Bombing of Plaza de Mayo

The Bombing of Plaza de Mayo was a massacre which took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 16 June 1955. On that day, 30 aircraft from the Argentine Navy and Air Force strafed and bombed Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires in the largest aerial bombing ever on the Argentine mainland. The attack targeted the adjacent Casa Rosada, the official seat of government, as a large crowd was expressing support for president Juan Perón. The strike took place during a day of official public demonstrations to condemn the burning of a national flag allegedly carried out by detractors of Perón during the recent procession of Corpus Christi. The action was to be the first step in an eventually aborted coup d'état. The number of identified bodies was put at 308, including six children; an unknown number of victims could not be identified.[5]

Bombing of Plaza de Mayo
Plaza-Mayo-bombardeo-1955.JPG
Civilian casualties after the massacre
Date16 June 1955
Location
Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
ActionFailed magnicide and coup d'état attempt
Result Rebellion suppressed
Belligerents
Peronist militants and loyal Argentine Armed Forces Anti-Peronist elements of the Armed Forces
Commanders and leaders
Juan Perón
Franklin Lucero
Samuel Toranzo Calderón
Benjamín Gargiulo
Aníbal Olivieri
Units involved
Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers[1]
Motorized Garrison Buenos Aires[2]
1st Regiment[2]
3rd Regiment[2]
Argentine Air Force
Argentine Naval Aviation
7th Air Brigade
4th Naval Infantry Battalion
Part of the Argentine Air Force
Strength
330 Mounted Grenadiers[1]
4 aircraft
4 Sherman tanks[2]
Armed Peronist civilians[2]
700 marines
30-34 aircraft
At least 875 anti-Peronist civilians
Casualties and losses
17 killed[note 1]
55 wounded[3]
Unknown killed
3 aircraft shot down
308 civilians killed and an additional number that could not be identified[5]

The disregard for civilian lives and the violence with which the act was carried out has prompted comparisons with the wave of state terrorism during the dictatorship of 1976-1983.[6]

BackgroundEdit

President Juan Domingo Perón had been in power for nine years since winning the 1946 elections and his policies had greatly reshaped the country. His first term was marked by isolationism, which saw a reduction in beef and wheat exports in favour of a process of industrialisation and modernisation was undertaken in order to create a welfare state. Increased spending caused a drop in cash holdings and foreign earnings. Inflation, economic stalling, and strikes for higher wages also plagued his second term. His leadership style drew heavy criticism from academics, clerics and some elements of the Armed Forces, and the death of his second wife and first lady Eva Perón in July 1952 diminished the brand appeal and party votes.

The attackEdit

Bombing, strafing and ground fightingEdit

At 12:40, a force of thirty Argentine Naval Aviation airplanes, consisting of 22 North American AT-6, five Beechcraft AT-11 and three Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats, took off from Morón Air Base. Perón had been warned of the movements beforehand by his Minister of War, Franklin Lucero, who advised him to retreat to a bunker under the Libertador Building.[5]

The attack was carried out in the crowded city centre on a weekday with no warning during working hours, hence the many civilian casualties. Occupants of public transport vehicles were among the first recorded victims.[7] The first bomb to be dropped fell upon a trolleybus packed with children, killing everyone on board.[8]

Meanwhile, two companies of the rebel 4th Marine Infantry Battalion marched towards the Casa Rosada with the intention of capturing it. One of them was deployed 40 m from its northern façade while the other took position in the Automóvil Club Argentino parking lot, between Colón Park and the Central Post Office, and 100 m from the rear.[2] However, they were repelled from the inside by members of the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers and from the outside by Army troops marching from the sector of the Ministry of Finance, under the command of General Lucero.[5] The defense of the Casa Rosada consisted of a mere two 12.7 mm Browning M2 machine guns placed on the roof, while defenders in the lower floors used various small arms, including bolt-action Mauser 1909 rifles.[9] Loyalist troops were accompanied by Peronist civilians who took up arms.[10]

At 13:12, union leader Héctor Hugo Di Pietro, acting head of the CGT due to the absence of its Secretary-General, spoke on national broadcasting calling all workers in the Federal District and Greater Buenos Aires to concentrate immediately around the CGT building to defend the constitutional government. Moreover, union officials were already mobilizing workers from factories around Buenos Aires towards the city center.[5] Perón ordered his adjutant, major Jose Ignacio Cialceta, to inform Di Pietro that a clash strictly between soldiers was taking place and therefore no civilian was to gather in Plaza de Mayo. Historian Joseph Page claimed, citing a report originating from the US Embassy as his source, that this order was not given until 16:00. [11]

Consequently, the bulk of the civilian casualties occurred when the mobilized workers arrived in Plaza de Mayo in huge numbers to defend the presidency of Juan Perón when Gloster Meteor fighters suddenly arrived to bomb and strafe the large crowds of peronist supporters reported to be exiting the central subway entrances, and gathering in nearby streets and immediate vicinity of the presidential palace, killing and wounded hundreds in the process.[12]

According to police commissioner Rafael C. Pugliese, a police observation post reported at 14:00 large numbers of civilians arriving in trucks to defend the Presidential Palace and gathering in and around the Paseo Colón and Belgrano pedestrian walkways, before being caught out in the open when the main air attacks took place at 15:00, with the Gloster Meteors strafing the survivors as they pulled up from their final dive bombing attacks and headed back to base.[13]

The rebel ground offensive started to lose steam by 15:00. The marines surrounding the Casa Rosada's northern façade came under fire from army artillery units positioned in a building located at the intersection of Leandro N. Alem and Viamonte streets. Olivieri contacted the Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy in the hope of gaining reinforcements. However, it was already surrounded by elements of the 1st Infantry Regiment.[2]

The marines retreated in disarray towards the Ministry of the Navy, where they would remain besieged by loyal Army units until the end of hostilities that evening. Lucero ordered the use of heavy machine guns against the rebels, and 81 mm mortars were brought in to reinforce the assault. At 15:17, after two telephone conversations between Olivieri and Lucero, the rebels waved a white flag from the Ministry of the Navy, but when generals Carlos Wirth and Juan José Valle arrived in a jeep to discuss the terms of surrender, a second wave of bombings began. The attack destroyed two floors of the south wing of the building, killing a soldier and a general.[2] At the same time, an M4 Sherman fired on the second floor, causing a fire in the admirals' room.[2]

Simultaneously, civilian commandos under Zavala Ortiz's orders began clashing with the police and sniping from the roofs of various buildings. Throughout the afternoon, rebel reinforcements coming from the Central Post building unsuccessfully tried to break the siege on the Ministry of the Navy building.[5]

Aerial combatEdit

As ground combat raged in the center of Buenos Aires, loyal forces were sent from Morón Air Base to intercept rebel fighters. The pilots were in heated discussions over whether to join the coup or not. A squad of loyal Gloster Meteors took off and one of them shot down a rebel AT-6 Texan over the Río de la Plata, scoring the first air-to-air kill of the Argentine Air Force. Another rebel warplane was downed by fire from hastily mounted anti-aircraft batteries.[5]

However, in the meantime Morón Air Base was captured by anti-Peronist forces and so were the loyal pilots upon landing. Their Meteors were seized and pressed into service by the rebels, participating in strafing sorties until the final surrender. At the last moment, with the coup on the verge of failure, the warplanes launched a second attack on the seat of government. Having run out of ordnance, one pilot dropped his auxiliary fuel tank as an ersatz incendiary bomb, which fell on the cars in a parking lot near the Casa Rosada.[14]

Retreat and surrenderEdit

After heavy urban fighting, which included a false surrender incident, the besieged rebels finally opted for handing over the Ministry of the Navy to the Army units posted outside. Fire ceased at 17:20 local time. Between 9.5 and 13.8 tonnes of ordnance were dropped, killing between 150 and 364 people,[15] mostly civilians, and injuring over 800. Nine members of the Mounted Grenadiers presidential guard[1] and five police officers were killed in action.[16]

Faced with the failure of the intended coup (as neither the Army nor the bulk of the Air Force had joined in), the rebel pilots received orders to head towards Uruguay and request asylum. Around thirty warplanes headed towards Carrasco Airport, using up their ammunition by strafing anything that moved along the way. Some pilots did not reach the tarmac, having used up all their fuel during the attack sorties, and crash-landed in the Río de la Plata or the fields of Carmelo, Uruguay.[citation needed]

At 03:00 on 17 June, the leaders of the ill-fated coup, Olivieri, Toranzo Calderón and Gargiulo were informed they were to be tried under martial law and were each offered a pistol to end their lives, which Olivieri and Toranzo Calderón declined. At 05:45, just before dawn, Gargiulo committed suicide in his office.[17]

AftermathEdit

 
Bullet-ridden outer wall of the Ministry of Economy, pictured in 2009.

In the night, angry Peronist crowds burned eight churches, two basilicas and the Curia office in revenge due to the Catholic Church's support for the coup. The police and fire service did not intervene.[citation needed]

In September of that year, the bulk of the armed forces joined in a coup de etat known as the Revolución Libertadora, which overthrew president Perón and started a period of military dictatorship that ended with the 1958 presidential elections, won by Arturo Frondizi of the UCRI. The Peronist party was not allowed to stand for election, but Frondizi's victory was influenced by a pact between Perón and Frondizi.[18]

One of the rebel leaders, radical Miguel Ángel Zavala Ortiz, went on to serve as an official during the Revolución Libertadora dictatorship and was later appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship by radical President Arturo Illia in 1963.[5]

One of the naval pilots who took part in the bombings, Máximo Rivero Kelly was promoted and was second-in-command of the Argentine Navy during the presidency of Raúl Alfonsín. He would later claim that the naval aviation's target was the presidential palace but that one aircraft missed, causing about 20 civilian deaths.[19]

Bullet and shrapnel marks remained visible on some buildings on the south side of the square as of 2020.

CasualtiesEdit

Peronist sources claimed those killed to be around 400. In 1965, a journalist from “Extra” magazine claimed that once the fighting had ended in the immediate vicinity of Plaza de Mayo there lay two thousand killed.[20]

On 22 June 1955, Commissioner Rafael C. Pugliese in the Official Police Report declared that the dead were 136, according to the identified and unidentified bodies being held in morgues of the various Buenos Aires hospitals. The medical centers that received the dead and injured and helped with the identification of the number of those killed were: Public Assistance with 62 dead, Argerich with 45 dead, Rawson with 3 dead, Clínicas with 7 dead, Ramos Mejía with 7 dead, Alemán with 2 dead, Fernandez with 3 dead, Policlínico del Ministerio de Hacienda with 3 dead, Policlínico Militar with 2 dead, Policlínico Rivadavia with 1 dead and Morgue Judicial with 1 dead.[20]

Of the 136 killed in the police report, five were police officers: Senior Officer Alfredo Aulicino (head of the Personnel Section of the Communications Directorate), Sub-Inspector Rodolfo Nieto (1st Political Order Section), Agent José María Bacalja (1st Mechanical Workshop and Garage Section), Agent Ramón Alderete (Traffic Police Corps) and retired agent César Augusto Puchulu.[20] Both rebel and loyal military casualties in the clashes amounted to 44.[21]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ 9 grenadiers, 5 policemen, 2 soldiers and an armed Peronist civilian.[1][3][4]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d Enrique Oliva. "9 Granaderos" (in Spanish). Nac&Pop.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "El bombardeo a Plaza de Mayo" (in Spanish). El Ortiba. Archived from the original on 2011-10-27. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  3. ^ a b "Recuperar la historia, a 60 años del bombardeo". InfoNews (in Spanish). 14 June 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  4. ^ Clarín, 18 June 1955. Page 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Portugheis, Elsa (2010). Bombardeo del 16 de junio de 1955 (PDF) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Nación Argentina.
  6. ^ "Celebran resarcimiento a sobrevivientes del bombardeo" (in Spanish). Parlamentario. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  7. ^ «Los ataques de los aviones produjeron numerosos daños en los edificios, resultando gran cantidad de muertos y heridos entre los transeúntes y ocupantes de automóviles particulares y de transporte colectivo de pasajeros, especialmente en la esquina de Paseo Colón e Hipólito Yrigoyen y frente al Ministerio de Hacienda.» Police report dated 22 June 1955 and relayed by commissioner Rafael C. Pugliese to President Juan Domingo Perón.
  8. ^ Moreno 2013, p. 193.
  9. ^ "Bombardeo del '55: testimonios de los que defendieron la Casa Rosada". Puntal. 18 June 2012. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  10. ^ 56 years Bombardment in the Plaza de Mayo Archived 2016-03-10 at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish)
  11. ^ "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977-1980 Volume XXIV, South America; Latin America Region - Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  12. ^ Di Pietro, Secretario General de la CGT, convocó a los trabajadores a defender el gobierno. Los citó en la Plaza de Mayo. Lo hizo por radio, por cadena nacional. Unos minutos antes, los rebeldes habían tomado Radio Mitre. Desde allí emitieron una proclama en la que, entre otras cosas, decían que «el Tirano ha muerto». Rápidamente, la proclama fue desmentida. Una segunda oleada de bombardeos. Esta vez eran los Gloster Meteor. Los objetivos habían cambiado. Las bombas ya no cayeron sobre la Casa Rosada. La Plaza de Mayo, las bocas de subte y las avenidas aledañas fueron los objetivos. Ya habían empezado a llegar trabajadores citados imprudentamente por Di Pietro a la Plaza. Los trabajadores furiosos se dirigieron al Ministerio de Marina y lo atacaron a pedradas. Desde dentro, los rebeldes atrincherados les respondieron a los tiros. Seguía incrementándose la lista de bajas. La multitud vociferaba. En el Ministerio, los líderes rebeldes estaban sentados en el suelo: no quedaban ventanas con vidrios. Olivieri le preguntó a uno de sus asistentes qué gritaba la gente. «La vida por Perón», le contestaron. Olivieri, el que había iniciado el día mostrándose prescindente, el hombre de confianza del Presidente en la marina, contestó: «Vamos a darles el gusto». Las ráfagas de ametralladora arreciaron. La gente corría despavorida. Muchos cayeron. Una épica de los últimos instantes: Tratado de adioses. Epitafios. Estertores. Suspiros. Gestos postreros y palabras, Matías Bauso, p. 122, Grupo Editorial Argentina, 2012
  13. ^ A la hora 14.10 se recibe comunicación telefónica del personal de observación, de que en Paseo Colón y Belgrano se iba reuniendo numerosos civiles, que llegaban en camiones principalmente, advirtiéndose densa humareda en las inmediaciones de la Casa del Gobierno... Cuando las informaciones generales indicaban que las fuerzas leales se hallaban cercando el reducto de los insurgentes en el Ministerio de Marina y que hasta las últimas habrían enarbolado bandera blanca de rendición, a la hora 15.00 sorpresivamente aparecen nuevos aviones que bombardean la Casa del Gobierno e inmediaciones, para luego ametrallar la misma zona en distintas evoluciones, causando gran cantidad de víctimas personales y graves daños materiales. Diseminados quedaron numerosos cadáveres de civiles, quienes encontraron la muerte mientras intentaban buscar refugio en los edificios contra las bombas y metralla. Los aviones se alejan, siempre ametrallando en picada, suponiéndose que volverían luego de reabastecerse de proyectiles. Informe Policial, fechado el 22 de junio de 1955 y remitido por el comisario Rafael C. Pugliese al Presidente Juan Domingo Perón
  14. ^ Moreno 2013, p. 258.
  15. ^ Bombas sobre Buenos Aires: Gestación y desarollo del bombardeo aéreo sobre la Plaza de Mayo del 16 de junio de 1955, Daniel E. Cichero, p.163, Vergara Grupo Zeta, 2005.
  16. ^ Alfredo Aulicino, Rodolfo Nieto, José María Bacalja, Ramón Alderete and César Augusto Puchulu, according to page 4 of the Clarín newspaper from 18 June 1955.
  17. ^ Moreno 2013, pp. 280–282.
  18. ^ Luna, Félix (1995). "La Propuesta Desarrollista". Historia de la Argentina (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Hyspamerica. ISBN 950-752-292-1.
  19. ^ "Testimonios del Bombardeo". Archived from the original on 2014-12-14. Retrieved 2014-12-13.
  20. ^ a b c A 61 AÑOS DEL BOMBARDEO DE LA MASÓNICA REVOLUCIÓN "LIBERTADORA"
  21. ^ 16 de junio de 1955-2014 Malditos los que bombardearon impunemente la Plaza de Mayo hace 59 años

BibliographyEdit

  • Cichero, Daniel (2005). Bombas sobre Buenos Aires. Gestación y desarrollo del bombardeo aéreo sobre Plaza de Mayo (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Vergara. ISBN 950-15-2347-0.
  • Moreno, Isidoro Ruiz (2013). La Revolución del 55 (in Spanish). Claridad. ISBN 978-950-620-336-8.
  • Portugheis, Elsa (2010). Bombardeo del 16 de junio de 1955 (PDF) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Nación Argentina.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 34°36′30″S 58°22′19″W / 34.60833°S 58.37194°W / -34.60833; -58.37194