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Plan of Operations Against Spain (1896)



Washington, D.C., December 17, 1896.


The Board convened under the requirements of Special Order No. 51 of the Department, dated August 19, 1896, has the honor to report that after careful consideration it does not approve of the plan of operation proposed for the Navy by the Naval War College, in event of war with Spain, as submitted,1 and recommends as follows:

The island of Cuba, extending east and west about 600 miles, with an average width of about 60 miles, is in its eastern and western parts hilly and difficult for military operations; its central portions are mountainous. The Spanish occupy the coasts and fortified ports with their army and navy; they have garrisoned the principal interior cities, few in number and of minor importance, however, politically and commercially. The insurgents hold the open country in general and moving in small bodies destroy crops, railways, and the small detachments of Spanish troops endeavoring to protect them.2 Occupying central and interior positions they strike from them in all directions towards the coast, but are prevented from occupying any ports upon either by the garrisons thereat and by the naval forces.

Eastsoutheast from Cuba and distant 500 miles lies Porto Rico whose principal ports are San Juan on the north, Port Ponce on the south, and Mayaguez on the west coast. San Juan is the only one of these fortified to any extent, and, for that reason, likely to be used as a base of supplies by Spain in the event of a blockade of Cuba. San Juan and Port Ponce are the landing places of submarine cables, affording telegraphic communication with Europe and with Cuba. These cables cut near these ports isolate Porto Rico telegraphically. Porto Rico is about 3300 miles W. S. W. from Spain, from which country all necessaries for the subjection of Cuba must be drawn.

Cuba's principal ports are Habana, Matanzas, Cardenas, Nuevitasdel Principe, and Suguala Grande on the north, Santiago, Manzanilla and Cienfuegos, and Batabano on the south. Cables cut at Santiago and Habana telegraphically isolate Cuba. The cable at Habana leads to Key West.

Habana, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Cardenas, Sugua la Grande, and Batabano are connected by railway, the last three ports are inaccessible to a draught of 15 feet.

The Statesman’s Yearbook of 1896 gives ten percent of Cuba's area as cultivated and states that its annual imports, of a value of 56,000,000 pesos, are chiefly food: rice, jerked beef, and flour. The present war has continued since February, 1895. Upwards of 100,000 additional troops have been landed and half of that number of men of the resident population have been in arms.3 To these add all non-producers, the inhabitants of cities, and consider the destruction of crops by both parties with loss of production from the war, and the conclusion is inevitable that an imported food supply is absolutely essential to the continued maintenance of the war, or indeed the occupation of the island by Spain. Food stopped, the garrisons of all fortified seaports and cities must capitulate.

A blockade by our naval force, with the destruction or capture of that of Spain about the island, would produce this result. Vessels not destroyed or captured, but forced to take refuge in protected harbors would add their crews to the consumers. Relief would only come by sending a superior naval force from Spain. If sent, it would arrive only after consumption of its coal and water. Unless immediately reinforced greatly by purchase it could not hope to succeed in defeating our forces awaiting its coming. Our available force at home is sufficient to meet any arriving fleet in action. For blockade, however, it should be increased by a large number of small fast armed steamers from the steam yacht and coastwise shipping. The deep water ports of Cuba and Porto Rico should be closely blockaded. The Windward, Bahama, and Jamaica channels should be thoroughly patrolled and proclamation of the blockade of Cuba and Porto Rico made.

Our coasts and our blockading forces should be protected by prompt action along the coast of Spain by our European Squadron reinforced immediately by that on the China Station, and by battle ships from the North Atlantic Station. A base near these coasts should be selected and occupied; an excellent one, with a coal supply, can be quickly secured.

The strangulation process outlined can be quickened in its operation greatly by the bombardment of San Juan, Porto Rico, and Habana, which are the civil, commercial, military and naval capitals of the islands of Spain on our coasts, and the headquarters of all military and naval forces. This should be a first step and the battle ships be retained here until after the bombardment. A greater force could then be spared for the coasts of Spain and the protection of our base of operations near it.

To meet the contingency of the Spanish Army holding out after the control of the coast of Cuba has been obtained by the navy, our army should be prepared for the immediate military occupation of that island.



1st Objective.-Spanish naval forces.

2nd Objective.-Blockade deep water ports of Cuba and Porto Rico, cutting telegraph cables; establish patrol of approaches to and coasts of both islands, and by proclamation declare their blockade.

3rd. Destroy depots and arsenals at Habana and San Juan by a bombardment of these cities, compelling at least their temporary abandonment or surrender.

4th. Open sources of supply of men and material to the insurgent forces of both islands and support them as far as possible in holding and governing captured seaports.

5th. Our army to immediately prepare to garrison and hold places reduced by the naval force, and to effect such other military operations as may be deemed necessary.

6th. The European Squadron to immediately leave the Mediterranean and be joined at the earliest moment by the Asiatic Squadron. These combined squadrons reinforced by ships from the home squadron should capture the Canary Islands and use them as a base to operate against the Spanish naval force in Spanish waters and the commerce of that nation.

This plan is believed by the Board to be suited to the present disposition of our own naval force, but the Board believes that whenever war with Spain may be imminent we should immediately commence to concentrate our forces now on foreign stations.

The naval forces of Spain stationed about Cuba, together with its force on its own coast now preparing or in readiness for sea, are appended. There are also appended a statement of the preliminary matters, supplies of coal, and a list of our own merchant vessels available from which the additional forces for blockade or other operations may be drawn.4


Respectfully submitted:

F.M. Ramsay

Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy,

Chief of Bureau of Navigation.


Francis M. Bunce

Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy,

Commander-in-Chief of the

North Atlantic Station.



W.T. Sampson

Captain, U.S. Navy,

Chief of Bureau of Ordnance.



Captain, U.S. Navy,

President of the

Naval War College.5

Richard Wainwright

Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy,

Chief Intelligence Officer.6

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Box 670. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department, Washington, D.C.” The document’s signatories without their full names listed are Francis M. Ramsay and William T. Sampson

Footnote 1: This refers to the war plan presented by Capt. Henry C. Taylor, the president of the Naval War College. See: Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Captain Henry C. Taylor (1896).

Footnote 2: The Cuban War of Independence began in 1895.

Footnote 3: A reference to additional Spanish troops. By the start of the Spanish-American War their numbers had swelled to 150,000 in an effort to contain the Cuban insurgency, however, by 1896 most of these troops were sick or unfit for duty.

Footnote 4: A list of American and Spanish vessels and other supplementary material have not been included.

Footnote 5: The report was not signed by Capt. Henry C. Taylor, who appended the following dissent. It echoed the strategic ideas of Capt. Alfred T. Mahan:

I dissent from the proposal to make a serious demonstration in Spanish waters in Europe, because the many difficulties and dangers involved in large operations in a region 3500 miles away from our home bases should be incurred only for the purpose of dealing a crippling blow to Spain's military and naval power; and I do not believe that the demonstration proposed would inflict great damage upon Spain. I recommend therefore that all the force at the disposal of the United States be concentrated upon Cuba.

I dissent further from the opinion of the Board that the naval operations proposed by the plan would probably be sufficient to subdue the Spanish force in Cuba, and I recommend that active aggressive work by navy and army be undertaken from the beginning of the campaign, and that this work be not delayed until acts of blockade and other acts provided for in the plan shall have proved or failed to prove their efficacy.

I dissent further from the Board's opinion as to the Naval War College plans for this campaign.

See footnote no. 1.

Footnote 6: An appended handwritten letter dated 2 March 1897 to these war plans by Secretary of the Navy Hilary A. Herbert and probably addressed to his successor John D. Long is revealing. Herbert compares the Taylor War College plan and the Ramsay board plan, favoring the latter. He concludes by writing: ”This Board was called to consider these questions which the War College plans [had addressed] before them and I approve their [that is, the board’s] recommendations. Time may however modify the situation.”