Paraguayan Infantryman, as painted by Chris Yaro.
The Chaco War was a conflict between two small South American nations, Bolivia and Paraguay, over what many see as a worthless piece of land -- the Gran Chaco, a hot and semi-arid place virtually devoid of water or useful resources, a place so awful that it is sometimes referred to as the "Green Hell." Neither country saw it that way, however -- the Bolivians had been made landlocked in previous wars and desperately sought access to the sea, which occupation of the Chaco would afford them, as it bordered the Paraguay River, which empties into the Atlantic. As the Paraguay River runs right through Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, the Paraguayans saw Bolivian access to this river as a deadly threat to the small, desperately poor nation's very survival. Further complicating matters were rumours of oil deposits in the Gran Chaco. So this was not the "pointless war" that it is so often dismissed as being, but rather two small countries fighting over something both needed and could not find a way to share with the other.|
Much to the surprise of the world, Paraguay emerged with a splendid though costly victory in the war, despite its much smaller population and more meager resources, due to greatly shorter supply lines, good leadership and government/military cooperation, better infantry tactics, and the early use of infantry mortars (a much more practical weapon in the Chaco than heavy guns). But perhaps the most important advantage was the high fighting spirit of the Paraguayan infantryman, who might have looked most unimpressive in his unmartial uniform (and, not unfrequently, his bare feet), but is nonetheless often seen as the best infantry fighter in all of South America. Tenacious on the defense, in the attack he used infiltration tactics as had the Stosstruppen in the First World War, encirling the enemy with his machete in one hand, his Mauser in the other. The Bolivian infantry on the other hand were greatly hampered by many obstacles, such as a rigid class system, an enormous trek to get to the battle zone, and the incompatability of peoples from high altitudes to fighting on a hellish, flat terrain. It is a testament to their tenacity that they fought as hard as they did on numerous occasions.
Despite the fact that it was overwhelmingly an infantry war, and fought with the weaponry of the late First World War, campaigns were often quite fluid rather than being bogged down in trench warfare. (That said, there were several epic sieges and point-defense battles, such as that mini-Verdun of the New World, the Battle of Nanawa.) In some ways it resembles what the Spring 1918 Offensive might have been had it been extended into an entire war. One additional dimension was the difficulty in finding drinking water in the Chaco, and the extent to which a small force with adequate water could roll up vastly surperior enemy formations that were cut off from their water supplies, making for very interesting scenarios.
This line can be used to wargame the Chaco War with any of the popular rules sets currently available for either World War 1 or World War 2, including very popular WWII rules sets that use multiple basing. Infantry squads of about eight men were normal, and this is the basic pack in the line. The Bolivians have largely Vickers-supplied weapons, the Paraguayans have weapons from various countries.