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Every October 8, Miguel Grau and his heroic deed are commemorated in front of Monitor Huáscar in the Combat of Angamos. The ‘Knight of the Seas’, as it is known, has gone down in the history of Peru for its nobility and dedication in defending its homeland with its own life.
In this note, we will detail how this combat was carried out and the actions taken by the Navy of Peru and the counterattack and strategy of the Chilean Division to win the battle and take over the Monitor Huáscar.
- Date and history of the Angamos Combat
The Combat of Angamos took place on October 8, 1879. The naval battle occurred in Punta Angamos, which belonged to Bolivia. Huáscar and La Unión (Peruvian ships) travelled north along the coast of Chile, after having completed several offensive operations in Chilean ports.
In the distance, they saw several ships of the Chilean Navy. It was the first division of Chile that consisted of Blanco Encalada, Covadonga and Matías Cousiño which were heading south along the Pacific coast when they spotted El Huáscar and La Unión travelling in the opposite direction, proceeded to close the He passed. In response to Almirante Grau’s operations, the Chilean Navy had ordered the capture of Peruvian vessels.
Grau, observing the greater size and superiority of the Chilean fleet decided to use evasive maneuvers in order to escape from the enemy. Huáscar and La Unión sailed north in an attempt to reach Peru, but they encountered the 2nd Chilean naval division in the Cochrane and O’Higgins ships about 22 miles away. Realizing that La Union could advance faster than other ships; The order to follow was given.
On the other hand, Huascar, having no other choice, had to fight, the ship fired at the Cochrane. The Chilean ships waited until they had within the firing range the Peruvian battleship before opening fire.
The Chilean ships were of the last generation, they counted on an English technology of end and without a doubt, the Peruvians were not going to be able to counteract this attack.
One of the Cochrane shots went through the Huáscar bridge, killing Admiral Grau and first lieutenant Diego Ferre. When this happened, the command was assumed by Pedro Garezon, but he could not do much since the ship was in a catastrophic state with the wheel damaged and uncontrolled. The remaining officers decided to sink the ship before the enemy could seize it.
The order was given and the valves of the ship were opened to allow water to enter to sink the ship. The Chilean Navy, realizing that the ship was slowing down in its rhythm, decided that it was a good opportunity to capture El Huáscar.
The Chilean Navy seized the ship and when they went up they extinguished the multiple fires provoked by the explosions while the Peruvians were taken as prisoners. The Huáscar Monitor looks like a floating museum in the port of Talcahuano (Bio Bio – 8th region) and with it, the memory of the heroic sacrifice of Don Miguel Grau Seminario and his group of combatants who gave their lives to defend the interests of Peru.
- Who fought in the Combat of Angamos?
Miguel Grau Seminary
He was a Peruvian sailor and military, Admiral of the Navy of Peru. During the Pacific War, he commanded the monitor Huáscar and did not allow the Chilean squadron to attack our territory for five months, finally succumbing heroically in the naval combat of Angamos, facing superior forces. It is considered for it as the maximum hero of the Peruvian nation. His generosity to the enemy on the battlefield earned him the nickname of The Knight of the Seas.
Elías Aguirre (second in taking command)
Before Angamos, the chiclayano Aguirre fought against the Spaniards in the combat of Abtao, on board of the Union commanded nothing less than by Miguel Grau. At that time Grau was a corvette captain. Aguirre was in charge of the corvette’s batteries, and his outstanding performance effectively and efficiently directing the fire of his ship made him win the promotion to first lieutenant after the fight. It was also the trip through the Strait of Magellan bringing the Manco Cápac and the Atahualpa, and in the journey of the crossing, he learns of his promotion to captain of corvette. He travelled in the Union as second commander when this ship was taken to repair in England.
The gunboat Chanchamayo ran aground at his command, due to weather conditions that had to face on one occasion, for this fact is separated from its military functions for two years. But when the War with Chile broke out, he offered his services and Grau asked for him as a second. This is how when Grau dies, he assumes the command of Huáscar. He is the one who, knowing the ship lost due to the damage due to the cannon fire, decides to use the spur and ram the Cochrane, but this ship manages to avoid contact. Because of that, the Chileans counterattack and another projectile ends Aguirre’s life just as he did with Grau and his assistant Ferré.
José Melitón Rodríguez (third to take command)
Limeño, entered like midshipman in 1869, to the military school, later served in the monitor “Huáscar” and later to the frigate “Independencia”, between 1871 and 1873. He was one of those that participated in the pronouncement of the Peruvian Navy in 1872, against the coup d’etat of Tomás Gutiérrez against the regime of President José Balta. In June of 1877, during the government of Mariano Ignacio Prado, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant graduated.
At the beginning of the Pacific War, he would return to the “Huáscar” crew, remaining on board during the entire naval campaign. He also attended the combats of Iquique, Antofagasta until it was the time of truth in Angamos. Upon the death of Elías Aguirre, he assumed command as first lieutenant. Until an impact of Blanco Encalada’s cannons put an end to his life. He had a violent death, the shot practically decapitated him.
Pedro Garezón (fourth to take command)
He fought in the Combat of Angamos as first lieutenant. He had the sad but honourable decision to order the sinking of the Huáscar with all the remaining crew members alive on board. He was in the Apurímac, the Union, in the steam Tumbes, in the Independence, and in the monitor Huáscar, he served in three opportunities. It was in this last time when the combat of Angamos took place. He must have accidentally assumed the command of “Huáscar”. With the conviction of the one who knows lost, but without surrendering at all, ordered the sinking of the glorious monitor to avoid being captured by the invader, for which they had to stop the march and open the valves. However, the Chileans boarded the ship anyway, avoiding, revolver in hand, compliance with the order.
Garezón would suffer the same fate as many of the survivors of the combat. He went to the “Blanco” as a prisoner, then to the transport “Coquimbo” to Valparaiso, staying in the town of San Bernardo until December 20, 1979, when he was exchanged for the prisoners of the “Esmeralda” and the “Rimac.” He reached the rank of Rear Admiral.
His destiny was to be next to Miguel Grau the day in which all those men on board the Huáscar would go down in history. This young lieutenant first, began his military life at the Naval Military College and his final exam was chaired by none other than José Gálvez Egúsquiza, the hero of the Combat of May 2. Ferré was always a young man of good academic performance and was assigned to positions of high responsibility. He was in the corvette America, he fought there in the battle of Abtao when Peru was an ally of Chile against the Spaniards. He was promoted by it to second lieutenant of the frigate.
He was also aboard the monitors Atahualpa and Manco Cápac and participated in the feat that meant the trip from New Orleans to Callao, passing through the Strait of Magellan. Ascended to second lieutenant he happened to serve in Tumbes and then in Huáscar. As first lieutenant, he returned to Manco Capac, but his destiny would be to return to Huáscar. Once there, the Pacific War was unleashed, and as Grau’s assistant, he was at his side when a projectile exploded in the command tower killing the rear admiral and wounding the young lieutenant to death.
There is a special scene that some historians talk about: at one point the Chileans observed that the Peruvian flag was in the prow (symbol of defeat) and ordered the ceasefire, but later appreciated that someone raised it again so that the attacks resumed. That man would have been Enrique Palacios. He was very young, barely graduated from the Naval School he fought in Abtao. He arrived at Huáscar when he was commanded by the still captain Miguel Grau, and there he would stay the rest of the campaign.
At the beginning of the combat, Palacios occupies his post of telemetry officer, sitting on the battle tower, with his legs hanging out; rochón in hand, gave from there the distances to Grau, who occupied the tower of command; After the death of Grau, Aguirre, who directs the fires, orders him to go down to take care of the cannon on the right. At this point, the ship being commanded by Aguirre, a splinter of iron dismantles the lower jaw, having to hold it with a handkerchief.
Overcoming the pain of this wound, it recovers on the deck of the entrepuente despite the heavy hemorrhage it suffers. The combat continues, the tower of command destroyed, the rudder useless, leaving the monitor without government; Palacios and Gervasio Santillana find in the shattered tower the bodies of Elías Aguirre and José Melitón Rodríguez. Palacios is captured by the Chileans and then exchanged for the Chilean lieutenant Luis Uribe and taken to Callao, but the courageous sailor does not reach his destination because he died in Iquique on October 22, of traumatic tetanus, as certified by the doctor commissioned by our government.
Manuel Melitón Carvajal
Carvajal made the entire maritime campaign with Huáscar, was present in the bombing of Antofagasta, in the combat of Iquique, in the capture of the Chilean transport “Rímac”, which by order of Rear Admiral Grau, led to Arica and finally in combat of Angamos, on October 8, 1879.
The war correspondent of the newspaper “El Mercurio” of Valparaíso, witness of the combat from one of the Chilean ships, describes the performance of Carvajal: “after the death of the commander, the Captain Melitón Carvajal, went to the tower to communicate the news to the Second of the ship that was Corvette Captain Elias Aguirre, to take command, when a grenade that easily penetrated the five inches of the tower’s armour, killed some men and blinded Captain Carvajal, who was taken out without knowledge and taken to the surgeon “.
At the end of the fight, the prisoner was taken to Santiago, where two months later he was exchanged. He was promoted to the rank of Captain of the ship in May 1885.
- Who was Miguel Grau?
Miguel Grau Seminario was born on July 27, 1834, in Piura and by his career was known as ‘The Knight of the Seas’, also is considered the greatest Peruvian hero for sacrificing his life for the country. He was a merchant seaman since he was a child, then a military sailor and later a deputy.
In 1867 he married Dolores Cabero and Núñez, with whom he had ten children, two of whom died when they were only children.
Grau, at the beginning of the war, was commissioned to monitor Huáscar, which was not the best ship in the Peruvian squadron, but after the loss of other ships, he had to assume the leadership of the maritime campaign, which lasted six months.
In the Iquique bout, which Peru won, the Chilean corvette Esmeralda was sunk and her crew rescued by Grau, who decided not to execute them. This fact motivated him to be known throughout history as ‘the knight of the seas’.
Another fact for which Grau is known is the letter he sent to the widow of Arturo Prat, captain of the Esmeralda killed by a bullet in the skull in an unsuccessful attempt to board the Huáscar. Along with the letter, which the widow thanked, sent the belongings of the sailor, also considered a hero in his homeland.
Death came to Grau on October 8, 1879, in the combat of Angamos, where the Peruvian forces were defeated.
- How did Miguel Grau die?
Don Miguel Grau Seminario died in the Combat of Angamos on October 8, 1879, when a cannon shot from the Chilean armoured vehicle Cochrane fell on the command tower of the ship “Huáscar” and destroyed his body.
His remains rest today at the Presbítero Matías Maestro cemetery, in Barrios Altos, Lima.
- What happened to the Huáscar Monitor?
The Chileans managed to refloat the monitor and put it at their service during the war. Huáscar participated in the Arica site where its commander, Manuel Thomson, ordered Huáscar to wear a huge Chilean flag while bombing the Peruvian fort. He also came to the front of the monitor Manco Cápac and managed to hit the Huáscar with several projectiles. One of them killed Thomson.
Today the Huáscar Monitor is displayed in the Chilean port of Talcahuano as a floating museum. In one of its rooms, the portraits of Arturo Prat, Miguel Grau and Carlos Thomson are exhibited. Together. The last adventure of Huáscar was to stay afloat during the tsunami that affected the Chilean coasts in 2010.
Source: La Prensa Peru