The Taking of Santa Clara

The Taking of Santa Clara

Fidel Castro’s troops were lured from their hold-out in the Sierra Maestre Mountains to fight dictator Fulgencio Batista’s army. In a trap set by the government troops, it was intended that the rebel troops would be surrounded and annihilated. Things did not go well for the guerillas. Although Che Guevara distinguished himself as a tactician in the battle of Las Mercedes (July 29-August 8, 1958) the rebel forces were out-gunned. One quarter of them were killed. While peace negotiations were being held Castro’s forces retreated into the jungle. Because of the indecisive actions of Batista’s generals in dealing with the rebels his army became demoralized. Castro believed that the weakness of the government forces could be exploited by warfare in the open country.

Che Guevara was sent with a large contingent of fighters into Camaguey Province to cut the country in half. They captured Caibarién on the north coast then headed inland to Camajuani where the government troops deserted. In surveying the city Che fell off a wall and injured his arm. He put it in a sling and it remained unusable through the rest of the campaign.

Che advanced with his column on Santa Clara the capital of the province of Villa Clara. With intelligence of the expected attack Batista had loaded an armored train in Havana and sent it off to reinforce the garrison at Santa Clara.

Che-Guevara---The-Taking-of-Santa-ClaraArriving at Santa Clara, Che divided his troops into two. One column advanced on Santa Clara encouraging the citizenry to join them in attacking government buildings. The second column moved to the north east of the city where there was a hill controlled by the government forces. Batista’s armored train had halted at the foot of the hill. When Che’s men stormed the government garrison, the train prepared to move off into the center of Santa Clara. Che requisitioned some tractors from the agricultural college in town and they were used to tear up the train tracks and the train was derailed on December 30. The officers aboard immediately surrendered and they were followed by their men. 350 soldiers were taken away and the 4 million dollars worth of munitions including bazookas, machine guns, mortars, 600 rifles and ammunition were carted off by Che’s army and put to use in mopping up the remaining opposition in Santa Clara. It was reported by the government that Che had bribed the soldiers on the train into surrendering but, as they were completely demoralized, they almost certainly gave up on their own.

At one point in the struggle for Santa Clara Che’s machine gun jammed. He took it to the home of a local mechanic named Alberto Garcia to have it repaired. It was in this house that he set up his command post for the remainder of the battle. He escaped injury when the home was bombarded by enemy forces.

Che-Guevara---Revolutionaries-Entering-HavannaVictory broadcast on the radio by Castro’s rebels further demoralized the remaining opposition. On December 31st the largest government barracks on the outskirts of town capitulated to the rebels and a complete surrender of all of Batista’s troops was negotiated on January 1. By mid-afternoon Che announced over Radio Rebelde that the last troops in Santa Clara had given up.

Before the final surrender at Santa Clara, the American backed Fulgencio Batista decided to flee Cuba. It was clear to him that the victory of the 340 guerilla fighters over 3,900 government soldiers did not bode well for the continuation of his regime. He packed his bags and with family members flew to the Dominican Republic on New Year’s Day 1959, just as Castro’s rebels and followers set out for a triumphal entry into Havana.


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