By Julio A. Montes
In 1996, Israel supplied three 85 foot Dabur patrol boats to Nicaragua. Although this transaction would not normally attract much attention, several factors made it significant. Israel had been closely allied with Anastacio Somoza Debayle, the last of the Somoza Dynasty who had governed Nicaragua. Israel had supplied four Daburs, along with Sherman tanks, T-17 armored cars, M3 half tracks, 10,000 Galil rifles and infantry gear to equip Anastacio Somoza Portocarrero’s Escuela de Entrenamiento Basico de Infanteria (EEBI). The creation of the EEBI divided the National Guard. Most of the old guard continued to dress in green fatigues and carried old M1 Garand rifles. The EEBI sported OR-201 ballistic helmets, uniforms in tiger stripes pattern, Galils and Uzis.
There was a popular uprising between 1977 and 1979. Somoza’s forces had been divided and isolated by mid-1979. In the Southern Front – under the command of Commandant Omar Halleslevens Acevedo – the FSLN guerrillas evolved from fast moving small units tactics, to a war of positions (conventional warfare). The actions in the Southern Front disrupted the National Guard support network of the interior garrisons. Anastacio Somoza Debayle fled with his family in July 1979, due to international pressure.
The following revolutionary (“Sandinista”) government was closely allied with Cuba, and by proxy, hostile to Israel. Free presidential elections in 1990 defeated the Sandinista government, and brought about democratic changes. In 1995, the country’s territorial, air and naval forces transformed from the Sandinista Popular Army into the Nicaraguan National Army.
THE FLEET’S JAWS
Upon my arrival to the Naval Headquarters along with my liaison Captain Manuel Tellez Castro, naval officers proudly showed us a torpedo in one of the classrooms, the only such weapon in the region. The model inspected is used for training and history classes only. The service has always operated in traditional Coast Guard tasks, but the torpedoes were acquired between 1984 and 1988 as weapons of last resort against superior forces.
The largest unit ever operated by the Nicaraguan Navy was the Tuyacan. This was a 120 foot transport type craft confiscated from Somoza’s holdings. The Tuyacan sported a twin 37mm/63 V-11M mount. Each gun had a rate of fire of 160 rpm, with an effective range of 2500 meters. Other armament consisted of a twin 14.5mm-gun mount at the bow, a rocket launcher system and several heavy machine guns.
The Sandinista War Navy was established in February 1980, and is comprised of four Dabur (pennants 220 & 222 in the Pacific, and 231 & 235 in the Atlantic), the surviving units of 10 Hatteras (P-20 to P-29), two LCM-8s, and several yachts confiscated from Somoza’s holdings, including the Tuyacan. The Daburs are equipped with four 12.7mm Brownings, while the Hatteras are equipped with either a forward 12.7mm M3 Browning or 7.62mm VZ-37 machine guns. Of the original four Dabur, two served until 1996, when three additional Daburs arrived from Israel.
Due to the emergency caused by the mining of the Nicaraguan Ports in 1984, the Navy acquired four Yevgenya Type 1258 minesweepers (pennants 507-510). They had a 2M-3M turret with two 25mm guns. The 25mm guns have a range of 2 nautical miles.
The 14.5mm KPV is a powerful machine gun/cannon using a gas operated system, assisted by a short recoil. A metal link belt feeds the gun, and it is a very effective ground and air support weapon. The 79 foot Grif (or Zhuk type 1400) class boats sport two Utës-M turrets. Each turret holds a pair of 14.5mm KPV guns side by side. Nicaragua received 10 of these aluminum-hulled craft between 1982 and 1989.
A pair of similar turrets is mounted – one at the bow and one at the stern – on the Sin-Hung and Kimjin class torpedo boats. The Sandinista War Navy received 12 Sin-Hungs (pennants 404-414) and 2 Kimjins (306 & 308) between 1984 and 1988. These aluminum-hulled craft are powered by two diesel engines for a maximum speed of some 40 knots. The torpedo tubes were removed upon arrival to Nicaragua, but the 14.5mm guns were retained.
The Nicaraguans placed some of their 14.5mm KPV in the “over & under” 2M-7 naval mount. The 2M-7 mount equipped the six K-8 type 1261 minesweepers received by Nicaragua in 1981. The 26-ton full-load K-8s were powered by two diesel engines.
CG302 also received a 2M-7 mount at the bow. GC300 and GC302 were 93 foot Vedette class boats received from France in 1983. GC300 was equipped with a simple twin 12.7mm machine gun mount at the bow. Both units were modified to receive a ZPU-23 system at the stern. The ZPU-23 is equipped with two 23mm guns. The system has a triangular shape and carries a tachometer sight for fair weather aiming and tracking.
Naval S-3 Commander Manuel Mora Ortiz was reserved in his information regarding the present status of the fleet. He only indicated that two Sin-Hung class boats are in service. These two are either in the process, or just went through the process, of receiving new engines.
I had been allowed to inspect six Sin-Hung class boats at the Pacific Naval Base sometime earlier. Major Julio Eduardo Medina Zepeda and Lt. Tomas Aleman showed me the Sin-Hung turrets in detail. If the relations between the Salvadoran Naval Force and the Nicaraguan counterpart improve, the Salvadoran Navy would be wise to adopt similar turrets, with either 14.5mm or 20mm guns, for its cutters.
In addition to the weapons, several hulls caught my attention. Unit 414 and unit 302 appear to have been damaged in ramming incidents. Nevertheless, Unit 414 appears to be in operational status. Many hulls are in rusting and decrepit conditions, but the Sin-Hungs appeared to be abandoned due to the lack of spare parts for their North Korean Diesel engines. This author believes that many of them are repairable if the Nicaraguans could make use of the Synchrolift at the Salvadoran Naval Base of La Union. The need is for a complete overhaul, new diesel engines, and electronic gear.
In addition to the two Sin-Hungs in the Pacific coast, the service operates today the three Dabur class patrol boats delivered in 1996. GC201, GC203, and GC205 patrol the Atlantic coast. These have been equipped with a twin 14.5mm ZPU-2 mount at bow and a ZPU-23 mount at stern. A pair of 12.7mm machine guns have been placed around the bridge.
The Nicaraguan Army is now under the command of Army General Javier Alonso Carrion McDonough. General Carrion McDonough and Navy Captain Juan Santiago Estrada Garcia share the goal to modernize the naval service, and both have emphasized the need for new Coast Guard cutters. There are only three cutters operating in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific, insufficient for the tasks and missions at hand.
Under Captain Estrada Garcia, the Naval Force has started a recovery program that allows older and captured units to receive standard equipment, including new controls, electric systems and diesel engines. Unfortunately, there is no separate money allocated for such activity. This is accomplished by reducing the number of patrols and operations in order to save money from the budget; therefore, the most complex and expensive radar, GPS and electronic gear are not provided.
The results have been tremendous, and we can report that the main suppliers of naval patrol means are the same drug traffickers. The Naval Force has captured and incorporated into service 54 “Eduardoño” and 5 “Courage” class boats. The Eduardoños are GRP hulls built in Colombia. They come in two sizes. The most common is a 34 foot launch equipped with central controls, and two Yamaha outboards, developing 400 hp each, for a speed of 35 knots. Once in government hands, these vessels are overhauled and equipped with new electric systems, standard controls, and camouflaged paint. In addition they receive new diesel engines standard to the rest of the flotilla. A 12.7mm DShKM gas operated heavy machine gun is mounted forward, and two 7.62mm PKs are mounted at each side of the helm. The PK fires the 7.62mm x 54R Soviet round; it is a gas operating, rotating bolt, selective fire general-purpose MG.
There are five “Courage” units of the cigarette configuration in operations, with two more in various stages of “modernization,” and at least two more in use by the National Police. These units sport GRP hulls, equipped with diesel engines that allow speeds up to 50 knots.
This data shows two facts: the Navy has become more effective in interdiction and capture of drug traffickers, and the drug activity has increased substantially. In 1998, the government had captured only 8 launches for drug contraband. During the same period it captured 49 illegal fishing boats. The total amount of cocaine confiscated during that period was 1255 kgs, with 33 suspects arrested. There had been 136 missions, patrolling 12,639 nautical miles. The service had consumed 34,343 gallons of fuel. There were 17 cases of piracy reported, and it was calculated that $7 million had been lost during the year to piracy, with another $150 million lost to illegal fishing. Clearly the main attention of the service was on illegal fishing.
Without a doubt, Hurricane Mitch (Oct./Nov 1998) drained the already scarce resources of the Navy. Mitch left 867,752 victims, with 2863 dead, and 938 missing. There were 31,700 houses destroyed and another 145,700 damaged.
Two years later, the Naval Force had confiscated 5914 kgs of cocaine, and 1200 kgs of marihuana. The Navy patrolled 22,000 nautical miles, making 60 detentions for illegal fishing, and 20,584 boarding and surveillance missions. Search and Rescue travel had also increased to 9050 nautical miles during the year, resulting in the rescue of 226 victims from 22 sinking boats. There had been 13 piracy cases reported along Cabo Gracias a Dios, Cayos Miskitos, to the North of Bluefields and Northeast of Puerto Cabezas.
There is considerable interest in improving relations with the Salvadoran Navy (FNS) due to the constant headaches caused by the Hondurans in their efforts to gain complete control of the Fonseca Gulf, and to dominate the Caribbean coast. The FNS and the Nicaraguan Navy already count with very cordial and periodic exchanges. The Salvadorans are natural allies, since Honduras claims additional chunks of territory from both Nicaragua and El Salvador.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N3 (December 2001)