I had wounded. Unfortunately, the man was only a medical corps man whose entire equipment consisted of a 45 caliber revolver and a few shells. The other five men had thrown themselves down a ravine, escaping along the bottom of a dry stream. Soon, we heard the first bazookas fired by the enemy, now recovered from the unexpected attack.
A Maxim machinegun and my rifle were our only heavy-caliber weapons, but the Maxim would not work and Julio Perez could not do anything with it.
On Ramiro's side, Israel and Joel Iglesias, armed with their puny weapons, had advanced toward the enemy. Shotguns went off everywhere, adding to the soldiers' confusion. I ordered the two lateral platoons to retreat, then followed them leaving the rear guard to cover up until Lalo Sardinas' platoon withdrew. We had already planned a second line of resistance.
Vilo Acuna caught up with us and told us of Hermes Leyva's death. We came face to face with a platoon sent by Fidel whom I had warned about the imminent battle with superior forces. Ignacio Perez was at the head of this platoon. Retreating to about 1,000 yards away, we set up our new ambush. The soldiers came to the plateau where the attack had taken place and we watched as they burned the body of Hermes Leyva, in a savage act of revenge. In our impotent fury, all we could do was to fire our rifles while they returned our fire with their bazookas.
I found out that the shout that provoked my hurried shot was a remark made by one of the soldiers. He had shouted something like "this is like a picnic!" probably indicating that he was getting close to the summit. The attack proved our lack of combat training, since we had been unable to fire accurately at an enemy no further than 20 yards away. Even so, it was a big victory for us: we had managed to stop Merob Sosa's column, and they had now withdrawn. We had also obtained one small weapon, but at a very high price: the life of one of our comrades. We had accomplished all this armed with inefficient arms, against a complete company of at least 140 men, well equipped for modern war, who had launched a large amount of bazooka fire - perhaps even mortars - against us, although their attack had been just as haphazard as ours.
Following the battle, a few men were promoted, among them Alfonso Zayas, who was made a lieutenant. Next day, we talked with Fidel and he was very happy with the results of an attack he had launched against the soldiers in Las Cuevas. Some of our comrades had been killed: Juventino Alarcon, of Manzanillo, one of the first to join our guerrillas; Pastor; Yayo; Castillo; and Oliva, a great fighter and a fine boy, whose father was a lieutenant in Batista's army.
Fidel's attack had been quite important since it was not an ambush but an actual attack on a camp which was fairly well defended. The enemy had suffered many losses and had abandoned their position the following day. One of the heroes had been "Pilon, the Negro," a great fighter. They told us Pilon had come to a hut where he saw a series of strange-looking lengths of pipe next to a number of small boxes. They were bazookas, but neither Pilon nor any of us had ever seen one at close range. Pilon was wounded in a leg and had to abandon the hut, and we lost a great opportunity to get our hands on these weapons, so valuable against small fortifications.
Our battle had new repercussions. A few days later, an army dispatch announced five or six dead. In addition to burning our comrade's body, the soldiers had murdered five or six peasants whom Merob Sosa suspected of having reported to us about the army's whereabouts. Those poor peasants were murdered and their houses were set afire. I remember the names of Abigail, Calixto, Pablito Lisbon - of Haitian descent - and Gonzalo Gonzalez, all far removed, or at least partly removed from our struggle. They knew about our cause, they suspected we were in the zone, but they were completely innocent of our ambush. We knew very well the methods used by Batista's officers to obtain information and we kept our moves secret. In case a peasant happened to go by an ambush we kept him with us until the attack was over.
The battle proved that it was easy, under certain circumstances, to attack enemy columns on the march. We realized the advantage of firing upon the head of the column and of trying to kill the leading men, immobilizing the rest of them. We continued this practice until it became an established system, so efficient that the soldiers stopped coming to the Sierra Maestra and even refused to bc part of the advance guard. Of course, it took more than one battle for our system to materialize. At the time, we were satisfied to analyze our small victories together with Fidel. They were indeed victories, these battles between a well equipped army and our poorly prepared soldiers.
This was more or less the moment when the soldiers abandoned the Sierra. The only man who ever carne back, in a show of audacity, was Sanchez Mosquera, the bravest as well as the most notorious murderer and thief among Batista's military officers.