Battle of Punta Gruesa

Battle of Punta Gruesa
Part of the War of the Pacific

Naval Combat of Punta Gruesa - The stranding of the Independencia
DateMay 21, 1879
Locationnear Iquique, Peru (present day Chile)
Result Decisive Chilean Victory
 Chile  Peru
Commanders and leaders
Chile Carlos Condell Peru Juan Guillermo More
1 schooner 1 broadside ironclad
Casualties and losses
3 dead [1]
5 wounded[1]
5 dead[2]
5 wounded
1 broadside ironclad lost

The Battle of Punta Gruesa took place on May 21, 1879, during the War of the Pacific between Chile and Peru. This may be labelled as the second part of the Naval Battle of Iquique, although it is described in many sources as a separate battle.


During the first year of the war, Chilean war efforts were focused on destroying the Peruvian Navy, since the Chileans understood the strategic importance of sea domination. This was in order to enable the Chilean Navy to help the army to conquer Bolivian and Peruvian territories with troop landings and port blockades without interference.

During May 1879, the main ships of the Chilean Navy were sent towards the Peruvian port of Callao in order to destroy its navy, while two old, wooden ships - the corvette Esmeralda and the schooner Covadonga, commanded by Captain Arturo Prat and Captain Carlos Condell respectively - were left blockading the Peruvian port of Iquique.

However, as the Chilean Navy steamed north towards Callao, two ironclad ships of the Peruvian Navy steamed south from Callao, undetected. These ships were the monitor Huáscar and the armoured frigate Independencia, commanded by Captain Miguel Grau and Captain Juan Guillermo More.

The battle

Forces in combat

Armada de Chile Marina de Guerra del Perú
schooner Covadonga (1859)

Displacement: 630 t
Draught: 3,35 m
Armor: none
Armament: 2 x 70 lb[3]
Speed: 4 Kn[4]
Crew: 130[5]

ironclad Independencia (1866)

Displacement: 3300 - 3750 t[6]
Draught: 6,62 m
Armor: 114.3 mm
Armament: 1 x 250 lb, 3 x 150 lb, 12 x 70 lb, 2 machine guns
Speed: 11 Kn
Crew: 375

On the morning of May 21, 1879, the lookout of Esmeralda spotted two ships coming from the north. These were the Peruvian Independencia and Huáscar. Attempting to escape, the Covadonga headed south, but Esmeralda experienced engine problems. By this time, the battle was inevitable: while Huáscar engaged Esmeralda, Independencia pursued Covadonga south.

Captain Condell of the Covadonga realized that the quicker but heavier Independencia had a deeper draft than his schooner. He kept close to the coast, with Independencia in pursuit, while both ships exchanged fire. The Independencia's lack of trained gunners and the Covadonga's accurate sniper fire prolonged the chase for over three hours. Captain More of the Independencia decided to take a riskier approach and ram the Chilean ship. Constantly sounding the depth, he attempted to do so twice, only to have to call off the attack when approaching the shallows. Close to Punta Gruesa, a shallow cove, Covadonga scraped and barely cleared a reef. The Independencia, attempting to ram for a third time, struck the obstacle and immediately took on water while listing to starboard. The Covadonga then turned around and opened fire, while Independencia's crew returned fire and tried to float her off the reef.

As Captain More realized his ship was lost, he ordered her scuttled, but the magazine was already flooded and it could not be blown up. The Covadonga kept firing, but retreated when Huáscar was seen coming from the north. Huáscar's commander checked on Independencia and decided to pursue the enemy after seeing she was immobilized, but this cost precious time and Covadonga steamed south as fast as possible. Captain Grau realized that Huáscar could not catch up on the 10 mile head start before dusk, gave up the chase, and returned to assist Independencia and salvage her guns; the crew (those aboard and some who had escaped to the beach) were rescued and the ship set on fire.

The Peruvians lost 5 crew with 5 wounded; 3 Chilean crewmen were killed and 5 wounded.


The naval battle of Punta Gruesa was a Peruvian defeat. One of the most powerful warships in the Peruvian Navy was lost, while Chile only lost one of its oldest wooden warships.


  1. 1 2 War report Carlos Condell (Spanish)
  2. War report Guillermo More (Spanish)
  3. The covadonga had two cannons of 70 pounds, after May 21, 1879 were installed two cannons of 9 pounds, 3 cannons of 40 pounds. Armada de Chile
  4. On May 21, 1879, the Covadonga, had a power of 140 HP engine, that allowed a walk of 4 knots, because only two of his 3 boilers operated (Data from Chile Navy)
  5. Combate naval de Iquique, boletines y nacionales y extranjeros de 1879. Guerra del Pacífico. Pascual Ahumada Moreno. Valparaíso. 1886
  6. Grieve Madge, Jorge (1983). Historia de la Artillería y de la Marina de Guerra en la contienda del 79. Lima: Industrialgráfica S.A. p. 220. Calculo que realiza el autor en base al coeficiente de block
  1. ^ Farcau, Bruce W. (Sep 30, 2000). The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884, ISBN 0-275-96925-8
  2. ^ Sondhaus, Lawrence (May 4, 2004). Navies in Modern World History, ISBN 1-86189-202-0

See also

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