Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete to Captain General Ramón Blanco Erenas Riera y Polo, Governor of Cuba

[Extract]

Most Excellent and Illustrious Sir:

     In compliance with the orders of Y. E.,1 with the evidence of what must happen, and which I so often had communicated, I came out from Santiago de Cuba with the whole squadron formerly under my command, on the morning of the third of the current July.

     The instructions given for the sortie were as follows: The “InfantaMaria Teresa”, my flag ship, was to go out first, being followed successively by the “Vizcaya”, “Colón”, “Oquendo”, and the destroyers.2 All the vessels had every one of their boilers under full pressure of steam. Upon emerging the “Teresa” was to engage the enemy easiest to attack, and the vessels following her were to endeavor to take a westward course under full steam, the “Vizcaya” in the lead. The torpedo boat destroyers were, if possible, to remain out of firing distance, to await an opportune moment to attack, should it present itself, and try to escape at their highest speed in case the engagement should result unfavorable to us.

     The vessels sailed out of the harbor with a precision so great that it surprised our enemies, who have tendered us many and very enthusiastic compliments in the premises. So soon as the “Teresa” came out she opened fire at 9:35 A.M. on a battle-ship lying at the mouth, a type of the “Indiana”, and on the “Iowa”, which was near, but heading at full speed towards the “Brooklyn”, which was lying to the southwest, and which vessel it behooved us to put in a condition to be unable to make use of her great speed. The other vessels opened the engagement with the other enemies which came up from the several points where they were stationed. The enemy’s squadron on this day was made up of the following vessels in front of Santiago de Cuba: The “New York”, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Sampson;3 the “Brooklyn”, flag-ship of Commodore Schley;4 the “Iowa”, “Oregon”, “Indiana”, “Texas”, and several smaller vessels, or better said trans-Atlantic liners and armed yachts.5

     The sortie having been effected, the course order was taken and the fight became general, with the disadvantage not only in numbers but also in the condition of ordnance and 14 centimeter ammunition of which Y. E. was apprised through the telegram I sent you when placed under your orders. The result was not doubtful to me, although I at times had thought that our destruction would not be so rapid.6

     The “InfantaMaria Teresa” had one of her secondary steam pipes broken by one of the first projectiles, much steam escaping through it which caused us to lose much of the speed upon which we counted; at the same time another shot broke one of the flood pipes of the fire extinguishing system. The vessel defended herself bravely against the heavy and well directed fire of the enemy, and it was not long before her valiant commander, Captain Victor M. Concas,7 fell among the wounded, and was forced to retire, so, as the circumstances would not permit the loss of a moment, I myself assumed the direct command of the vessel, awaiting an opportunity for summoning the executive officers;8 but it did not present itself as the fight grew warmer, the dead and wounded fell without cessation and nothing was to be thought of but to keep on firing so long as it was possible.

     In this situation a fire broke out in my cabin, where some of the projectiles for the 57 millimeter guns there stored must have exploded. They came to advise me that the spanker and shield of the after bridge had ignited, while at the same time the fire which started in my cabin was making its way amidships with great rapidity, and as we had no water it kept on growing in intensity, we being impotent to cut it off. I saw the vessel was lost and at once thought of where I should beach her so as to lose less life, though I continued the fight so long as it was possible.

     Unfortunately the fire was gaining headway with great rapidity and destructiveness, for which reason I sent one of my aides with an order to flood the after shell room, but he found that it was impossible to enter the wardroom passages owing to the great smoke and steam issuing from the engine room hatch, where it was also impossible for him to enter because the overheated atmosphere prevented breathing. It thus became necessary to head towards a small beach west of point Cabrera where we ground at the same time that the engine stopped. It was impossible to hoist ammunition or do anything requiring going below the protected deck, principally aft of the boilers, and under these circumstances nothing was to be thought of but to save whatever portion of the crew might be possible. The second and third officers9 joined in this opinion as well as the others who could be called on, all of whom I consulted as to whether they though the fight could be continued, to which they replied in the negative.

     In so painful a plight, the partial explosion of the reserve ammunition having begun, I gave orders to lower the flag and flood all the magazines. The former order could not be executed because of the terrible fires on the poop deck, which was burnt in a short time. There was no time to be lost; the fire was making great headway, and there was barely sufficient time to abandon the vessel when the fire was reaching the forward bridge, and this, assisted by two American boats which came up about three quarters of an hour after the grounding.

     Among the wounded are Lieutenant Antonio Lopez Cerón and Ensign Angel Carrasco. Don HiginioRodriguez, Captain of marines, is missing, and I think he was killed by a shell. Ensign Francisco Linares, Assistant Surgeon Julio Diaz del Rio, chief engineer Juan Montero and assistant engineer Jose M. Melgares, whose body floated ashore, are also missing.

     The life saving was effected by those who could swim jumping into the water, and endeavoring three times to carry a line ashore, which was only effected at the last moment assisted by the two American boats which I have mentioned before. We lowered a boat which appeared to be water tight and it immediately sunk. Then a steam launch was lowered which only made one trip, as it also sank, owing to the damages it had suffered, upon trying to make the second trip back, the three or four men on board of it and who clung to it, being saved, some by swimming and others being picked up by an American boat.

     The Captain, assisted by good swimmers, had gone ashore, the executive officer and navigator were directing things on board, and it being necessary to have some directions on shore, as American boats were approaching I swam out assisted by two able seaman named Juan Llovea and Andres Sequeiro and my son and aide Lieutenant Angel Cervera.

     The landing having been concluded, I was invited by the American officer in charge of boats to accompany him on board his vessel, which was the armed yacht “Gloucester”, whence I was also accompanied by my flag Lieutenant,10 wounded; my son and the executive officer of the ship, who was last to abandon her.

     During this time the vessel presented an imposing spectacle as the explosions were continuous and calculated to terrify the stoutest hearted.

     I believe that absolutely nothing can be saved of the vessel, and we have lost everything, the large majority reaching the shore absolutely naked.

     A few minutes after the “Teresa”, and “Oquendo” was being beached on the shore about half a league west of her, burning much like her, and the “Vizcaya” and “Colón” were lost to view to the west pursued by the enemy’s squadron.

     From what I have been told by the Paymaster of the “Oquendo”,11 the only officer who is on the same vessel as I, the story of this unfortunate ship and her heroic crew is as follows, which perhaps may be changed somewhat, but only in the details and not in the substance of the facts:

     The unequal and deadly combat sustained by this ship became more unequal still because shortly after it commenced a shell of the enemy entered the forward turret killing all the men inside save a gunner who was badly wounded.

     Of the 14 centimeter battery, swept by the enemy’s fire from the beginning, there only remained two good guns, with which she continued defending herself with incomparable energy.

     The after turret was also left without its commanding officer, who was killed by a shell of the enemy which entered as he opened the door to get a breath of air, for he was becoming asphyxiated.

     The Paymaster is unacquainted with the story of the rapid fire battery, and all he knows is that it was in action, assuredly the same as all this brave crew.

     There were two fires - the first, which was put out, occurred on the orlop deck and the second, which began aft, could not be mastered as the pumps would not work, perhaps for the same causes as on the “Teresa”.

     The hoist for the 14 centimeter ammunition were out of order from the beginning; but ammunition for the batteries was not wanting so long as the vessel could fight, owing to the spare ammunition which had been placed on board all the vessels before hand.

     When the valiant commander of the “Oquendo12 saw that he could not subjugate the fire, and had no guns in serviceable condition, he decided to run ashore, previously ordering all the torpedoes, except the two aft which were to be kept in case any vessel of the enemy should draw near, to be exploded. He did not order the flag lowered up to the last moment, and a few minutes after the “Teresa”, and after consulting the officers who were present. The executive and navigating officers and three Lieutenants had already been killed.13

     The saving of the survivors was organized by the commander, who lost his life to save the lives of his subordinates. A raft was made, two launches were lowered, the only serviceable boats remaining, and later they were assisted by American boats; and as I was told by an insurgent, with whom I talked on the shore, a boat belonging to the insurgents also assisted.

     The spectacle presented by these two vessels was sublime. The continuous explosions succeeding each other without cessation, did not daunt these brave men who have defended their vessels to the point of rendering it impossible for the foot of any enemy to rest upon them.

     When I was invited by the American officer to accompany him, as I stated to Y. E. above, I gave instructions to the third officer, Don Juan Azuar, to go on board again, and I have not seen him since then.

     Upon reaching the American vessel, which was the armed yacht “Gloucester”, I found there a score of wounded, belonging in greater part to the torpedo boat destroyers, the commander of the latter, three officers of the “Teresa”, the Paymaster of the “Oquendo”, and we numbered altogether 93 persons belonging to the crews of the squadron.

     The commander and officers14 of the yacht received us with the greatest attentions, going out of their way to attend to our necessities, which were of all kinds, as we arrived absolutely naked and hungry. The commander stated to me that as his vessel was so small he could not receive that mass of people, and he was going to seek a larger ship to take them on board.

     The insurgents with whom I had talked had told me that they had with them about two hundred men, among which were five or six wounded, and they added in behalf of their commander that if we desired to go with them to do so and they would assist us with what they had, to which I replied requesting them to convey my thanks to their commander and to say to him that we had surrendered to the Americans; but if they had a surgeon, I would be grateful if he would attend a part of the wounded we had on shore, some of them seriously.

     I made known this conversation with the insurgents to the commander of the yacht, and I begged him to demand our people, which he promised to do, sending for the purpose a detachment with a flag. He also sent some provisions which were so sorely needed by those on shore.

     We afterwards sailed westward until we found the main part of the squadron from which the auxiliary cruiser “Paris” was detached,15 and our yacht went on as far as in front of [Santiago de] Cuba, where it received orders pursuant to which some of us were transferred to the “Iowa”, and others to other vessels, the wounded being taken on board the hospital ships.16

     During my stay on the yacht I requested the commanders of the torpedo boat destroyers news of the fate that had befallen them, having the sorrow to learn of their sad end.

     What befell the “Furor” Y. E. may learn in detail by the annexed copy of the report of her commander.17 On her Captain Fernando Villamil, found a glorious death, and the number of casualties proved how this small vessel, whose commander was also slightly wounded, conducted herself.

     I also send Y. E. a copy of the report handed me by the commander of the “Plutón,18 who is also wounded in one of the feet, and whose vessel had made today a history as glorious as her companion. Both have done what the most exacting could require.

     When I reached the “Iowa”, where I was received with all manner of honors and considerations, I had the consolation of seeing on the gangway the gallant commander of the “Vizcaya,19 who came to receive me with his sword on, as the commander of the “Iowa20 did not wish him to take it off, in testimony of his most brilliant defense. I also annex a copy of the report he has rendered to me, by which Y. E. will learn of this story so like that of his brothers of the “Teresa”, and “Oquendo”, which proves that the same defects have brought about the same disasters, it all having been a question of time.

     I was on board the “Iowa” until tea time in the evening when I was transferred to the “St. Louis”, where I found the commodore, second in command, and commander of the “Colón”.21

     While I was still on board of the “Iowa”, Admiral Sampson arrived and I requested permission to telegraph Y. E., doing so in the terms following: . . .22

     To which telegram a correction must be made regarding the fate of the “Plutón”, which was not sunk, but being unable to remain afloat succeeded in being beached, as Y. E. will see by the report of her gallant commander.

     Once on board the “St. Louis”, the Commodore, second in command, and the Commander of the “Colón”, apprised me of their sad fate, the former rendering the report a copy of which I also send to Y. E., abstaining from comments, which are idle in connection with a report made by this distinguished officer of events occurring beyond my sight.

     I have only to add, in order to complete the features characterizing this mournful day, that our enemies have acted and still continue to act towards us with a delicacy and chivalry beyond compare. They have not only clad us as best they can, supplying us not alone from government store, but also from private property, and suppressing the greater part of the huzzas out of consideration for our misfortune and to lesson our bitterness. We have been and are the objects of the most enthusiastic congratulations for our action, and all have vied with each other to make our captivity as bearable as possible. 

     I am still ignorant of the losses among the men, as they are distributed among several vessels; but they are about what I mentioned in my above-inserted telegram.23

     To recapitulate: The engagement of the third was an honorable disaster, as I had foreseen; the number of killed is, however, less than I feared. The Fatherland has been defended with honor, and the satisfaction of duty performed leaves our conscience clear, though we have the bitterness of lamenting the loss of our beloved comrades and the misfortune of the Fatherland.

     On board this ship there are, besides the commodore and myself, with our aides, 1 commander, 4 officers and 32 men of the “Infanta Maria Teresa”; the Paymaster and 35 men of the “Oquendo”; the 3 chief officers, 11 officers, 7 naval cadets, and 347 men of the “Vizcaya”, the 3 chief officers, 14 officers, and 191 men of the “Colón”.

     The commander, chief engineer and 10 men of the “Furor”; the commander, 1 officer and 19 men of the “Plutón”; Lieutenant Commander Don Enrique Capriles, whom I took on board the “Vizcaya” as a passenger when he ceased to be the governor of the Province.

     I send Y. E. a roster of all these men, which I shall add to when I learn of the remainder.24

     I also send Y. E. a statement of the superior officers, officers and naval cadets, dead, wounded, injured and missing and another list of the wounded (not officers) on board this ship. The bulk of the wounded are on board the hospital ship which is the steamship “Solace”.

     As I understand that Y. E. may have difficulties in forwarding this communication to the Government, I take the liberty of sending a copy thereof to the Most Excellent Minister of Marine.25

     Of the individual acts worthy of mention which do not affect the action as a whole, I shall report separately as they come to my knowledge.

          God preserves Y. E. many years.

          On board the “St. Louis”, at sea, July 9, 1898.

              Most Excellent and Illustrious Sir,

                   Pascual Cervera.

Source Note: Translation, DNA, RG 45, Entry 464. Addressed below close: “To the Most Excellent and Illustrious General-in-Chief,/Havana.”

Footnote 1: “Y. E.,” is a substitution for, “Your Excellency.”

Footnote 2: That is the Cristóbal Colón, Almirante Oquendo, Vizcaya, Plutón and Furor.

Footnote 3: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet. Actually, the New York was not part of the blockading fleet when the battle began as Sampson and his flagship were en route to Siboney, Cuba, for a scheduled meeting with Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter. See: Sampson to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, 15 July 1898.

Footnote 4: Commo. Winfield S. Schley, Commander, Second Squadron.

Footnote 5: The other three ships were the Torpedo Boat Ericsson and the auxiliary yachts Vixen and Gloucester.

Footnote 6: Cervera repeatedly protested Blanco’s orders that he sortie with his fleet, believing to do so would result in tragic defeat and unnecessary loss of life. Trask, The War with Spain, 258.

Footnote 7: Capt. Victor M. Concas y Palau.

Footnote 8: Capt. José Mac-Crohón y Seidel.

Footnote 10: Flag Lt. Antonio Lopez Cerón. The Lt. from the Gloucester was Lt. George H. Norman Jr.

Footnote 11: Fleet Paymaster José Mellado.

Footnote 12: Capt. Juan B. Lazaga y Garay.

Footnote 13: Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Victor Sola Tejada, Navigating Officer Lt. Don Joaquin Matos, Lt. Enrique Vidaurreta, Lt. Alfonso Polanco, Lt. Eugenio Rodriguez Dárcena.

Footnote 14: Lt. Cmdr. Richard Wainwright, Lt. Larry P. Huse, Lt. Thomas C. Wood, Lt. George H. Norman, Jr., En. John T. Edson.

Footnote 15: Cervera is referring to the auxiliary cruiser Yale, which before the war was the S.S. City of Paris.

Footnote 16: Hospital ships Solace and Relief.

Footnote 17: Cmdr. Diego H. Carlier y Velazquez. Carlier’s report and the other reports referenced by Cervera were attached. See, DNA, RG45, Entry 464, Box 176.

Footnote 18: Cmdr. Pedro Vazquez.

Footnote 19: Capt. Antonio Eulate y Fery.

Footnote 20: Capt. Robley D. Evans.

Footnote 21: Commo. Jose de Paredes, and Capt. Emilio Díaz-Moreu y Quintana.

Footnote 22: See: Cervera to Blanco, 4 July 1898.

Footnote 23: For the telegram referred to see: Cervera to Blanco, 4 July 1898. In it, Cervera estimated his fleet’s casualties as “more than six hundred dead, and many wounded.” The actual Spanish casualties were: 323 men killed, 151 wounded, and 1,720 captured. Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American War, 576.

Footnote 24: For full lists see, DNA, RG45, Entry 464, Box 176.

Footnote 25: Minister of Marine Ramón Auñón y Villalón.

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