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Vice Admiral Juan José Latorre

Juan José Latorre Benavente (Santiago; March 24, 1846 – July 9, 1912) Chilean Vice Admiral, one of the principal actors of the War of the Pacific, and hero of the Battle of Angamos.

Early life

Son of Elías Latorre and of Nicomedia Benavente, the oldest of eight brothers. After the early death of his father, three of his younger brothers were taken by the paternal family in Peru, where they were raised. Later on, one of the brothers participated also in the War of the Pacific, but on the Peruvian side.

At the age of nine, in 1855, he won a scholarship to the Naval Academy. Appointed midshipman on July 15, 1861. He served on the Esmeralda during the Chincha Islands War and participated in the Battle of Papudo, where the Spanish schooner Covadonga was captured, and in the Battle of Abtao.

On February 12, 1873 was promoted to first lieutenant, and given command of the Toltén first, and the Magallanes later. It was in this later ship that he was going to make his name as one of the ablest naval commanders of the coming war. During his patrols of the extreme southern region of Chile, he was involved in a diplomatic incident with Argentina and Britain, when he captured several foreign ships that were operating in the Chilean area with an Argentinian licence, chief among them the Jeanne Amelie and the Devonshire. He was also faced with the mutiny of the city of Punta Arenas, where he was able to rescue his old friend, governor Diego Dublé Almeida.

War of the Pacific years

Naval Battle de Chipana

While in command of the Magallanes, he was the first to come face to face with the Peruvian navy at the Naval Battle de Chipana. On April 12, 1879, he crossed paths with the Peruvian ships Unión and Pilcomayo, who tried to capture it. Outgunned, Latorre decided to escape. During the ensuing persecution, he noticed that the speed of the two Peruvian ships was greatly different, and that the Pilcomayo was falling considerably behind.

Once the Peruvian Union was alone, he turned his ship around, and opened fire. The battle thus ensued. The Peruvian aim was disastrous, due to their lack of training, but the Chilean aim was only marginally better. At one point, the Unión started spewing white smoke from one of its sides. This led the Peruvian captain to think his ship had been seriously hit, and gave up the persecution, allowing the weaker Magallanes to escape unharmed. In fact the whole incident was caused by the overheating of one of the boilers.

Second Naval Battle of Iquique

After the disastrous reduction of the Peruvian navy at the First Naval Battle of Iquique, presidente Prado of Peru ordered Admiral Grau to harass the Chilean shipping lines and to try to disrupt their commerce. The Admiral, on the Huáscar, decided to go on a night raid to the port of Iquique, to try and destroy the Abtao. He arrived on the night of July 9, and not finding his prey decided to go after the transport ship Matías Cousiño.

Latorre, who was commanding the Magallanes decided to fend off the attack, in spite of the difference in strength of both ships (260 tons versus 1130). Admiral Grau tried to sink the smaller ship thrice, using his ram, but in spite of his ability the Magallanes was able to keep him at bay long enough for the ironclad Cochrane to show up, after which the Huascar decided to retreat back to Arica.

Naval Battle of Angamos

Naval Battle of Angamos

On September 6, 1879 he is promoted to commander of the ironclad Cochrane, the strongest unit of the Chilean fleet. His fame was such that he moved in with all his crew. His first mission was to eliminate the threat of the Huascar, who was impeding alone any invasion of the Peruvian coastline. On the night of October 7 he was informed that the Huascar had been seen near the port of Huasco and was moving north. A trap was then set. The Chilean fleet was divided into 2 groups. The first division was in charge of Commander Galvarino Riveros and made up of the Blanco Encalada, Covadonga and the Matías Cousiño (the last one loaded with coal), who would try to follow Admiral Grau pushing him towards the second division that would be waiting further north. In the early hours of October 8, the plan went into effect. When the Huascar and the Union saw the Chilean ships blocking their way south they decided to turn back north. A few hours later, they met the Cochrane who was waiting according to plan. Admiral Grau was forced to present battle, while the Union got away.

The Cochrane continued advancing over the Huascar without answering its fire until it was very close to the enemy, in order not to lose speed. When it finally attacked, the onslaught was ferocious. The second shot destroyed the command tower of the Huascar, killing Admiral Grau and leaving the monitor without a rudder. The fight continued for another hour, but the arrival of the Blanco Encalada with the rest of the Chilean fleet made any resistance totally useless. The Huascar was captured and became a part of the Chilean fleet.

Later years

After returning to Chile, in 1882 he married Julia Moreno Zuleta, whom he met on one of the many parties given in his honor after the war. They had three children. On June 5, 1884 he is promoted to Rear-Admiral. In 1886 he was appointed Commander General of the Navy. Presidente José Manuel Balmaceda sent him on an official mission to Europe to supervise the construction of new ships for the Chilean navy. While in England, the 1891 Chilean Civil War broke out. He chose to remain loyal to president Balmaceda and was dismissed after the Congressional triumph. He remained in exile in Europe until 1894.

After his return, he was twice elected senator for the Balmacedista party (1894-1900, 1900-1906), and was reinstated in the navy. He was appointed member of the Council of State by president Federico Errázuriz Echaurren in 1897 and minister of foreign affairs in 1898. A few years before his death he was promoted to Vice Admiral and was made a Commander of the French Legion of Honor.

See also

Political offices
Preceded by
Raimundo Silva
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Cult and Colonization

Succeeded by
Ventura Blanco
Military offices
Preceded by
Domingo Toro
Navy General Commander
Succeeded by
Luis Uribe

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