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El Tanquetazo or El Tancazo (both Spanish for tank putsch) of 29 June 1973 are the names used to refer to the failed coup attempt in Chile led by Army Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper against the government of Socialist president Salvador Allende. It is called such because the rebelling officers primarily used tanks. It was successfully put down by loyal Constitutionalist soldiers led by Army Commander-in-Chief Carlos Prats.

(Not to be confused with the Tacnazo insurrection started 1969 from the "Tacna Regiment" in Santiago.)


By the beginning of June, 1973, an important part of the high command of the Chilean Armed Forces had lost all respect for the Popular Unity government of president Allende. These officers had already discovered, during the so-called Tacnazo, that by exerting pressure as a group, they could achieve wide ranging changes within the military, such as high command changes and an increase in the Armed Forces' budget. As a result, they started to plot against the government.

A week before the attempt, a conspiracy was discovered at the Santiago Army Garrison. The Garrison commander, General Mario Sepulveda Squella, informed his immediate superiors at the Army General Staff, and also informed Jose Toha, Minister of Defense. Nine people involved in the conspiracy were immediately arrested, and Minister Toha decided to go public with this information on the afternoon of 28 June.


Early in the morning of the following day, Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper, who had just learned that he would be relieved of his command for his part in the conspiracy, left the Second Armored Battalion in Santiago at the head of a column of sixteen armored vehicles, including tanks, plus eighty soldiers. The mutinous column rapidly made its way to downtown Santiago and encircled the presidential palace, La Moneda, and the building housing the Ministry of Defense, just across the Plaza de la Libertad. At two minutes before 9:00 AM the tanks opened fire on these buildings.

At the Ministry, a tank made its way to the main entrance after obliterating a utility pole, climbed the steps leading into the building, and with its guns began an intense attack on the Ministry's offices. Seargent Rafael Veillena, of the Army's Second Division, was killed when he looked out of a ninth floor window. The firing of machine guns and tanks panicked workers in the area, who at that hour were making their way to their jobs downtown. A woman working at the State Bank near the Ministry was killed, as well as a couple who were caught in cross-fire. At least sixteen people were wounded, four of them seriously.

Immediately on learning the news, General Mario Sepulveda Squella called General Guillermo Pickering, commander of the military institutes, requesting loyal troops to suffocate the rebellion. After securing these troops, he called Army Commander-in-chief, General Carlos Prats already with a ready plan to neutralize Souper's forces. General Prats approved it immediately and a few minutes later General Sepulveda Squella started to position his own troops.

Earlier that morning, Salvador Allende spoke to the people of Chile from the presidential residence at Tomas Moro in Santiago. In a 9:30 AM radio address, the president announced his unequivocal decision to defend the constitutional government against an attempted coup d'etat. He called upon the workers of Santiago to occupy the factories "and be ready in case it is necessary to fight alongside the soldiers of Chile."

In the meantime, General Prats went to visit all the nearby military regiments around Santiago to secure their support against the mutiny. The General encountered some resistance from the officers at the Junior Officers' Academy, who claimed that they did not want to fire against fellow soldiers. Prats would not take no for an answer. He insisted that the insurrection against the constitutional government had to be put down, and as Army Commander-in-chief, he ordered them to the streets. After a brief moment of indecision, they decided to support him, and soon after 10:30 AM, combat-ready units from the Academy joined the fight against the rebels.

Now, as General Prats drove his car toward La Moneda, he was thinking that it would be logical to suppose that the Second Armored Battalion was not acting alone. That other military units were either taking part in a putchist conspiracy or, at least, were waiting to act until they had seen the initial results. Prats therefore decided to use all the resources available to him to crush the rebellion before noon.

General Prats got out of his car near the presidential palace carrying a Thompson machine-gun. A large number of people had congregated nearby, watching nervously the movement of troops. Colonel Julio Canessa arrived with forces from the Junior Officers' Academy, and General Prats ordered that pieces of heavy artillery be deployed along the principal Avenue that bisects Santiago in two. Then he took what he subsequently called "a calculated risk", deciding to speak directly to the mutinous soldiers in an effort to convince them to give up their fight. By taking this course of action, Prats sought to prevent a long confrontation and unnecessary military and civilian casualties. According to Prats's later account: "I then decided to advance in the company of Lieutenant Colonel Osvaldo Hernandez, Captain Roger Vergara, and First Sargeant Omar Vergara. Extremely moved, Villaroel, the Military Chaplain, gave us the last absolution."

At 11:10 AM, the three men walked along Alameda Avenue carrying assault weapons. When they reached the palace, they were within steps of Tank E-2814. The commander of the tank trained his machine gun on the group but did not fire. Prats ordered him to come down, identify himself, obey his orders, and surrender to the soldiers of the Junior Officers' School. According to the account of a journalist watching the events nearby, "the soldier came down, stood at attention before the general, and saluted. That tank would not again fire against the Ministry of Defense or La Moneda on that morning." Prats successively repeated these orders to the other tanks and combat vehicles located south of the Palace. Then he reached a tank from which a soldier shouted: "I will not surrender, General!", while pointing his machine gun at Prats's group. Suddenly, Major Osvaldo Zabala sneaked up on the threatening soldier from behind and put a gun to his temple, thus disarming him and bringing the tense standoff to an end.

A few of the tanks fled rather than surrendering, however, after reinforcements from the "Buin" First Infantry Regiment arrived at the scene. This military unit, led by General Augusto Pinochet, quickly deployed its cannons and machine guns. The last rebelling unit to flee was a group of tanks and military vehicles stationed north of La Moneda. As this convoy fled south, General Prats was able to see Lt. Colonel Roberto Souper, "who looked disoriented and lost."

Immediately thereafter, General Prats entered the palace and ordered a general search of the buildings nearby. General Pickering had meanwhile cleared the rebels out of the western sector near the presidential palace. By 11:30 AM, the shooting around La Moneda had subsided and the coup attempt appeared to be over.


Souper surrendered later that day, after units from the "Tacna" regiment encircled and fired on the Second Battalion's barracks where he had taken refuge. Other military officers involved in planning the putsch were Rene Lopez, Edwin Ditmer, Hector Bustamante, Mario Garay, Carlos Martinez, Raul Jofre, and Jose Gasset. It was soon discovered that the main leaders of the extreme right-wing group, Fatherland and Liberty, had been the instigators. Pablo Rodriguez Grez, John Schaeffer, Benjamin Matte, Manuel Fuentes, and Juan Hurtado sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. From there they released a communique acknowledging that they had promoted the attempted coup.

During the evening, President Allende addressed a massive demonstration of support in front of La Moneda. As he neared the end of his speech, he said: "...trust your government. Go home and kiss your wives and children in the name of Chile."

Though the tancazo was unsuccessful, it was a turning point in the deterioration of civil society in Chile. Though previous to the tancazo there had been idle talk of a coup d'etat, the failed incident showed both sides of the polarized Chilean society how potentially easy it would be to take the presidential palace. This realization by all sides made the possibility of a coup more real.

This directly led to further and larger weapons procurement and distribution among Allende-supporters' paramilitary group, and an increased sense among the Chilean military that these paramilitary groups represented a clear insurrectionist threat to the country.

The political and social situation deteriorated further during the winter of that year, leading to the successful coup of 11 September 1973.

Additional information

See also

Tacnazo insurrection

1970 Chilean presidential election

History of Chile

Salvador Allende - deposed by 1973 coup

Chile under Allende

Chilean coup of 1973

Government Junta of Chile (1973)

Augusto Pinochet - took power in 1973 coup

Chile under Pinochet

Project FUBELT - secret CIA operations to unseat Allende.

U.S. intervention in Chile

List of Chilean coup d'etat

Footnotes and references

External links

[https://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/vol47no3/article03.html Alleged US intervention]

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