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Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Lieutenant Commander Charles J. Train (1894)


Strategy Upon a War with Spain


The only point where the interests of Spain and those of the United States could possibly clash, with the result of bringing on a war, would undoubtedly be Cuba. Geographically and commercially, Cuba belongs to the United States. Nor is it probable that a political union can be long delayed.1 But such a union cannot come peaceably, more by reason of the fierce patriotism of the Spanish race,2 than from the material benefits Spain derives from its possession. A declaration of war by either nation against the other, would be immediately followed by preparations for the defense of the island by Spain and for its capture by the United States. Spain is not a maritime nation nor an offensive one in a military sense. That she would undertake an offensive campaign against any of our ports, is most improbable.3 It would require all the power she could possibly ex[ert] to preserve Cuba, and she would have nothing left for other things. That Spain could prevent the capture of the island by the United States is hardly to be expected provided the latter puts forth all her power. But the struggle would be long and bitter. The hostility of the native-born Spaniard to Americans is well known, and in spite of the many insurrections on the island, the population would unite against us to a man.4

It is obvious that in a war with Spain for the possession of Cuba, the command of the sea would play an all-important part.5 With great superiority on the sea by Spain, the capture of the island by us would be an impossibility, and, beside that, the island to Spain would be a source of the greatest strength.

as Gibraltar to England in a war with Spain so Cuba would be to Spain in a war with us. On account of the proximity of the Cuban coast to ours, it might be thought by some that a sudden descent and landing of a large force, might be praciable by reason of our having a temporary command of the sea due to our being able to first concentrate our naval forces. Such an attack could only result in disaster, however, unless a permanent command of the sea could be maintained. Until the Spanish fleet is defeated and destroyed, no force should be landed on Cuban shores.

In anticipation of a declaration of war the U.S. would organize her Naval force fleet. Three fleets would have to be formed. one of our heaviest and most powerful ships, for fighting the enemy; one, of cruisers and armed merchant ships, for blockade; and a third for convoying and transporting our forces to the enemy’s shores.6 Spain would mobilize her fleet, put as many troops as she could transport, on board vessels and attempt to land them on the coast of Cuba. Since Cuba is entirely dependent on the outside world for her food supplies, for her coal, and maritime supplies of every sort, it is plain that a strict and rigorous blockade would end in the speedy reduction of the island and that the spanish fleet would have to bring its own supplies with it. The temper of the American people being uncertain, and modern wars being expensive affairs, it is evident that the way that will settle the matter quickest, will be the best way. The destruction of the Spanish fleet would render the fall of the island certain, and to accomplish that destruction should be our first object....7

Prior to the declaration of war it is probable that the condition of affairs would be such as to warrant the beginning by the Government of its preparations. Port Royal and New Orleans, would be our docking and repair stations, and at the former station shops and tools should be installed. At New Orleans the city would be able to furnish the necessary facilities. Key West would be our coaling and supply station.8 Ten thousand tons of coal should be sent there at once, coaling barges, lighters, increased wharf facilities, and every device for hastening the delivery of coal and stores to ships, should be obtained and put in place....9

The Spanish fleet would probably rendezvous and sail from Cadiz. It would require at least three weeks to collect and equip a force of 30000 men, and a week more to embark them in transports with their provisions and stores. Information of the strength of their fleet could not be kept from us, and we would also know their time of sailing. Of their destination we would be ignorant. It is fair to assume, however, that their first stop would be the Canary Islands,10 as they are eight hundred miles nearer the West Indies than Cadiz, and a Spanish possession. The Canaries are in telegraphic connection with Europe, but it is hardly probable that any information of a military nature would be sent out, so that from the time of their departure from Cadiz, or possibly, their arrival at the Canaries, we would have no information of their movements. The duration of their stay would be at least a week. From the Canaries to Porto Rico is about 2900 miles, and from the Canaries to Havana is about 3200 miles. A modern fleet, after steaming that distance, would have its bunkers nearly empty, and more or less disabled machinery. Hence the time to attack it would be when it nearly reached the end of its journey.11

as soon as war is declared, the bay of Nipe, on the N.E. coast of Cuba should be taken possession of by us, for a rendezvous, and coaling station. It affords anchorage for a large number of vessels, and could be easily defended. It is only 300 miles from the N. end of our scouting line and about 600 miles from S. end. as to find the enemy and bring him to an engagement before he reaches port is our main object, the disposition of our scouts is of the highest importance.12 Should the enemy propose to proceed to Havana at once, he would pass within 50 miles of Nipe bay, and could not escape being attacked, but his plan may be to touch at San Juan de Porto Rico first, and refit and recoal there.13 From Nipe Bay to San Juan is 550 miles, hence our scouts must patrol a line from Anegada to Crooked Island Passage.14 To prevent the possibility of the scouts meeting the enemy so far to the Westward that they could reach San Juan before our fleet could be informed, as soon as the arrival of the enemy might be expected our fleet should proceed to the Eastward and near the island of Inagua.15 A cable from the Canaries might possibly announce their departure, so that the movements of our fleet could be arranged accordingly, but this is improbable, and to provide for long continued scouting to the Southward and Eastward, a steamer load of coal should be sent at once to Porto Medio Mundo on the east end of the island of Porto Rico, where the chart shows a good harbor, and undefended. At this point the Columbia should be stationed, and the scouts to the Eastward, probably the Detroit and Marblehead, should be ordered to report [to] her, and she to the fleet, or the nearest telegraph station. The Minneapolis, should be kept at Nicola Mole to receive telegrams from scouts and carry them to the fleet. In this way the great speed of these vessels could be utilized, and their enormous coal consumption made least obnoxious. If the force of the enemy can be found at any distance beyond 400 miles from Porto Rico it can be met by our fleet, but at any distance less than that it is doubtfull if we can reach it before it can arrive in port. The center of our line of scouts should be in Lat. 20. N., and Long. 59. W. and three vessels should patrol a degree to the N. and one to the S. of this point. should the enemy be sighted by either of these scouts, the fleet could be informed either by cable from St Kitts to Nicola Mole, or by reporting to the Columbia, depending on the locality of the enemy. To guard against the possibility of the enemy’s proceeding by way of Crooked I[slan]d, Mariguana, or Caicos, the entrance of each of these passages should be watched by a fast vessel. Should the enemy attempt to reach San Juan from the Southward by passing between some of the Windward Islands, he would be certainly seen and telegraphed to Nicola Mole by our agents. A third plan of the enemy might be to enter the Caribean Sea south of Granada, and recoal their vessels at some previously selected rendezvous on the coast of South America, by doing which they would evade our scouts undoubtedly, and possibly might reach Santiago de Cuba,16 but the difficulty of getting the necessary supplies at the right place at the right time for so large a fleet would make it extremely unlikely that the Spaniards would adopt such a plan. still it is feasible, and after a waiting long enough on our scouting line abovementioned to make it probable that the enemy had some such plan, means shou[l]d be taken to defeat it. Were the Spanish fleet to sail from Cadiz on Nov. 1 I. one month after the declaration of war with 24 men of war convoying 40 transports, reached the Canaries in 5 days, and filled up with coal and left at once, they should be in range of our scouts by the 25th of the month. Had no traces of them been discovered by the 5th of Dec., three scouts should start at once to the Sd, one passing along the south shore of Hayti and Porto Rico,17 along the west side of the Windward Islands to Grenada, thence along the South American shore to Curacao, and thence North. The second scout should go at once to Curacao, then steer the reversed course of the first, and the third should reach the parallel of I5o, south of Jamaica, and steer east to a  the meridian of 63, and return. Merchant vessels would most probably give us the first information of the enemy and scouts should allow none to pass unboarded. Should the enemy have decided on a rendezvous on the coast of South America, it would take him twelve or fourteen days to get there and he must have 5000 tons of coal to meet him. To recoal at such a place would require a week, at least. Were three colliers containing 5000 tons to meet fifty ships in a smooth harbor, and coal them for a voyage of 1200 miles, averaging 200 tons apiece, ten days would not be too great an allowance of time to give them. In that time our scouts could search the coast most thoroughly, and only the worst of luck could prevent a meeting of the two fleets.

On the declaration of war our N.A. squadron would at once be sent to the Cuban coast, and Havana, Matanzas, Saguala Grande and Cienfuegos, placed under a strict blockade.18 These ports are the only ones that have railway communication with the west end of the island and each other, and should be sealed up if possible.

An efficient blockade of the whole island would be very difficult, but int[e]rior communication throughout the island is so bad that transportation of military stores and supplies from the coast to the interior would be almost impossible

A vessel must be sent at once to make a thorough examination of the coast from Matanzas to Bahia Honda, with a view towards selecting a point for landing our army. Cardenas should be included in the blockade, but the depth of water here is so small that only of vessels of light draft can enter. as this part of the Cuban coast is the most important of the whole island, the blockading squadron here should be strong enough to fight the advance force which the enemy might send to re-inforce the vessels kept constantly in Cuban waters. The Chicago, Boston Atlanta Charlestown BaltimoreCastine and Machi[a]s should form this squadron, while the Philadelphia Newark and the new gunboats should form the south squadron. Cienfuegos on the south coast should be siezed, garrisoned and held as a coaling and supply station. This could be easily done and the place would be of great strategic value It is at the southern end of the only railway that crosses the island, and by taking Saguala Grande at the northern end we cut the island in two, and by a line only 50 miles long. The south coast of Cuba has, in many parts, between it and the sea, a fringe of small islands and reefs, between which are numberless intricate passages, affording excellent opportunities for small vessels to slip in where the ships of the blockading fleet could not follow them. hence as soon as possible small merchant vessels should be fitted out [a]s blockaders and sent on the station.

as examination of the Cuban from the chart shows, to my mind, that Port Muriel is the proper place to select for a landing with the army. It is within 20 miles of Havana, has an excellent harbor, and is within easy reach of a railway to Havana....

Source Note: TD, RNN, UNOpB, Section 10, Envelope 9, No. 263. Lt. Comdr. Charles S. Train was one of a group of three officers (with Lt. Comdr. John V. B. Bleecker and Lt. W.E. Reynolds) under the direction of Capt. Henry C. Taylor who began working on war plans in 1894 at the Naval War College (Newport, RI). For Taylor’s letter outlining the nature of this war plan, see: Taylor to Train, 1894.

Footnote 1: The desire to acquire Cuba by the U.S. can be traced to John Quincy Adams’ administration (1825-1829).

Footnote 2: Taylor’s speculation seems to have been correct. The Spanish people were, as a whole, resolved to fight for empire and homeland: “But with your good judgment you will understand the island of Cuba. Our flag is still flying there, and the Government, to meet the sentiments of the people, even at the cost of many sacrifices, desires that this Spanish colony should not be separated from our territory and is trying by every possible means-political, international, and military-to solve satisfactorily the Cuban problem. That is the prevailing opinion of the country, and it conforms its actions thereto.” Minister of Marine Admiral Segismundo Bermejo y Merelo to RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete, 4 March 1898. Squadron Operations, 32.

Footnote 3: Before the Spanish-American War there was widespread concern that American cities on the Atlantic coast would be bombarded. The Flying Squadron under the command of Capt. Winfield S. Schley was formed to deal with a potential Spanish naval threat. On 14 March 1898, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Captain Alfred T. Mahan:

I further agree with you with all my heart about local coast defense. I shall urge, and have urged, the President [William McKinley] and the Secretary [John D. Long] to pay absolutely no heed to the outcries for protection from the Spanish raids. Take the worst—a bombardment of New York. It would amount to absolutely nothing, as affecting the course of the war, or damaging permanently the prosperity of the country. See: Roosevelt to Mahan, 14 March 1898.

Footnote 4: The third and final Cuban insurrection had just begun and helped to precipitate American intervention. The first major clash between the Spaniards and Cuban insurgents was called the Ten Year War and transpired from 1868 to 1878. Two years later, “the little war” broke out. For further reading see Louis A. Pérez, Jr., The War of 1898: The United States and Cuba in History and Historiography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 1-22. 

Footnote 5: Train was likely familiar with the writings of prominent naval theorist and the former president of the Naval War College, Capt. Alfred T. Mahan. Mahan emphasized the importance of control of the seas.

Footnote 6:   This deployment of ships is echoed throughout the different naval war plans of the 1890s.

Footnote 7: This approach i.e., the concentration of firepower, is a Mahanian concept.

Footnote 8: Tampa was the port of embarkation for the United States Army during the invasion of Cuba.

Footnote 9: The naval base at Key West was the central staging area for United States operations in Caribbean waters. See: Long to Sampson, 28 April 1898.

Footnote 10: The first stop of the Cervera’s fleet during the war was the Canary Islands.

Footnote 11: As Train predicted, when Cervera’s ships reached the West Indies, they had nearly exhausted their coal supply.

Footnote 12:   The use of scout ships was an important factor in the Caribbean campaign.

Footnote 13: During the war San Juan de Puerto Rico was potentially an important coaling and refitting station for the Spanish.

Footnote 14: Anegada is located in the British Virgin Islands and Crooked Island in the Bahamas.

Footnote 15: Great Inagua and Little Inagua are Bahamian Islands.

Footnote 16: Four years later Cervera’s fleet found shelter in the harbor at Santiago de Cuba.

Footnote 17: That is, Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Footnote 18: The United States Navy blockaded Cuba during the Spanish-American War.