Lieutenant James M. Helm to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet
Off Cape Cruz, Cuba
1st July 1898
June 30, 1898.
In compliance with U.S. Navy Regs. par. #437, I have the honor to report as follows:
Yesterday morning in obedience to instructions from Lieut. Lucien Young, U.S.N., Comdg U.S.S. Hist, and then senior officer present off Cape Cruz, the Hornet proceeded in rear of Hist and Wompatuck to the N’d and E’d for the purpose of making a reconnaissance of the Cays, etc. as far as Manzanillo.
Arriving off Nequero Bay a small Spanish gunboat was sighted coming from behind one the cays─ The Hist and Hornet headed in for her and were fired on by musketry from woods of Cay─ Both ships proceeded as far in as their draft would permit and opened fire on woods and gunboat. The musketry fire was soon silenced. The gunboat headed along shore, firing on us all the time. Several shots from both ships were observed to strike her and she was run in behind a point and apparently beached, perhaps blown up. The Spanish flag was conspicuous till near the end, when it could not be seen. The Hornet fired 47 6 pdr. Shells and about 100 rounds from rifles.
Proceeding on to Manzanillo, the three vessels entered harbor in original order.
Some five to six armed vessels drawn up in column were observed, also numerous soldiers on shore at many points, apparently manning field batteries, and others with rifles.
The Hornet opened fire on all as soon as in position and some three or four 6 pdr shots were observed to strike gunboats.
When opposite center of line’s afloat and ashore and shells were striking thick and fast all around, our main steam pipe was cut by a shell and the whole inside of vessel filled with hot steam.
Notwithstanding, the then helpless condition of ship, the fire of the battery was not slackened, the men passing ammunition through the steam, and soon a 6 pdr shell was seen to strike and sink one of the small gunboats. Ensign Earle, Chief Yeoman Pierce, Chief Master at Arms Smith and several others seeing her go down stern first.
Another 6 pdr. shell was seen to strike a 2d gunboat apparently silencing her fire.
While firing toward shore with stb’d. battery a small sloop loaded with soldiers sailed up on port side and opened fire on us with rifles. A shot from port 6 pdr. Struck her fairly amidships and sent her to the bottom.
The Hornet was then drifting near shoals. The Wompatuck turned, came alongside, and towed Hornet out of action following lead of senior officer present. The Wompatuck and Hornet all the time firing every gun that would bear on enemy.
Lieut. Carl Jungen, U.S.N. Comdg Wompatuck cannot be given too much credit for this performance.
The Hornet fired 162 6 pdr. Shells, 93 47 m/m6 and 174 1 pdr. and about 400 rounds of rifle ammunition.
All of our gun captains being expert shots, I think the Spaniards know where some of it landed.
The Hornet was struck many times, once through bulwarks, hatch combing and steam pipe, once in after deck house, once starboard quarter, twice through bridge screen, and several times on armor belt by rickochet or expended shells.
F. Madsen, F1C S. Bakke, F1C and P. Griffin, oiler, were scalded, Bakke seriously. Madsen has his feet and legs badly scalded. Griffin’s arm slightly. Otherwise there were no casualties though a shell struck ammunition box under one of the gun captains and a shell passed through bridge screen between Ensign Earle and myself who were not three feet apart and equally near men at wheel.
The Hornet was short one officer and 6 men who had been sent to Key West in prizes.
Ensign Jewel had charge of the battery, Ensign Earle conned ship. I cannot mention others without mentioning all.
All are deserving of praise.
The Wompatuck in coming alongside smashed a boat, and rail slightly, I deeming it better to let boat go, than take men from guns to rig in.
Our light bulwarks and deck houses are dilapidated from concussion of our own guns.
I estimate that Hornet was in action about 45 min. Her steam pipe was cut about 10 minutes after action began, but used her battery to the end of the fight.