Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long
“ H O T E L T R O T C H A ” .
Vedado,1 Havana, Cuba,
October 31, 1898.
S I R :--
Replying to your letter Number 3829-A--6174-E, of August 17th, 1898,2 I have to state that Cervera’s fleet,3 three of which, in addition to the torpedo boat destroyers, were destroyed by fire, all contained large quantities of wood. Scarsely a vestige of wood remained after the fire had been extinguished. There is not the least doubt that the presence of the wood in the construction of the ships caused their complete destruction. Without the presence of the wood no such destruction would have resulted.
2. In every case the fire was caused by the explosion of shell, occurring sometimes inth [i.e., in the] after part of the ship, sometimes forward. The explosion of the shells occurred, in all cases, within a few feet from the side of the ship where the explosive shell entered. While it is not positively known that all shells did explode, yet the fire spread with such alarming rapidity, that scarsely a vestige of wood now remains. On the after part of the wooded spardeck of the “MARIA TERESA” and the “OQUENDO” there still remains some wood in two or three patches.4 All the decks below, of all the ships have been destroyed.
3. So intense was the heat produced by the burning wood that all beams, bulkheads, small piping, and all light iron work has been warped and distorted out of shape.
4. A large number of photographs of the interior of the ships, showing the effect of shell fire and burning wood, were sent to the Department, and with careful study will give a better idea than can be obtained from any description.5
5. I recommend now that no wood shall enter into the construction of any of our ships, except in cases where its use is absolutely necessary, and where sufficient strength can be retained in the fire-proof material.
Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy.
Source Note: CbCy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 58. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department,/Washington, D. C./Bureau of Construction and Repair.”
Footnote 1: Vedado was the central business district of Havana.
Footnote 2: Letter has not been found.
Footnote 3: That is the fleet commanded by Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete and destroyed by Sampson’s command when it sorties from Santiago de Cuba on 3 July.
Footnote 4: That is, Infanta Maria Teresa and Almirante Oquendo.
Footnote 5: For photographs of the outcome of the Battle of Santiago Bay, see: Images from the Battle of Santiago Bay.