Monday, June 13, 2011

The Flying Squadron of the Spanish-American War

Credit: Wikipedia.
The Flying Squadron was the name given to a group of U.S. Navy warships that fought the Spanish fleet around Cuba during the Spanish-American War and operated in the Gulf, Atlantic and Indies. The squadron consisted of two battleships (Texas and Massachusetts), two protected cruisers (Minneapolis and Columbia, an armored cruiser (Brooklyn) and several other ships. The Squadron was commanded by Commodore Winfield Schley.

Winfield Schley

When the war began, the Flying Squadron was deployed the Caribbean with the mission to find a Spanish squadron under the command of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete and after a game of cat and mouse and horrible intelligence gathering and reporting, the Spanish ships were eventually located in Santiago de Cuba. I cannot overstate the clusterflop that the Navy, Admiral William Sampson and the commander of the Flying Squadron, Commodore Winfield Schley made of this operation, especially after the Cervera made it to port in Santiago de Cuba. They would get intelligence reports of the latter's whereabouts and not do anything and Schley basically ignored all reports that Cervera was at Santiago.

Pascual Cervera y Topete

Eventually Schley's ships found the Spanish and blockaded the harbor, then Sampson showed up with a three ship reinforcements and they tried to block the mouth of the harbor by sinking and ship and that didn't work and in the end, the Flying Squadron was disbanded and Schley was nominally put in charge of the Second Atlantic Squadron that the Navy was putting together to raid the coast of Spain; the latter had a fleet heading to the Philippines to attack an American fleet and this was their best idea at drawing those ships back home. Shortly after that, the Battle of Santiago de Cuba was fought by the now former Flying Squadron and Cervera's ships were utterly manhandled.

William T. Sampson

Schley ultimately took a lot of blame for not acting quickly or decisively enough and retired in 1901 in some shame. Sampson, meanwhile, got the credit for winning the battle, even though Schley actually commanded the fleet because a certain Rear Admiral *coughcoughSampsoncoughcough* was ashore in a meeting with Major General William Rufus Shafter to plan an attack on the city of Santiago itself. Sampson has had numerous ships and buildings and a base named after him, Schley was awarded with a promotion to Rear Admiral and nothing else. That's just wrong, man. Schley deserves the credit for winning the Battle of Santiago de Cuba because he actually commanded the squadron and while he did mess up in the hunt for Cervera's fleet, he still got the job done.

(Pictures of Shley, Cervera, and Sampson via Wikipedia)

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