Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete to General Arsenio Linares y Pombo
HONORED SIR: I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your two official and confidential letters on the movements of the hostile fleets, for which I thank you very much. It is much to be regretted that the squadron did not go out yesterday while it had all the fires lighted. But information received from the Government confirmed the report that Schley’s fleet had started for Santiago on the night of the 20th and that Sampson was following with his fleet,1 and for that reason all the captains of this squadron were unanimously of opinion that the sortie was impracticable, and, owing to the scarcity of our coal, I ordered three-fifths of the fires to be put out.
As these ships require a number of hours to get up steam, they would not be ready before night, and that would be too late, especially in view of the rapid consumption of coal. For these reasons there is no other course open at present but to take up positions, as we agreed yesterday, to defend the harbor and city in case an attempt should be made to force the entrance. The Colón is already at her post and the Teresa will be there shortly; the others will not be there until to-night or to-morrow, as they have to get water for their boilers. If another opportunity presents itself, I intend to try and take advantage of it, but as I can not hope with these scant forces to attempt any definite operations, it will only be a matter of changing this harbor for another where we would also be blockaded.
It is to be regretted that bad luck brought me to this harbor, which is so short of everything we need, and I had chosen it in preference because, not having been blockaded, I supposed it to be well supplied with provisions, coal, and stores of every kind.2 Although I always thought that it would be blockaded, I flattered myself that I could keep the greater part of the hostile fleet busy here, which is the only effective service that can be expected of this small and poorly equipped squadron. I beg that you will transmit these explanations to his excellency the Captain-General,3 as the highest representative of the nation in this island, so that he may know the causes of my apparent inaction.4
Santiago de Cuba, May 25, 1898.
Source Note Print: Translation, Cervera, Squadron Operations, 91-92. General Arsenio Linares y Pombo commanded at Santiago de Cuba.
Footnote 1: References to Commo. Winfield S. Schley’s Flying Squadron and RAdm. William T. Sampson’s North Atlantic Squadron.
Footnote 2: RAdm. Cervera’s fleet, especially after an Atlantic crossing that burned many tons of coal and an inability to replenish this important resource, dictated its deployment.
Footnote 3: The Captain-General was Ramón Blanco y Erenas.
Footnote 4: The day before (24 May) Cervera, in a joint note with his officers, they wrote to the new Minister of Marine (Capt. Ramón Auñón y Villalon) that:
It had been decided yesterday that the best plan was to start at daybreak for San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the necessary telegrams had been sent to detain there the collier and the trans-Atlantic steamer Alfonso XIII, which the Government had, by telegraph, placed at the disposal of the squadron.
Owing to the location of hostile forces and their number and strength, it was unanimously considered impossible to carry out said plan, as the maximum speed of this squadron is calculated to be 14 knots, which is the speed of the Vizcaya as the result of the fouled condition of her bottom. Taking into consideration that the ships had not been able to get more than one-third of their coal supply, that the conditions of the harbor make it necessary for the sorties to be effected by the ships one by one, at slow speed, which might make it necessary for the first ship, or ships, that go out to return, though only for the purpose of reconnoitering, with a consequent loss of moral strength, all the officers present were of opinion that the certain danger of the squadron was much greater than the few advantages which might be derived from reaching the harbor of San Juan de Puerto Rico, and that it was therefore necessary to abandon this plan and remain at Santiago, refit as far as possible from the stores to be had here, and take advantage of the first good opportunity for leaving the harbor, at present blockaded by superior forces. Ibid., 88-89.