In the period of the unicato, or government by authoritarian presidents, representatives of the German armed forces in Argentina construed their basic mission to be the protection and support of German economic interests. In the years preceding World War I, this policy culminated in a very special kind of assistance to German arms manufacturers and naval shipyards. The means were, on the one hand, demonstrations and propaganda for the supposedly interrelated utilization of German military and naval instruction, and, on the other hand, German rifles, guns or warships. These efforts were directed both at acquiring Argentine clients and at besting potent foreign rivals, especially French, American and British arms merchants or naval shipyards. Argentina faced the question of whether strengthening her national defense and prosperity by cultivating close military, naval and economic relationships with Germany was worth the price of ever more energetic German interference in her sometimes turbulent domestic affairs.

Influential members of the unicato felt concern over a Chilean threat during the last decades of the nineteenth century and over a Brazilian one during the first decade of the twentieth century. In their view, German experts and weaponry helped to create a modern army which, at the least, would provide protection against both foreign neighbors and domestic radical revolutionaries. At best, such an army could gradually evolve into an instrument of genuine national consolidation and development.

Efforts of German military instructors and German firms producing cannon or small arms were generally more successful than those of her vainglorious but not large navy, or, later, those of the efficient but costly naval shipyards which were too new to enjoy a solid reputation. Still, in 1880, when Argentina was terminating her process of national unification in a brief civil war, a German gunboat, with a small expeditionary force aboard, stood poised to violate Argentine sovereignty in order to protect German lives, commerce and prestige.1 Though it remained highly debatable whether the dispatch of a gunboat had provided German nationals with an even potentially effective safeguard, German diplomats continued to advocate the occasional appearance of warships in Argentinian waters for reasons of national prestige, commerce and protection of German citizens and property. Meanwhile Germany continued in reality to depend on other foreign naval contingents in times of serious disturbance. Eventually, during the early 1900s, the growing German navy began to give meaningful support to the sales efforts of German naval shipyards in Argentina. This new task was facilitated by the fact that, by then, the German weapons industry and military establishment had already gained a good foothold.

Discreet German participation in the Argentine arms trade dated back to the beginning of Argentina’s nationhood. Paraguay’s army, then Argentina’s foe, introduced Krupp cannons into the Plata region during the Paraguayan War, between 1865 and 1870. Argentina, with a typical deep suspicion of Chile’s intentions, ordered her first Krupp cannons in 1873 under the cloak, just as typically, of an officially inspired press silence.2

Soon, prospering but unstable Argentina became increasingly interested in adopting German military methods as well. Her government shared the world-wide respect for German military successes. It felt itself beset by the increasingly German-oriented Chilean army. And it was anxious to use growing quantities of modern German weaponry effectively. In addition, Argentina and Germany shared not only the experiences of a recent national unification and a common European tradition, but also those of authoritarian governmental structures, domination by elites and a desire for rapid economic modernization. On the other hand, the German government became aware that it had to balance its interests in Argentina against those in Chile.

Reflecting the close link between the purchase of modern weaponry and the adoption of modern training methods, Argentina established military institutes and sought the advice of a few German and other European military technicians while General Julio A. Roca was serving his first presidency between 1880 and 1886. An admirer of the German military establishment and a man of arrogant and martial airs, Roca, for years to come, served as one of his nation’s most influential advisers on matters of national defense. Soon a handful of German specialists proved their competence and began to rise to key line positions in the Argentine army.3

By 1894, the Argentine government had become sufficiently concerned about the possibility of a violent confrontation with Chile to request special credit for military defense in an urgent congressional session which was kept so secret that the press was prohibited from alluding to it under penalty of the immediate suppression of any offending newspaper.4 At a time when Chile seemed bent on upsetting the South American balance of power, the conservative newspaper La Nación observed how Germany’s efficient army was worth its immense cost.5 It was indeed a tense year, as Chilean reconnoitering parties began to violate Argentinian territory. They included several Germans, who claimed to be astronomers but were really preparing strategic maps for Chile.6

Germany’s military influence continued to grow despite worry over the effects of the heavy arms expenditures which could be only partially disguised, on Argentina’s budget and credit rating. At one point a number of applications by German officers for service in Argentina had to be temporarily rejected because of budgetary difficulties.7 Nevertheless, a German military orientation became pronounced during Roca’s second presidency between 1898 and 1904. Chile, after all, had been enlarging her contingent of German officers since 1895 and seemed to be preparing for war against Argentina.

Argentina’s military leadership determined to provide greater homogeneity, training in modern warfare and an efficient organization for its own army. Reform measures seemed all the more urgent when Argentina, following Chile, adopted a system of compulsory military service. But unhappily, even the German-inspired Argentine General Staff found it almost impossible to handle the frequently inept, overly large and miscellaneous officer corps. Some of its members had been trained along traditional lines with an adherence to ancient and rigid Spanish regulations. Others followed gaucho guerrilla tactics. Still others had been trained in a number of European countries, in each of which they had been taught to believe that that country’s system was the most effective. Many of them, especially political appointees, were hardly trained at all. Roca and his military entourage concluded that a powerful centralizing War Academy would remedy these conditions. It was to be directed and staffed by distinguished military specialists from Germany, the exclusive model country, and serve also as a training institution for senior and General Staff officers. An alternate measure, the formation of an Italian Legion, which was supported by members of the growing Italian colony, had to be dropped by Roca in the face of protests by both the Italian government and Chile’s Italians.8

Official consideration of a German-dominated War Academy turned out to be highly controversial. Sharp nationalistic opposition forced Roca to reduce to a mere handful the number of German officers to be invited.9 Certain misgivings of the nationalists were not entirely unjustified, as at least some German officers appeared to be more concerned with their rank and status in Argentina than they were with their salary.10 Important newspapers spearheaded the opposition to the War Academy. La Nación questioned the need for specialists, feeling that firmness and energy by the military leadership might suffice to shape a well-trained and disciplined army. It worried that the War Minister would become a puppet of foreigners and observed that the “Prussianization mania” had reaped the Chileans little but headaches. And only months before the War Academy’s inauguration in 1900, La Prensa still persisted in its own line of criticism by expressing dissatisfaction with the new institution’s curriculum and admission requirements.11

Under the circumstances, the War Academy’s first director had to be both an effective military planner and a skillful diplomat, requirements that were not fully met by General Alfredo Arent, a former German General Staff officer and decorated veteran of the Franco-Prussian War. A competent military man, Arent was also loquacious, politically naive and vindictive. The latter characteristics not merely curtailed his personal effectiveness, but almost ruined the German military program as well. Arent began by offending Argentine political sensibilities with some comments made during a speech at the War Academy’s inaugural ceremony. Somewhat later, his over-eagerness probably delayed rather than expedited the program for training Argentine officers with the German army.12 Arent’s personal relationship with War Minister Pablo Riccheri was stormy to the extent that Arent repeatedly asked Roca to intervene against this member of Roca’s own cabinet.

Another quarrel finally sealed Arent’s fate. In 1899, Arent invited his friend Major Rolo von Kornatzki to accompany him to Argentina. Kornatzki had pleaded with Arent to extract him from an unpleasant assignment in Germany, which he had received for having married a Jewess. In Argentina, Mrs. Kornatzki’s driving ambition, glamorous appearance, unpopular opinions, and distinguished friends quickly stirred the resentments of Mrs. Arent and other members of the rather parochial-minded German colony in Buenos Aires. Before long, Arent tried and failed to persuade Kornatzki to cancel his contract, then denounced his former friend in his confidential annual report to the War Minister. His report was leaked, in turn, to La Prensa, whose editors used this new opportunity to hold the German military system up to popular scrutiny by printing it. In view of the subsequent general publicity, the general was induced, within less than a month, to leave Argentina on a temporary basis. But after an Argentine military investigating commission exonerated Kornatzki publicly, the German Emperor personally barred Arent’s return to Argentina.13

Arent, who was now succeeded by Argentine officers, had already managed to pattern the infant War Academy after its prestigious counterpart in Berlin. This standard was modified from time to time, but never abandoned. As planned, the institution gradually extended its influence over the officer corps. Being well acquainted with his own country’s concept of a nation in arms, Arent had also furnished important recommendations for the implementation of the new law of obligatory military service. Among the most urgent goals that the general had set himself at the War Academy were the formation of a competent General Staff and the inauguration of thorough combat training, with an emphasis on joint maneuvers by large bodies of troops to be drawn from several branches of the army, who would copy the training exercises of elite model units.14

The German military advisers or instructors who worked with and succeeded Arent performed their tasks on the basis of reasonably consistent attitudes on ethical values, pedagogy, military organization, and politics. These could be generally traced back to the precepts of a nation in arms and the spirit of a close identification between a people and its army. With this motivation, German officers on assignment with the Argentine army galvanized reforms in military legislation, organization and methods of instruction. Their efforts evoked ideological support from within the Argentine officer corps. In 1909, for example, an Argentine general arranged that a captain who had served with the German army for two years address a select and receptive circle of officers. The captain eulogized the German army and presented an idealized image of it as a body of thinking and well-trained soldiers. This was meant to counteract the impression of the German army as a giant war machine bent on conquest.15 More concretely, the exacting German officers were resolved to inculcate in their students and disciples the severe principles of constant professional dedication and unity, obedience, simplicity, efficient flexibility and personal discipline.

Articulate, pragmatic and gregarious José F. Uriburu, the War Academy’s director between 1907 and 1913, and, ironically, subsequent president of Argentina by virtue of a military coup d’etat, emerged as a key figure among the often younger and “progressive” officers who were eager to implement German military doctrine. Born in 1868 into an aristocratic family, he early chose a military career, but developed a political consciousness as well. Soon he joined the type of officers’ lodge that was to affect Argentine politics significantly in later years, in this case the idealistic Lodge of the Thirty-Three, which backed largely middle class-inspired revolutionary activities in 1890. Like a number of his fellow conspirators, he quickly rose to military prominence as a stringent advocate of the army’s modernization, which he came to equate with Germanizing. In 1902 he was one of the first graduates of the War Academy, with top honors. Anticipating the introduction of a formal Argentine-German exchange program, the then Major Uriburu thereupon served a lengthy tour of duty with the artillery section of the German Imperial Guard, and personally impressed Emperor William II.

Employing the maxim of the concurrence of military axioms, Uriburu consciously related military pedagogy to discipline: “The War Academy is not destined to supply incoherent knowledge,” he noted, “quite the contrary, it is planned that the instruction in each new field of studies be based on previously understood and well-assimilated principles.”16

Beyond this, German-type military training suggested to some the standard of a truly national army in the role of a great civilizing instrument. It transformed uneducated and uncultured draftees into literate and articulate citizens, who were aware of their moral and social obligations and who recognized the necessities of hygiene and a healthy way of life. Such men would eventually be able to improve their standards of living. An overall achievement of such goals, it was hoped, would lead to a final recognition by citizen soldiers that nothing could be accomplished anywhere, from school to factory, without recognizing that an individual sense of discipline must prevail in even instinctive social relationships. Particularly in the field of politics, far from implanting militarism, a German-trained army would intervene in the affairs of government only as a stabilizing element in order to safeguard the honor, liberty and prestige of Argentina’s republican institutions.

A rationale was likewise developed to justify Argentine receptiveness to German instruction. It was intimated that, since certain national characteristics of South American countries resembled those of France and Italy, some of the more dissimilar German perspectives and institutions should complement those prevalent in Argentina. A blind imitation of German practices could be avoided easily. It was pointed out in this connection that, in contrast to the highly centralized Argentine military organization, the powerful German General Staff enjoyed virtual autonomy and that the German High Command and general military administration were decentralized. Especially German military pedagogues, it was also noted, emphasized not specific doctrines but only the acceptance of a fundamental sense of duty and basic education or training. Finally the German officers themselves taught that, rapid movement by railroad notwithstanding, the advent of weapons of great destructive capacity had placed the individual soldier in greater isolation in any case, and had forced him to become more self-reliant.

Defenders of German influence denied that an acceptance of certain German ideas or methods degraded Argentina’s national heritage because, after all, Argentina had been affected by the European tradition throughout her history. Even if one did admit that an exclusive imitation of German methods offended Argentina’s self-esteem, a Germanophile like Uriburu pointed out, then it was precisely by such emulation that Argentina could catch up most quickly with the more advanced European nations.17

Argentina’s top command wished to assure, at minimum expense, the long-range survival of its modern training system. But it preferred to be more careful than the Chileans had been to avoid the army’s domination by a haughty coterie of foreign advisers.18 In 1906, with this end in mind and after initial German as well as Argentinian misgivings had been overcome, it was decided, ironically, to imitate still another Chilean experiment by assigning Argentinian officers for training in Germany. They were to gradually supplement and, perhaps, eventually replace the approximately thirty German officers who taught in Argentina between 1900 and 1914. The fact that an impressive number of the from one to five dozen annual trainees later reached top command positions in the army bears testimony to the program’s success. In 1908, the German officers who served at the War Academy gained, at least temporarily, a controlling voice in the decision-making process for officer promotions to senior ranks. In addition, Uriburu involved himself and his institute energetically in the selection of Argentine officers for training in Germany.

An Argentine-Brazilian dispute in the years between 1906 and 1910, over Brazil’s ambitious naval shipbuilding program and Argentine claims along the La Plata estuary, gave the German advisers an opportunity to gain influence with the Argentine General Staff. Repeated invitations were extended to the Germans to collaborate fully with the General Staff, which, in 1905, had been reorganized still more close to a Prussian model. These overtures were rejected by the Germans because they felt that they would lack specific responsibility or precise powers and because they feared a hostile press campaign. Yet when war seemed imminent in 1908, the German officers, nonetheless, were privy to detailed mobilization plans. They were aghast at the unpreparedness and ill-informedness of a General Staff that planned fantastically unrealistic campaigns for an army suffering from a grave shortage of trained military leaders of all ranks.19

By the spring of 1910, a newly invigorated nationalistic opposition was increasingly challenging the infiltration of German military methods and personnel. A prominent critic was Colonel Augusto A. Maligne, a former French officer. “We know,” wrote Maligne in a widely circulating article in a special edition of La Nación to honor Argentina’s centennial, “that institutions are like plants; neither can be transplanted very well under a strange sky . . .” He continued: “The integral adoption of the German or the French or the Italian military systems is useless, although the latter are less exotic for us; it cannot transform a mentality.” Maligne described enthusiastic disciples of the German military as “fetishists” who were not only imbued with illusions, but were dangerous as well; “Once war is declared, everything foreign will drift away with the pampa breeze . . .” he warned, adding that in the absence of native-inspired military preparation nothing tangible would remain with which to defend the nation.20

But two members of the cabinet of new President Roque Sáenz Peña still defended the cause of German-type military training. Although powerful anti-German groups remained entrenched in the army, and worried Uriburu and German officers a great deal, former minister to Germany Indalecio Gómez, now an influential minister of the Interior, continued to champion German-inspired army reforms. And General Gregorio Vélez, the Minister of War and former member of the Lodge of the Thirty-Three, cooperated fully with the German instructors. Somewhat in contrast, the president was not sufficiently authoritarian in outlook to suit either the German Emperor or Baron Hilmar von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen, his minister in Buenos Aires, an aggressive champion of the interests of the German weapons industry. Sáenz Peña, in effect, happened to be more concerned with carrying out his domestic reform program than he was with rooting out anti-German factions among the military, as Uriburu had been urging.21

In 1912, the image of the usefulness of the German armaments industry and the effectiveness of German military advisory programs was seriously tarnished. It was a shocking event when the Turkish army, supplied by Krupp and German-trained, suffered an ignominious defeat in the Balkans. This catastrophe put more sharply into question the feasibility of the adoption of a great military power’s organizational structure and weaponry by a more backward nation. Renewed vigorous discussion occurred in the Argentine army, press and Congress concerning the topic of German military influence.22

Soon the German military advisers’ traditional preoccupation with prestige clashed overtly with feelings of national pride among Argentinian officers. Uriburu, after leaving the War Academy early in 1913, initiated with partial success a military reform program from his seat as a national deputy, and proclaimed haughtily that he would accept a likely appointment as Chief of Staff only under the condition that German officers exclusively would head the various sections of the General Staff. This would have met some of the past demands of the German military advisers.

In the meanwhile, the unusually young and “progressive” officers who succeeded Uriburu at the War Academy failed to live up to the expectation held in some quarters that German-trained officers would be blindly loyal to German personnel and to German methods. The first of these, Lieutenant Colonel Severo Toranzo, thirty-five years old and a former military attaché in Berlin, was, according to the German military instructors, a favorite of President Sáenz Peña, and an ambitious and vain man with a pro-German outlook. He was also, in their view, one of the most capable regimental commanders in the army. Yet unlike Uriburu, as the German officers soon complained, he failed to take cognizance of the German officers’ “superior” training, interfered with their professional activities and attempted to introduce an “espionage” system, which was highlighted by a scrutiny of the punctuality of the German advisers. Vainly did the Germans await Uriburu’s quick return to the Academy, and vainly did German minister Bussche attempt to “mediate” the controversy by conversing privately with Toranzo.

More severe pressure tactics followed in the form of a series of secret maneuvers. Uriburu pressed the German case orally and at length before War Minister Vélez. A letter followed in which the German instructors stated that they could not work with Toranzo. Finally, Bussche played his trump card by threatening Germany’s friend Gómez with a possible deterioration in German-Argentine trade relations if the dispute were not settled satisfactorily. Toranzo’s dismissal from the academy followed swiftly. In the view of the German officers, this affair illustrated again the difficulties arising from their lack of seniority, which prevented them from dealing effectively with Argentine officers.

Actually, the Germans had won a somewhat Pyrrhic victory. Toranzo was succeeded by the War Academy’s last pre-war director, Colonel Alberto M. Noailles, a thirty-seven-year-old artillery officer who had been trained at the War Academies in Buenos Aires and Berlin. In the eyes of the German officers, he was one of the best-trained officers in the army, at least theoretically. He also impressed them with his “sound judgment” and “adequate personal reserve.”23 Noailles was indeed a devoted adherent of the army’s professionalization. Yet he was a fervent nationalist as well. He advocated stripping the German officers of their power to pass on the promotion of Argentine officers. This was not all: “This directory believed,” the colonel reported to his superiors early in 1914, “that the moment had come to initiate steps to free the teaching at this academy from elements who are strangers to this country. . ..” In line with this policy, the ratio of Argentine to foreign faculty members was changed in the Argentines’ favor.24 At almost the same time, however, the German military attaché reported that there were no longer signs of any overt agitation against German military influence, or of intrigues in favor of Germany’s rivals, and concluded that tendencies favoring a gradual emancipation from German tutelage were only isolated, limited to a handful of high-ranking officers and of little significance, at least for the time being.25

In the meanwhile, German military tutelage had become more closely and more consciously connected with increasingly resolute German efforts to sell weapons and warships to Argentina. Beginning in 1891, the Argentine infantry and cavalry began to be supplied with Mauser rifles and carbines. Krupp delivered several artillery pieces during that same year. Ernesto Tornquist, a prominent Argentine financier and business entrepreneur, served as the firm’s influential agent.

Perhaps surprisingly, arms salesman Tornquist was devoted to Argentina’s peaceful economic development. A man of Scandinavian immigrant stock, he had family ties with Argentina’s traditional elite and maintained close connections with major foreign financial interests. He also played important roles in funding the Argentinian national debt and in mediating the end of revolutionary upheaval in 1890. At the turn of the century, he made a major contribution to the settlement of the lengthy and bitter Argentine-Chilean stalemate. Roca and personable Carlos Pellegrini, a sometime president and cabinet member of cosmopolitan leanings, relied on him as their confidant. A man of principle, Tornquist preferred to exert his influence discreetly, until he was overtaken by a whirlwind of bitter controversy near the end of his life. However, of even more decisive importance to Krupp sales than Tornquist’s personal impact was, in the long run, the Argentine military leadership’s resolve to patronize a sole dependable manufacturer in order to avoid the confusion resulting from the adoption of diverse weapons systems.26

Argentina’s controversy with Brazil led to the launching of a large-scale Argentine military and naval armaments program. This evoked such a deep interest on the part of powerful House of Krupp and other German weapons manufacturers and naval shipyards that by 1908 the sale of weaponry and warships became, temporarily at least, a primary objective of German foreign policy toward Argentina. Until about 1900, Krupp had enjoyed a virtual global monopoly in the sale of artillery and armored plates. Then the French, or more precisely, the firm of Schneider-Creusot, began to challenge Krupp’s commanding position in the artillery market in such places as the Iberian Peninsula, Peru and Mexico. Although they were “small chips” breaking away from the firm’s quasi-monopolistic redoubt, these well-publicized minor defeats weakened Krupp’s worldwide prestige. The industrial giant became resolved to retrieve its former preponderance, and won out in a ruthless artillery competition against Schneider in Brazil in 1902.27

Argentina had just settled her difficulties with Chile. Yet the stage was being set on Argentinian territory for a ferocious Franco-German showdown. Early in 1904, a friend of the House of Krupp became minister to Argentina. Almost simultaneously, a special traveling Krupp “technician,” who had managed his firm’s campaign in Brazil, supplemented Tornquist’s activities and did such extraordinary things as informing the German government concerning the organization, weaponry and mobilization plans of the Argentinian army.28

According to the debatable axiom of a German military adviser, Argentina was a country in which the prestige of a powerful person mattered more than did a cause. In 1906, mercurial Foreign Minister Estanislao S. Zeballos, claiming to be peace-loving and progressive, began to shape the government’s anti-Brazilian policies. Among his more constant predilections were a virtually unbounded admiration of Germany and things German, a deep devotion to his country’s armed preparedness and a vindictive hatred of Brazilian Foreign Minister José Maria da Silva Paranhos, the Baron do Rio Branco.29

In Berlin, the State Secretary of Foreign Affairs worried over the possible effects of an Argentine-Brazilian war on German commerce, and decided to follow a stringently neutral policy toward both antagonists.30 In Buenos Aires, Zeballos, who was an influential editor of La Prensa, was feeding tensions by using his newspaper as a virtual propaganda organ, but by June, 1908, the efforts of his domestic enemies and a certain amount of British pressure sufficed to ease him out of the foreign ministry. This development brought a marked lessening of tension with Brazil.

German military advisers became entangled in Argentine domestic affairs at an early stage during the Krupp-Schneider showdown. A far-reaching feud between Krupp’s Tornquist, on the one hand, and Zaballos, on the other, constituted still another source of domestic disturbance to Argentina. Perhaps most ominously, Argentine politicians, journalists and army officers became at times, willingly or unwillingly, prey to the blandishments and probably monetary corruption that originated from Krupp and Schneider.31

To the German advisers, this ruthless international rivalry represented more than a struggle between firms of rival nationalities, namely a basic conflict between German and French military systems, since they clung to the controversial view that certain types of military training regulations were tightly interrelated with weapons systems. In their view the loss of Germany’s military and weapons stronghold in Argentina would, through a process of chain reaction, entail the loss to Germany of the entire South American weapons market. Such an occurence, so it was maintained even in German civilian circles, would have harmful effects on general German trade in this part of the world.

Schneider and the French government, according to the German military advisers, conducted their sales campaign with ominous dexterity, determination, lack of scruple, effective planning, and expenditure of large sums of money, including the payment of bribes. Throughout the testing, the French presented guns that seemed to be of roughly equal quality with Krupp’s offerings. In addition, they were usually able to rely on a reasonably friendly climate of public opinion with the help of a traditionally Francophile press. Furthermore, the sometimes heavy-handed and abrupt German ways alienated the Argentines. Beyond this, the French, at least in German eyes, managed to influence the composition of the artillery testing commission. According to the German military, its chairman favored the French, and was in an unusually powerful position as the Inspector General of Artillery and member of the army’s commission on promotions.

German countermeasures were harsh and energetic. They included, apparently, illegal manipulations by Krupp’s special agent and the employment of political pressure by the German military advisers, such as repeated warnings that the selection of other than German artillery would endanger the German-type military reform program, a possibility that greatly alarmed leading pro-German officers. Other Argentines had valid reason to fear that, with the disappearance of firm German guidance, chaos might result in their still disunited army. A vociferously anti-German officer was removed from the testing commission at the behest of the German military and the German minister in Buenos Aires. German lobbying before the War Minister led to the latter’s pro-German intervention in the activities of the testing commission. And Krupp itself proposed an unusually speedy delivery of rapid-fire cannons. This would have given Argentina a sudden strategic advantage in the late summer and early fall of 1908. Unfortunately for Argentina, the offer was also accompanied by the cynical dissemination of a false war scare in the press by those who advocated the purchase of German arms.32

Before Krupp’s final triumph, its agent Tornquist, who fought tenaciously to divert his nation’s resources to an expensive armaments program, fell on hard days. Pellegrini was dead and his other once powerful friend Roca had left office. Instead, his bitter antagonist Zeballos dominated the government until mid-1908. Krupp was consequently caught in an awkward position. Tornquist was, according to owner Gustav Krupp von Bohlen-Halbach, “. . . after all still a significant factor in Argentinian public life. . ..”33 Yet Krupp’s operations in Argentina were gravely menaced by Tornquist’s vehement opposition to the Foreign Minister, who was supported by the Ministers of War and the Interior. Indeed, Zeballos began to exert strong pressure against his enemy by the fall of 1907. Early in 1908, the then gravely ill and irritable financier reacted by supporting anti-government factions during the congressional election campaign, and by signing a public manifesto which protested the temporary closing of the legislature by the president. Stung, Zeballos pressed for action against Tornquist.

After a personal consultation with the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Krupp von Bohlen-Halbach severed his firm’s connections with the embarrassing agent. Disconcerted and near death, Tornquist persisted in seeking Zeballos’ removal from the government (which soon ensued, as we have seen) by means of a press campaign, launched with an article in La Nación in March, 1908.34

Almost simultaneously, Argentina was completing a large-scale acquisition of warships. Again, German political, industrial and, this time, naval interests were eager to sell to Argentina for reasons of profits, the employment of workers, prestige, and the development of the German war industry through mass production. Emperor William II and his government had earlier sought a market in Argentina for warships built by Vulcan shipyards and for the construction of coastal defenses by Krupp. Beginning in 1904, segments of the Argentinian body politic, with La Prensa in the vanguard, exhorted their countrymen to meet the challenge of the dynamically expanding Brazilian fleet, which was even acquiring large battleships by 1906.35

A German sales campaign for warships began in 1907. During that summer, the top German salesman, the Emperor, held a remarkable interview with the Germanophile Gómez, then Argentina’s minister to Germany, at the annual review of the German fleet. He urged Argentina to arm herself and to buy warships from Germany. Zeballos publicized his minister’s secret report as he saw fit, relaying the Emperor’s remarks to Brazil and passing the entire pro-German Gómez report on to the German minister to Argentina. Emperor William himself read it eventually with great glee.36

More than a year later, barely preceding final congressional approval for the purchase of two battleships and twelve destroyers, Krupp von Bohlen-Halbach persuaded his government to dispatch a German naval contingent to the La Plata estuary in order to advertise German warships and naval weaponry. As in the case of earlier German naval activities in Argentina, these visits were of doubtful effectiveness. Well-disciplined German sailors created a good impression, even in the eyes of the frequently anti-German newspaper El Diario. But the few small German warships available in the area were unable to compete effectively with the larger naval contingents of several rival nations. Also German ships anchored invariably before Buenos Aires during the hot and humid month of December, after many of the more prominent Argentines who might be connected with the purchase of warships had left the city for more comfortable surroundings.37

As did the Americans, French and Italians, the Germans hoped that an important Argentine order for warships would enable them to break into a more or less exclusive British market. Furthermore, the Germans were eager to set a significant precedent for future sales to Chile and China. Once more the atmosphere surrounding a German campaign for the sale of implements of war became rife with intrigue. As during the almost simultaneous bidding for cannon orders, Zeballos served again as a key informant for the Germans. At one time, he and La Prensa even cooperated surreptitiously with German shipyards in order to promote the Argentine naval expansion program. An assistant director of the Buenos Aires branch of a German bank was active as a secret intermediary between a German shipyard and both the Argentine and German governments. In the meanwhile, German observers suspected British and American competitors of paying out large bribes. In addition, German officials were fearful that the Argentines were turning German naval secrets over to the British, and they suspected that the Argentine Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Navy held strong pro-British sympathies.38

Realizing that German industry was less competitive in the sale of warships than in the merchandising of cannon, the young German navy groped desperately for the type of leverage with Argentina’s modernizing and growing navy that the German army had achieved with the similarly evolving Argentine army. Although the Germans could indeed hope to take advantage of existing Argentine resentments against preponderant British economic and naval influence, they were, this time, suggesting a forced and sudden collaboration between the armed forces of two nations instead of a relatively spontaneous and gradual one. Potential German naval instructors would have had to overcome substantial entrenched British tendencies instead of filling a virtual vacuum, as had been the case in a chaotically diverse and disorganized military establishment. Once more Germany attempted to promote the “systems” approach, as Germany’s navy offered to train Argentinian naval officers in Germany, if a large order for warships would be placed with the German shipyards.

The Argentines were reasonably impressed with the quality of German warships, and they finally employed a clever quota system by purchasing an equal number of German, British and French destroyers. On the other hand, they also found out that German battleships were too costly, this in spite of some cooperation between Krupp and the large Blohm and Voss shipyards. Worst of all, the Germans felt compelled, for “domestic political reasons,” to disregard the only plainly effective enticement that was at their disposal when they rejected repeated fervent Argentinian pleas to turn over immediately a warship then under construction for the German government, a transfer that would have suddenly turned the South Atlantic naval balance in Argentina’s favor.39

German and other foreign armaments interests pursued their intrigues within the Argentine government to the eve of World War I. While the often unemotional Germans were, as before, more respected than loved, German military instructors and German-trained Argentine officers in key commands were gradually succeeding in shaping a relatively more cohesive, better disciplined and somewhat less rebellion-prone officer corps at the head of a more modern and better equipped national army. Even in the face of persistent Argentine nationalistic assertiveness, close relations continued to be nurtured between the aristocratic German officer corps and Argentine commanders tied to the landed elite, like Uriburu. Capable young officers from middle class backgrounds, who tended to benefit generally from the new German-inspired emphasis on professional ability, were given new opportunities for promotion as a result of the military reform legislation that had been initiated by Uriburu. Furthermore, in line with German suggestions, more emphasis had been placed on practical training.

Only months before the German advisers took their final leave in order to fight for their own country, German military and naval interests were represented through a distinguished “unofficial” visitor to Argentina. He was Prince Henry, the Emperor’s brother and a top commander in the German navy. Prince Henry bore witness to another at least tentative German accomplishment when, in the company of Uriburu, he reviewed troops en route to large-scale military maneuvers.40

With the encouragement of members of the Argentine government and officer corps, increasing German weapons sales had helped to bring about a significant German participation in the molding of a modern Argentine army. In the forefront of those who opposed this type of German penetration had been nationalists, traditionalists, pacifists, and a number of supporters of other foreign interests and tendencies. In response, the German government, armed forces and war industry, at the turn of the century, began to defend their new and growing vested interests with determination. On the whole, activities related to the sale of weapons and warships had a largely passing but corrosive impact on Argentina, a nation in search of a strong sense of national cohesion. But the teachings of the German military instructors, controversial as they had been, left a deep impression in the increasingly influential officer corps. They had, therefore, contributed to the forging of Argentina’s national heritage.


Germany. Auswärtiges Amt, Akten (Selected German For. Ministry Archives, 1867-1920), Argentinien 1, on microfilm, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (cited hereinafter as GFM), A 4203 and A 4373, Holstein-Holleben, July 28, 1880; A 5040, Holleben-Bismarck, June 30, 1880; A 4373, Holleben-Bismarck, June 13, 1880; A 5039, Holleben-Bismarck, July 20, 1880. Great Britain, (Public Record Office) For. Office, Argentine Republic. General Correspondence 1852-1905, microfilm for the University of California, Berkeley, fol. 6/360, Nos. 16, 71, 75, 76, 79, 84, 85, 88. U.S. Department of State, Dispatches from United States Ministers to Argentina 1826-1906 and Diplomatic Instructions of the Department of State 1801-1906, microfilm, University of California, Berkeley, Nos. 288 and 289.


GFM, A 121, LeMaistre-Bismarck, December 4, 1873.


Freie Presse, May 25, 1960, 126. Colonel D. Alberto Marini, “El ejército en los últimos cincuenta años,” Revista Militar, Nos. 186-188 (Buenos Aires, 1960), 358. Ejército Argentino, Reseña del instituto geográfico militar (Buenos Aires, 1951), p. 33. Fritz Theodor Epstein, European Military Influence in Latin America, on microfilm at the Library of Congress (Washington, 1961), pp. 58 and 277.


GFM, A 1763, Minister Krauel-Caprivi, Buenos Aires, January 22, 1894.


La Nación, January 1, 1894, 16.


GFM, A 4840, Minister Krauel-Caprivi, Buenos Aires, May 1, 1894.


Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, correspondence with diplomatic representatives in Germany, incomplete sets of documents, stored, as of late 1969, in the For. Ministry’s archives in Buenos Aires in a state of disarray (cited hereinafter as AFM), No. 50, Guesalaga-Alcorta, August 30, 1895.


GFM, A 8638, Wentzingen-Hohenlohe, Buenos Aires, June 26, 1898.


Editorial Staff, “Bodas de Diamante de la Escuela Superior de Guerra,” Revista de la Escuela Superior de Guerra, 38 (January-March, 1960), 8.


AFM, 17/99, Minister Mansilla-For. Minister, Berlin, June 4, 1899.


La Nación, February 12, 1899, 5. La Prensa, August 18, 1899, 5; August 25, 5; January 23, 1900, 3; January 25, 5; March 7, 5.


La Prensa, April 26, 1900, 5. El Diario, April 28, 1900, 1; April 25, 1; April 26, 1; and April 29, 1. Argentinisches Tageblatt, April 25, 1900, 1. A. Arent, Argentinien, ein Land der Zukunft (Munich, 1913), p. 159. GFM, A 15362, Minister Wangenheim-Jenisch, Buenos Aires, September 24, 1902.


La Prensa, January 12, 7; January 23, 6; March 11, 1902. La Nación, April 9, 5. Wilhelm Lütge, Werner Hoffmann, Karl Wilhelm Körner, Geschichte des Deutschtums in Argentinien (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 247-248. GFM, A 6575, Wangenheim-Bülow, Buenos Aires, March 31, 1902; A 6589, Wangenheim-Jenisch, April 1, 1902; A 6950, Wangenheim-Bülow, April 10, 1902; A 15362, Wangenheim-Jenisch, September 24, 1902; A 7208, Undersecretary of State-Hülsen, Berlin, May 9, 1902; A 11805, Undersecretary of State-Hülsen, Berlin, August 6, 1902; A 12422, Hülsen-Bülow, August 17, 1902.


Memoria del año 1900, Arent-Riccheri, Buenos Aires, undated, and Memoria del año 1901. Arent-Riccheri, Buenos Aires, January 31, 1902, in Escuela Superior de Guerra, Memorias correspondientes a los años 1900-1911 (collection of confidential manuscripts, Buenos Aires, 1912) cited hereinafter as Memorias, pp. 2-4.


Memorias, Año 1914, Buenos Aires, February 1, 1915, pp. 25 and 29. La Prensa, July 21, 1903, 3; September 29, 1903, 4; September 3, 1909, 11. Augusto A. Maligne, “Historia militar de la república,” supplement of La Nación, May 25, 1910, 157 and 162-164. Francisco L. Albarracín, La instrucción y cultura del ejército en función de la democracia (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 9 and 36-39. General Luis Rodolfo González, “Las ideas contrarias al Espíritu de Mayo y su repercusion en la vida política argentina,” speech before Círculo Militar on September 6, 1956 (Buenos Aires, 1956), pp. 11-13 and 16-18. Series of articles by Lt. Col. A. A. Maligne, “El ejército argentino en 1910,” Revista de Derecho, Historia y Letras, 38 (April, 1911), 253-273, 397-425 and 557-566. La Plata Zeitung, November 28, 1909, 3.


El director de la Escuela Superior de Guerra Col. fosé F. Uriburu, “Explicaciones sobre los nuevos reglamentos,” Revista Militar, 7:183 (April, 1908), 259-261. Lt. Col. José Ricardo Luna, Informe general sobre el estado militar de la República Argentina (Lima, 1922) p. 84. La Plata Zeitung, May 8, 1912, 1. Estado Mayor General del Ejército, Lt. Col. fosé F. Uriburu, director, Escuela Superior de la Guerra, Instrucciones para la enseñanza en la Escuela Superior de la Guerra (Buenos Aires, 1910), p. 3. José F. Uriburu, “Socialismo y defensa nacional,” Anales de la Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias Sociales, 4 (Buenos Aires, 1914), 269. Memorias, Año 1918, Buenos Aires, February 5, 1919, pp. 9-10.


José Luis de Imaz, Los que mandan (Buenos Aires, 1964), p. 53. Vicente Passarrelli, El espíritu germano en la Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1956), pp. 76-79. General Wilhelm Faupel, “Las relaciones del ejército aleman con los países iberoamericanos” in Faupel et al., Ibero-América y Alemania (Berlin, 1933) pp. 171-175. Lt. Rodrigo Amorortu, “Concepto de la República Argentina ante la Europa,” Revista del Círculo Militar, 29:339 (April, 1939), 612. Epstein, European Military Influence, pp. 24 and 58-140. Commandante Maligne, “Jomini y Clausewitz,” Revista Militar, 7:187 (August, 1908), 579-583.


La Nación, September 17, 1907, 6.


GFM, A 1165, secret report by Captain Thewalt, Buenos Aires, December 21, 1905.


Col. Augusto A. Maligne: “Historia militar de la república argentina. 1810-1910,” supplement in La Nación, May 25, 1910, 9.


GFM, A 8218, secret military report No. 7, Buenos Aires, April 5, 1909; A 9039, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, April 2, 1913; A 9590, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, May 10, 1910; A 11004, Schoen-von Treutler, Berlin, June 30, 1910; A 18850, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, October 17, 1910; A 19446, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, November 3, 1910.


A. A. Maligne, “El ejército argentino en 1910,” Revista de Derecho, Historia, y Letras, 42 (July 1912), 394-404 and 556-566. Severo Toranzo, “El ejército alemán. A propósito de las maniobras imperiales de 1911,” Revista de Derecho, Historia y Letras, 43 (October 1912), 209-214. El Diario, November 6, 1912, 10. La Nación, November 8, 1912, 9. Congreso Nacional, Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados. Año 1913. Sesiones ordinarios. (Buenos Aires, 1913), II, 822-823, 872-873, 881, 886-888, 1071-1072, 1119-1120, and 1126.


GFM, A 20564, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, September 16, 1913.


Memorias, Año 1913. Buenos Aires, February 25, 1914, pp. 8, 20-27 and 32-33; Año 1914, Buenos Aires, February 1, 1915, p. 29.


GFM, A 14087, report by military attaché Scheven, Buenos Aires, June 24, 1914.


Dionisio Schoo Lastra, “El teniente Pablo Riccheri y el conflicto con Chile,” Revista Militar, Nos. 186-188 (1960), 298. Miguel Angel Cárcano, La presidencia de Carlos Pellegrini (Buenos Aires, 1968), pp. 20, 63 and 107. Gustavo Ferrari, Conflicto y paz con chile (Buenos Aires, 1968), pp. 55-56. Letters from the Archives of Biblioteca Tornquist, Buenos Aires, Julio A. Roca-Tornquist, Buenos Aires, February 4, 1896, and Pellegrini-Tornquist, Amsterdam November 6, 1898. Letter Pellegrini-Vicente L. Casares, Amsterdam, November 6, 1898, in Agustín Rivero Astengo and Jockey Club of Buenos Aires, Pellegrini, 1846-1906 (Buenos Aires, 1941), II, p. 505. Rodolfo Martínez Pita, Riccheri (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 46.


GFM, A 10130, memorandum by Captain von Restorff, Krupp’s agent in Buenos Aires, Berlin, June 11, 1910. The Mexican Krupp-Schneider competition is covered in Warren Schiff, “German Interests in Mexico during the Period of Porfirio Díaz” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1957), pp. 76-88.


GFM, A 3063, Krupp directory-Richthofen, Essen, February 20, 1904; A 10995, Waldthausen-Bülow, June 9, 1904; A 12216, Krupp directory-Richthofen, July 26, 1904.


Estanislao S. Zeballos, “A través de las campañas” in Descripción amena de la república argentina (Buenos Aires, 1888), III, 115-116. GFM, A 7930 chargé Hatzfeldt-For. Ministry, Buenos Aires, May 5, 1906; A 21222, Waldthausen-Bülow, November 24, 1906; A 911, Waldthausen-Bülow, December 21, 1906; A 1594, unsigned For. Ministry memorandum, Berlin, January 29, 1907; A 16430, Waldthausen-Bülow, September 27, 1907; A 6101, Waldthausen-Bülow, March 26, 1908; A 11690, Waldthausen-Bülow, June 23, 1908; A 20876, Hatzfeldt-Bülow, Buenos Aires, November 18, 1908; Diego Abad de Santillán, Historia Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1965), III, 591. GFM, A 11361, Reichenau-Bülow, Petropolis, June 29, 1908.


GFM, A 8618, Secr. of State for For. Affairs-Waldthausen, Berlin, June 5, 1908.


GFM, A 8618, Secr. of State for For. Affairs-Waldthausen, June 5, 1908; A 17916, Directory, Krupp-Bülow, November 6, 1907; A 5661, Secret Military Report No. 3, Buenos Aires, February 24, 1908; A 8212, Secret Military Report No. 7, Buenos Aires, April 15, 1909; A16431, Gómez-Zeballos, June 29, 1907 in Waldthausen-Bülow, October 4, 1907; A 15500, Waldthausen-Bülow, August 7, 1905.


GFM, A 5661, Secret Military Report No. 3, Buenos Aires, February 24, 1908; A 15925, Secret Military Report No. 4, Buenos Aires, July 20, 1908; A 14657, Waldthausen-Bülow, August 13, 1908; A 117, Hatzfeldt-Bülow, December 8, 1908; A 1573, Waldthausen-Bülow, January 3 and 4, 1908; A 15714, Military Report No. 12 by Military Attaché Captain Lohmann, Buenos Aires, September 4, 1908. El Tiempo, August 18, 1908, 1. El Diario, December 14, 1907, 4.


GFM, A 16430, Waldthausen-Bülow, Buenos Aires, September 27, 1907; A 6099, Waldthausen-Bülow, March 26, 1908; A 8775, Waldthausen-Bülow, May 12, 1908; A 6101, Waldthausen-Bülow, March 26, 1908; A 1573, Waldthausen-Bülow, January 3, 1908. La Nación, January 8, 1906, 6. GFM, A 4390, Waldthausen-Bülow, February 22, 1908. GFM, A 3850, Krupp von Bohlen-Halbach-Schoen, Essen, March 11, 1908 and Schoen-Minister, Argentina, Berlin, March 14, 1908.


GFM, A 3102, Waldthausen-For. Ministry, February 28, 1908. Vanguardia, March 20, 1908, 1. La Nación, March 19, 1908, 6; March 21, 7. La Tribuna, March 19, 1908, 1; March 20, 1. El Diario, March 19, 1908, 4; March 20, 4; March 21, 4; March 23, 4; March 26, 4; March 28, 4-5; March 30, 4. El Tiempo, March 19, 1908, 1; March 21, 1.


GFM, A 16252, Hatzfeldt-Bismarck, London, November 30, 1889; A 1763, Krauel-Caprivi, January 22, 1894; A 1694, Heintze-Hohenlohe, January 22, 1896; A 16401, Quadt-For. Ministry, Washington, October 31, 1901; A 7344, Wangenheim-Bülow, April 18, 1908; A 6620, Wangenheim-Bülow, Buenos Aires, April 10, 1903; A 7044, Krupp directory-Mühlberg, May 15, 1903.


GFM, A 16431, Gómez-Zeballos, June 29, 1907, in Waldthausen-Bülow, October 4, 1907.


GFM, A 17823, Tirpitz-Schoen, Berlin, October 28, 1908; A 16340, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, Buenos Aires, August 22, 1912; A 8854, Waldthausen For. Ministry, June 6, 1908; A 1957, Waldthausen-Bethmann-Hollweg, January 1, 1910; A 603, Hatzfeldt-Bülow, December 15, 1908. A 1077, Hatzfeldt-Bülow, December 20, 1908; A 6820, Bethmann-Hollweg-Emperor, Berlin, October 15, 1909, El Diario, January 2, 1908, 4.


GFM, A 16430, Waldthausen-Bülow, September 27, 1907; A 8854, Waldthausen-Bülow, June 6, 1908; A 10970, Waldthausen-For. Ministry, July 12, 1908; A 1444, Waldthausen-Bülow, August 13, 1908; A 9939, Widenmann-Tirpitz, London, June 9, 1909; A 8712, Hatzfeldt-For. Ministry, May 18, 1909; A 12396, Widenmann-Tirpitz, July 23, 1909; A16821, Waldthausen-Bethmann-Hollweg, September 5, 1909; A 16162, Waldthausen-For. Ministry, October 2, 1909; A 16564, Waldthausen-For. Ministry, October 9, 1909; A 16820, Bethmann-Hollweg-Emperor, Berlin, October 15, 1909; A 17158, Schoen-Waldthausen, Berlin, October 23, 1909; A 1468, Waldthausen-For. Ministry, October 25, 1909; A 8559, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, April 20, 1910; A 608, Bussche-Bethmann-Hollweg, December 13, 1910.


GFM, A 16820, Bethmann-Hollweg-Emperor, October 15, 1909; A 17158, Bethmann-Hollweg-Emperor, October 20, 1909.


GFM, A 19782, report by Pabst von Ohain, Buenos Aires, August 20, 1913; A 4557, report by Scheven, Buenos Aires, February 1, 1914; A 22702, report by German military instructors at the War Academy, Buenos Aires, October 18, 1913. La Nación, March 29, 1914, 12; April 19, 10; April 10, 11 and 12.

Author notes


The author is Associate Professor of History at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass.