Chilean Battleship Almirante Latorre - Background

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Background

Almirante Latorre's genesis can be traced to the numerous naval arms races between Chile and Argentina, which in turn were spawned by territorial disputes over their mutual borders in Patagonia and Puna de Atacama, along with control of the Beagle Channel. Naval races flared up in the 1890s and in 1902; the latter was eventually settled via British mediation. Provisions in the dispute-ending treaty imposed restrictions on both countries' navies. The United Kingdom's Royal Navy bought the two Constitución-class pre-dreadnought battleships that were being built for Chile, and Argentina sold its two Rivadavia-class armored cruisers under construction in Italy to Japan.

After HMS Dreadnought was commissioned, Brazil decided in early 1907 to halt construction of three obsolescent pre-dreadnoughts in favor of two or three dreadnoughts. These ships, commissioned as the Minas Geraes class, were designed to carry the heaviest battleship armament in the world at the time. They came as a shock to the navies of South America. Historian Robert Scheina commented that they "outclassed the entire Argentinian fleet". Although debates raged in Argentina over whether it would be prudent to counter Brazil's purchase by acquiring their own expensive dreadnoughts, further border disputes—particularly near the River Plate with Brazil—decided the matter, and it ordered two Rivadavia-class battleships (no relation to the earlier cruisers) from the Fore River Shipbuilding Company in the United States. With its major rival acquiring dreadnoughts, Chile responded by asking for tenders from American and European countries that would give the country the most powerful battleships afloat.

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