The Ambassador in Peru (Dearing) to the Secretary of State
[Received September 8.]
Sir: I have the honor to report to the Department how an American moving picture exerted a marked effect on the accepted manner for conducting military operations in Peru. During the latter part of [Page 958]May an American moving picture entitled “Hell Divers” was exhibited in Peru for the first time. This picture shows excellent views of American naval aviators dropping bombs on stationary targets. As is customary with first nights of new films in Lima, the exhibitors endeavored to make the first showing of [“]Hell Divers[”] a gala occasion. The chief of the American Naval Mission to Peru had seen this picture and realized its value in promoting interest in American aviation by having the chief military authorities attend the opening. The President, accompanied by his advisers and the ranking military and naval authorities of Peru attended. All aviators on active service were likewise invited and the audience was composed exclusively of Peruvian officials. The President is stated to have been very much impressed by the amazing accuracy of the naval bombers and the Peruvian military people were likewise highly interested in the showing.
Two weeks later the Trujillo revolution broke out. Ordinarily the revolutionists would have been given time to consolidate themselves while waiting for the Peruvian Army to get in position to attack. In this case, however, the President had his military advisers immediately mobilize all available military and naval planes, six in number, and based them on a town near Trujillo. The planes were equipped with all the available bombs in Peru. It appears evident that the influence of the bombing moving picture caused this rapid employment of the Peruvian bombing planes.
The day after the revolutionists captured Trujillo, they were bombed from the air and thrown into indescribable confusion. The aviators dropped twenty-six 25-lb. bombs and, while they were dropped without regard for any particular target and indeed inflicted damage to the life and property of the noncombatants, the military effect was decisive. The rebels abandoned the city, after massacring all of their principal prisoners. It is stated that the rebels were so infuriated by the bombing that they took revenge on these defenseless hostages, but at the same time they were so frightened that their will to resist was broken. Thereafter the revolution was a chase through the mountains with the planes dropping bombs here and there in the vicinity of the retiring forces and adding to their demoralization.
The moral effect of a sudden attack from the skies on the ignorant Indians, who compose the majority of the Peruvian Army, is impressive and overwhelming. The stories of the damage caused by these air bombs, none of which hit anywhere near their respective targets, are greatly exaggerated and current throughout Peru.
After the bombing of Trujillo, the Government feverishly endeavored [Page 959]to obtain a further supply of aerial bombs. A telegraphic request was made through the Peruvian Ambassador in Washington for a supply of American bombs from Colón. This request was denied in view of the War Department’s statement that it could not spare the bombs. Arrangements were made to obtain this supply at once from an American company furnishing such material. The total supply in Peru was used at once in the Trujillo operation and, pending arrival of a further supply, bombs were made locally by placing dynamite in shell cases equipped with artillery detonators and fitted with homemade tin vanes.
Flying conditions in Peru are excellent and the terrain is almost entirely bare of vegetation in all regions likely to be the theatre of military operations. Bombing planes can thus seek out opposition forces and either physically disable them or exert such moral effect on the Indians as to render them helpless. The Government is jubilant over the success of the air bombing and feels it is in a much stronger position to quell armed opposition than before.
It would seem that this development in Peruvian aerial offense indicates its adoption throughout Latin America and is of the highest importance. Whereas formerly groups of insurgents could maintain themselves indefinitely in regions remote from highways or railroad, now they can be sought out and destroyed in a few hours. Another feature of prime concern to Latin American governments is the fact that a few planes with a few dozen aerial bombs are more efficient in offensive operation than several thousand soldiers. It is not unlikely that the aviation arm will in the future be the most important one in Latin American Armies, and that in some of the more backward countries a few aviators will take the place of groups of semi-independent Army officers in dictating to the Government.