July 3rd, 1898
When the USS Maine exploded in Havana, Cuba, on February 15th, 1898, it
as the spark that ignited the Spanish-American War. As the American population
was stirred into a frenzy by the popular press, Spain knew that it had to protect its
possessions in the Caribbean from American aggression. For while Spain was an
empire in decline - now merely a shadow of her former glory - the United States was
a nation on the rise. The battleship Maine was the first step in the building of a
powerful American Navy that would establish the United States as a world power.
American shipbuilders, inexperienced at building modern naval vessels, had many
problems in completing the Maine, and her construction took ten years to complete.
When the Maine was launched, she was already obsolete and was designated a
"Second-Class Battleship." Of limited military value, she was the perfect ship to
make a "courtesy call" to Cuba, and assert American power.
But now, the very future of this new steel navy was at risk. The American
were wondering how it could be that one of the new battleships could be so utterly
destroyed, and doubts were cast about the decision to build battleships for the
United States Navy in the first place. And so, in the Navy Department, there arose a
need to show just what the newest battleships were capable of - to provide a
demonstration to the American people of the battleships’ worth. This opportunity
would present itself at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, as the bulk of the United
States’ "New Navy" confronted what remained of what had once been the mighty
OBJECTIVES OF THE COMBATANTS
The objective of the Americans was to protect the United States and her
to eliminate the threat of the Spanish Naval Squadron. With the declaration of war,
the eastern seaboard experienced great anxiety. It was feared that Spain would
steam west and shell coastal cities as the English had done in 1812. Therefore the
"New Navy" would be required to protect the entire East Coast of the United States
from Maine to Texas. In addition to this, troops were being assembled at Tampa,
Florida, with the intent of supporting the insurrection and attacking the Spanish Army
in Cuba. If the Spanish Navy could be contained, the United States would be able to
land an almost unlimited amount of troops and supplies at will. If the Spanish Navy
could not be contained, the United States might be prevented from landing anything
And, to be sure, the United States Navy was looking to make a name for
powerful Union Navy of the American Civil War had rotted away. It was not until the
1890s that these ships and guns that were considered "museum pieces" by other
navies were beginning to be replaced by modern vessels. The Navy finally had
strong advocates, and it was now time to prove what was called "The New Navy"
could do. Commodore Dewey had already secured a dramatic victory in the Pacific
at Manila Bay. Now it would be up to the most powerful elements of the United
States Navy to deploy against Spain in the Atlantic.
The Spaniards did not want a war at all, much less a clash between the
After the destruction of the Maine, the Spanish rescued and cared for the American
wounded. When popular pressure arose for the United States to place demands
upon Spain, virtually all of them short of Cuban independence were granted, in the
hopes of averting a war. But despite the efforts of the Spanish government, the
United States did declare war, and now the Spanish had to think about protecting
their possessions in the Caribbean, as well as to defending their honor.
On paper at least, the United States Navy seemed more than a match for
that the Spanish had available to deploy. At the head of the fleet were four
brand-new battleships, designed to conform to the latest in international naval
thinking. Conceived as "coast defense battleships" they sat a little low in the water to
tackle heavy seas, and they were not particularly fast, although they were not terribly
slow either. In terms of armament and armor protection, they were formidable.
The Indiana, Massachusetts and Oregon were all built to the same specifications.
Moving at a top speed of fifteen-and-a-half knots, these ships were protected by belt
armor of the new extra-hard Krupp steel that was eighteen inches thick. These three
battleships boasted a main battery of four 13-inch guns in double turrets fore and
aft. Since the big guns took a long time to reload, the battleships also had a wide
assortment of smaller, though still powerful, weapons to use against an enemy. A
total of eight guns with an 8-inch bore were mounted in twin turrets placed at each
of the four corners; four 6-inch guns were mounted on the sides; twenty 6-pounder
guns were scattered about the ships; and there were also smaller 1-pounders and
Gatling guns fitted as well.
The Iowa was newer and represented the next step in American battleship
She was larger and heavier, and could travel a knot faster than the three sisters of
the Indiana class. She was also protected by the hardened Krupp armor, up to
fifteen inches thick. Her main battery consisted of four 12-inch guns, slightly smaller
than the 13-inchers on the other three battleships. She had a similar arrangement of
eight 8-inch guns mounted at the corners, and she mounted six 4-inch guns versus
four 6-inch guns of the earlier design. She mounted the same twenty guns of the
6-pounder size, and also featured a variety of smaller guns as well.
In addition to these was the old "second class battleship" the Texas. Like
the Texas was powerful when first designed, but the revolution in architecture made
her obsolescent by the time that she was to see service. She could travel at
seventeen knots, and was fairly well protected behind a foot of armor. She was not
as powerfully armed as the modern ships of 1898, mounting a pair of 12-inch guns
offset diagonally in an arrangement that seems strange when compared to later
battleships, and six 6-inch guns in addition to twelve 6-pounders and assorted other
The next class of ship down in size from a battleship was an armored cruiser,
the United States had two powerful units available of this type. The Brooklyn and
New York were much faster than battleships, and were able to travel at twenty-one
knots. But this speed did not come without a price - these ships had much less
armor, mounted fewer guns, and the guns that they did mount were smaller in size.
The main batteries of both ships consisted of 8-inch guns, with the Brooklyn
mounting eight and the New York mounting six. Both ships mounted 12 guns in the
secondary battery, the New York armed with 4-inch quick fire guns while the
Brooklyn had the slightly larger 5-inch guns. And, of course, both ships had a variety
of 6-pounder and smaller weapons to round out the arsenal.
The Americans also had several "protected" cruisers - lighter and swifter
armored cruisers, but lacking the armor in their belts as well as in their name. Also
available were old monitors - slow, heavily protected shallow-draft vessels with big
guns that won fame in the American Civil War performing on America’s rivers.
Neither of these types of ships would be see action at Santiago de Cuba.
Finally, to round out the American arsenal were several "Armed Yachts"
ships sold or donated by individuals and equipped with a few small guns, useful for
scouting and patrol duties. Two notable examples of these that would see service at
Santiago de Cuba were the Vixen and the Gloucester.
Backing up the warships would be a variety of merchant vessels and support
Among them were the collier (coal ship) Merrimac, which plagued the Americans
with continuous engine trouble throughout the operation, and several troop
transports and supply ships used to transport army units to Cuba, such as the
Harvard. A small mine-laying craft named the Resolute would round out the list of
participants that played a role in the upcoming battle.
On the Spanish side, their navy was built along slightly different ideas.
possessed only one second-class battleship, the Pelayo. The Spaniards favored
swift ships since their empire ranged to the west as far as Central America, and to
the east as far as the island of Guam in the Pacific. The Spanish had six large,
swift, wide-ranging armored cruisers, although they were gunned less heavily than
their American counterparts. These formidable ships were the Princesa de
Asturias, Emperador Carlos V, Almirante Oquendo, Viscaya, Infanta Maria Teresa,
and the new Cristobal Colon. All six ships displaced 7,000 tons except the Colon,
which was slightly smaller. All six mounted two large guns, 11-inchers throughout,
except the Colon, which was to have mounted 10-inch guns. The Colon was so
new, however, that the heavy guns had not yet been mounted, nor would installing
them be possible before the ship was to sail for Cuba. And all of the cruisers
mounted a formidable secondary battery of ten 5.5-inch guns, with the Colon again
differing from her sisters in mounting half a dozen 4-inch guns as well. And as was
common in all cruisers of the time, these ships mounted 6-pounders (ten each) plus
an assortment of smaller guns as well.
A new type of weapon just appearing on the scene was the self-propelled
Up until this time, what were called "torpedoes" would today be referred to as mines.
But by 1898 the earliest modern torpedoes appeared. This new weapon could
speed towards an enemy ship underwater, under its own power, and penetrate the
hull of even the mighty battleships below the armor belt and below the waterline. The
best thing about the torpedoes is that they could be launched from very small craft,
known as "Torpedo Boats" at the time, but gaining more fame in America during the
Second World War under the name "Patrol Torpedo" or "PT" boats.
However, any new weapon, once introduced, leads to a new type of defense.
this case, that new defense would be a totally new class of ship - the "Torpedo Boat
Destroyer." These in later years would simply be called "destroyers." These ships
boasted incredibly high speeds in the neighborhood of thirty knots, to be able to
move around the larger, heavier, and slower vessels that they were designed to
protect from the annoying little torpedo boats. Since they would only be dealing with
these tiny, unarmored, and often wooden enemy ships, they were equipped with
only a few very small and rapid-fire guns that were easy to aim at swiftly moving
targets. And while the shell from a 6-pounder might disable or destroy a torpedo
boat, these little guns had little if any probability of inflicting significant damage on
larger, armored ships. Nonetheless, the Spanish had openly embraced the concept
of the torpedo boat and the torpedo boat destroyer long before they would gain favor
with other navies, and three exceptional early destroyers were available for service
in Caribbean. These were the Pluton, Furor and Terror.
When war with Spain appeared imminent, the United States Navy selected
West as its base of operations. Less than 100 miles from Havana, it was the perfect
place from which to enforce a blockade of that city, in the hopes of starving the
Spanish Army garrisoned there into submission.
Acting Rear Admiral William T. Sampson was placed in overall command of
Atlantic operations, as well as personal command of the squadron at Key West. His
ships there consisted of the battleships Iowa and Indiana, the armored cruiser New
York, four smaller cruisers, three of the big-gunned but painfully slow monitors, and
a dozen or so smaller ships such as gunboats, torpedo boats, and armed yachts.
Racing to join him was the battleship Oregon, which had been at Puget Sound
Naval Shipyard, outside Seattle, Washington. When hostilities seemed imminent,
the Oregon steamed south first to San Francisco, then down the West Coast of the
United States on a journey that electrified the American people through stories
printed in the popular media. But you must remember that this was 1898. The
Oregon burned coal, and had to make regular stops all along the way to restock her
supply, for when traveling at her maximum speed at sea she burned ten tons of the
foul, black substance every hour. And, being 1898, the shortest route from
Washington state to Florida involved a route down past Central America, past Peru,
past Chile, and then around the southern end of the South American continent.
Once in the Atlantic, the journey would involve a voyage north past Argentina, along
the entire coast of Brazil, and then northwest into the Caribbean Sea. In the end, the
Oregon under the command of Captain Charles F. Clark would perform heroically,
completing the unprecedented voyage leaving San Francisco on March 19th to
arrive battle-ready at Jupiter Inlet, Florida on 24th of May. The 14,700-mile journey
was completed in 67 days at an average speed of twelve knots. This incredible
performance leaves one in awe when they stop to think of all the work that had to be
performed to accomplish this feat. Burning ten tons of coal an hour, the "black gang"
kept feeding the insatiable fireboxes for two straight months, around the clock, using
nothing more than shovels. Through her accomplishment, the Oregon made a bold
statement to win back the confidence of the American people, both of the battleship
as well as the fine crews that served them in the "New Navy."
But while the Oregon was making her journey, panicky reports continued
to pour in
stating that "mysterious ships" were seen off the eastern seaboard. The American
people wanted protection, and the representatives in Congress of the districts along
the coast insisted that the Navy do something to ease their fears. And so, a second
squadron was sent to Hampton Roads, Virginia. This was deemed as a safe,
central location, whereby a collection of ships could sail north to Maine, or south to
Cuba as needed. This was to be known as the "Flying Squadron," although it was
no faster than the forces under Sampson in Key West.
The Flying Squadron was commanded by Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, and
consisted of the modern battleship Massachusetts, the old battleship Texas, and
the armored cruiser Brooklyn, the protected cruisers Minneapolis and Columbia,
and the collier Merrimac, which was to keep the entire squadron well stocked with
coal throughout. The Brooklyn served as the Commodore’s flagship.
And so, the American Navy was divided into two forces - one offensive in
working to enforce a blockade of Cuba, and one defensive in nature stationed off
Virginia (but ready to switch over to offensive operations as soon as a target could
The Spanish Navy was likewise divided into two forces. The first fleet
of the battleship Pelayo and the armored cruisers Emperador Carlos V and
Princesa de Asturias along with supporting elements, and was assigned the duties
of patrolling the home waters for the duration of the war. But the Almirante
Oquendo, Viscaya, Infanta Maria Teresa, and Cristobal Colon were assembled at
the Cape Verde Islands along with the Pluton, Furor and Terror, and formed a
separate squadron under the finest officer in the Spanish Navy. Admiral Pascual
Cervera y Topete was fifty-nine years old, and had spent forty-seven of those years
in the Navy. He knew Cuba, as he was assigned to the West Indian Station during
the first Cuban revolt of 1868-78, and his career had sent him all the way to the
Philippines on the other side of the world as well. He was known to be courageous,
gallant and competent, and was well known and universally respected.
Prior to being placed in command of the large cruisers, Admiral Cervera
as Spain’s Minister of Marine, and it was his duty to inspect the Spanish Navy and
make recommendations that would allow the Spanish Navy to be in top fighting trim
when it was called upon. He had resigned this position when his colleagues had
placed personal political gain ahead of the best interests of Spain and refused to
support him on his proposed reforms of the fleet. And now he was placed in
command of ships and crews that he knew were not all that they could be, but as a
true patriot he accepted the assignment without complaint.
The problem that both navies faced was that if they were to sail across
with one of their forces, they would be confronted with the combined and
concentrated forces of their opponent in home waters. The United States had no
motive to send part of her fleet to Spanish waters - they knew that the Spaniards
had to come west to support their army in Cuba and lift the blockade.
Admiral Cervera knew that he must sail west, but he desperately wanted
to avoid an
immediate rush into the teeth of the American Navy. He figured that if he waited the
impatient and hungry-for-war Americans would eventually come east to Spain. He
proposed establishing a base in the Canary Islands, and lying there in wait for the
American forces that would certainly steam the Atlantic. When they arrived, he
would combine with the powerful fleet left in home waters and destroy the tired and
far from home units of the United States Navy. He had all of his captains endorse
his plan, and he sent it off with great hope to Madrid. Despite the soundness of his
thinking, the Spanish government would have no part of it, and they ordered him to
steam to Cuba as soon as practicable. His response indicates that he understood
the impossibility of the mission before him:
"It is impossible for me to give you an idea of the surprise and consternation
experienced by all on the receipt of the order to sail. Indeed, that surprise is well
justified, for nothing can be expected of this expedition except the total destruction of
the fleet or its hasty and demoralized return."
Two days later he updated his progress, and informed his superiors:
"I will try to sail tomorrow… With a clear conscience I go to the sacrifice."
For not only was Cervera terribly outmatched on paper, he knew that his
in terrible condition. Three of the four cruisers had defective breech mechanisms
and no reliable ammunition for their 5.5-inch guns, the Colon did not have her big
guns mounted at all, and the Viscaya, long overdue for a lay-up, had a bottom so
fouled that her speed was cut drastically.
The Americans learned of Cervera’s departure from St. Vincent on April
knew that he was last seen heading west with four armored cruisers and three
destroyers. Making the trip would undoubtedly deplete the coal reserves of these
ships, and so the Americans knew that when Cervera arrived in the West Indies his
first priority would be to restock his coal bunkers. The logical place for him to do this
would be at the fortified Spanish port of San Juan, in Puerto Rico.
The Americans feared that Cervera’s squadron might ambush the battleship
Oregon, steaming up from South America. While it was true that the Oregon was
far superior to all of the Ships, there were nonetheless seven of them, including
those pesky and swift torpedo boat destroyers, which were armed with torpedoes
themselves. Captain Clark of the Oregon was concerned as well, and he likened the
possibility of the potential battle to trying to fight tigers while rattlesnakes scurried
about underfoot. And so a decision was made to send Admiral Sampson’s
squadron off to Puerto Rico, putting to sea on May 4th with the mission of
intercepting Cervera’s squadron and destroying it there.
Sampson brought with him everything that he could, including the monitors
could only manage a best speed of six knots on a calm sea, but the sea was not
calm. He was forced to tow the monitors like reluctant children behind his bigger
ships to get them to the scene of the battle. Sailing along with him were private
yachts filled with the media that scurried about between his ships, trying to gain
exclusives and also passing along all the spurious rumors that they had received
pinpointing the location of the Spanish fleet at a dozen places. To observers on the
warships it looked more like a group of pleasure boats out on a picnic than a military
They arrived at San Juan on May 11th, convinced that Cervera was hiding
guns of the fortified harbor. The big guns of the American ships commenced a
bombardment at 5:30 AM. By 7:30 AM it was obvious that there were no ships in the
harbor, and so the shelling ceased. And having achieved nothing, Admiral Sampson
ordered his fleet to the west and they began the plodding trip back to Key West.
Sampson was forced to ask himself just where his Spanish counterpart could
possibly be. On May 15th he got his answer. A navy dispatch boat approached and
informed him that the Spaniards had been at Martinique, a French possession on
the eastern boundary of the Caribbean in order to secure coal, but finding none
there they had then proceeded on to Curacao, a Dutch possession. Sampson was
ordered to proceed to Key West with all possible speed, while Schley was ordered
south from Virginia to rendezvous with him there. With the exception of Dewey’s
forces in the Pacific, virtually every major warship in the United States Navy was
near Cuba or on her way.
Sampson and Schley met in Key West on the 18th, and discussed strategy.
Cervera was known to be south of Cuba. It was unlikely that he would try to force
the blockade of Havana, which was so close to Key West and the concentrated
American forces. It was determined that he would look for a fortified port on the
southern coast of Cuba, of which there were two. The first was Santiago de Cuba,
at the eastern end of the other. The second, Cienfuegos in the west, was deemed
the more likely destination since it was connected with Havana via railroad allowing
for easier cooperation between the Spanish Army and Navy. Commodore Schley
was assigned a formidable force and ordered to move to Cuba’s southern coast,
first inspecting Cienfuegos, and if Cervera was proven not to be there to proceed on
to Santiago. Meanwhile, Sampson who had raced ahead of rest of the San Juan
participants, would wait for the rest of his lumbering forces to finally return to Key
West after their "picnic."
Schley arrived of Cienfuegos on the 22nd, and caught a glimpse of a few
smokestacks poking up beyond the view-blocking terrain at the entrance to the
harbor. Some of his men were convinced that they were only merchant ships, but
Schley was equally convinced that he had found the warships. He waited. The next
day he received a dispatch from Sampson informing him to stay on guard at
Cienfuegos, even though rumors already had Cervera in Santiago. On the 23rd
another dispatch boat arrived, with orders for Schley to proceed to Santiago with all
possible speed, unless he was sure that Cervera was at Cienfuegos. Schley read in
the wording that there was still some doubt as to the Spaniards’ location, and so he
stayed where he was. On the 25th, a cruiser arrived carrying a duplicate copy of the
prior dispatch ordering him to Santiago. Schley informed the captain of the dispatch
boat that he was unsure if Cervera was at Cienfuegos or not. The Captain of the
cruiser informed Schley of a pre-arranged signal that was to be used by insurgents
on Cuba to report information about the position of the Spanish ships to the
Americans offshore; three white lights from a single location on the coast. For the
last three nights Schley’s lookouts had seen the lights, but they did not know that
this was a signal. Furious that he was uninformed, Schley finally got the information
from the locals that Cervera was indeed at Santiago. There was no doubt now.
And so Schley set a leisurely pace for Santiago due to heavy seas and engine
trouble on his collier the Merrimac. On May 26th, when within 20 miles of Santiago,
Schley met the Minneapolis, Yale, and St. Paul, which reported that they had not
seen the Spanish ships, although they were not specifically assigned to look for
them. Schley did not bother to check for himself. Instead, in a move that has baffled
analysts since 1898, Schley ordered his fleet to sail west away from Santiago de
Cuba, heading for Key West, fearing that he was about to run out of coal. While only
just beginning his return, he was met by the Harvard carrying orders from the Navy
Department to see to it that the Spanish ships did not leave Santiago. His response
to these orders is so outrageous that it is still discussed today:
"Much to be regretted, cannot obey orders of Department. Have striven earnestly;
forced to proceed for coal to Key West by way of Yucatan passage. Cannot
ascertain anything positive respecting enemy."
Not only was Schley leaving the scene, against orders, he also never personally
took a look in the harbor at Santiago de Cuba to confirm if Cervera was or was not
positively located. The Secretary of the Navy received Schley’s message and was
utterly stunned. He sent of a telegram to be delivered to Schley ordering him not to
leave the Santiago area, and sent it off "with utmost urgency" written across it.
Fortunately for Schley, with the weather calmed and Merrimac repairs complete, he
was able to resupply with coal on the 27th at sea. He arrived off the entrance to
Santiago de Cuba Bay on the 29th of May, 1898, and now there could be no doubt;
for shining in the sun, and moored right across the mouth of the bay was the
Cristobal Colon. On the 30th, Schley engaged in a gun battle with the Colon, and
although both sides fired with great spirit, there were no hits nor even near misses.
All that was accomplished was that the lone Spanish cruiser was inspired to retreat
further into the bay to join her sisters, now all relying upon the massive fortifications
and hills for protection. Admiral Sampson arrived with his forces on the 31st and
took command of the scene.
Figure 1 – The above map shows the arrival of the various forces at the
The only hope for Cervera now was if a storm would scatter the American
and allow his escape. While it was possible, that was not likely. The entrance to
Santiago de Cuba Bay was fortified with a number of big guns. On the western
shore were the Socapa Batteries. On the eastern shore were the Morro, Estrella,
and Catalina Batteries. And dead ahead on a peninsula looking right down the mouth
of the harbor was the Punta Gorda Battery. Just as Cervera was not about to exit
the safe haven of the harbor to face the overwhelming American guns, Sampson
was not inclined to go into the harbor past the big Spanish guns and among the
reported mines to force Cervera out. And so, the solution to the stalemate was
obvious; the Army would have a mission in this war at last. General Shafter, in
command of United States ground forces, would land near Santiago de Cuba,
march overland, capture the city, and drive Admiral Cervera and his ships out, like
hounds to the hunters.
The ground campaign is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to
say that the
Army did leave Tampa, arrive east of Santiago de Cuba, march overland, engage
the Spanish Army, and succeed in putting pressure on Cervera’s ships forcing him
to flee from the bay and into battle with the United States Navy.
THE SCUTTLING OF THE MERRIMAC
As Admiral Sampson patrolled outside the entrance to Santiago de Cuba Bay,
things were frequently in his vision and upon his mind. The first was the 350-foot
width of the channel into the bay. And the second was the old collier Merrimac, 333
feet long and nothing but trouble since the start of the operation. A desire to block
the channel to prevent Cervera’s escape, as well as an opportunity to be finally rid of
the troublesome collier combined and inspired Admiral Sampson act.
Onboard the Sampson’s flagship the New York was Navy Lieutenant Richmond
Pearson Hobson, a thirty-eight-year-old graduate of Annapolis whose specialty was
engineering. He was officially aboard the New York to check the behavior at sea of
certain structural alterations in the ship’s design. Best of all, he was bright, reliable,
and imaginative. In short, he would be the perfect man to devise a plan to cork the
bottle in an effort to keep the genie inside.
Hobson, actually, came up with two plans. The first plan would have the
play the part of a Spanish collier, sent to resupply Cervera’s fleet. She could fly the
Spanish flag, illuminated by searchlights, and steam into the passage at night. To
complete the deception, she could be hotly pursued by one of the smaller American
ships that could be firing at her (although with very poor accuracy!) while she made
her dash into the channel. If this could confuse the gunners in the forts long enough,
she would be well into the harbor before the ruse was detected, and by then it would
be too late - she’d be on the bottom and blocking the channel. Sampson, a
conservative and by-the-book officer, was uncomfortable with the showy aspects of
this plan and was convinced that a more straightforward approach would work
And this was Hobson’s second plan. The Merrimac would steam at maximum
power towards the entrance of the bay. She would then cut power, and glide silently
past the forts, unlit, and hopefully without being noticed. When she got as far as
Estrella Point, where the channel was narrowest, she would swing perpendicular to
the channel, drop both her bow and stern anchors, open up her sea valves, and set
off underwater charges attached to her hull. If all went well, she’d sink in about a
minute. Sampson found this plan satisfactory and felt that it even had a reasonable
chance for success. And so preparations were made.
Hobson needed seven men to help him man the ship into the channel, and
hundreds volunteered for what could very well be a suicide mission. The crew was
picked quickly and quietly, with most of those chosen being seamen from the
Merrimac who already knew the layout of the ship. There was some debate as to
whether the explosive charges should be placed inside or outside the hull, and it
was decided that blasting in would have a better chance of causing more damage
and would have less interference from the coal still stowed deep inside of her. Ten
charges were placed about the ship, and wired with electric detonators. Amazingly,
a hand generator could not be found, and so the charges would have to be fired with
the unreliable batteries of the day. The anchors were rigged so that they would fall
free as soon as a single rope restraining each was cut with an axe. Personal effects
were removed from the ship. After a false start the prior night, on June 2nd the
Merrimac steamed towards the entrance of the harbor as quietly as possible on her
It was dark, but not dark enough. Spanish patrol boats spotted her entering
channel, and opened fire while she still had 500 yards to go. With the firing of the
patrol boat, the massive onshore guns were alerted and commenced firing as well,
and soon the Merrimac was under a hail of fire from all sides. With no need for
stealth now, Hobson ordered the engines ahead full in an attempt get to her
destination as quickly as possible. As he closed in on Estrella Point, Hobson cut the
engines. He could hear the crew opening the sea valves below him, and he ordered
the helm hard to port. The helmsman swung the wheel over, and… nothing
happened. The rudder had been shot away by the Spanish guns. The anchors were
dropped, but the stern anchor chain had been shot away and so the anchor dropped
into the sea with no result other than a splash. And of the ten charges affixed to the
hull, only two detonated. The shelling cut the wiring running to some of the charges,
and the fragile batteries fared no better.
Instead of sinking quickly, the Merrimac continued up the channel past
Point, out of control, and sinking slowly, with the tide straightening out the ship in the
process. When an underwater mine detonated, the crew hoped that there might still
be a chance of blocking the channel. Unfortunately, the coal settled into the opening
slowing the rate of flooding to little more than before the mine made its statement.
All that Hobson and his handpicked crew could hope for now was to simply survive.
So they lay prone on the deck and tried to disappear into it, and hoped that all the
gunfire would pass overhead and spare their lives as their ship sank beneath them.
Captain Evans, watching the concentrated fire from the bridge of the Iowa, was
heard to state "It looks like Hell with the lid off!"
The Merrimac finally went down, and the men were cast into the water. The
had been shattered, but a small catamaran was attached to a cargo crane, and that
was seen floating nearby after the Merrimac had sunk. Hobson and his men
watched the moon set, and the sun rise. Looking about them, they saw that their
operation had done little to block the channel - there was still plenty of room for
warships to pass safely in and out. After about an hour and a half in the water, a
small steam launch chugged towards them. Riflemen in the front of the boat aimed
their weapons at the soaked Americans, but held their fire. A kind officer with white
hair and a beard helped the Americans from the water into his boat. It was none
other than Admiral Cervera himself.
Amazingly, all of the Americans had survived; one had been wounded in the
another had scratched his leg. After being rescued they were given dry clothing,
questioned politely by their Spanish captors, and treated properly and correctly in
every way. The Spaniards held no animosity towards them at all, and in fact,
Admiral Cervera was heard to say that he found their effort to be "valiant". Later,
Hobson and his crew were sent to Morro Castle where they would be held as
prisoners of war.
To the Americans on blockade duty, it was hard to know exactly what had
happened. Certainly the Merrimac had not gone down where intended, and there
could be little doubt that the channel had not been blocked. Also obvious was the
fact that absolutely none of the sailors had returned in their little lifeboat after the
collier had gone down. All day they waited, until at 4 PM a little Spanish gunboat,
flying a flag of truce, steamed out through the now obviously unblocked channel, and
asked to be taken to the American commander. On board the New York, Admiral
Cervera’s chief of staff informed Admiral Sampson that Hobson and his seven men
were alive and well. Signal flags were sent up informing the rest of the fleet that the
Hobson and his crew were unhurt.
The American press called the mission "heroic" which it certainly was,
successful" which it certainly was not. According to the Associated Press reports at
the time, the channel had been completely blocked by a mission that had been
executed flawlessly and that worked perfectly. The masses had new heroes in the
persons of Lieutenant Hobson and his crew. These eight men would sit out the
duration as prisoners, but fortunately it was a short war. Less than two months later
they were all handed over to the United States Army in a prisoner exchange, where
they received the first of their many heroes’ welcomes.
THE BATTLE OF SANTIAGO de CUBA
Prior to July 2nd, Admiral Cervera had sent as many of his sailors as he
with rifles ashore to serve alongside the Spanish Army. With the advances of the
United States Army being what they were after their landing, Captain General
Ramon Blanco y Erenas ordered Cervera to steam his ships out of the harbor
immediately. Blanco was the top military commander in Cuba, and Cervera had little
choice but to obey his orders.
Admiral Cervera looked at his options; he could sail by day, or sail by
night. By day,
his ships would be safe navigating the narrow channel, and avoiding the wreckage
of the Merrimac. By night, he would run the risk of damaging his ships and perhaps
even blocking the channel himself if an accident were to occur in the dark. As for
sneaking out undetected under the cover of darkness, this was quite impossible.
The American ships had been shining their searchlights on the mouth of the bay
every night since they had arrived on station. Therefore, Cervera concluded that a
night time escape would add nothing but danger to his breakout. He thought that the
best time to sail would be Sunday morning, when the American crews were at
religious services and less likely to be manning their stations. So it was set. The
breakout would begin at 9:00 AM on Sunday, July 3rd, 1898. Signals were sent out to
the sailors serving ashore with the army for them to return to their ships, and
Cervera’s squadron was to have a full head of steam by 2:00 on Saturday afternoon.
Lookouts on Admiral Schley’s flagship, the Brooklyn, spotted the smoke
behind the hills and the forts. Schley didn’t know what it meant, but he did know that
it meant that something was up. He ordered his little armed yacht, the Vixen, to visit
each of the ships in the semicircle that formed the blockade and inform them of the
peculiar goings on inside the harbor, and to suggest that they stay in as close as
possible during the night. Schley also made a point to make sure that Admiral
Sampson in the New York at the opposite end of the blockade was fully informed of
what he could see from his end of the line.
Sunday morning dawned gray and overcast, but soon the sun burned this away
a beautiful day with very calm seas broke in the Caribbean off Santiago de Cuba
Bay. Despite Schley’s intentions, the formation of ships in the blockade was a little
disarrayed that morning. The protected cruisers New Orleans and Newark and the
tender Suwanee had all sailed to Guantanamo Bay to coal. And, Schley soon
discovered that the powerful Massachusetts had gone with them. There was thus a
big gap in the line to the west. At 8:45 AM or so, he was further dismayed to see the
New York, Admiral Sampson’s flagship, hoist the signal "Disregard the movements
of the commander in chief" and promptly sail out of view to the east.
Admiral Sampson had a meeting scheduled with General Shafter in command
the Army forces in Cuba this Sunday morning and he did not wish to be late. It was
unfortunate that he would not be present when Cervera made his breakout. But
perhaps more unfortunate was the fact that Sampson had used the New York, one
of only two ships in the American fleet that was capable of the speeds necessary to
catch Cervera if he made his move. Hindsight dictates that he would have been far
better served if he had made the trip in a little steam launch on this calm morning, or
even hitched a ride on one of the yachts being employed by the press that were
constantly scurrying about. But then, hindsight also dictates that it would be better
had he not left at all.
At 9:00 AM Cervera made his move, and his ships began steaming down the
By 9:35, his flagship entered the mouth of the bay, dropped off it’s civilian harbor
pilot, and began the dash to safety and freedom. The rest of the squadron would
follow at approximately seven-minute intervals.
Figure 2 – at 9:35 AM on July 3rd, 1898, Cervera's squadron emerged single
from the entrance of Santiago de Cuba bay at approximately seven minute
intervals. The torpedo boat destroyers brought up the rear soon after.
The navigator on the Brooklyn noticed that a plume of smoke behind a hill
moving. He shouted through his megaphone "Report to the commodore and the
captain that the enemy ships are coming out!"
Commodore Schley took a look through his binoculars and exclaimed "We’ll
to them now! We’ll give it to them now!" Schley then informed an ensign to signal
"The enemy is escaping" which had already been done, then said "Signal the fleet to
clear for action, then!" Schley looked around in vain one last time for the New York,
with his superior on board, and it was nowhere to be seen. Commodore Schley, as
second in command, then signaled "Close in" and "Follow the flag."
The Maria Teresa had begun firing, and a 6-pounder on the Iowa cracked
response. The battle had begun, and the rest of the United States vessels joined in.
Only the Teresa at the head of the column could fire at the Americans and only with
her forward guns, while virtually all of her opponents, arranged in a rough
semi-circle, could hit her from all angles with large numbers of their guns. In a
matter of moments, the entire scene was covered with smoke from gunfire so thick
that nobody could see what was going on. There was no breeze this morning, and
so the smoke just hung there as the American ships began to get underway and the
Spanish line began its turn.
Seven miles to the east, Admiral Sampson was wearing his spurs and leggings
ready to go ashore for the horseback ride to the conference with General Shafter.
An unexpected hail from a lookout in the foretop froze the admiral at the gangway.
Sampson secured a pair of binoculars and took a look for himself. At first he couldn’t
see any movement at all, only smoke. But then he saw a dark silhouette against a
white cloudbank near the shore, and the shape was immediately recognizable as
one of Cervera’s big cruisers. Sampson hoped that the Spanish squadron would be
heading east. If so, his New York would be in the perfect position to head them off
and his detachment from the blockade would be a heaven-sent blessing. He forgot
about the meeting with Shafter and ordered his ship to move to the west with all
possible speed to intercept the Spaniards. As he looked through his binoculars, he
could tell that the big Spanish ships were turning, but at this range it was not
obvious if they were turning towards him or away. He remained optimistic for some
time, until he determined that the ships had indeed turned to the west, and not only
that - they were pulling away. Admiral Sampson, in command of the fleet, was about
to miss the ultimate event in the lifetime of an Admiral - leading the fleet into battle.
Frustrated and upset, he headed west hoping against hope that he might be able to
arrive on the scene before the battle was over.
As the Spanish column emerged from the bay, directly opposite the entrance
channel was the Texas and Schley’s flagship the Brooklyn. The Texas, like all the
American warships, picked up steam and headed west in pursuit of the gallant
Spaniards. All other American warships, that is, except one. The Brooklyn began a
turn to starboard - to the east. After the battle, Schley was asked about this peculiar
maneuver, and over the years he gave several different answers, none of them
particularly satisfactory. Although it might not reflect the reason, it certainly reflects
the result to call the turn "a mistake."
The Texas had begun her big turn to the west, picking up speed and firing
way, and assumed that the Brooklyn was doing the same up ahead. Captain John
W. Phillip of the Texas describes it like this:
"The smoke from our guns began to hang so heavily and densely over the
for a few minutes we could see nothing. We might as well have had a blanket tied
over our heads. Suddenly a whiff of breeze and a lull in the firing lifted the pall, and
there, bearing towards us and across our bows, turning on her port helm, with big
waves curling over her bows and great clouds of black smoke pouring from her
funnels was the Brooklyn. She looked as big as half a dozen Great Easterns and
seemed so near that it took our breath away."
On the Brooklyn, the navigator cried out to the commodore, "Look out for
sir!" Schley replied, "Damn the Texas! Let her look out for herself!" The Texas had
little choice but to do just that. Backing both engines in an emergency maneuver, the
Texas just avoided colliding with the Brooklyn.
On the positive side for the Americans, Schley’s unorthodox maneuver eliminated
one of Cervera’s plans. The wily Spanish Admiral knew that only two of the
American ships had the speed to catch him - the armored cruisers Brooklyn and
New York. As Cervera emerged from the bay, he noticed that the New York was not
on station, and dead ahead of him was the Brooklyn. If he could ram the Brooklyn, it
would be up to his other ships to simply outrun the slower American battleships. As
Cervera headed out of the channel he set a course for the Brooklyn leaning towards
the west - his pre-arranged escape route. When Schley turned to the east instead,
the ram bow of the Teresa had no target, and so Cervera ordered a more severe
turn to the west.
When the Infanta Maria Teresa ventured out into the middle of the American
accomplished two things. First, it drew the bulk of the fire from all of the big
American guns onto the Teresa. Second, it allowed the next two ships in the column
the ability to begin their run to the west relatively unmolested, with the Colon staying
close to the shore and the Viscaya a bit further out to protect her. On the Teresa,
one of the first hits had struck down Captain Concas, and as the second in
command was nowhere to be found, Admiral Cervera assumed command
As the Teresa made the turn to the west, one of her 5.5-inch guns exploded,
creating a grisly scene with what at one time had been a gun crew. Big American
shells were beginning to find their mark, too - penetrating the hull and starting fires
on the wooden deck and superstructure. The entire aft portion of the vessel was a
blazing wreck, live steam was being discharged from a broken main, and the
ammunition stored there was beginning to explode. "The fire was gaining ground
with great rapidity and voracity," Cervera wrote. "I therefore sent one of my aides to
flood the after magazines, but it was impossible to penetrate into the passages
owing to the dense clouds of smoke… and the steam escaping from the engine
hatch… or to breathe in that suffocating atmosphere." Cervera knew that it was
impossible to continue the fight, and his only decision that could show compassion
for his men was to run his ship aground. There was some hope of continuing the
fight from the beach, but the without the forward motion of the ship, the flames were
now being driven towards the bow by an onshore breeze. Any hope of continued
resistance was gone. The Teresa had survived for less than an hour after emerging
from the channel, and managed to proceed only half a dozen miles to the west
before settling on the beach to burn.
A battleship cannot accelerate at will, and the American ships were not
able to keep
up with the Spaniards. Only the Iowa had a good head of steam when the Spaniards
emerged. What was worse, most of the Americans only had half of their boilers
running with the other half totally cold to save coal. Even on the speedy Brooklyn,
the engines were decoupled in a fuel saving measure, giving her only half power and
limiting her speed to little more than that of the battleships. Recoupling would take
twenty minutes, and that was twenty minutes that Commodore Schley did not have,
for by now the other three big cruisers were out of the bay and well on their way to
The fourth cruiser in the line was the Almirante Oquendo, and she was following
Viscaya, a little further out to sea than the Colon and providing whatever cover she
could to the ship closest to the shore. And so the Oquendo had the misfortune of
being closest to the Americans when the Teresa had met her demise, and as a
result most of the American fire now concentrated on this cruiser. The fire from all
sizes of American guns was having a terrible effect - puncturing the hull with ease,
and sometimes even passing through without detonating. Shells that did explode
had knocked out most of her guns, and half of her crew (probably 250 men or so)
now lay wounded or dead at their stations. Her leadership, too, was falling at an
alarming rate. The Oquendo had not been out of the harbor for fifteen minutes
before every man unlucky enough to be in her superstructure was a casualty.
Captain Lazaga was struck down early, and his executive officer had just assumed
command when a shell from the very next American salvo cut him in two. The third
officer took the conn, but was killed when a hit detonated some of the 5.5-inch
ammunition stored on board. Within ten minutes, the next three officers in rank were
all cut down. The bodies of 130 men were scattered about the deck, draped over
ladders, and thrown around the bridge.
The Oquendo’s big guns were not firing with any regularity, and the forward
had gotten off only three shots. A messenger sent to investigate the trouble found a
bizarre and grisly scene - an 8-inch shell (probably fired by the Brooklyn) had struck
the gunport, where the crew was in the process of loading the gun. The 350 pounds
of gunpowder being loaded to fire the big weapon was touched off, and the force of
the explosion was directed out of the sighting cupola. As a result, all six men of the
gun crew were dead without a mark on them, and the officer who was looking out
the sighting cupola had his head torn off by the blast. Captain Lazaga, wounded but
forced by the terrible attrition of his command staff to resume command, looked at
the floating shambles around him and knew that he too had to head for the shore.
He ordered that all remaining torpedoes be launched in the hope that one of them
might catch one of the American ships in pursuit, and he ordered oil spread on the
decks to ensure that the ship would burn beyond any possibility of salvage by the
Americans. The senior officer left alive after the action said, "The men… were
determined above all that the enemy should not set foot on the ship." Captain
Lazaga is believed to have been consumed in the fire. The Oquendo ran aground
about half past ten, less than a mile further down the shore than the Teresa. By the
time that she did so her hull was so badly damaged that she immediately broke in
When the little torpedo boat destroyers Pluton and Furor emerged, the equally
yacht Gloucester in close and the more distant gunfire being lobbed from greater
range by the American battleships confronted them. None of the small ships had big
guns, and they all lacked armor. Unfortunately for the Gloucester, she was caught in
the tall columns of geysers that the battleship guns were raising along with the two
intended targets. Meanwhile, the three ships pecked away at each other with their
The end came quickly for the Pluton, who was trying to stay close to shore
escape notice. Lieutenant Cabalerro, her second in command, later recounted: "As
we were making a great deal of water, we continued close to the shore to Punta
Cabrera, and when we were close to the headland we received a 13-inch projectile,
which exploded the forward group of boilers, blowing up the whole deck. The ship
veered to starboard and struck on the headland, tearing off a great part of her bow…
I jumped into the water and reached the shore."
The Furor was still in the water, although steaming in lazy circles as
the result of a
grisly accident. Lieutenant Bustamente, who was on deck at the time, recalled, "A
shell struck boatswain Duenas, cutting him in two. One part fell between the tiller
ropes and it was necessary to take it out in pieces. Another shell destroyed the
engine and servomotor, so that the ship could neither proceed nor maneuver."
Bustamente abandoned ship with a few others just moments before another shell
fired by the Oregon struck her in the engine room and blew her to pieces. And in an
instant, the Furor was gone - the only one of Cervera’s ships to not make it to the
beach. Despite their great speed, neither the Pluton nor Furor would make it more
than a few miles down the coast; they did not even make it as far as the Teresa or
At this point, neither Sampson nor Schley was aware of the great victory
had already achieved. Sampson was too far to the rear to know much of anything
that was going on ahead, and Schley was convinced that his casualties were going
to be terrible - after all, you couldn’t expect to slug it out like this with the enemy
without losing a lot of men. It was now past 10:30, and of the six Spanish ships that
steamed out of the bay that morning, only two remained afloat. The swift Cristobol
Colon was still maintaining her preferred path close to the shore, and by now had
drawn even with the Viscaya which started out of the bay ahead of her. And, once
again the Americans concentrated on the closest ship, which at this time was the
The Americans had only three big ships in hot pursuit - the Brooklyn in
the lead, with
the Texas and the Oregon bringing up the rear. The Iowa and Gloucester were
staying in close to shore doing what they could to assist survivors of the Spanish
ships in the water, and the Indiana had developed engine trouble so she stayed
behind to assist. The most savage fighting was between the Viscaya and Brooklyn,
steaming side by side, a little more than half a mile apart.
In capabilities, the two ships were fairly evenly matched. The Viscaya
heavier armor, and so could withstand the shells from the Brooklyn’s guns. The
Brooklyn had more guns, but they had to deal with all of that armor. But the fates of
battle and the training of the crews can change the impact of statistics on paper.
While the Spanish believed in rapid, mechanical firing at regular intervals, the
American officers repeatedly told their crews to take their time and make every shot
count. The Americans also had the luxury of having enough ammunition to practice
at regular intervals - the Spaniards often fired their guns only once per year.
Although the marksmanship of the Americans would be considered terrible by later
standards, it was having its effect. Shell after shell slammed into the Viscaya, while
virtually all of the shells fired by the Spaniards flew harmlessly overhead beyond the
Americans. One of the American gunners complained that he could no longer see
the splashes coming up when he fired his gun. "You damn fool," said the
turret-captain, "when you don’t see them drop in the water, you know they’re hitting."
As the battle raged on, Schley felt the deck jump beneath his feet from
smash. "They’ve landed something on us," he said, and ordered an apprentice boy
below to see how many men were gone. The boy returned and said that a big shell
had hit, but it missed everybody. Schley, annoyed, told the boy to keep his wits
about him this time and go check again. The boy returned and the same answer
came back - two men only slightly wounded. Favor had smiled on the Americans up
until now, but their luck had just run out. Chief Yeoman George Ellis had moved to
an observation spot ahead of the conning tower to spot the fall of shells fired by the
Brooklyn. As he was in this exposed position, a large shell (most likely fired by the
Viscaya) struck him in the head. He was decapitated and killed instantly.
The Viscaya made a slight turn to the south, in what appeared to be an
set up a ramming course on the Brooklyn. Soon thereafter, a massive explosion
tore off her bow - either a big shell from the Oregon to the rear or from the Brooklyn
had touched off the warhead in the torpedo in her forward tube. Captain Eulate,
wounded in the head and shoulder, recounted: "Almost faint from the loss of blood I
resigned my command to the executive officer with clear and positive instructions
not to surrender the ship but rather to beach and burn her. In the sick bay I met
Ensign Luis Fajardo, who was having a serious wound dressed. When I asked him
what was the matter with him he answered that they had wounded him in one arm
but he still had one left for his country. I immediately convened the officers who were
nearest… and asked them whether there was anyone among them who thought we
could do anything more in the defense of our country and our honor, and the
unanimous reply was that nothing more could be done."
As the Viscaya headed for the shore, the Brooklyn and Texas stopped firing
The Texas moved in for a closer look to see if anything could be done for the
survivors. Flames were leaping from the deck as high as the funnel tops, and from
where he was Captain Philip could hear the shrieks of the sailors caught in the fire.
Panic-stricken seamen, some with their uniforms ablaze, were throwing themselves
into the water, or crawling to the side and rolling overboard. Others could find no
escape from the flames. As was traditional, the crew of the Texas let out a victory
cheer, but Captain Philip stopped it at once, saying, "Don’t cheer, boys! Those poor
devils are dying!"
By the time the Viscaya had run aground the Iowa was approaching, and Captain
Evans saw a new threat to the Spanish sailors emerge. "The Cuban insurgents had
opened fire on them from the shore, and with a glass I could plainly see the bullets
snipping up the water around them. The sharks, made ravenous from the blood of
the wounded were attacking them from the outside." Evans sent a boat to the shore,
warning the rebels to stop firing or to be themselves fired upon - by the big guns of
the battleship. The Iowa stayed on the scene and rescued 200 officers and crew
from the Viscaya.
Figure 3 – The battle of Santiago de Cuba. The American forces were deployed
around the entrance of the harbor. Admiral Sampson had proceeded to the east in
the cruiser New York to attend a conference with General Shafter, and missed
virtually all of the battle. Only the new cruiser Cristobal Colon was able to survive
long enough to proceed more than a few miles from the harbor; she led a running
battle to the west for sixty miles before being overcome by the American forces.
That left only the Cristobal Colon. She held a six-mile lead over the Brooklyn
her uncoupled engines and the Oregon, which was showing phenomenal speed for
a battleship of her day. The Texas was still in the hunt as well. The chase would
continue for a couple of hours, and run for sixty miles. Schley ordered the Oregon to
cease fire, so that he could study his maps. And when he saw that the Cuban coast
took a turn to the south, he knew that he had the Spaniards at last. Like a football
defensive back who "has the angle" on a wide receiver, Schley knew that he could
prevent the touchdown. He just had to be patient until the Spaniard made the turn to
follow the coast.
He didn’t have to wait quite that long. At half past noon the Colon had
of her good Spanish coal, and switched over to the inferior grade that they had
obtained locally at Santiago. The Colon began to lose speed. As the Oregon began
to close, Schley signaled to her "Try one of your big ones on her," and a moment
later the big guns in the forward turret of the battleship spoke and sent over a ton of
projectiles on their way. They fell short five times. On the sixth firing, a shell was
seen to land ahead of the Colon. The game was up. Another shot fell just off the
stern of the Spanish cruiser, causing massive concussion damage, and a steam
line burst. Commander Mason who had been watching the Colon through the ship’s
telescope said, "She’s hauled down her colors and fired a lee gun."
"What does that mean?" Schley asked.
The surprised Mason replied, "Why, it means that she’s struck [surrendered]."
"I’m damned glad that I didn’t have to surrender," Schley laughed. "I wouldn’t
On the way to the rocks, the Spaniards had opened up the sea valves so
Colon would be sunk and denied to the Americans. She was aground, and any
attempt to move her off as a prize would only sink her. Only now did the
commander in chief, Admiral Sampson arrive on the scene. The fight was over, and
he had missed it all. Schley signaled, "A glorious victory has been achieved. Details
later." There was no response from the New York. Schley signaled again, "This is a
great day for our country." It was, but not for Admiral Sampson. His cold reply was,
"Report your casualties." Schley then sent signals of congratulations to the Oregon,
who with her big guns had saved the day; to the Texas with which he nearly collided
earlier; and to the little Vixen, which had come along for the entire length of the
chase. With each signal, the receiving ship cheered. The New York remained cold
and silent. The seeds that would separate Sampson and Schley in later years had
When all seemed calm, the little boat Resolute approached at speed and
that a large Spanish battleship was approaching from the east. Sampson sent
Schley and the Brooklyn to investigate. The approaching ship was quickly sighted,
and Schley had the Brooklyn ready her portside guns, since only the starboard guns
had been engaged during the prior chase. Through the glass Captain Cook could
see that the approaching vessel had forward gun turrets. This could not possibly be
the Pelayo, unless she had seen a major rebuild or the reference data in Jane’s was
terribly out of touch with reality. But there was the flag with the unmistakable red
bars hanging from her masthead. A line of signal flags appeared, illuminated by
searchlights that illuminated the Americans as well. "This is an Austrian ship," they
read, "Please do not fire." The Americans had mistaken the red/white/red flag of
Austria for the red/yellow/red flag of Spain. The ship was looking for a place to
spend the night, and thought that Santiago de Cuba looked like a good port on the
map. The Americans asked them instead to anchor at least 20 miles out to sea, as
it had been a busy day. The Austrians anchored 40 miles out, just to be sure there
was no more confusion. Ironically, the Austrian ship bore the name Maria Theresa.
That afternoon, Admiral Cervera was rescued from the water by the little
Gloucester. He was later transferred to the Iowa and issued dry clothing. Later, the
Iowa rescued Captain Eulate of the Viscaya as well. He was covered with blood
from three wounds, and a grisly handkerchief was wrapped around his head. As he
hobbled to the door of Captain Evans’ cabin to be attended to, he turned and looked
at his former command now run aground. Captain Eulate saluted his burning ship
saying, "Adios, Viscaya!" Just then, flames reached the forward magazine, and the
Viscaya exploded in reply with dramatic effect, sending a pillar of black smoke high
into the sky.
The following day, the Spanish officers and the officers of the Iowa gathered
wardroom for lunch. Although many of them spoke French, the international naval
language, there was more discomfort than conversation between them. The
executive officer of the Iowa, Lieutenant Huse, offered a remark that sum up the
encounter perfectly and would ease the tensions between the men. Translated
from the original French, Lieutenant Huse said, "We have gained the victory, but the
glory is yours." The remark was gratefully accepted by Admiral Cervera.
Figure 4 – the above chart shows the relative strengths of the American
Spanish fleets at Santiago de Cuba. The Americans had stronger ships, as well as
more of them, and outgunned the Spaniards in every category nearly three to one.
The sole advantage of the Spanish ships was speed, although poor maintenance
reduced the actual obtainable speeds significantly from the theoretical maximum.
ORDER OF BATTLE
The American order of battle was as follows:
Admiral Sampson's Squadron:
[Flagship] Armored Cruiser NEW YORK under command of Captain French E.
Chadwick - 8,200 tons, 21 knots, Six 8-inch, twelve 4-inch, eight 6-pounder, four
1-pounder, four Gatlings.
Battleship IOWA under command of Captain Robley D. Evans - 11,340 tons,
knots, four 12-inch, eight 8-inch, six 4-inch, twenty 6-pounder, six 1-pounder, four
Battleship INDIANA under command of Captain Henry C. Taylor- 10,288 tons,
knots, four 13-inch, eight 8-inch, four 6-inch, twenty 6-pounder, six 1-pounder, four
Battleship OREGON under command of Captain Charles F. Clark - 10,288 tons,
15.5 knots, four 13-inch, eight 8-inch, four 6-inch, twenty 6-pounder, six 1-pounder,
Armed Yacht GLOUCESTER under command of Lt. Commander Richard
Wainwright - 786 tons, 17 knots, four 6-pounder, four 3-pounder, two Colt machine
Commodore Schley's Squadron:
[Flagship] Armored Cruiser BROOKLYN under command of Captain Francis A.
Cook - 9,200 tons, 21 knots, eight 8-inch, twelve 5-inch, twelve 6-pounder, four
1-pounder, four Gatlings.
Battleship (2nd class) TEXAS under command of Captain John W. Phillip -
tons, 17 knots, two 12-inch, six 6-inch, twelve 6-pounder, four 1-pounder, two
Battleship MASSACHUSETTS under command of Captain F. J. Higginson - 10,288
tons, 15.5 knots, four 13-inch, eight 8-inch, four 6-inch, twenty 6-pounder, six
1-pounder, four Gatlings. (Did not engage, as it was 40 miles away at Guantanamo
Armed Yacht VIXEN - under command of Lieutenant A. Sharp, Jr. - 800 tons,
knots, four 6-pounder, four 1-pounder
The Spanish order of battle was as follows:
Admiral Cervera's Squadron:
[Flagship] Armored Cruiser INFANTA MARIA TERESA under command of Captain
Victor Concas y Palau - 7,000 tons, 20.2 knots, two 11-inch, ten 5.5-inch, eight
2.2-inch, eight 1.4-inch, two machine guns.
Armored Cruiser ALMIRANTE OQUENDO under command of Captain Juan
Lazaga - 7,000 tons, 20 knots, two 11-inch, ten 5.5-inch, two 2.7-inch, eight
2.2-inch, eight 1.4-inch, two machine guns.
Armored Cruiser VISCAYA under command of Captain Juan Antonio Eulate -
tons, 20 knots, two 11-inch, ten 5.5-inch, two 2.7-inch, eight 2.2-inch, eight 1.4-inch,
two machine guns.
Armored Cruiser CRISTOBAL COLON under command of Captain Emiliano Diaz
Moreu - 6,840 tons, 20 knots, two 10-inch mountings with guns NOT installed, ten
6-inch, six 4.7 inch, ten 2.2-inch, ten 1.4-inch, two machine guns.
Torpedo Boat Destroyer PLUTON under the command of Commander Pedro
Vasquez - 400 tons, 30 knots, two 14-pounder, two 6-pounder, two 1-pounder, and
two 14-inch torpedo tubes.
Torpedo Boat Destroyer FUROR under the command of Commander Diego Carlier
- 370 tons, 28 knots, two 14-pounder, two 6-pounder, two 1-pounder, and two
14-inch torpedo tubes.
American Losses as a Result of the Battle
The only fatality in the engagement was Chief Yeoman George Ellis, acting
gunfire spotter just ahead of the conning tower on the Brooklyn.
Ten other American sailors were wounded, one seriously.
Spanish Losses as a Result of the Battle
Cervera's entire squadron was either sunk or run aground. The Spaniards
323 killed and 151 wounded. 70 officers and 1,600 men, including Admiral Cervera
himself, were rescued and taken prisoner by the American forces. Only 150 sailors
or so made their way back to the Spanish lines at Santiago. All ships had losses,
but by far the Furor and Oquendo had suffered the most.
Visit the Spanish-American War Centennial Web Site! (Very highly
recommended.) This site offers photographs and postcards that illustrate most of
the ships mentioned in this article, as well as a write-up of other aspects of the
Spanish-American War including the Battle of Manila Bay.
Bachrach, Deborah; "The Spanish-American War", San Diego: Lucent Books, 1991.
Carter, Alden R.; "The Spanish-American War", New York: Franklin Watts,
Chidsey, Donald Barr; "The Spanish-American War - A Behind-the-Scenes Account
of the War in Cuba", New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1971.
Dierks, Jack Cameron; "A Leap to Arms - The Cuban Campaign of 1898",
Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1970.
Friedman, Norman; "U.S. Battleships - An Illustrated Design History", Annapolis:
Naval Institute Press, 1985.
Hagan, Kenneth J.; "This People’s Navy - The Making of American Sea Power",
York: The Free Press, 1991.
Hailey, Foster and Lancelot, Milton; "Clear for Action", New York: Bonanza
Keller, Allan; "The Spanish-American War - A Compact History", New York:
Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1969.
Lawson, Don; "The United States in the Spanish-American War", New York:
Abelard-Schuman, Inc., 1976.
Leckie, Robert; "The Wars of America - Vol. I: From 1600 to 1900", New
HarperCollins Publishers, 1968.
Marshall, S.L.A., Brig. General USAR (ret); "The War to Free Cuba", New
Franklin Watts, Inc., 1966.
Miller, Nathan; "The U.S. Navy - An Illustrated History", New York: The
Heritage Publishing Co. and Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1977.