Captain Arturo Prat and the Esmeralda
After reading my last post “Valparaiso Connections VII” why Captain Pratt was so honored by the nation?
On that morning, May 21, 1879 the two Chilean ships blockading Iquique port were surprised by two Peruvian warships from the port of Callao, the monitor Huáscar and armored frigate Independencia.
Arturo Prat commanded the Chilean corvette Esmeralda.
Carlos Condell de la Haza was Covadonga’s commander.
The Chileans are outgunned by the Peruvians in armored ships. Condell fled in the Convadonga, pursued by the Independencia. This was the wiser course and most militarily effective because, following the Convadonga into shallow waters the deeper draft Independencia lost advantage when it ran aground and was lost.
Prat stood ground in the middle of the bay, any canon shots simply bounced off the heavily armored Huascar. The Esmeralda suffered shot after shot until the command of the Huascar, Captain Graf, decided to ram the Esmeralda to force a surrender and safe useless death.
At the first ram to the stern, as the ships were in contact, Prat ordered an attack, “Let’s board, boys.” In the confusion only two seamen joined Prat. One failed to board, Prat and Petty Officer Juan de Dios Aldea attacked. Dios Aldea was mortally wounded. Prat continued to advance alone, to the amazement of the Peruvians, awed at his courage. Prat was gunned down on the deck of the Huascar.
He crew watched in horror. When the Esmeralda was rammed again, this time in the bow, Sublieutenant Ignacio Serrano lead of 10 Chileans to board for an attack with machetes and rifles. They were massacred by the mounted Gatling gun, only Serrano survived.
The example of Prat and his crew is taught today. Arturo Pratt is the most common street name, as well as plazas, buildings. Four major warships were named after him. The current active ship is the frigate FFG 11, the Capitan Prat. The Chilean naval academy is named
Escuela Naval Arturo Prat. His portrait is on the 10,000 peso Chilean note.