Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete to Minister of Marine Segismundo Bermejo y Merelo
CAPTAINCY-GENERAL OF THE SQUADRON.
HONORED SIR:1 ...The run from the waters of Martinique to those of Curaçao offered nothing worth mentioning.2 At 7 o’clock a. m. of the 14th, about 5 miles from Little Curaçao, I gave orders to the destroyers to enter the port first; but at 8.30 I saw them off the entrance. The Plutón signaled: “Awaiting permission of governor.” The squadron stopped and soon after the Plutón signaled that only two ships were permitted to go in. This was confirmed by the pilot, who arrived soon after, demanding to know the names of the ships, their complements and armament, and the amount of coal required.3 I selected the Teresa and Vizcaya, whose coal supply was lower than that of the others. I gave the information asked for, stating that each ship needed 700 tons, and the pilot went back.
I gave instructions that the Furor should be recoaled from the Colón, and that the latter ship, together with the Oquendo and Plutón, should remain outside. The pilot returned, accompanied by the Spanish consul, who told me that the stay in the harbor must be limited to forty-eight hours. At 12.30 we cast anchor inside, after which I had an interview with the governor, who told me that this was a necessity imposed upon his Government by both belligerents.4 I accepted the 600 tons of coal, which was all that could be had in the town, and ordered the purchase of provisions so as to supply each ship for thirty days, from the captain down to the cabin boy.
At 5 o’clock p. m. I dispatched to your excellency the following cipher message, which I hereby confirm: “After consulting with the second in command of the squadron and the captains of the ships, I came here in hopes of finding the coal announced in your telegram of April 26. Collier has not arrived, and I have not been able to obtain here the coal I need.5 There is a controversy about it, and I must see what I can do. Only two ships have been allowed to enter, and their stay has been limited to forty-eight hours.”
... The coaling proceeds slowly owing to lack of means for shipping it, but I intend to go out by any means this evening, no matter what quantity I may have on board, for while the question of coal is of the utmost importance to me, I do not want to spend another night with the squadron divided.
On board InfantaMaria Teresa, St. Ann Harbor, Curaçao, May 15, 1898.
Source Note Print: Translation, Cervera, Squadron Operations, pp. 76-77.
Footnote 1: RAdm. Cervera had to replenish his squadron’s coal bunkers and provisions after crossing the Atlantic.
Footnote 2: Prior to leaving for the West Indies from St. Vincent, Cape Verde, Cervera informed Bermejo in a confidential letter dated 28 April:
. . . The unloading of the [collier] San Francisco [at Cape Verde] was continued, working day and night, and completed on the 24th. As I told your excellency in a separate communication, the coal was 180 tons short of the 2,000 she was to bring, owing no doubt to the hurry with which the steamer shipped the coal and the loss from coal dropped in the water during the work of unloading, especially at night. This must also have been the case with the Cadiz. I purchased all the lubricating oil I was able to find at Cape Verde, and the ships are well supplied in that respect.
In this connection I wish to point out to your excellency the expediency of always accompanying supplies of coal with a corresponding quantity of lubricating material. On the evening of the 24th I received your telegraphic instructions to start for the West Indies and detach from the fleet the three torpedo boats [Furor, Plutón, and Terror] and the Ciudad de Cadiz, and as these vessels were also short of coal, and I deemed it necessary that they should carry as large quantities as possible, I gave orders at once for them to take 625 tons of the coal on board the Cadiz, also engine supplies and provisions; and the 2.95-inch guns and ammunition of the three destroyers which are to follow me were transshipped.
Owing to the conditions of the hold of the Cadiz, the lack of transshipping appliances, and the heavy swell, this work was very arduous and slow; but I thought it was better to lose these few days than to reach our destination badly provisioned. The ships of the Teresa type leave with 1,080 tons each, and the Colón with 1,270 tons. The latter ship consumes considerably more coal than the others, owing to the type of her boilers. The destroyers carry about 140 tons each, which is 34 in excess of their bunker capacity. With this supply they have theoretically an approximate radius of action of 2,800 miles at the rate of 10 knots an hour. But I feel sure I shall have to resupply them before reaching our destination, in case the state of the sea should not permit me to tow them. The great weakness of their construction will have to be taken into consideration in this connection. Cervera, Squadron Operations, 68-69.
Footnote 3: The Dutch authorities adhered to the neutrality laws regarding belligerents. Belligerent vessels were only permitted to purchase enough coal and provisions to steam to the closest home or associated port, such as a colony. Benton, International Law, 192-99.
Footnote 4: The Spanish Ministry of Marine made arrangements for a collier to meet Cervera’s squadron replenish their coal bunkers, but this did not transpire and Cervera was forced to steam to Santiago de Cuba.