Battle of Santa Clara

The Battle of Santa Clara was a series of events in late December 1958 that led to the capture of the Cuban city of Santa Clara by revolutionaries under the command of Che Guevara. The battle was a decisive victory for the rebels fighting against the regime of General Fulgencio Batista: within 12 hours of the city's capture, Batista fled Cuba and Fidel Castro's forces claimed overall victory. It features prominently on the back of the three convertible peso bill.

Battle of Santa Clara
Part of the Cuban Revolution
Che SClara.jpg
Che Guevara, after the battle of Santa Clara, 1 January 1959
Date28 December 1958 – 1 January 1959
Coordinates: 22°24′19″N 79°57′15″W / 22.40528°N 79.95417°W / 22.40528; -79.95417

Decisive Rebel victory

  • Fall of Havana
  • Final defeat of Batista government
  • Batista flees Cuba
Cuba Republic of Cuba M-26-7.svg 26th of July Movement
Second National Front of Escambray
Commanders and leaders
Cuba Col. Joaquin Casillas Executed
Cuba Police Chief Cornelio Rojas Executed
Cuba Col. Fernandez Suero
Cuba Col. Candido Hernandez
M-26-7.svg Che Guevara
M-26-7.svg Rolando Cubela
M-26-7.svg Roberto Rodriguez 
M-26-7.svg Nunez Jimenez
William Alexander Morgan[1]
Units involved
Leoncio Vidal Regiment
31 Regiment
3,900 soldiers
10 tanks
1 armoured train
several B-26 medium bombers
340 guerrillas
Casualties and losses
2,900 captured
1 armoured train destroyed

Attack on the cityEdit

Guevara's column travelled on the 28 December 1958 from the coastal port of Caibarién along the road to the town of Camajuani, which lay between Caibarién and Santa Clara. Their journey was received by cheering crowds of peasants, and Caibarién's capture within a day reinforced the sense among the rebel fighters that overall victory was imminent. Government troops guarding the army garrison at Camajuani deserted their posts without incident, and Guevara's column proceeded to Santa Clara. They arrived at the city's university on the outskirts of the town at dusk.

Map of Cuba showing the location of the arrival of the rebels on the Granma yacht in late 1956, the rebels' stronghold in the Sierra Maestra, and Guevara's route towards Havana via Santa Clara in December 1958.

There, Guevara, who was wearing his arm in a sling after falling off a wall during the fighting in Caibarién, divided his forces, numbering about 300, into two columns. The southern column was the first to meet the defending army forces commanded by Colonel Casillas Lumpuy. An armoured train, sent by Batista to reinforce supplies of ammunition, weapons and other equipment, traveled along to the foot of the hill of Capiro, northeast of the city, establishing a command post there. Guevara dispatched his "suicide squad", a force under 23-year-old Roberto Rodríguez (known as "El Vaquerito"), to capture the hill. The defenders of the hill withdrew with surprising speed and the train, containing officers and soldiers from the command post, withdrew towards the centre of the town.

In the city itself a series of skirmishes were taking place between government forces and the second rebel column, led by Rolando Cubela, with the assistance of civilians providing Molotov cocktails. Two army garrisons (the barracks of the Leoncio Vidal Regiment and the barracks of the 31 Regiment of the Rural Guard) were under siege from Cubela's forces despite army support from aircraft, snipers and tanks.

Capture of the trainEdit

The armored train, today a museum.
A memorial of the attack on Santa Clara at the armored train memorial.

Guevara, who viewed the capture of the armoured train as a priority, successfully mobilized the tractors of the school of Agronomy at the university to raise the rails of the railway. The train was therefore derailed as it transported troops away from the Capiro hill. The officers within tumbled out asking for a truce. At this, ordinary soldiers, whose morale was very low, began to fraternize with the rebels, saying that they were tired of fighting against their own people. Shortly afterwards the armored train was in the hands of the rebels and its 350 men and officers were transported as prisoners.

The train contained a considerable amount of weaponry, a huge bonus to revolutionary forces, which would become a basis of further attack in the hands of both the rebels and supportive peasants. Guevara himself described how the men were forced out by a volley of Molotov cocktails, causing the armored train to become a "veritable oven for the soldiers".

The capture of the train, and the subsequent media broadcasts from both the government and the rebels proved to be a key tipping point in the revolution. It is reported by witnesses, that at some point during the battle, Guevara's machine gun jammed. A local mechanic, Alberto Garcia, was taken in the midst of gunfire to his shop about a block away in order to repair the machine gun. Mr. Garcia's new home had just been built right next to the train tracks and it served as Che's headquarters during the battle. Mr. Garcia was still living in his old house with his young family just across the street. In an effort to capture Che Guevara and in retaliation for the taking of the train, Mr. Garcia's new home was subsequently bombarded by Batista's army. Despite the next day's newspapers hailing Batista's "victory" at Santa Clara, contrary broadcasts from Castro's rebel forces accelerated the succession of army surrenders. The reports ended with the news that rebel leaders were heading "without let or hindrance" towards Havana to take over the government.[2]

Nowadays the "Armored Train" (Spanish: Tren Blindado) is a national memorial and museum located near the depot of Santa Clara station.

Capture of the cityEdit

Most garrisons around the country quickly surrendered to the first guerrilla commander who showed up at their gate. In mid-afternoon, Che announced over Radio Rebelde that the last troops in Santa Clara had surrendered.[3]

References and notesEdit

  1. ^ Miguel A. Faria Jr., Cuba in Revolution—Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002), 69
  2. ^ Cooke, Alistair (May 16, 2002). "Cuban dictator flees". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  3. ^ Archived June 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit