The Saga of the Sisterships ALVARADO and SANDOVAL

Spanish Gunboats

By N. V. Mitiuckov and A. A. Anca


This article recounts the careers of the Spanish gunboats ALVARADO and SANDOVAL.

The Article:

On 8 December, 1894 in New York, the representatives of the Cuban Insurgent Movement, including Jose Julian Marti, Enrique Collazo and Jose Maria Rodriques,  signed the "Plan of the Insurrection", to signify the beginning of a rebellion against the Spanish forces in Cuba. During this war, the Spanish navy had a leading role.

At this time, the Spaniards had in Cuba 4 small cruisers, 2 large and 6 small gunboats. From March to August 1895, two cruisers (REINA MERCEDES and ALFONSO XII), three small cruisers and five torpedo gunboats were transferred to Cuba.  However, these 22 vessels were still insufficient to meet the needs of the actions against the insurgents.  In particular, the Spaniards needed a greater number of small gunboats to stop the flow of arms, from the USA. Larger ships were not suitable for these functions because they had too great of a draft for the shallow water operations. At first the Spaniards used armored yachts and similar vessels, but this did not prove to be effective since the insurgents had similar vessels, and could fight the Spaniards on equal terms.  For example, one of these battles in 1897 on the river Cauto resulted in the loss of the Spanish auxiliary gunboat RELAMPAGO.

The Spaniards had to make unusual efforts for the reinforcement of its small fleet. The Spanish Government took strong measures, requiring, by September 1895, building of 25 new vessels!

In 1895 negotiations took place with the shipbuilding company of Thompson in Clydebank. (which became "Clydebank Engine and Shipbuilding Co." after 1896). For the Spanish Navy Clydebank built a total of 3 first-class gunboats and 4 second class gunboats. All of the gunboats were named for famous Spanish navigators, conquistadors, and explorers.

Two gunboats, authorized by Royal decree on 17 June 1895, were laid down on July 1895.  On 22 July they were named  ALVARADO and SANDOVAL  after explorer Cortez's associates, who took part in the conquest of Mexico: Pedro de Alvarado and Gonsalo de Sandoval.

On September 1895 both gunboats were completed.  The crew of each vessel had the following crew: 2 officers, 2 mechanics, 3 officers on deck and 26 seamen. About the end of September - early October, they had their trial runs.  The official speed was the average speed of the two gunboats was 12.20 knots on forced draft and 10.94 without forced draft.

On December 13, 1895, as part of a larger squadron, the new gunboats were transferred to Cuba.  At first, both vessels were on the north-east coast of Cuba. The ALVARADO, under the command of Teniente de Navio Arauko, was the flagship of the Spanish Navy on Nipe bay.  The  SANDOVAL, under the command of Teniente de Navio Scandella, joined the forces of Baracoa.  Along with the ALVARADO, the gunboat BARRACOA was on Nipe Bay. The SANDOVAL on Barracoa was accompanied by the  cruisers JORGE JUAN, MAGALLANES, torpedo gunboat MARTIN ALONSO PINZON and gunboats ALMENDARES, DEPENDIENTE, PIZARRO and BALBOA.

Both of the new gunboats took part in the actions against the insurgents.  The ALVARADO  had greater success.

Early in 1896, the Spanish Army began a series of strong actions against the forces of Maximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo. The Battles were very cruel and bloody.   To create a diversion, some Cuban bands attacked certain Cuban cities.  A severe attack was made against the port of Maravi. In this action, the gunboats, ALVARADO and PIZARRO, provided strong support for the Spanish troops. They fired on the insurgents and provided supplies. Without the gunboats, the Spanish army forces may have been  captured.

At the beginning of 1898,  both sister-ships were on the southeastern coast of Cuba -  ALVARADO in Santiago de Cuba and SANDOVAL in Guantanamo. In these ports they were re-equipped for use as minelayers and minesweepers.

On April 2 the Santiago Apostadero's commander gave an order to begin mining the harbor as a defensive action. At the time this order was issued, the commander of mine-defense was Teniente Arauko.

On April 21, ALVARADO completed the placing of the first line of seven mines. The operating stations of this minefield were at Estrella and Socapa. The second line of the minefield, consisting of six mines, was completed  on April 27. The operating stations for this minefield were at Cay-Smith and Socapa.

On April 25, on orders from Havana, SANDOVAL began establishing a minefield at Guantanamo.

On May 19 SANDOVAL had a minor battle against ST. LOUIS and WOMPATUCK, which were attempting to cut the telegraph cable between Guantanamo and Haiti. Unfortunately for Spain, the American efforts were successful.

On June 7, the cruisers MARBLEHEAD, ST. LOUIS and YANKEE fired at Caimanera and cut the Guantanamo – Haiti cable.  During this action SANDOVAL was forced out into the shallows of Joa bay.

On July 7, the American cruisers MARBLEHEAD and YANKEE were involved in an action at Guantanamo. During this action SANDOVAL left her port and disappeared into the shallow water in Joa bay. The ship’s defensive and offensive capabilities had been exhausted. The move to shallow water was ordered by her commander, teniente de navio Scandella as a defensive maneuver.

ALVARADO had a similar experience.  On the night from 16 to 17 of May she hampered 13 attempts to cut the Santiago-Cienfuegos cable by the crew of theUSS WOMPATUCK. The Americans were successful on their 14th attempt.

After this action, ALVARADO went to Santiago's docks for repair.  Her underwater planking was replaced. The repairs were completed in early July.   This was just in time, because Admiral Cervera's squadron was making preparations to attempt to escape from Santiago harbor.  On the night before the Naval Battle of Santiago, ALVARADO removed six mines west of Cay-Smith to open the waterway.

The actions of the gunboat could not prolong Santiago's defense, and on July 17, ALVARADO was captured in  Santiago.

By a Royal Decree on the 13th of December 1898,  both sister-ships were removed  from the Official Navy Lists.

ALVARADO was captured by the Americans on 17 of July 1898, and on the 4th  of August 1898 she was converted to an American ship with Victor Blue was in command. The ship was in good condition and was sent into action immediately. On August 12, she took part in the actions against Manzanillo. The naval group, under command of Captain Caspar F. Goodrich consisted of the cruiser NEWARK, auxiliary gunboats SUWANEE, HIST and OSCEOLA , in addition to the ALVARADO. The transport RESOLUTE was also a part of the group with 500 marines under command of Colonel Huntington.

The first plan was to attack and capture Pinos island, but the commander of  HIST, Lt. Lucien Young, suggested an attack on Mansanillo instead. The mayor of the Spanish town  refused to surrender,  and at 15:40, the  Americans began a bombardment. Inasmuch as NEWARK had a deep draft, she fired from a 5 to 6 km range, while the other vessels fired at a range of 1to 1.5 km.

At 16:15 the group stopped firing and ALVARADO was sent as a truce envoy to the Spaniards. But, on land the Spaniards didn't see the white flag on the ALVARADO and continued firing. The Americans accordingly also continued firing.  Intermittent firing took place, continuing all night.  In the morning, the Americans received news that the fighting in Cuba (and elsewhere) had ended. During the action, the American group suffered no damage. The Spanish losses were 4 military men and 2 civilians killed, with and 4 officers, 13 soldiers and 14 civilians wounded.  Sixty-five buildings were destroyed.

SANDOVAL was captured in very poor condition. After her capture, work began at Guantanamo to attempt to save the gunboat. On September 2, the hurriedly repaired SANDOVAL was towed to port by POTOMAC, where repairs were completed.  She was then formally entered into the American Navy under the command of Lt. Edwin K. Anderson.

The condition of the SANDOVAL’s hull was very poor. After some preliminary repairs,  SANDOVAL was towed by MANATI to cape Fisherman and pulled out onto land.  Here her hull was repaired, painted and prepared for transportation to the US. She was relaunched on October 1, but it was not until October 27, when her machinery was put in order, that she able to get up steam.  On November 3, she steamed out of Santiago.

Six days later, on November 9, SANDOVAL arrived in  Key-West where here sister ship, the ALVARADO was already moored.  On November 13, both ships steamed north.  On January 3, 1899 they arrived in Washington, whereSANDOVAL received final repairs. After completion of the repairs, both vessels steamed to Portsmouth, where they were decommissioned and transferred to reserve.

One year later, both vessels were transferred to Annapolis.  On September 20, 1900 ALVARADO began service as a patrol ship of the North-Atlantic station, but shortly afterward, she was given to the Naval Academy.  On October 14, SANDOVAL was also given to the Academy.

Both ships served at the Academy until 1906 when they were transferred to Norfolk. On March 22, 1906 their armament was removed. On November 16 SANDOVAL was placed at the disposal of the Naval Militia of New-York, and ALVARADO went to the Louisiana Naval Militia.

On September 1907 SANDOVAL was sent to Ontario were she was used for summer patrols on the Great Lakes.  Her longest voyage of this period was to  Chicago in  1918.
ALVARADO steamed along the Louisiana's coast. On May 21, 1911 she was taken out of service and on June 10, 1912 sold for scrap to Morgan City (Louisiana). After extensive repairs, SANDOVAL was able to continue her service for several more years. But on July 10, 1919 she was recognized as useless. On July 23 she was removed from Naval Lists. But in contrast to ALVARADO she wasn’t  scrapped.  The Vessel was sold to Charles S. Neff from Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and used as private yacht in 1924.

Click here for technical information on these gunboats:

Technotes on ALVARADO

Technotes on SANDOVAL

Archivos «Alvaro de Baz?n». El Viso del Marqu?s. Legs. n?m. 2580-6
Coello Lillo J.L., Rodriguez-Gonzalez, A.R. Buques de la Armada Espa?ola a trav?s de la fotograf?a (1849-1900). – Madrid: Servicio de Publicaciones del Ministerio de Defensa espa?ol (On printing)
Franco Castacon H. Los apostaderos y estaciones navales espa?olas en ultramar. – Madrid: Empresa Nacional Baz?n, 1998.
Muller-y-Tejeiro J.?. Srazhenie pri Santiago de Cuba i ego kapitulatsia // Morskoy Sbornik. – 1899-1900.
Rodriguez-Gonzalez A.R., Zaforteza C.A. The more complete picture of the Manzanillo battles // Warship International.
Some Spanish Warships, built at Clydebank // Warship International. – 1983. – # 4. – P. 424-425.
USS Alvarado // Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. – Vol. I. – P. 38.
USS Sandoval // Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. – Vol. VI. – P. 310.
Wilson H.W. Downfall of Spain. – London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co, 1900. – 454 p.
Voennie floty i morskaya spravochnaya knizhka na 1899 god / Pod red. H.E.M. Vel. Kniaz Alexander Mikhailovich. – S-Peterburg: Tipografia E. Goppe, 1899.
Zhilinskiy Ya. G. Ispano-Amerikanskaya voina. – S-Peterburg: Economicheskaya tipolitigrafia, 1899.

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