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Plan of Operations Against Spain (1897)




Washington, June 30, 1897.


    The Board, convened under the Department's verbal order of the 27th instant, has considered the questions presented to it and begs leave to report as follows:

In event of war with Spain, the principal base, for a squadron operating against Cuba, would be Key West.2 The other gulf ports would be used as secondary bases, except that Tampa would be left free for the uses of the army.

The general scheme of operations would be for the fleet proper to seize the port of Matanzas, and to hold it until a suitable garrison and military force could be brought over to make it secure, with a view to military operations towards Habana and the interior; and to the delivery of arms, ammunition, etc., to the insurgents. In the meantime there must be collected, for blockading duty, a large number of purchased or chartered merchant steamers of fast speed, and mounting a few guns each (the smaller ones only one perhaps), to be distributed along the north and south coasts, under the protection of squadrons of stronger ships. The quicker this blockade is established, and the more efficient it is made the better. It is probable that the chief strength of the blockading force would be distributed along the coast of the middle and western sections of the island, as after the capture of Matanzas and the establishment of our army in that vicinity, the Spanish land forces in the eastern part of the island, which are not thought to be numerous, would apparently be obliged to retire quickly towards the westward, in order to avoid being cut off from their main body about Habana.

If, after the occupation of Matanzas and the vicinity, the military force at the disposal of the government was found large enough to enable us to divide it safely, a similar move might be made against one of the harbors to the westward of Habana, for the purpose of forcing the evacuation of the western part of the island by the Spanish;3 thus confining them to the central portion, and enabling us to make the blockade of that part rigid; its object being to prevent the entrance of food to the Spaniards, and thus to force an ultimate surrender. The Board is aware of the dangers attending the division of our military force, and therefore, only suggests the possibility of the move to the westward.4

The Board is led, by the information obtainable in regard to the present armament of the fortifications of Habana, to believe that it would not be good policy to attempt the capture of that place by the naval forces alone. In case such an attack were not successful, the injury to our ships and to our prestige might be great. The large expenditure of our ammunition (that could not be quickly replaced) would be very undesirable, until the Spanish naval forces had been disposed of.

Owing to the fact that the island of Cuba is not now self-supporting, and that supplies must be brought there from abroad, the Board is disposed to rely largely upon the stringency of the blockade for bringing the Spanish forces to submission within a reasonable time; there being over 150,000 troops in the island, besides a multitude of noncombatants –- all consumers but not producers. It is clear that resistance cannot be prolonged very much after the supplies are cut off.

Of course the occupation of the ports, that have been mentioned, would be followed by an importation of all the arms and ammunition that might be obtainable, for supplying the insurgent forces. The scheme herein set forth does not lay very much stress upon the assistance of the insurgents, as, although they would be doubtless well disposed, we do not know what assistance in a military sense they could or would afford.5

After the naval operations above mentioned, it would be naturally the policy of the Commander-in-Chief to detach a squadron of sufficient force, to take the other important ports of the island, except Habana, for the purpose of capturing all Spanish vessels found there, holding these ports or not as might seem expedient, and for cutting telegraph cables, etc. It is thought that none of these ports are efficiently armed.

After the presence of the main body of the armored force becomes no longer necessary at Matanzas, it should move immediately, to meet any Spanish squadron of force that might appear in the neighborhood, or of which it might have intelligence.

If the heavier Spanish ships should take refuge in Habana, we must maintain a sufficient force off that place to beat them and any reinforcements that might come to them from Spain, in case they should come out for the purpose of attacking our ships, our bases, or operating otherwise.

According to the best information the Board can obtain, it is thought that Spain could not cope successfully with the United States fleet in Cuban waters; and that the most our blockade of the island would have to fear, would be raids upon our blockaders by sufficiently strong detachments of the Spanish fleet. It is thought that there are several efficient armored and protected cruisers in Spanish waters, that could give considerable annoyance to the blockade, unless captured, or held in check.

For these reasons, it is proposed that a flying squadron, of two armored cruisers and two commerce destroyers, or other suitable vessels, should be detached to the coast of Spain, for the purpose of demonstrating against the minor towns and threatening blockade of the larger ones, so as to induce the Spanish authorities to retain on their own coast a squadron of ships, of character and armament sufficient to hold the flying squadron in check.6 In this way, it is thought, that the Spanish ships, most dangerous to our blockaders on the Cuban coast, might be detained in Spanish waters. Our flying squadron could be coaled at sea from colliers, or by temporarily seizing a minor port in the adjacent Spanish Islands,7 or on the main, and coaling there. It is thought that coal could be bought in England shipped ostensibly for Suez or some other port and intercepted or diverted on the way.

For the purpose, of further engaging the attention of the Spanish navy, and more particularly in order to improve our position, when the time came for negotiations with a view to peace; the Board thinks it would be well to make an attempt to assist the insurgents in the PhilipineIslands.8 It is understood, that the insurgents have possession of considerable areas in those islands, including some important points in the neighborhood of Manila; and it is thought that if the Asiatic Squadron should go down and show itself in that neighborhood, and arrange for an attack upon that city, in conjunction with the insurgents, the place might fall, and as a consequence, the insurgent cause in those islands might be successful; in which case, we could probably have a controlling voice, as to what should become of the islands, when the final settlement was made. For this purpose, certain reinforcements might be necessary from the Pacific Station.

The light vessels, referred to in this scheme, to be employed as blockaders, and for other purposes for which such vessels are suitable, must be drawn from the merchant service, and should be manned and armed as suggested by the Board that considered this question last winter.9 The officers who are to command these vessels should superintend the installation of their batteries, and other equipments; to be assisted, but not controlled, by a few officials and officers of the technical departments, under the general supervision of the bureaus concerned.10

It would be very desirable that the government should make an arrangement with all the dry docks in the country, of reasonable size and suitably situated, to insure the government ships having precedence over all others, for docking, repairs, etc.

The navy should likewise have precedence, in the matter of seizing or chartering of all merchant vessels; otherwise, it would find itself engaged in unseemly competition with the quartermaster’s department of the army. This matter could be settled by an Executive Order.11

The Board is in favor of calling the fleet largely by means of colliers moving to the stations of the ships, rather than by too exclusive reliance upon coaling stations.12

The services of detachments of the navy would be required, at times, for convoying the military forces to Matanzas, or other points selected as bases on the island.

The island of Puerto Rico offers certain advantages for the rendezvous of Spanish ships of war coming from Europe, for the purpose of breaking, and annoying our blockade of Cuba, and reinforcing their navy there. For this reason, we should at first keep, in the neighborhood of that island, one or more fast vessels to inform the Commander-in-Chief on the Cuban Station, by telegraph or otherwise, of the arrival of any such ships, in order that he may take measures against them.

As soon as circumstances will permit, a detachment should be made from the force operating in the neighborhood of Cuba, for the purpose of reducing the island of Puerto Rico. Of course the military ports reduced must be garrisoned....


Respectfully submitted:


Montgomery Sicard

    Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy,

Commander-in-Chief of the

       North Atlantic Station


A.S. Crowninshield

Captain, U.S. Navy,

Chief of Bureau of Navigation


Charles O’Neil

Commander, U.S. Navy,

  Chief of Bureau of Ordnance


C.F. Goodrich

Commander, U.S. Navy,

   President of the Naval War College


Richard Wainwright

Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy

Chief Intelligence Officer

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 38, Entry 98. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department, Washington, D.C.” The signatories of this report whose full names are not listed are ArentS. Crowninshield and Caspar F. Goodrich.

Footnote 1: In a letter dated 28 May 1897, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt requested that Capt. Caspar F. Goodrich propose a strategy in the event of a simultaneous war with Spain and Japan. Goodrich responded with such a plan and it seems likely that this defense board war plan could be related this general inquiry. See, Roosevelt to Goodrich, 28 May 1897, DLC-MSS, TRP, reel 313. For Goodrich’s plan see, RNN, XSTP, Section 5, Envelope 1, No. 265.

Footnote 2: The use of Key West as a center of naval operations and Tampa, and other gulf ports, as points of embarkation is a recurring theme in the various war plans.

Footnote 3: The insurgents controlled the eastern half of Cuba.

Footnote 4: The 1896 plan by Lt. Cmdr. William W. Kimball postulated that a naval bombardment would be sufficient to defeat the Spanish forces, and any United States Army invasion could occur if necessary. This particular plan considered the possibility of joint operations. See: Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Lieutenant William W. Kimball (1896).

Footnote 5: Although the planning board’s information about the Cuban insurgency was spotty, it proved to be an effective fighting force and furnished inestimable assistance to the U.S. during the war.

Footnote 6: The formation of a squadron for Spanish waters was part of the tactics during the war, but hostilities ended before it saw use.

Footnote 7: Probably a reference to the Canary Islands.

Footnote 8: A reference to insurgents under the command of Emilio Aguinaldo’s.

Footnote 9: A reference to the defense planning board led by RAdm. Francis M. Ramsay that issued the “Plan of Operations Against Spain” on 17 December 1896. See: Plan of Operations Against Spain (1896).

Footnote 10: Most likely the Bureaus of Equipment and Ordnance would oversee operations.

Footnote 11: These comments are interesting, because confusion did characterize relations between the army and the navy regarding the use of merchant ships for convoy purposes; an Executive Order was not issued when war commenced.

Footnote 12: The use of colliers was more efficient. Commo. George Dewey, the commander of the Asiatic Station, for instance, bought the collier Nanshan fully loaded with coal to supply his squadron.