While the Spanish were forced off San Juan Heights and cleared off most of Cuba, there was still one Spanish stronghold left: the harbor of Santiago de Cuba. Surrounded by rugged prepared terrain and several forts and guarded by an army of 15,500 Spanish Regulars commanded by General Jose Velazquez, it seemed like an impregnable fortress. At least in their minds. Inside that harbor were the cruisers Infanta Maria Teresa, Almiranta Oquendo, Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon, and the destroyers, the Pluton and Furor of the Spanish Fleet under Admiral Pascual Cervera. However 15,000 troops from the 5th US Army and 5,000 Cuban insurgents didn’t think so. Neither did the US Fleet cruisers New York and Brooklyn, the battleships Iowa, Indiana, Oregon, Texas, Massachusetts, and the armed yachts Gloucester and Vixen, or did their commanders, Admiral William Sampson and Commodore Winfield Schley.
Cervera suddenly realized he had to breakout and quick, too. General William Shafter was quickly taking parts of their ‘impregnable fortress’ and General Jose was losing ground! Knowing that being captured in the harbor would be a blow to morale in Spain, he planned to escape on the morning of July 3, 1898, though he was not very confident of his chances of succeeding. Interestingly, that very morning, Admiral Sampson had a meeting with General Shafter and took the New York with him. Plus, four other ships (including the battleship Massachusetts) were gone coaling.
At 9 am, Cervera steamed out on his flagship, the Infanta Maria Teresa. The rest of the fleet steamed out at seven minute intervals. While the Teresa dueled with the Brooklyn, the Vizcaya fought the Texas and definitely got the worst of the engagement! The Vizcaya‘s captain decided that it would best to run his ship aground to avoid futile loss of lives. Losing her fight, the Infanta Maria Teresa did the same. Next, the Almiranta Oquendo was destroyed and ran aground as well! The two destroyers, Furor and Pluton, were pounded to smithereens. The Pluton didn’t even get to beach herself!
The only ship to escape was the Cristobal Colon. With a top speed of 20 knots, she was definitely one of the fastest ships in the Spanish squadron! Even then the Cristobal Colon had a 6-mile lead on the pursuing Brooklyn and Oregon. However, the Cristobal Colon soon ran out of good Spanish coal and had to switch to inferior coal which caused her to start slowing down. Only then the speedy Oregon caught up with the Cristobal Colon, and seeing the futility of resisting, her captain surrendered!
The battle for Santiago de Cuba cost Spain 2,144 of her best sailors, while the Americans 1 dead and 10 wounded. Soon after, the ‘impregnable fortress’ of Santiago surrendered. This ended the Spanish-American War and the Spanish dominion in the New World and the Pacific Ocean.
The Americans were prepared for the Spanish fleet when they came steaming out. Even though 5 ships were gone, the Americans moved their ships to guard the holes left by the missing ones. There is wisdom in preparing. Because they were ready, the Americans were victorious against the Spanish and successful in Cuba. Even if 99 times we don’t need it, the one occasion we do, we will be benefited from being prepared.
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