Bombardment of Fort San Carlos

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Bombardment of Fort San Carlos
Part of the Venezuelan Crisis
Fuerte San Carlos 1902.jpg
A cover of the "Le Petit Parisien" depicting the bombardment of Castle San Carlos
Date January 17, 1903
Location Castle San Carlos, Venezuela
Result Venezuelan victory[1]
Flag of Venezuela (1863-1905).svg United States of Venezuela  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Venezuela (1863-1905).svg Jorge Antonio Bello German Empire Richard Eckermann
4 artillery pieces
1 fort
1 light cruiser
1 gunboat
Casualties and losses
3–6 wounded 1 gunboat damaged

The Bombardment of Fort San Carlos occurred during the Venezuelan Crisis on January 17, 1903, when two warships of the Imperial German Navy tried to penetrate into Lake Maracaibo but were repulsed by the garrison of San Carlos de la Barra after a brief exchange of fire.[2]


On January 17, SMS Panther and SMS Falke were chasing a merchant schooner which had evaded the blockade and entered the lake. Both ships intended to enter the lake and blockade the city of Maracaibo.[3]

Guarding the entrance that connects the lake with the Gulf of Venezuela was the castle of San Carlos de la Barra. The shallow waters that connected lake Maracaibo with the sea were only passable for major ships in the strait that separated San Carlos from the island of Zapara, yet even there it was needed the help of a local pilot to sort the sand banks and shallow waters of the passage.

The battle started when the fort's gunners opened fire on the Panther when she was crossing the bar. The captain Richard Eckermann returned the fire, but the shallow waters prevented the Panther from making an effective bombardment. After half an hour of exchanging fire, the Germans retreated. The president Cipriano Castro claimed this as a victory, and in response the German commander sent a cruiser with heavier weapons, to set an example to Venezuelans.


A painting of Fort San Carlos in 1823. The fort retained its layout eighty years later when it confronted SMS Panther.

Four days later the Panther returned to reduce the fort, accompanied by the protected cruiser SMS Vineta, with a much larger armament. A typical bombardment ensued for 8 hours, although outgunned the Venezuelan garrison attempted to resist with their cannon but by the end of the conflict, Fort San Carlos was in ruins and burning. Shells also hit the nearby port; whether intentional or not, the bombardment killed 25 civilians, prompting the arrest of German and British citizens by Venezuelan authorities.[4] [5]

The action had not been approved by the British commander of the "Particular Service Squadron" Commodore Robert Archibald James Montgomerie, who had been told by London after the Puerto Cabello bombardment of 13 December not to engage in such action without consulting London; the message was not passed to the German commander, who had been told previously to follow the English commander's lead. The incident caused "considerable negative reaction in the United States against Germany". The Germans said that the Venezuelans fired first, which the British concurred with but declared the bombardment "unfortunate and inopportune" nonetheless.

The German Foreign Office said that the Panther's attempted incursion into the lagoon of Maracaibo had been motivated by a desire to ensure the effective blockade of Maracaibo port, by preventing it from being supplied across the adjacent Colombian border.[citation needed] Subsequently the US president Theodore Roosevelt informed the German Ambassador that Admiral George Dewey had orders to be ready the Caribbean fleet to sail from Puerto Rico to Venezuela at an hour's notice.[clarification needed]

See also[edit]