Boreal or Gran Chaco region of South America is a vast inland area of scrub
land about the size of Poland. It is south of the Amazon basin and
north of Argentina , bordered on the west by the Andes and on the east
by the Rio Paraguay.
Control of this
region has been disputed by Paraguay and Bolivia since the end of Spanish
colonial rule. The area was considered almost worthless by both nations
except for reasons of prestige. It was inhabited only by a
small number of native tribes which spoke only their native tongue and
whom lived a subsistence existence.
This situation changed
after the 1879-84 War of the Pacific in which Chile defeated both
Peru and Bolivia, seizing Bolivia's seacoast and only port and outlet to
the world. Bolivia saw the possibility of establishing a port on
the Rio Paraguay, which flowed through the Chaco, for an outlet to the
Atlantic. Over the next sixty years the border dispute festered.
As the new century
dawned both Bolivia and Paraguay had standardized on the 7.65mm Argentine
Mauser cartridge, as had Peru. Both had Modelo Argentino 1891 Mausers
in issue. Some or all of these weapons may have been provided by
Argentina for geopolitical reasons growing out of rivalries with Chile
and Brazil and the inabilities of either or both of these nations to arrange
financing of the purchase of new rifles directly from the European manufacturers.
It is unlikely that these would be gifts, but it is possible that some
sort of barter arrangement was made.
Both Bolivia and
Paraguay purchased new rifles based on the German Model 98 action in the
first decade of the new century. Bolivia chose the Modelo 1908 from
DWM which featured an unusual upper band assembly. It was designed
to be compatible with the the Model 1891 type of bayonet and had a hook
to accept the Gew.98 sling hanger used for shortening and stowing the sling
on the rifle when it was not in use. The stock lacked a pistol grip
on the dual short rifle/carbine which could be issued to cavalry or other
non-infantry units. The Paraguayan Army purchased an unknown quantity
of the Mauser Modelo 1907 rifle and carbine, and possibly some Modelo 1910
of the Turkish pattern, both in 7.65mm, from Mauser Oberendorf.
These were the best rifles that Paraguay ever had.
In the early
1920's the situation again heated up. Both countries were very poor and
could ill afford a strong military. Bolivia had tin and oil resources
with which to earn foreign exchange, but Paraguay had strictly an agricultural
economy which did not earn any meaningful foreign currency.
Both nations sought
to strengthen their military potential. The Bolivian Army had had
a German military training mission since 1911 under Hans von Kundt, major,
and later general, and Chief of Staff. The Ejercito Boliviano was
organized along pre war German lines, but was not very efficient due to
the quality of the officer corp and the lack of resources to support a
modern army. Standard Oil had the concession to exploit the oil resources
which were being developed. Loans to finance arms purchases were obtained
from U.S. and Canadian banks, the collateral being revenues based on oil
and tin exports.
The contract to
rearm the Bolivian forces was given to Vickers, the British armaments conglomerate,
probably because of the assistance and influence of British capital.
The new Mauser 7.65mm rifles and 7.65mm ZB26 LMG's were subcontracted from
ZB in Brno, Czechoslovakia. Vickers supplied heavy 7.65mm tripod
mounted machine guns, some 7.65mm Vickers Berthier bipod mounted light
machine guns,and artillery.
The Bolivian Army
was primarily a political instrument which was used to change governments.
Unlike Paraguay where these same types of coups were the way of effecting
changes of government, in Bolivia armed conflict rarely ensued. A
meeting was called, regiments and rifles were counted and the loser went
into exile with a golden parachute.
Because of this
wear and tear on small arms was minimized and loss of rifles by the losing
side melting away with weapons was rare, inventory remained stable over
the decades. In Paraguay, there were 41 presidents in 40 years and
armed conflict was the the norm. In 1924 the Paraguyan Army was down
to less than 4000 serviceable rifles as a result of this type of violent
The Paraguayan ambassador
to the United States was dispatched on a tour of Europe in 1925 to search
out affordable modern weapons to build up the strength of the nation in
the expected war with the better armed Bolivia, which also greatly out-numbered
Paraguay. As a result of The War of Triple Alliance , Brazil, Argentina,
and Uruguay had killed off most of military age Paraguayan males late in
the previous century. This minister toured Europe in search of affordable
weapons. The shortage of rifles was such that many obsolete black
powder weapons were in service. Because cost and financing were the most
important factors, the decision was made to have the Modelo 1907 Mauser
rifle copied and produced at Oviedo Arsenal in Spain. These decision
imperatives had unfortunate consequences on the users of these Modelo1927
The production of
these M1927 Mausers got under way in the early part of 1927 and were financed
in part by public subscription to a Rifle Fund. All members of the
armed forces and all government workers contributed one months pay tot
his effort. Individuals and companies also contributed. The
total raised was $110,000 U.S. Dollars (1927 Dollars today worth about
$2,800,00). Production proceeded slowly and by late summer 1928 some 8700
rifles and 1500 carbines had been procured.
In September an
armed clash in the Chaco region between Bolivian and Paraguayan forces
in a disputed area, called the Verguardia Incident, lead to war hysteria
and the government pressured Oviedo to speed up production. There
were problems with the new rifles. Reports of rifles blowing up on
discharge, and a general disaffection with the quality of manufacture were
heard. Of course, there was nothing to be done. The quality
of the standard, the beautiful German made Modelo 1907, could not be had
at a cut-rate price from a Spanish Arsenal using inferior steel.
Meanwhile in Bolivia, the excellent Czech VZ-24 short rifles and ZB-26
LMG's were received with great satisfaction and no reports of trouble.
The winds of war
were calmed when outside intervention and mediation led to a compromise
resolution of the Incident without war ..."for now". Chile had staged
a military demonstration on Bolivia's border to encourage agreement.
The basic conflict remained and flared into full war in 1932.
An attack by Bolivian
troops on a Paraguayan outpost led to this major conflict. The ensuing
struggle was fought under miserable conditions and the troops on both sides
suffered greatly. Conditions in the Chaco were very bad. The
winters were dry and temperatures could drop below zero when storms blew
in from the Antarctic. The provision of enough drinking water was
the biggest logistic problem. Even in the rainy summer season, when
the parched sands became a muddy quagmire, a sudden storm from the pole,
could drop the temperature from the 80's to below freezing in a few hours.
At the start of
the war, Paraguay had on hand a total of 21,450 rifles. These included
about 4000 older 7.65mm Mausers including the Modelo Argentino 1891 and
7.65mm Modelo 1907, 10,363 Oviedo made copies of 7.65mm Modelo 1907 rifle
called the Modelo 1927, about 1500 Modelo 1927 carbines, and 7,000 Belgian
FN Modelo 1924 7.65mm short rifles. [ There are apparant conflicting reports
as to a Paraguyan Modelo 1895 Mauser; one source says these were Modelo
Argentino 1891 pattern rifles and 15, 000 were acquired circa 1895-1902
while others say that it was a type of the M1895 Chilean pattern.
If indeed it was a Chilean pattern rifle these would be part of the total
21,450 serviceable rifles. ] Both sides used 7.65mm Colt Browning, Maxim
and Vickers water cooled machine guns, tripod mounted Madsens, as well
as Madsens configured with only bipods for platoon level support. The Bolivians
had about 4000 older Mausers dating back to before 1910, and 39097 recently
obtained modern Mausers (mostly ZB Vz24) on hand when war broke out along
with a good number of the excellent ZB26 light machine gun, the finest
in the world for its time.
Paraguayans slowly but surely advanced against material odds until they
eventually won control of almost all the Chaco. They were much better
motivated and led. One fact soon became apparent, the Paraguayan troops
would discard their M1927 Spanish made Mauser as soon as they could lay
hands on a captured VZ-24 or other quality Bolivian Mauser. At the
Second Battle of Nanawa , the Field Commander of the Paraguayan Army was
touring the battlefield after the decisive defeat of the Bolivians and
saw nearly 3000 of their dead with a Modelo Paraguayano 1927 neatly placed
upon each body. Asking the local commander the meaning of this bizarre
sight, he was told that the victorious Paraguayans had taken the good "Vickers
rifles", as the Bolivians called the Brno Mausers, and left their Oviedos
as a mark of respect for the valor of the dead.
The Paraguayan troops
went barefoot and preferred the machete in hand to hand combat. Many
White Russian officers served Paraguay. The Bolivians lost a very
large number of weapons in combat At Campo Via on 11 December 1933: they
lost 8000 Mausers, 500 machine guns, and 25 Stokes-Brandt mortars.
This major defeat caused General Hans Kundt his job.
Throughout the war
large numbers of rifles were lost to the Paraguayans. During
a truce in December 1933, 45000 additional rifles were acquired including
ZB Vz24, Mauser Werke Standard Modell 1933, and FN 1930 type Mausers.
Bolivia was at a
bad disadvantage logistically in that all supplies had to be moved from
the Bolivian highlands northwest of the Chaco, to the railhead nearest
the flat , scrub desert, and then packed or trucked hundreds of kilometers,
over poor tracks in the wilderness, to the action. Despite this the
Bolivians had a huge advantage in aircraft and armament as well as motor
transport. By 1935, after a slow, grinding campaign, Bolivia had
been pushed out of most of the Chaco and both sides were played out with
a combined total of 100,000 dead.
led to a settlement which gave most of the land to Paraguay. Argentina
had provided support to Paraguay during the war, including arms and ammunition.
Vast numbers of weapons were acquired during the course of the war.
Bolivia obtained over 100,000 Czech Mausers of various models in the prewar
buildup and during 1932-35 and into 1938. This was the first war
in which the submachine gun was widely employed. Details on specific types
and quantities of weapons are hard to uncover.
World's Guns, Golden
State Arms, 1958
The Chaco War, Bruce
Mauser Bolt Rifles,
Ludwig Olsen 1976
Rifles of the World,