Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Battle of Santa Clara

A Tribute to Che Guevara

The Battle of Santa Clara
How Che Guevara derailed a Troop Train


Gyan C. A. Fernando
(In memory of "Che" and published on the 14th of June, his birthday) 

Some 270km east of Havana, Cuba, in the centre of the island, the university town of Santa Clara is most famous as the site of an historic battle. 
This is where, between the 28th and 31st of December, 1958, Ernesto “Che” Guevara took on Government troops, derailed a troop train and brought the Cuban Revolution to a decisive victory. 
Che's Mausoleum at Santa Clara
Che's Mausoleum at Santa Clara
The train was derailed on the 29th of December.

Che, whose men numbered only 300, entered the town to take on a far more formidable but demoralised force of Government troops.

The main threat to Che and his men were a troop train dispatched from Havana with reinforcements.

Old box cars now a museum, Santa Clara, Cuba
Old box cars now a museum
Apparently, Che had inside information that the train was heavily armoured. The metal box cars had double metal skins with the space in between filled with sand to stop bullets from piercing. 
It is said that Che had the information that, although thus armoured, the vulnerable part of the train were the wooden floors of the cars.

After several skirmishes, Che’s men derailed the train by the simple expedient of using a Caterpillar bulldozer to rip up the tracks. The derailed train lay in the hot sun and the revolutionaries threw Molotov cocktails at the vulnerable underside of the cars. Within minutes a senior officer carrying a white flag appeared and the troops surrendered without anybody being killed.
The Bulldozer at Santa Clara, Cuba
The Bulldozer
Old box cars now a museum, Santa Clara, Cuba
Old box cars now a museum

The next day, the dictator Batista fled the country and Fidel Castro came into power.

The author visited Santa Clara on the 8th of March 2006.

The original carriages are still there and have been converted into a museum at the site of the derailment. 
The present day railway tracks are close by. 
The original bulldozer used to rip up the tracks is still there as well, now mounted on a concrete plinth.
The irony is that the bulldozer, a Caterpillar, is of American origin!

Photos: All belong to the author and are copyright

References and further material:

  1. The Battle of Santa Clara: 
  2. Pictures of the wrecked train:
  3. The armoured train:

No comments:

Post a Comment