Admiral Cervera's Analysis and Comparison

of the

Spanish and American Navies

Survival of the Fittest Cartoon, Spanish American War
Political cartoon from he June 1, 1898 issue of Puck entitled "Survival of the Fittest."
The cartoon depicts the symbols of the U.S. and Spain as being involved in a duel as their allies look on as "seconds."

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This is a confidential letter written by Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete to Segismundo Bermejo, the chief of staff of the Spanish Navy. Cervera gives his analysis of the navies of Spain and the U.S. His analysis proved to be very accurate though his superiors took exception to it. This analysis was completed and laid out only ten days after the loss of the battleship MAINE in Havana harbor.

The Letter:


HONORED SIR: His excellency the chief of staff of the ministry sent me, with the confidential letter of the 19th instant, two reports and two statements relative to studies made with a view to a possible war with the United States. A careful examination of these documents, followed by profound reflection, has suggested to me the following considerations, which I respectfully submit to your excellency:

II we compare the Navy of the United States with our own, counting only modern vessels capable of active service, taking the data in reference to the Americans as published in the December number of the Revista General de Marina and in our general statistics of the navy, we find that the United States have the battle ships IOWA, INDIANA, MASSACHUSETTS, OREGON, and TEXAS ; the armored cruisers BROOKLYN and NEW YORK; the protected cruisers ATLANTA, MINNEAPOLIS, BALTIMORE, CHARLESTON, CHICAGO, CINCINNATI, COLUMBIA, NEWARK, SAN FRANCISCO, OLYMPIA, PHILADELPHIA, AND RALEIGH, and the rapid unprotected cruisers DETROIT, MARBLEHEAD, and MONTGOMERY. Against this we have, following the same classification, the battleships PELAYO, INFANTA MARIA TERESA, VIZCAYA, and OQUENDO, armored cruiser COLÓN, and protected cruisers CARLOS V, ALFONSO XIII, and LEPANTO; no fast unprotected cruisers; and all this, supposing the PELAYO, CARLOS V, and LEPANTO to be ready in time, and giving the desired value to the ALFONSO XIII.

I do not mention the other vessels on account of their small military value, surely inferior to that of the nine gunboats, from 1,000 to 1,600 tons each, six monitors still in service, the ram KATAHDIN, the VESUVIUS, and the torpedo boats and destroyers, which I do not count. I believe that in the present form the comparison is accurate enough. Comparing the displacements, we find that in battle ships the United States has 41,589 tons, against our 30,917 tons; in armored cruisers they have 17,471 tons against our 6,840; In protected cruisers, 51,098 against 18,887; and in fast unprotected cruisers they have 6,287 and we have none.

The total vessels good for all kinds of operations comprise 116,445 tons, against our 56,644 tons, or something less than one-half. In speed our battleships are superior to theirs, but not to their armored cruisers. In other vessels their speed is superior to ours. Comparing the artillery, and admitting that it is possible to fire every ten minutes the number of shots stated in the respective reports, and that only one-half of the pieces of less than 7.87 inch are fired, and supposing that the efficiency of each shot of the calibers 12.6, 11.8, 11, 9.84,7.87, 6.3, 5.9, 5.5, 4.7, 3.94, 2.95, 2.24, 1.65, and 1.45 inches represented by the figures 328, 270, 220, 156, 80, 41, 33, 27, 17, 10, 4, 2, and 1 which are the hundredths of the cubes of the numbers representing their calibers expressed in inches

(Caliber in inches)3


we find that the artillery power of the American battle ships is represented by 43,822, and that of ours by 29, 449; that of the American armored cruisers by 13,550, and that of ours (COLÓN) by 6,573; that of the American protected cruisers by 62,725, and that of ours by 14,600; that of the American unprotected cruisers by 12,300.

Therefore, according to these figures the offensive power of the artillery of the United States vessels will be represented by 132,397, and that of ours by 50,622, or a little less than two-fifths of the enemy's. To arrive at this appalling conclusion I have already said that it has been necessary to count the PELAYO and CARLOS V, which probably will not be ready in time; the LEPANTO, which surely will not be ready, and the ALFONSO XII, whose speed renders her of a very doubtful utility.

Now, to carry out any serious operations in a maritime war, the first thing necessary is to secure control of the sea, which can only be done by defeating the enemy's fleet, or rendering them powerless by blockading them in their military ports. Can we do this with the United States f It is evident to me that we can not. And even if God should grant us a great victory, against what may be reasonably expected, where and how would we repair the damages sustained? Undoubtedly the port would be Havana, but with what resources? I am not aware of the resources existing there, but judging by this departamento, where there is absolutely nothing of all that we may need, it is to be assumed that the same condition exists every where,and that the immediate consequences of the first great naval battle would be the enforced inaction of the greater part of our fleet for the rest of the campaign, whatever might be the result of that great con bat. In the meantime the enemy would repair its damages inside of its fine rivers, aided by its powerful industries and enormous resources.

This lack of industries and stores on our part renders it impossible to carry on an offensive campaign, which has been the subject of the two reports which his excellency the chief of staff has been kind enough to send me. These two reports constitute, in my judgment, a very thorough study of the operations considered, but the principal foundation is lacking, namely, the control of the sea, a prime necessity to their undertaking. For this reason they do not seem practicable to me, at ant rate not unless we may count upon alliances which will make our naval forces at least equal to those of the United States, to attempt by a decisive blow the attainment of such control.

If the control of the ser remains in the hands of our adversaries, they will immediately make themselves masters of any unfortified ports which they may want in the island of Cuba, counting, as they do, on the insurgents ,and will use it as a base of operations against us. The transportation of troops to Cuba would be most difficult and the success very doubtful, and the insurrection, without the check our army, which would gradually give way, and with the aid of the Americans, would rapidly increase and become formidable.

These reflections are very sad; but I believe it to be my unavoidable duty to set aside all personal considerations and loyally to represent to my country the resources which I believe to exist, so that, without illusions, it may weigh the considerations for and against, and then, through the Government of His Majesty, which is the country's legitimate organ, it may pronounce its decision. I am sure that this decision will find in all of us energetic, loyal, and decided executors, for we have but one motto: The fulfillment of duty."

Yours, etc.,


CARTAGENA, February 25, 1898.

His Excellency the MINISTER OF MARINE,


Excerpted  from:

Cervera y. Topete, Admiral Pasqual, Collection of Documents Relative to the Squadron Operations in the West Indies. (Washington: U.S. Government Printing  Office, 1899. 56.

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