December 2, 1956 a group of 82 Cuban guerillas led by Fidel Castro landed in eastern Cuba, near Niquero. Their destination: the Sierra Maestra mountains, a few days march away. On december 5th, while sleeping, they were betrayed by their guide who gave there position to the army. The army attacked them with infantry, artillery and aircraft. About a third was killed or captured immediately. After several days of fighting only a small group of 16-18 guerillas, with the help of friendly peasants, managed to escape and came together on december 17-19. Among them Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, Che Guevara and Camillo Cienfuegos. They marched deeper into the mountains.
In the next year Castro’s guerilla army gradually grew larger and started attacking isolated small town army posts and ambushed army expeditions in the mountains. Because of the fighting tactics, shooting the soldiers in front first, the soldiers soon refused to march ahead of the column. It didn’t take long before the army began making fewer forays into the mountains and concentrated on defending towns.
Castro devised his army into different columns under various commanders which all operated independently into their own area. While the army dug into the towns, the guerillas could freely move around the countryside and establish bases. Fidel’s camp, the center of revolutionary activity, began to resemble a small city. A rebel newspaper, El Cubano Libre was published on a mimeograph machine and radio broadcastings through the station Radio Rebelde. Eventually, the guerillas ran telephone lines through the Sierra Maestra and Sierra Cristal, connecting several guerilla columns and nearby villages.
On may 24, 1958, after a year-and-a-half of guerilla warfare, Batista launched his only major offensive against Castro’s column. Seventeen battalions with tank, aerial, and naval support surrounded the Sierra Maestra. Their target was Castro’s headquarters and Radio Rebelde. Castro had only 300 guerillas with him, and Batista’s forces came on strong, in three weeks pushing Castro into just a few square miles of territory. But, Castro still had an advantage in communications – the peasants kept him imformed. At the end of June, he counterattacked against the 11th Battalion, which he trapped resting in a valley. The enemy force was torn apart, most soldiers were either killed or captured.
By december 1958, after heavy fighting between the guerillas and the army, Batista fled Cuba and went into exile. By january 1959 Cuba was under control of the guerillas, it seemed freedom had come to Cuba. Freedom of course was not to be. Castro consolidated his one man-rule over Cuba and slowly moved into the Communist camp. For a few months however, Cuba had hope in Fidel Castro as the key to freedom.
Nowadays the base camp in the Sierre Maestra mountains is a touristic attraction where tourists can go to during a 3-hour walk. A small photographic impression of this area can be found below. Also a few photos of the mausoleum where Che Guevara is buried.