So, let’s look at look at the Mad Admiral and see how Henry Erben (and Gertrude his imaginary parrot), defines the American navy in the Santiago campaign. Henry Erben in this AU writes the doctrine for the USN in the 1880s and in the early 1890s. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the coast defense role for the USN and is an early champion of the torpedo ram, since as a realist he knows the isolationist Congress will never fund a real ocean going navy. Under his influence, the American government builds two experiments to test his ideas: the USS Princeton (1874) and the USS Katahdin (1894). This is the RTL influence he has: ideas and notions; not a grand strategic vision such as Rear Admiral Stephen Luce will engender in his own prize pupil, Alfred Mahan. In the RTL the American navy has no real doctrine per se or anyone who can generate one until the Spanish American War. We of the RTL make the mistake of assuming that Alfred Thayer Mahan is the author of the New Steel Navy’s doctrine before that war. But he did not publish his seminal work until 1890 and he did not really teach it until 1895. The RTL USN doctrine we find in 1895, if we can call it such, is thus a combination of purely imitative (British) practice and intuitive American civil war experience. And what does this mean in terms of how the RTL USN fights in 1898? They try to blockade Cuba and fail miserably, as they attempted blockade of the Confederacy in the civil war 34 years previous.
Why does the RTL USN fail in blockade at Cuba? Too few ships, wrong kind of ships and the ships used, are either too slow or armed with the wrong kind of weapons. If the Armada had been on the ball and if an ally would have helped with local support such as coal and a friendly neutral port, and if Cervera had not conveniently stranded himself at Santiago, then…
In 1963, the Russians ran into an effective blockade. They are not impressed by US carriers. Carriers they thought then (and still do think) they can handle. What turned them back was submarines. They were terrified of US submarines. And well they should have been. While Germans may bristle at the boast of the American navy, that they are the only navy that has ever strangled a nation with submarines, it is a true boast. Not even the British can make the claim. American submarines had help of course. The Japanese had not suffered an u-boat campaign and were rank amateurs at commerce defense. It would take the Americans two years (1944) to become as competent as 1916 WW I Germans in use of the sub. The Japanese struggled with the same steep learning curve. One could peg their progress to about mid 1916 British competence to about March 1945 for the IJN. And that 1916 date is historically significant and interesting in its own right for it is when Admiral Sims, USN, told the British navy something to the effect, “Convoy, you idiots!” Astonishing that Admiral King would forget that Sims maxim 24 years later, is it not?
One can rub one’s hands with glee then, with Cuba as a test case for 1898 semi-submersible torpedo rams in use as a terror weapon for American blockade purposes.
1874 is the start point in the tactical idea:
The torpedo ram, like most of the early torpedo-carrying warship designs, is intended to attack enemy warships while they were still at anchor in harbor. The torpedo ram's low profile and high speed were to make discovery and interception harder, as was the commonly stated intent for their attacks to take place at night. Once it reaches the harbor, the torpedo ram is to smash its way through any seaward harbor defenses and make straight for the ships lying at anchor, firing its torpedoes before they can get underway. Once this is done, the torpedo ram will exit the harbor and make a high-speed escape to waiting friendly forces.
USS Intrepid does not work. Fenian Rams I, II, and III do work, and in the RTL the USS Katahdin works, but they are ambush weapons. Maybe the torpedo ram cannot storm into a harbor? Maybe it can lie off a harbor and ambush ships that go in and come out instead?
So enter Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen , USN. Blame him as the author for the AU Cuba blockade submarine campaign, and for inspiring Henry Erben to also urtilize the new fangled submarine as an ambush close blockade weapon when General James Wilson has his surface ships shelling Cuban hamlets instead of watching Santiago harbor like a good Mad Admiral who talks to imaginary Gertrude the Parrot should do.
That is why Caldwell and Hoffman arrive off Santiago to patrol near Santiago Bay and shelter in Cuban renegado controlled Cabanas Bay, where they ride out two tropical storms and a hurricane. Where their crews of the USS Carp and the USS Cisco; respectively curse the lousy weather, the rotten food, both local Cuban cuisine and what they have loaded aboard (Army tinned beef scandal), the cranky Brayton engine complexes, the extremely dangerous electrical plants (Two sailors die from sulfur dioxide fumes aboard the USS Cisco.), and they have to put to sea to patrol and blockade an enemy of unknown (to them at least) naval strength who is inside Santiago harbor. Caldwell and Hoffman should be flattered. They are about to perform twenty years earlier in this AU, what three British cruisers will discover and demonstrate on 22 September 1914. In particular, Caldwell will imitate or should that read premitate Kapitanleutnant Otto Wedegen's astonishing feat of arms
You would think that all those blockade runners sunk since USS Chubb clobbers the Alfonso XII off Havana on 1 August 1898 would be a warning to Eyermann? Nope. Not really his fault though. General Toral, commanding the city garrison, orders him out before Wilson and 5th Corps blasts Eyermann to bits at anchor. In Eyermann’s defense, he is fully aware that the Mad Admiral and his imaginary parrot are waiting for him to push out past the Socapa fort and El Morro gun batteries so that Erben’s ships can practice their gunnery on him. Daylight would be suicide. So it will be a sneak-out at night Eyermann decides. October 2-3, 1898 is the night Eyermann selects. Rain and overcast skies should mask the breakout by the Reina Mercedes, Gravina, Isabella II and the gunboat Concho. It will be a near full moon but that cannot be helped. The Americans are at Sibourney and Cuban loyalists out of there who flee to Spanish lines, report that the Gringos have brought enormous cannons with them and that they are building a railroad. That can only mean one thing to Toral, Linares and Eyermann. Siege mortars. Delay means that the Spanish ships will be lost to American Endicott howitzers. Besides, the Americans have shied away from the Socapa and El Morro. The Ordunez guns in those batteries frighten off the Americans, or so the Spanish commanders mistakenly and confidently believe.
The reality for why the Coast Protection Squadron has not blasted El Morro into rubble yet; is that Admiral Erben has had to settle a few issues with General Wilson. There are no siege mortars yet because the train ferry that was supposed to ferry them, sank off Tampa, Florida. The Americans are building a railroad, but that is so supplies can be moved from Daiquiri to Sibourney without having to import a thousand mules and 250 wagons for 5th Corps. Wilson hopes to capture the American Sugar Enterprises train that runs between Guantanamo and Santiago. Nobody pays attention to the news of the train ferry disaster, because the Navy suppresses the news for security purposes. In the meantime, the USS Montana and her accompanying cruisers serve in the place of the missing mortars, providing naval gunfire as far as five kilometers inland, while Wilson methodically unloads 5th Corps one regiment per day onto the one dinky pier at Daiquiri. He is not going to make a shambles of it, like Wheeler did at the Tocoronta landings at Tenerife. 5th Corps is not going to lose ½ its supplies in the surf. Take it slowly and methodically, Wilson reasons. Build a beachhead, corduroy a road, move inland. Use the navy to cover the advance upon the San Juan heights. Then dig in and conduct a proper siege.
Wilson thus keeps Erben on a short leash. That supposedly is another Tenerife Campaign Lesson. Generals need to watch the admirals and keep the navy focused on the (army) mission. Wilson, the Union American civil war general, justifies his meddling in naval affairs as the Ulysses Grant Lesson. Hug the navy's gunboats tight and no enemy land army can beat you. He has Erben’s squadron almost in a bear-hug , he stays so close to Erben’s guns. And since Erben is supposed to protect Wilson, according to Wilson, he is not in position to cover the harbor mouth at Santiago. Not enough ships. Therein lies a narrow but manageable open escape route and chance for Eyermann to run to Cienfuegos to the west, or so it seems.
So what is Erben and Eyermann, each handicapped and subject to the whims of an incompetent army general, supposed to do? Eyermann will make his escape attempt. Erben has two “submersible torpedo rams” that cannot provide naval gunfire support to the army that he can use without asking Wilson's permission, and a not entirely secret plan of his own to thwart Eyermann. He moves his ships west each night to be closer to the El Morro in case the Spaniards come out. Let the subs ambush Eyermann as he sorties, where the shallow draft Spanish ships will no doubt hug the coastal gun batteries of the Socapa for protection, before breaking for open ocean to avoid the deeper draft American cruisers. If the subs get one of Eyermann’s cruisers, it may panic the others back into Santiago or might invoke an attempted stop and rescue in which case, Erben will rally into the area and give chase to the fugitives.
And that, surprisingly, is about what happens in the misnamed Battle of Santiago Bay. At 12:45 local time USS Carp is deck awash and toddling along when the sail lookout, standing on top of the periscope mast, telephone lineman/lumberjack fashion, sights strange silhouettes, lighted up by moonlight through a break in the overcast. He guesses they are about five kilometers distant. By the time Caldwell puts binoculars on them, he can tell that they are headed straight toward him. The USS Carp has just cleared Canapas Bay to relieve USS Cisco which is to the east on pre-midnight patrol. Hoffman has missed Eyermann’s breakout. Not that it matters as subsequent events quickly prove. When USS Carp’s silent and wakeless torpedo hits the Reina Mercedes at 01:17 AM, that produces instant confusion in the neat and ordered Spanish line. The explosion is bright and LOUD enough to attract Hoffman’s immediate attention. It is then a rather short 2 ½ kilometer run at high speed by the USS Cisco to arrive and torpedo the Gravina which foolishly stops to render the Reina Mercedes assistance. Capitán de Fregatte Estevan Digamma of Gravina thinks the Reina Mercedes hits a mine and Spanish doctrine is to tow the struck ship out away from the edge of the minefields. This allows the USS Cisco to approach almost unnoticed to within 450 meters. That is a long range shot for 1898 torpedoes, even for the remarkable Howell Mark IIs. The USS Cisco's periscope is finally noticed. "Torpedero Yankee a puerto adelante cuarto unos cinco estadios de distancia. a lookout announces from the forward lookout perch atop Gravina's military mast". Nordenfelds open up immediately. The Spanish 6 pounder and 3 pounder shots skips off the water long and narrowly right of the USS Cisco's periscope feather. Jig is up, but Hoffman is a cool customer. He lines up and takes a shot at Gravina, ignoring the bigger Reina Mercedes that he wanted to finish off. Torpedo away. Now if only the cable does not kink, the flywheels work, nothing short circuits and the Gravina does not do something smart, like turn toward the USS Cisco and gets moving to ram the American sub. The torpedo, hot and true, hits the immobile Gravina just forward of her funnel. Impact successful! That results in an even bigger explosion at 01:25 AM. The Gravina breaks in two and sinks with 147 men drowned.
That attracts Erben’s attention. He is seven kilometers away, has further to go, and it takes him some 20 minutes to cover that distance with the USS Montana, the USS Shoshone and the USS Montgomery. The gunboat, Concha, in a typically Spanish act of desperate gallantry immediately turns and fights with all of Admiral Erben’s ships for about a half hour before USS Montgomery finally sinks her. This earns rueful admiration from the Americans and the Spanish Cross for Capitán de Corbeta Don Estamos Castaño Hernández. This action allows the Isabella II to escape to the west. As for the Reina Mercedes, Eyermann’s flagship? She has a gaping hole in her starboard side just ahead of her engine room and below her flying bridge. She could try to escape, be sunk and have her crew drown as had the Gravina an hour ago. Eyermann, seeing the USS Montana turn toward his ship after the Concha goes down, chooses to beach his ship, run Reina Mercedes aground and save his men.
It is about as lopsided a victory as the AU Battle of Manila Bay and definitely decisive as far as the Santiago Campaign and Cuba is concerned. This is the only organized Spanish naval presence left to threaten the US in the Caribbean Sea. Now the USN can heave a collective sigh of relief, huddle in American controlled ports nearby, and not have to worry about Caribbean hurricanes and wait for the army to take Santiago. Once that is accomplished, Cuba will fall like a ripe apple. It will not matter what Spain tries at the Paris talks after that fact, because a fait accompli is a bird in the Americans’ hands. Nobody in Europe will step up to fight for Cuba, just as nobody will step up to aid Spain to fight for the Philippines. It is not worth a major war to either France or Austria, who lack the means. Britain has no vital interest and Germany is still trying to unglue herself from the ongoing von Dederichs diplomatic debacle with Dewey. The land fighting after the Battle of Santiago Bay will be interesting and complex, but with the naval questions settled, Linares, Toral and Wilson know how that one inevitably ends, and so it does on 10 December 1898. Cuba falls; at least that part of it south of the Nuestra Madres mountain range does.
The rest of it is signed away at the Treaty of Paris three days later.
Next up is the finito at Manila, some interesting Russia, Japan, US diplomacy in the November Interlude and then a brief discussion of the antics of Captain José Ferrándiz and whatever happens to Admiral Manuel de la Cámara y Libermoore? Then what about that last guy, Captain José Barrasa? Some strange AU happenings are involved in those three characters during the November Interlude.