In this painful situation, when explosions were heard in the ammunition- rooms, I gave orders to lower the flag and flood all the magazines.
Continuing The Cuban Campaign,
with a selection from Official Report by Pascual Cervera published in 1898. This selection is presented in 2.5 installments, each one 5 minutes long. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Cuban Campaign.
Place: Santiago Area
One of the first projectiles burst an auxiliary steam-pipe on board the Maria Teresa. A great deal of steam escaped, which made us lose the speed on which we had counted. About the same time another shell burst one of the fire-mains. The ship made a valiant defense against the galling hostile fire. Among the first wounded was our gallant commander, Captain Victor M. Concas, who had to withdraw, and as we could not afford to lose a single moment, I myself took direct command of the ship, waiting for an opportunity when the executive officer could be called. But this opportunity never arrived, as the battle became more and more fierce and the dead and wounded fell all around us, and all we could think of was to fire as much as possible.
In this critical situation fire broke out in my cabin, where some of the 2.24-inch projectiles stored there must have exploded. At the same time, I was informed that the after-deck and chart-house were burning, while the fire that had begun in my cabin was spreading with great rapidity to the center of the ship, and, as we had no water, it made rapid headway, and we were powerless to fight it. I realized that the ship was doomed, and cast about for a place where I could run her aground without losing many lives and continue the battle as long as possible.
Unfortunately, the fire was gaining ground with great rapidity and voracity. I therefore sent one of my aides with instructions to flood the after-magazines, but it was found impossible to penetrate into the passages, owing to the dense clouds of smoke and on account of the steam escaping from the engine hatch, and it was impossible to breathe in that suffocating atmosphere. I therefore steered for a small beach west of Punta Cabrera, where we ran aground just as the engines stopped. It was impossible to get down the ammunition and other things below the armored deck, especially aft of the boilers, and under these circumstances all we could do was to save as many as possible of the crew. This was also the opinion of the officers whom I was able to convene, and who, when I asked them whether they thought the battle could be continued, answered, “No.”
In this painful situation, when explosions were heard in the ammunition- rooms, I gave orders to lower the flag and flood all the magazines. The first order could not be carried out, on account of the terrible conflagration on the poop, which was soon completely burned. The fire was gaining rapidly. When it had reached the forward deck we hardly had time to leave the burning ship, assisted by two United States boats, which arrived about three-quarters of an hour after we had run ashore.
The rescue had been effected by those who could swim jumping into the water and trying three times to carry a line ashore, succeeding only at the last moment, assisted by the two United States boats.
We had lowered a boat that was apparently in good condition, but it sank at once. A steam launch was then lowered, but it was able to make only one trip; when it attempted to return to the ship a second time it sank, as the result of injuries received. Of the three or four men on board, one saved his life by swimming, and the others were picked up by a United States boat.
The captain of the Vizcaya, assisted by two good swimmers. had gone ashore. The executive and third officers were directing the rescue from the ship, and as it was also necessary to direct it from the shore after the United States boats had arrived, I swam ashore with the assistance of two seamen, Juan Llorca and Andre Sequeiro, and my son and aide, Lieutenant Angel Cervera.
When all the men had been landed I was notified by the United States officer in command of the boats to follow him to his ship, which was the converted yacht Gloucester. I was accompanied by my flag captain, who was wounded, my son and aide, and the executive officer of the ship, who had been the last one to leave her.
During this time the burning ship offered an awe-inspiring spectacle. The explosions following each other in rapid succession were enough to appall even the calmest soul. I do not believe it will be possible to save a single thing from the ship. We have lost everything, the majority of us reaching the shore absolutely naked. A few minutes after the Teresa, the Oquendo ran aground on a beach about half a league farther west, with fire on board similar to that of the Teresa, and the Vizcaya and Colon disappeared from sight to the westward, pursued by the hostile fleet. From the paymaster of the Oquendo, the only one of her officers on board the same ship with me, I have since learned the history of that ill-fated ship and her heroic crew. This history is as follows:
The unequal and deadly battle sustained by the Oquendo became even more unequal when shortly after it had begun a projectile entered the forward turret, killing the whole personnel with the exception of one gunner, who was badly wounded. The 5.5-inch battery, which had been swept by the hostile fire from the beginning, had only two serviceable guns left, with which the defense was continued with incomparable energy. The after- turret also lost its captain, who was killed by a shell that struck him as he opened the door of the turret, almost asphyxiated by the stifling air within. The paymaster does not know the history of the rapid-fire battery; he only knows that it kept firing the same as the rest of the valiant crew. There were two conflagrations — the first, which was controlled, occurred in the forward-hold; the other, which originated aft, could not be controlled, as the pumps were unable to furnish water, probably for the same reasons as on board the Teresa.
The 5. 5 -inch ammunition-hoists refused to work from the very beginning, but there was no lack of ammunition in the battery while the fight could be continued, as extra stores had been put on board all the ships as a precautionary measure. When the valiant captain of the Oquendo saw that he could not control the fire, and when he found that he had not a single serviceable gun left, he decided to run aground, after first issuing orders to dis charge all the torpedoes, except the two after ones, in case any hostile ship should approach before the last moment arrived. He also ordered the flag to be lowered a few minutes after that of the Teresa, and after consultation with the officers who were present. The executive and third officers and three lieutenants had been killed.
The rescue of the survivors was organized by her captain, who lost his life in saving those of his subordinates. They made a raft and lowered two launches, the only serviceable boats they had left, and were finally assisted by United States boats, and, according to the statement of an insurgent with whom I talked on the beach, also by an insurgent boat. These two ships presented a sublime spectacle. The explosions that followed one another incessantly did not frighten those valiant sailors, who defended their ship to such an extent that not even a single enemy has been able to set his foot on her.
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