Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
Battle of La Plata
our first victory was the result of an attack upon a small army garrison at the mouth of La Plata river. The effect of our victory was electrifying. It was like a clarion call, proving that the Rebel Army really existed and was ready to fight. For us, it was the reaffirmation of our chances for total victory.
On January 14, 1957, shortly after the surprise attack of Alegria del Pio, we came to a halt by the Magdalena river. A piece of firm land originating at the Sierra, juts out between the Magdalena and La Plata; Fidel gave orders for target practice as an initial attempt at some sort of training for our troop. Some of the men were using a weapon for the first time in their lives. We had not washed for many days and we seized upon the opportunity to go swimming. Those who were able to do so changed into clean clothes. At that time we had seven weapons in operating condition: nine rifles, equipped with telescopic sights, five semiautomatic rifles, four bolt rifles, two Thompson sub-machineguns and a 16-gauge shotgun. That afternoon we climbed the last hill before reaching the outskirts of La Plata. We were following a trail marked specially for us by a peasant named Melquiades Elias. This man had been recommended by our guide Eutimio. Our guide was essential to us and he seemed to be the prototype of the rebel farmer, but later he was apprehended by Casillas who, instead of killing him, bribed him with an offer of $10,000 and the rank of Lieutenant if he managed to kill Fidel. Eutimio came close to fulfilling his bargain but he lacked the courage to do so. However, he was very useful to the enemy because he informed on the location of several of our camps.
At the time, Eutimio was serving us loyally. He was one of the many peasants fighting for their lands in the struggle against the landowners, and anyone fighting them was also fighting against the guards at the landowners' service.
That day we captured two peasants who turned out to be our guide's cousins. One of them was realeased but we kept the other one as a precautionary measure. The next day, January 15, we saw the La Plata army barracks, under construction, with a zinc roof. A group of half-naked men were moving about but we could tell they were soldiers. Just before sundown about 6 P.M.., a boat came in, some guards landed and others got aboard. We did not quite make out the maneuver so we postponed the attack to the following day.
At dawn of the 16th we began watching the army post. The boat had disappeared during the night and no soldiers could be seen anywhere. At 3 P.M. we decided to approach the road leading to the barracks and take a look; by nightfall we crossed the shallow La Plata river and took our positions on the road. Five minutes later we took two farmers into custody One of them had a record as an informer. When we told them who we were and reassured them that no harm would befall them they gave us some valuable information: the barracks held about fifteen soldiers. Also, that Chicho Osorio, one of the region's most notorious foremen, was to go by at any moment. These foremen worked for the Laviti family latifundium. The Lavitis had established an enormous feud, holding on to it by means of a regime of terror with the help of characters such as Chicho Osorio. Shortly afterwards, Chicho showed up, astride a mule, with a little Negro boy riding "double". Chicho was drunk. Universo Sanchez gave him the order to halt in the name of the Rural Guards and immediately Chicho replied: "Mosquito". It was the password.
We must have looked like a bunch of pirates, but Chicho was so drunk we were able to fool him. Fidel stepped forward and, looking very indignant, said he was an army colonel who had come to find out why the rebels had not yet been liquidated. He bragged about going into the woods, which accounted for his beard. He added that the army was "botching things up", etc. In one word, he cut the army efficiency to pieces. Sheepishly, Osorio admitted that the guards spent all their time inside the barracks, eating and doing nothing but occasional useless rounds. He emphasized that die rebels must be wiped out. We interrogated discreetly about friendly and unfriendly people living in the area and we kept tab on his replies, backwards: when Osorio called somebody a bad man we knew he was one of our friends, and so on. We had about twenty-four names by now and Osorio was still jabbering away. He told us how two men had been killed, adding: "but my General Batista, set me free at once." He spoke of having slapped two peasants who "had gotten a little out of hand" adding that the guards would not do such a thing; on the contrary, they let the peasants talk without punishing them. Fidel asked Osorio what he would do if he ever caught Fidel Castro and Osorio, with a very expressive gesture, replied: "we'll have to cut his— off." He said the same thing about Crescendo. "Look" he said, showing us his shoes (they were the kind of Mexican-made shoes our men wore), "these shoes belonged to one of those sons of bitches we killed." Without realizing if, Osorio had signed his own sentence. At Fidel's suggestion, he agreed to accompany us to the barracks in order to come upon the soldiers unexpectedly and prove to them they were badly prepared and not fit for their duties.
As we neared the barracks, with Osorio in the lead, I still did not feel so sure that he had not become wise to our tricks. However, he kept going on, in complete ignorance, for he was so drunk he could not think straight. When he crossed the river to get near the barracks Fidel told. Osorio that military rules called for. the prisoner to be tied up. The man did not resist and he went on, this time as a prisoner, although he ignored this fact. He explained to us that the only guards were set up at the entrance of the barracks under construction and at the house of a foreman named Honorio. Osorio guided us to a place near the barracks, near the road to Macio. Luis Crespo, now a Major, went on to scout around and returned saying that the foreman's report was correct. Crespo had seen the barracks and the pinpoints of light made by the guards' cigarettes.
We were just about ready to approach the barracks when we had to pull back into the woods to let three guards on horseback go by. The men were urging a man whom they had taken prisoner to walk faster as they followed him on horseback, hurling all sorts of insults at him. They passed very close to me and I remember the peasant saying: "I'm just like one of you fellows" and the answer by one of the men whom we later identified as corporal Basol: "Shut up and keep going or I'll use the whip on you!" We all thought the peasant was out of danger by remaining out of the barracks at the moment of our attack. However, the following day when the guards heard of the attack they murdered him at El Macio.
We had twenty-two weapons ready for the attack. It was a crucial moment because we were short of ammunition. The army post had to be taken for a failure would have meant spending all our ammunition, leaving us practically defenseless. Lieutenant Julio Diaz —later killed at the battle of El Uvero— Camilo Cienfuegos, Benitez and Calixto Morales, armed with semi-automatic rifles, were to surround the palm-thatched house on the right side'. Fidel, Universo Sanchez, Luis Crespo, Calixto Garcia, Fajardo —brother of our physician, Piti Fajardo, killed at the Escambray— and myself, would attack the center. Raul and his squad and Almeida with his, would attack the barracks on the right side.
We approached to within forty meters of the barracks. By the light of a full moon, Fidel opened the hostilities with two bursts of machinegun fire and all available rifles joined in. Immediately, we demanded the enemy's surrender but we got no results. Murderer-Informer Osorio was executed as soon as the battle broke out.
The attack had begun at 2:40 a.m. and the guards put up a much stiffer resistance than we had expected. A sergeant, armed with an M-1 opened up with a burst every time we asked them to surrender. We were given orders to use our old, Brazilian-type hand grenades. Luis Crespo and I threw ours but they did not go off; Raul Castro threw a stick of dynamite with the same negative result. It became necessary to get close to the houses and set them on fire even at the risk of our own lives. Universo Sanchez made a futile attempt and Cienfuegos also failed, Finally, Luis Crespo and I got close to one of the ranches and net it on fire. The glare gave us an opportunity to see that it was a place for storing coconuts but the overall effect intimidated the soldiers and they gave up the fight. One of them, trying to escape, ran smack into Luis Crespo's rifle; Crespo shot him in the chest, took the man's rifle and continued firing toward the house. Camilo Cienfuegos, entrenched behind a tree, fired upon the fleeing sergeant and ran out of ammunition.
The soldiers, almost defenseless, were being wiped out by our bullets. Camilo Cienfuegos was first into the house, where shouts of surrender were being heard. Quickly, we took stock of our booty: 8 Springfields, 1 Thompson machine-gun and about 1,000 rounds; we had fired approximately $00 rounds. In addition, we now had cartridge belts, fuel, knives, clothing, and some food. Casualties: two soldiers dead, five wounded. We took three prisoners.
Our men had not suffered a single scratch. We set fire to the soldiers' quarters and after taking care of the wounded —three of them were seriously wounded and we were told later that they had died —we withdrew. One of the soldiers later joined the forces under Major Raul Castro's command, was promoted to lieutenant, and died in an airplane accident following the war.
Our attitude toward the wounded was in open contrast to that of the tyranny's army. Not only did they kill our wounded men; they abandoned their own. This difference made a great impact upon the enemy and it was instrumental in our victory. Fidel gave orders that the prisoners be given all the medicines to take care of the wounded. I was appalled at this decision because, as a physician, I felt the need of saving all available medicine and drugs for our own men. We freed all civilians and at 4:30 of the 17th we started for Palma Mocha, arriving there at dawn and continuing on the most inaccessible zones of the Sierra Maestra.
A most depressing scene awaited us: the day before, an army corporal and one of the foremen had warned all the families living in the area that the Air Force was to bomb the entire zone, and the exodus toward the coast had begun. No one knew of our presence in the area, so it was evidently a maneuver on the part of the foreman and the rural guards to take the land away from the peasants. Unfortunately, their stories had coincided with our attack, making the lie appear as the truth. Terror was rampant among the peasants and it was impossible for us to stop their flight.
This was the first victorious battle of the rebel armies. It was only in this battle and the one following that we had more weapons than men. Peasants were not yet ready to join in the struggle, and communication with the city bases was practically non-existent.