- A.N. Other
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2014 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Capitán de fragata (sp) Mariano Alfredo Sanchez Bravo
Mariano Alfredo Sanchez Bravo was born in Guayaquil on 9 July 1950. He entered the Ecuadorian Naval Academy in September 1971 and graduated as a Lieutenant in December 1975.
While serving in the Ecuadorian Navy Ship (BAE- Buque de la Amada del Ecuador) Hualcopo he participated in the 1981 Paquisha conflict. At the conclusion of this period he undertook dedicated research enabling him to complete a history of the Ecuadorian Navy ‘Our Naval History’ which was published in 1986. At this time he became a founding member of his nation’s Maritime Institute of History and later the National Academy of Military History.
In 1990 he was appointed second-in-command of BAE Orion during the Ecuadorian Second Antarctic Expedition. And in 1992 he was appointed as a United Nations observer in El Salvador during the peace process leading to the conclusion of a long and bloody civil war. He retired from active service in 1998 with the rank of Commander.
Commander Sanchez is a prolific researcher having authored numerous articles and produced 29 books mainly relating to national and naval history. In 2003 he became director of the Institute of Maritime History a position he continues to occupy.
According to the archaeological investigations, the history of native navigation in Ecuador had its beginning about 3800 years before Christ. There is existing evidences of boats used during Valdivia period (4200 AC – 1500 AC) with ceramic scale models discovered, in the island of Silver, which confirms that the inhabitants were able to navigate along our coasts. But it is in the Machalilla period (1500 AC – 1200 AC), that native people realized the first passages outside our waters. Evidence of their culture has been found and accepted by Mexican investigations of contact between Ecuador and Mexico, where the interchange of goods occurred.
Through the intervening periods our navigators learned by experience on the basis of observations during their long journeys and accumulated knowledge on seasonal changes in winds and sea currents, allowing them to progressively plan trade routes. Written documentation provided by early European explorer’s shows that native peoples of the Paches, Huancavilcas and Chonos were excellent navigators, both in coastal navigation and of river systems. The first recorded contact between the native navigators and Europeans was in 1526 by the Spanish pilot Bartholomew Ruiz. He reported natives using rafts with sails which carried out commercial trade along the Pacific coast ranging between present day Ecuador to Mexico and Peru.
The Colonial Period
After the Spanish conquest came a long colonial period, lasting almost three centuries. From about 1560 under the Viceroyalty of Peru the ‘Navy of the Sea of the South’ was created for the protection of the new colonies. The important port of Guayaquil was established as a naval base and a commercial port with shipyards for the construction, repair and provisioning of all types of ships. This became of even greater importance when trade was threatened by English pirates. These shipyards flourished through the colonial times and into the republican period.
The ‘Navy of the Sea of the South’ was charged with the protection of the lines of communications of an extensive marine territory which was essential to the galleons that transported the wealth coming from Peru to Panama. From the Isthmus of Panama merchandise was sent overland to Portobello where it was transhipped for its final voyage across the Atlantic to Spain. The enormous value of these cargoes called for naval protection on both the Pacific and Atlantic legs of these voyages to safeguard them against pirates and smugglers and, to Spanish eyes, rogue naval forces.
Throughout the colonial life of Guayaquil an important aspect of naval administration was having charge of the registry of the ships that arrived and departed from this port and the collection of customs duties. A Maritime Court under control of the Governor was established here in December 1782. In 1797 further harbour administration authorities were created in the ports of Callao, Conception and Valparaiso.
Prior to independence from colonial rule a naval squadron of eight gunboats, commanded by the captain of the port with 280 men, was based at Guayaquil. The revolution reached Guayaquil on 9 October 1820 when control was seized by the Naval Captain Jose Joaquin de Olmedo and Colonel Escobedo as military leader. The gunboat naval squadron was placed under the revolutionary control of Commander Manuel Antonio de Luzárraga but two boats escaped siding with their Spanish masters. Because of a possible Spanish counterattack the schooner Reach was sent with dispatches seeking support from the leaders of the Liberation movement, General San Martin and Admiral Cochrane.
While Reach was a merchantman she was armed with twelve carronades and had a crew of 100 men under the command of Jose de Villamil. The schooner quickly overhauled one of the recalcitrant gunboats and brought her back to Guayaquil but the other escaped. She then proceeded to make contact with the leaders of the Liberation movement. This then was the genesis of an independent Ecuadorian naval force.
Grand Colombian Period
After consolidating the triumph of national independence at Pichincha on 24 May 1822 General Bolivar appeared in the city of Guayaquil to secure its annexation to the Republic of Greater Colombia. A new naval administration and Marine Department was then established under the command of Captain Juan Illingworth. In October 1822 Illingworth created a Nautical School at Guayaquil. This attracted some of the best of local youth which included Jose Maria Urbina and Francisco Robles who would both later occupy the Presidency of the Republic. Other students to gain ascendency in the navy were Jose Antonio Gomez, Juan Manuel Úraga, Francisco Calderón Garaycoa, Agustín Oramas and Jose Rodriguez Labandera.
The following year of 1823 saw the arrival of the first naval ships acquired by the new republic. These were the schooner Guayaquileña, the brig Chimborazo and the corvette Pichincha. These were placed under the overall command of Captain Tomás Charles Wright who became Commodore of the squadron.
Creation of the Marine Infantry
The Grand Colombian government hurried to organize a naval infantry, and by decree on 22 July 1822 a battalion was created consisting of eight companies. These were organised to work with other military forces but were placed under naval command. These companies were based at Cumaná, Port Cabello and Cartagena de Indias. In May 1825 another two companies of naval infantry were created and based at the capital of Guayaquil. In 1832 this naval infantry which comprised both artillery and marine companies were reorganised into the Corps of Naval Gunnery.
Conflict with Peru and Naval Battle of Malpelo
From 1827 the threat of a conflict with Peru existed. This resulted from Peruvian plans to annex the provinces of Azuay and Guayaquil from Colombia. On 1 August 1828 the Peruvian corvette Freedom blockaded the gulf of Guayaquil, intercepting ships that tried to enter the Guayas River with cannon shots. Captain Illingworth dispatched Guayaquileña and Pichincha with demands that the blockade be lifted. On 31 August 1828 the first major naval action, now known as the Battle of Malpelo, took place between Guayaquileña, under the command of Captain Wright, and Freedom in which Ecuadorian naval forces prevailed.
Not to be deterred, in November 1828 a Peruvian naval force, commanded by Admiral Guisse, again appeared at Guayaquil, attacking the city. The Ecuadorian naval force resisted and with its marines mounted a formidable opposition. This included using small boats and canoes conducting night raids against the opposing ships. Young officers such as Calderón, Gomez and Valverde demonstrated their talents in a brilliant defence of the mother country which lasted until the Peruvian tired and departed without achieving any gains.
On 3 November 1832 the Constitutional Congress of the State of Ecuador decreed a law of separation from its mother country of Greater Colombia. A new Marine Department of Ecuador was established with its headquarters based at Guayaquil. The jurisdiction of the Marine Department was from the Túmbes River in the South to the new border with Colombia in the north. On 8 November 1832 President Flores executed a decree for a new position of Naval Commander-in-Chief with the rank of Captain. A while there was a previous naval culture and traditions, this date marked the official birth of the Ecuadorian Republican Navy with its own unifying identity. At this time the navy comprised a flagship the 62-gun frigate Colombia and six small warships.
Political instability led to an internal war named the ‘Chihuahuas’ which raged between 1833 and 1834 was fought between forces supporting the rivals Flores and Rocafuerte. Lamentably the Navy divided its support between these two factions and suffered as a result until peace prevailed. Eventually the naval forces were reunified under a single command and in 1835 General Marina Leonardo Stagg was appointed Navy Commander-in-Chief.
Innovation and Technology
Jose Rodriguez Labandera was a distinguished graduate from the Naval Academy who was involved in the construction of the first submarine to be built in Latin America. This was a significant technical achievement with the quaintly named submarine Hippopotamus making the first underwater crossing of the Guayas River on 18 September 1838. Following further trials there was an unfortunately lack of Government interest and the project did not continue. The shipyards at Guayaquil however continued to prosper and in 1842 launched Guayas which was the first large steamship built in Latin America.
Further Revolution and Conflict
Distraction came in that same decade with the Revolution of 6 March 1845 where the naval forces sided with Marcista Revolutionaries against President Flores. Their commander Francisco Robles took charge of the armed schooner Diligence and the steamer Guayas and a number of other smaller vessels. A number of bloody conflicts ensued on land and sea including the Naval Battle of Jambelí (26 June 1865) and the Naval Battle of Jaramijó (6 December 1884). Internal conflict continued intermittently until the Emerald Revolution (1913-1916) where the Navy helped maintain constitutional order.
During this period the Navy lost much of its command structure and it was obliged to report through senior Army officials. It was not until 1927 that the Director-General of the Navy was formed under Commander Juan Francisco Anda. Later in 1936 the title of Commander-in-chief of Navy was reinstituted under Captain Teodoro Moran Valverde.
With worldwide economic depression of the 1930s the Navy suffered from decay and lack of materials. Border clashes with Peru again erupted in 1941 resulting in the legendary naval action of the Battle of Jambelí (25 July 1941) where the small Ecuadorian gunboat Calderón claimed victory over the Peruvian destroyer Admiral Villar. Peruvian airborne troops were used in seizing the port city of Puerto Bolivar and it was not until early the next year that Peruvian forces withdrew from Ecuadorian territory. This formed part of a renewed Ecuadorian – Peruvian War which occurred during WW11 although neither side was aligned with Allied or Axis powers.
With return to stability in 1943 the sorely pressed national naval forces were augmented by the first of a number of warships provided by the United States of American. From this beginning a revived squadron of warships was formed with a considerable increase during the 1950s and 1960s using ex-USN ships. But it was not until 1966 that Marine Infantry were reinstituted under naval control. Three new German Tipo class torpedo patrol boats were acquired in the 1970s and these were later upgraded with the acquisition of Exocet and Aspide missile systems. Further new missile carrying boats were acquired in 1976 and the following year saw the reintroduction of a submarine force of two boats, not seen since the ill-fated Hippopotamus some 139 years earlier. In 1977, the Spanish built sail training ship Reach arrived, she was later re-named Guayas. A small Coast Guard was formed in 1980 with its own complement of patrol vessels.
Battle of Paquisha and the War of Cenepa
In January 1981, a new international conflict with Peru took place. Naval forces commanded by Rear Admiral Marco Arthur Leon Dueñas flying his flag in the frigate Presidente Alfaro took his fleet to sea to maintain territorial integrity. With the addition of submarine forces, naval aviation and a marine detachment these forces were on high alert for a period of three months.
Enmity over territorial disputes was to continue and broke out again in 1995 with the Cenepa War. With all Ecuadorian armed forces mobilised a naval task force was formed of surface, submarine, naval aviation and marine assets. These prevented the incursion of any enemy units through Ecuadorian controlled waters during the five months of this conflict. Military operations were limited with the intervention of friendly neighbouring countries allowing both combatants to demobilise after the signing of a peace agreement in 1998.
With a return to internal stability in 1943 the sorely pressed national naval forces were augmented by the first of a number of warships provided by the United States of American. From this beginning a revived squadron of warships was formed with a considerable increase during the 1950s and 1960s using ex-USN ships. But it was not until 1966 that Marine Infantry were reinstituted under naval control.
Three new torpedo patrol boats were acquired in the 1970s and these were later upgraded with the acquisition of missile systems. Further new patrol boats were acquired in 1976 and the following year saw the reintroduction of a submarine force with two German type 209 diesel-electric boats, not seen since the ill-fated Hippopotamus some 139 years earlier. In 1977, the Spanish built sail training ship Reach arrived, she was later re-named Guayas.
In the 1980s, the efficiency of the Navy improved through the acquisition of six Italian designed corvettes, equipped with modern sensor and anti-ship and surface-to-air missile weapon systems. Later, in 1991 and 1992, British Leander class frigates were acquired to replace obsolete vessels. In continuation of the replacement program in 2008 two further Leander’s were acquired from the Chilean Navy, taking the historic names of Presidente Alfaro and Moran Valverde.
The native peoples of the west coast of South America were successful navigators well before the arrival of Europeans. This seafaring prowess further developed into an important naval presence from the colonial period of the Viceroyalty of Peru with its ‘Navy of the Sea of the South’. The history is rich and vibrant with interwoven complexities brought about by the early formation of national boundaries such as Grand Colombia, to those of more recent times with the establishment of separate nations such as the Republic of Ecuador. Throughout most of Ecuadorian history there have been continual disruptions through border conflicts with its neighbours and this has been exacerbated by internal revolutions. A national naval presence, which has been in evidence for nearly two centuries, has been important in maintaining stability and the integrity of littoral and national boundaries. A recently modernised Ecuadorian naval force with its exciting culture and proud historic traditions stands ready to meet future challenges.