Excerpt from "The Report of theVizcaya"
Reprinted from Notes on the Spanish-American War
Published by the Office of Naval Intelligence in 1900
"When I wanted to surrender my sword and revolver to the captain, he refused to receive them, saying that I had not surrendered to his ship, but to four battleships, and that he had no right to accept them.…"
Spanish admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete (1839-1909; see entry in Biographies section) sensed death on the horizon as his fleet headed for Cuba in April 1898 to wage war with the United States. Two of his squadron's ships were not available for service, and problems plagued the remaining six. As Cervera's chief of staff, Víctor Concas y Palau, said in The Squadron of Admiral Cervera, the admiral wrote to the Spanish government and "insisted time and time again on the danger that was threatening us, on the unfinished condition of our ships that were being fitted out abroad, on the impossibility of going to war, and on the probable results." According to A. B. Feuer in The Spanish-American War at Sea, future British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) wrote at the time, "With only a week's supply of provisions, Cervera was turned loose by his government quite as pitilessly as his fellow countrymen are in the habit of pushing a bull into a ring."
By the end of May, the U.S. Navy had trapped Cervera and his fleet in the harbor at Santiago, Cuba, on the southeastern end of the island. U.S. general William R. Shafter (1835-1906; see entry in Biographies section) then spent the month of June landing American soldiers near Santiago. The soldiers marched and killed their way through the Cuban jungles, reaching Santiago's defenses after bloody, day-long battles at El Caney and San Juan Heights on July 1. The next day, Cervera received orders from the Spanish governor of Cuba, General Ramón Blanco y Erenas (1831-1906), to break the U.S. naval blockade at Santiago and head for another city. Blanco hoped that either victory or defeat for Cervera would rally the Spanish soldiers in Santiago to repel the American land invasion.
On the morning of July 3, Cervera's ships steamed solemnly, one by one, out of Santiago harbor. Each passed through a narrow channel into the Caribbean Sea, only to have to face a six-ship enemy fleet led by U.S. commodore Winfield S. Schley (1839-1909). Antonio Eulate, captain of one of Cervera's ships, the Vizcaya, sent the following report to Cervera three days after his fleet's crushing defeat.
Things to remember while reading "The Report of the Vizcaya":
• The force of the attack on the Vizcaya was second only to that suffered by the Infanta Maria Teresa, the flagship carrying Cervera, which was the first to face the enemy. Eulate and the Vizcaya emerged from the bay next.
"The Report of the Vizcaya "
In compliance with the instructions received from your excellency, I got my ship ready on the morning of the 2d instant, to go out at 4 P.M. But as the reembarkation of the first company did not begin until that time, it was 6:30 P.M. before the ship was ready to put to sea. At that moment the battle flag was hoisted by the officers, whom I addressed, reminding them of the obligations imposed upon them by the Ordinances, and the heroic deeds of our ancestors in our honorable career. After a prayer, we received, kneeling, the benediction of the chaplain.
With the flag hoisted, we were awaiting your excellency's last orders, and at 9 o'clock A.M. of the day following, July 3, the ship was ready to follow in the wake of the flagship. At 9 o'clock (true time) she started up, following the Teresa, and at 9:30, after passing the Punta Socapa, we went full speed ahead, steering in conformity with the instructions previously issued by your excellency. At the same moment we opened fire on the hostile ships, very heavy at first, but gradually decreasing in the 5.5-inch battery, owing to the defects of the guns and ammunition, of which your excellency is aware.
In spite of these defects, the enthusiasm and intelligence of the officers in charge of the battery and the excellent discipline of their crews made it possible to fire during the battle, which lasted two hours and a half, 150 rounds with the port battery, one of the guns alone firing 40 rounds, the others 25 and above, with the exception of one, which only fired 8 rounds. The deficiencies of these guns were numerous, chief among them, as you already know, the fact that the breach could not be closed, the projectiles jammed, and the firing pins failed to act.…
In the high battery there were so many casualties that, although there was but one gun left that could be fired, there were not men enough to serve it. In the lower battery there were no men left either to serve the guns or to conduct the firing.…
I wanted to try [to see] whether we could ram the Brooklyn, which was the ship that harassed us most on port side and which was nearest to us. To that end I put to port, but the Brooklyn did the same, indicating that she was going to use only her guns. The under-signed, with his head and shoulder wounded, was obliged to withdraw to have his wounds dressed. Almost faint from the loss of blood, he resigned his command for the time being to the executive officer, with clear and positive instructions not to surrender the ship, but rather beach or burn her. In the sick bay I met Ensign Luis Fajardo, who has having a very serious wound in one of his arms dressed. When I asked him what was the matter with him he answered that they had wounded him in one arm, but that he still had one left for his country.
When the flow of blood of my wounds had been checked, I went back on deck and saw that the executive officer had issued orders to steer for the coast in order to run ashore, for we had no serviceable guns left and the fire at the stern had assumed such dimensions that it was utterly impossible to control it. This sad situation was still further complicated by a fire breaking out on the forward deck as the result of the bursting of a steam pipe and the explosion of one or more boilers of the forward group…
As soon as the ship had been beached, the executive officer gave instructions to make all arrangements for the immediate rescue of the crews. Attempts were at once made to lower the boats. When I found that only one was in serviceable condition, I ordered that it be used mainly for the transportation of the wounded, and I authorized all those who could swim or who had life-preservers or anything else sufficiently buoyant to keep them above water to jump in and try to gain the reefs of the shoal, which was about 98 yards from the bow.
The rescue was effected in perfect order, in spite of the awe-inspiring aspect of the ship on fire, with the ammunition rooms exploding, the flames rising above the fighting tops and smokestacks, and with the side armor red-hot. I was taken ashore by the officers in the last boat that carried wounded, and was subsequently picked up by a United States boat, which carried me to the Iowa. …When I wanted to surrender my sword and revolver to the captain, he refusedto receive them, saying that I had not surrendered to his ship, but to four battle ships, and that he had no right to accept them.…
The foregoing is all I have the honor of reporting to your excellency upon the loss of my ship in a battle against four far superior ships without striking her colors nor permitting the enemy to set foot upon her deck, not even for the rescue. There are 98 men missing of her crew.
What happened next…
Cervera's defeat gave the United States a strong advantage in Cuba. Through negotiations and further battles in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, the United States turned this advantage into Spanish surrender in Santiago on July 17 and into a worldwide cease-fire on August 12.
Did you know…
- War with the United States in 1898 caused a surge of national pride, or nationalism, in Spain. Spaniards compared their country to a lion, fierce and brave, defending itself with pride. America was described as a pig, trying to hog foreign markets for itself.
- This nationalism began to fade after Spain lost the battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898. Further losses in Cuba during June and July and in Puerto Rico in August turned Spanish pride into anger. Some Spaniards blamed the politicians for fighting a war that Spain could not win. Others blamed the military, laughing at the soldiers who walked Spain's streets in the months after the peace protocol of August 12, 1898. Riots broke out across Spain in the summer of 1899 to protest rising consumer taxes that were required to pay Spain's war debts.
For More Information
Balfour, Sebastian. "The Impact of War within Spain: Continuity or Crisis?" In The Crisis of 1898: Colonial Redistribution and Nationalist Mobilization, edited by Angel Smith and Emma Dávila-Cox. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Cervera y Topete, Pascual, ed. The Spanish-American War: A Collection of Documents Relative to the Squadron Operations in the West Indies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899.
Concas y Palau, Víctor. The Squadron of Admiral Cervera. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1900.
Feuer, A. B. The Spanish-American War at Sea. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1995.
Golay, Michael. The Spanish-American War. New York: Facts On File, 1995.
Musicant, Ivan. Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.
Office of Naval Intelligence. Notes on the Spanish-American War. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1900.
Smith, Eric M. "Leaders Who Lost: Case Studies of Command under
Stress." Military Review, vol. LXI, April 1981, no. 4, pp. 41-45.