Aboard the Granma

Aboard the Granma

Fidel Castro and his rebel band completed their training in Mexico in the summer of 1956. Castro then set about acquiring the transport necessary to invade Cuba. With the meagre funds that he had raised in Miami, Castro acquired a used 60-foot, diesel, cabin cruiser called Granma. His rebel soldiers were led to the port of Tuxpan, some 200 Km south of Tampico to board the vessel.

Che-Guevara-GranmaUnder normal conditions Granma would accommodate 20 passengers. Castro crammed 82 men on board with their weapons and supplies and left several of his men on shore. Those on board including Fidel and Raúl Castro and Che Guevara became known as los expedicionarios del yate Granma. On the night of November 25 they sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and after a difficult crossing arrived on the southern shore of Cuba on December 2.

Short of fuel, Grandma was run aground in a mangrove swamp several kilometers from the planned landing spot. Carrying what they could, the rebels jumped into the waist deep water and struggled through the mud to the boggy shoreline and then on through a swamp. When they reached dry ground, they were met by Celia Sánchez one of the founders of the revolutionary movement, who had brought vehicles, weapons and food and 50 men from Santiago da Cuba.

Che-Guevara---Soldiers-Going-Ashore-During-Cuban-RevolutionThe column set out for the Sierra Maestra mountain range. After several days march they were attacked by the army of dictator Fulgencio Batista. The fighting at Alegría de Pío on December 5, 1956 on the outskirts of Niquero went badly for the rebels. They were forced to flee in all directions. Many were captured and murdered. Weapons were lost. Only 12 guerillas, the Castro brothers and Che escaped. Guevara was wounded when a bullet ricocheted on a shell case in his breast pocket and nicked his neck.

A report in a Mexican newspaper said that all the rebels had been killed and Che’s wife, Hilda Gadea, following a plan the two had made beforehand, left Mexico City and took their daughter Hilita to her parents in Lima, Peru. She stayed there for a short period then moved on to Argentina to say with Che’s parents.

The survivors of the battle at Alegría de Pío were joined by six sympathetic peasants and the tiny band with only 22 weapons boldly launched a surprise attack on a military garrison at the mouth of the La Plata River. They took over the barracks and acquired much needed food, weapons and ammunition.

Che-Guevara-with-Fidel-CastroThe numbers of rebels increased as disaffected peasants joined the little band. They acquired supplies and arms in successful attacks on the army. New recruits arrived from Santiago da Cuba and by April of 1957 there were 80 rebel fighters. In May, at a battle at El Uvero, where the guerillas were outnumbered, Che distinguished himself as a master tactician. On July 21, at the camp in the Sierra Maestra, Fidel promoted Che to the rank of comandante and put him in charge of a group of 75 newly recruited peasant supporters.

The 26th of July Movement grew through educating the peasantry and providing medical services. It also depended on the broadcasting of its ideas for a new Cuba to the disaffected rural population. Much of this work fell to Che. He published the first Issue of El Cubano Libre on November 4, 1957 (articles by Che Guevara from Sierra Maestra El Cubano Libre) and he helped with the establishment of Radio Rebelde (history and current station), which began broadcasting on February 24 of 1958. Che was also put in charge of the mountain training school where peasants were turned into effective fighting men.

The government kept up its attacks on guerilla strongholds and Batista’s soldiers exacted bloody revenge on towns that had rebel sympathies. By mid-summer 1958 Fidel’s guerillas were inflicting heavy casualties on the government, successfully destroying tanks with mines and engaging in lightening strikes on military encampments. Over 1000 of Batista’s soldiers were killed and more than 450 prisoners were turned over to the Red Cross.


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