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THE SHIPS OF VAPOR CUÉ  -  PARAGUAYAN NATIONAL RELICS

By Dipl.-Ing. Hartmut Ehlers

Paraguay, which became independent in 1811 and at that time was the only landlocked country in South America, soon recognized the importance of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers as links to the South Atlantic. Hence, under dictator Carlos Antonio López, a Government fleet was created in the early 1840s that doubled as a merchant fleet and as a military instrument. The first steamships were in the early 1850s acquired from abroad until a Government arsenal with a steamship building capability was founded at Asunción, using imported material. The suppliers were Messrs. John & Alfred Blyth Steam Engine Works, Limehouse, London, which already earlier had supplied all material and specialist manpower besides acting as agents for most ship acquisitions. The Government arsenal, named “Astillero y Arsenal de la Loma San Gerónimo”, completed six steamships before the War of the Triple Alliance broke out in late 1864 with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

This war was the direct result of the expansionistic attitude of dictator López’ son, Francisco Solano López, who took office in September 1862. F.S. López aimed at the possession of the Matto Grosso region, at confining the further growth of Brazilian power and dominance, and at the establishment of a common border with Uruguay as a coastal country at the cost of Argentina. The War of the Triple Alliance was to become the bloodiest conflict ever fought on South American soil. Paraguay fought with determination despite numerical inferiority until its ultimate defeat in 1870, but survived at the price of suffering extremely heavy losses and loosing large parts of its territory to Argentina and Brazil. Of the 1.0 to 1.3 million inhabitants of 1864, about 4/5 had perished at the end of the war.

A total of 23 steamers, 3 steam pinnaces, 5 sailing vessels, and more than a dozen “chatas” (towed purpose-built barges or former sailing vessels, armed with one large gun) served in the Paraguayan fleet, disposing of at least 99 guns. The steamers included a number of vessels acquired second-hand or captured at the beginning of the war. The fleet flagship was Tacuarí, a side wheel gunboat purpose-built in 1854 by Messrs. Thompson, London (Isle of Dogs) for £ 29,850. She had 496 t full load displacement, and the survey letter No. 635 dated 6 Oct 1854 shows a tonnage of 428 24/44 ts (old measurement), 166 ft length between perpendiculars, an extreme breadth of 25ft ½in, and a depth on hold of 11ft 11in. The main machinery consisted of 2 steam engines with 180 hp each, giving a maximum speed of 16 knots. The original armament comprised 2-60pdr, 2-32pdr, and 2-8pdr Whitworth muzzle loading guns. Tacuarí scuttled herself on 22 March 1868 at Fort Timbó on the Paraguay river under the fire of the Brazilian ironclad Bahía and the river monitor Para.

The war saw a number of important naval battles and actions. Of these, the battle of Riachuelo on 11 June 1865 is most probably best remembered in South American naval history. Here, the 8 Paraguayan warships Tacuarí, Paraguarí, Piravevé, Ygurey, Salto Oriental, Yporá, Marqués de Olinda, and Jejuí with 6 “chatas” fought against a numerically superior Brazilian force. The Paraguayan vessels could field a total of 36 guns ranging from 14 to 68 pounds against 59 guns ranging from 30 to 77 pounds on the Brazilian side. Only 4 Paraguayan ships survived.

After the battle of Riachuelo Paraguay could no longer hope to gain the control of the rivers in order to support its advancing troops. And the tide slowly changed on land. In the event, the allied armies advanced steadily towards Asunción, and so did the allied fleet after having penetrated strongly fortified river barriers at Curuzú, Humaitá, Curupayty, Timbó, and finally Angostura which capitulated on 30 December 1868. Already on 1 January 1869, Brazilian forces landed at Asunción without resistance, capturing 2 Paraguayan vessels. At this time, the rest of the Paraguayan fleet was still in the waters north of Asunción and dictator F. S. López sought to continue the war in those remote regions in central Paraguay that were difficult to reach by the waterways.

The Brazilian fleet now began to round up the surviving Paraguayan warships. On 5 January 1869 the Brazilian ironclad Bahía, the river monitors Alagoas, Ceará, Para, Piaui, and Santa Catarina along with the gunboats Ivai and Mearim left Asunción and attempted to enter the Manduvirá river system. On the 6th they sighted some Paraguayan steamers that towed two other vessels. The Paraguayans scuttled the towed vessels and escaped owing to their better navigational knowledge. The advance had to be given up on the 7th because, after timber block barriers had been surmounted, the ships were stopped by a Paraguayan blockship. The Brazilians were back to their squadron on 9 January. Meanwhile, an infantry battalion had been formed with the larger part of the crews of the last 6 ships Anhambay, Yporá, Salto del Guayra, Paraná, Piravevé, and Río Apa, and orders were received from López to convey the 6 ships deep into the Yhagüy river close to Caraguatay village. On 18 April 1869 another Brazilian detachment entered the Manduvirá river system consisting of the river monitors Ceará, Santa Catarina and Piaui, 3 armed steamers, and 2 steam launches. On the 25th they sighted 3 of the Paraguayan ships near Caraguatay on the bank of the Yhagüy river, but were unable to reach them due to a low water level then prevailing. An attempt to destroy the Paraguayan ships by a landed troop detachment failed in the face of a strong Paraguayan resistance. Boats were now dispatched that were to request reinforcements from the squadron. Upon return they reported that the Paraguayans had mounted a shore battery at Paso de Garay on the Yhagüy river not far from its confluence with the Manduvirá River and that they were erecting a makeshift river barrage there. It consisted of freshly-cut logs from the near forests, stones and carts chained together. Due to a rising water level from continuing strong rain, the barrage was easily penetrated on the 29 April by the Brazilians on their way back, having accomplished nothing.

The Brazilian fleet from now on performed only transport duties until the end of the war, and the 6 Paraguayan ships remained trapped in the Yhagüy River. Their end came only on 18 August 1869: After enemy troops in the wake of the battle of Acosta Ñu closely approached the resting place of the ships, Anhambay, Yporá, Salto del Guayra, Paraná, Piravevé, and Río Apa were set afire and scuttled by the remaining nucleus crews. The first Para­guayan Navy had ceased to exist.

The place, located about 120 km northeast of Asunción and today called Vapor Cué, was never forgotten by later generations. It was on 1 March 1945 that the foundation of a monument was laid. Parts of the ships were still visible, mostly the boilers, but lots of sand had buried the majority of the wreckage.

The site was ordered cleaned by decree 61/976 of 24 March 1976. By order of the day № 89, dated 24 July 1977, the Naval Command created the “Comisión Naval Parque Nacional Yhagüy”. And on 18 March 1978, a party of Government officials met and travelled to Caraguatay to inspect the scuttling site. A few days later President Stroessner expressed his Government's will to support the recovery of the ship relics. A commission called "Comisión Nacional Restauradora" was officially recognized by Decree № 28.098 of 23 Sep 1981. And in fact, preparatory work progressed at a quick pace, including road construction. The recovery operations proper included the construction of a by-pass canal to the Yhagüy so as to drain the river over the entire length of the six scuttling sites. The Paraguayan Navy, the army, the engineer corps, Government agencies, the village of Caraguatay, civil companies, and Paraguayan citizens contributed to the works with equipment, money and labour. An impressive site resulted, denominated “National Park Vapor Cué”. It includes a Parador type hotel, a small museum building with shop, a building for the small naval detachment running the site, picnic areas, and an airstrip of 1,300 m runway length. The site, which is a few kilometres north of picturesque Caraguatay, was inaugurated on 29 January 1985.

The recovered ship relics are arranged in a circular section with a monument in the centre. Two of the vessels, Anhambay and Piravevé, were restored to original appearance. Of the other four vessels, mainly the boilers remain while there is a considerable part of Paraná’s bottom structure on display. The Yhagüy river, today a narrow creek, is a few metres away. The six scuttling sites are still discernible today, lattice masts carrying the ship’s names have additionally been erected on the river bank.

Technical data of the 6 vessels at Vapor Cué:

ANHAMBAY

Iron-hulled river side wheel gunboat

Displacement:     about 170 t full load

Dimensions:         Length 41.22m oa, moulded breadth 6.llm, total breadth 8.10m, depth 2.44m, draught 1.20m

Machinery:          One 55 hp oscillating vertical steam engine, 1 boiler

Armament:          2- 32pdr guns

Former Brazilian naval unit, built 1858. In Brazilian service Anhambay, towing the brigantine Jacobina, helped on 28 December 1864 to evacuate the garrison and their families of the Brazilian fortification Coimbrá on the upper Paraguay River. Anhambay, under the command of the British captain Baker and again towing Jacobina, was captured in the San Lorenzo River (Matto Grosso) on 6 January 1865 by the Paraguayan warships Yporá and Río Apa. The gunboat saw in June 1867 action against a Brazilian force at Corumbá.

 

YPORÁ

Wooden-hulled Government side wheel steamer with 18 passenger cabins.

Displacement:     205 t net, 226 t full load

Measurement:     244 register tons

Dimensions:         Approximate length 30.0m, moulded breadth 5.5m, total breadth 7.5m, depth 2.5m, draught 1.5m

Machinery:          Steam engine 70 hp

Armament:          4 guns

Complement:      2 officers, 2 CPO, 22 men (peacetime)

First steam ship built in Paraguay. Builders: "Astillero y Arsenal de la Loma San Gerónimo", Asunción, launched 2 July 1856 in the presence of President Carlos Antonio López. Design and building supervision by Thomas Norman Smith, British naval architect. Sister of Salto del Guayra.

Mainly employed on south-bound voyages as far as Uruguay and Argentina. Re-boilered in 1863 with a new boiler sent from England. Armed with the beginning of the War, and immediately saw action with the Matto Grosso expedition of December 1864. Yporá took part in the capture of the Brazilian river gunboat Anhambay in the San Lorenzo River (Matto Grosso) on 6 January 1865, and participated in the capture of the Argentine vessels 25 De Mayo and Gualeguay at Corrientes on 13 April 1865. Participated in the battle of Riachuelo on 11 June 1865, and was in action against Brazilian forces on 2 November 1867 in the defence of the Tayi bridge, where she managed to escape the lost battle with heavy damage.

The boiler, the engine crankshaft with the axle connecting the side wheels, part of a side wheel and parts of the hull were recovered in the early 1980s.

 

SALTO DEL GUAYRÁ

Wooden-hulled Government side wheel steamer with 18 passenger cabins.

Data as for Yporá.

Sister of Yporá, and the second steam ship built in Paraguay. Builders: "Astillero y Arsenal de la Loma San Gerónimo", Asunción, launched 17 July 1857; sponsored by the daughter of the president, Doña Rafaela López.

Mainly employed on south-bound voyages as far as Uruguay and Argentina. Armed with the beginning of the War. Was member of the Matto Grosso expeditionary force in December 1864. Saw in June 1867 action against a Brazilian force at Corumbá. A few days later, on 11 July 1867, Salto del Guayrá captured the Brazilian gunboat Jaurú in an action on the Paraguay River near Alegre, but had to give up her prize and to retreat after her commanding officer and the officer in charge of the boarding party on Jaurú had been killed during the continuing action.

The boiler and the engine crankshaft were recovered in the early 1980s.

 

PARANÁ

Composite-hulled seagoing merchant screw steamer

Displacement:      83 t net

Dimensions:          Length 25.0m pp, breadth 5.5m, depth 2.8m, draught 1.5m

Armament:           2 guns

Built in England and acquired in April 1859 from a Mr. John Thompson in exchange for Yerba mate tea worth 25,000 Pesos. First used to transport Yerba mate tea, later reconditioned for passenger service between Asunción and Buenos Aires. Armed with the beginning of the War. The boiler and substantial parts of the hull were recovered in the early 1980s.

 

PIRAVEVÉ

Iron-hulled seagoing merchant screw steamer

Displacement:     120 t full load, 58 t net

Dimensions:         Length 31.65m, breadth 5.10m, depth 3.00m, draught 2.0m

Machinery:          Steam engine 60 hp, 1 boiler

Armament:          1 gun

Former British Ranger. Acquired for the Navy at Asunción, where she had arrived on 10 April 1865 and immediately was offered for sale by her captain Gustav Harrinson. Piravevé participated in the battle of Riachuelo. The ship helped to evacuate Cierva after the break-through of the Brazilian fleet at Humaitá in the night of 18/19 February 1868; doing so, she had on the 21st to scuttle the sailing vessel Angélica which she had in tow.

The remains of the hull and the boiler were recovered until August 1981.

 

RÍO APA

Wooden-hulled Government side wheel steamer

Displacement:     80 t full load, 28 t net;

Measurement:     31 register tons

Dimensions:         Approximate length 20m, approximate breadth 5m, total breadth 7m, depth 2.5m, draught 1.2m

Machinery:           Steam, 12 hp

Armament:           3 guns

Launched at Asunción on 4 November 1858 as the fourth steam ship built in Paraguay. Made her first trials on 29 January 1859. Armed with the beginning of the War. As part of the Matto Grosso expeditionary force, Río Apa participated in the capture of the Brazilian gunboat Anhambay in the San Lorenzo River on 6 January 1865. She also saw in June 1867 action against a Brazilian force at Corumbá.

The boiler and the crankshaft with the axle connecting the side wheels were recovered in August 1981.

 

 

Este sitio es publicado por Carlos Mey -  Martínez - Argentina