May 11

Joint Small Boat Operations in the Spanish-American War

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 12:01 AM


During the early days of the Spanish-American War, U.S. naval vessels were assigned the task of searching for and destroying underwater transoceanic communication cables, in an effort to isolate Cuba and hinder the movement of Spanish warships by cutting communications between Spain and the island. On 11 May 1898, a small band of Marines and sailors from the USS Marblehead and USS Nashville volunteered for the dangerous mission of cutting the cables running south from the harbor of Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of Cuba. Using small boats launched from the Marblehead, a small crew of sailors, protected by Marines selected for their marksmanship abilities, rowed toward the shore to lift the heavy cables and cut them.

Spanish gunfire protected the cable stations and the cables which ran through the shallow waters just off the shoreline, and exposed the approaching crews of the small, open boats to danger. Although the protective bombardment from the Marblehead and the Nashville helped suppress enemy fire from the shore for a short time, heavy Spanish gunfire resumed as U.S. sailors searched for and began cutting away at submerged cables. One by one the cables were cut, as Navy oarsmen attempted to keep the leaking vessels in position and Marines fired at the targets on shore.

Under continued fire, the determined sailors carried on their mission, and an increasing number of wounded sailors and Marines kept at the cables. Finally, the battered crews were ordered to move away from the shore, leaving a final cable partially intact. But, Spanish communications had been significantly disrupted by the mission.

In the end, after two and a half hours, two men were killed and six were seriously wounded in the hazardous operation – Private Patrick Regan died of wounds and Private Herman Kuchneister, a German immigrant, was severely wounded through the jaw. The Navy crews were all awarded the Medal of Honor, as were the 12 Marines from the Nashville (7) and the Marblehead (5). As the reports of this heroic mission were relayed to the media in the United States, the Navy and the Marine Corps both shared in the glory of the heroic actions of this small group of volunteers.