Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Station, to the Commanding Officers of Ships on the North Atlantic Station

U.S.Flagship New York, 1st Rate,

Key West, Florida,

April 13th,1898

Sir:-

1.   The following confidential Memoranda,received from the

Office of Naval Intelligence is published for your information:-

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NOTES ON SANTIAGO DE CUBA.

     The latest reports giving any information upon the defenses of Santiago come from our Consul.1

1.  From these we learn that the Spanish authorities are preparing to mount modern guns back of Morro Castle and on Cay Smith,for the protection of the entrance,and at Blanca battery for the protection of the town.2

2.   The information as to mines being planted in the bay is conflicting. It has been fairly well established that several mines with complete cable outfit were landed here in 1896,but the entire supply seems to be still in the storehouse probably as it was not required for use aginst the insurgents. One report,which came quite direct, as to the effect that mines had been laid near Cay Smith,about a year and a half ago.

3.   Provision was made some years ago to close the mouth of the harbor by a chain or boom and some old guns planted to secure the end,but beyond this nothing is known to have been done.

4.   Locations for two new batteries were lately selected close to town,but as late as March 5th no work had been done on them.

5.   The roads generally,leading to town are poor. The “Camino Reale (highway)[”]is good and leads with 1 ½ to 2 ½ miles of the coast. the best transportation for a landing party is by rail,as the railroad leading to within a short distance of town runs close to the coast for some ten miles to the eastward,and offers several good landing points.

6.   The forts are of stone and brick and were constructed in 1663, and unless much improved would offer but little resistance to modern ships.

7.   It has been asserted that the insurgents can capture the place at any time,but have not done so,as they had no ships to hold it with and were not strong enough to stand a naval attack from the Spanish ships.

Richardson Clover,

April 6,1898.                Chief Intelligence Officer.

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Consulate of the United States of America,

Santiago de Cuba,March 18th,1898.

Hon.Wm.R.Day,

     Assistant Secretary of State,

          Washington,D.C.

Sir:-

     It is not my desire to ignore Consul General Lee3 in sending private communications instead of official despatches,that I write and send direct to you by such opportunities as present themselves.

     Replies to these communications are unnecessary,unless you do so from choice. These communications being your private property you are under no obligations to make them public,neither do I file a copy in this consulate.

     A gentleman who has taken much pains to learn the condition of the Spanish Navy as represented in Cuban waters tells me:--

     First,that many men and some officers now serving on some of these ships are hostile to the Spanish Government.

     Second,that the condition of all Spanish war ships except the VISCAYA4 and one more recently from Spain are deplorable in the extreme;and only the MARQUIS de la Ensenada5 can make 10 knots per hour,and the balance from 5 to 8 knots per hour,because of their foul condition,and needed repairs to machinery and boilers. Some torpedo boats now on the way from Spain6 each manned by two officers and sixty men,are said to be capable of making 16 or 18 miles per hour.

     There are 8 ships of war that spend most of their time in Santiago Bay,viz:-Conde VENADITO,7 REINA MERCEDES, MARQUES de la Ensenada, GALICIA, SANDOVAL, CUBA ESPANOLA,8 MARQUES DE MOLINS,9 and MAGALLANEO.10

     A mechanic who has worked on the machinery of all of these ships reports:--

     “The Conde VENADITO is of small importance,the plates above water mark are ⅝ inch,and below the water mark 3 (?) inches thick. Boilers and machinery in bad repair. In 3 months did not leave port; after which she soon put back for further repairs. It has 4 large and six small rapid fire guns.

     “The REINA MERCEDES has a plate of 1 inch steel at the prow, above water mark,and thinner back. The boiler is in very bad condition,machinery passable. It never goes out,but it needs repairs on its return. It mounts 6 large guns,4 smaller,2 revolving guns and 2 torpedo tubes.

     “The MARQUES DE LA ENSENADA,in make up and mountings is similar to the Conde VENADITO,but is in better repair and makes better time.

     “The GALICIA is one of the largest gunboats in Cuban waters,but boilers and machinery are in bad condition. At prow and stern it mounts 2 guns (one at either end) of large calibre. One on each side of smaller size,and two revolving guns. All rapid firing.

     “The SANDOVAL is a gunboat of small size and little importance. Its armor plate is but ⅜ inch and has been often pierced by Mauser bullets from the shore. Two small and one revolving cannon constitutes its mount;but its machinery and boilers are in good condition.

     “The CUBA ESPANOLA has ⅜ plate above water,and is entirely unseaworthy. It mounts one large and two small rapid firing cannon.

     “The MARQUES DE MOLINS is a medium size gunboat,and carries the same mount as the Conde VENADITO;but is of more modern construction and made at Glasgow. If not so fould [i.e., foul] could make 16 or 18 knots per hour. Its machinery and boilers are in fair condition. Plates same as Conde VENADITO,but of much better material.

     “The MAGELLANEO same size mount and construction as the CUBA ESPANOLA. This boat seldom leaves the harbor and put back quickly if the sea is rough. Its days are apparently numbered.

     Santiago is the principal coaling station of southern Cuba. The present visible supply in this port does not exceed 500 tons. Guantanamo none and at Manzanillo but very little.

Very respectfully,

Pulaski F. Hyatt.

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     The following extract is from a letter addressed to the Assistant Secretary by Mr.Thos.W.Hyde,the builder of the KATAHDIN,11and who has just returned from Havana.

     “They are installing 7 Krupp guns at La Punta Fortress12 just as I came out on the ship Saturday night. They were not sure about this at the Consulate when I left there.”

     The letter referred to is dated March 31,1898.

Richardson Clover,

April 6,1898.                     Chief Intelligence Officer.

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          The following is a copy of a telegram received at this office:-

          “Telegram received in cipher.         Havana,April 6,1898.

Received 10.25 A.M.

Assistant Secretary State,Washington.

     Two rows torpedoes across mouth harbor.13 Switchboard in Morro. Spanish Government telegrams now go telegraph Batabano,thence cable Porto Rico,Jamaica,South America,Europe. Wire cut between the first named place and Havana destroys that connection Porto Rico and with Spain;cable disconnected at Key West completes isolation Island.14

LEE”.15          

Richardson Clover,

April 7,1898.                Chief Intelligence Officer.

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     The following is an extract of a Memorandum:--

     “That one 12” gun is emplaced on the highest ground between El Moro and Cabanas –see H.O.Chart 307- and that it has a field of fire over the Twelve Apostles along the shore north of town,and so around till blanked by Moro.16

     Whether the gun can train to the northward so as to deliver fire east of Moro they do not know.”

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Very respectfully,               

William T. Sampson,         

Captain Comdr-in-Chief      

[unreadable] North Atlantic Station  

Source Note: TCy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 36. These documents are in “North Atlantic Squadron, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard, Commader-in-Chief, OFFICIAL RECORDS.” The recipient is not given, but on another batch of intelligence reports in this collection the recipient is given as “The Commanding Officer/U. S. S.” which was Sampson’s way of addressing memoranda that were to be distributed among the captains in his squadron.

Footnote 1: As seen later in this memorandum, the consul was Pulaski F. Hyatt.

Footnote 2: For these locations, see: Map of Santiago Harbor.

Footnote 3: Fitzhugh Lee, the American consul in Havana.

Footnote 4: Spanish battleship, second-rate, Vizcaya.

Footnote 5: The protected cruiser Marquésde la Ensenada.

Footnote 6: These were the torpedo boat destroyers Terror, Furor, and Plutón, which were part of the fleet of Adm. PascualCervera y Topete, then en route from Spain to Cuba.

Footnote 7: The unprotected cruiser Condedel Venadito.

Footnote 8: The gunboat, second class, Cuba Española.

Footnote 9: The unprotected cruiser, second class, Marquésde Maria Molina.

Footnote 10: The unprotected cruiser, third class, Magallanas.

Footnote 11: A ram that had been recently acquired by the U. S. Navy. For more on it, see: Theodore Roosevelt to John D. Long, 16 February 1898.

Footnote 12: Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta was a fortress defending the south side of the entrance to Havana harbor.

Footnote 13: This intelligence undercounted the underwater telegraph cables servicing Cuba. See: Telegraphy and Cable Cutting.

Footnote 14: On 15 April, J. Sherborne Singer sent the Office of Naval Intelligence a fuller discussion of the “submarine torpedoes” in Santiago de Cuba harbor. A resident of the city from 1894 to 1896, Singer said the Spanish had received “twelve large torpedoes” that they submerged in “various localities about the entrance” and connected them by wire to the Castle Morro. He suggested that the British consul at Santiago, Frederick W. Ramsden, could “ascertain the exact facts” about the torpedoes, though he doubted Ramsden would commit his findings to writing. He mentions that Ramsden is well-connected both by his business activities and the fact that his brothers-in-law are important military leaders—one a Spanish Navy captain and the other a lieutenant general in the Spanish army. Singer’s letter was received and forwarded on 28 April. DNA, RG313, Entry 37.

Footnote 15: Fitzhugh Lee.

Footnote 16: This report concerns the harbor defenses at Havana. Hydrographic map #307 is to be found at the Library of Congress. The “Twelve Apostles” was a battery of twelve guns adjacent to the Morro Castle that were part of the fortifications defending the entrance to Havana harbor

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