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Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Captain Henry C. Taylor (1896)


War College [Newport, RI], December 1896.



SITUATION in case of War with Spain.


If a war should break out between the United States and Spain, the situation under existing circumstances would be briefly as follows:

1st. Spain itself could be attacked. This would involve an unduly large expenditure of life and treasure; and the issue of such a campaign would be somewhat doubtful.

2d. Spain's possessions in the East could be attacked. This would require fewer men and less money, and the issue of a resolute campaign against the Philippines might be regarded as reasonably certain to be successful. Success there, however, would not be of great value to us, as it would not certainly bring the enemy to terms.

3d. Spain's West Indian possessions could be attacked. This campaign would require, still less men and means as the West Indies are at our doors, and the transportation difficulties would be a minimum.

It would not certainly bring the enemy to terms if we should occupy Cuba and Porto Rico, but it would throw upon the enemy the chief burdens of the continuance of hostilities; he being on the other side of the Atlantic, while we are practically at home.

The strategic relation of Cuba to the Gulf of Mexico is so close and intimate that the value of that island to the United States in the military and naval way is incalculable.1

The third alternative is therefore selected and the method of attack is now to be considered.

The conditions surrounding Cuba as a theatre of operations are those most favorable to the United States.

1st. From our nearness to the field of work we shall have an advantage probably in case of sudden war, and by the use of ordinary diligence we may complete many important movements before an additional home force of Spain can be brought into the theatre of action.

2nd. It is probable that when the reinforcements now en-route (September 1896)2 for Cuba have arrived, the effective Spanish force which could be collected to resist the advance of our troops after landing would not be far from 70,000 men.

The Spanish naval force in Cuban waters is weak in fighting power and it is likely that thirty days will elapse before any considerable re-inforcements will arrive.

During that time we shall have control of the sea without question; and in twenty five days place upon the shores of Cuba, a force of 30,000 men and in the following twenty days can reinforce that number by 50,000, and thereafter without limit as necessity demands.

3d. When the home force from Spain, land and sea, arrives, our fleet will still be equal to theirs, and would welcome an engagement, but should not follow far to seek one but should regard Havana as at all times the primary objective.

4th. Havana is the natural objective for obvious reasons. It is the Capital. It is the nearest point on the Islands to our bases.3 It is the commercial and military center of the Western half of the Island, which is the portion projecting into the Gulf of Mexico, and principally concerning us for strategic reasons.

The eastern half of the Island, can, in the event of the present war be safely left to the insurgents now actively contesting that region with the mother country, aided by our arms, money and countenance;4 and it is not probable that the section would be used as a landing place by the Spanish forces, nor in any way as their base.

Outside the chief cities over the whole Island the insurgents seem to be in partial control and probably the fact that the United States had taken up their cause and was supplying them with arms would bring such additions to the ranks that all but the chief cities would practically be held by them.

Considering these conditions we perceive that we should if possible occupy the western portion of Cuba and capture Havana before the full strength of Spain could be exerted in the Island.

It is believed that our naval force alone cannot take and hold Havana as its harbor is commanded by forts in such a way as to make this unlikely. It is thought however that possibly the disaffection among the troops as well as among the people of Havana itself may be so great that a demonstration in force against the city might result in a surrender being forced upon the authorities.5 This demonstration however must in no way stop or retard the active preparations for complete investment of the city. Its defenses must be turned by a land force, operating upon their flank and rear. Our first step therefore should be to effect a landing in force at some point near Havana.

The occupation of the Isle of Pines and a landing near Batabano (about 25 miles from Havana)6 offers many advantages, but involves a complete separation of the army from the fleet, and is therefore rejected; at least for the earlier part of the campaign.

The north shore is therefore selected for landing the troops who will when landed, move toward Havana with their seaward flank resting upon the fleet, which will move with them, keeping touch.

The Spanish troops now in Cuba, if distributed judiciously, ready for concentration, could be quickly assembled at any point within twenty miles of Havana or near the true “trocha”,7 in sufficient force to menace seriously any attempt at landing. A point of disembarkation should therefore be chosen beyond that distance.

The vicinity of Matanzas to the eastward and of Cabanas and Bahia Honda to the westward suggest themselves. The latter are chosen because railroad facilities for the enemy's quick concentration are fewer to the westward of Havana, and although there is a large body of Spanish troops west of Havana, the insurgents also present a large force which could probably prevent or retard the rapid concentration of troops to resist our landing.

It is suggested that a slight feint be made at Cabanas, followed by a strong demonstration against Matanzas, lasting long enough to draw the enemy in that direction, and that finally the real landing takes place at Cabanas and Bahia Honda.

The question now presents itself of our Naval bases, and points of embarkation for our troops.

Nearness to the theatre of operations being of prime importance we have to consider Key West and Dry Tortugas, Tampa, New Orleans and Mobile.

Dry Tortugas is rejected as a depot because colliers and supply vessels cannot lie there secure from direct gunfire from an enemy outside and at the same time be free from torpedo boat attack from almost any point of the compass. This valuable harbor should not on this account be abandoned as the enemy in such a case might use it as a vantage point to harass our movements.

Key West is selected as a temporary advanced depot near the front of operations for immediate supplies of coal, ammunition and other supplies, and for slight repairs.8

Tampa, Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans are selected as bases of supply and points of embarkation for troops.9 These are selected in order to give adequate terminal facilities for rapid embarkation.

It is expected that a blockade of the ports of Cuba would be declared and would be made effective at the different ports as fast as vessels could be chartered and armed.10

In studying this question the War College has seriously considered the subject of blockading the ports of Cuba.

It is not the province of the College to enter upon any political considerations relating to the policy which it may be advisable to pursue in a war of this kind, but only upon those questions on which sound military principles depend.

Cuba has a seacoast of over 1500 miles which is about the same as that of the Confederate States during our Civil War,11 excluding the southern part of the Peninsula of Florida which never required much attention from our vessels. A blockade of the island Cuba in whole or in part can be accomplished in time and it should be part of the plan of the campaign, but12 While it may be said that we have had experience in conducting an efficient blockade, others have had experience in evading it.

We can put an improvised force off every Cuban port, but to be effective against the blockade runner alone the force must be very large.

The proclamation of blockade during the Civil War was dated April 19th 1861.13 Ports of entry were successively captured by our Navy which limited the ports to which the blockade runners could enter and at the same time lessened the number of ports to be blockaded, and yet from July 1862 to June 1863 – fifty seven steamers and 91 sailing vessels left Nassau alone for the Confederate ports of which 6 steamers and 36 sailing vessels were captured.14 From Bermuda, Havana and other ports there was probably an equal amount of blockade running.

While the Spanish Military force now in Cuba is not as self-supporting as the South was during the Rebellion15 and would consequently suffer greater hardships from the effective blockade, Spain has on the other hand a Navy which can break up a blockade, while the Confederate States had practically none. Our blockade would be effective only by the means of vessels that would be efficient when pitted against regular men of war, and while, our regular vessels are superior to theirs if we can only meet them, it is easy for them to avoid a meeting with our fleet and devote their energies to raising the blockade of ports that are protected by the auxiliary force, which of necessity we must employ. If we separate our regular fighting force to do blockading duty, the vessels can be overcome almost as easily as the improvised force, for the enemy would come combined while our blockade vessels would be acting singly or in feeble groups.

If in such a case our vessels rally in sufficient numbers to meet the enemy, they only do it at the expense of the efficiency of the blockade, for the instant they leave their stations in the face of a superior enemy, the blockade is no longer effective.16

It would seem therefore that an attack on Cuba cannot be successful through a blockade alone nor without a vigorous offensive, or in other words without a serious demonstration by ships and troops against Havana and the other cities, and that any closing of ports in the nature of an absolute17 blockade must be by the capture of the port itself and holding it by troops.

The ultimate cost of the war, too, in life and money will be less by starting from the first with the most vigorous preparations on such a scale that there shall be no possibility of a failure. Anything less than this is liable to meet with such a resistance or perhaps such a failure at first as will cause a greater delay in the final settlement.

If we could feel sure that our fleet would at once meet and fight the Spanish fleet, the blockade would become a more effective factor but long continued work at the War College with the constant end in view of determining the possibilities of thus meeting the Spanish fleet, result in the conviction that the chances of finding them and bringing them to battle are not good if they wish to evade our fighting fleet and strike our blockading detachments.18

Source Note: TD, RNN, UNOpB, Section 10, Envelope 9. This war plan of 1896 was prepared by Capt. Henry C. Taylor, the president of the Naval War College. Taylor originally started working on this plan in 1895 and this first edition was submitted to the Navy Department in early 1896. It seems that he began writing this second edition after classes at the War College ended in the Autumn of 1896. It was primarily a rebuttal to Kimball’s plan, which was favorably received. See: Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Lt. William W. Kimball (1896). Included with the Taylor plan, but not printed here, are a comparative listing of the American and Spanish fleets, potential troop embarkation points from the U.S., suggested timetables, possible supply bases, detailed operational fleet and auxiliary fleet movements (including a Mosquito flotilla). Also excluded are two identical letters headed “Executive Mansion” to the Secretary of the Navy and to the Secretary of War, that clearly delineates the duties of navy and army personnel during joint operations.

Footnote 1: Taylor may have been referring to the strategic relationship of Cuba to the proposed isthmian canal.

Footnote 2: Most notably the Dry Tortugas and Key West.

Footnote 3: The Cuban War of Independence began in 1895.

Footnote 4: Filibustering expeditions, that began in 1894, to arm Cuban insurgents were originated by American supporters.

Footnote 5: Havana, as it turned out, was the center of support for Spain, with a large contingent of Spaniards and native Cubans who opposed independence.

Footnote 6: The Isle of Pines is located south of Cuba, and during the war was identified as a potential American base of operations. Batabanó is a town on the south coast of Cuba, due south of Havana.

Footnote 7: A “trocha” is a line of fortifications designed to prevent an enemy from passing through an area.

Footnote 8: During the Spanish-American War, Key West was a crucial staging area for American operations.

Footnote 9: During the Spanish-American these towns were used in this fashion, especially Tampa given its relative proximity to Cuba and its nearby railway and port facilities.

Footnote 10: A blockade was declared by President William McKinley on 21 April 1898. Many of Taylor’s and other war planners recommendations were adopted for war preparations: Various civilian and foreign military vessels were purchased and chartered, and used in different capacities (some of them were armed).

Footnote 11: The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865 and the blockaded American coastline by the Union Navy totaled about 3,500 miles.

Footnote 12: Taylor had handwritten the word “but” with a curved line, at the end of this sentence, towards the capped word “While” leading to the next paragraph to indicate that both sentences should be joined.

Footnote 13: It took some months before the Union blockade became effective. During 1861 to 1862 one in nine blockade runners were captured or destroyed; from 1863 to 1864 the ratio was one in three.

Footnote 14: A total of 1,000 blockade runners were captured and 300 destroyed during the American Civil War.

Footnote 15: The “Rebellion” refers to the American Civil War.

Footnote 16: This handwritten notation was placed here: “M + N.” Given the wording of the next paragraph it is possible that “M” stands for military and “N” for navy.

Footnote 17: The bracketed words of the following partial sentence were handwritten: “the nature of a[n absolute] blockade”.

Footnote 18: This concept is a unifying theme of the different war plans presented in this grouping.

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