The Betrayed Hero Who Risked His Life To Save the Infirm Spanish Empire

Pascual Cervera and Topete fought so that their fleet, inferior to the American, would not fight in the vicinity of Santiago de Cuba. From Madrid, however, he was ordered out of port security. As he himself predicted, his armada was destroyed.

A few hours after the mayor of Barcelona branded this character “facha”, his great-grandson reveals the details of the character and responds to politics: “Colau should study the history books”.

Endowments of my squad. The solemn moment has arrived to launch into the fight. This is what the sacred name of Spain and the honour of its glorious flag require. ” With these sad words, in July of 1898, Pascual Cervera y Topete was thrown into the jaws of the US fleet. A contingent superior to the battered red royal vessels and that, for days, encircled his armada in the vicinity of the port of Santiago de Cuba.

The admiral was heading towards destruction. And I knew it. However, he obeyed the orders arrived from the government of Madrid even though he had never appreciated the policy.

Admiral Cervera was the victim of a nonsense but agreed to fight knowing that it meant the destruction of his army. He did it for Spain, as he himself said: “My children, the enemy surpasses us in strength, but does not equal us in value. Nail the flag and not a single prisoner ship. An endowment of my squad: Long live Spain! Combat and fight for the Lord to welcome our souls


Unfortunately, his loyalty to the government has not earned him the respect of the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau. And it is that during the act in which the passage was renamed that carried the name of this soldier in the Ciudad Condal as ” Pepe Rubianes “, the policy indicated that the comedian would have liked them to remove the name of said street ” to a ‘facha’.

«This lady has made the statements with the intention of insulting, dividing the population and hurting people. I should review the history and know that it is impossible that Cervera militated in those factions that he has named. It’s a matter of dates. The ideology to which she refers was invented in the 1920s by the Italians, “explains the great-grandson of the admiral, Guillermo Cervera.

Contrary to politics

Cervera was born on February 18, 1839, in Medina Sidonia (Cádiz). Son of a soldier who confronted Napoleon, from his earliest childhood he proved to be a great interested in the sea. In fact, when he was barely 13 years old, he joined the Naval College. At that time, when Spain still hoarded territories in half the world, our protagonist visited on the back of several ships Havana or the Philippines.

Later, he returned to the Peninsula in 1865, shortly before Isabel II was dethroned. In 1876, as revealed by Ángel Luis Cervera Fantoni, Manuel Cervera Fantoni and Wayne A. Lydick in ” BiographicalAppointments of Admiral Cervera “, he was named first Governor of the Joló archipelago. Although he returned again when he was called to Madrid by the reinstated monarchy.

It was then that he began to observe his reticence towards politics. «Cánovas asked Cervera to accept a destination in the Ministry of the Navy in Madrid. However, he was not comfortable with the idea of staying in Madrid, given that his vocation as a man of the sea was on board ships, and not on land, “the authors add in their dossier. After serving as a Marine Military Commander in Cartagena, the Queen again urged him to accept a position of responsibility. The petition that was accompanied by being promoted (again) to the Minister of the Navy.

How did the future admiral respond? Refusing bluntly: “It is not convenient for any Government to have me as a Minister […], as a modest Navy Officer I think it could be of more value, sending squads, Naval Departments or any other destination that has no political character.”

However, the monarch was convinced that Cervera should be his minister, and he requested it so vehemently that the officer was forced to accept. But his political adventure was short-lived. Specifically, three months. “His free and independent nature did not allow him to continue with a function for which, according to his own words,” had not been prepared “, added the experts.

Excessive interest

However, his life took a turn on February 15, 1898, when, in the middle of the night, the American ship ” Maine ” -who had arrived on the Cuban coasts on a peace mission, but without warning and with some other More cannon – flew through the air.

Without a word, the Americans blamed the event on the Spaniards and declared war on the Peninsula. Although later it was shown that everything had been an unfortunate accident (or a working assembly), the United States came to this catastrophe as a ring, because thanks to it he was able to initiate hostilities and prepare his men to take the Spanish colonies.

Already without half measures and with the knife between the teeth, the moment had arrived for them to take control of new states to bargain price.

Immediately, the eyes of the United States eager to get the territories that could barely maintain the limping Spanish empire settled on Cuba. The Yankees, who had already tried to seize the region in exchange for 100 million pesos previously, rose up in arms aupados by the press amarillista (the mythical William Randolph Hearst ) and, even, by a presumably objective newspapers (those of Joseph Pulitzer ) that, seeing that they lost a huge amount of money to their competitors, they also bet on claiming against Spain.

The plan, to the disgrace of Spain and Cervera, had been plotting for years. After all, the United States ambassador to Spain had come to affirm that the only banner that could bring peace to Cuba was that of stars and stripes: “A single power and a single flag can ensure and impose peace in Cuba. That power is the United States and that flag is our flag. ”

Of the same opinion are Carlos Canales and Miguel del Rey in ” Brief History of the War of the 98 “: “The American interest in Cuba had already become patent at the beginning of the XIX century […] and it became something already explicit when, On April 28, 1823 […] the American ambassador in Madrid presented for the first time to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Evaristo Fernández de San Miguel, a note in which he referred to the annexation of Cuba as indispensable.

Recreation of the naval battle of Santiago de Cuba

Disaster announced

To Cervera, admiral and general commander of one of the most powerful fleets in Spain, the war did not take him by surprise. In fact, since he took possession of his cargo as captain of the ships on October 20, 1897, he endeavoured to fine-tune some men who had not participated in a military exercise since … 1884!

Unfortunately, the conclusions he obtained from these practices were not very promising and corroborated his deepest fears. “The platforms of the servomotors offered very little resistance; the closures of the 14-centimeter guns, which were the main batteries of the three cruisers, were unsafe or even dangerous; the ammunition caps were of poor quality, did not fit well into the guns and were unsafe to shoot; and the pipe of the condensers was defective, “Canales y del Rey added.

Old ships, vessels that lacked the main artillery pieces due to problems of defaults, ships with extremely dirty funds (which caused them to spend a huge amount of coal and reduced their speed) … All this is what he found the soldier when he was given command of the fleet that should leave for the no longer so New World in anticipation of the war that began with the sinking of the ” Maine .”

On the contrary, and in spite of what the reports of the time in the Peninsula explained, the Americans counted on one of the most powerful armies of the time due to the great war effort that they had carried out as of the year 81. The amount (and quality) of the North American vessels, as General José Cervera Pery explains in ” The impossible mission of Admiral Cervera! “It was immensely superior to ours:” The US Navy at that time had five battleships, six monitors, three armoured cruisers, fifteen protected cruisers, sixteen gunships twenty-four torpedo boats. ”

Although Cervera tried to make his superiors understand the foolishness of facing the US fleet, in April 1897 (when the “Maine” had not yet appeared on the scene) he was ordered to leave in a hurry until the Americas.

Towards catastrophe

Later (when he was in Cape Verde and after the explosion of the “Maine”), Cervera was entrusted with the task of travelling to Puerto Rico, where an attack by the men of the stars and stars was expected. The admiral repeatedly demonstrated his disagreement, as well as that of his entire crew, at that decision. And it is that I knew that it meant the destruction of the Spanish army.

However, when he was informed that he should go there, he simply complied with the orders on behalf of Spain in a message sent on April 22:

«I received an encrypted telegram with the order to continue for Puerto Rico despite persisting in my opinion, which is the general opinion of the ship’s commanders; I will do everything I can to fan the exit, rejecting responsibility for the consequences. We thank you Nation, whose prosperity is our only wish, and on behalf of all, I express our deep love for the Homeland ».

All in all, he did it by shouting. And it is that he again insisted on a letter dated that same day in the precariousness of his ships:

“The” Columbus “does not have his thick guns, and I asked the bad ones, if there were no others; the ammunition of 14 centimeters is bad, less about 300 shots; the defective cannons of the ” Vizcaya ” and the ” Oquendo ” have not been changed ; there is no way to recharge the “Colón” casings; we do not have a torpedo; there is no order or concert that I have so much desired and proposed in vain; the consolidation of the servomotor of these ships has only been done in the ” Teresa ” and the ” Vizcaya ” when they have been outside of Spain; in short, this is a disaster already, and it is to be feared that it will be terrifying soon. ”

Hard choice

Finally, Cervera decided to travel with his fleet to Santiago de Cuba because, according to the reports he had, this port was free of American ships. The admiral entered with his squadron in the region on May 19, 1898.

His idea, controversial to many, was praised by the captain and historian of the time Alfred Mahan. In fact, this expert pointed out that, “having chosen another port”, the Americans would have benefited greatly from “being able to concentrate even more”. In his words, if the official had opted for another location, the benefits would have been much greater for the ships of the stars and stripes.

However, the Admiral’s fears became palpable at the end of May, when the North American squadron under William Thomas Sampson blocked the port of Santiago de Cuba with a dozen ships. From then on the discord between Cervera and the government of Madrid was unleashed. A confrontation that ended when the admiral was subordinated to Captain-General Blanco, who assumed – in the words of Cervera Pery – the sole command of the military forces of land and sea after they requested it from the capital.

But neither the new command reassured the situation between Cervera and the government. And, while the first advocated staying safe from the port and submarine mines located in the bay, Peninsular politicians preferred that the squadron out of port gave as many guns to the enemy, and try to find a new port to rest. Canales and Del Rey affirm in their work that these discussions continued until the beginning of July 1898.

However, it was from July 2 when, in his words, “the attitudes of the Government of Sagasta in Madrid and of General Blanco, Captain General of Cuba, which had not ceased to be surprising during what was taking place in conflict, they returned from manifest ineptitude. ”

They do not lack a reason since, after weeks deciding what the hell to do, at the beginning of the month the Admiral’s computer will put him under arrest and throw himself face to face with the enemy:

“Seen enemy progress despite heroic defence garrison and according to the opinion of the Government of SM re-embark VE crews and taking advantage of the most immediate opportunity leave with all the ships of that squadron, giving free to continue to defeat it deems appropriate.”

The battle

On the morning of July 3, after ignoring some of his officers’ plans, Cervera set out to leave Santiago de Cuba to battle the enemy. And he did, giving before a brief speech able to enrage any scary fighter:

«Endowments of my squadron: The solemn moment has arrived to throw itself to the fight. This is what the sacred name of Spain demands and the honour of its glorious flag …

… I wanted you to attend with me this appointment with the enemy wearing the dress uniform. I know that you miss this order because it is improper in combat, but it is the clothes that the sailors of Spain wear on great solemnities, and I do not think there is a more solemn moment in the life of a soldier than the one who dies for the Fatherland. ..

… The enemy covets our old and glorious helmets. For this, he has sent all the power of his young squad. But only the splinters of our ships can take, and can only snatch our weapons when, corpses, we float on these waters, which have been and are from Spain …

… My children, the enemy surpasses us in strengths, but it does not equal us in value. Nail the flag and not a single prisoner ship. The endowment of my squad: Long live Spain! Combat and fight for the Lord to welcome our souls ».

In an attempt to attract fire against him, and thus allow the rest of the fleet to flee, Cervera directed the ship in which he himself hoisted the flag (the ” Infanta Maria Teresa “) against the American insignia, the ” Brooklyn “. The plan worked well for him. And is that, although he managed to get his direct enemy and another American vessel (the “ Iowa “) to haul him several shots the attack caused a fire in the ship of the Spanish that forced him to turn and run aground. There, the survivors (among them, our protagonist) were taken to one of the ships of the stars and stripes.

From that moment, the disaster hovered over the Spanish army. The red-coloured ships, which had orders to try to flee along the coast, fell one after the other.

The ” Vizcaya “, the second to leave Santiago de Cuba, ran after receiving a huge amount of shots by the enemies. The third (the ” Columbus “) managed to outwit the enemies thanks to his speed. But, to his disgrace, he ended up imprisoned after the quality coal they had in the cellars was finished and the machinists had to change it for another one (which slowed him down).

“The” Texas “tried to take it in tow without realizing that the crew had begun to flood it before abandoning it, the ship turned around and sank”, the Spanish authors complete. The next one was the ” Oquendo “, which ended up also stranded.

The last to leave the safety of the port was the ” Furor “, which sank after receiving many impacts, and the ” Pluto “. «The” Pluto “did not fare any better. Launched at full speed against the enemy, firing his guns, he was stopped by a curtain of fire. One of the impacts exploded the machines and the ammunition store and the ship sank, “ends Canales and Del Rey in his work. The result was the expected: more than 250 killed by our side, and only 1 by the American.

Guillermo Cervera, Admiral Cervera’s great-grandson: “He obeyed the order given to him”

– What do you think about Colau’s statements?

That this lady has done them with the intention of insulting, dividing the population and hurting the people. I should review the history and know that it is impossible that Cervera militated in those factions that he has named. It’s a matter of dates. The ideology to which she refers was invented in the 1920s by the Italians.

– Was it, in any case, conservative?

Some of the politics took part, although little. He was a minister in a government of Sagasta. Of the two parties then in alternation, he was therefore heeled towards the most progressive. It was not conservative. But he did not speak directly about politics.

-What was your objective in Santiago de Cuba?

His idea was that as many ships as possible could escape to the western part of the island. He was willing to sacrifice himself to achieve it. Although in the end survived the combat. But in the end, he carried out his plan: launching himself against the bulk of the American battleships so that his companions fled, licking the coast. The problem is that the boats had little coal to flee and, of course, to enter a prolonged battle. In any case, the order given to all ships is not to surrender and not to be taken, prisoner.

-How did the combat develop?

The “Infanta María Teresa” came out first, and after him, the “Vizcaya”. Both fell almost at the same time. The one that more time remained in the combat was the “Pluto”, that managed to escape but that, when it began to burn bad coal, it lost speed and was captured. Of the destroyers, one exploded and another ran. The combat lasted four hours and fifteen minutes. In that time, the Americans finished

-Was it a disaster?

There were around 250 deaths of just under two thousand men. Yes, it was a total disaster. The Americans, on the other hand, had only one dead person.

-What happened with the Spanish ships after the war?

The Americans managed to refloat the “Infanta Maria Teresa” but, when they were towing, they were assaulted by a storm and the ship went down. The one that suffered the least damage, the “Colon”, initially varied, but when the Americans were going to remove it from the coast, the crew opened the valves to flood it.

Did Cervera only follow the orders?

He obeyed the order they gave him. But he was not in favour of leaving because it was a useless sacrifice. But, in the end, seeing that he was going to lose the fight, he decided to change blood for blood. If he had to die, he wanted to die by killing. The problem is that the Spaniards died without putting an expensive price on their lives. It was a disaster that he did not participate from the beginning. He always said that this was a horror and that they were going to beat him up. Spain was not ready for a war against an emerging country, with a population five times greater.


Source: ABC History