Battle of Santiago de Cuba
The Battle of Santiago de Cuba, fought between Spain and the United States on July 3, 1898, was one of the key naval engagements of the Spanish-American War, which resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Navy's Caribbean Squadron.
The Spanish realized that the war would be decided by the campaign in Cuba. Even before the opening of hostilities, Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete had been dispatched from Spain with the ultimate destination of the Caribbean, initially Puerto Rico but then changed to Cuba.:78–80 Lacking a clear strategy, the Spanish may have hoped to end the war quickly in a "glorious defeat" against the more powerful U.S. Navy.:79
There were striking contrasts between Cervera's squadron and the squadron lost by Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands on May 1, 1898. Montojo's squadron had been composed of obsolete ships primarily meant for revenue collection, while Cervera's squadron was composed of many modern warships, all of which were only a few years old at the time of this battle. Montojo's squadron had virtually no torpedo-launching capability, while Cervera brought with him the destroyers Pluton, Terror and Furor,:80 three of the most advanced torpedo-armed warships in the world at the time. This destroyer flotilla was commanded by Captain Fernando Villaamil, well known as the originator of the destroyer concept. Montojo's squadron was almost entirely unarmored, while nearly all of Cervera's warships were protected by armor of some kind.:80
However, it is evident from the records of the time and from Cervera's own writings that the Spanish admiral had the feeling that he was sailing to his doom.:79 The breech mechanisms in many of the Spanish guns were dangerously faulty, causing jams and other mishaps.:78 Many of the ships' boilers were in need of repair; several ships, including the armored cruiser Vizcaya, desperately needed bottom-cleaning as they were suffering from extra drag due to fouling.:78 Worse yet, many of the gun crews were out of practice, having little experience with firing live rounds due to naval budget cuts since the Rif War in 1893-1894 and funding priority given to the Spanish Army. The most well-protected ship in Cervera's fleet, the second-generation armored cruiser Cristobal Colon, had not even had her main battery installed:78 and carried wooden dummy guns instead.
Early in the year, Cervera had attempted to convince the Naval Ministry, a bureaucratic body responsible for governing Spain's admiralty, that the best strategy lay in resisting the Americans near the Canary Islands. Here, the fleet could be repainted, recoaled, and overhauled. It would then lie within range of the vast reserves of ammunition established in Spain and the firepower of the "Home Squadron". Cervera argued that he could then meet the U.S. fleet and destroy it. This strategy was endorsed by every officer under his command and many in the "Home Squadron", but was rejected by the Admiralty. Cervera's own misgivings reveal the seriousness of the situation faced:
- 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.
On April 29, Cervera set steam from Cape Verde, and panic gripped the U.S. populace, who did not know what his ships might do: attack the largely undefended East Coast while the fleet sailed about in an effort to engage him, prey upon American shipping, or perhaps sail up the Potomac and set fire to Washington, D.C.:80
Cervera managed to evade the U.S. fleet for several weeks, confounding his American counterparts and managing to re-coal in the process.:89 Meanwhile Villaamil, who was in disagreement with both the Spanish Government's shaky war direction and Cervera's rather passive strategy, advocated trying to offset the superiority of the American forces by scattering the fleet and taking the initiative through quick and dispersed actions; he even volunteered to lead a diversionary attack to New York with his destroyers, but his proposals were not accepted.
With the exception of Commodore George Dewey's squadron in the Pacific, nearly every warship in the United States Navy was near or on its way to Cuba. Only a handful of reactivated American Civil War era monitors and cutters of the United States Revenue Cutter Service remained to defend the U.S. coastline.:81
The primary elements of the U.S. force in Cuban waters were divided between two men: Rear Admiral William T. Sampson of the North Atlantic Squadron and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley and the "Flying Squadron".:81
On the morning of May 29, Cervera's squadron was sighted inside the safety of Santiago Bay, Cuba, by elements of the "Flying Squadron". On 1 June, Schley was joined by Sampson, who took command of the situation and instructed a general blockade.:155
Stand-off in Santiago Harbor
So long as Cervera remained within Santiago Harbor, his fleet was relatively safe. The guns of the city were quite sufficient to make up for deficiencies in his own, and the area was well defended with sea mines, torpedoes and other obstructions.:116–118 Nevertheless, Cervera was terribly outmatched. Though his ships were modern, they were too few, and their technical problems compounded his worries. The lack of refitting facilities in Santiago to assist with the repairs of the vessels in Cervera's squadron made the situation all the more desperate.:169
For more than a month, the two fleets faced off, with only a few inconclusive skirmishes resulting. For his part, Cervera was content to wait, hoping for bad weather to scatter the Americans so that he could make a run to a position more favorable for engaging the enemy. However, U.S. land forces began to drive on Santiago de Cuba, and by the end of June 1898, Cervera found himself unable to remain safely in the harbor, and Governor-General Blanco y Erenas wanted a sortie, stating, "it is better for the honor of our arms that the squadron perish in battle...".:171
The breakout was planned for 09:00 on Sunday, July 3. This seemed the most logical time: the Americans would be at religious services, and waiting until night would only serve to make the escape that much more treacherous. By noon on Saturday, July 2, the fleet had a full head of steam and had fallen into position for the breakout.:172
At about 08:45, just as his ships had slipped their moorings, Admiral Sampson and two ships of his command, his flagship, the armored cruiser USS New York, and the torpedo boat USS Ericsson had left their positions for a trip to Siboney and a meeting with Major General William Shafter of the U.S. Army.:173 This opened a gap in the western portion of the American blockade line, leaving a window for Cervera.:174 Sampson's New York was one of only two ships in the squadron fast enough to catch Cervera if he managed to break through the blockade. Further, the battleship USS Massachusetts, and the cruisers Newark and New Orleans had left that morning to coal at Guantanamo Bay.:173 With the departure of Admiral Sampson, who had signaled "Disregard movements of flagship," immediate command devolved to Commodore Schley in armored cruiser USS Brooklyn, which now became the de facto flagship of the U.S. blockade.
At 09:35, the navigator of Brooklyn sighted a plume of smoke coming from the mouth of the port and reported to Schley,
The enemy's ships are coming out!:175
The Spanish ships began their race from the mouth of Santiago Bay at about 09:45, traveling in a rough line ahead formation. In the lead was Cervera's flagship, the armored cruiser Infanta Maria Teresa, followed by the armored cruisers Vizcaya, Cristóbal Colón, and Almirante Oquendo, and finally the torpedo-boat destroyers Furor and Pluton.:174 They then formed three echelons, the destroyers heading eastward, followed by Colon and Quendo while Maria Teresa and Vizcaya made for the Brooklyn.:176
The battle commenced almost immediately, the first shot being fired by Iowa when the ships were seen in the channel, but the Spanish responded, aided by the batteries on Morro and Upper Socapa.:175–176 While the Spanish had taken the initiative by beginning the engagement, two factors slowed their escape. The first was the continuing problem experienced in maintaining proper speed by Vizcaya;:169 the second was the poor quality of most of the coal in the Spanish holds. An expected re-supply of high-quality anthracite:87 had been captured, along with its collier Restormel,:89 by the American auxiliary cruiser USS Saint Paul on May 25.:170
Brooklyn headed nearly straight for Infanta Maria Teresa at first, but by 1005 it was apparent they were on a collision course and Commodore Schley ordered a sharp turn to starboard, "retrograde loop", when all of the other American ships had already turned to port.:176 This threatened Texas with collision and Captain Philip of the Texas ordered her to reverse engines:176 for six minutes, which brought the Texas to a near standstill until the Brooklyn passed across the Texas' bow. Maria Teresa and Vizcaya then altered course to the west, the Colon and Quendo falling in behind, and the two squadrons paralleled each other.:176 Texas then swung behind Brooklyn but Oregon then ran up on the Texas and passed inboard masking the Texas' fire. Oregon, initially to the rear of the action but the fastest ship in the U.S. fleet, soon raced past Indiana, which had an engine problem and could make only 9 kn (10 mph; 17 km/h) at the time of the battle. Iowa had started from a disadvantaged position and was passed by Infanta Maria Teresa but hit her with two 12 in (300 mm) rounds from 2,600 yd (2,400 m) and swung into the chase.:176 As Iowa was passed in turn by Cristóbal Colón, the Spanish ship hit her with two shots from her secondary battery. One of these, struck near the waterline and caused Iowa to slow:176 and she therefore engaged Almirante Oquendo, bringing up the rear of Cervera's four cruisers.
Rather than expose the entirety of his fleet to the American battle line, Cervera had signaled his other ships to continue to the southwest while he attempted to cover their escape, directly engaging Brooklyn, his nearest enemy. Though Brooklyn was hit more than 20 times during the battle, she suffered only two casualties, while her return fire resulted in the deaths of most of Cervera's bridge crew and grave damage to the ship generally. Under this brutal punishment, Infanta Maria Teresa began to burn furiously. Cervera ordered her aground at 1020 in shallows along the Cuban coast, by which time she was completely wrecked and aflame.:178 Admiral Cervera survived and was rescued, picked up near Punta Cabrera by the crew of Gloucester.:184
The rest of the Spanish fleet continued its race for the open sea. Almirante Oquendo was hit repeatedly by Iowa and driven out of the battle by the premature detonation of a shell stuck in a defective breech-block mechanism of an 11 in (280 mm) turret.:179 A boiler explosion finished her, and she was ordered scuttled by her mortally wounded Captain Lazaga. Pluton and Furor made a dash in a direction opposite the rest of the Spanish squadron. At first taken under light fire by Gloucester and then, fatally, by shelling from the battleships Iowa, Indiana, and eventually New York, commanded by Rear Admiral Sampson who had turned his flagship around and was racing to join the fight. Furor was sunk at 1050 before making the beach.:180 Pluton succeeded in grounding herself at 1045 near Cabanas Bay.:180
Vizcaya, was locked in a running gun duel for nearly an hour with Brooklyn. Despite steaming side-by-side with Schley's flagship at about 1,200 yd (1,100 m) and even with some good shooting which knocked out a secondary gun aboard Brooklyn,:180 almost none of the Spaniards' nearly 300 shots caused significant damage, while Brooklyn pounded Vizcaya with effectiveness. Subsequent claims by Admiral Cervera, and later research by historians, have suggested that nearly 85% of the Spanish ammunition at Santiago was utterly useless, either defective or simply filled with sawdust as a cost-saving measure for practice firing. The American ammunition had no such issues of lethality. Vizcaya continued the fight until overwhelmed, and by the end of the engagement she had been struck as many as 200 times by the fire from Brooklyn and Texas. Brooklyn had closed to within 950 yd (870 m) when she finally delivered a 8 in (200 mm) round which, according to witnesses, may have detonated a torpedo being prepared for launch.:181 A huge explosion ensued, Vizcaya ceased to be militarily effective, and fires raged out of control. She hauled down her flag and turned toward the beach to ground herself at 1106.:181
Within a little more than an hour, five of the six ships of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron had been destroyed or forced aground. Only one vessel, the speedy new armored cruiser Cristóbal Colón, still survived, steaming as fast as she could for the west and freedom. Though modern in every respect and possibly the fastest ship in either fleet, Cristóbal Colón had one serious problem: She had been only recently purchased from Italy, and her main 10 in (250 mm) armament:169 was not yet installed because of a contractual issue with the British firm of Armstrong. She therefore sailed with empty main turrets, albeit retaining her ten 6 in (150 mm) secondary battery. This day, speed was her primary defense.
At her best rate of nearly 15 knots, Cristóbal Colón slowly distanced herself from the pursuing U.S. fleet.:181 Her closest antagonist, USS Brooklyn, had begun the battle with just two of her four engines coupled, because of her long stay on the blockade line, and could manage barely 16 kn (18 mph; 30 km/h) while building steam. As Brooklyn ineffectively fired 8 in (200 mm) rounds at the rapidly disappearing Cristóbal Colón, there was only one ship in the U.S. fleet with a chance of maintaining the pursuit, the Oregon, burning Cardiff coal and New York, doing 20 knots.:182
For 65 minutes, Oregon pursued Cristóbal Colón. Cristóbal Colón had to hug the coast and was unable to turn toward the open sea because Oregon was standing out about 1.5 mi (1.3 nmi; 2.4 km) from Cristóbal Colón's course and would have been able to fatally close the gap had Cristóbal Colón turned to a more southerly course.
Finally, three factors converged to end the chase: First, Cristóbal Colón had run through her supply of high-quality Cardiff coal and was forced to begin using an inferior grade obtained from Spanish reserves in Cuba. Second, a peninsula jutting out from the coastline would soon force her to turn south, across Oregon's path. And third, on the flagship Brooklyn, Commodore Schley signaled Oregon's Captain Charles Edgar Clark to open fire. Despite the immense range still separating Oregon and Cristóbal Colón, Oregon's forward turret launched a pair of 13 in (330 mm) shells which bracketed Cristóbal Colón's wake just astern of the ship.:182
Captain Jose de Paredes, declining to see his crew killed to no purpose, abruptly turned the undamaged Cristóbal Colón toward the mouth of the Tarquino River and ordered the scuttle valves opened and the colors struck as she grounded.:182
As the ships of the U.S. fleet pushed through the carnage, rescuing as many Spanish survivors as possible, an officer was fished out by sailors of Iowa. This man proved to be Captain Don Antonio Eulate of Vizcaya. He thanked his rescuers and presented his sword to Captain Robley Evans, who handed it back as an act of chivalry.:183
The battle was the end of any noteworthy Spanish naval presence in the New World. It forced Spain to re-assess its strategy in Cuba and resulted in an ever-tightening blockade of the island. While fighting continued until August, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, all surviving Spanish capital ships were now husbanded to defend their homeland leaving only isolated units of auxiliary vessels to defend the coast. Uncontested U.S. control of the seas around Cuba made resupply of the Spanish garrison impossible and its surrender inevitable.
The U.S. ships at Santiago, for their part, suffered many hits in the battle but very little serious damage. The small armed yacht Vixen was nearly sunk, but casualties on the American side of the affair were remarkably light; only one man was killed, Yeoman George Henry Ellis of Brooklyn.:180 Spanish casualties included Captain Villaamil of Furor, the highest-ranking Spanish officer to lose his life in the battle, while all six vessels of the Spanish squadron were lost.:174,183 The Spanish sailors not wounded, including Admiral Cervera, were sent to Seavey's Island at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine,:184 where they were confined at Camp Long from July 11, 1898 until mid-September 1898.
Two of the Spanish ships, Infanta Maria Teresa and Cristóbal Colón, were later re-floated and taken over by the U.S. Both eventually foundered and were lost. The Reina Mercedes, abandoned in Santiago Bay because of engine troubles, was an unprotected cruiser captured by the U.S. Navy and used as a receiving ship until 1957 as the USS Reina Mercedes.
All of the various flags, warship pennants, national combat flags, the royal standard, admirals' flags and so on retrieved from the Spanish ships in the days following the battle, are part of the United States Navy Trophy Flag Collection at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. The collection was given to the care of the U.S. Naval Academy by an act of Congress in 1949. In 1998, in recognition of the hundredth anniversary of the battle and the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy authorized the return of the National Combat Flag from the Spanish flagship Infanta Maria Teresa to the Spanish Navy via their Chief of Staff, who was to meet with the U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations in Newport, Rhode Island. However, the return of the flag was aborted when the curator of the Naval Academy Museum, citing the congressional language from 1949, refused to surrender the banner due to politics.
- Nofi, A.A., 1996, The Spanish-American War, 1898, Pennsylvania: Combined Books, ISBN 0938289578
- New York Times. Jul 18, 1898
- United States Naval Academy Museum Museum Collections, Scope of Collections Retrieved June 11, 2009
- Hart, Charles. Former U.S. Naval Attache' to Spain. Interview. Jun 10, 2009
- Most of the details were taken with the permission of the author from A Dirty Little War by A. Bagosy.
- Nofi, Albert A. The Spanish American War, 1898. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania: Combined Books, 1996. ISBN 0-938289-57-8
- Works by Mahan and Cervera were also referenced.
- Craig L. Symonds/ William J. Clipson: The Naval Institute Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy. Naval Institute Press 2001, ISBN 978-1-55750-984-0, p. 114 (restricted online copy, p. 114, at Google Books)
- Donald M. Goldstein/ Katherine V. Dillon/ J. Michael Wenger/ Robert J. Cressman: The Spanish-American War: The Story and Photographs. Brassey's 2001, ISBN 978-1-57488-303-9, p. 121-136 (restricted online copy, p. 121, at Google Books)
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