Obscure Military History: Tank Warfare in the Dominican Republic, 1965


Tanks have rarely been used in battle in the Western Hemisphere — and fights between tanks are even rarer.

But the Dominican Republic in 1965 was one of the exceptions, when Constitutionalist rebels fought the armored vehicles of invading U.S. Marines in the streets of the capital city, Santo Domingo.

Stranger yet, the Dominicans were using Swedish tanks.

What were the Marines — and later the 82nd Airborne Division and the Brazilian army — doing in the Dominican Republic?

Taking sides in a civil war.

The United States had a long history of intervening in the Dominican Republic, even occupying it from 1916 to 1924 and running the customs agency there for its own profit. But after a U.S.-trained National Guardsmen, Trujillo, bullied his way to power with “99 percent of the vote” in the 1930 elections and proceeded to rule as a sociopathic dictator, the United States largely left the nation alone.

Trujillo went on to rename the capital city after himself, established seven mutually hostile spy agencies, murdered nearly 50,000 Dominicans with his secret police and built up the armed forces substantially to the tune of 21 percent of national GDP.

Trujillo spent the money on an air force of 240 planes and a navy with 11 warships—which he intended to menace the Dominican Republic’s traditional rival on the other side of Hispaniola island, Haiti.

He capped it off with an assassination attempt on the president of Venezuela, who had authored a critical human rights report.

Trujillo’s murderous habits ultimately backfired when he was assassinated in 1961 — but what followed was coup after coup, as one military-backed individual was over thrown by another.

The sole exception was Juan Bosch, a center-left intellectual elected in December 1962 with a liberal agenda of promoting political freedom and social reform — and fatally, cutting military spending. The military overthrew Bosch after just seven months in office.

Starting in April 24, 1965 a pro-Bosch coup with support from a faction of younger officers in the army led by one Col. Francisco Caamaño, overthrew the widely unpopular strongman currently in power, Reid Cabral. At first, the old guard of the military, under the leadership of air force general Elias Wessin y Wessin, remained neutral.

Read the Remainder at War is Boring


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