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PC28.01.04   brown    prev   next

28.01.04.  Brown, Engagement with Bandits at Las Cruces

QUILALI, Nicaragua,      4 January 1928.

From: Non Commissioned Officer in charge of Lt. Richal's column.
To: The Brigade Commander.
Subject: Engagement with bandits.

    1.    At about 1230, January 1, 1928; while marching on Quilali, this expedition encountered bandit forces of Sandino, estimated at 350 to 450 strong, on the Sapotial [Zapotillal] Hill, about six miles NW of QUILALI. The action continued for about one hour, when the enemy was routed.
   2.    At the time of the encounter our force was proceeding along the trail in single file up the side of a mountain which was on our right or NW flank. A field which extended for a distance covering nearly the whole column on the right flank. The hill was covered with pinewoods and the field with heavy brush.
   3.    Our point had just turned a curve at the bottom of the above mentioned hill when Lieutenant Bruce (GN) observed a movement and started to draw his pistols, when the enemy opened fire with machine guns, rifles, pistols, and dynamite bombs, from points all along the hill and field on our right flank. There were also a small amount of the enemy on our left flank that opened fire on our left flank and rear guard. On the hill the enemy were well entrenched, behind parapets thrown up and behind pine trees. The bandit forces were well disciplined, and when Lt. Bruce was killed were able to rush our point and advance at the command of their leader, forcing our troops to retreat to a point 50 yards behind our Stokes Trench Mortar where they took a position in line with our machine gun which had jammed. There they established a skirmish line and held off the enemy until the machine gun was repaired and gotten into action again. The machine gun with the Stokes mortar, and the 37 MM gun, which fired from a position in the rear of the column gained fire superiority and routed the bandits.
   4.    Our forces took up a defensive position on the hill captured and awaited re-enforcements from QUILALI, which arrived at 1415, January 2, 1928.
   5. (a) Bandit leader unknown.
      (b) No Mounts seen.
      (c) Aerial assistance, none, but two planes appeared about ten minutes after the route of the enemy and strafed the hills and the woods in the vicinity.
MARINES KILLED: BRUCE, Thomas G. 1st Sgt. (1st Lt GN)
POMORSKI, Edward L. Pvt.
HENRY, Wallace Cpl.
GUARDIA NACIONAL: BRUCE, Thomas G. 1st Lt. Killed. [ p. 2 ]
About 20 dead bodies were found near the place of attack.
   6.    Pack train was badly shot up and scattered. Animals lost in action: 15. Animals strayed from scene of action 3. Total number of animals brought into Quilali 99.
   7.    No loss of ammunition known at present. Both of Lieutenant Bruces pistols were captured by the bandits.
   8.    Lieutenant Richal was seriously wounded about twenty minutes after the battle started, Gunnery Sergeant E. G. Brown assumed Command immediately and retained same until the arrival of Lieutenant Hunts relief from Quilali.
   9.    Lieutenant Bruce was killed at the beginning of the action his body looted and mutilated by the bandits, but later recaptured by our forces and buried on the spot, Field Burial regulations complied with.
          Edward G. Brown
          Gy-Sgt. USMC.,
- - - - - - - - NCO in Charge - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Ancillary Document:  Sandino's Account of the Battle of Las Cruces, 1 January 1928

Major Encounters near El Chipote at the End of 1927 and on New Year's Day, 1928

. . . On January 1 news reached this headquarters that Yankees numbering some three hundred were marching by way of the Telpaneca road with orders to take part in the general attack upon El Chipote. I at once ordered Colonesl Estrada and Colindres to move out with their cavalry to cut off the enemy's advance, and to pursue them until they were eliminated. Our people intensified their action with such good luck that, at 1 p.m. on that same day, they took up positions at the place called Las Cruces, the same place where the bandit conquerors were defeated two months before, awaiting them there with determination.
     Fifteen minutes later we let the punitive column advance beyond us, bottling them up and forcing them to fight man to man. In three hours of fighting with rifles and grenades, the enemy was decimated and then almost totally destroyed with machetes. This horrified the surviving pirates, forcing them to flee in a shameful manner, leaving ninety-seven dead and sixty wounded on the field of battle, among them two principal officers who were identified by documents taken from them. Also taken from them were their battle plans and the codes used by their aviators. The captured spoils of war were quite considerable: six Lewis machine guns, three Thompson machine guns, two Lewis automatic rifles, forty-six Lewis rifles and sixteen mules loaded with ammunition of various calibers, and a large quantity of provisions. . . .
Patria y Libertad.
/s/ A. C. SANDINO [seal]
Fortress of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua
El Chipote, January 4, 1928

Robert Edgar Conrad,  Sandino, Testimony of a Nicaraguan Patriott (Princeton, 1990), pp. 151-52..

Summary & Notes:Summary & Notes:

  Another disastrous engagement for the Special Expedition against Chipote, two days after the Camino Real fight that killed five Marines.
   Upwards of 400 rebels surrounded the Marine-Guardia column, killing one Marine and wounding four before column reinforced by another column and limped back to Quilalí.
   EDSN mutilated and looted body of the dead Marine, Lt. Thomas Bruce, later turning his death into a resonant nationalist icon remembered decades after the fact; in the 1980s, many elderly Sandinistas interviewed by the Instituto de Estudio del Sandinismo recalled Bruce's death and mutilation.

   Sketch map and Sandino's account of the battle (as usual vastly exaggerating the scale of the rebel victory) appended to the report.

   Photo at right:  First Lt. Thomas G. Bruce after the Battle of Ocotal, July 1927, from RG127, US National Archives, College Park MD.

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