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Development of the Armed Forces

French influence was perceptible in the Chilean Army from the mid-nineteenth century up to the War of the Pacific. However, following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870- 71, admiration of Prussian military institutions grew. This led to the appointment in 1885 of a German, Captain Emil Körner, who had fought with distinction against France, to reorganize the Chilean military instruction system. On beginning his duties in 1886, Körner reorganized the General Bernardo O'Higgins Military Academy, inaugurated a staff school (the War Academy), and quickly consolidated the growing German influence in the Chilean Army.

When most of the army sided with the winning congressional forces (Congresionalistas) in the Civil War of 1891, Körner acted as chief of the General Staff and was largely credited with the victories of the army. In that war, the majority of the navy also supported the congressional faction. However, the new torpedo gunboats, the Lynch and the Condell (the only major naval units that supported the president), scored a spectacular victory when they attacked and sank the flagship of the congressional fleet, the ironclad Blanco Encalada, in Valparaíso harbor on the night of April 23.

After the Civil War, Körner, now a general, was joined by thirty-six other German instructors and was confirmed as chief of staff of the army, a position he held until 1910. German instructors organized the army into four divisions and developed the General Staff. German reforms also included establishment of the Noncommissioned Officers' School (Escuela de Suboficiales y Clases) and other military schools.

The expansion of the navy continued in the decade following the Civil War, under the added impetus of an increasingly bitter boundary dispute with Argentina. The danger of war was defused as both countries agreed to mediation by King Edward VII of Britain. The mediation resulted in the General Arbitration Treaty of 1902, under which all subsequent territorial disputes with Argentina were settled until the late 1970s.

Chile's military aviation was officially inaugurated in February 1913 with the creation of the army's Captain Ávalos Prado Military Aviation School (Escuela de Aeronáutica Militar "Capitán Ávalos Prado"--EAM) at El Bosque, outside Santiago. In 1915 aircraft participated in the annual military maneuvers for the first time. The shortage of aircraft caused by World War I severely impeded the development of Chilean military aviation. With the end of the war in 1918, a dozen British fighter monoplanes were obtained to equip the First Aviation Company. As early as 1916, naval officers had also undertaken flight training at the EAM. The end of the war in Europe permitted the formation of the Naval Aviation Service (Servicio de Aviación Naval).

In 1921 the Chilean government contracted for the services of a British naval and air mission. The EAM was also reorganized, and additional aircraft were acquired. In 1924 a German air mission arrived and was entrusted primarily with the development of civil aviation. It was precluded from overt involvement in the development of the Chilean military and naval air arms by the Treaty of Versailles.

The military and naval air services were merged as the Chilean Air Force (Fuerza Aérea de Chile--FACh) on March 21, 1930, thereby becoming the world's fourth independent military air arm. The formation of the FACh coincided with a growing economic crisis that necessitated cutbacks in the armed forces, severe curtailment of procurements, and a steady attrition of fielded matériel. Demoralized as a result of pay reductions and the political chaos then rampant in the country because of the Great Depression (see Glossary), the Chilean Navy staged a work stoppage from August to November 1931. The mutiny finally collapsed after the air force bombed the fleet. Although little physical damage was done, this event significantly affected naval morale and the subsequent development of the navy by demonstrating the vulnerability of warships to air attack.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, the army was reduced from four to three divisions, and its troop strength was reduced to 12,000. An improvement in the economic situation in the mid-1930s, however, permitted an expansion back to four divisions.

Chile remained officially neutral during most of World War II, although it sold its copper at a fixed price only to the United States; however, a perfunctory declaration of war on the Axis Powers was made in February 1945. As was the case for most other neutral armed forces, the war years were lean ones for the Chilean military, which was forced to rely on its own resources for the maintenance of increasingly obsolete matériel.

Despite Germany's defeat in the two world wars, German influence remained stronger in the Chilean Armed Forces as a whole than in those of any other Latin American country. However, the navy--founded largely by British, Irish, and North American mercenaries and commanded in its formative years by Thomas Cochrane, one of the most brilliant British naval officers of the day--consciously modeled itself on the British Royal Navy. In the early 1990s, the Chilean Navy continued to show a strong British influence, which had been reinforced by British training missions until the eve of World War II. The navy, not immune to the German influences at work on the army for more than half a century, achieved a synthesis of the better elements of the Prussian military and British naval traditions. However, it did not lose its essentially British orientation, underlined in its repeated return to British shipyards for new matériel. As in the case of the army, the influence of United States naval missions has been largely confined to the areas of tactical and operational doctrine.

The FACh also owed its early independent existence to the activities of British training missions during the 1920s. Like the Chilean Navy, the FACh retained certain Prussian influences, deriving mostly from the military and naval air services from which it had been formed. However, the FACh probably has been the most receptive of Chile's uniformed services to United States influence. A succession of United States air-training missions began in the early 1940s.

Chile has exercised a strong formative influence on the armed forces of other Latin American countries. The armed forces of Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and El Salvador have come under the tutelage of Chilean military missions, in some cases for lengthy periods. Many of the smaller republics, including Nicaragua and Paraguay, have sent officer personnel for postgraduate training in Chilean military schools. The navy also has exerted considerable influence on the Colombian and Ecuadorian navies. The Ecuadorian Navy was effectively established under Chilean guidance and has continued a long-standing arrangement whereby Ecuadorian naval cadets have received part of their training in Chile.

Data as of March 1994

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Chile Table of Contents