Naval Battle of Iquique

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It was 21 May 1879, 6:30 in the morning, when the fog cleared, Covadonga's lookout shouted: "Smoke to the north!". But, due to the thick marine fog, they were not able to identify the newly arrived ships, and for a few moments they thought it was the Peruvian squadron coming back.

At 6:45 a.m., a sailor by Condell's side asked for the telescope, and in a moment of clarity he observed the warships' riggings and said to Condell: "It's the Huáscar and the Independencia". "What bases do you have to assert that" asked Condell, and the sailor answered "For the shape of the plateau on the top of the foremast".

Immediately Condell ordered a shot to the air to warn the Esmeralda, still anchored in the port. They were, in fact, the Independencia and the Huáscar.

In that same moment, the Peruvian admiral Grau roused his crew: "Crewmembers of the Huáscar, Iquique is at sight, there are our afflicted fellow countrymen from Tarapacá, and also the enemy, still unpunished. It's time to punish them! I hope you will know how. Long live Peru!"

Carlos Condell de la Haza warned Prat, and he, seeing the difference between their forces and the enemies', he pronounced his famous impassioned speech before his brethren in arms:

Lads, the battle will be unfair, but, cheer and courage. Our flag has never been hauled down before the enemy and I hope this will not be the occasion to do it. From my part, I assure you that as long as I live, this flag will blow in its place, and if I die, my officers will know how to fulfill their duties.

The Esmeralda was then an old wooden corvette weighing 850 tons and 200 horsepower, with eight 40-pound cannons, four 30-pounders and two of 6 pounds. When the action began, Prat ordered Condell to follow his course and the Covadonga met with the Esmeralda and the Lamar in the middle of the bay. At 8:15, the first volley hit between the ships, and Prat ordered the Esmeralda to start moving, followed by the Covadonga. At 8:25 a second volley fell and a shot from the Huáscar hit fully at the starboard, passed through Esmeralda's side, killing the surgeon Videla, beheading his assistant, and mortally wounding another sailor. The transporter Lamar hoisted the US flag and fled to the South, and Condell changed his course and went behind that ship. Grau ordered to the Independencia to block Covadonga and Lamar's way Prat observed Condell's action and he asked himself: "What is Condell doing?" Condell ignored Prat's order and followed the Lamar, but the warship did get to sneak from the Covadonga, and the Independencia under control of Juan Guillermo Moore followed him. On the other hand, the monitor Huáscar weighed 1,130 tons and had a plating 4½-inches thick, two 300-pounds forecharging cannon on a revolving tower and 11 mph at maximum speed.

Death of Arturo Prat.

Death of Arturo Prat.

The Admiral Miguel Grau Seminario, Huáscar's captain directs the Independencia to the chase of the Covadonga, while he finished the Esmeralda. Prat went down to his cabin, got dressed with his parade uniform, put away his wife's picture and other objects and went up again to the command post. Prat quickly positioned the ship in front of the coast, 200 meters from it, forcing the Huáscar to shoot with a parabolic trajectory to avoid hitting the Peruvian village, whose people gathered in crowds to see the battle.

General Buendía, commander of Peruvian garrison of Iquique, had artillery cannons placed in the beach and sent an emissary in a fast rowing boat with a warning to the Huáscar. Grau was misinformed that the Esmeralda was loaded with torpedoes and stopped 600 m (660 yd.) from it and began shooting with its 300-pound cannons, not hitting her for an hour and a half, due to the Peruvian sailor's inexperience in the handling of the monitor's Coles tower. The Chilean crew answered with their 30-pound cannons and gunfire, shots that rebounded uselessly from the Huáscar's plated armor.

At the coast, the Peruvians installed a 9-pound-cannon battery and began to bomb the Chilean ship. A grenade reached it, killing three men. Prat order the warship to move, slowly maneuvering at scarcely 4 knots, for its engine was defective and one its boilers burst. He stopped 1,000&nbp; from the city and 250 m from land, where they would stand until their sinking. This move made Grau see the inexistence of the torpedoes that supposedly filled the Esmeralda. One of Huáscar's shots hit fully on the board, beheading the ordering bugler and mutilating the cannon's guardians. The board started to stain with the blood of the fallen.

The position of the Esmeralda was desperate when it began to receive both Huáscar and Iquique's beach's cannon shots. Even Grau from his armored tower claimed: “It's remarkable how these Chileans battle”, impressed by the courage shown by the enemy.

At 11:30am, Grau, seeing the useless slaughter that was taking place in the dismantled and disgraced corvette and wanting to end the combat, which had been nearly 4 hours long until that moment, ordered to charge into the Esmeralda. The monitor backed to get enough impulse and charged bow-first into starboard side of the ship. When Prat saw the enemy warship colliding into his, near the stern, he raised his sword and cried: "Let's board, boys!", but due to the roar of the battle, only the sergeant Juan de Dios Aldea heard it, and both him and Prat and a sailor named Arsenio jumped into the other ship's board. Arsenio unfortunately slipped and fell down because of the impact, so just the two officers got to the monitor. The sergeant Aldea armed with a boarding hatchet and a pistol received a burst from the artillery tower and falls mortally injured. Only Prat continued advancing, amazing the Peruvian crew for his tremendous courage. Grau gave order to capture the Chilean captain alive.

Prat got to the enemy's board and advanced towards to command tower, but he was hit by a bullet. Nevertheless he did not fall and could stand on his knee, but a sailor from the artillery tower stroke him dead with a shot in the forehead.

Sinking of the Esmeralda.

Sinking of the Esmeralda.

From the Esmeralda they saw with horror their chief's sacrifice, and when Grau tried another charge, now against the Esmeralda's bow, Ignacio Serrano cried again "Stand by for boarding!" and he boarded with ten more men the Huáscar, but they were massacred by shots of the mounted Gatling guns and the monitor's crew. Ignacio Serrano was then, the only survivor and had received several wounds in the genital area and his shouts are atrocious due to the pain. Grau quickly had him picked up and carried to the infirmary in state of shock, where they leave him next to the dying sergeant Aldea.

A third charge, this time into the middle of the ship, was fatal and sentenced the ship to death. Nobody else could jump to the other ship for lack of height, as the Esmeralda was already sinking. The Chilean banner was the last thing to touch the water, and the last shot was made by the first lieutenant Riquelme, who sunk with the artillery piece; it was 12.10pm. Grau showed grief for Prat's death and paid him respects.

After the battle, Admiral Grau gave order that Prat's personal objects (diary, uniform and sword among others) were to be returned to his widow. Carmela Carvajal received them, as well as a letter from the Peruvian Admiral, proving his rival's person quality, his gentlemanship and his high moral values. Grau was later named "The Knight of the Seas".

Grau also ordered to rescue the surviving Chilean sailors, immediately after they repaired their boats, and gave them dry clothes and food. He kept them at the stern hold, because if they went back to the beach, the crowd would certainly kill them.

In the confrontation of Iquique, that day Chile lost an old wooden ship, but Prat's death allowed the mobilization of the Chilean population to support the war's common cause, and that would be one of the factors of the Chilean victory in the War of the Pacific, being the most important one the superiority of their fleet.

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