The First Modern Air War in Latin America: The Chaco Air War, 1932-1935

By Antonio Luis Sapienza

The Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia was the first modern conflict in Latin America in the 20th Century where military aviation was widely used in all roles. Bolivia had a very powerful military aviation, but unfortunately for them and luckily for Paraguay, its high army command, led first by General Hans Kundt (a First World War German officer) first and then General Enrique Peñaranda, did not take advantage of it. On the other hand, the Paraguayan Commander-in-Chief, General José Félix Estigarribia used military aviation to help him defeat the enemy on the ground, and the result was clear: the

Clockwise, A couple of Paraguayan Air Arm Potez 25 bombers, a Paraguayan Wibault 73C.1 fighter, a Bolivian Curtiss Hawk II and a Bolivian Curtiss-Wright Osprey.

Bolivians were expelled from the Chaco after three years of war.

Regarding the Paraguayan Air Arm, during a short period of six years, from 1927 to 1933, the Paraguayan government acquired a total of 58 aircraft: 16 fighters, 14 bombers, 12 transport and liaison planes, 12 trainers and 4 flying boats, being the last ones for the Naval Aviation. The combat aircraft, Potez 25 bombers, Wibault 73C.1 and Fiat C.R.20 fighters, were mainly purchased from France and Italy, while the rest from different sources, especially from Argentina and the United States, like Breda Ba.44, Travel Air S6000B, Curtiss Robin, among others.

Paraguayan fighter pilots posing next to some Wibault 73C.1 fighters at Isla Po’i AFB in the Chaco, in 1932.

On the other hand, between 1925 and 1934, the Bolivian Air Forces, as it was called then, purchased a total of 104 aircraft: 15 fighters, 20 fighter-bombers, 36 bombers, 18 trainers and 15 transports, mainly from the UK, France, the United States and Germany. Their main combat types were Vickers Scout, Curtiss Hawk II and Curtiss Osprey fighters, Vickers Vespa, Breguet XIX, Curtiss Cyclone Falcon and Junkers K.43 bombers. They could also count on some Junkers W.34 and Ju.52 3/m transport planes, and some other types.

First, the reader will find a brief description of the war scenery, the Chaco, followed by some information on the aerial explorations of the area performed by the Bolivian military aviation before the war. The following chapter is devoted to the organization of the Bolivian and Paraguayan military aviation before and during the conflict, including aircraft acquisition, pilot and mechanic training, air bases and so forth. Then, a complete chronology follows of the pre-war period (1923-1932), the war itself (1932-1935) and the immediate postwar period (1935-1939). For the first time, all the

Bolivian fighter pilots posing next to some Vickers Scout fighters.

air combats, no more than 20, are described exhaustively, including very detailed information of the participants, aircraft involved, pilots, location, and the final outcome. The book also covers bombing, reconnaissance, medevac, liaison, transport missions during the war. In the postwar period, all aircraft purchased by both countries are detailed, and as a conclusion, a final balance of the air war is presented.

Very few books were published in Paraguay and Bolivia on this topic, which was a motivation to prepare the present material, after more than 30 years of intense research, including interviews with veteran pilots and mechanics, checking pilots logbooks, collecting pictures of different origins, visiting historical sites and spending hours and hours in libraries, government and private archives. My first book on the subject was published in the US in 1996, Aircraft of the Chaco War, 1928-1935 with Daniel P. Hagedorn. Since then, I have collected a lot of data and pictures, which deserved to be published, and the result was The Chaco Air War volume in the Latin America @ War Series with Helion & Co.

I am absolutely sure that the readers will be surprised by the facts, pictures, wonderful maps and aircraft color profiles presented in the book since it is focus on the operational part of the war.

Now, regarding myself, I have already published nine books, one in the US, another one in France, one in Spain and six in Paraguay. The Chaco Air War is my first book published in the UK but more volumes will follow in the Latin America @ War series in the near future. Late this year, Aerial Operations in the Revolutions of 1922 & 1947 in Paraguay, will be my second book, and for next year, The 1989 Coup D’etat in Paraguay will follow. There is even a project of publishing a volume on the Chaco Ground War in a couple of years. At present, I am working on a local book project on the history of the Paraguayan Naval Aviation (believe it or not, we do have one!!!)

I studied psychology at the Catholic University in Asunción, Paraguay. I am married and have two kids. Aviation History has been my hobby in the last 35 or more years, together with aircraft scale modeling, a hobby I have had since 1967!! I teach English at a binational center in Asunción.

I really hope you like the Chaco Air War book. Cheers!

Latin America@War: The Chaco Air War 1932-35. The First Modern Air War in Latin America is now available here.

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2 Responses to The First Modern Air War in Latin America: The Chaco Air War, 1932-1935

  1. David says:

    Looks interesting. Hopefully Helion might publish something in this series on the Peru/Ecuador war of 1941 which featured paratroopers and tanks.

  2. thank you for your help)

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