By Dan Reynolds
Bolivia was declared
an independent state in 1825. In 1835, a brief Confederation with
Peru was formed, with both retaining independent armies. The confederation
broke up in 1839 after a losing war with Argentina and Chile. this was
followed by a war with Peru in 1841 which Bolivia won. In this period
the flintlock and caplock muskets were used by Bolivia's Army.
In the early 1870's
a conflict was developing with Chile over certain provinces owned by Bolivia
and Peru which contained valuable mineral deposits, the exploitation of
these resources were, however, controlled by Chilean nationals. In
1878, Bolivia imposed new and costly taxes on these Chilean interests.
On 14 February 1879, Chile landed 200 troops from a Naval squadron off
the cost in one of the Bolivian provinces in question. Bolivia declared
war and Peru came in on her side as a result of a secret treaty of alliance
signed in 1873. Obsolete caplock rifles were still the main armament, but
some Winchester .44 Largo Muskets and carbines and surplus rifles from
the American civil war of 1860-1865 were on hand along with small numbers
of European breech loaders. At the start of the conflict the Bolivian
Army was small, consisting of about 2900 men and Peru had about 5,200 men
but had greater numbers of modern rifles. Both were very poorly prepared
for war. Chile had an Army of about 2,800 which was better equipped
and trained. This was known as the War of the Pacific and Chile effectively
won the war by taking Lima, capitol of Peru, on 17 January 1881.
As a result, Bolivia lost its Pacific coast and became land locked.
In the late 1880s,
Bolivia began rebuilding its army. Almost 2000 Remington Lee .43
magazine rifles were purchased from the New York City arms dealer Hartley
and Graham in 1891. These were black powder rifles and although box
magazine repeaters they were already obsolete.
Rearmament went slowly
and the first smokeless magazine rifle adopted was the modern Modelo Argentino
1891 7.65mm Mausers, 15,000 being acquired as the Modelo 1895 in the period
1897-1901. They had the Bolivian crest on the receiver ring.
The army was still weak and ineffective in 1900 when it faced an insurrection
in the ACRE region bordering Brazil. Bolivia had to finally cede the area
to Brazil in 1903.
A French military mission
was brought in to reorganize and advise the army in 1905. In 1907-08,
4,000 DWM Modelo 1907 7.65mm Mausers rifles and 1,000 Modelo 1907 carbines
were purchased. These 1907 Mausers were based on the Mauser Model
1904. In 1909 the regular army strength was around 4,300.
A German training mission
arrived in 1911, headed by a Major Hans Kundt, which attempted to reform
the army on the German model. When WW1 started, the mission returned
to Germany. After the war, Kundt resumed his work in Bolivia as a general
and became Chief of staff of the army in 1921 and retained that post until
By 1924 the Army had
reached a strength of around 6,000. Additional small arms were acquired
including small quantities of 7.65mm FN Modelo 1924 short rifles, Colt
Browning and Madsen machine guns.
In the 1920's Standard
Oil began developing oil deposits in Bolivia and revenue from the oil concession
as well as from the previously developed tin mining concessions allowed
Bolivia to obtain financing for a major rearmamament program. In
1926 Vickers of Britain contracted to supply aircraft, artillery, ammunition,
small arms and other equipment, to which end 7.65mm Vickers Berthier Light
machine, guns, water cooled 7.65mm Vickers heavy machine guns, and 36,000
ZB Vz24 7.65mm short rifles were purchased.
A dispute with Paraguay
over the Chaco region was festering at this time and continued to escalate
over the next several years. Army strength in 1927 was 8,600.
In 1929 the world wide depression caused a major drop in the value of Bolivia's
tin and oil exports and in order to gain approval of a new loan from North
American bankers, Bolivia had to agree to cut back the army to save money.
The Vickers contract was scaled down and the army was to be reduced to
4000 men, but, in the actual event, army strength was only cut to around
War between Bolivia
and Paraguay began during the middle of July 1932. At this time the
Bolivian army had about 5500 effectives on active service. Around
4000 serviceable older Mausers M1895 and M1908 were on hand along with
39,000 recently acquired modern 7.65mm Mauser rifles and carbines.
These were mainly Czech Vz24 short rifles, along with some Modelo 12/16
carbines, and some Belgian FN Modelo 24/30 short rifles. Bolivia
was slow to mobilize her reserves and deliver arms and ammunition to the
front in the Chaco. The Paraguayan Army had around 3800 effectives
on active service, but rapidly mobilized her reserve manpower. Paraguay
had about 4000 older 7.65mm Modelo 1891 and Modelo 1907 Mausers, along
with about 10,500 Spanish made 7.65mm Oviedo Modelo 1927 Mauser rifles
and 1000 carbines, also 7000 recently acquired Belgian 7.65mm FN M24/30
Mauser short rifles.
The war did not go
well for Bolivia and General Hans Kundt was recalled and given overall
command. He failed and was in turn relieved. Throughout the
war large numbers of rifles were lost to the Paraguayans. but during a
truce in December 1933, 45000 additional rifles were acquired including
ZB Vz24, Mauser Werke Standard Modell 1933, and FN30 types. Continued heavy
losses of men and rifles eventually led to an armistice on 12 June 1935.
Between July 1932 and July 1935 about 70000 rifles were purchased by Bolivia.
Postwar, in 1937 20,000
more Vz24 rifles were ordered from ZB and in 1938 a peace treaty was signed
with Paraguay. Force levels and organization of the Bolivian army
reverted to prewar levels.
During WW2, normal
foreign sources of arms and ammunition were cut off to Bolivia. However
in 1944 and 1945 the USA supplied limited numbers of .30 M1903 Springfield
In 1950, Bolivia purchased
some new Mauser rifles from ZB in now Communist Czechoslovakia. These were
based on a design derived from the wartime German 'Kreigsmodell' Mauser
in production at Brno in 1945 when Germany surrendered control of the ZB
factory. The rifles were marked 'B-50' and had many stamped parts and a
finish quite inferior to the Vz24 Mausers previously purchased from ZB.
These were the last new Mausers that Bolivia purchased.
In 1952 a Revolution
defeated the Bolivian Army and it was disbanded. A new government
headed by Victor Paz Estenssoro created a workers and peasants militia
system based on the Indian population. The MNR party workers, the
tin mine workers, and the peasants were given Mausers and ZB26 light machine
guns. They were armed from existing stocks of Mauser rifles and light
machine guns in Army arsenals. It was only several weeks before the
army was reconstituted after a purge of officers, but subsequent governments
have never been able to retrieve all the weapons given out to the Indian
peoples. To this day many Mausers are in the hands to which they
were given, or passed on to their sons or grandsons. The ZB26 LMG's seemed
to have faded away. Ammunition has been very hard to obtain for these
weapons since the 1960's when rifles of other calibers had replaced the
Mausers in the Bolivian Army. Until then Bolivian army stocks were
at times covertly sold or given to the former militias by members of the
military. In the late 1960's there was talk by some leaders of acquiring
machinery to convert the rifles to more readily obtainable ammunition but
this seems not to have happened. Recent photos of armed Indian people
show mostly Vz24 but some FN M1930 Mausers being carried.
Following the reconstitution
of the army, the USA provided aid in the form of .30 M1 Garand rifles and
.30 M1 carbines and such aid continued into the 1960's. The troops
that captured Che Guvera in 1964 were armed with 7.65mm Vz24 Mausers, with
NCO's armed with .30 M1 carbines.
some licensed made 7.62x51mm FN FAL rifles built at Rosario to the Bolivian
Army in 1971 and in 1972 infantry units began receiving Swiss 7.62mm Sig
510 rifles, displacing their .30 M1 rifles which went to replace old Mausers
still used by some units and reserves. Some German G3A3 7.62x51mm
rifles were purchased in the later 1970's.
The 5.56mm Israeli
Galil rifle was purchased in the 1980's and today remains the standard
rifle, but older rifles remain in use by some support, reserve and police