National Guard (Nicaragua)

National Guard (Nicaragua)

In Nicaragua, the National Guard (Spanish: Guardia Nacional, otherwise known as Guardia) was a militia and a gendarmerie created during the occupation of that country by the United States from 1909 to 1933. It became notorious for human rights abuses and corruption under the regime of the Somoza family.



Prior to the U.S. occupation, the long period of civil strife had encouraged the development of a variety of private armies. The freshly elected government of President Carlos José Solórzano requested that the U.S. Marines (equally interested in central control) remain in Nicaragua until an indigenous security force could be trained; the Nicaraguan government hired a retired US General to set up the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua. US forces left in 1925, but after a brief resurgence of violence, returned in 1926, taking over command of the National Guard until 1933, when it was returned to Nicaraguan control under the government of Juan Bautista Sacasa.

Sacasa, under political pressure from José María Moncada, who had been a leader of a rebel faction which later joined the government after U.S. mediation efforts, appointed Anastasio Somoza García as chief director of the National Guard. Somoza Garcia was trusted as a friend of Moncada, a supporter of the liberal revolt, and a nephew of Sacasa. He was trusted by the U.S. from his service as a translator to Henry Stimson during the 1927 peace conference, schooling in the U.S., and training under the U.S. Marines (apparently, as an officer in the National Guard).

After the departure of U.S. troops in 1933 (at the depth of the Great Depression), the Sacasa government opened negotiations with the rebel faction of Augusto César Sandino. Sandino insisted on the dissolution of the National Guard, leading Somoza Garcia to react ruthlessly by arresting and executing Sandino, in violation of a safe passage agreement Sacasa had given the rebel leader. The National Guard then swiftly defeated Sandino's forces, further weakening the Sacasa government. By this time the force had grown to some 3000 troops.

After using the influence of the National Guard to support Sacasa's re-election in 1936, Somoza Garcia flouted civilian power, installing military cronies in key civilian posts and forcing Sacasa to resign that June. With an ally appointed interim president, Somoza Garcia then resigned from the National Guard position of chief director in order to meet constitutional requirements to run for the presidency himself. Breaking with the party, he established the Partido Liberal Nacionalista (PLN, National Liberal Party) and won the election with a remarkable 107,201 votes to 108. On January 1, 1937, President Somoza Garcia reappointed himself chief director of the National Guard, beginning a military dictatorship that would last four decades.

Somoza regime

Somoza Garcia rapidly took complete control of Nicaraguan institutions including the National Guard, promoting allies and purging enemies. The National Guard was the backbone of a growing network of control, eventually including telecommunications, railroads, and key civilian agencies from customs to hospitals to tax collection. In 1938, Somoza Garcia appointed a civilian assembly that rubber-stamped constitutional changes allowing him to stay in office; his personal fortune expanded as he and his family took over key areas of the private economy. Increasingly pervasive corruption comparable to a gangland mob, with bribery, kickbacks, and sometimes violent enforcement, protected the power of the Somoza family at all levels. The U.S. supported the National Guard through the World War II Lend-Lease act and under the terms of the Rio Treaty, but did not publicly approve of Somoza Garcia's extraconstitutional governance. The National Guard, which had been limited to small arms and was largely composed of rifle companies, began to acquire surplus equipment such as tanks and artillery.

The regime permitted nominal political dissent, and, in 1947, agreed to elections, hoping to mollify both United States and local opponents, but quickly deposed the winning candidate in a coup d'etat that brought strong disapproval from the United States. Under a new constitution, an assembly-appointed president, and a strong anti-communist stance relations improved. Nevertheless Somoza Garcia was the power behind the curtain and an increasing target of attempted coups and assassination; he even developed a personal bodyguard separate from the National Guard. In 1956, Somoza Garcia was fatally shot by a young dissident poet.

Succeeded in the presidency by one son, Luis Somoza Debayle, he was succeeded as head of the National Guard by another, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Brutal repression of political opposition followed. In 1957, the National Guard was involved in the only external military action of its existence, a brief border skirmish with Honduras. The National Guard cooperated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the preparation for the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, permitting its bases to be used for training and staging areas. In 1965, the National Guard participated in a peacekeeping operation in the Dominican Republic under the aegis of the OAS.

Even as trusted friends of the family succeeded Luis in the presidency, his brother remained firmly in control of the National Guard. Eventually, in 1967, Anastasio himself was elected president; Luis soon died of a heart attack, leaving Anastasio in sole control. Without his brother's technocratic influence, Anastasio's corrupt ways were unrestrained. The 1972 earthquake, which severely damaged the capital of Managua, brought further evidence of corruption, as members of the National Guard openly looted damaged businesses and misappropriated international aid, and Somoza Debayle's personal wealth soared during the reconstruction period. In 1974, the growing Sandinista movement FSLN (named after the assassinated Sandino) succeeded in forcing the government to accept an amnesty, after which Somoza Debayle declared a state of siege and the National Guard launched a violent and repressive reaction. Though the FSLN was weakened, so was the regime.


Direct U.S. military aid ended in 1978, although the U.S. still attempted to pursue a policy of "Somocismo sin Somoza," effectively allowing the power structure of the National Guard to prevent a Sandinista victory while removing the increasingly unpopular Somoza from power. The Carter Administration sent Somoza a congratulatory note from Carter after his disputed victory in the 1978 elections.[citation needed]

After the assassination of opposition leader among the business elites Pedro Chamorro in January 1978, the Nicaraguan public reacted with a series of nationwide strikes and increasing political unrest against the regime. The National Guard was re-organized and expanded, growing to a force of more than 10,000, with localized security companies dispersed throughout the country and modern specialized units such as mechanized and engineer battalions, a Presidential Guard, and a reinforced tactical battalion. The strengthened National Guard continued to tighten its grip but opposition only grew broader and fiercer. A humiliating hostage crisis ensued in August 1978 when Sandinista rebels led by "Comandante Cero (Commander Zero)" future Contra leader Eden Pastora took over the National Assembly. This hostage crisis was the second major action launched by the Sandinistas.[citation needed]

By March 1979, the Somoza regime faced an open civil war as well as being cut off from all aid by the United States, including blocking of a shipment of weapons and ammunition coming from Israel. With ammunition, spare parts, fuel, and medical supplies running dangerously low the increasingly hard-pressed National Guard could no longer sustain a prolonged fight against the rebels. Already plagued by shaky morale, and weakened by casualties and desertions after seven weeks of battle, GN units were gradually forced to fall back to Managua.

At this point, on 17 July 1979 Somoza Debayle resigned from office and fled the country by plane to Miami, FL., followed suit by almost all the senior military officers of the GN General Staff. Somoza’s successor as head of state, interim President Francisco Urcuyo Maliaños opened negotiations for a cease-fire but at the same time tried to strengthen his political position by filling with younger colonels and lieutenants colonels the depleted National Guard´s General Staff, now headed by the new Chief Director Lt. Col. (later General) Federico Mejía González. The 12,000 Guardsmen under his command, now besieged in the government quarter of Tiscapa hill at Managua and Managua International Airport, and at the remaining holdouts throughout the country were exhorted to continue the fight. After negotiations with the Sandinistas broke down due to his refusal to resign on 18 July, President Urcuyo fled to Guatemala, leaving in charge GN Chief Director General Mejía who tried unsuccessfully to pursue conversations for the cease-fire. Faced with the rejection by the Sandinistas of his list of demands – which included retention of all property belonging to individual officers – in exchange for a surrender, on the dawn of 19 July 1979, General Mejía and most of the high-ranking officers of the General Staff left Nicaragua by plane, leaving their men leaderless.

Early in the morning of that same day as 5,000 Sandinista guerrillas and 10,000 assorted "people's militia" took control of Managua's city center and called for a cease-fire, the last senior commander of the National Guard, Lt. Col. Fulgencio Largaespada Baez finally bowed to the inevitable and ordered his demoralised and exhausted soldiers to lay down their arms. Upon the conclusion of the civil war, 7,500 Guardsmen were taken prisoner – with many former Guards suspected of violating human rights being held in detention by the Sandinistas –, while another 4,500 officers and enlisted men fled to neighbouring Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala to organize an armed opposition force to the new Nicaraguan government, which would later become known as the Contras.[citation needed]

The Sandinista junta replaced the disbanded Guardia Nacional with two new forces, the Ejército Popular Sandinista (EPS, Sandinista Popular Army) and the Policía Sandinista (Sandinista Police). Eventually, alumni of the National Guard would be reconstituted, with the support of the CIA and Honduras, as the Contra rebels.[citation needed]

List of Chief Directors

Uniforms and insignia

Standard uniform for all ranks since the late 1920s was the US Army tropical ‘Chino’ khaki cotton shirt and pants, worn with the US M1912 Campaign Hat (aka ‘Montana Peak Hat’) in Olive Drab felt with the triangular Nicaraguan national cap badge. Officers and sometimes NCOs wore in the field breeches and riding boots or the US M1931 cavalry laced boots whereas the other ranks’ had their trousers trucked into US-type canvas (or leather) gaiters and ankle boots. A four-pocket, open-collar beltless tunic modelled after the US M1926 pattern was adopted by Guardia Officers' and worn with a khaki shirt and tie, replaced by a white shirt and black tie on formal occasions; in active and formal service, a brown leather Sam Browne belt (US Officer’s belt, M1921) was frequently worn with the tunic. A tropical white linen dress uniform very similar to the US Navy’s Service Dress White or "chokers", was adopted by the Guardia and naval service officers and Military Academy cadets. Comprising a high-collar tunic, slacks and white shoes plus a matching peaked cap, the tunic was worn with removable exaggerated twisted cord epaulettes on formal occasions whilst enlisted ranks wore exaggerated black bluff chevrons instead. Starting in the mid-1930s, Guardia officers began being issued with the M1937 or M1942 American peaked caps, in either light tropical khaki and Olive Drab wool cloth, which slowly began to replace the campaign hat in service dress. The khaki US M1934 sidecap (AKA 'garrison cap') was also supplied to GN personnel during the 1930-40s.

Guardia uniforms underwent some changes in the 1950s and 60s, with officers adopting the US M1942 light khaki service dress, comprising tunic, slacks and a matching peaked cap with brown-japanned chinstrap and peak, or black dress cap with gold chinstrap, black peak with gold leaf embroidery for field and general ranks (the GN Chief Director had additional French-style embroidery on the cap band), and silver triangular national cap badge. For formal occasions, senior officers adopted a black ceremonial version of their M1942 service dress with gold embroidered insignia whilst the other ranks’ retained the old khaki ‘Chino’ uniform as barrack dress or for walking-out, usually worn with the khaki sidecap. The ‘Sam Browne’ belt was discontinued, and brown (black for the other GN branches) leather shoes replaced the earlier breeches and riding boots.

Nicaraguan Air Force (FAGN) officers received a royal blue US Air Force-style M1947 service dress, worn with a light blue shirt and royal blue tie on formal occasions; a short-sleeved shirt and matching royal blue sidecap was worn by officers and other ranks in active service. The Nicaraguan Navy retained both the white dress and khaki uniforms, with officers’ adopting a modified version of the M1942 tunic with removable shoulder boards, which was worn with a light khaki shirt and black tie on service dress.

Nicaraguan National Police (PNGN) officers’ continued to wear as service dress the ‘Chino’ khaki shirt (in long or short sleeve versions) and trousers with shoes or combat boots, whereas female constables were given a khaki short-sleeved shirt and assorted knee-length skirt worn with a flat-top, short snapped-brimmed white hat. Their male counterparts retained the ‘Montana Peak’ Hat as standard headgear, though the latter also began to be replaced by a light khaki M1954-type Visor Cap; Police officers on traffic control duties were given a white-topped version. It never superseded interely the earlier headgear however, for photos taken in Managua at the time of the 1972 earthquake do show local policemen going on patrol still wearing the old ‘Montana’ Hat. While on patrol duties, the M1912 black leather Sam Browne belt with pistol holster and assorted magazine pouches (US GUU-1/P model), handcuff pouch and M1944 baton in its respective carrier was worn.

Around the late 1960s Guardia units began to receive surplus American olive green tropical uniforms, the US Army OG-107 coton sateen utilities and the M1967 Jungle Utility Uniform. Elite formations within the GN received camouflage versions of these same uniforms, first in “Duck Hunter” pattern, soon followed by “Tigerstripe” (ERDL Thai Tadpole type) and “Highland” (ERDL 1948 Leaf pattern, aka “Woodland pattern”). National Police BECAT teams had their own distinct “Tan leaf” pattern, which consisted of puzzle leaf-shapes in medium brown, light brown, and sandy-grey on a tan background.[1][2] Standard headgear for all-ranks in the Guardia was either the US Army M1943 'Walker cap' or the tropical OG-106 Baseball cap, partially replaced on the field by US Army ‘Boonie hats’ or US Marines’ utility caps in both olive green and ERDL camouflage versions. Specialized units authorized berets wore them pulled to the right, American-fashion, with both US and Israeli patterns being used.[citation needed]

Black leather combat boots were also provided by the Americans who issued both the early US Army M-1962 ‘McNamara’ model and the M-1967 model with ‘ripple’ pattern rubbler sole; the US Army Jungle boot of Vietnam War fame does not appear to have been much favoured by Nicaraguan soldiers and Police officers alike, who preferred to wear the black leather ones even while operating in tropical jungle or marshy ground environments.

Helmets and web gear

The combat helmets worn by the Guardia and Nacional Police were the US steel M-1 issued with a ‘Mitchell pattern’ camouflage cover and the Israeli-made Orlite OR-201 ballistic helmet,[3] which began to replace the earlier M-1 in 1977. Period photos however, do show GN soldiers within the same units wearing side-by-side both US and Israeli types, often worn plain without camo covers.[citation needed] Armoured crews, depending on the vehicle they manned, received either the old World War II US M1938 ‘Gruyére’ composite fiber-and-leather crash helmet or the Vietnam-era fibreglass ‘bone dome’ CVC helmet though neither models offered any satisfactory protection against Shrapnel or small arms rounds. Guardia’s military and Nacional Police personnel were also issued with flak jackets, either the Ballistic Nylon US M-1952 and M-1952/69 ‘Half-collar’ versions or the Israeli-produced Kevlar Rabintex Ltd. Type III RAV 200 Protective Vest (SHAHPATS).[citation needed]

Web gear was supplied by the Americans, who provided to the early Guardia infantry companies the khaki web M-1910 infantry equipment in all of its versions (M-1917/18 and later World War II/ Korean War patterns). With the full introduction of semi-automatic and automatic small-arms, however, the GN and Police adopted both the US Army M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LBE) in khaki cotton canvas and the M-1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE) in OG nylon; some photos do show that the All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE), an upgrade of the latter, was also given to some Guardia troops in 1978-79. Usually, personnel armed with M-1s and M16s tended to be issued with American web gear whereas those soldiers or policemen issued Galils or UZI SMGs received the IDF green nylon EPHOD Combat Vest instead.[citation needed]

Rank insignia

The Nicaraguan National Guard rank chart was directly inspired by the US Army, with chevrons pointed upwards for NCOs, horizontal linked brass bars for company officers and vertically placed gilded or silvered stars for field officers. The sequence however was slightly different, with Sergeants’ ranks being limited to two only; Captains were identified by three bars instead of two as per in the US Armed Services, whilst Majors had a five-point gilded star in lieu of a leaf. Interestingly, National Guard rank insignia, from Subteniente to Coronel, resembled a US antecedent—but that of the Confederate States Army.[4] There were also some differences in colour and nomenclature according to the branches of service: Ground Forces’ NCOs had yellow on dark-green chevrons, the Air Force personnel wore white on royal blue ground forces’ rank insignia whilst the Navy’s Seamen and Petty Officers’ ranks were identical to the other branches of the Guardia, but Line Officers had US Navy-style rank insignia on removable navy blue shoulder boards instead.

Guardia ranks (Ground Forces and National Police)

  • SoldadoPrivate (no insignia)
  • Soldado de primera – Private 1st class (one pointed chevron)
  • CaboCorporal (two pointed chevrons)
  • Sargento SegundoSergeant (three pointed chevrons)
  • Sargento PrimeroStaff Sergeant (three pointed chevrons above one arc)
  • Subteniente – 2nd Lieutenant (one bar)
  • Teniente – 1st Lieutenant (two bars)
  • CapitánCaptain (three bars)
  • MayorMajor (one five-pointed star)
  • Teniente-Coronel – Lieutenant-Colonel (two five-pointed stars)
  • CoronelColonel (three five-pointed stars)
  • General de Brigada – Brigadier-General (four five-pointed stars)
  • General de División (Director-Jefe de la Guardia Nacional)General/National Guard Chief Director (five silvered five-pointed stars)

Air Force ranks

  • SoldadoAirman basic (no insignia)
  • Soldado de primeraAirman (one pointed chevron)
  • Cabo – Airman 1st class (two pointed chevrons)
  • Sargento SegundoStaff Sergeant (three pointed chevrons)
  • Sargento PrimeroMaster Sergeant (three pointed chevrons above one arc)
  • Subteniente Piloto Aviador – Flight 2nd Lieutenant (one bar)
  • Teniente Piloto AviadorFlight Lieutenant (two bars)
  • Capitán Piloto Aviador – Flight Captain/Squadron Leader (three bars)
  • Mayor Piloto Aviador – Flight Major/Wing Commander (one five-pointed star)
  • Teniente-Coronel Piloto Aviador – Flight Lieutenant-Colonel/Group Captain (two five-pointed stars)
  • Coronel Piloto Aviador – Flight Colonel/Air Commodore (three five-pointed stars)

Navy ranks

  • SoldadoSeaman (no insignia)
  • Soldado de primeraAble seaman (one pointed chevron)
  • Cabo – Seaman 1st class (two pointed chevrons)
  • Sargento Segundo – Petty Officer 2nd class (three pointed chevrons)
  • Sargento PrimeroChief Petty Officer (three pointed chevrons above one arc)
  • AlférezEnsign (one five-pointed star above one narrow bar)
  • Teniente de Corbeta – Lieutenant junior grade (one five-pointed star above one bar)
  • Teniente de Fragata – Senior Lieutenant (one five-pointed star above one narrow and one wider bars)
  • Teniente de Navío – Lieutenant (one five-pointed star above two bars)
  • Capitán de CorbetaLieutenant Commander (one five-pointed star above one narrow between two wider bars)
  • Capitán de FragataCommander (one five-pointed star above three bars)
  • Capitán de NavíoCaptain (one five-pointed star above four bars)
  • Contra AlmiranteCommodore (one five-pointed star above one very wide bar)

Branch insignia

Branch insignia followed more closely the American practice. The ground forces officers’ service dress tunic had the triangular national cap badge on the collar and US-style brass lapel insignia: crossed rifles – infantry; crossed cavalry sabres – armour; crossed cannons – artillery; castle – engineers and signals, whilst pilot-qualified officers of the Air Force had the winged propeller badge on the lapels. On the olive green or camouflage combat uniforms, officers’ wore cloth subdued or black metal pin-on rank insignia on the right collar, branch insignia on the left, and NCOs’ yellow chevrons on an olive green background. A subdued name-tape was worn over the right breast pocket, the ‘Guardia’ national title on the left, and full-colour or subdued unit patches and shoulder titles on both sleeves. For parade in field dress branch-colour neck scarfs were worn, being light blue for infantry and EEBI ‘Commandos’, black for armour, red for artillery, yellow for engineers and signals, and apple green for the GN General Staff.

Weapons and equipment

Throughout its existence, the Nicaraguan National Guard received military assistance mainly from the United States, who provided since the late 1920s everything that the Guardia used, from uniforms and boots to rifles, artillery and vehicles. However, starting in the early 1950s, the Somozas made consistent efforts to diversify their sources of military hardware and supplies in a hope to reduce their dependence from the US. The majority of its weaponry until the mid-1970s consisted of US-made surplus ‘hand-me-downs’ from both world wars, Korea and Vietnam, partially supplemented by more modern equipment either donated or sold by Israel, Spain, Argentina and South Africa, particularly after US aid was cut in 1978. Other countries like Italy, Germany, Portugal, Paraguay, Sweden, and the Philippines were also involved in providing some form of covert aid or acted as brokers in secret arms deals.


The standard issue weapon of the Guardia Nacional (GN) infantry companies at the early 1930s was the ‘Springfield’ US M1903 .30-06 (7.62 x 63mm) bolt-action rifle. The squad weapon was the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) M1919A2 US .30-06 (7.62 x 63mm) light machine-gun – the GN also appears to have received the American-made version of the famed World War I British-made Lewis gun .303 (7.7mm), the Savage Model 1917 LMG chambered for the US .30-06 (7.62 x 63mm) cartridge –, with officers and NCOs receiving the Thompson M1928A1 US .45 caliber (11.4mm) sub-machinegun, as well as the Colt M1911 .45 caliber (11.4mm) automatic pistol as personal sidearm. In the 1940s-50s the GN received surplus American infantry weapons of World War II/Korean War-vintage – M1/M2 US .30 carbines (7.62 x 33mm) and M1 ‘Garand’ US .30-06 (7.62 x 63mm) semi-automatic rifles replaced the earlier bolt-action ‘Springfields’, with Thompson M1A1 and M3 Grease Gun sub-machinegun models in US .45 caliber (11.4mm) the older Thompson M1928A1 model. Although the popular Colt pistol was retained, Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolvers in .38 Special were also adopted. Heavy machine guns, in the form of Browning M1919A4 US .30-06 (7.62 x 63mm) and the larger M2HB .50 Browning (12.7 x 99mm) were added to the Guardia's arsenal.

Assault rifles began to be adopted towards the end of the 1960s, though they never displaced entirely the earlier weaponry, such as the ‘Garand’ rifle which remained the weapon of choice for soldiers serving in the Guardia’s infamous firing squads and the security companies, who employed it to disperse demonstrations.[citation needed] Nevertheless, by 1978-79 most GN infantry formations had either the Belgian FN FAL 7.62 x 51mm NATO or US M16A1 5.56 x 45mm assault rifles, with elite units receiving the Israeli-made Galil SAR and ARM variants in 7.62 x 51mm which was adopted in the mid-1970s.[5] At squad level, the Belgium-made FN MAG 58 and US M60 light machine guns both in 7.62 x 51mm NATO, replaced the obsolete BAR and Savage models though the heavier Brownings’ were retained as platoon and company’ machine guns. The Israeli 9mm UZI sub-machinegun was also given to armoured crews, Police BECAT teams and EEBI “Commando” troops, who were also issued the US M40A1 Sniper rifle 7.62 x 51mm (militarised version of the civilian Remington 700) and the Ithaca Model 37 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.

Handgrenades were supplied by the Americans, who provided M-59 ‘baseball’ Grenades, M-26A1 Fragmentation Grenades, M-34 White Phosphorus and M-18 Colored Smoke Grenades. The Nicaraguan infantryman was also provided with two types of portable rocket weapons, the shoulder-fired US M79 ‘Blooper’ 40mm single-shot grenade launcher and the expendable anti-tank, one-shot US M72 66mm LAW.

Mortars and Artillery

Guardia infantry and artillery formations were equipped with a variety of crew-served weapons. Light mortars ranged from the M2 60mm and M1 81mm models of World War II-vintage, to the more recent M-29 81mm; some selected elite troops even received the Israeli-designed Soltam M65 120mm heavy mortar. In addition, they were also issued US M20 75mm, M67 90mm and M40 106mm recoilless rifles. The field artillery battery was provided with US M101A1 150 mm towed Howitzers whereas the Anti-Aircraft battery operated US Maxson M45 Quadmount turrets on towed wheeled trailers and Israeli-supplied Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20mm autocannons mounted on the TCM-20 turret configuration. Usually installed on the back of cross-country vehicles, such weapon systems proved useful in the direct fire supporting role, particularly against fortified positions and to root out snipers from urban buildings. It is also rumored that the Anti-Aircraft battery received from Israel in 1977-78 a unspecified number of surplus US-made General Dynamics FIM-43 Redeye man-portable surface-to-air missiles (SAM).

Combat and transport vehicles

The Guardia also fielded a small armoured corps, organized since 1978 into a single mechanized company while platoon-sized units where attached to General Somoza Combat Battalion, the Presidential Guard, the engineer battalion, and the EEBI Infantry School. The inventory consisted mostly of World War II-vintage American vehicles acquired in the 1950s – 10 ex-Philippine Army M4A3E8 (76) and M4A3E8 (105) Sherman tanks, four M3A1 Stuart light tanks, and 40 T17E1 M6 Staghound armoured cars of Israeli origin (some had their turrets removed and replaced by a 30. or 50. cal Browning HMG mount instead). In addition, two obsolete L3/33 tankettes acquired from Italy in the mid-1930s were reportedly held in reserve, but only one was still kept in running conditions by 1979.[6]

Apart from a mere 10 M2 Half Track Cars, the Guardia suffered from a chronic shortage of light armoured personnel carriers (APCs)[citation needed] for its infantry units, forcing them to rely on their extensive fleet of transport and liaison vehicles. These ranged from old World War II-vintage Willys Jeeps, US Willys M38A1 MD jeeps, Spanish Santana 88 Ligero Militar jeeps, Land Rover Series III model and Toyota Land Cruiser light pickups, to Spanish VIASA-Ebro trucks “Campeador” one-ton pickups, Dodge M37 - 3/4 ton 1953 utility trucks, Israeli ("Nun-Nun") M325 Command Cars and Mercedes-Benz Unimog 406 light trucks. Heavy transport vehicles were also employed, ranging from older World War II GMC CCKW 2½ ton and 1-1/2 ton Chevrolet G506 trucks to newer US M35A2 2-1/2 ton cargo trucks and Spanish Pegaso 3046 heavy duty trucks, which the GN received in both civilian and military versions.[citation needed]

Besides being used as troop carriers these vehicles also doubled as ‘gun-trucks’, being fitted with heavy machine-guns, recoilless rifles and AA autocannons. Moreover, their lack of protection rendered them highly vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or small-arms fire, and many were lost together with their crews in 1979 due to intense street fighting and ambushes in rural areas.[citation needed]

Commandeered tracked Caterpillar or wheeled civilian Bulldozers of American and Spanish origin were also employed by the Guardia during the battles for Masaya and Managua to clear paths on rebel-held urban neighbourhoods by demolishing buildings turned into bunkers by the guerrillas.[citation needed]

Order of battle as by 1978-79

Ground Forces

In January 1978 National Guard overall strength peaked at about 25,000 officers and enlisted men under the direct personal command of their Chief Director and President of Nicaragua General Anastasio Somoza Debayle (aka ‘Tachito’). The GN was primarily organized for internal security and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations rather than national defense, with most infantry units being assigned static garrison duties, and consequently its conventional military value was very low. Out of this total some 10,000-12,500 served in the ground forces proper, organized into one Presidential Guard battalion, one armoured battalion, one mechanized infantry battalion, one mechanized company, one engineer battalion, one Military Police battalion, one field artillery battery and one antiaircraft battery, plus sixteen security companies. All above mentioned units were deployed in traditional Spanish colonial fashion in fortress-like Quarteles (barracks-cum-garrisons) at the main cities, including the national capital Managua. The Headquarters of the GN’s General Staff was placed at the heart of the government quarter of Tiscapa Hill near downtown Managua, allocated in a underground bunker-style complex built after the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake; the quarter’s adjacent facilities also housed the main offices’ of the Guardia’s own administration, signals, engineering, medical, logistics and military justice support services, and the main military schools.

Managua was also home to most of the GN’s main tactical units such as the Batallón de la Guardia Presidencial (Presidential Guard Battalion), the Primero Batallón Blindado (1st Armoured Battalion), the Batallón de Combate General Somoza (BCGS, General Somoza Combat Battalion), the Batallón de Ingeniería (Engineer Battalion), the Batallón de Policía Militar (Military Police Battalion), and the Artillery Batteries.[citation needed]

The Compañías de Seguridad de la Guardia Nacional (CSGN, Security Companies for short) were dispersed throughout the country’s 16 provinces (Spanish: Departamentos), being allocated one per each in the provincial capitals of Boaco (Boaco), Jinotepe (Carazo), Chinandega (Chinandega), Juigalpa (Chontales), Estelí (Estelí), Granada (Granada), Jinotega (Jinotega), León (León), Madriz (Somoto), Masaya (Masaya), Matagalpa (Matagalpa), Ocotal (Nueva Segovia), Rivas (Rivas), San Carlos (Río San Juan) and Bluefields (Zelaya).

Air Forces

The Fuerza Aérea de La Guardia Nacional (FAGN, Air Force of the Nicaraguan National Guard) in 1978 comprised some 1,500 Officers and enlisted men,[7] including pilots and ground personnel, under the command of Colonel Donaldo Humberto Frixote, himself an experient pilot and a staunch Somoza loyalist. FAGN main air elements at the time consisted of four squadrons – one attack, one helio, one transport and one advanced training – provided with a mixed inventory of aircraft of various types, mostly of US, Israeli, British, Canadian and Spanish origin, the majority being propeller-driven. All FAGN aircraft and personnel were concentrated at the military airbase adjacent to the Mercedes International Airport at Managua, which also housed the Aviation School.

  • The Escuadrón de Combate (combat squadron), operated on air assault and counter-insurgency missions 10 Cessna 337 (O-2A) 'Skymaster' light aircraft and either seven or 11 North American T-28 Trojan A/D dual-seat trainers converted for the ground attack role, seven Lockheed T-33A dual-seat jet trainers converted to the fighter-bomber role and seven Douglas B-26B/C 'Invader' reconnaissance/light bombers.
  • The Escuadrón de Ala Rotatoria (helicopter squadron) aligned for aerial reconnaissance, search-and-rescue (SAR), transport and assault duties 11 Sikorsky S-58T (CH-34A) 'Choctaw' helio gunships (nicknamed "Skyraiders" by the Nicaraguans), 12 Hughes OH-6A/H-369HS 'Defender' light observation helicopters, four Hiller 12B 'Raven' light utility helicopters, three Hughes 269A/B (TH-55A) 'Osage' light utility helicopters,[8] two Bell UH-1H 'Iroquois' utility transports and one Bell 47H light utility helicopter.
  • The Escuadrón de Transporte (transport squadron) operated 13 Douglas C-47 'Dakota' transports, eight Cessna 180 'Skywagon' light utility aircraft, seven Cessna 185 (U-17B) 'Skywagon' light utility aircraft, seven Beech 18 (C-45) 'Expeditor' trainer & utility aircraft, six De Havilland Canada DHC-3 (U-1A) 'Otter' STOL utility transports, five CASA C-212 Aviocar medium transports, two IAI Arava 201 STOL utility transports, two Piper PA-23-250 'Aztec' twin-engined light piston utility transports, one Hawker Siddeley HS-125-600B mid-size business jet and one Rockwell Aero Commander 680FL 'Grand' utility transport.
  • The advanced training squadron of the Aviation School operated 29 North American AT-6 'Texan' dual-seat trainers, 10 Piper PA-18 Super Cub light utility aircraft, seven Cessna 172J/K 'Skyhawk' utility aircraft and six Fairchild PT-19A trainers.

Naval Forces

The Marina de Guerra de la Guardia Nacional (MG-GN, Nicaraguan National Guard Navy) in 1978 standed at about 1,000 Officers and ratings who manned some eight to 10 Israeli Dabur class patrol boats ('Dabur-1'), plus an unknown number of older US sea- and rivercraft of unspecified type, presumably of World War II-vintage.[citation needed] Main MG-GN naval bases were situated at the coastal towns of Corinto (Chinandega) on the Pacific coast and Puerto Cabezas (Zelaya) on the Caribbean coast, with secondary naval stations set up at San Juan del Sur (Rivas) and El Bluff near Bluefields (Zelaya).

National Police branch

Created in 1970 out of the law-enforcement branch of the Guardia, the Policia Nacional - Guardia Nacional (PNGN, National Police of the National Guard) was a municipal constabulary numbering some 9,000-10,000 male and female uniformed constables. Most of its lighty-armed personnel were concentrated in the main cities (Managua, Leon, Matagalpa and Masaya) on police duties, or assigned to the Brigadas Especiales contra Actos de Terrorismo (BECAT, Special Counter-insurgency Brigades). This was an urban rapid-reaction, anti-terrorist unit closely modelled on SWAT, whose members received camouflage uniforms and Israeli helmets and flak vests, being armed with UZI SMGs, M-16s, pump-action shotguns and sniper rifles. Recognizable by their M38A1 MD Jeeps with wire-cutters installed on front and painted in blue-and-white National Police colours, BECAT teams were frequently employed in raids at Nicaraguan urban slums in search for hidden guerrillas, and quickly earned an unenviable reputation for brutality.

Special Forces

By July 1979, the GN also fielded some 2,000-2,500 elite counterinsurgency EEBI troops, comprising 'Commandos' (aka the ‘Black Berets’) and infantry trainees led by Major – later Colonel – Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero, in armed jeeps and gun-trucks plus two small artillery and armoured car platoons.

Training instituitions

Between 1970 and 1976 4,252 Nicaraguan servicemen had been trained by the United States at the Inter-American Military Academy (aka “School of the Americas”) at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone, in the Psychological and Special Warfare Academy at Fort Bragg, and at the Inter-American Defence College in Washington, DC.

Military Academy

Created on November 9, 1939, the Academia Militar de Nicaragua (AMN, Nicaraguan Military Academy) was the noncommissioned officers' and Officer Candidate School and Staff College of the Guardia Nacional. Modelled after the West Point Academy, the AMN was initially staffed by a cadre of US Army instructors headed by Brigadier-General Charles L. Mullins (1939–1942), himself a West Point graduate. He was succeeded as Director of the AMN by other three US Army senior officers, Brigadier-General Fred T. Cruse (1942–1943), Brigadier-General Lee Roy Bartlet (1943–1946) and Brigadier-General John F. Greco (1947) until GN Infantry Colonel Anastasio Somoza Debayle was appointed its first Nicaraguan-born Director in 1948.

Infantry Basic Training School

The Escuela de Entrenamiento Basico de Infanteria (EEBI, Infantry Basic Training School) was founded in 1976-77 by then Capitan Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero upon its return from the United States after attending the American school for psychological and special warfare at Fort Bragg. Initially attached to the 3rd company of the General Somoza Combat Battalion and headquartered at Tiscapa Hill just outside Managua, the EEBI was an indigenous Special Forces training center modelled after Fort Bragg, and was tasked of training the Guardia’s own elite anti-guerrilla 'Commandos', the ‘Black Berets’. Inspired on the US Special Forces (USSF), Chilean Army Commandos’ and Brazilian Army Paratroopers’ training programs, the School’s own special curriculum placed emphasis on counterinsurgency. Advanced courses ranged from basic light infantry skills, jungle combat and survival to sniper, light and heavy weapons (mortars and artillery), demolitions, ‘Commando’ operations and intelligence, reconnaissance (Ranger), communications, medical, airborne and even light armor tactics. Ex-USSF and exiled South Vietnamese LLDB instructors conducted most of the training, though the School’s teaching staff is said to have included anti-Castro Cuban exiles, Guatemalans and Chileans, as well as Israeli and German mercenaries.[9]

Aviation School

National Guard Police Academy

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

  • Carlos Caballero Jurado & Nigel Thomas, Central American Wars 1959-89, Men-at-Arms series 221, Osprey Publishing, London 1990. ISBN 978-0-85045-945-6
  • Daniel Moran, Wars of National Liberation, Smithsonian History of Warfare series, Harper Paperbacks, 2006. ISBN 100060891645
  • Owen Williamson, Nicaraguan Guerrilla Victory, Military History magazine, August 1999 issue.
  • Justiniano Pérez, EEBI (Escuela de Entrenamiento Básico de la Infantería): los Quijotes del ocaso, Editorial La Prensa, Managua (Miami, FL: Orbis Publisher) 2008.
  • Richard Millett, Guardians of the Dynasty: A History of the U.S.-Created Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua and the Somoza Family, Orbis Books 1977. ISBN 978-0-88344-169-5
  • John Pimlott (ed.), Guerrilla Warfare, Bison Books Ltd., London 1985. ISBN 0-86124-225-4

Secondary sources

  • Bill Gunston, An Illustrated Guide to Military Helicopters, Salamander Books Ltd, London 1981. ISBN 978-0861011100

Pop culture

The Nicaraguan National Guard was featured in three major film productions, all set during the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution, the first being the 1980 German movie The Uprising shot on location at Nicaragua.[10] This was followed in 1983 by the Hollywood movies Last Plane Out and Under Fire; the later was actually shot at Mexico with Mexican Army soldiers portraying both Guardia’ troops and FSLN guerrillas.


  1. ^ Photos of Nicaraguan camouflage patterns.
  2. ^ Descriptive list of camouflage patterns worn by the Nicaraguan National Guard and BECAT.
  3. ^ Nicaragua 201 israelí. Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  4. ^ Confederate States Army - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  5. ^ Israel, Nicaragua and the Contras. (1979-07-17). Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  6. ^ Nicaraguan Armor. Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  7. ^ Nicaragua, 1980-1988. Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  8. ^ Gunston, An Illustrated Guide to Military Helicopters (1981), pp. 38-40.
  9. ^ EEBI: escuela de lealtades al “ungido” ·. (2008-02-23). Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  10. ^ Kinowelt International. Retrieved on 2010-10-19.

External links

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