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The Battle of Port-au-Prince, or "la débâcle", took place on January 15, 1920[1][2] when Haitian rebels, known as cacos, attacked the capital of Haiti during the Second Caco War and the American occupation of Haiti.

Battle of Port-au-Prince (1920)
Part of the United States occupation of Haiti, Banana Wars
Date15 January 1920[1][2]
Result American-Haitian government victory
 United States
Haiti Haitian government
Haiti Cacos
Commanders and leaders
United States Lt. Gerald Thomas Haiti Benoît Batraville[1]
unknown 300+ rebels[1]
Casualties and losses
1 marine killed
6 marines wounded[1]
116+ killed[1]
"Many more" wounded and captured[2]

At 4:00 a.m.,[2] "more than 300" caco rebels,[1] many wearing the stolen uniform of the Haitian gendarmes,[2] commanded by Benoît Batraville, attacked the city. The rebels moved into Port-au-Prince in columns, "with flags and conch horns blowing,"[1] only to be gunned down by Browning Automatic Rifle and machine gun fire.[1] It turns out that the city's garrison of American Marines and Haitian gendarmes were ready for the assault, since a citizen who heard the rebels coming informed the former.[2] The cacos were forced to break ranks and seek shelter in buildings, where they proceeded to snipe from windows and from around corners.[2] One caco group attacked the city's slums and set a block on fire, which lit up "the entire surrounding countryside."[1]

One of the defenders' patrols, led by Lieutenant Gerald Thomas, met a caco force on the waterfront that was headed for the National Bank. Near the Iron Market, "a large number" of rebels was spotted coming down the street. The city's defenders detrucked and proceeded to open fire. Within five minutes, Thomas had lost one killed and six wounded, although the cacos were reportedly mowed down.[1]

"Fully a fifth" of the caco attackers were killed, according to one estimate.[1] Another source puts the number of rebel dead at 66, plus "many more" wounded and captured. One of the dead was Solomon Janvier, a Port-au-Prince resident and one of the leaders of the attack.[2] The surviving cacos would remember the battle as "la débâcle." With the arrival of daylight, "patrols moved east and north of the city," killing "more than fifty" additional rebels.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Musicant, Ivan (August 1990). The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish–American War to the Invasion of Panama. New York City: Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 221–222.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Beede, Benjamin R. (May 1, 1994). The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898–1934: An Encyclopedia. New York City: Routledge. pp. 435–436.