The Chaco War in South America 1933

Nawana: Verdun in the Chaco War was a three day battle between Bolivia and Paraguay during the long Chaco War. The Chaco War remains the only declared war that occurred in South America in the 20th Century. In brief, Bolivia wanted access to the Atlantic. The discovery of minerals and oil by Shell and Standard Oil prompted both countries to pursue these objectives in the Chaco desert area.

For Bolivia, access to the Atlantic would allow projected oil pipelines to the Paraguay River to be built and allow for commerce. Total war actually began in 1932 and ended in late 1934 with both countries nearly broke. The Bolivians were defeated in all major battles and by the end of 1934, they had been driven back 482 kilometers from their original positions deep to the foothills of the Andes. Serious strategic errors, poor intelligence, and logistical problems in reaching the distant battle lines contributed to the losses. In addition, the morale of the Bolivian troops was low.

Bolivia lost the Chaco but retained the petroleum fields, which Paraguay had failed to reach. Both countries suffered heavy losses, Bolivia alone, an estimated 65,000 people were killed and 35,000 wounded.

Nawana (a small town) was a turning point battle. It was here, a Bolivian Army led by German General Kundt, armed with new weapons (six tanks, flamethrowers, fighter-bombers) assaulted the Paraguayan defenses. Kundt had been led to believe the defenses were weak, that the tanks would break through and that once Nanawa fell, the road would be open to Paraguay’s capital. This was in fact true, however, that was the only thing which was true. The Paraguayan forces had been issued special antitank ammo and built well defended trenches with mines. Their lines were not weak and numerically almost as strong as the Bolivian! The three day battle ended with the Bolivians surrounding but failing to seize Nanawa in face of growing Paraguayan forces (the Bolivians had no reserves), eventually returned to their start positions. 

The six tanks, made in England, were in fact, light tanks, all armed with machine guns not cannons. Their armor was thin and when they moved bravely across the lines they met with antitank shells and AP rifle fire. Some tanks broke down, some destroyed but none caused much of a panic. The battle was akin to WW1 style warfare.

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Comments 4 comments

mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC

This is an interesting bit of history of which I had never heard. Very good! Thank you for informing and sharing.


perrya profile image

perrya 5 years ago Author

Another interesting later battle was at Campo Via, where the Bolivian army under Gen. Kundt, was nearly surrounded.


Rodrigo 5 years ago

the note has some unaccurate data:

"Total war actually began in 1932 and ended in late 1934 with both countries nearly broke"

The war ended in July 1935, with the pease protocol signed in 1938. The peace was reached after the intervention of Argentina, when Bolivia raised a third army and Paraguayan logistic lines were too long to help them resist a new offensive.

"The six tanks, made in England, were in fact, light tanks, all armed with machine guns not cannons."

In fact Bolivia has 5 armored vehicles, 3 Vickers 6-ton tanks (2 armed with cannon and machine gun, 1 armed with a couple of machine guns) and 2 carden-loyd tankettes armed with a machine gun

"The three day battle ended with the Bolivians surrounding but failing to seize Nanawa in face of growing Paraguayan forces "

Bolivia never surrounded completely Nanawa, the lines formed a semi circle from northwest to south. Paraguayan army had around 7000 troops in the fort, while Bolivia employed about 5000 in the attack. The obvious inferiority of the attackers affected the outcome of the battle


perrya profile image

perrya 5 years ago Author

Mucho gracias, Rodrigo. Subtle data differences, though.

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