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PC28.05.25   piper

INVENTORY OF PC-DOCS, JANUARY—JUNE 1928

28.01.04 BROWN
28.01.04 BROWN
28.01.04 HUNT
28.01.05 KILCOURSE
28.01.08 SATTERFIELD
28.01.08 WADBROOK
28.01.21 SHAW
28.01.22 PEARD
28.01.31 KENYON
28.02.03 PEARD
28.02.04 MCDONALD
28.02.06 YOUNG
28.02.12 WATERMAN
28.02.18 GEYER
28.02.19 CLARK
28.02.19 GRAY
28.02.21 ORR
28.02.22 SHIEBLER
28.02.23 WELLS
28.02.24 SHIEBLER
28.02.24 ROCKEY
28.02.25 BROWN
28.02.26 CLARK
28.02.26 HOLMES
28.02.26 RIDDERHOF
28.02.27 GEYER
28.02.28 HUNTER
28.02.29 CLAUDE
28.02.29 CRONMILLER
28.03.01 O'DAY
28.03.05 MCNULTY
28.03.05 ROCKEY
28.03.11 AIKEN
28.03.15 CHAPPELL
28.03.16 ARTHUR
28.03.18 RIDDERHOF
28.03.22 ROCKEY
28.03.28 HUNTER
28.03.28 GEYER
28.04.05 ATKINSON
28.04.05 HART
28.04.05 ROBERTS
28.04.05 ROCKEY
28.04.08 HOLMES
28.04.09 PUTNAM
28.04.11 PUTNAM
28.04.11 SNEAD
28.04.15 HATFIELD
28.04.16 STOCKS
28.04.17 AIKEN
28.04.18 GALT
28.04.19 ESAU
28.04.19 MARSHALL
28.04.19 SNEAD
28.04.23 GALT
28.04.23 WILLIS
28.04.23 MCQUEEN
28.04.26 PEFLEY
28.04.28 MCQUEEN
28.04.30 ARNETT
28.05.06 HART
28.05.07 MERRITT
28.05.08 AIKEN
28.05.08 CLARK
28.05.09 KILCOURSE
28.05.11 AIKEN
28.05.11 ESAU
28.05.12 KILCOURSE
28.05.12 PEFLEY
28.05.14 HOLMES
28.05.16 CLAUDE
28.05.16 CRAMER
28.05.17 RIDDERHOF
28.05.17 ADAMS
28.05.18 SCHIEBLER
28.05.20 O'DAY
28.05.21 JENKINS
28.05.21 KENYON
28.05.22 CRAMER
28.05.24 CLAUDE
28.05.24 CRAMER
28.05.25 PIPER
28.05.25 PIPER
28.05.25 UNKNOWN
28.05.30 HATFIELD
28.06.01 SCOTT
28.06.04 HOLMES
28.06.04 O'NEIL
28.06.04 SNEDEKER
28.06.06 YOUNG
28.06.15 BROWN
28.06.16 ANDERSON
28.06.19 BERRY
28.06.20 HUMPHREY
28.06.20 ROCKEY
28.06.24 CRAMER

28.05.25.   Piper, Combat Report   •   Sandino's "El Combate de El Zapote"

P C - D O C S :      P A T R O L   &   C O M B A T    R E P O R T S
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    This is the second of two reports by 2nd Lt. Earl Piper describing three firefights between a combat patrol of 38 Marine-Guardia-Navy troops and the Sandinista rebels in the zone around the Bocaycito and Cuá rivers on the eastern frontier of Las Segovias. The report housed on this webpage is Lt. Piper's "combat report" describing three distinct firefights on May 13-14. 

     Sandino inflated these three firefights into a massive military victory that left the battlefield littered with the corpses of these "blonde beasts of the North"  ("las bestias rubias del Norte").  As we can see from Piper's reports, and as confirmed by meticulous interrogation of the documentary record, the reality was far different than what Sandino's propaganda described.  Sandino's letter to Froylan Turcios of 15 May 1928 describing what he called "El Combate de El Zapote" is included after Piper's "Combat report" and his accompanying sketch maps.

     An annotated sketch map of the patrol (made by the author) appears below; click on the thumbnail for the full image.  At the end of the report are three sketch maps made by Lt. Piper.  One map shows the route of the patrol and the main places identified in the report; the other two maps show the "scenes of contact" along the Bocaycito River on May 13 and May 14.


Quilali, Nicaragua,
25 May, 1928,

To: Area Commander, Ocotal.

Subject: Combat report.

     About 3:40 P.M. on 13 May, 1928, while traveling north by west on trail paralleling Bocaycito River and about 15 miles from its mouth we were ambushed, when the column had just cleared a house sitting on the crest of a well-wooded hill from which a native man and some women ran as the column passed by, a shot was fired from the right flank in the vicinity of the point, the point at this time being half way to the bottom of a deep ravine. Patrol deployed along the trail facing to the right, the six men of the point being closed in to the right to a position of some 30 yards above the military crest of the hill. Firing accompanied by a dynamite bomb began along the length of the column from the right side of trail which continued for about ten minutes, this fire being returned by the entire column. Visibility on both sides of trail was limited to about 20 feet and bandit firing line was not visible. Firing ceased for about five minutes, Captain Hunter with Corporal Williamson

[p. 2] came to rear of column, gave orders to burn above-mentioned house and make reconnaissance of territory near house and hill-top to rear. Bandit firing began again at head of column from trail about 150 yards ahead and hill 300 yards ahead, the point calling for reinforcements. The undersigned with three men went forward, reinforced their firing line across the trail and were soon joined by Captain Hunter and Corporal Williamson. At this time the bandits were seen leading away several of our mules below us on the trail. Captain Hunter and I with about six men ran forward and took cover, opening fire. During the forward rush Corporal Williamson was shot and killed instantly. Captain Hunter, upon calling for and finding no automatic weapon on the firing line, ran back, procured Corporal Williamson's Thompson sub-machine gun and was again coming forward when he received his wound and fell. Firing continued until 4:30 P.M. consisting chiefly of Thompson sub-machine gun and rifle fire. During this time bandit fire was returned along our column, a few hundred grenades being thrown by us. Private DuBois sustained

[p. 3] a bullet wound in his left shoulder. At 4:30 P.M. bandit fire ceased completely. The dead and wounded were evacuated to rear to above-mentioned hill, mules brought back and camp made for the night. A grave was dug and Corporal Williamson was buried at 11:25 P.M. It is believed that the place we occupied was surrounded, with ambushes in both directions, and the bandits' intentions could very probably have been to attack us on the 14th, our position being a poor one, there being no water nor field of fire. At daylight on the 14th, a reconnaissance was made of the ground which the bandits had occupied during the ambush, both on ridge to right of the trail and the trail to the front. On the ridge to the right a trail was found about 150 yards distance which paralleled our trail and which no doubt was useful to the bandits in forming their ambush. Due to Captain Hunter's serious condition and to lack of knowledge of country ahead of us, it was decided to evacuate wounded over same trail we had previously covered.

[p. 4]  Captain Hunter having been put on an improvised stretcher, we cleared camp at 8:00 A.M., 14 May. Just as we were clearing the hill a bandit appeared in the trail ahead of us and vanished in the brush, giving us proof that bandits were ahead. A man carrying a Thompson sub-machine gun and a rifle grenadier were put at the head of our column and it was decided to push on. About 8:15 A.M. a group of bandits was seen ahead and fired on by our leading man. Immediately firing began from a heavily-wooded hill on our right and from the hill, we had just cleared, firing consisting of rifle fire, a Thompson sub-machine gun and dynamite bombs, about nine of these being dropped; during the morning combat we made use of rifle grenades. The Guardia, being our rear guard, were rushed, the intention being evidently to obtain our pack animals. The Guardia gave way; the last to rise was Private Rosenberg, who was shot in the head by a dum-dum bullet and instantly killed. Two of the Guardia disappeared from the column and rejoined us after the firing was over and we had marched forward.

[p. 5] Cadet Blackburn tried in every way to prevent the retreat of the Guardia but, being unsuccessful, stood his ground and helped to repel the bandits' rush. Firing ceased about 9:00 A.M. and Private Rosenberg was hastily buried. No other casualties having been suffered, it was decided to go forward once more. The column had just been formed and gotten under way when bandits were seen to the rear and were fired on. Firing again began, this time the bandits' fire coming mostly from our right rear and a few shots from either flank. We again deployed and made use of rifle grenades in returning their fire. Reinforcements were called for and sent to the rear. This was evidently another effort on the part of the bandits to obtain our pack animals. During the firing they yelled unceasingly, "You whores and muleros, we'll cut all your throats before you get out of here, this is out country and we will run it ourselves". This yelling was done in Spanish. Firing ceased about 10:15 A.M., the last firing being done by Marines. Cadet Blackburn fired some well-placed rifle grenades into the hill in out rear, this probably being a big factor in their withdrawal,

[p. 6] the bandits leaving generally to the north. After finding that we had suffered no more casualties, we continued the march.

SUMMARY

It is believed that the bandits opened fire prematurely on the 13th, since had our column all entered the deep ravine ahead, they would have had a much greater advantage. It is also believed that we were fired on by the same force both days, the force attacking on the 14th being reinforced possibly by 25 men and estimated to be at least 75 in number and probably larger. This was possibly an outpost, the main body being along the Boycacito River or in the valley. All bandits seen were well-clothed, well-armed and there were no evidences of a lack of ammunition. Their dynamite bombs were of the concussion type, none of them containing missiles. As mentioned in the report, the attacks on the 14th were evidently to obtain our pack train in which they were totally unsuccessful.  Corporal Williamson and Private Rosenberg (Guardia), being killed, and Captain Hunter, being wounded by apparently

[p. 7] well-aimed shots, also bandit fire appeared in several to be well-aimed against localities where our fire was coming from. We had no way of knowing who the jefe of the bandit groups might have been. It is estimated that during the combats the bandits suffered casualties amounting to approximately fifteen killed and fifteen wounded, those numbers being based on observation and conclusions drawn from enemies' actions. It was noted that two bandits fell before Captain Hunter's fire and also others were seen to fall at different times during the combats. On the thirteenth a hand grenade silenced a part of enemy fire, this place later revealing spots of blood. On the fourteenth, rifle grenades fired by Cadet Blackburn silenced enemy fire and a bandit Thompson sub-machine gun was silenced when one of our own Thompson sub-machine guns fired in its direction. Marine casualties were one Marine killed (Corporal Williamson), one Guardia killed (Private Rosenberg), two Marines seriously wounded (Captain Hunter who later died of wounds, and Private Du Bois) and a few minor scratches due to dirt from dynamite bomb explosions.

[p. 8]  Marine losses: four mules, two complete sets of mule equipment, and one Guardia rifle and one cartridge belt. This rifle and belt were not taken by bandits but were lost due to carelessness on the part of one Guardia who failed to keep them in his possession when told to do so.

               Signed,

                 Earl S. Piper

                   2nd Lt. U.S.M.C.

RG127/113C/12

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Photographs of original hand-drawn maps accompanying Lt. Earl S. Piper's handwritten combat report, evidently dictated to a subordinate, housed in Record Group 127, Entry 113C, Box 12, in the United States National Archives in downtown Washington, D.C.

Sandino's Letter to Froylán Turcios, 15 May 1928, "El Combate de El Zapote" (published in Ariel, No. 12, Año 4, 1928)

Click on thumbnails below for full images, scans of Sergio Ramírez, ed.,  Augusto C. Sandino, El pensamiento vivo (Managua: Editorial Nueva Nicaragua, 1984), Tomo 1, 265-267.  Or, read the images below the thumbnails.

Summary & Notes:

   Overall portrait is of a local populace intensely and actively opposed to the Marine-Guardia invasion and working collaboratively to combat it.

   Quick summary:  Mounted "combat reconnaissance patrol" under the command of USMC Captain Robert S. Hunter cleared Quilalí on 9 May 1928 with 49 animals & 38 men, each man assigned a riding animal, with 11 pack animals carting 10 days of rations.  Two Marine officers (Capt. Hunter and 2nd Lt. Piper); 25 enlisted Marines; 1 enlisted Navy; 1 Guardia officer; and 9 Guardia enlisted. 
   Three separate military encounters with Sandinista rebels resulting in four Marine-Guardia casualties:  three killed and one wounded (only the first three casualties are listed in the Official List of Marine Corps Casualties in Nicaragua because the list excludes Guardia casualties):
   1.  USMC Captain Robert S. Hunter wounded May 13, died of wounds May 18
   2.  USMC Corporal William L. Williamson killed May 13
   3.  USMC Private Max M. DuBois wounded (shot in left shoulder) May 13
   4.  Guardia Nacional Private Rosenberg killed May 14

   Rebels ambushed the Marine-GN column as it was descending into a deep ravine.  First firefight on May 13 lasted about 50 minutes (from 3:40 to 4:30 p.m.).  One of the rebels' main goals seems to have been to capture the pack animals; both Hunter and Williamson were shot trying to retrieve the mules being led away by the attacking rebels.
   Night of May 13 sounds pretty hairy for the 37 surviving members of the Marine-Guardia-Navy patrol, who finished burying Cpl. Williamson at 11:25 p.m. (notable that Piper records the exact time) while occupying a very "poor" position -- surrounded by rebels with no access to water, enjoying no field of fire, and probably in complete darkness.

   Sandino uses the dead Marines as propaganda, and images of Gen. Girón's men digging up the corpse of Cpl. Williamson to let the world know about the dead Marine's family and roots in middle America.  Sandino attached very high propaganda value to the piece of paper found inside the bottle buried with Williamson's body. 

   According to Piper, the size of the rebel force on May 14 had grown overnight by about 25 men and was "75 in number and probably larger."  This means that the attacking force on May 13 was around 50 men, and that another 25 men or more were mobilized overnight.  This suggests a rapid-response network of great efficiency, similar to the rapid local mobilization at El Bramadero in late February

   Piper says he had "no way of knowing who the jefe of the bandit groups might have been."  In his letter to Turcios, Sandino says that Gen. Girón Ruano led the rebels, a claim confirmed by Girón in his long statement to Capt. Hanneken before Girón's execution in the bush on 2 March 1929.  Girón offers a detailed description of the sequence of events that led to the rebel ambush, and of the rebels' treatment of the bodies of the dead Marine and Guardia, which evidently disgusted and pained him (see TOP 100, PAGE 27).

    Revealing excerpt:  "All the bandits were well-clothed, well-armed and there were no evidences of a lack of ammunition."  This is only four months after the rebels' defeat at El Chipote, and shows a remarkable resurgence in only a few months.

   Piper's estimate of the size of the rebel forces and the number of casualties. 

   - May 13:  50 rebels

   - May 14:  75 rebels or more. 

   - Rebel casualties, May 13-14:  "15 killed and 15 wounded."  Seems way too high.  Piper very probably exaggerated the number of enemy dead, much as Sandino did.

   Corporal Williamson's blanket found by Lt. Ridderhoff a few months later, on 3 September 1928, at a rebel camp upstream of Poteca on the Río Coco; see PC280907-Ridderhoff.

   Remarkable descriptions of the rebel yells:  "You whores and muleros, we'll cut all your throats before you get out of here, this is our country and we will run it ourselves."  What were they yelling in Spanish?  "Ustedes son putas y muleros!  Te cortaremos la garganta antes de que salgas de aquí, este es nuestro país y nosotros mismos lo manejaremos!"  Whatever the specific language, the larger sentiment is emblematic of the desire for national self-determination among colonized peoples in the interwar years.  Sandino's rebels were but one expression of much broader currents of anti-imperial and anti-colonial nationalism.

    And much more besides.  These exceptionally revealing documents show an increasingly powerful rebel army organically supported by the local people in the places described:  in the lumber camps and communities along the ríos Cuá and Bocaycito at this time.  Read against the grain, these documents offer a compelling portrait of popular mobilization and anger at foreign invasion and imperial arrogance.

    Thanks to Lebanon Valley College History Major Erin Williams for transcribing this document.

P C - D O C S :      P A T R O L   &   C O M B A T    R E P O R T S
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