Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Sketches from the Spanish-American War, by Commmder Hermann Jacobsen of the Imperial German Navy

 

I took advantage of our presence there to learn further particulars about the engagement between the torpedo-boat destroyer Terror and the United States auxiliary cruiser St. Paul. The commander of the Terror1 gave me the following account of the battle:

     At 9 a. m. on June 22 the lookout at the fort signaled a suspicious vessel. The commander gave orders for the Isabel II to go out to reconnoiter and for the Terror to be ready for action. By 11.30 the vessel had come closer and the Isabel II went out. Upon sighting her, the hostile cruiser immediately hoisted her flag and waited. The Isabel II opened fire on the foe. The destroyer then received orders to go out and assist the Isabel. The Terror, which had been left by her fleet at Martinique, had not been able to recover her guns and ammunition, which during the voyage had been transferred to the Maria Teresa in order to make room for coal. The Terror therefore had no other weapons than her torpedoes and two 57-millimeter guns with little ammunition. The Isabel fought the St. Paul at a distance of from 10,000 to 12,000 meters. As the utmost range of our guns was only 4,000 meters, we could not assist the Isabel by going closer to her. I therefore gave orders to head the Terror east, so as not to interfere with the Isabel firing north on the enemy. When we were sufficiently clear of her and had the open sea before us, I headed straight for the St. Paul at a speed of from 20 to 21 knots.

     The enemy, who hitherto had been firing on the Isabel, now directed upon us the well-aimed rapid fire of both her batteries, the lower one of which appeared to have eight, the upper one ten to twelve guns. At 4,000 meters we opened fire with our guns, in order to keep up the spirit of the crew during the long interval between the beginning of the hail of projectiles and the launching of the torpedo. Our fire was very accurate. At the first shot we saw the shell exploded on the stern. Several other shots also hit their target, and our men were wild with joy. We had approached to within 1,200 meters and were about to launch the torpedo when the Terror commenced to veer to starboard. I had the helm shifted to port but the ship kept on turning. Then I ordered the port engine stopped, and still the ship continued to turn to starboard. I then learned that a shell had exploded on deck and destroyed the leads to the steering gear and telegraph, so that the vessel followed the movements of the screw and was unmanageable. The hand-steering gear was at once put in operation; but we passed the enemy at such close range, several projectiles hit us, one of them passing through the port side into the engine room, where it burst. The engine room became flooded and the engine appeared to have been disabled. We just managed to steam into the harbor.

     From an inspection of the Terror it appeared that the fatal shell, ranging obliquely downward, had passed through the ship’s side, torn off a steam gauge, killed three men, and struck the lower edge of the main steam pipe, tearing off its covering. This had deflected the shell and it had passed out through the starboard side. It was through the hole made by the projectile in passing out that the engine room had been flooded up to the lower edge of the steam cylinder; but the engines continued to run, so that the Terror, though with gradually slackened speed, was able to reach the harbor under her own steam. The shortest distance between the Terror and the St. Paul had been 800 meters. The gunboat Isabel II, I was told by her commander,2 had not gone closer than within 6,000 meters of the enemy.

Source Note Print: Translation. Commander J…, Sketches from the Spanish-American War, Office of Naval Intelligence, War Notes No. III, Information from Abroad (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1899), 26-27.

Footnote 2: Capt. Don José Boado.

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