Ecuadorian–Peruvian War

Last updated

War of 1941
Part of the Ecuadorian–Peruvian Conflicts
BAP Almirante Grau en mar ecuatoriano (1941).jpg
A ship of the Peruvian navy in Ecuadorian waters during the conflict.
Date5 July 1941 – 31 January 1942
Ecuadorian-Peruvian border; Ecuadorian Provinces of El Oro, Loja, Sucumbios, and Oriente

Peruvian victory

Flag of Peru (1825-1950).svg  Peru Flag of Ecuador.svg  Ecuador
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Peru (1825-1950).svg Manuel Prado y Ugarteche
Flag of Peru (1825-1950).svg Eloy G. Ureta
Flag of Ecuador.svg Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río
Flag of Ecuador.svg Luis Rodríguez
5 July 1941:
11 tanks(Supplied by Germany)
24 guns (from the Agrupamiento del Norte)
Later on:
24 tanks(Supplied by Germany)
120 guns
132,000 paramilitary and militia
In Amazonia:
8 guns
In Quito:
Casualties and losses
110 killed
200 wounded [1]
1000 killed [1]
At the beginning of offensive, numbers have been estimated between 15,200 and 30,000.

The Ecuadorian–Peruvian War, known locally as the War of '41 (Spanish: Guerra del 41), was a South American border war fought between 5–31 July 1941. It was the first of three military conflicts between Ecuador and Peru during the 20th century. During the war, Peru occupied the western Ecuadorian province of El Oro and parts of the Andean province of Loja.


A ceasefire agreement between the two countries came into effect on 31 July 1941. Both countries signed the Rio Protocol on 29 January 1942, and Peruvian forces subsequently withdrew. The enmity over the territorial dispute continued after 1942 and concluded following the Cenepa War of 1995 and the signing of the Brasilia Presidential Act agreement in October 1998. [2]



The dispute between Ecuador and Peru dates from 1840. It revolved around whether Ecuador's territory extended beyond the Andes mountain range to the Marañon (Amazon) river, including the Amazonian basin.

As early as 1829, Peru fought against the Gran Colombia (a large loose state encompassing most of northern South America), of which the disputed lands were a part. After a series of battles, the war ended in what is known as the Battle of Tarqui (or Portete de Tarqui). The Gual-Larrea Treaty was signed on 22 September 1829 ending the war. This treaty, better known as the Treaty of Guayaquil, specified that the Gran Colombian-Peruvian border was to be the same border that had existed between the Spanish colonial viceroyalties of Nueva Granada and Lima.

Subsequently, Ecuador contended that the Pedemonte-Mosquera Protocol was signed in 1830 as a continuation of the Gual-Larrea Treaty. Peru disputes the validity of this and even questions its existence, since the original document cannot be found. Furthermore, Peru argues that the treaties signed with the Gran Colombia were rendered void upon the dissolution of that federation.

During 1859 and 1860, the two countries fought over disputed territory bordering the Amazon. However, Ecuador was in a civil war that prevented diplomatic relations with the rest of Latin America, including Peruvian president Ramón Castilla.

In 1887, a treaty signed by both nations established that the King of Spain would act as an arbitrator. The resulting Herrera-García Treaty was expected to resolve the conflict permanently. However, the Parliament of Peru would only ratify the treaty after introducing modifications. Ecuador then withdrew from the process in protest at the Peruvian modifications, and the king abstained from issuing a decision.

Salomón–Lozano Treaty

Another dispute was created after the signing of the Salomón–Lozano Treaty in March 1922 by the governments of Colombia and Peru, which at that time was ruled by Augusto B. Leguía. The treaty, which was kept secret, set the boundary between Peru and Colombia as the Putumayo River, with the exception of a small strip of land controlled by the city of Leticia that would connect Colombia to the main flow of the Amazon River. With that, Colombia effectively recognized Peruvian control of the rest of the disputed region south of the Putumayo River.

Following the coup d'état of Leguía by troops under the command of Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro, the treaty was made public and caused much anger among the Peruvian population, which perceived that the treaty awarded Colombia a section of Peruvian territory. This dispute over the Amazon region controlled by Leticia would eventually cause a short war between Colombia and Peru during 1932 and 1933. The conflict over Leticia, which was populated by both Peruvian and Colombian colonists, was resolved after Sanchez Cerro was assassinated and the new Peruvian president Óscar R. Benavides accepted the Rio de Janeiro Protocol which upheld the Salomón–Lozano Treaty and finally put an end to the border disputes between Colombia and Peru.

The Salomón–Lozano Treaty was unpopular in Ecuador as well, which found itself surrounded on the east by Peru, which claimed the territory as an integral part of its republic. Further adding to Ecuador's problems, the Colombian government now also recognized Peru's territorial aspirations as legitimate.

Preparing for war

An agreement was signed in 1936 which recognized territories in de facto possession by each country. The resulting border is known as the 1936 status quo border line.

However, by 1938 both nations were once again holding minor border skirmishes. That same year, the entire Ecuadorian Cabinet, which was composed of high-ranking army officers who served as advisors for General Alberto Enríquez Gallo (who had taken charge of government after a military coup d'état), resigned from government in order to take command of the Ecuadorian Army. Meanwhile, in Quito, there were public demonstrations of people chanting "Down With Peru! Long Live Ecuador!." [3]

Peru's response to the events taking place in Ecuador was provided by foreign minister Carlos Concha, who stated, "In Peru we have not yet lost our heads. Our country is in a process of prosperous development and the Government heads would have to be completely mad to think of war." [3] The social situation of Peru at that time was undergoing major changes, with the social reforms begun by president Augusto B. Leguia (which, he claimed, were aimed at improving roads, sanitation, industrial development, and promoting the general welfare of Peru's indigenous population) being continued by president General Oscar Benavides. Economically, Peru claimed to be attempting to run on a balanced budget, but Peru still held a large debt in spite of its positive foreign trade. [3] However, despite these claims, Peru also began to mobilize its troops to its border with Ecuador in order to match the Ecuadorian troops which had been deployed to the dispute zone. [3]

On 11 January 1941, alleging that the Ecuadorians had been staging incursions and even occupations of the Peruvian territory of Zarumilla, the Peruvian president, Manuel Prado, ordered the formation of the North Grouping, a military unit in charge of the Northern Operational Theatre.

Forces involved


According to the testimony of Col. Luis Rodríguez, [4] the Ecuadorian forces at the disposal of the Army Border Command in El Oro (Lieutenant Colonel Octavio A. Ochoa) after the incidents of 5 and 6 July were as follows:


As a result of the rising tensions on the border during 1939 and 1940, the Peruvian President Manuel Prado authorised in December 1940 the creation of the Agrupamiento del Norte (Northern Army Detachment). By July 1941, this unit was ready to begin active military operations.

Peruvian order of battle

Order of Battle, Agrupamiento del Norte, July 1941

Figures for total strength of the Agrupamiento del Norte at the beginning of offensive operations have been put at 11,500 to 13,000 men.


The accounts as to which side fired the first shot vary considerably to this day. According to Peru's version Ecuadorian troops invaded Peruvian territory in the Zarumilla province, which started a battle that spread to a zone known as Quebrada Seca (dry creek). But Ecuador's version is that Peru took a series of incidents between border patrols as a pretext to invade Ecuador, with the intention of forcing it to sign a clear border agreement. They argue that the clear disparity of military presence in the region between the two countries supports this version.

The first clashes occurred on Saturday, 5 July 1941.

According to Peruvian accounts, some Ecuadorian troops from the garrison of Huaquillas, a town on the bank of the Zarumilla river, which then served as the status quo line in the extreme left of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border, crossed into the Peruvian border post at Aguas Verdes, a town directly in front of Huaquillas, and opened fire on a Peruvian patrol. These troops were then followed by some 200 Ecuadorian armed men, which attacked the Police station at Aguas Verdes, to which the Peruvians reacted by sending an infantry company to Aguas Verdes and repulsing the Ecuadorians back across the Zarumilla. The fighting then spread to the entire border area along the Zarumilla river. By 6 July, the Peruvian aviation was conducting air-strikes against the Ecuadorian border posts along the river. [5]

According to Ecuadorian Col. Luis A. Rodríguez, commander of the Ecuadorian forces defending the province of El Oro during the war, the incidents of 5 July started when an Ecuadorian border patrol found some Peruvian civilians, protected by policemen, clearing a patch of land on the Ecuadorian side of the river. Upon seeing the patrol, the Peruvian policemen opened fire, killing one soldier. This was followed by the widespread exchange of fire between troops on the opposing banks of the Zarumilla, while two Ecuadorian officers sent to Aguas Verdes to speak with the Peruvian local commanding officer were told by Peruvian authorities to go back to their lines. [6]

Regardless, the much larger and better equipped Peruvian force of 13,000 men quickly overwhelmed the approximately 1,800 Ecuadorian covering forces, driving them back from the Zarumilla and invading the Ecuadorian province of El Oro. Peru also carried out limited aerial bombing of the Ecuadorian towns of Huaquillas, Arenillas, Santa Rosa, and Machala.

The Peruvian army had at its disposal a company of armor made up of Czech tanks, with artillery and air support. They had also established an air force paratroop detachment in the region and used it to great effect by seizing the Ecuadorian port city of Puerto Bolívar, on 27 July 1941, marking the first time in the Americas that airborne troops were used in combat. [7]

Faced with a delicate political situation that even prompted Ecuadorian President Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río to keep a sizable part of the Army in the capital, Quito, Ecuador promptly requested a cease-fire, which went into effect on 31 July 1941.

As a result of the war, Peru occupied almost the entire Ecuadorian coastal province of El Oro and some towns of the Andean province of Loja, besides driving the Ecuadorians back along the whole line of dispute along the Amazonian border.

Ecuador's government, led by Doctor Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, signed the Protocolo de Río de Janeiro on 29 January 1942, and Peruvian forces subsequently withdrew.


The placement of the border markers along the definitive border line indicated by the Rio Protocol was not concluded when the Ecuadorians withdrew from the demarcation commissions in 1948, arguing inconsistencies between the geographical realities on the ground and the instructions of the Protocol, a situation that according to Ecuador made it impossible to implement the Protocol until Peru agreed to negotiate a proper line in the affected area. Thus, some 78 km of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border were left unmarked for the next fifty years, causing continuous diplomatic and military crisis between the two countries.

In 1960, Ecuadorian President José María Velasco declared that the Rio Protocol was void. According to the Velasco Administration, the treaty, having been signed under Peruvian military occupation of Ecuadorian soil, was illegal and contrary to Panamerican treaties that outlawed any treaty signed under the threat of force.

However, this proclamation made little international impact (the treaty was still held as valid by Peru and four more countries). Peruvian analysts have speculated that President Velasco used the nullity thesis in order to gather political support with a nationalistic and populist rhetoric.

In 1981, both countries again clashed briefly in the Paquisha War. Only in the aftermath of the Cenepa war of 1995 was the dispute finally settled. On 26 October 1998, representatives of Peru and Ecuador signed a definitive peace agreement (Brasilia Presidential Act).

See also

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The military history of Ecuador spans hundreds of years.

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  1. 1 2 Historia Militar del Perú, Ejército del Perú - Escuela Superior de Guerra, Enero de 1980, Chorrillos - Perú.
  2. Uppsala Conflict Data Program Conflict Encyclopedia, General Conflict Information, Conflict name: Ecuador – Peru, In depth, viewed on 2013-07-15, Archived 27 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 1 2 3 4 Ecuador-Peru: Second Chaco? Time magazine, 20 June 1938
  4. Col. Luis A. Rodríguez, op. cit.
  5. Luis Humberto Delgado, Las Guerras del Perú. Campaña del Ecuador: Grandeza y Miseria de la Victoria, p. 79. Lima, Ed. Torres Aguirre, 1944.
  6. Col. Luis A. Rodríguez, La Agresión Peruana Documentada, 2nd Edition, pp. 167–168. Quito, Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1955.
  7. The paratroopers were dropped from Italian Caproni Ca.111 bomber-transports. Skydiving in Peru by General Alberto Thorndike Elmore