Mar 10

The Log of the Cristóbal Colón

Thursday, March 10, 2016 12:01 AM

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A year before the U. S. Naval Institute would publish its very first book, Lieutenant-Commander (and enthusiastic Naval Institute member) Richard Wainwright’s Log of the U. S. Gunboat Gloucester, the Naval Institute published in its Proceedings an abstract of another log related to the Battle of Santiago de Cuba: that captured from the Spanish protected cruiser Cristóbal Colón.

The Christóbal Colón. Naval Institute Photo Archives.

The protected cruiser Christóbal Colón. Naval Institute Photo Archives.

With the destruction of the USS Maine in February 1898, the tensions between Spain and the United States erupted into war. The Americans knew much about that fast and modern cruiser and the Spanish fleet as a whole; sheets distributed to the Navy men laid out the Colón‘s armament and specifications to a “T.” But they would still have to fight her if she would arrive to protect Spanish interests in the Atlantic.

That prospect had the American public terrified. Would the Spaniards raid important coastal cities on the Atlantic Coast? Where were they going?

What the Americans knew of the Christóbal Colón. This circular was distributed along with those describing other ships of the Spanish Fleet to American naval forces. From the papers of Lieut. Edward Moale, Jr., U.S.N. Naval Institute Archives. Click to Enlarge.

What the Americans knew of the Christóbal Colón. This circular was distributed along with those describing other ships of the Spanish Fleet to American naval forces. From the papers of Lieut. Edward Moale, Jr., U.S.N. Naval Institute Archives. Click to Enlarge.

As the Battle of Santiago and the capture logbook later showed, the Spanish fleet was bound for Cuba — and for its doom. The entire Caribbean Squadron that departed Spain was destroyed, although the the Cristóbal Colón was not done so outright. Fleeing the battle, but unable to escape her American pursuers, she was beached and scuttled; she was boarded by American forces but later foundered at sea. Her logbook, however, was captured, translated aboard the USS Brooklyn, and sent to an eager press and public back in the United States.

The excerpts below constitute some of the more interesting episodes abstracted from the log. Scholars and those interested in the Spanish-American War are encouraged to read the abstract in full in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings archive.

* * * * *

Date. REMARKS.

April.

8-9 Left Cadiz in company with Maria Teresa (Flag) 4.37 p. m. April 8th, 1898. Roll 10° to 20°, period 6.5 s.

9-10 Celebrated High Mass at 10. Read Art. of War. Published G. C. M. Order.

10-11  Sighted Tenerif ahead. Exchanged signals by Inter national code. Pilot board with sealed package for Captain.

11-12 No. 2 gun failed to turn; found the fault and remedied it. After part exercised Small arms.

May.

1-2 Teresa towing Pluton; Oquendo towing Terror; we towing Furor. Tried elec. primers. 11 a. m. slowed down to allow the Oquendo to resecure her tow

7-8 Received permission to try search-lights. Slowed 7 a. m. to renew towline of torpedo-boat which had parted.

16-17 2.30 p. m. Flagship made signal:—” If you want a cow send boat.” Answered:—”Many thanks, do not require any.” At 7.30 p. m. went to General Quarters and kept crew at stations all night.

The route of the Christóbal Colón and the Spanish Caribbean Squadron, mapped from the data in this log. Naval Institute Photo Archives. Click to enlarge.

The route of the Christóbal Colón and the Spanish Caribbean Squadron, mapped by the U.S. Navy from the data in this log. Naval Institute Photo Archives. Click to enlarge.

May.

June.

31-1. At 1.16 sent 10 men to coal Pluton. At 2.15 the Iowa passed W. to E. at short distance firing at us; beat to General Quarters-2.15 to 5.00 p. m. Bombarded by the enemy’s Squadron from 3 p. m. At General Quarters for action. As soon as the enemy’s Squadron opened fire and was standing across the mouth of the harbor from the western point and heading to the Eastward at high speed, and consisting of the Iowa (flag), Massachusetts, Brooklyn, Amazonas, Texas, Marblehead, City of Rome (apparently), and four auxiliary cruisers; we commenced firing with the port 15 cm. battery. which continued with rapidity, and correcting the excitement conveniently in order to diminish tendency to waste ammunition. Then commenced with the 12 cm, guns and continued the firing during the time it took them to moss the mouth of the harbor. The Amazonas and large transatlantic steamer having stopped, we then concentrated all our fire on them both. In a short time the other battleships returned, and then the action continued on both sides, but our shot falling short on account of the enemy keeping at too great a distance. A battleship, apparently the Brooklyn, and the transatlantic liner remained in front, and repeating our fire, a tug was seen to approach the latter and astern of her the other battleships were nearing the former. Observed that they retired, convoying them and another steamer at a greater distance, also appearing to have suffered damage, to the S’d without answering our fire. At 3.15 H. E. the Comd’t Gen’l of the Squadron, came on board in the Teresa’s steam launch, and soon afterward ceased firing on account of the silence and withdrawal of the enemy. We were accompanied in our offensive attack by the Socapa battery and that of Morro. 62 rounds were fired from the 15 cm. battery and 14 from the 12 cm. The firing-pins of three of the 12 cm. guns and of six of the 15 cm, were damaged, but they were at once repaired. An enemy’s shell exploded near the stern, making dents in the side and cracking some bowls in the round-house. When the ships retired it was in disorder and, in our judgment, confirmed the fact that two of them required convoying by the Brooklyn as already mentioned. Kept the whole port battery loaded, and at 5.00 p. m, resumed sea watches. At 9.30 P. M. six of the enemy’s vessels passed from E. to W. across the mouth of the harbor, returning at 11.30 the other way. Semaphore signalled:—”The Flagship has seen a vessel to the E’d. near the coast, and that upon the vedettes going out two shots were heard, and that the enemy’s Squadron would pass close by the mouth of the harbor.” The Flagship asked the distance: replied that report would be made upon return of vedette. 4 to 8 a. m. the enemy’s Squadron in sight, pawing the mouth of the harbor, first from E. to W., afterward from W. to E., at a great distance and beyond range of our guns; they appear to have been re-enforced by several vessels. At 9.00 a. m. sent men to coal the Furor. At 10.20 a. m., by order of the Comd’t General of the Squadron. cast off the springs. At 10.35 a. m. got underway, and under direction of the Commanding Officer east to starboard and under slow speed passed between Punto Gorda and the bow of the Oquendo. Directed our course into the inner harbor until 11.60 a. m., at which time we came to an anchor in 9.5m. of water, with 15 fathoms on port chain; bearings at anchor Ratones Cay, S. 36° W.; Yarey Pier, N. 11° W.; and Compadres Rock, S. 30° E.

1-2 During afternoon watch unloaded the 12 cm. guns and the 154 mm. battery. 4 to 8 p. m. unable to unload 4, 6, 8. and 10 of the 15 cm. battery. Semaphore made signal that the enemy’s Squadron was in sight, and at 5.00:—”The enemy is approaching”; the Flagship transmitted the signal:—”The enemy is directing his course to the month of the harbor.”

2-3 Afternoon watch semaphore signalled the enemy’s Squadron in sight-3.30 p. m. coal lighter came to starboard side; commenced coaling. Stopped coaling at 9, p. m. At 3.25 a. m. hearing a lively firing of guns at the mouth of the harbor, called and armed the crew, got the battery ready. And supplied a case of ammunition for each rapid-fire gun. 4 to 8 a. m. the firing continued at short intervals at the mouth of the harbor. Lighted two boilers and shifted closer to Ratones Cay with 15 fathoms on port chain and ready to slip at a moment’s notice. Lowered 2nd steam launch and anchored all the boats which -were in the water close to the coal lighter. At 7.00 a. m. received information from the Flagship by signal:—”Merchant vessel which had entered the mouth of the harbor was sunk while massing Nispero Bay; she was struck by two torpedoes, one from the Pluton and the other an observation mine; we captured one officer and seven North American sailors.” 8 a. m. to noon got out kedge with 60 fathoms on it, and secured on the following bearings;—Ratones Cay, S. 27. W.; Compadres Rock, S. 78′ E.; and Julias Lookout, S. 12° E. Signals were made to us concerning the movements of the enemy’s vessels.

20-21 Enemy’s search-lights trained on shore and month of harbor all night. At 7.30 a. m. the General Second in Command* came on board in the Mercedes‘ boat; hoisted his flag. At 11.15 a. m. the Mercedes came up into the inner harbor and anchored

26-27 4 to 8 p. m. sent cartridges and five chests of Mauser ammunition to the detachment in command of 3rd officer. Got ready the artillery of the port battery. At 10.30 p. m. the Viscaya signalled to Teresa that the Vesuvius, a destroyer and a picket-boat were in front of the semaphore and about 3 miles distant. At 1.15 a. m. two discharges were heard at the Morro; the Viscaya reported that the Vesuvius had thrown three shells, to which the Morro replied. At 2.15 a. m. three shots were heard to eastward, which the Viscaya reported had been fired at Aguadores. At 5.00 a. m. sent steam launch to iron-pier to take 3 cases of ammunition to the detachment at Dos Cruces, and one day’s provisions were taken to the other detachment by the messmen.

* * * * *

The Christóbal Colón foundering after American salvage attempts following the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Naval Institute Photo Archives.

The Christóbal Colón foundering after American salvage attempts following the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Naval Institute Photo Archives.

NOTE.—The columns for the 2nd and 3rd [of July, the day of the Battle] are entered up to midnight; but someone has torn out the page of remarks for that day

* A flag officer in the Spanish service is usually spoken of as “General.” The officer here mentioned was a “Capitan de Navio” of the First Class, equivalent to our “Commodore.”

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