Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard, President, Naval War Board, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long
Office of Naval War Board.
Washington, D. C., July 21,1898.
In pursuance of the terms of your memorandum of the 20th instant,1 the Board begs leave to make the following reply:
The Board considers it inexpedient to attack Ceuta.2 It is believed to have been reinforced lately, and heavy modern guns mounted on the defences. Furthermore, its possession would not entail any advantage at all adequate to the expense of its reduction and maintenance. By reason of Gibraltar, and of its fleet, England dominates the Straits of Gibraltar, which, in any case, would be controlled by the most powerful navy, and in that sense we control it now as regards Spain.
The Canary Islands occupy towards our possessions the same relative position as did the Cape de Verde lately3 – that is, a hostile fleet at the Canaries menaces in about an equal degree, our ports, from Boston to the southward, and our new possessions in the West Indies to a somewhat greater degree. Nevertheless, as long as these islands remain in the possession of Spain, they do not seriously threaten us; they are reported to have been lately considerably reinforced, both by troops and heavy modern sea-coast guns, and therefore their reduction would require a considerable fleet and army, and would probably consume a considerable time, without apparent compensating advantage. The islands are understood to be about self-supporting, as regards food, and therefore their reduction by blockade would consume much time, and probably many ships, which we could now very illy spare.
It is therefore suggested that as long as they are in Spain’s possession, we do not attack them. The Board deprecates the further dispersal of our efforts, as we are already engaged at Cuba, Porto Rico and the Philippines.
The Board would much prefer to retain all four of the American liners for regular naval use, as they have been very useful already and would be especially so in case of any movement that would take our fleet across the ocean;4 nevertheless it is thought that two of them might be spared temporarily as troop ships, under the following conditions: The ships belong to the Navy Department and to retain their organization as men-of-war, being lent to the War Department for the express purpose of transporting troops, but to be subject to withdrawal, for naval use, on one week’s notice.
The above arrangement would of course be subject to the conditions of the ships’ charters, which, it is thought, provide for strictly naval use only. In view of this, it is doubtful whether they could be turned over to the absolute control of the War Depart-<ment, neither is it certain that they could be used as transports without infraction of the spirit of the charters.5
Rear Admnl., Pres. of Board.>
Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 372. On stationery before opening: “The Honorable/The Secretary of the Navy.” The last two sentences and sign off were missing from the original text, but were extracted from a copy in DNA, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1.
Footnote 1: This memorandum has not been located.
Footnote 2: Ceuta is a Spanish city on the northern coastline of Africa (bordering on Morocco) across from Gibraltar.
Footnote 3: RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete’s squadron massed at the Cape Verde Islands before going to the West Indies on 29 April.
Footnote 4: The chartered liners used as auxiliary ships were from the International Navigtion Co. (St. Paul, St. Louis, and Yale) and the American Line (Harvard).
Footnote 5: Some of the above-mentioned ships did transport American troops, Spanish prisoners, and the wounded to the United States. For more, see: Joint Operations at Puerto Rico.