Note: I’m away on vacation biking around Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido with family. The posts in this series are autoposted. Hope you enjoy.
Paraguay is a small Latin American country sandwiched between Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. It is a geographical mix of desert and rivers, and landlocked hundreds of miles from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. So what is it doing with a navy?
Paraguay’s history has been characterized by long periods of authoritarian governments, political instability and infighting, yet it’s naval forces, first developed in the 19th century, were vital for independence. In a war with Brazil in the middle of the century, the two countries engaged in history’s largest riverine naval engagement. Paraguay ultimately lost that conflict and was occupied by Brazil for fifty years, during and after which the country’s navy was almost non-existent.
This changed in the 1920s in response to tensions with Bolivia, the other landlocked country in South America, that resulted in the Chaco War. None of the battles in this regional Chaco War were naval, but Paraguay’s “fleet” — consisting of just a handful of small river boats — played a vital role in transporting troops and supplies and supplying antiaircraft cover for the army. Some naval officers also saw service as ground force commanders. In addition, the naval air arm carried out important reconnaissance and support missions and undertook in 1934 the first night air raid in the Western Hemisphere.
Since the Chaco War, Paraguay has had a small but important naval force with a few dozen boats and about 3,000 personel. The ship inventory consisted of six river defense vessels, seven patrol craft, and three amphibious vessels, in addition to various support, transport, and cargo vessels. The bulk of the fleet has been supplied by the United States between the 1940s and 1970s, and is one of the most antiquated in the world: five of the six river patrol vessels were laid down in the 1930s, the newest was of 1980s vintage. One large patrol craft had a wooden hull and first entered service in 1908!
Yet Paraguay isn’t the only landlocked country with a navy, as a few more posts in this series will demonstrate.