Central and Latin America Database
40 Years of Civil War and Unrest
Reasons for most of unrest and violence in Guatemala’s history are immense social, political and religious differences between different social shifts and ethnical groups. Majority of Guatemalan population consists of ethnic Mayans, indigenous people in this part of Central America, most of which live in the rural areas and are dominantly Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are still practiced by up to 40% of the population. Although presenting a minority, the westernized Mayas and Mestican Indios, the so-called „Ladions“, historically dominated the country, regarding indigenous people with disdain and excluding the rest of population from main social-, economic- and political developments.
To add to the Guatemalan problems, the local Protestant churches were always intolerant towards traditional religious practices and even towards the Catholic Church, blaming the later for integrating pre-Colombian practices. As Catholic and Protestant churches are evenly distributed throughout the country, they were – and remain – also omni-present in the political life.
Finally, in addition to multiple problems within, Guatemala has long claimed sovereignty over the bordering British colony of British Honduras, on the grounds that it inherited Spanish sovereignty. It was in 1862 that a 18.000 square kilometres strip of land on the western coastline of the Caribbean Sea comprising mainly jungle and swamp, was formally named British Honduras despite objections from neighbouring Mexico and Guatemala. The Guatemalan claims were most persistent and since 1936 often supported by threats of a military invasion. Since the end of World War II, in 1945, the first in a series of tense situations developed in February 1948, when the British government was forced to send the Royal Navy cruisers HMS Sheffield and HMS Devonshire, carrying the 2nd Battalion Gloucester Regiment to the colony. Eventually, nothing happened, but ever since the British Army and RAF detachments had to be stationed in British Honduras time and again.
Military Flying in Guatemala
Military flying has a long and rich tradition in Guatemala, reaching back to 1911, when the government established an Aviation Academy, equipped with a single Moinssant biplane, for training purposes. In the late stages of World War I, a group of Guatemalan pilots was trained by French to take part in fighting on the Western Front, but they completed their training only after the German capitulation. Through the 1920s and 1930s, a small number of British-, French- and US-built models were operated by a small flying service, run by the Guatemalan Army. They flew their first combat sorties in 1929, when Col. Marciano Casada led a revolt in the Quetzaltenango region. On 29 June of that year, the Cuerpo de Aviación Militar (CAM) was established with four Potez aircraft and two Morane MS35s.
Another Guatemalan dictator, Gen. Jorge Ubico, heralded introduction of an ambitious military programme with the renaming of the CAM into Cuerpo de Aeronautica Militar, on 11 October 1935, contracting French advisers to train his pilots. In the following years a considerable number of US-made aircraft, including 12 Ryan STM.2s and two Boeing P-26A Peashooter interceptors was acquired from USA, followed – in the 1940s – by influx of lend-lease equipment, including three Douglas C-47 Dakotas and three North American AT-6 Texans. Also, in 1942 and 1943, a number of additional P-26As were purchased second-hand from Panama.
The US influence increased after establishment of an US Military Mission in Guatemala, in 1945, which brought three additional C-47s and six AT-6s, followed by more Dakotas and even few early helicopters. The CAM was, in 1948, re-named to Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (FAG), but this service never became an independent entity, rather remaining an aviation corps responsible to and under direct control of the Guatemalan Army. For this reason, the FAG never developed into anything of the kind like air forces in neighbouring Honduras or El Salvador and was to suffer from lack of funding and equipment more than often enough in its history.
|FAG P-26A of the Escuadron de Caza FAG, as seen taking off from Campo de la Aurora AB, near Guatemala City, on 1 June 1954. Guatemala originally purchased two P-26As directly from the USA, in the late 1930s. These were supplemented by few ex-Panamanian examples, acquired in 1942 and 1943. The survivors were used foremost as trainers, but also as interceptors, until 1954: the last two were subsequently sold to the USA. Clearly, by the time they were hoplessly outlcassed even by C-47s used by the CIA-supported rebels. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
Revolution of 1944
In 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico’s junta was overthrown by a group of dissident military officers, students, and liberals, and a civilian president, Juan Jose Arevalo, was elected in 1945. Arevalo remained in power until 1951, introducing a series of social reforms, which were continued by his successor, Col. Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who also granted the right of the leftist Guatemalan Labor Party to gain legal status, in 1952.
Mid through Arbenz’s term, communists and leftists were in control of key peasant organizations, labour unions, and the governing political party. At the time when the obsession with Communism in the USA was enormous, such developments were easily seen as a direct threat for the US national security, especially since Guzman’s left-wing politics – including nationalisation of land and factories owned by foreign capital – was thorn in the side of the US-controlled multi-national concern United Fruit Company (UFC). The UFC was immensely influential and omni-present in Guatemala of the 1940s and 1950s: it owned over 200.000 acres of land in a country of barely 109.000 square kilometres, effectively exercising control over the local bananas harvest and thus controlling the income of the largely poor Guatemalan population. Clearly, Arbenz’s campaign of nationalization hit the UFC especially hard, and it did not last long before the bosses of the company became active in Washington.
Using the word „communist“ in connection with Guatemalan government at each and every opportunity, the UFC was successful in provoking an official reaction of the US government, resulting in activation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Leaning back to recent experiences from a similar operation in Iran, the CIA was authorized by White House to launch an enterprise with the aim of destabilizing authority of Guatemalan government and overthrowing Arbenz with help of extremist elements within the opposition.
While a vast majority of Guatemalans was attached to the ideals of the 1944 Revolution, the local oligarchy and rightist military officers considered Arbenz’s politics as a menace. In cooperation between the UFC, CIA, various US officials, and governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua (all ruled by US-backed dictatorships), on 11 September 1953, a plan for action was prepared and $3 million allocated to cover expenses. Barely 20 days later a training centre was established at the former Naval Air Station (NAS) Opa Locka, on the outskirts of Miami, where around 150 exiles were brought to be trained by CIA, under command of Col. Albert Haney, one of the best contemporary CIA agents. The plan for action in Guatemala envisaged the installation of a radio station to broadcast propaganda messages, organization of a small army – led by exiled Col. Carlos Castillo Armas – and an air force, which were to cause terror and confusion, resulting in division and then a mutiny within the Guatemalan Army, and a coup against Arbenz.
The „Liberation“ Air Force
The rebel „air force“ came into existence during March 1954, when two C-47s were provided „on loan“ from Civilian Air Transport (CAT) – a CIA-owned airline – and another one purchased in Washington DC. All three Dakotas were flown to Managua, in Nicaragua, from where they were used for flying supply missions for the „Liberation Army“, as the CIA-controlled rebel force became known. As next, a number of surplus combat- and transport aircraft was acquired through a front company set up as „charitable foundation“ in Miami, including one Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a Cessna 140 and 180 each, and a Consolidated PBY-5A flying boat. The aircraft were flown to a small airfield in Honduras, and the CIA then began searching for pilots, eventually recruiting Fred Sherwood, former US Air Attaché with the US Embassy in Guatemala and ex-UFC pilot, as the chief of the new force. Sherwood was soon joined by two other pilots, Fred DeLarm and Carlos Cheeseman, both veteran Republic P-47 Thunderbolt-pilots from the Pacific theatre in WWII
While the other elements went into action already on 1 May 1954, with activation of the radio station that proved exceptionally effective, finding pilots for the Liberation Air Force proved a more complex task: initially, only two – DeLarm and Cheeseman – were available, while more would follow later. DeLarm and Cheeseman flew their first mission over Guatemala on 21 May, piloting a C-47 tasked with leaflet-dropping. Similar missions were continued into early June, with aircraft mainly operating from Nicaragua and Honduras.
The FAG attempted desperately to intercept the marauding Dakota, but its three P-26 "interceptors“ and North American AT-6 Texans were insufficient for this task, especially as they were not supported by any kind of airspace observation service (even if all the P-26s were in pristine condition). Nevertheless, a number of AAA guns was deployed around the La Aurora air base and Guatemala City. In return, the diminutive Guatemalan air force was heavily hit when on 4 June 1954, its commander – Col. Rodolfo Mendoza – defected to El Salvador, to join Armas and the Liberation Army. From that moment every flight by FAG aircraft had to be authorized by the president Arbenz.
Meanwhile, Guatemala was put under a sea blockade by the US Navy warships. Already in May, the USN was searching for SS Alfhem, a ship loaded with Czech weapons for the Guatemalan Army that reached Puerto Barrios nevertheless. Subsequently, the blockade was improved and the Government found it impossible to import any kind of weapons or ammunition: even if the Army managed to round up many of subversive elements, the net around President Arbenz was becoming tighter.
On 13 June 1954, the Liberation Air Force P-38M, piloted by DeLarm and Cheeseman, flew its first sortie over Guatemala. They buzzed a number of churches scaring the population and dropping leaflets. The Lightning developed problems with an engine and was forced to make an emergency landing in Honduras on return. The rebels were reinforced on the same day, nevertheless, by three F-47N Thunderbolts purchased by the Nicaraguan ambassador in the USA for CIA (at least one of the aircraft was a former mount of the Puerto Rican Air National Guard, and still showing traces of paint marks "PRANG"). Immediately, three newly-recruited pilots were sent to the USA to pick up the aircraft. In the earlier times, it has often been reported that these Thunderbolts have got FAG markings and were piloted by Taiwanese pilots. Actually, the Liberation Air Force aircraft should have worn no markings during the following operation at all. In fact, they were certainly “sanitized“ of any possible indications of their origin. Most of their pilots were US citizens.
|The CIA-operatives running clandestine operations like the one in Guatemala were not especially imaginative as early as 1954. Their aircraft were mainly left in "bare metall overall", as seen on drawing of this C-47, based on one of the photographs showing Dakota used by the "Liberation Air Force". Frequently showing traces of heavy use by its former owners, many of these aircraft were also in poor condition. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
On 15 June, the first 480 fighters of the Liberation arrived in Honduras and were deployed along the Guatemalan border in four groups, in order to stage a series of “hit and run“ attacks while advancing on five different towns in Guatemala. As the rebels were deploying along the border, on 17 June, however, one of their groups was stopped and then disarmed by the police of El Salvador. The other groups managed the ingress and in the afternoon of 18 June, the Liberation Air Force F-47s went into action as well, DeLarm and Cheeseman buzzing a pro-government demonstration in Guatemala City before strafing a number of targets.
The attack of two Thunderbolts caused quite some panic in Guatemala – and emboldened additional officers to defection. Later in the afternoon of 18 June, three FAG-pilots defected in two AT-6s, while a third AT-6 crashed in bad weather while attempting to intercept the defectors, killing the pilot, Lt. Juan Carlo Castillo. This defection had additional negative effects upon FAG, as now only pilots known to the President Arbenz were permitted to fly.
Rebel F-47s were active over Guatemala on 19 June as well, DeLarm and Cheeseman first escorting some C-47s in supply-drop missions and afterwards other pilots flying them over Guatemala City again. One of the Thunderbolts was heavily damaged by AAA and barely reached Honduras. In the afternoon, DeLarm flew a highly effective mission, first destroying a railway bridge at Gualan and then attacking La Aurora AB, where a Beech AT-11 bomber was destroyed, and a FAG C-47 loaded with supplies for the Puerto Barrios garrison damaged. Although little in numbers and not decisive for ground operations, overall, the Liberation Air Force actions produced desired results, creating chaos and panic, as well as a feeling that Guatemala was under a powerful and dangerous threat.
The situation was actually completely different: on 20 June, the Liberation Force had to ground its Thunderbolts for the lack of spare parts, and was left only with the single P-38M, meanwhile repaired by Honduran air force technicians. The Lightning was then flown by William Tyler and another CIA pilot in attack against the city of Coban. During that mission it was badly damaged by Guatemalan AAA and Tyler was forced to make an emergency landing in Mexico. Instead of being interned, the crew and the P-38 were returned to the Nicaragua only two days later.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the rebels captured two border towns, but were repulsed and forced to flee at Zacapa, suffering considerable losses in the process. On 21 June, another setback followed, when a major rebel force was first defeated and then scattered by few policemen and dockyard workers at Puerto Barrios. Under pressure, the rebel leadership ordered unlimited air attacks of their air force and Thunderbolts were airborne again. The F-47 that attacked Zacapa was hit by AAA and forced to make a crash landing in Honduras – only to be written off. On 22 June, the CIA thus made a desperate attempt to regain initiative: after two Thunderbolts – flown by Fred Sherwood and Jerry DeLarm – missed the fuel depot and then attacked a wrong target in Guatemala City, the command of the operation decided to use all remaining assets for supporting its ground troops instead. The fighting thus entered the decisive phase.
|Like C-47s, the F-47N Thunderbolts of the "Liberation Air Force" were also all left in bare metall overall, and carried only the matt black (or dark green) anti-glare pannel in front of the cockpit. The few available photographs also show them with cockpit framing painted in black. All traces of their previous owners - including the former USAF serial on the fin - were removed. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
Downfall of Democracy
While reorganizing a part of its ground assets in the Esquipulas area, the CIA completely lost the control of the force defeated at Gualan. Nevertheless, another scattered band detected a train moving Guatemalan Army troops to Zacapa and this was hit by a Thunderbolt of the Liberation Force. The Army continued the advance, forcing the rebels to retreat while demanding air support.
On the morning of 24 June, three additional Thunderbolts arrived in Honduras from the USA: they were to prove decisive during the following battle of Chiquimula, where the rebels were first forced to retreat, only to counterattack with air support. Demoralized by the feeling that they were facing the USA the Army garrison eventually surrendered.
During this and the following operations the Liberation Air Force suffered several losses and was again reduced to only few airworthy aircraft: one of Thunderbolts was damaged due to a tire blown on take off, while others were damaged or in need of spares, and thus the rebels were again left with only three operational F-47s.
Most of 25 September, the rebels spent waiting for an announced coup in Guatemala City – which never realized. In the afternoon, finally, three F-47s were launched to attack Army garrison of Zacapa, before diverting to Guatemala City. Bob Wade was left to provide top cover for rebels fighting at Zacapa; Cheeseman attacked a fuel depot in Guatemala City, but his bombs failed to detonate (like most of the bombs dropped by Thunderbolts during this conflict), while DeLarm meanwhile destroyed the ordnance depot at Matamaros, in Guatemala City. On return, Cheeseman blew a tire while landing, leaving his F-47 grounded, while Wade’s aircraft came back full of bullet holes. Desperate for additional aircraft, Sherwood issued a request for replacements that went the whole way up to President Eisenhower: after additional negotiations, on 26 June, the White House granted permission for two North American F-51D Mustangs to be sold to Nicaragua – for money furnished by the CIA.
Meanwhile, President Arbenz, warned of a possible coup on part by elements within the Army sympathetic to rebels, attempted to negotiate a cease-fire. When his attempts failed (to no small degree due to CIA’s intervention), Arbenz’s government collapsed. On the evening of 27 June, he gave up and resigned, leaving Col. Carlos Enrique Diaz – chief of Army High Command – to take over in a vain hope that this way some ideals of the 1944 Revolution might be saved. This came as a complete surprise for the Americans, then their operation was not especially suffessful that far and there was more than a real danger that the Guatemalan Army under Diaz’s command could defeat the Liberation Army. However, in the following days chaos broke out in Guatemala City, with five coup attempts and five successive juntas occupying the National Palace, as thousands were leaving the city and the civilian order almost collapsed.
The rebels were in a poor situation too, their leadership finally concluding that frontal engagements with the Guatemalan military were only causing casualties, as well as that there was no widespread uprising as expected. Reinforced by air drops and several hundreds of new recruits, by 27 June, some 1.200 fighters of the Liberation Army were concentrating in Chiquimula, facing a sizeable Army concentration that intended to attack and then pursue the enemy towards the border. The situation worsened through the 28th: in one instance a single strafing attack by a FAG AT-6 scrambled from Puerto Barrios to intercept a rebel Cessna 180, was sufficient to scatter a whole rebel column. Nevertheless, the Liberation Air Force then staged its best-known operation of this war, when the battered – but repaired once again – P-38M, flown by Ferdinand Schoup, attacked the British ship SS Springfjord that carried a load of weapons (including rumoured ex-Czech Spitfires), in the port of San Jose. Springfjord was sunk, but the ship carried a load of coffee and no weapons at all.
Later in the day, two promised F-51Ds arrived in Honduras, and were immediately rushed into action. Together with the last remaining F-47, the Mustangs attacked Fort Matamaros, in Guatemala City, delivering a blow that caused much psychological damage on the other side even as the rebels at Chiquimula were on a verge of a complete defeat, despite the Army troops losing morale as the fighting went on.
On the morning of 29 June, a Liberation Air Force Thunderbolt flown by Bob Wade was hit by AAA over Zacapa: Wade was slightly injured in the subsequent crash-landing at Quetzaltepeque, near Chiquimula, but his plane was completely destroyed. The air support provided was decisive, nevertheless: bolstered by air attacks and the fact that an increasing number of Army troops were deserting, the rebels launched a “final“ attack against Zacapa, forcing the local garrison to surrender.
The remaining action was mainly motivated by the struggle of another military junta in Guatemala City to honourably retire in the face of Castillo Armas‘ wish to make a triumphal march into the capital. During negotiations on 1 July, in San Salvador, an agreement was reached according to which a new junta was established, with Armas as new president. He was flown to Guatemala City in the US ambassador’s aircraft, on the following day.
Defeated and battered – but victorious – the members of the Liberation Army and Air Force were brought to the Roosevelt Hospital and ordered to wait as the CIA had launched a decisive cover-up campaign with the aim of hiding all possible details about the “Liberation Army” – including the backgrounds of involved aircraft and their crews. Consequently, the battered P-38 was to be handed over to the Honduran Air force (where it became “FAH503“), the three intact F-47s – plus one in wrecked condition – and two Cessnas were to be given to Nicaragua, at least one C-47 went to Guatemala while the other two were given to Panama and then returned to their original sources. Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, however, did not want any Thunderbolts, and was placing requests for delivery of ten Mustangs in exchange for help and aid he provided during the campaign. Meanwhile, the CIA realized that its “Liberation Army” was broke, then Castillo “saved“ all the money that came his way during the operation into his own pockets. Consequently, the surviving rebel units were soon disbanded, Somoza had to keep Thunderbolts but has got two Mustangs as well, while Castillo was given only one C-47 (becoming „FAG0515“, and later „FAG515“) and a single F-47 (becoming „FAG0568“).
In late July 1954, three F-51Ds from the 182nd National Guard Squadron, based at Luke AFB, were delivered to Guatemala, via Mexico City.
Two is...One too much
The replacement of the democratic government by a military junta resulted in a complete destabilisation of Guatemala. Already on 2 August 1954, there was a mutiny of Military Academy cadets, supported by a better part of the Guatemalan Army – disappointed over betrayal of the 1944 revolution. When the remnants of the Liberation Army were attacked at Roosevelt Hospital, the F-47N flown by DeLarm strafed them: other USAF pilots were at La Aurora AB at the time as well, after delivering three F-51Ds from the 182nd Fighter Squadron ANG, and they were ordered to shot DeLarm down. While attempting to reach their aircraft, however, they were stopped by Army troops supportive for mutiniers. After short negotiations, USAF pilots were - at gun-point - put into an USAF Douglas C-54 transport that brought ammunition for the three Mustangs, and flown out of the country.
Meanwhile, DeLarm's attack showed no results and the Thunderbolt was damaged by ground fire; the revolt was settled through negotiation. Many Guatemalan officers had to leave the country, while all the revolting cadets were purged from the military.
Armas‘ regime did not last long: he was arrested and assassinated already in 1957, in another military coup. The new junta under Gen. Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes lasted for less than three years: on 13 November 1960, garrisons in Zacapa and Puerto Burrios mutinied, forcing the still-present CIA to swiftly organise several Douglas B-26s Invader bombers operated by the to-be “Cuban Liberation Air Force“, stationed at Puerto Cabezas, in Nicaragua, for supporting loyal troops.
The Invaders flew strikes against strongholds of rebellion and covered C-46 transports that deployed loyal troops from Retalhuleu to Puerto Barrios. The FAG remained loyal and its F-51Ds attacked rebels in Zacapa and Barrios as well; these Mustangs belonged to a batch of six delivered by the USA, in 1955, plus one traded for the sole Guatemalan F-47 (the later Mustang was serialled „FAG318“). By 18 November 1960, the situation in Guatemala City was considered as „stabilized“ – and a new junta was in power.
|One of former Liberation Air Force F-47Ns was put into service with FAG, as "0568" after the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza refused it, wanting to get F-51 Mustangs instead. For few years, this Thunderbolt served in Guatemala in this livery. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
When the new rebellion failed, several leftist officers went into hiding and established close ties with Cuba: over the time, they became the nucleus of a new insurgency, originally named “13 de Novembre“. Together with leftist radicals, by 1965, the surviving liberal Army officers formed the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (Revolutionary Armed Forces – FAR). The FAR originally engaged in terrorist acts and infiltration of organizations in the capital, and have initiated a program of indoctrination of the Indian peasants, who constituted well over half of the population.
The first large-scale FAR operation occurred in 1963, when the rebels surrounded Guatemala City, attempting to cut it off from the rest of the country. The FAG F-51s flew a number of strike missions, foremost against targets in eastern Guatemala but the situation worsened subsequently: despite a failure of the siege, Washington became involved again, this time through ever increasing amounts of military aid. Initially, this aid came foremost in form of US troops and aircraft (like Douglas B-26Ks and North American T-28 Trojans operating from bases in Panama).
Washington subsequently reinforced the FAB with additional US-made aircraft, including six F-51D Mustangs and six Lockheed T-33As, one Cessna 185, two U206Cs, and three Sikorsky UH-19 helicopters. Besides, in the aftermath of the US failure in the Bay of Pigs, the No.4 Squadron FAG was equipped with B-26 Invaders, which were originally used for training of Cuban exile pilots of Brigada 2056. With help of an USAF Mobile Training Team, five FAG pilots were trained in Special Air Warfare tactics, working up a light bomber unit to operational status.
The FAG suffered no operational losses during early counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. Nevertheless, a B-26 was written off after a crash landing at La Aurora AB, in December 1963, and another was written off in the following year. Meanwhile, the F-51D- and T-33A-units became operational as well and flew day-light patrols, searching for possible targets that were then hit by USAF aircraft. The FAG was especially active in 1966 when – in response to increasing rebel activity, and immediately after President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro took office – the Guatemalan Army launched a major counterinsurgency-campaign. This almost destroyed the FAR, forcing the survivors to change their tactics: from this time on they concentrated their attacks to Guatemala City, assassinating a number of leading figures.
|The FAG acquired a total of seven F-51Ds in the early 1960s, and this number further increased later through the decade. The type was operated by the No.1 Fighter Squadron into the early 1970s, when the type was actually replaced by Pilatus PC-7s. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
New Kinds of Rebels
Over the time, the FAR recovered and other armed groups were established as well, including the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), and the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT). In reaction to leftist movements, also the La Mano Blanca (White Hand) and El Consejo Anti-Communista da Guatemala came into being, both of which pledged to the liquidation of communists and their sympathizers. Terrorism of the left and right has plunged Guatemala into a virtually perpetual state of emergency, beginning the bloodiest civil war ever in Latin America, which was to last for the following 30 years.
The FAG was in action time and again, developing new tactics according to own experiences. One of these was the „recon by fire“ method, developed by T-33A-pilots, which saw fighters operating in pairs in order for one of them to first overfly the expected zone of contact in order to draw fire, while the other pilot was monitoring enemy reaction. Once the insurgents would open fire, the wingman would attack, in turn being replaced by the leader. This tactics was later much refined, not only by T-33-, but also other FAG-pilots.
After years of relatively minor activity, by the late 1960s, the US advisors considered the situation tense enough for the Guatemalan military ready for large scale operations. By 1967, the six surviving B-26s were overhauled in the Wing Spar programme, in Panama. They were still operated by the No.4 Special Air Warfare Strike/Recon Squadron, which used four as bombers, while the fifth Invader, the single RB-26, was armed with .30 calibre machine guns and mainly deployed for reconnaissance purposes.
Meanwhile, an offensive against the rebels was urgently required, then the FAR was not only increasingly active again, but also conducting a series of spectacular killings. In January 1968, the rebels assassinated two US military aid officers, and in February a right-wing terrorist group kidnapped the Archbishop of Guatemala City. Later in the year, the US ambassador was murdered by leftist terrorists. Other guerrilla incidents occurred daily.
The Guatemalan Army, supported by US advisors and FAG fighter-bombers, attacked insurgent strong-holds in the east of the country, and caused them sufficient losses to almost destroy the insurrection. In the aftermath of this offensive, the situation improved to the level where the Government considered the civil war for practically over. The success thus resulted in decreased investment in equipment and training. The personnel- and financial situation of the FAG was poor already by 1967, to a degree where the surviving five B-26s were barely ever flown. While officially on strength as of 1968, the type was silently retired already a year later.
|The FAG operated a sizeable fleet (for Latin American proportions) of up to eight B-26s of different variants in the 1960s. Most of Guatemalan Invaders were "left-overs" from the CIA's operation for a counter-invasion of Cuba, in 1960, that ended with failure in the Bay of Pigs. Six examples were run through the "Project Wing Spar" programme in the Panama Canal Zone, in the mid-1960s, but the type was actually retired from service only two years later. Very little is known about COIN-operations flown by FAG Invaders against various rebel organizations at the time. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
Reorganisation of 1971
Although the left-wing groups numbered few direct participants than before, the harsh repressive tactics of the police and military have gained them some popular, mainly urban, support. Eventually, although declared „dead“, the FAR again became a highly capable and manoeuvrable insurgency organisation – part of which moved into the cities, launching a new series of assassinations. In 1970, the West German ambassador was murdered and an US Embassy official kidnapped among others.
The US Military Mission in Guatemala, as well as the rulers in Guatemala City understood the need to again improve the counterinsurgency capabilities of the Guatemalan military and prepare it for future needs. Through 1970, the US provided $2 million in military assistance (making a total of $16.2 million since 1955; additionally, excess stocks to a value of $1.1 million were provided between 1950 and 1970). Even more US aid followed in 1971, when – in accordance with the so-called Nixon Doctrine, which called for delivering arms and reinforcing domestic military instead of involving US troops – the USA began to seriously strengthen the Guatemalan Army through addition of new equipment. In the following years, the trend to self-reliance of the Guatemalan military was increased: by mid-1970s most of the younger officers have graduated from the Guatemalan Military Academy and taken specialized courses in foreign service schools, principally in the United States, but also in France, Italy, Spain, and West Germany. No less but 80% of all company grade officers were qualified parachutists.
As of 1970-1971, the Guatemalan Army numbered some 8.000, and was organized in six infantry battalions, an artillery battery, an armoured cavalry troop (equipped with M3A1 scout cars, M3A1 light tanks, M4 medium tanks, M8 armoured cars, and M113 armoured personnel carriers), an engineer battalion, a parachute battalion and a medical battalion. On US initiative, in 1971, the Primer Batallón Paracaidista was organized under the Commando Paracaidista, set up at the former CIA base in San José, on the Pacific coast in southern Guatemala. This was effectively a “special forces command” that operated three companies, No.1 Quetzal, No.2 Pentagona and No.3 Flecha. The Commando Paracaidista became a key element all future counter-insurgency campaigns in Guatemala, together with the FAG, which supported it by a meanwhile sizeable fleet of C-47s, two Douglas C-54s, a Douglas DC-6B and ten Bell UH-1D helicopters, acquired between 1970 and 1976. The Escuadrón de Transporte was reinforced by ten Israeli-built IAI-201 Arava aircraft in the early 1970s (three additional examples were added in the early 1980s).
FAG combat assets were significantly improved as well. As of 1970, the Guatemalan Air Force has had the No.1 Squadron equipped with F-51D Mustang fighters; No.2 Squadron with T-33A armed jet trainers; No.4 Light Bomber Squadron with (inoperational) B-26 Invaders, one reconnaissance squadron of light aircraft, one transport squadron of C-47s, and one helicopter squadron of UH-1s, H-19s and UH-1Es, based at La Aurora (Guatemala City), Puerto Barrios (Atlantic coast) and San Jose. In accordance with new plans, in 1971, the first eight Cessna A-37B Dragonflies were supplied to the FAG. These became operational with No.4 Squadron, Escuadrón de Atague “Quetzal”, replacing B-26s and becoming operational in the following year. Four additional Dragonflies followed in 1975, bringing the unit strength theoretically to 12. However, one A-37B was lost shortly upon delivery and another in 1974.
Meanwhile, the last F-51Ds were withdrawn from service, in late 1972. Given that the USA signalled that the surviving T-33As would not be supported through MAP any more, these two types were replaced by 12 Pilatus PC-7s acquired from Switzerland for Escuadrón de Entrenamiento y Ataque (sometimes also called "Escuadrón de Contrainsurgencia").
By 1975, the tempo of Guatemalan COIN-operations increased again, especially in the Zona Reina, along the Ixcan River, in El Quiche and Huehuetanango provinces. From what little is known about the deployment of Guatemalan special units in the COIN role, they mainly cooperated with conventional forces in „search & destroy“ type of operations. Ground troops were usually supported by UH-1 helicopters carrying supplies, while escorted by A-37s. The later were sometimes called in to provide close air support. Relatively seldom, the Dragonflies were also guided to their targets by Cessna 170s and 180s of the No.6 Squadron, which acted as forward air controllers (FAC), before the ground troops were qualified in marking targets for FAG pilots.
|The FAG operated a small, but not insignificant fleet of venerable Douglas C-47 Dakota transports ever since the mid-1950s. The example depicted here, "555", was seen in the early 1990s at La Aurora and was one of at least four examples that were still operated in their original configuration. In addition to C-47s, the FAG also acquired four Basler Turbo-67s, a C-47-version equipped with more modern engines. |
The Belize Affair
Amid the „routine“ COIN operations against FAR and other rebel organizations, tensions over the British Honduras developed once again, when in 1975, the Guatemalan Government issued a series of statements in regards of the status of this territory.
Announcements and provocations of various kind were nothing new in relations between Guatemala and the UK, then various Guatemalan governments were time and again issuing statements in regards of British Honduras. In 1958, for example, the British felt forced to deploy a number of English Electric Canberra B(I).Mk.8 and PR.Mk.9 bombers of the RAF to British Honduras, and in 1961, two Vickers Valiant B(PR).Mk.1s of the No.543 Squadron RAF were sent to the colony. In 1964, British Honduras was granted autonomy, but eight years later new Guatemalan threats were prompted by Britain’s announcement that self-government would be granted to the colony: by January 1972, Guatemalan forces were deployed along the border.
This time the Royal Navy had a task force with aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal deployed in the western Atlantic, bound for the Virginia Capes, and carrying Hawker Siddeley S.Mk.1 Buccaneer fighter-bombers of the Naval Air Squadron 809 as well as McDonnell Douglas F-4K Phantom IIs of the NAS.892. Fresh from repairs after a collision with Soviet Kotlin-class destroyer, in the Mediterranean in late 1971, the ship – supported by two supply-vessels, RFA Olmeda and RFA Regent – was ordered to flank speed on 26 January. On the following morning, a Fairey Gannet AEW-aircraft was sent to Bermuda to collect documents relating to the situation in British Honduras, and on 28 January two Buccaneers were sent for a 4.000km round-trip over the colony. Despite the length of their mission and the fact that they had only ten minutes of fuel over the crisis area, the two fighter-bombers – supported by two Buccaneers equipped as tankers on the way out and two on the way in – were enough for the Guatemalans to get the message: if they invaded, they would be facing a powerful air group from the HMS Ark Royal.
|HMS Ark Royal was off Florida at the time of Belize emergency of 1972. Although still over 2.600 miles away, the ship launched two Buccaneer fighter-bombers for a demonstration flight. This proved sufficient to deter a possible Guatemalan invasion. Once again, fixed-wing aircraft carriers proved their value as force of military deterrence. (Photo: FAA Museum)|
|One of two Fleet Air Arm's NAS.809 Buccaneers seen over Belize, on the morning of 28 January 1972. The two British fighter-bombers have had barely ten minutes of fuel left for their demonstration flight over the colony, but their presence - and the message they delivered - was felt in Guatemala as well. (Photo: FAA Museum)|
In 1975, the British and Guatemalan negotiations about the future of British Honduras – meanwhile more usually called Belize – failed, and in October the Guatemalans began concentrating their troops along the border once again. The British reaction was swift – and decisive: on 11 October, No.53 Squadron RAF Belfast transports deployed three SA.330 Pumas of the No.33 Squadron to Belizé airport, while six Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.Mk.1A „jump jets“ of the No.1 Squadron RAF were deployed in a trans-Atlantic flight, supported by Handley Page Victor K.Mk.1A tankers, between 6 and 8 November. This was the first operational deployment of the Harrier ever, and the type immediately proved a great success, operating from airfields from which no contemporary jet fighter-bombers could operate.
While the British felt the presence of RAF Harriers effectively neutralized the advantages of FAG A-37s without ever confronting them, the FAG was out of condition to mount offensive operations on larger scale. The Guatemalan government indeed prepared plans for invading Belize, and was increasing the readiness rates of its military through late 1975, when eight Dragonflies were deployed to La Aurora. However, the later were planned to fly only a one-way raid against key targets. Their pilots were then to eject and escape towards a site near the border, where an Arava transport was to wait for them. The invasion plan was finally abandoned in February 1976, and by April the British considered the threat low enough to withdraw their Harriers back to the UK.
Nevertheless, in June 1977, after the Guatemalan military was mobilized and deployed along the border once again, the British were forced to counter again too. The Queen’s Regiment of the British Army was deployed on board of No.10 Squadron RAF BAC VC.10 C.1 transports, escorted by six Harrier GR.Mk.3s of the No.1 Squadron RAF and supported by no less but 12 Victor tankers. Once in Belize, the Harriers were formed into the No.1417th Flight (later reinforced by several Puma HC.1 helicopters, air-freighted in October 1977), while the Royal Engineers constructed a number of small strips in the jungle, from which Harriers and helicopters could operate. This force formed the basis of the BRITFORBEL-contingent, which was not withdrawn this time.
On the contrary, the Harrier-crews of the No.1 Squadron were replaced by those from No.3 Squadron, followed by crews from No.4 Squadron, as the No.1417th Flight became a kind of a semi-permanent unit. An RAF regiment, including Rapier SAM-batteries of the No.25 or No.26 Squadrons and Bofors L40/70 radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns of the No.58 as well as No.68 Squadrons, was deployed at Belizé airport, while the British Army brought in not only several Puma HC.1s, but also four Scout AH.1 attack helicopters flown by crews drawn from No.656 and No.664 Squadrons (Scouts were replaced by Gazelles, in 1979).
The Pumas – eventually organized into the No.1563rd Flight RAF – are known to have supported several SAS operations along the Guatemalan border about which almost nothing is known: even less is known about the activities of the Guatemalan Army’s Kaibila units, for which is said to have undertaken several reconnaissance operations into Belize.
|Ever since Guatemala and Great Britain almost went to a war, in 1975, the RAF deployed Harrier "jump-jets" to Belize. From 1977, an official detachment was established, No.1417 Flight, composed of Harrier GR.Mk.3 fighters drawn from No.1 Squadron RAF. This unit remained based in Belize until 1994, when the whole BRITFORBEL contingent was disbanded in the light of improved relations between Guatemala and Belize. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
After a period of positive military developments of the early 1970s, from 1977 the Guatemalan junta was confronted with fierce criticism from US President Carter’s administration, mainly connected with widespread human rights abuse. In the event, the US Congress imposed an arms embargo, causing not only an acute lack of spares and weapons to FAG, but also cancelling an order for Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs. Since these times the FAG began looking for sources of armament and spares, eventually finding these in Argentina, where 250kg bombs and ARM-657 rocket launchers were purchased. In the middle of problems with spares and decreasing aircraft availability, decreasing stocks of available and unreliable new weapons, countless combat missions against revived rebellion, and efforts to find solutions, on 24 October 1978, another A-37B was lost while performing high-speed, low-level manoeuvres over the Pacific coast. Some relief was obtained when six additional PC-7s were obtained for No.2 Squadron (meanwhile a specialized COIN unit), but FAG finally found itself over-tasked.
The Guatemalan air force had already saved the day for Guatemalan regime several times in the COIN war, but was not granted sufficient funding to become capable of protracted fighting; starved of resources it was also unable of providing useful support for eventual operations in Belize. The number of combat aircraft was not increased – despite increasing requirements – through the rest of the 1970s. On the contrary, only limited funds were allocated to the FAG, especially since the requirement for countering the British presence was considered surplus once Belize was granted independence, on 21 September 1979.
On demand of the new government of Belize, the British troops remained deployed in country. In fact, RAF Harriers regularly flew combat air patrols along the border to Guatemala during independence festivities, and very much ever since. In the early 1980s, the British contingent – now under official designation BRITFORBEL – was organized in two commandos: Battle Group North, with HQs in Holdfast Camp, and Battle Group South, stationed in Ridean Camp. These two task forces included a total of one infantry- and one artillery battalion (later equipped with 105mm cannons).
The flying component usually consisted of four Harriers detached to No.1417th Flight, together with four pilots, 22 other personnel and two cooks, and the No.1563 Flight, operating Pumas (this flight was originally formed out of No.103 Squadron, which was equipped with Sycamore HR.14 helicopters at Nicosia, in Cyprus, in 1963; it was disbanded on 17 January 1972 at RAF Akrotiri, re-forming as No.84 Squadron equipped with Whirlwind HAR.10s, in the UK). The Pumas for No.1563 Flight were mainly drawn from No.33 and No.230 Squadron RAF, and rotated every six months. They were relatively unique for RAF, in being permanently equipped with rescue hoists and Nightsun lamps, and flown by a single pilot and crewman.
Aside from supporting British troops, in the 1980s the RAF Pumas became involved in support of Belize Defence Force (BDF) anti-drug operations after it was discovered that Belizean marijuana was of better quality than that grown in Colombia, and a large number of local farmers began forsaking traditional crops for the easier to grow and far more lucrative drug.
The BRITFORBEL contingent remained deployed in Belize until 1994, when it was felt that relations to Guatemala improved sufficiently that the British military presence was not required any more.
|Map of Guatemala, with five airfields used by the FAG during the civil war and different emergencies in Belize. (Map by Tom Cooper, based on Encarta 2003 software)|
FAG in the 1980s
Meanwhile, the civil war in Guatemala was continued through the 1980s, the FAR concentrating in the south of the country after a new rebel group, “Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres“ (Guerrilla Army of the Poor) became active along the Ixcan River. The Guatemalan Army issued ever increasing demands for air support, but little was done to improve the condition of the FAG, except for acquisition of three additional Arava transports from Israel. As if that would not be enough, in 1982, the – previously un-coordinated and disunited – rebels united their forces under the aegis of organisation called “Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union“ (URNG). The main purpose of this decision was obtaining support from Cuba: the USA have suspected the “Communist subversion“ behind the Guatemalan insurgency already since long, but actually no serious aid was reaching the guerrillas even in the 1980s, when confrontations between the USA and the USSR in Central America reached their high point.
Beside different leftist organisations, also the extreme right-wing groups and self-appointed vigilantes remained active, including both, the La Mano Blanca, and the former El Consejo Anti-Communistay, which meanwhile specialized in torture and murder of students, professionals, and peasants suspected of involvement in leftist activities. Without surprise, the situation culminated in another military coup: on 23 March, 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers, staged a coup to prevent assumption of power by Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara, the hand-picked candidate of outgoing president, Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia. Gen. Efrain Rios Montt was asked to negotiate the departure of both, Lucas and Guevara.
Montt’s presidency was probably the most violent period in the history of Guatemala, resulting in about 200.000 deaths – mostly of civilians. Summary executions, disappearances, torture and all other kinds of human right violations were on daily schedule of the military, but also of many leftist guerrillas. Very early after Montt’s climb to power, in summer 1982, the Guatemalan Army launched the “search and destroy“ Operation “Victory 82“, against insurgents in El Quiche. FAG A-37Bs and PC-7s were called to provide support time and again, and ended hitting a number of villages in attempt to cut off the insurgents from local peasants. Hundreds of civilians, few rebels and some troops were reportedly killed, and the military was – again – accused of attrocities, especially against ethnic Indios. Like in Malaya or Vietnam before, in order to ascertain safety of the local population, the Guatemalans began moving inhabitants of these into „strategic villages“, controlled by the Army: any movement outside of these was considered hostile.
In early 1983, a follow-up operation, “Strenght 83“, was launched to consolidate results of “Victory 82“. This resulted in rebels being scattered and crossing the border to Mexico in several places – a pattern followed by an ever increasing number of refugees. Barely five months later, on 8 August 1983, Montt was overthrown by right-wing elements and Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores took power. Interestingly, on the same day this coup was staged a major US military exercise in neighbouring Honduras began; and, in both cases FAG A-37Bs and UH-1 helicopters were used by plotters to overfly the capital in show of force.
Under Victores, the Guatemalan military became much more aggressive, even if the new president eventually allowed a managed return to democracy in Guatemala. For its part, the FAG meanwhile began flying strikes against refugee camps – inside Guatemala but also in Mexico – and A-37Bs are known to have wiped out one of these on 22 August 1983, for example. Dragonflies, still based in San Jose, remained the main FAG strike force for the rest of 1980s, even if some six or seven (out of 12 delivered) PC-7s played an ever increasing role. The PC-7s deployed for combat purposes were mainly based at La Aurora; between four and six other examples, based at Los Cipresales, were used for training – alongside four surviving T-33As, based at Base Aérea Del Sur, in Retalhuleu.
|Above and bellow: as originally delivered, most of Guatemalan PC-7s were camouflaged in colours similar to those used in the USAF-style "SEA"-camouflage. By the late 1980s, especially the tan colour was weathered out almost to white. Consequently, some examples (like "219", seen bellow) have had their tan fields overpained with dark green. In other cases the new colour was added in a completely different camouflage pattern over the old one. For combat purposes FAG PC-7s were armed with gun-pods and light rocket launchers (as seen on the example bellow), which could be carried on three harpoints under each wing. (Artworks by Tom Cooper)|
The transport force, concentrated within the Escuadrón de Transporte that flew a mixed fleet of few Douglas C-47 Dakotas and a single C-54, three Fokkeer F.27 Friendships and Aravas, was deployed at La Aurora. Lighter transport duties were undertaken by a single Super King Air 200 (equipped for VIP-transport), a fleet of Cessna 172s and 180s, as well as a helicopter fleet that included a mix of Bell 212s and 412s, Bell UH-1Ds and Bell 206 LongRangers.
Combat losses and attrition decreased the fleet of available aircraft time and again. On 15 January 1985, an A-37B was shot down in the Santiago Vulcano area, and since that time the FAG suspected the guerrillas for operating SA-7s, probably supplied from Nicaragua. In consequence, several “no-fly” zones were declared in the country.
In late 1985, Vinicio Cerezo, a civilian politician and the presidential candidate of the Christian Democracy Party, won the first election held under the new constitution, introduced by Gen. Mejia. Cerezo took office on 14 January 1986, announcing new times in Guatemalan history. Initially, he was exceptionally successful: the economy was stabilized and there was a marked decrease in political violence, while the military became more professional, concentrating on fighting insurgents. However, from 1988, the situation changed again, as the economy was destabilized again and the dissatisfied military personnel launched their first coup attempt against Cerezo. The military leadership supported the constitutional order, and the civilian government remained in power, just like during the next coup attempt, in 1989.
Meanwhile, the air force was suffering from battle-fatigue, its combat fleet decreasing to only a handful of aircraft. Due to the poor situation of the FAG, by 1988, the paras were more frequently deployed and became more effective in battling insurgents, and the Segundo Batallón Paracaidista was organised, again consisting of three companies (No.1 Cobra, No.2 Relampago Tecum, and No.3 Olmeca). The unit was based – together with the Kaibiles special unit – in El Infierno-Poptun, and both Paracaidista battalions were also aeromobile trained. Small detachments of paras and Kaibiles were deployed around the whole country and acted as helicopter-supported intervention forces. The Kaibiles units were active not only against insurgents, but also along the border to Belize, where it was foremost busy tracking British troops.
|In 1971, the FAG received its first eight A-37Bs. After the initial period of training, the No.4 Squadron became operational with the type in the following year. This unit formes the back-bone of Guatemalan combat capability ever since. As delivered, the Guatemalan Dragonflies were camouflaged in the USAF-style "SEA" camouflage, consisting of tan, green and brown over, and light grey under. Four Dragonflies that were used by a FAG acro-jet team in the mid-1970s also had their wing-tip tanks and rudders painted in yellow. The example depicted here, serialled "408", was shot down by guerrilla, in 1985. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
Kaibilas in Offensive
By 1990, the FAG was in a very poor condition, with most of its aircraft in urgent need of overhaul. The non-flyable airframes – including a number of A-37Bs – were put into semi-permanent storage, with only few remaining fully operational. The war went on by the FAR rebels putting the FAG under pressure by a mortar attack on La Aurora, on 16 June 1990. No aircraft were damaged, despite a number of rounds falling within the base perimeter, then not a single round landed inside the hangars where A-37s were parked. Nevertheless, during another attack in the same month a patrol boat on the La Pasion River in El Petén Province was attacked and forced to beach. The vessel was encircled and put under heavy fire, so that a rescue operation had to be launched. During the following night A-37s repeatedly bombed the insurgents, while two companies of Army troops were deployed on the ground. By accident, the two ground units engaged each other in a fierce fire-fight, resulting in 21 soldiers killed and numerous wounded.
In May, the guerrillas opened a new front in Alta Verapaz province: the Guatemalan Army reacted with a counteroffensive, deploying troops supported by tanks and APCs from several other zones. This operation, code-named „Strength For Peace 1991“, saw extensive deployment of FAG A-37s and PC-7s: just as some first results could be observed, however, the FAR units along the Mexican border became active, executing a number of hit-and-run attacks and forcing the military to disperse its units. Meanwhile, in October 1990, another fierce battle occurred in Xecoyeu area, again in El Quihe Province, where a larger insurgent column was detected. An A-37 and a helicopter attacked the area, the Dragonfly also acting as artillery spotter.
On 30 May 1991, four platoons of Kaibilas were deployed by helicopters near the village of El Naranjo. To draw insurgent attention from this action, two FAG A-37s bombed targets nearby. In pursuit of fleeing rebels, the Guatemalans crossed the border and attacked several local villages and refugee settlements. Continuing their attack, on 5 June 1991, the Kaibiles – supported by two helicopters – seized the town of El Porvenir: once again the guerrillas fled over the border with Army troops in hot pursuit. While A-37s and PC-7s cut off the escape routes, a large group of insurgents was caught while attempting to cross the Usmacinta River and annihilated. Clearly, the Mexican government protested, but there were no immediate repercussions for Guatemala. On the contrary, the operation was extended in the following days, resulting in additional attacks by FAG A-37s and Bell 212 helicopters, foremost in the Cuarto Pueblo and Los Angeles areas. Finally, by 18 June, the surviving insurgents were forced to escape towards El Petén.
The Guatemalan success was of very limited reach, then the rebels regrouped elsewhere again. In September 1991, they ambushed an Army column near Guatemala City, injuring 30 troops and destroying two trucks. Only minutes later, another column was ambushed, with two tanks destroyed and ten troops killed or injured. The FAG deployed an A-37B and two helicopters to suppress the enemy and help evacuate casualties, before the guerrilla was finally forced to retreat.
|The "A-436" is one of four FAG A-37Bs that survived into the 1990s, and was meanwhile overpainted in a new camouflage pattern. This aircraft saw not only extensive combat service during the Guatemalan Civil War, but is known to also have scored at least one air-to-air victory against a drug-smuggling aircraft, in early 2003.|
The Final Act
By the time, the FAG still considered eight A-37Bs as its own, but only four of these were airworthy. The PC-7-fleet was reduced to only eight airframes, while out of 13 Aravas (some of them armed) only ten survived, six of which were operational. All FAG combat assets were concentrated within the Agrupación Tactica, based at La Aurora, which concentrated on COIN-operations and air defence security. The base itself was protected by a squadron of armoured cars and locally-built Armadillo APCs, and a single M55A2 battery. Except Aravas, the remaining transport-fleet consisted of six C-47s, three Fokker F.27s, and one DC-6B, but was reinforced by delivery of two Basler T-67s from the USA (C-47s re-engined with turbo-props). All the A-37Bs, PC-7s and transports were operated by Ala Fija (including Quetzal, COIN, and transport squadron).
The helicopter fleet – concentrated within the Ala Rotativa (helicopter squadron) – comprised six Bell 212s, six Bell 412s, nine Bell 206s, and six UH-1D/Hs, but less than 50% of these were in flying condition. Certainly, so many different aircraft and helicopter types could not help improve the situation with spare parts – especially since the government was still not assigning necessary funding: through all of the 1990s, the FAG was reinforced only through acquisition of three Sikorsky S-76 helicopters, armed with MAG-68 machine-guns and unguided rockets manufactured in Argentina. Besides, an UH-1D crashed near Guatemala City, on 1 April 1992, while the sole camouflaged Bell 206L Long Ranger was lost in a crash on 27 November of the same year (the rebels claimed it shot down, but the Guatemalan Army denied this, citing double engine failure as the cause).
Despite decreasing flying fleet, the number of available airfields was increased through construction of new bases, such like General Danilo Eugeniio Henry Sanchez AB, near Peten, in northern Guatemala. Due to the threat of guerrilla raid most of the airfields were heavily protected, mainly by the Agrupación Táctica de Seguridad, a FAG security service consisting of three companies, one armoured squadron and one AAA battery, this airfield had to be protected by Military Zone 23 units. No less but two parachute battalions were based at Gen. Felipe Cruz AB, near San Jose, while the Military Aviation School was meanwhile moved to Retalhuleu, under control of the Military Zone 13-16.
After lengthy and fruitless negotiations between the Guatemalan military and the URNG, in early 1993, the rebels launched a series of attacks in Guatemala City, leaving the capital without electricity and eventually forcing the new – democratically elected – President Elias Serrano to initiate serious talks. During negotiations the insurgents remained active and planted a number of bombs on strategically important installations; nevertheless, the Peace Accord signed in the late 1996, finally ended the war, bringing with it disarmament of no less but 200.000 paramilitary fighters of different fractions, and nearly 3.000 guerrillas. Guatemala is still enjoying no peace or stability ever since, then instead of an open war it is meanwhile suffering from massive corruption as well as most terrible forms of political viollence and violent criminal activity.
Markings, Camouflage & Serials
The FAG and CIA aircraft of the 1950s and 1960s were left in bare metal overall. The F-51Ds had black serials from 24 thru 30, the C-47s from 500 thru 590s, and B-26s from 400 thru 428 (the CIA B-26s and C-47s, of course, wore fake serials, like C-47 „420“). In the 1970s, some markings – like application of the title “FAG“ (for Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca) on the upper side of the starboard wing and the top of fin – were standardized. In addition to the title, usually also the serial of the aircraft is applied on fin. Also, all the US-made helicopters acquired in the 1970s were camouflaged in Dark Green or Dark Blue-Green over and light grey under.
National marking – a five-pointed white star on a blue disc – is usually carried on upper side of port wing, and lower side of starboard wing, while the fin flash is frequently applied as vertical stripes the full width of the rudder. Some transports also carry the full title of the service along the cabin top.
- B-26: two were delivered in overall „Intruder Black“, of which one had a white fin tip and the other a yellow one), two were in bare metal and one (probably the VF-26) in Light Grey overall. 400: B-26C, 44-35863, last seen in Light Grey overall; 404: TB-26B, 44-35620, last seen in Light Grey or bare metal overall; 408: TB-26B, 44-35931, bare metal overall; 412 : B-26C, probably the first loss; 416: TB-26C, 44-22717, probably the second loss; 420: RB-26B, 44-34676, modified as dedicated reconnaissance aircraft before delivery; 424: VB-26B, 43-22707, probably configured as VIP-transport; 428: B-26B, 44-35306, seen in Light Grey overall.
- T-33A: Silver-Grey overall, black serial on the fin: 736
- DC-6B: The only aircraft of this type to have served with FAG was not camouflaged, but painted in the similar way like C-47s „560“ and „580“. This plane wore also no serials, but only the code TG-WOP.
- C-47: Olive/Tan in SEA camouflage pattern over, Light Grey under. White serial on the fin: 555. Two other examples wore no camouflage, but were painted White over, Silver-Grey under and had a blue cheat line along the fuselage. Black serials 560 and 580 were applied on the fin.
- A-37B: Dark Blue-Green/Tan over, Light Grey under. The first eight aircraft that entered service with Escuadrón Caza-Bombardeo, based in San José, included serials 432, 436, 440, and 448. The second batch included 416, 424, and 428. The unit moved to Flores, in the early 1980s.
- PC-7: Dark Green and Tan over (later reinforced by Blue-Green over, while the whole camouflage was lowered), Light Grey under: 219, A-229 (Escuadron de Contrainsurgencia in La Aurora).
- Arava: Dark Green and Tan over, Light Grey under; black serial ont the fin: 864.
- Harrier GR.Mk.1A & GR.Mk.3: Dark green and dark sea grey over, light grey under; black serial on rear fuselage, code in pale blue on fin: XZ998 (No.1 Squadron)
- Puma HC.1: Dark green and dark sea grey over, black under; black serial and code on boom: XW227/DN (No.230 Squadron)
- Gazelle AH.1: Dark green and black overall, black serial on boom: ZA735 (No.25 Flight)
Sources & Bibliography
Parts of this article are based on the feature about the CIA's operation in Guatemala, in 1954, published by Mr. Mario E. Overall on the website of the Latin American Aviation History Society (LAAHS.com).
Other publications used as sources of reference:
- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989 (ISBN: 0-85368-779-X)
- "FOREIGN INVADERS; The Douglas Invader in Foreign Military and US Clandestine Service", by D. Hagedorn & L. Hellström, Midland Publishing Ltd., 1994 (ISBN: 1-85780-013-3)
- "The Almanac of World Military Power" (2nd Edition), by Col. T.N. Dupuy (US Army, ret.) and Col. Wendell Blanchard (US Army, ret.), Arthur Barker Ltd., 1972 (ISBN: 0-213-16418-3)
- "Secret Warriors: The CIA's Liberation Air Force of 1954 in Guatemala", by Mario E. Overall, LAAHS.com website
- "Memories of a Mustang Driver, Part III", by Lt.Col. (USAF ret.) Dell Toedt, edited by Mario E. Overall, LAAHS.com website
- "NORTH AMERICAN F-51 MUSTANG IN LATIN AMERICAN AIR FORCE SERVICE", by J. Dienst & D. Hagerdon, Aerofax, 1985
- "Profile Publications" series, Profile Publications Ltd., Leatherhead, Surrey, from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- Ian Allan "At War", "Postwar Military Aircraft", and "Modern Combat Aircraft" series
- "LATIN-AMERICAN MILITARY AVIATION, by J.M. Andrade, Midland Counties Publications, 1982
- ENCYCLOPEAEDIA OF THE WORLD'S AIR FORCES, by Michael J.H. Taylor, Multimedia Books Ltd., 1988 (ISBN: 1-85260-135-3)
- THE PENGUIN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MODERN WARFARE, by Kenneth Macksey & William Woodhouse, Penguin Group, 1991 (ISBN: 0-670-82698-7)
- WORLD'S AIR FORCES, by John Pacco, JP Publications, 1992 (ISBN: 90-801136-1-1)
- AEROSPACE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD AIR FORCES, edited by David Willis, Aerospace Publishing, 1999 (ISBN: 1-86184-045-4)
© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org
Top of Page
Central and Latin America Database
|Mexican Naval Mil Mi-17s|
|Aztec Rotors - Helicopters of Mexican Air Force|
|Fuerza Aerea Colombiana|
|Forca Aerea Brasileira|
|Drug-Busting Operations Air-to-Air Victories|
|Central & South American Air-to-Air Victories|
|Cuban Air-to-Air Victories|
|Peru vs. Ecuador; Alto-Cenepa War, 1995|
|Venezuelan Coup Attempt, 1992|
|Panama, 1989; Operation "Just Cause" |
|Grenada, 1983: Operation "Urgent Fury"|
|El Salvador, 1980-1992|
|El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969: The 100-Hour War|
|Cuban Crisis, 1962: ORBATs and OPLANs|
|Clandestine US Operations: Cuba, 1961, Bay of Pigs|
|Guatemala since 1954|
|Costa Rican Civil Wars: 1948 & 1955|
|Dominican Republic since 1945|