Thursday, April 24, 2008

The naval battle of Santiago Cuba 1898 in 1/1000 scale

During the Spanish American War of 1898, there came a time when the U.S. forces were besieging the Cuban city of Santiago by land and at sea. A Spanish Squadron under the command of Admiral Cervera was anchored in the Santiago harbor. Admiral Cervera was ordered by Spain to make a breakout attempt as soon as possible, lest the four Armored Cruisers and two Torpedo Boat Destroyers were captured by the Americans. The Admiral knew a powerful American force of several Battleships and Armored Cruisers awaited him. He also knew that it was almost suicide to try. But in 1898, Honor and Dignity, held special meaning to the combatants and Admiral Cervera would do what could be done to save his fleet.
On a Sunday morning, July 3rd 1898, the Spanish Squadron consisting of Armored Cruisers: Infanta Maria Teresa, Cristobal Colon, Viscaya and Almirante Oquendo, along with Torpedo Boat Destroyers Pluton and Furor, steamed out of the Santiago Harbor and into the guns of the American fleet.
The Americans had four battleships (Oregon, Iowa, Indiana and Texas) present, as well as two Amored Cruisers (New York and Brooklyn) and two Armed Yachts, Gloucester and Vixen.

The American Navy had been humiliated by the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana harbour, which we now know was accidental. They did not know it then and all blame landed on Spain. the American Navy was out for Spanish blood and to show the world and US population that they were ready for the world stage.
On April 21st 2008, I and a few friends attempted to recreate this battle using 1/1000 scale ships. The rules are from the Age of Iron ruleset and titled Age of the Dreadnought.
The ships are "Houston Ships" brand.
We played at The Arena game store in Eldersburg, the following photos will tell the story of our battle off the shores of Cuba.
The American ships lie in wait off the harbor entrance. In the foregrouund is the Armored Cruiser Brooklyn, followed by the older Battleship Texas and then the Iowa, Oregon and Indiana (not sure which of the three last ships is which at this point).

In the next picture, the Spanish Squadron led by the Flagship, Infanta Maria Teresa steam out of Santiago harbor, flags proudly flying, all hands at their stations

If you notice the fort on the hill, overlooking the entrance to Santiago harbor, that came from a visit by me to the life size version in Old San Juan Puerto Rico in April 2006. The name of the fort is Il Moro and it's a great place to visit. Being a wargamer, I just had to buy that miniature fort for future use and so it came to be.
A closer view of the fort as the Almirante Oquendo and two torpdeo boats sail by.

Pictures by Indy and myself.

Spanish Admiral Cervera gave a moving speech to his crews, before they went on their final cruise. I am including a copy of it here.
"Crewmen of my Squadron!
"The solemn moment of fighting has come. The sacred name of Spain and the glorious honor of her flag so demands. I want you to assist me in this rendezvous with the enemy dressed in our full-dress uniforms.
"I know my order has surprised you because of its inadequacy but its the uniform which Spanish sailors dress in the great solemnities and I do not believe that there is a more solemn time that that when a soldier is going to die for his fatherland.
"The enemy covets our old and glorious hulls. They have sent the whole power of their young navy against us so as to achieve this goal, but they will be only able to take the splinters of our ships, and they will only be able to take our sabers from us when, as corpses, we remain floating in this waters which belonged and belongs to Spain. My sons, the enemy is superior to us in strength but they are not in courage. Hoist the flag and surrender no ship. Crewmen of my squadron, up with Spain! "

Lets take a minute to meet our modern day commanders.
Our Admiral Sampson (Overall American fleet commander) was Dick Caldwell.
Mark Kochte (Indy) was Commodore Schley. The following picture shows them each studying up on their ships capabilities. Indy is the one wearing the black vest.Admiral Cervera was Les Mansir; here's a photo of Les, going over his ship stats.

As the Spanish ships come out, the lead ship Infanta Maria Teresa, fires it's forward main gun at the American ships. Golf tees serve as shell splashes. (a great idea by Dick Caldwell) The Spanish Armored Cruisers main armament consisted of a single turret fore and aft with a single 11" gun.

The Americans respond in kind with a few more shell splashes. 12" and 13" guns on the Battleships, 8" main guns on the Cruisers.

I do want to take this time to thank two internet sites, that really had great information.

The first was at
This site has all the info about this battle and the rest of the Spanish American War, you could want. I recommend it highly.
Another site is a wargaming site and where I was able to ask questions and get feedback from fellow gamers world wide, when putting this together;
I made the Ships Stat sheets in Power Point, with ideas from the Space Combat game "Full Thrust" and Indy. Each Ship Status sheet had the Game stats, plus real stats of a ship, plus an actual photo of that particular ship. Here are photos of the USS New York (on the left) and Spanish Armored Cruiser Viscaya (on the right) as an example.

Besides recreating the battle, I also slipped in some real issues faced by the commanders at the time. In 1898, the Americans were not exactly ready for a Spanish breakout at that time and so many of their ships had to build up steam first, and then speed. In game terms, I made the American ships have to go a couple of turns before they could be at full speed. Also, Admiral Sampson and the Cruiser New York were some miles away from the mouth of Santiago harbor when the Spanish came out. I placed the miniature New York off the table to the American right and it would be several turns before that ship could get there, so Dick was temporarily a Captain of an American battleship and taking Squadron Commands from Commodore Schley (Indy).
Another even that took place, in the very early stages of the American pursuit of the Spanish back in 1898 was that the Brooklyn, with Commdore Schley on the bridge, turned to Starboard instead of Port and this nearly caused a collision between the Brooklyn and Texas. I tasked Indy with making that happen in 1/1000 scale. The picture below shows the "Turn Template" of the Brooklyn seemingly aiming at the Texas.

Indy's a good helmsman and the two ships just missed each other. In real life, the Texas had to do an emergency reverse to avoid a collision. On the bridge of the Brooklyn, when the crew said to Commodore Schley, "Sir, watch out for the Texas", Schley (his blood was up) "Damn the Texas, let her watch out for herself."
The Infanta Maria Teresa takes the first hit, as the rest of the Spanish Squadron comes out to the open sea.

Looking a bit closer at some of the ships; Here's the Brooklyn, which unfortunately came to me in 2004/2005 without it's main gun turrets. Someday I'll get around to contacting the manufacturer and getting them.
Here's the Almirante Oquendo. My research shows this to be the color scheme of the Spanish navy then. This is one of the American Battleships (The Oregon). In real life, this ship sailed all the way from Puget Sound-Seattle in Washington State to Jupiter Inlet in Florida, a journey of 14,700 nautical miles and she did it in 67 days. Also remember that back then, ships burned coal and so that meant stopping and re-coaling along the way. Burning 10 tons of coal an hour for an average speed of 12 knots, the "black gang" had to keep the hungry fireboxes fed for two months, around the clock, using only shovels

The Armored Crusier New York. This was the flagship of the American fleet and Admiral Sampson was on board. He and the New York were on their way to meet up with the American General of ground forces, besieging Santiago when the Spanish came out. In real life, Admiral Sampson and the New York missed the battle. A very bitter pill for the Admiral, who had planned for this moment. My choice of US ship colors also comes from research I did which shows the American ships went to a wartime gray. I picked these colors as looking good for this time period. I think it's a craft paint; Pewter Grey.

Back in 1898, Squadron Commanders communicated orders such as formation by signal flags. The rules call for this type of communications between the flagship and ships of that squadron at the beginning of each turn. I then used powerpoint to come up with "Squadron Command" sheets, that Indy, Dick or Les could put down to communicate their orders to the other ships. Again, I went to the internet and The Miniatures Page for some ideas. Here's a view of some of those sheets. It added a fun factor to the game, as you had to roll dice to see if all ships understood the orders.

I think I will close and publish this post for now and come back to tell the rest of the story next week. Here's some final photos of the Spanish ships making their way out of the harbor and the poor little Pluton getting rocked by near misses.
enjoy; mr. Joe


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Ed said...

I'd like to get in contact with you concerning the research you did on ship colors. I am painting fleets for the Spanish American War in 1/2400 scale and looking for sources for the ship color schemes.

Thank you,