Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant George L. Dyer, United States Naval Attaché in Madrid, to Commander Richardson Clover, Chief, Officer of Naval Intelligence

 

LEGATION OF THE UNITED STATES,

Madrid, April 16, 1898.

Sir:

     Yesterday the Spanish Government began to take extraordinary precautions to prevent the getting out of news relating to the movement of ships or anything pertaining to war preparations. It is quite probable therefore that definite information in regard to these subjects will be difficult, if not impossible, to get. My latest information, which I have telegraphed to date, is to the effect that the torpedo squadron, consisting of three destroyers, three torpedo boats and the converted cruiser “Ciudad de Cadiz” with the “Colon” and the “Maria Theresa,”1 are at the Cape de Verdes awaiting instructions.2 It is said that the “Colon” and the “Theresa” left Cadiz in such a hurry that they were not properly provisioned. Provisions and coal have been sent to them. I have no reason to believe that they have not a full supply of ammunition. The “Oquendo3 and “Vizcaya” from Puerto Rico should arrive at Cape de Verdes to-day. Although I have no definite information I believe the “Pelayo” arrived at Cadiz yesterday, coming from Cartagena. It was intended that she should go after a few days’ necessary delay in Cartagena and it is reported that she was sighted in the straits of Gibraltar day before yesterday. The “Proserpina,” “Osada”, “Destructor,” “Barcelo,” “Retamosa,” “Habana,” “Halcon,”, torpedo boats and destroyers, and the “Vitoria” are now practically ready in Cadiz awaiting the arrival of the “Carlos V” and the “Pelao”.4 The “Alfonso Xlll” is also about ready in Cartagena.5 The installation for moving the guns by electricity in the “Carlos V” is not completed, and I am unable to get at any estimate of the date when she will be entirely ready for service. It is said on good authority, however, that in an emergency she could be used at once, working such parts as have not power applied by hand.  Work is being pushed also as rapidly as possible on the Cisneros but she can hardly be ready for many weeks. The transatlantic steamers “Mexico”, “Panama,” “Santo Domingo,” “San Augustin” and “Villaverde,” now in Cuban waters, are being armed as auxiliary cruisers. Nine transatlantic steamers in Spanish ports at present are also being armed as cruisers.  To this number should be added the “Colombia” and “Normania”, recently purchased in Germany, and the “Giralda” now being converted in Barcelona. This makes 21 auxiliary cruisers concerning which I have quite definite information. The two steamers bought in Germany were strengthened there and are in condition to receive their artillery and crew when they arrive at Cadiz, which is expected today. I call your special attention to the newspaper slip which I enclose, entitled “Fe en la Armada.” It was published in the “Heraldo” of April 6th, the leading and most influential paper of Madrid. The Imparcial6 of the following morning called attention to it and spoke in very severe terms of the impropriety of a former Secretary of the Navy speaking so unreservedly of such important matters at this very critical time.  The following is a translation:

     “We had an opportunity today to talk for a long time with General Beranger, the last Secretary of the Navy under the Conservative Cabinet.7 To the question which we directed to him concerning the conflict pending with the United States he was kind enough to inform us that he confided absolutely in the triumph of our naval forces. The attack on our Island ports is not to be feared, he said, by an enemy taking advantage of the darkness of night. The reason of this is that Havana, as well as Cienfuegos, Nuevitas, and Santiago, are well defended by electrical and automobile torpedoes which can work at a great distance (Have a large radius of action).  Senor Canovasdel Castillo,7 who did not neglect these things, arranged for, in agreement with me, the shipment to Cuba of 190 torpedos which are surely located in these ports at present. The transportation and installation of these war machines was in the charge of the distinguished torpedoist Senor Chacon.9 I have already said that we shall conquer on the sea, and I am going to give you my reasons.  The first of these is the remarkable discipline that prevails on our warships, and the second, as soon as fire is opened, the crews of the American ships will commence to desert, since we all know that among them there are people of all nationalities.10 Ship against ship, therefore a failure is not to be feared. I believe that the squadron detained at Cade de Verde and particularly the destroyers should have and could have continued the voyage to Cuba, since they have nothing to fear from the American fleet. In this class of ships we are on a much higher level than the United States.”

     “The Company ‘Bander a Espanola’ have been ordered to “suspend the voyages of its ships to Havana.” without definite information I presume the Government intends to take these ships into service. Also the “Compania Transatlantica” has ordered its ships not to touch at Coruna hereafter, presumably for the same reason as given above.

     It is said quite openly here that the intention of the Government is to make some kind of an effort on our coasts. This comes to me from so many sources that I am inclined to believe that they have this plan in view, but I have been unable to verify the reports or to get at any details.

     Just at this moment here in Madrid everything is very quiet. Considerable turbulence is reported from the provinces.  How great this may be we are unable to judge, as the Government  is keeping a sharp watch on the telegrams and does not permit any very exciting news to be disseminated. There was some excitement and, for two days, considerable danger of a mob here in Madrid after the announcement of the proclamation of the armistice in Cuba. That crisis is now apparently passed. Everybody here expects war, and the lower classes ardently desire it. The Government and more intelligent classes dread it, are willing to do anything they can to avoid it without revolution, but will accept it if, from their point of view, it is forced upon them. The press fed the people with all sorts of nonsense about the superior bravery of the Spanish sailor, the superior discipline aboard the Spanish ships and the greater fighting power of the Navy. The belief in this superiority of the Spanish Navy over that of the United States accounts in a large measure, in my opinion, for the determination to fight us. This opinion is shared al by many intelligent persons, in fact I believe by all Spaniards. They say they have nothing to lose, they could not be any worse off with war that without it, as they are about to lose Cuba anyhow; but they can do incalculable damage to our commerce; seriously injure, if not destroy, our Navy and alshtough although they would probably be beaten in the end they will have taught us a salutary lesson in the meantime. One of the most intelligent, best informed Spaniards I have met here, a man who has travelled much and claims to have great admiration for the United States and who knows much about our history and resources, a senator from the Kingdom, told me yesterday that the thing that he dreaded most was the long period that hostilities would last. He was sure that three years would be the very least that the struggle would continue. It may be of interest to you to know that he said he could very well understand and appreciate the feelings and ambitions of a young and powerful nation like the United States for conquest.  He could not help having a great deal of sympathy with an avowed proposition on our part to take the Islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, the Canaries, the Baleares, the Philippines, and even to come to Madrid itself; but what he could not understand was that while protesting a desire for peace, a decided disinclination to the annexation of any territory, the people of the United States had done everything in their power to foment rebellion in Cuba, and to make it impossible for Spain to overcome it either by peaceable of forcible means. I gave you this as a matter of interest solely but it represents the attitude, of the intelligent educated and travelled Spaniard.

                        Very respectfully,

                             G.L. Dyer,

                                  Lt., U.S.N.,

                                      Naval Attache.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. Addressed below close: “Chief Intelligence Officer,/Navy Department,/Washington, D. C.” This letter was forwarded by Commo. ArentS. Crowninshield to RAdm. William T. Sampson at the North Atlantic Station on 30 April.

Footnote 1: The armored cruisers Infanta Maria Teresa and Cristóbal Colón.

Footnote 2: The Spanish Squadron under RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete was poorly armed and undersupplied when it departed from Spain for the Cape Verde Islands and then to the Caribbean. He wrote to the Minister of Marine SegismundoBermejo y Merelo on 22 April from Cape Verde:

“How can it be said that I have been supplied with everything I asked for? The Colon does not yet have her big guns, and I asked for the poor ones if there were no others. The 14-centimeter ammunition, with the exception of about 300 rounds, is bad. The defective guns of the Vizcaya and Oquendo have not been changed. The cartridge cases of the Colon can not be recharged. We do not have a single Bustamente torpedo. There is no plan or concert, which I so much desired and have suggested in vain. The servomotors of my vessels have only been made in the InfantaMaria Theresa after they had left Spain.” Núñez, The Spanish-American War, Blockades and Coastal Defense, 44.

RAdm. Cervera’s fleet not only faced a serious shortage of ammunition and functioning guns, it also lacked sufficient coal and food stores for a trip across the Atlantic. Trask, War With Spain, 111.

Footnote 3: The Spanish cruiser Almirante Oquendo

Footnote 4: Pelayo, Carlos V, and Vittoria were unprepared to sail by the time RAdm. Cervera was ordered to go to the Caribbean on 29 April. Trask, War With Spain, 111. 

Footnote 5: RAdm. Cervera wrote of the Alfonso XIII: “We must discount the Alfonso XIII, so many years under trials that it appears we shall not have the pleasure to ever count it among our vessels of war.” As Cervera predicted, the Alfonso XIII did not join his fleet that sailed from Spain. Núñez, The Spanish-American War, Blockades and Coastal Defense, 46.

Footnote 6: El Imparcial (The Independent) was a Liberal Party newspaper in Madrid.

Footnote 7: José María Beránger y Ruiz Apodaca served as Conservative Spanish Minister of the Marine intermittently from 1870 to 1897.

Footnote 8: The Conservative Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo.

Footnote 9: José María Chacón y Pery.

Footnote 10: According to one historian, most U.S. Navy captains enlisted qualified seamen from large coastal ports regardless of their nationality. A noticeable portion of enlisted men on the ships were of foreign birth. Frederick Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 13, 16.

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