Sunday, April 24, 2011

Return to Santiago - Giving Cervera a Fighting Chance

Well although the ship yards is shut down for basement repairs, Naval Operations still have thoughts on the Span-Am conflict.  I've had these jumbled thoughts on Span-Am whatifs and I thought I should get them on epaper before they ran away.

Essentially there are 3 ways of enhancing the Armada Espnanol (and yes that's still what it's called),  improving the ships on hand, getting new ships and getting foreign help.  

Today's post - making the best of the material on hand.  This is the simplest and cleanest to incorporate.  Most of these require actions by ships captains, or station commanders.   In fact I suspect that most Span-Am games implicitly take account for many of these improvements by not penalizing the Spanish for historical under performance.  So here goes with the list of improvements that could be made.

  1. Install the main guns for the Colon.  Cervera's own account states that the Navy wasn't satisfied with the 10" Armstrong guns, but I'm doubtful this was the real reason.   The same or similar weapons were installed in many ships in the Argentinian, Chilean, Japanese and Italian navies (among others).  Anyway, the weapons were on hand and would certainly help.
  2. Fix the other guns in Cervera's squadron.  Post action reports speak of broken breach blocks on the secondaries of the Maria Theresa and her sisters.  
  3. Scrub the ships bottoms.  Every keel boat owner knows that elbow grease, scrub brushes and anti fouling paint will do wonders for boat speed.  Wilson notes that Cervera's squadron was weed covered (especially the Vizcaya).   This is a simple fix, and can be achieved even without a dry-dock, and Cervera had the time while in the Canaries.
  4. Clean out the boilers and buy better coal.  Again, routine maintenance and good boat ownership skills.  The Colon would have shown Sampson and Schley a clean set of heels if the ready supply of good coal hadn't run out.
  5. Take gunnery practice to improve their shooting, which was very poor at Santiago.  Again Cervera had the time at Tenerife and it's an easy fix.
  6. Mine warfare.  This is probably the biggest disappointment on the Spanish side.  Cervera asked before sailing and was told that there the Caribbean harbours would be adequately protected by mines.  But, the mines on hand were too few and defective.  The Texas and Detroit both fouled mines on their propellers without detonating them.  Mines are simple to deploy, brutally effective and can easily shorten the odds for the weaker fleet.  Let's not forget that American paranoia on mine warfare was running high - remember that the accusations of mines used on the Maine.
  7. Torpedo boats.   I believe that the Santiago campaign included the last close blockade in history.  There was a golden opportunity to attack the blockaders with torpedo launches using small craft on hand and the torpedoes in Cervera's squadron.  These tactics were part and parcel of the Jeune Ecole (which by now had become the Vielle Ecole), and could easily have given the Americans a nasty surprise.
  8. Submarine warfare - continuing with the underwater menaces.  This is not steampunk, the Armada had one of the first practical submarines on hand (the Peral, still on display in Spain) but never made any use of it.
 It's worth pointing out that Dewey took many of these steps, acting on his own initiative and forewarned by his Navy.  As a result, he had his squadron up to high steaming and fighting efficiency.  If Cervera had shown the same initiative, Santiago might have gone very differently.  It's also worth remembering that the US Navy had bad experiences with underwater menaces including mines and submarine during the Civil War and could easily panic is faced with these again. 

There's today's grist for the mill.


  1. Hi Peter,

    Basic care and maintenance really - something the Ottoman navy was also guilty of!

    I downloaded volume 2 of Wilson but could not find volume 1 - any clues at all?

    All the best,


  2. David

    Sorry, I would have thought they were in the same spot but a quick check turns up empty. Personally, I was most interested in Vol2 so most likely I stopped when I found it.

    Yes Ottoman, Russian, Chinese,....many navies were guilty of messing up the easy stuff.

    Good luck!