REINA MERCEDES

By Patrick McSherry 
 
Click here for an image of the REINA MERCEDES near the end of her career at Annapolis

GENERAL:

The REINA MERCEDES had seen better days by the time the blockade of Santiago Harbor began. Her position near the entrance to the harbor made her subject to damage from the U.S. fleet, which scored many hits upon her. After the destruction of Admiral Cervera's the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Santiago, the Spanish forces made a courageous attempt to sink her in the channel leading to the harbor to stop the American vessels from entering. Though the vessel sank, she failed to block the channel. The REINA MERCEDES was later raised by U.S. forces.

BACKGROUND:

The REINA MERCEDES, named for the wide of King Alfonso XII, was launched on September 12, 1887 at Cartagena, Spain. She served in the Instructional Squadron off Spain until 1893 when she was transferred to the Caribbean. Here she became the flagship of Spanish forces in Cuban waters. By the time of the Spanish American she was in poor shape mechanically, with only threee of her ten boilers operable.

When Richmond Hobson of the U.S. Navy attempted to sink the collier USS MERRIMAC in the channel leading into the harbor to bottle up the Spanish fleet, the REINA MERCEDES was involved in the bombardment of the American vessel.

On the June 6, 1898 bombardment of Santiago, the REINA MERCEDES received thirty-five hits, though protected by the hills near the harbor entrance. Two of the shells started fires, including a particularly bad fire in the forward paint locker. While directing the fire fighting actions, Commander Emilio Acosta y Eyermann was hit by a shell which took off his right leg at the hip and his right hand, horribly mutilating him. He said "This is nothing.....Viva Espana!" before he died. Acosta y Eyermann became the first Spanish Naval officer to die in the War.

Later, with the loss of the Spanish Fleet, and the removal of six Bustamente torpedos which were protecting the harbor entrance to permit the attempted escape of the fleet, the approach to Santiago was considered to be underprotected. To block the harbor, the order was given to sink the cruiser REINA MERCEDES across the channel.

Quickly, the ship was readied for its mission. At 8:00 pm on July 5, she made her attempt, with her commander, Ensign Nardiz, several engineers and sailors, and Pilots Apolonio Nunez and Miguel Lopez serving as a crew. Her bow anchors and the stern spring cable were made ready to anchor the ship in the proper location.

About Midnight, on July 5, 1898, the REINA MERCEDES was spotted in the searchlight of the USS MASSACHUSETTS as it was coming out of Santiago Harbor. The USS MASSACHUSETTS and the USS TEXAS opened a continuous fire on her. The vessel sunk, however it is not clear if she was scuttled or sunk by the fire from the American vessels. Regardless, she sunk in the location selected, however, a projectile cut the spring on the stern spring cable, and the ship drifted. As a result, the ship was sunk on the edge of the channel and did not block it.

Reina Mercedes in drydock being repairedThe Spanish were of the impression that the ship was too badly damaged for the Americans to refloat and reuse the vessel, and had considered it a minor victory in that they had kept the projectile-ridden vessel from falling into American hands. However, efforts to raise the vessel began on January 2, 1899, and were completed by March 1. She was towed to Norfolk Navy Yard, and then to Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, arriving there on August 25, 1900 for refitting.

Efforts to make the vessel into a training ship failed, and the REINA MERCEDES became a non-selfpropelled receiving ship. She was towed to Newport, R.I. in 1905 where she was placed near the USS CONSTELLATION. She remained there until 1912, except for a visit to Boston and New York in 1908. In 1912, the vessel was towed to Norfolk Navy Yard, and overhauled for use as a station ship at Annapolis, where she remained until being struck from the Navy rolls in 1957. At Annapolis, she was designated the IX-25. When the Spanish battleship ALFONSO XIII visited Annapolis in 1920, the REINA MERCEDES again flew the Spanish flag as a gesture of friendship. Until 1940, midshipmen were punished by having to live aboard the vessel for up to two months at a time, though she never was actually used as a brig. After 1940, she served as living quaters for enlisted men assigned to Naval Academy, and for the Commander of the Naval Station. The Commander was provided with quarters for his entire family, so the REINA MERCEDES was the only U.S. vessel on which dependents were permitted to live.

The vessel left Annapolis only for refitting in 1916, 1927, 1932, 1939, and 1951. She was again sent for refitting in 1957, but the costs were considered to be too high to warrant the completion of the work. The REINA MERCEDES was decommissioned on November 6, 1957 and sold to the Boston Metals Co., on Baltmore, MD for scrapping.

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES:

The REINA MERCEDES was unable to leave Santiago because of the condition of her boilers. She appears to have been a very slow vessel. Four of her six 16 cm guns had been removed to the fortifications.

TECHNOTES:

Classification: Unprotected Cruiser (U.S. designation IX-25)
Launched: September 12, 1887
Rig: Three masts, two fully rigged, one schooner rigged.
Armament: Six 16 cm (6.3 inch) Hontoria guns, four of which had been
removed and used in the defenses of Santiago Harbor.
2 guns of approximately 7 to 10 cm
10 rapid fire guns
Whitehead Torpedos
Length: 280 feet
Beam: 43 feet, 3 inches
Mean draft: 21 feet, 11 inches
Displacement: 2,835 tons
Speed: 9 knots
Armor: None

Bibliography:
 

(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)

Blow, Michael, A Ship to Remember , (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992).

Clerk of Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899. Vols. 2, 4.

Iborra Abargues, Federico (provided image of sunken REINA MERCEDES).

Jane, Fred D., Janes All the World's Fighting Ships, 1898, New York: Arco Publishing Co., Inc, 1969.

Jeffers, H. Paul, Colonel Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Goes to War, 1897-1898. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996).

Naval History Department, Navy Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships., (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1959).


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