Thursday, June 22, 2006



It was early summer of 1958, we Escopeteros fighting Batista from the foot hills of the Sierra Maestra were near the town of Guisa, in old Oriente Province in eastern Cuba.

Mojena decided to go in to Guisa and stir up some trouble. So he asked his escopetero group for volunteers. I was the first and in demonstration had my long haircut short at the house, and was ready to shave my prided, but strange, neck beard.

Our host, the Güajiro who owned the house where we ate, did the honors and began to trim my hair as I sat in a taburete. The others followed my example, and one by one our host cut their long hair.

Then Mojena, forbade my participation in this incursion into Guisa, with the usual excuse “I was too slow and if I were recognized the whole thing would fail.” After all great grandfather's bust held the place of honor on a small pedestal in the center of the little central plaza in town. However, as I went on long marches and steadily lost weight my walking speed increased.

So that evening off they went everybody, but me. I felt both loss of pride and relief from danger. I watched then as off they went. In single file they went up through the pasture towards that gate on top of the hill. I felt different with my hair now cut and my neck exposed, and regretted the loss of the honor long hair gave among us.

Mojena took the place of honor in front, he had his little .25 caliber pistol, and a shotgun of a kind I do not remember. The rest of them followed, Ramon, the dark one, carrying his bolt-action long shotgun which was even blacker than his skin on the back of his hand holding it. Machado had his .22 semi automatic rifle. William, Edesio’s son, had his .22 as well. Most of the others had single shot shotguns, usually 16 gauge, although I recall an elegant double barrel 28 gauge upland gun with made of once valuable, but now dangerously weak, engraved damasque steel.

The “suicide to be” short, deep-chested, his wide, paddle like feet striding up the sunken dirt of the path, was the slowest but not by much, he had a 16 gauge single shot weapon. Others were there, but do not come to mind.

They all had revolvers of ancient age and the most varied caliber .32, .38 short, standard .38. There were no .45s, that was in Cuba a strictly military handgun, and a “big deal” and as such would probably been requisitioned from us to our main force high in the hills.

Mojena had gathered the revolvers from I do not know where. We spent days cleaning the rust off these long buried weapons. We boiled them in soapy water in a stone supported iron pot; the strange brew of blackened water and steel parts bubbling for hours over an open fire. Then we liberally anointed them with lubricant, under the general fix-it rule, if it does not move and should, use 3-1 Oil®. Strangely, when we were through the revolvers, despite their pitted metal, these weapons did work, did fire and did eject their spent cartridges most of the time.

El Rubio the once professional gambler went too. El Rubio, was of course, as the name in Spanish indicates, was blond; and since he only had one good eye so we also called him El Tuerto, using the name in the frank descriptive medieval way that meant no harm or insult. I saw them leave a brave, ragged, somewhat but only somewhat, less hairy and bearded group now. They were going only with their .22a, shotguns, revolvers and dynamite bombs against the well-armed Batista army group who guarding the town with the latest infantry weapons.”

How they intended to “infiltrate” as civilians was very unclear. Anybody who would take that bunch for anything, but rebels or bandits, was not right in the head. Yet their strangely murderous innocence was their guardian angel, for, except for possible for Mojena, the only blooding they had experienced was the hanging of the “baker’s boy

The man who hosted our Camp, his wraith of a wife and his pretty young daughter who loved Machado and I all waited. We waited in the kitchen, leaning our taburetes against the post that held up the roof, our feet on lower rungs of the chairs above the dirt floor. The food in the pots on the raised fogón stove cooled with the food in them. I think the young woman liked me, but young Güajiras generally to not talk to young men, they just find occasion to be with someone they like, and let things take their course in silence. With me and her that would never happen.

We look out from the open sides of the kitchen to the path that led up the pasture over the low south hills to Guisa. My newly cut hair was now felt even stranger and I felt the cold on the night on the back of my neck, but my neck scruff of a beard was still intact. I looked at the young woman she looked at me. Her mother and father sat still, not talking. We worried, we drank coffee, but ‘what to do’, so we

eventually went to sleep.

Early next morning we woke, the family in the house, me in my hammock in the escopetero camp down the hill. I walked, the morning chill, the grass wet and dripping from heavy Cuban dew, to the house. We ate breakfast, corn meal and enamel mugs of black strong Cuban coffee as usual, and waited with the family. We began to get really worried as nobody returned. The sun rose above the high hills west of the upper Guisa River Canyon. The turbulent rush of the Guisa river far below was the only sound, we heard except for such as the quiet cluckings of chickens, a sharp cry of a bird passing over head flying south the heights of the Sierras, a goat moving the brush, or an occasional stomp or snort of a grazing horse.

Finally at about 10 am, we saw El Rubio, El Tuerto Naranjo stagger down from the path at the top of the hill his shirt and the rest of his clothes ripped to shreds. Then slowly through the day one by one the group straggled in. They all appeared exhausted, but unhurt.

What had happened was they had entered a blind alley. There they had been trapped by a group of soldiers waiting in ambush in a trench that closed off the alley. Somehow the Escopeteros had been betrayed and the Batista soldiers were waiting.

The alley was very dark, and the very close, very nervous soldiers yelled at them to surrender. Everybody in Mojena’s group panicked, for they knew if an escopetero surrendered he was shot, and that the soldiers would much prefer to shoot prisoners than try to kill people firing at them from the dark.

The soldiers had set the trap and now they wanted surrender. Look at it, from the Batista soldiers’ point of view, it is far easier that way, for prisoners do not shoot back. The escopeteros were desperate, and too knowing of the reality that to surrender was merely to defer death, not avoid it. To turn back, and run was not an option, they were much too close to the soldiers; to flee that way would just invite a hail of bullets into their backs.

The escopeteros, with the fear of death on them, did the only thing possible they charged as fast as they could towards the Batista soldiers. The darkest of all, Ramón, was in the lead; to the soldiers he was frightening just a pair of moving blazing eyes coming out of pitch darkness. Ramón closed the gap towards the soldiers in split seconds, jumped over the trench firing his revolver downward towards the soldiers in the trench as he did it. The soldiers were stunned and could not react. The rest of the escopeteros followed Ramón leaping over the trench, and over the now completely panicked soldiers as well.

The terrified Batista soldiers, ducked and let them all pass. The alley was closed at that end beyond the trench; no matter, all leapt at doors, rattled windows, leapt at wall; anyway to get out. The escopeteros were trapped. They reacted like rats leaping and yelling and shooting. The surprised soldiers huddled in the trench did not know how to respond. The soldiers ducked, firing back without aiming. All was confusion, shots in the dark, noise, loud, loud noise. The townspeople hid in their houses, they rolled out of their beds, to lay on their floors in terror.

El Tuerto leaping jumping, pulling himself up he climbed up a wall covered with thorny pyracantha or perhaps bougainvillea vine and got away across the rooftops the others followed. Somehow, they reached the little cross roads at "El Sordo" and followed the trail over the hills to camp.

I thanked my lucky stars, that I did not go on that mission. How could I have climbed that pyracantha trellis, was still too heavy? The excited escopeteros talk, then relax, collapse and sleep.

I think. but do not know that they said, the betrayer was the father of the “suicide to be”.

Larry Daley copyright@1996, revised 2000, 2002, 2006

Weapons in the hills.

This was intended only as historical note. Your warnings are appropriate THESE THINGS, these improvised morters, ARE REALLY DANGEROUS, in this case it was a little safer because the shot gun barrel was reduced, cut off, to only about two inches long and the wooden dowel was about a foot long.

Strangely I never heard of any accidents with them but they were woefull inacurate. In our case in Cuba, weapons were more valuable than lives so. If the Batista forces caught us we were dead anyway, i suppose that was why these things were used. PLEASE PLEASE DONT TRY ANY OF THE DANGEROUS


In ambushes in forested or heavybush areas, which includes most of Cuba, the initial volume of fire is a significant factor so we were always looking to enhance fire power. Thus i have heard of but never seen the 3.30 converted to automatic. I understand, there were in Cuba M-1 garands converted to automatic.

Raul Castro's personal weapon, in late 1958, was a M1-carbine, you know the small .30 round, converted as in the M-2 carbine to automatic fire. I saw that gun once when Raul arrived at the Central

Oriente Sugar mill in his armored jeep. i and most of us rebels, in

column 1 Fidel Castro's group, watched at a very respectful distance for Raul was a dangerous man and like the Che was ready to kill anybody, anytime, for any reason, friend or foe.

Even the main rebel forces had quite a mix of weapons, the one that impressed me most was the Johnson semiautomatic rifle, a 3.06 weapon that instead of taking the eight round Garand clip, took two five round 1903 Springfield clips loaded from the top. It had a fat "belly" to hold the amunition. There were Reisman, .45 calibre, carbines, somewhat like Thompsons, but with more wood and i think longer barrels. There was a least one .55 calibre Canadian "antitank" (ha, ha) bolt action rifle that had to be shot from a reclining position, it had a bipod and a heavily padded shoulder rest, the ammunition was a little larger that the Browning 1917, .50 calibre machine gun round.

When we started we escopeteros, the shot gunners, the come vacas the eaters of cows, were the screening forces of the mountain rebellion. We had 16 and 28 gauge and 410 shot guns, single shot and bolt action. In the diverse escopetero groups we had .32, .38 and .38 short, and .44 and .45 calibre revolvers, an assortment of pistols, .22 target pistols. We had a number of .22 calibre rifles, single, shot, bolt action and tube fed semi-automatics.

There were 30.30 and .44 Winchesters type rifles, and apparently left over from the Cuban Wars of Independence, there were even some .35 calibre single shot Remington rifles, the left over from that time too. The .35 rounds were as long or longer than 30.06 rounds and looked like snubnosed brass sausages. These were the rounds of the sniper rifles that had killed so many US soldiers in that hot summer of 1898.

There were Mausers apparently not the Spanish Mauser from the Independence Wars, but Mexican 7 mm models. The trouble with these 7 mm rifles was that the round looked so much like a 30.06 that you had to look twice; however, when placed in a 30.06 weapon these 7 mm rounds would cause the 30.06 weapon to jam, thus these Mausers and their ammunition was kept away and as far as i know only used for target practice and kept hihg inthe mountains with the main forces.

Then there were the Krags. Lorente --a colono growing coffee in the upper canyon of the Guama was at the same time a contractor on Osvaldo Ros's land, and a communist-- even had a Spanish Astra which we were told took almost any .38 or 9 mm ammunition, later, after victory, he would try to kill me with it "accidently". Lorente was the one who had the shotgun morters built and used them that night in the fire fight, on our families land, on the northern end, Uncle Calixto Lionel and Marcus's portions of the high Los Numeros ridge. Lorente's armorer showed me how to convert Krags. These Krags, left over from the US phase of the Cuban-American-Spanish war used 30.40 rimmed cartridges, and we had none. So what we converted them to 30.06, DO NOT DO THIS IS, IT IS FAR TOO DANGEROUS, AND CAN BLOW THESE VALUABLE ANCIENT RIFLES UP IN YOUR FACE.

The Miguel Angel Calvo the Asturian machinist from El Sordo doing most of the work and i helping converted one of these Krags. We placed a crow bar in the metal amunition chamber and very carefully expanded the "iron box". We took the ejector designed for rimmed cartridges, and filed it down so it, some of the time at least it gripped the grove of the 30.06 cartridge and ejected it, and we filed down the tips of the 30.06 cartridges so that they fitted into the iron box.

When we tried it out the "modified Krag", Amelio Mojena our leader who knew our group needed a rifle to hit casquitos at a distance insisted on trying it himself. Mojena lived, giving credit to the good steel used by the Springfield armory, for the rifle still fired accurately and did not blow up. The rounds hit dead center, in the Royal Palm tree trunk Mojana used as a target and left gaping exit holes because the projectile now was essencially "dum-dum". However, we could never get it to feed properly or even eject reliably, so this rifle was left to defend the camp. Mojena was not pleased at me or the rifle.

The main rebel forces had bolt action 3.06 rifles with telescopic sights, M-1 Garands, M1-carbines, and San Cristobals plus later on .50 and .30 calibre Browning machine guns and some 60 mm morters. Some smuggled in some captured. The San Cristobal is an interesting weapon, a submachine gun with almost the range of rifle, it is, or was, made in the Dominican Republic in the city of San Cristobal. Batista, when the US embargo cut off his weapon supply from the US, bought the San Cristobals from the Trujillo the then Domincan dictator. The San Cristobal fires the US .30 carbine round, and is based on the 9 mm Beretta submachine gun from that famous Italian gunmaker of that name. This is not the small Beretta pistol that Agent 007 uses in the movies, but the wooden stocked machine gun once seen cradled in the arms and hands of Italian police seeking Mafioso in the hills of Sicily.

Like the Beretta, the San Christobal has two triggers, the one in front for single fire, and if you keep pressing your finger catches the second automatic fire trigger. On automatic this weapon fires its rounds in from its heavy, long, clutzy and thick 40 round clips very fast. It is not accurate, but until its barrel overheats or the firing pin fails, it has tremendous fire power, and much more range than the 9 mm but less than the 30.06 round. A large number of 9 mm Berettas submachine guns were brought in on the Huber Matos expedition flight I believe that but do not really know, these guns were provided by Don "Pepe Figures" the President of the Costa Rican government. Don Pepe a firm anticommunist democrat supported Huber Matos, but after the revolution Castro had Huber Matos jailed for many years.

The Batista soldiers had M-1 Garands and San Cristobals which easily out ranged Huber Mato's Berettas on the more open grass lands of the Cauto Plains. Therefor, Huber Matos column, or so they told me, had a favorite trick they played on the Batista Casquitos, the would have one of there number fire a few single shot rounds form some bushes. Then the Batista soldiers would attack thinking that they had a single rebel escopetero with a pistol in the bush. Unfortunately for the attacking Batista casquitos, then the whole Huber Matos column of perhaps 100 men would open up from their hiding places with full automatic fire. They must have been hellish firefights with the San Cristobals firing closeup against the Berettas, everybody firing desperately, all weapons on full automatic. Definitely a good place not to be.

After telling me this, Huber Mato's column leaders arriving at our escopetero camp at the edge of the plains and under the wrong impression, because of foolish mistake i had made, thought i was brave tried to recruit me. Having heard their stories, and seen that despite their fine close action weaponry they had few or no longer range weapons I quickly realized that joining this column was definitely not to my best advantage, nor would it help extend my life expectancy. Thus very politely, thanking Commandante Matos for the "honor for which i was not worthy" and cited loyalty to Mojena my escopetero leader i declined. After we won the revolution i felt like a fool, i could have been a hero like, Huber Matos warriors.

However soon after we won Castro, turned on his allies and jailed non-communist Huber Matos and many of his men. Commandante Matos was released a few years back, he was blind having spent perhaps 30 years badly fed and mistreated in those terrible prisons of Cuba. I spent those years doing science in the US. Larry Daley, copyright@1997, 2006


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