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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Spain could oppose the battleship Pelayo


It

was at once recognized that the conflict would be primarily naval, and would be won by the nation that secured control of the sea. The paper strength of the two navies left little to choose, and led even competent critics like Admiral Colomb in England to prophesy a stalemate--a "desultory war." Against five new American battleships, the _Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon_ and _Texas_, the first four of 10,000 tons, and the armored cruisers _Brooklyn_ and _New York_ of 9000 and 8000 tans, Spain could oppose the battleship _Pelayo_, a little better than the _Texas_ and five armored cruisers, the _Carlos V, Infanta Maria Teresa, Almirante Oquendo_, and _Vizcaya_, each of about 7000 tons, and the somewhat larger and very able former Italian cruiser _Cristobal Colon_. Figures and statistics, however, give no idea of the actual weakness of the Spanish navy, handicapped by shiftless naval administration, by dependence on foreign sources of supply, and by the incompetence and lack of training of personnel. Of the squadron that came to Cuba under Admiral Cervera, the _Colon_ lacked two 10-inch guns for her barbettes, and the _Vizcaya_ was so foul under water that with a trial speed of 18-1/2 knots she never made above 13--Cervera called her a "buoy." There was no settled plan of campaign; to Cervera's requests for instructions came the ministerial reply that "in these moments of international crisis no definite plans can be formulated."[1] The despairing letters of the Spanish Admiral
and his subordinates reveal how feeble was the reed upon which Spain had to depend for the preservation of her colonial empire. The four cruisers and two destroyers that sailed from the Cape Verde Islands on April 29 were Spain's total force available. The _Pelayo_ and the _Carlos V_, not yet ready, were the only ships of value left behind.

[Footnote 1: Bermejo to Cervera, April 4, 1898.]

On the American naval list, in addition to the main units already mentioned, there were six monitors of heavy armament but indifferent fighting value, a considerable force of small cruisers, four converted liners for scouts, and a large number of gunboats, converted yachts, etc., which proved useful in the Cuban blockade. Of these forces the majority were assembled in the Atlantic theater of war. The _Oregon_ was on the West Coast, and made her famous voyage of 14,700 miles around Cape Horn in 79 days, at an average speed of 11.6 knots, leaving Puget Sound on March 6 and touching at Barbados in the West Indies an May 18, just as the Spanish fleet was steaming across the Caribbean. The cruise effectively demonstrated the danger of a divided navy and the need of an Isthmian canal. Under Commodore Dewey in the Far East were two gunboats and four small cruisers, the best of them the fast and heavily armed flagship _Olympia_, of 5800 tons.

_The Battle of Manila Bay_

[Illustration: APPROACHES TO MANILA]

With this latter force the first blow of the war was struck on May 1 in Manila Bay. Dewey, largely through the influence of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt, had been appointed to the eastern command the autumn before. On reaching his station in January, he took his squadron to Hong Kong to be close to the scene of possible hostilities. On February 25 he received a despatch from Roosevelt, then Acting Secretary: "Keep full of coal. In the event of declaration of war Spain, your duty will be to see that Spanish squadron does not leave the Asiatic coast, and then offensive operations in the Philippine Islands." On April 25 came the inspiring order: "Proceed at once to Philippine Islands. Commence operations particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavor." The Commodore had already purchased a collier and a supply ship for use in addition to the revenue cutter _McCulloch_, overhauled his vessels and given them a war coat of slate-gray, and made plans for a base at Mirs Bay, 30 miles distant in Chinese waters, where he would be less troubled by neutrality rules in time of war. On April 22 the _Baltimore_ arrived from San Francisco with much-needed ammunition. On the 27th Consul Williams joined with latest news of preparations at Manila, and that afternoon the squadron put to sea.


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