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21

Thursday, July 4th 2019, 1:05am

BAP Pucalipa, The Ucayali River, 18 April 1949

The arrival on board the Pucalipa of an unknown individual, wearing tattered clothing and exhibiting obvious signs of physical abuse, brought the entire crew to alert. Their visitor collapsed unconscious and was taken in hand by the medical staff.

“Mister Zuta, please cast off and anchor the Pucalipa in the stream.”

The naval officer hesitated. “At night?”

“Immediately. One desperate visitor in the night is enough, and I do not want more.”

While the crew made ready to execute his orders, Gordon Magne filled his subordinates with what he had learned from his radio conversations with Pucallpa. “As far as they know, there is no plantation at San Francisco, and they lost track of the mission that’s supposed to be there years ago. As for Falcon, he does not officially exist. Couple that with our night-time visitor and what does it mean?”

“Trouble.”

“Precisely. Perhaps more than we can handle. Once we can speak with our visitor, we might learn more. In the mean time I want options.”

22

Sunday, July 7th 2019, 8:14pm

Plantation San Francisco, 19 April 1949

Vasquez Falcon had kept his men up all night searching the jungle for the runaway, or keeping watch on the rest of his labor force to prevent the idea of escaping from infecting the lot of them.

“Damn the Navy for sending a boat to ‘help’ the jungle folk. They might ruin everything.”

He had arrived at San Francisco more than two years ago on the run from Cuzco. With a few trusted associates they had taken over the ruins of the old mission and set out to make a living harvesting the products of the jungle – timber for the most part. Not that Vasquez Falcon did any of the work; he was the brains of the operation. The labor was provided by locals recruited at the point of a gun and encouraged with the whip, liberally applied.

It was shortly after dawn when one of his guards brought him unwelcome news.

“Patron, the boat, she has moved out into the river.”

The blood ran cold in his veins. He took from the shelf the pair of binoculars and walked to the edge of the compound, from whence he could see the river. Indeed the boat had slipped her moorings and stood anchored in the river, many meters from shore.

“They know!” Or at least they suspected he had to admit. But what would the Navy-men do?

*****

Aboard the Pucalipa Gordon Magne and Zuta wrestled with that very question. Their visitor was still unconscious and their surmises of what was going on in San Francisco did not warrant risking the ship or its crew in their present circumstances.

“Should we send a landing party ashore to investigate?”

Gordon Magne shook his head. “No. Whoever they are, they know the terrain far better that we do. We have no idea of their numbers; there could be dozens of potential enemies up on that ridge. Confronting lawbreakers is not the mission the Pucalipa was built for.” He ordered Zuta to make the ship ready for a return to Pucallpa.

“We will return, better prepared, and hopefully with what information our guest can tell us.”

23

Tuesday, July 16th 2019, 1:11am

Pucallpa, Ucayali, 22 April 1949

The Pucalipa arrived in the mid-afternoon. Her riverine performance had exceeded expectations, contending easily with the strong flow of the Ucayali. So much for the good. The question of San Francisco was of greater moment.

Their ‘guest’ had at last regained sufficient consciousness to answer questions. His name, they had learned was Victor Polay, a one-time rubber tapper who had married into one of the tribes that inhabited the area. That was until his village was the subject of a midnight raid which killed many of its inhabitants and enslaved the rest. Polay described how he had been forced to clear the land near the Plantation San Francisco by men wielding whips and clubs.

Gordon Magne explained the matter to Colonel Felipe Mendoza of the Policia Nacional. “According to Polay this fellow Vasquez Falcon has been running his operation at San Francisco for at least six months, perhaps a year or more. He says he has had to clear plots for coca production and harvest timber for shipment down-river.”

“Those are most serious offenses. But what can be done? This Vasquez-Falcon has his own private army, and I have not more than fifteen men in the city to enforce order. I cannot give them to you to go floundering about in the jungle!”

The army officer agreed; this was beyond the capacity of the police to deal with. He would have to try another approach.


The Peruvian Times (Lima), 23 April 1949

The corvettes Huancabamba and Zarumila were completed today at the Callao shipyards of the Servicios Industriales de la Marina. They are due to undergo trials and then spend the next six month undergoing operational training before officially joining the fleet towards the end of the year.

24

Saturday, July 27th 2019, 2:18am

Iquitos, Loreto, 30 April 1949

The voice of Battalion Sergeant Major Sanchez echoed through the barracks block “GRAB YOUR GEAR AND BOARD SHIP!” The bugle call that followed merely reinforced the command. The men of Batallón de Infantería de Marina Fluvial No.3 spilled out of their recently completed barracks and formed up before them preparatory to going aboard the riverine launches that were the primary means of transport throughout the region.

There was a low murmur of surprise among the Marines as they boarded their craft – logistics NCOs were issuing extra ammunition. Obviously this was to be no showing-the-flag river cruise. The crews of their support launches were clearing away the flak guns and mortars as if they might soon be used in earnest. Some of the old hands wondered if the balloon had gone up and the Colombians had declared war. If it had no one was saying.

When the last of the Marines had boarded the boats the signal was given to start engines and the rumble of the powerful engines was audible for a kilometer or more. Then the convoy set out – one of the support launches in the lead, then six troop carriers, and a support launch to bring up the rear. For the five hundred Marines aboard they soon had one answer as to where they were going; the convoy turned south, following the river upstream.

25

Friday, August 2nd 2019, 3:09pm

Peruvian News and Events, May 1949

Vicinity of Plantation San Francisco, 2 May 1949

It had taken some days for Gordon Magne’s request to make its way up the chain of command, across the great divide between the services, and then make its way down to Escuadrón aéreo de reconocimiento No.413 at Limatambo aerodrome; and even more time to get one of the unit’s Canastero reconnaissance bombers ready for a long inland flight, one that would require staging through Cuzco. Never the less the morning found the Canastero winging its way along the valley of the Ucayali River.

“Navigator to Pilot – we should be in visual range.”

The pilots in the cockpit scanned the river and jungle before them.

“There, in that long loop of the river – on the ridge top.”

In the distance they could see the reflection of metal peeking out from under the jungle canopy and banked the veteran aircraft in its direction. As they neared they could begin to see rows of huts and clearings prepared for planting. “Start the cameras. We’ll make several runs. I don’t think we’ll get shot at…”

*****

Vasquez Falcon had been roused from his lair by the drone of the aircraft’s engines. He had reached the courtyard of his headquarters when the twin-engine bomber flew over it at perhaps five hundred meters and then climbed while it made a turn to reverse its course.

He could only guess what its presence meant, and none of the answers that came to him reassured him.

26

Thursday, August 8th 2019, 1:17am

Batallón de Infantería de Marina Fluvial No.3, Shipboard, The Rio Ucayali, 3 May 1949

The convoy bearing the Marines had continued heading south, entering the Rio Ucayali when the latter joined with the Rio Maranon to form the Amazon proper. It had proven slow going – the strong currents of the river taxed the engines of the launches and their navigation was hampered by the lack of charts and the constant winding of the river. But at least the men had been given an idea of what their mission was and what they might expect.

For the moment they were to continue upriver to Contamana, one of the few towns in the Ucayali District, and await further orders. It was understood that a wanted criminal had established himself in a jungle fortress, dominating both the river and the immediate vicinity of his headquarters. For the moment, the pieces were being put into place to deal with this individual; once sufficient intelligence had been gathered, a plan would be developed.

It sounded simple… but even the most simple of plans are complex. And other than the river, the jungle, and the hordes of insects that afflicted the Marines whenever their progress was halted, at least they had no opposition. The forces of nature were sufficient.

27

Saturday, August 10th 2019, 2:04am

The Chilean Embassy, Lima, 4 May 1949

Captain Hernán Larraín had returned the previous evening from an inspection of the Peruvian shipyard at Mollendo-Matarani, where he had the opportunity to confirm and witness the final steps in the demolition of the small submarines SC-4 and SC-5. These facts he would include in his next report to Santiago. He would also report the launch of the corvettes Tahuamanu and Inambari, which had occurred in his absence in the south. He wondered if the Peruvian authorities might permit him to visit the corvettes Huancabamba or Zarumila presently undergoing trials; he was intrigued by what he had heard of their design and wished to personally evaluate their capabilities; he decided he would make inquiries – at worst the Peruvians would merely say no.

28

Wednesday, August 14th 2019, 1:12pm

The Peruvian Times (Lima), 5 May 1949

A team of archaeologists from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and Kyoto Imperial University of Japan, led by Professors Roberto Pimentel Nita and Aizawa Tadahiro have announced the discovery of an extremely important archaeological site in the Ancash region north of the capital. Christened El Castillo de Huarmey (the Castle on the River Huarmey) it is a pyramid-like structure on the coast. Finds to date include a tomb containing sixty individuals and the burials of three elite women, suggesting that the tomb may be of royal status.

The team located what appeared to be a subterranean tomb using aerial photographs on a ridge between two other pyramids. Among the first finds was a stone throne room; the burial chamber of the royal tomb was discovered in early this year, and it was found to contain more than one thousand artifacts, including gold earrings, bronze axes, jewelry made of copper and silver, and silver bowls. The tomb contained 60 human bodies buried in rows in a seated position and clothed in deteriorating textiles. Three side chambers contained three bodies of high status women whose bodies were accompanied by prized possessions, including gold weaving tools.

29

Saturday, August 17th 2019, 6:52pm

Contamana, Ucayali, 8 May 1949

Gordon Magne had been surprised to receive orders to report to the Policia Nacional headquarters in Contamana and to bring with him Polay, the escapee from the plantation San Francisco. He was even more surprised at the rapidity in which air transport had been laid on for him to make the journey. As unexpected as this appeared to be it was nothing compared to what he found when he arrived at Contamana.

Colonel Wilver Calle Girón, commander of Batallón de Infantería de Marina Fluvial No.3, met him at the small airport and explained the situation on the way back to the town’s municipal building.

“Your inquiries about Vasquez Falcon have kicked over a hornet’s nest. He has an extensive criminal record and has eluded the Policia Nacional for more than two years now. We now know how – Colonel Necochea, who was in charge here was on Vasquez Falcon’s payroll – the good colonel is now in custody awaiting trial.”

Gordon Magne was not totally taken aback, for it explained much. “And what about Mendoza at Pucallpa?”

Calle Girón nodded and looked at his watch. “About now a detachment of my battalion is arriving in Pucallpa with orders to place him under arrest.”

They arrived at Calle Girón’s temporary headquarters in the municipal building, and immediately began a planning session for an operation to eliminate Vasquez Falcon’s operations at San Francisco. The aerial photographs taken a few days ago were shown to Polay who identified their purpose – which were barracks for the workers, which storerooms, which were vacant. More marines would be flown up to Pucallpa to provide Gordon Magne’s Pucalipa with a sufficient force to allow her to block the upstream exit from the vicinity of San Francisco. The marines would proceed upriver from Contamana in their motor launches, land below the plantation, and sweep the area, with any luck to bag Vasquez Falcon and his minions.

30

Saturday, August 24th 2019, 11:40pm

BAP Pucalipa, The Ucayali River, 10 May 1949

Theory said that the Pucalipa was a social action platform – as she cruised down the Ucayali to play her part in the elimination of the bandit camp at the Plantation San Francisco she looked more like a warship than her intended form. Battalion Sergeant Major Sanchez and a dozen marines from the Third Battalion had accompanied Gordon Magne on the flight back from Contamana and they had displaced some of the Pucalipa’s normal complement of school teachers. The marines were busy finishing lashing the last of four heavy machineguns to her railings that would turn the Pucalipa into a small riverine gunboat.

Ensign Zuta guided the Pucalipa as fast down the river as he dared. While the straight-line distance to the Planation San Francisco was less than a few hours by the twisting and looping course of the river it would take them two days at best – and that was all that their plan allowed for. For his part Gordon Magne recognized that the little Pucalipa was nothing more than a backstop to assure that Vasquez Falcon and his cohorts did not escape the net being cast for them. Only time would tell if their plan would triumph.

31

Wednesday, August 28th 2019, 10:13pm

The Ucayali River near the Plantation San Francisco, 12 May 1949

Aboard the Pucalipa Gordon Magne had recognized one factor overlooked in the planning of the operation to eliminate the bandits operating from the abandoned mission – the sound of the diesel engines powering the ship could be heard for great distances – and the element of surprise would be lost. Cutting back power and letting the river’s current do most of the work helped, but Gordon Magne resigned himself to the worst. On the credit side of the ledger the bandits might expect the Pucalipa as continuing on her regular mission and ignoring their presence; a pretense he hoped would lull them into a false sense of security. On the corresponding debit side he had no idea how much noise the engines of the Marine’s launches might make – and he feared the worst.

*****

The convoy of launches carrying the Third Battalion had slowly made their way upriver from Contamana and neared the downriver side of the plantation as dusk fell across the jungle. Calle Girón signaled the leading pair of launches to approach the river bank and deposit No.1 and No.2 Companies of the battalion on the shore. Here the ridge on which the plantation was located descended to flat ground, and it was his intention to have his leading elements throw a cordon across the narrow neck of land that lay between this boats and the upstream section now occupied by Gordon Magne and the Pucalipa.

*****

“Patron! The Navy boat is back!”

Vasquez Falcon did not like the news his henchman brought. In the fading light he could see the outline of the Pucalipa merging with the dark stain of the river.“I thought I made it clear that they were not needed here. Why have they come back?”

He ordered his men from their huts to prepare for the possibility of that the Navy might be foolish enough to send a landing party up the steep slope from which he looked down on the interfering boat. It was an error he would soon regret.

*****

Nos. 1 and 2 Companies had rapidly secured the base of the ridge and begun moving uphill. They soon came to the ramshackle wharves that the bandits had constructed to load boats that carried their produce downriver. Here Calle Girón off-loaded the rest of the battalion. He had more than four hundred troops at his disposal against what was estimated at twenty or so bandits; he was confident of success – at this point his main concern was to avoid unnecessary casualties on both sides through a demonstration of force. He signaled the support launches to continue upriver and await orders that would not be long in coming.

*****

Vasquez Falcon could not understand what the Pucalipa was doing sitting there in the river; her navigation lights burned, and he could hear the droning of her diesels as she held her position against the river’s flow.

“It is as if they want me to see them!”

*****

As silently as possible the Marines of the Third Battalion moved forward toward the buildings of the plantation, finding their way through rows of trees and coca plants. Their progress was steady if slow, yet as they reached their final stop lines Calle Girón signaled a halt, and radioed his support craft to begin the next act in the drama.

The two support launches had anchored themselves in positions where they could give adequate fire support to the Marines should it be necessary. The flak guns of the lanchas de desembarco de Apoyo would not be required tonight but their mortar crews now began their crucial action. A quick succession of rounds were pumped skyward and exploded in mid-air, their parachute flares illuminating the plantation.

From his place in the surrounding jungle Calle Girón could see the outlines of the buildings, the huts in which the slave labor was kept, and the movement of men he took to be bandits. He took a loud hailer and shouted. “You are all under arrest! Lay down your weapons and do not resist!” This he repeated several times, and at the same time signaled the cordon of Marines to draw the net closed.

32

Friday, August 30th 2019, 2:25pm

The Ucayali River near the Plantation San Francisco, 12/13 May 1949

The eruption of parachute flares above the plantation was the signal to Gordon Magne that the Pucalipa should begin to play her part. He ordered the ship’s searchlights to play upon the shoreline and advised Sergeant Sanchez to stand ready should any of the bandits come pouring down the slope. Beyond adding to the confusion among Vasquez Falcon’s henchmen though the Pucalipa was not called on for further action for the moment.

The Marines had achieved complete surprise, and their appearance in such overwhelming force quickly convinced the bandits to surrender and trust themselves to the tender mercies of the law rather than face automatic weapons fire. Vasquez Falcon himself was captured inside his headquarters, attempting to gather the contents of his safe before seeking to flee into the jungle. Human avarice had again triumphed over animal instinct. Calle Girón took pleasure in the fact that in addition to the bullion and gold found in said safe were well-kept records that would aid in the prosecution of several officials of the Policia Nacional.

Dawn saw Ensign Zuta carefully navigating the Pucalipa around the sharp bend in the river and making for the landing stage that served the plantation, now securely in the hands of the Marines, who were busy moving their prisoners to their launches for transport downriver to Contamana. Zuta was relieved that the Pucalipa had not been called upon to use the improvised armament Sergeant Sanchez had installed upon her railings – he knew the ship had not been designed with such in mind.

For his part Gordon Magne went ashore to confer with Calle Girón to ascertain what could, or should, be done with the people Vazquez Falcon had gathered and set to work. That these needed medical attention was without question, and food stocks were distributed to meet immediate needs. It was determined that the Pucalipa would remain for several days until arrangements could be made to get the lead elements of a Unidad Militar de Asentamiento Rural to San Francisco in the hope that a permanent civil settlement might grow from the former bandit lair. Of course the first order of business would be to destroy the incipient coca fields and replace them with crops suitable for food. It would take some time but Gordon Magne was confident that eventually the Pucalipa would be able to resume her proper duties.

33

Monday, September 2nd 2019, 6:46pm

El Popular (Lima), 15 May 1949

The frigates Cáceres and Olaya returned to Callao today at the conclusion of a good will voyage that saw them calling at Puerto Caldera in Costa Rica, Balboa in Panama, and Guayaquil in Ecuador. The completion of the cruise marks the conclusion of operational training for the ships and they will now take up their regular duties with the Armada.


The Chilean Embassy, Lima, 19 May 1949

Captain Larraín was surprised as anyone when he read the announcement of the sale of the Peruvian Navy’s Tiente Vasquez-class destroyers to Japan. The ships themselves were relatively new, and despite what some considered shortcomings his own calculations considered them battle-worthy. What Japan wish to do with them mystified him – given the number of Peruvian hulls that now sported Chinese flags, perhaps Japan had acted pre-emptively to avoid China from acquiring even more new ships. In any event, their forthcoming departure for the far side of the Pacific would reduce even further the dangers to his own service.

34

Thursday, September 5th 2019, 9:58pm

The Peruvian Times (Lima), 22 May 1949

Minister of Transport and Communications Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre announced today that the Compania Nacional de Naviera Amazonica Peruana, the state-owned shipping company operating in the upper Amazon, has reached an agreement with Higgins Industries of the United States to construct three shallow-draft freighters of modern design. The motor ships, each capable of twelve knots, will operate a direct service between the upper Amazon and ports in the southern United States. The intent of the new service is to support the economic development of the upper Amazon region and stimulate Peruvian exports to the American market.

35

Wednesday, September 11th 2019, 3:25am

Iquitos, 25 May 1949

Felix Wankel kept scrupulous reports on the progress his team made on construction of the modular dry dock taking shape in the river. Thus far they had encountered little difficulty in assembling the pontoons and other components brought laboriously by freighter across the Atlantic and then up the Amazon – it was just so agonizingly slow. Often their principal tasks were placed on hold due to the lack of proper materials due to shipping delays; when this happened, Wankel would set his engineers to improving the other infrastructure of the port.

Using a set of pumps they had improvised a suction dredge that helped increase the depth of water near the wharves, easing the concerns of captains of river cargo ships regarding the dangers of grounding. They had found and repaired two old construction cranes that now aided the movement of cargo. In the last week they had adapted a sawmill to shape logs from the surrounding forests into pilings that would be necessary for the next phase of constructing the dry dock. And despite the shipping delays and these diversions, the project was still on schedule.

36

Wednesday, September 11th 2019, 7:43pm

Diario Oficial El Peruano (Lima), 31 May 1949

The destroyer Valdes and Ferre were launched today at the Callao dockyard of the Servicios Industriales de la Marina. They are the last pair of Cano-class destroyers presently authorized for the Armada del Peru, with their sisters Bustamante and Ugarte nearing completion. Two vessels of an improved design have been authorized though specific details have not yet been released.