Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
Battle of Arroyo del Infierno
ARROYO DEL INFIERNO is a little stream running into the Palma Mocha river. Walking alongside the stream, skirting the surrounding hills, in a direction away from the river, we came upon a small gorge where two small palm-thatched huts were located. We set up camp, but as usual, we kept away from the huts.
Fidel expected the army to come looking for us and be more or less successful in finding us, so he decided to set up an ambush to capture a few soldiers. To this aim, men were conveniently set up at various points. Fidel kept a constant check-up on our lines and defenses. On January 19, we were reviewing the troops and an accident occurred that could have had grave consequences. I used to wear a corporal's helmet a trophy of the La Plata battle. I wore the helmet with great pride as I reviewed the troops, but since the review was held in the middle of the woods, the advance guard heard us coming and all they could distinguish was a group led by a man wearing a helmet. Fortunately, it was weapon-cleaning time and Camilo's rifle was the only one in condition to fire. Camilo opened fire on us and immediately realized his mistake; the first shot missed the mark and then his automatic rifle Jammed. This proves how tense we all were, waiting for the fight as a sort of relief from this tension. These are the times when even the coolest men feel a slight tremor in their legs and everyone is anxiously awaiting that great moment of war: combat. However, we were far from yearning for a fight. We fought because we had to.
At dawn of the 22nd we heard a few shots near the Palma Mocha area. This made us renew our efforts to strengthen our lines and take good care of ourselves while waiting for the enemy troops.
Expecting the soldiers to be nearby, we skipped breakfast and lunch. Crespo and a few other men had discovered a hen's nest and we used to steal the eggs, always leaving one so as not to discourage the hen in her task. That morning Crespo decided that as long as we had heard shots nearby, we might as well eat the last egg. At noon we saw someone in one of the huts, and at first we thought it was one of our comrades who had disobeyed the orders to stay away. It turned out that the man exploring the hut was a soldier. Later on the number of soldiers increased to six. Finally, some of them left and three men remained. We could see the man on guard taking a good look all around. Then he picked up a few leaves, placed them behind his ears in a sorry attempt at camouflage and sat in the shade with a placid look in his face that was clearly distinguishable through the telescopic sight. Fidel opened fire, hitting the man who fell crying out something that sounded like "Oh, mother!", and lay still. Shooting became general and two other soldiers fell. Then I saw another soldier trying to hide near the other hut. From an elevated point, all I could see was his legs because the overhanging roof covered the rest of him. My first shot missed but the second one hit him. As he fell, his rifle hit the ground bayonet-first and remained stuck there. Covered by Crespo I reached the house and I could see the man was dead. I took his ammunition, rifle and other belongings. He must have died instantly because rigor mortis was setting in quickly, probably due to his exhaustion following his last journey through the woods.
It was a fast and furious battle and soon we were on our way into hiding, having fulfilled our plans.
When we took inventory it turned out that we had spent about 900 rounds and taken in 70 from a cartridge belt and one rifle, this rifle was a Garand that went to Efigenio Ameijeiras, now a Major, who used it for the major part of the war. We counted four enemy dead but months later we found out through an informer that there had been five. It was not a complete victory but neither was it a Pyrrhic one. We had exchanged blows with the enemy under difficult circumstances and we had passed the test.
This raised our spirits and allowed us to keep on climbing toward the most inaccessible places in order to escape larger groups of enemy soldiers. We crossed the mountains and now we were traveling parallel to the Batista soldiers who had also run away crossing the same mountain tops to get to the other side. For two days, our troops and theirs marched almost side by side without being aware of it. Once they spent the night in a hut separated from the hut we were in by only a narrow river and a couple of road bends. The soldiers were led by a lieutenant by the name of Mosquera. His name and his fierce reputation were well known all over the Sierra. It is worth mentioning that the shots we had heard prior to the battle had killed a man of Haitian descent who had refused to guide the soldiers to our hiding place. If the soldiers had not murdered this man they would have found us less prepared for the battle.
Once again we were overloaded; most of us were carrying two rifles each. This did not make our traveling easy, but our morale was quite different from that following the Alegria de Pio disaster. Only a few days before we had defeated a smaller number of men entrenched in an army post; now we had defeated a column on the march, of greater strength than ours, and we were able to verify how important it is, in this type of war, to eliminate the advance guard, because an army cannot move without an advance guard.