Navy Day is celebrated on 21 May and is also known as Day of Naval Glories. It is a holiday with banks, schools and government offices closed.
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Navy Day actually celebrates the Battle of Iquique which took place between Chile and Peru in 1879. Arturo Pratt commanded the Chilean navy, leading the battle in his ship, “Esmeralda”, against Miguel Grau of Peru in his ship, “Huascer”.
The Chilean Navy held on during the battle. The angles of the ships made it difficult to fire cannons at some points due to the risk of injuring civilians on land or the batteries belonging to Peru in the port. Grau realised that it would be impossible to win using cannon fire and ordered the Huascer to ram the Esmeralda.
Pratt realised what was about to happen and attempted to avoid the collision. The ships collided and the Huascar fired cannons at close range, killing 40 to 50 people, including Pratt. There are conflicting reports as to how Pratt died. The Chileans say that he attempted to abandon the Esmeralda and take over the Huascer. There are reports his body was found on the Huascer’s deck along with his Petty Officer, Juan de Dios Aldea, who was wounded. Others claim that his body fell into the sea and was never recovered.
The Esmeralda was badly damaged, but Lousi Uribe Orrego, now the acting Captain after Pratt’s death, refused to surrender. Grau chose to ram the Esmeralda again. In an attempt to avoid the hit, Uribe turned the ship, but opened a water route, causing water to pour over weapons and powder. The crew of the Esmeralda still refused to surrender and the Huascer rammed the ship again. The Esmeralda began to sink and survivors were rescued by the Peruvians.
The battle was a Peruvian victory and led to the lifting of the blockade on Ibuique. However, Peru also lost a warship, the Independencia, one of its most powerful, while Chile lost one of its oldest wooden warships. The death of Pratt inspired many youth to join the armed forces which may have been a catalyst in Chile’s eventual victory in the war. Since 1905, the date of the battle has been a public holiday in Chile.