Battle of Santiago [1]

Posted by : The Patriot on Sep 20, 2002 - 09:38 AM
Spanish American [2]
USS New York, 3 July 1898 Sir-I have the honor to make the following report upon the battle with and the destruction of the Spanish squadron, commanded by Admiral Cervera, off Santiago de Cuba, on Sunday, July 3, 1898. The enemy's vessels came out of the harbor between 9.35 and 10 AM, the head of the column appearing around Cay Smith at 9.31, and emerging from the channel five or six minutes later.
The positions of the vessels of my command off Santiago at that moment were as follows: The flagship New York was four miles east of her blockading station, and about seven miles from the harbor entrance. She had started for Siboney, where I intended to land, accompanied by several of my staff, and go to the front to consult with General Shafter. A discussion of the situation and a more definite understanding between us of the operations proposed had been rendered necessary by the unexpectedly strong resistance of the Spanish garrison at Santiago. I had sent my chief of staff on shore the day before to arrange an interview with General Shafter, who had been suffering from heat prostration. I made arrangements to go to his headquarters, and my flagship was in the position mentioned above when the Spanish squadron appeared in the channel. The remaining vessels were in or near their usual blockading positions, distributed in a semi-circle about the harbor entrance, counting from the eastward to the westward, in the following order: The Indiana, about a mile and one-half from shore; the Oregon, the New York's place between these two: the Iowa, Texas and Brooklyn, the latter two miles from the shore west of Santiago. The distance of the vessels from the harbor entrance was from two and one-half to four miles, the latter being the limit of day blockading distance. The length of the arc formed by the ships was about eight miles. The Massachusetts had left at 4 AM for Guantanamo for coal. Her station was between the Iowa and Texas. The auxiliaries Gloucester and Vixen lay close to the land and nearer the harbor entrance than the large vessels, the Gloucester to the eastward and the Vixen to the westward. The torpedo-boat Ericsson was in company with the flagship and remained with her during her chase until ordered to discontinue, when she rendered very efficient service in rescuing prisoners from the burning Vizcaya. I enclose a diagram showing approximately the positions of the vessels as described above. The Spanish vessels came rapidly out of the harbor at a speed estimated at from eight to ten knots, and in the following order: Infanta Maria Teresa (flagship), Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon and the Almirante Oquendo. The distance between these ships was about 800 yards, which means that from the time the first one became visible in the upper reach of the channel until the last one was out of the harbor an interval of only about twelve minutes elapsed. Following the Oquendo at a distance of about 1200 yards came the torpedo-boat destroyer Pluton, and after her the Furor. The armored cruisers, as rapidly as they could bring their guns to bear, opened a vigorous fire upon the blockading vessels, and emerged from the channel shrouded in the smoke from their guns. The men of our ships in front of the port were at Sunday "quarters for inspection." The signal was made simultaneously from several vessels, "Enemy's ships escaping," and general quarters was sounded. The men cheered as they sprang to their guns, and fire was opened probably within eight minutes by the vessels whose guns commanded the entrance. The New York turned about and steamed for the escaping fleet, flying the signal, "Close in towards harbor entrance and attack vessels," and gradually increasing speed until toward the end of the chase she was making sixteen and one-half knots and was rapidly closing on the Cristobal Colon. She was not at any time within the range of the heavy Spanish ships, and her only part in the fighting was to receive the undivided fire from the forts in passing the harbor entrance and to fire a few shots at one of the destroyers, thought at the moment to be attempting to escape from the Gloucester. The Spanish vessels upon clearing the harbor turned to the westward in column, increasing their speed to the full power of their engines. The heavy blockading vessels, which had closed in toward the Morro at the instant of the enemy's appearance, and at their best speed, delivered a rapid fire, well sustained and destructive, which speedily overwhelmed and silenced the Spanish fire. The initial speed of the Spaniards carried them rapidly past the blockading vessels, and the battle developed into a chase in which the Brooklyn and Texas had, at the start, the advantage of position. The Brooklyn maintained this lead. The Oregon, steaming with amazing speed from the commencement of the action, took first place. The Iowa and the Indiana, having done good work, and not having the speed of the other ships, were directed by me, in succession, at about the time the Vizcaya was beached, to drop out of the chase and resume blockading stations. These vessels rescued many prisoners. The Vixen, finding that the rush of the Spanish ships would put her between two fires, ran outside of our own column and remained there during the battle and chase. The skillful handling and gallant fighting of the Gloucester excited the admiration of everyone who witnessed it, and merits the commendation of the Navy Department. She is a fast and entirely unprotected auxiliary vessel-the yacht Corsair-and has a good battery of light rapid-firing guns. She was lying about two miles from the harbor entrance, to the southward and eastward, and immediately steamed in, opening fire upon the large ships. Anticipating the appearance of the Pluton and Furor, the Gloucester was slowed, thereby gaining more rapidly a high pressure of steam, and when the destroyers came out she steamed for them at full speed and was able to close at short range, where her fire was accurate, deadly and of great volume. During this fight the Gloucester was under the fire of the Socapa battery. Within twenty minutes from the time they emerged from Santiago harbor the careers of the Furor and the Pluton were ended and two-thirds of their people killed. The Furor was beached and sunk in the surf; the Pluton sank in deep water a few minutes later. The destroyers probably suffered much injury from the fire of the secondary batteries of the battleships Iowa, Indiana and the Texas, yet, I think, a very considerable factor in their speedy destruction was the fire, at close range, of the Gloucester's battery. After rescuing the survivors of the destroyers the Gloucester did excellent service in landing and securing the crew of the Infanta Maria Teresa. The method of escape attempted by the Spaniards-all steering in the same direction and in formation-removed all tactical doubts or difficulties and made plain the duty of every United States vessel to close in, immediately engage and pursue. This was promptly and effectively done. As already stated, the first rush of the Spanish squadron carried it past a number of the blockading ships, which could not immediately work up to their best speed, but they suffered heavily in passing, and the Infanta Maria Teresa and the Oquendo were probably set on fire by shells fired during the first fifteen minutes of the engagement. It was afterward learned that the Infanta Maria Teresa's fire-main had been cut by one of our first shots, and that she was unble to extinguish fire. With large volumes of smoke rising from their lower decks aft these vessels gave up both fight and flight and ran in on the beach-the Infanta Maria Teresa at about 10.15 AM at Nima Nima, six and one-half miles from Santiago harbor entrance, and the Almirante Oquendo at about 10.30 AM at Juan Corzales, seven miles from the port. The Vizcaya was still under the fire of the leading vessels; the Cristobal Colon had drawn ahead, leading the chase, and soon passed beyond the range of the guns of the leading American ships. The Vizcaya was soon set on fire, and at 11.15 she turned in on shore and was beached at Accerraderos, fifteen miles from Santiago, burning fiercely and with her reserves of ammunition on deck already beginning to explode. When about ten miles west of Santiago the Indiana had been signalled to go back to the harbor entrance, and at Accerraderos the Iowa was signalled to resume blockading station. The Iowa, assisted by the Ericsson and the Nist, took off the crew of the Vizcaya, while the Harvard and the Gloucester rescued those of the Infanta Maria Teresa and the Almirante Oquendo. This rescue of prisoners, including the wounded from the burning Spanish vessels, was the occasion of some of the most daring and gallant conduct of the day. The ships were burning fore and aft, their guns and reserve ammuntion were exploding, and it was not known at what moment the fire would reach the main magazines. In addition to this a heavy surf was running just inside of the Spanish ships. But no risk deterred our officers and men until their work of humanity was completed. There remained now of the Spanish ships only the Cristobal Colon, but she was their best and fastest vessel. Forced by the situation to hug the Cuban coast, her only chance of escape was by superior and sustained speed. When the Vizcaya went ashore the Colon was about six miles ahead of the Brooklyn and the Oregon, but her spurt was finished and the American ships were now gaining upon her. Behind the Brooklyn and the Oregon came the Texas, Vixen and New York. It was evident from the bridges of the New York that all the American ships were gradually overhauling her and that she had no chance of escape. The harbor of Santiago is naturally easy to blockade, there being but one entrance, and that a narrow one, and the deep water extending close up to the shore line presenting no difficulties of navigation outside of the entrance. At the time of my arrival before the port, June 1, the moon was at its full, and there was sufficient light during the night to enable any movement outside the entrance to be detected; but with the waning of the moon and the coming of dark nights there was opportunity for the enemy to escape or for his torpedo-boats to make an attack upon the blockading vessels. It was ascertained with fair conclusiveness that the Merrimac, so gallantly taken into the channel on June 3, did not obstruct it. I therefore maintained the blockade as follows: To the battleships was assigned the duty, in turn, of lighting the channel. Moving up to the port at a distance of from one to two miles from the Morro, dependent upon the condition of the atmosphere, they threw a searchlight beam directly up the channel and held it steadily there. This lighted up the entire breadth of the channel for half a mile inside the entrance so brilliantly that the movement of small boats could be detected. Why the batteries never opened fire upon the searchlight ship was always a matter of surprise to me, but they never did. Stationed close to the entrance of the port were three picket launches, and at a little distance further out three small picket vessels-usually converted yachts-and, when they were available, one or two of our torpedo-boats. With this arrangement there was at least a certainty that nothing could get out of the harbor undetected. After the arrival of the army, when the situation forced upon the Spanish admiral a decision, our vigilance increased. The night blockading distance was reduced to two miles for all vessels, and a battleship was placed alongside the searchlight ship, with her broadside trained upon the channel, in readiness to fire the instant a Spanish ship should appear. The commanding officers merit the great praise for the perfect manner in which they entered into this plan and put it into execution. The Massachusetts, which, according to routine, was sent that mornig to coal at Guantanamo, like the others, had spent weary nights upon this work, and deserved a better fate than to be absent that morning. I inclose, for the information of the Department, copies of orders and memorandums issued from time to time relating to the manner of maintaining the blockade. When all the work was done so well it is difficult to discriminate in praise. The object of the blockade of Cervera's squadron was fully accomplished, and each individual bore well his part in it, the commodore in command of the second division, the captains of ships, their officers and men. The fire of the battleships was powerful and destructive, and the resistance of the Spanish squadron was, in great part, broken almost before they had got beyond the range of their own forts.
Note: by Admiral Sampson, USN


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