Paraguay's naval forces were first developed under Francia, who
kept a fleet of eleven vessels. Under the presidencies of both
Lópezes, the navy was expanded to include both a marine battalion
and a naval artillery element. The navy played a significant role
in the early part of the War of the Triple Alliance. Using the
steam warship Tacuari, naval forces in early 1865 helped
capture the Argentine city of Corrientes, then battled an attacking
Brazilian fleet, first losing and then regaining control of the
city. After finally forcing the Brazilian fleet to withdraw to
Riachuelo, the Paraguayan navy attacked again in one of the world's
largest riverine naval engagements. Although the battle was
inconclusive, the navy's losses forced it to withdraw upriver.
Thereafter, the navy fought a series of holding actions until 1868,
when its forces had been almost completely destroyed.
For the fifty years following the end of the occupation by
Brazilian forces in 1876, the navy remained very small. In response
to tensions with Bolivia, however, it was upgraded in the late
1920s, adding a small air arm in 1929 and acquiring new vessels in
1931. The fleet's role in the Chaco War, however, was limited
largely to carrying troops and supplies on the first leg of the
journey into the Chaco and to supplying antiaircraft cover for the
army. Some naval officers also saw service as ground force
commanders. In addition, the naval air arm carried out important
reconnaissance and support missions and undertook in 1934 the first
night air raid in the Western Hemisphere.
After the Chaco War, the navy inventory grew slowly; the primary
acquisitions were patrol boats donated by the United States in
1944. The naval aviation arm benefited from donations by the United
States and Argentina in the 1950s. The fleet was augmented in the
1960s and early 1970s with three United States-manufactured
minesweepers acquired from Argentina. During the same period, the
United States transferred or leased to Paraguay a variety of craft,
including launches, landing craft, tugs, and support vessels. These
were purchased outright during the 1975-77 period. The only major
acquisition during the 1980s was a Brazilian-built river gunboat
commissioned in 1985.
As of late 1988, naval personnel numbered some 3,150, of whom
approximately one-third were conscripts. These included personnel
assigned to the fleet, to naval aviation, and to a battalion of
marines, as well as members of the coast guard and the harbor and
The ship inventory consisted of six river defense vessels, seven
patrol craft, and three amphibious vessels, in addition to various
support, transport, and cargo vessels (see
table 11, Appendix). The
bulk of the fleet was antiquated: five of the six river patrol
vessels were laid down in the 1930s; the newest was of 1980s
vintage. One large patrol craft had a wooden hull and first saw
service in 1908.
The main naval base was located in the capital at Puerto
Sanjonía and included a dockyard and the naval arsenal. Secondary
bases were located across the Río Paraguay at Chaco I and at Bahía
Negra and Puerto Presidente Stroessner.
The 500-strong marine battalion included both a regular and a
commando regiment. It was headquartered at Puerto Sajonía, but most
personnel were stationed on the upper Paraguay at Bahía Negra and
The small naval air arm had only some fifty-five personnel
assigned to it. It flew primarily utility and training aircraft as
well as a few helicopters. Most equip,ment was located at Chaco I,
although the helicopters sometimes were detached to two vessels
that had helicopter platforms.
The navy was also responsible for the coast guard, which
maintained navigational aids and guarded major river crossings.
Some 250 naval personnel manned four batteries of coastal defense
guns on the upper part of the Río Paraguay. The harbor police,
which regulated the merchant fleet, was also under the navy's
After training at the military academy in Asunción, naval
officers were sent to Argentina for advanced training in Argentine
naval schools and on the Argentine fleet vessels. Enlisted
personnel received basic and advanced naval training at Puerto
Sajonía, some were also sent to Argentina to train.
Data as of December 1988