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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

1888 Santiago-Guantanamo (Cuba) Cable
and the Spanish-American War

This cable sample is from one of a series of cables laid in 1888 which connected Cuba to the Dominican Republic. The full route was: Santiago de Cuba - Guantanamo, Cuba - St Nicholas Mole - Cap Haitien, Haiti - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Cable sample courtesy of Hunter Moyer

The cable was owned and operated by La Societe Française des Télégraphes Sous-Marins, manufactured by W.T. Henley of London, and laid by Henley's using CS Westmeath. The seven-strand No.18 SWG (~0.050” dia.) copper conductor is insulated with gutta percha and armoured with fourteen No.9 SWG steel wires (~0.142” dia.).

Guantanamo Cable Station

The cables connecting Cuba to the rest of the world were cut and diverted by the United States Volunteer Signal Corps during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The Santiago-Guantanamo section was cut by the Signal Corps using the Adria, a ship chartered in the USA and equipped as a cable ship for the purpose of establishing communications between Key West, Florida, and the base of operations of the US Army in Cuba. This section of cable was later repaired and diverted to provide communications with Washington.

The following articles describe the political and practical steps taken in cutting the Cuban cables.

First is the report of Colonel James Allen of the US Volunteer Signal Corps on his operations at Cuba, extracted from the 1899 report to Congress of the Secretary of War. Allen's description of the difficulties encountered in equipping and using the Adria for cable work shows the extent of the still-existing British monopoly of the cable business.

Perhaps having learned from their experiences in the Spanish-American War, the US armed forces soon established their own cable laying and repair facilities.



 Ponce, Porto Rico, September 1, 1898.

Washington, D. C.

SIR: I have the honor to report that in compliance with telegraphic order, I left Governors Island, N.Y., April 23, 1898, and reported to the Major-General Commanding the Army on the 24th, and, having received his verbal instruction, proceeded the same day to Key West, Fla., where I arrived April 26, and took charge of the cable and telegraph offices.

Before leaving New York a ship had been chartered and equipped as a cable ship for the purpose of establishing communication between Key West and the base of operations of the army in Cuba, which, at that time, it was supposed would be established on the northern coast of Cuba in the vicinity of Havana.

Arrangements were made by which confidential information could be obtained from Cuba. This information, obtained from various sources, was forwarded to the Major-General Commanding or directly to the Departments interested.

On the morning of May 19 the Spanish fleet under Admiral Cervera was located at Santiago de Cuba. Its presence was at once telegraphed to the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, Washington, and reported in person to the senior naval officer at Key West.

The arrival of the Spanish fleet at Santiago having changed the plan of campaign, I was directed to proceed to that point and destroy the cables landing at Santiago and Guantanamo.

I left Key West on the S.S. Adria on the morning of May 29, tinder convoy of the U.S.S. Dolphin, arriving at Santiago on the afternoon of June 1.

Commenced dragging for the cable on the morning of June 2, being cautioned by the naval officer in command that there were “hot batteries,” having range of 5 miles, on each side of the entrance. The water at that distance from the shore being too deep to hope for success, and having instructions to keep, if possible, within the 3 mile limit, we were compelled to work within range of the guns.

Late in the afternoon a cable on direct bearing from Santiago to east end of the Island of Jamaica was hooked in 900 fathoms of water.

As we were quite near the shore and unable to move, if fired upon by the batteries or attacked by torpedo boats, the signal “Help wanted” was set just before dusk. The Dolphin, Captain Lyon, immediately responded, and gave us some men to assist in getting up the cable. The Texas, Captain Philip, also came up at once and took position between the Adria and the batteries.

About 3 o'clock a.m., June 3, the S.S. Merrimac was sunk in the entrance to the harbor.

Shortly after daylight as we were going in position to drag, the Adria was fired at from shore battery. Later in the day the Oregon and Texas were sent in to protect the Adria. They both cleared for action, moved in close to shore, and the work was continued.

June 4.—Dragged from daylight until about 1 p.m., when I went aboard the flagship to consult with the admiral. As he informed me he was going in with the entire fleet to make a demonstration and develop the batteries,no further work was done during the day.

June 5.—Spanish torpedo boats were at entrance to harbor all the morning. About 2 p.m. one of them came out so far that Captain Philip of the Texas came to our relief. The torpedo boats withdrew and work was continued under the protection of the Texas. Caught a cable about 6 p.m. in 1,044 fathoms of water. Captain Philip sent a detail of sailors to assist, and about 9 p.m. the bight was brought on board and about 20 feet cut out and the ends dropped overboard.

June 6.—The bombardment of the batteries begun by the fleet about 7 a.m. and no work was done during the day. During this bombardment a number of shells came over the Adria, with the unfortunate result that the next morning the crew refused to do further work, on the ground that the Adria was a neutral ship and that their Government would not protect them in cutting international cables.

June 8.—Started for Mole St. Nicholas at 11 p.m. on the U.S.S. Yankee, Captain Brownson, with dispatches for the Major-General Commanding and to arrange with French Cable Company for instruments to open an office at Guantanamo.
Returned to Santiago June 10.

June 11.—Started for Mole St. Nicholas on U.S.S. St. Louis, Captain Goodrich. The Adria was convoyed to Guantanamo. Returned to Guantanamo with cable instruments June 13, and immediately began the work of repairing cables at that point which had been cut by the St. Louis. Opened communication with Washington from the ship on the night of June 20, and reported arrival of General Shafter's army.

Established office on shore June 21.

June 22.—Commenced repairs on Guantanamo-Santiago section, which were completed at 1 a.m., June 25. Started at once for Daiquiri and reported to General Shafter that communication had been established with Washington. As the western landing of this cable at Aguadores was in possession of the Spanish, it was cut at sea outside of Siboney, spliced to the cable in the ship's tanks, and landed at Siboney, the landing place of the troops. This was completed June 29. A supply of specially constructed and insulated wire had previously been forwarded from the Adria to Major Greene and lines constructed by him to the front. Additional supplies of wire, with long-distance telephones, were at once moved forward to him at the front to enable him to complete his system of wires. The landing of the cable completed direct electrical communication between the headquarters of the army in front of Santiago and the headquarters of the Army in Washington. There being some complications regarding the use of the Guantanamo-Siboney section of the French Company's cable, an American cable was laid from Guantanamo to Daiquiri and connected with the land lines from Daiquiri to Siboney, which had been constructed by Major Maxfield. This work was completed July 15, giving two independent lines from Guantanamo to Daiquiri, Siboney, and General Shafter's headquarters.

From the very inception of the enterprise the want of means for its execution was apparent. There was no cable ship under the American flag, and efforts to procure a suitable foreign ship were unavailing. The stock of available deep-sea cable in the United States was limited to small amounts held by different companies for repairs, and the cable factories were all working to their full capacity on orders already given by the War Department. The Western Union Telegraph Company had at Key West a set of machinery suitable for the work, which was placed at the disposal of the Department. A ship was immediately chartered with a view of sending her to Key West and completing her equipment there, but on returning to the Western Union office, after an absence of an hour, it was found that the Secretary of the Navy desired the immediate use of this machinery, and, as he had a ship at Key West on which the installation could be made at once, all claims of the War Department were instantly released.

I was, through the Western Union Company, put in communication with President Scrymser of the Mexican Telegraph Company, who placed at the disposal of the Department all the machinery, etc., of that company, which was installed on the Adria under the direction of Mr. Robertson, of the Mexican Company. The ship was sent to Boston and there took 24 miles of deep sea cable, furnished by the Western Union Company, then returned to New York, took on 29 miles of intermediate type cable and 50 miles insulated, but unarmored, wire, also telephones, telegraph instruments, and supplies for land lines and proceeded to Key West.

All arrangements were completed on the morning of the 28th of May for sailing at dark that evening for Santiago under convoy of the U.S.S. Nashville. About noon the captain of the Adria informed me that owing to the hazardous nature of the work to be undertaken he declined to go. However, after arrangements had been made to have another captain sent out he decided to continue in charge of the ship. I had informed Commodore Remey that I would not be able to sail at the hour agreed upon owing to the action of the captain of the ship, and, as the Nashville was needed on the blockade, he did not feel justified in holding her. He, however, after the adjustment of the trouble with the Adria, ordered the Dolphin to be made ready to sail the next morning. About 5 p.m. Captain Hellings, who had engaged a competent crew of cable hands to accompany the expedition, informed me that they all declined to go. The Chief Signal Officer immediately procured an order directing the detail of 10 volunteers from the artillery garrison at Key West Barracks. The order was received at 11 p.m., and the men reported to me at daylight the next morning, and the Adria proceeded to sea under convoy of the Dolphin, Captain Lyon, and reached Santiago June 1.

The first cable was hooked on the afternoon of June 2, in 900 fathoms of water. The weakness of the machinery and the helplessness of the crew were at once manifest. The machinery was designed for cables in from 60 to 100 fathoms of water. Of the cable crew only one man had ever been to sea before, and none of the men had ever seen a cable. The work of raising the cable proceeded slowly and irregularly, and when near the surface either broke or slipped off the grapple.

The bottom of the sea off the coast of Cuba is extremely uneven, changing abruptly from 100 to 700 and 800 fathoms. This necessitated the continual paying out and taking in of the grappling rope. The grapple frequently caught on rocks, when the entire rope had to be taken in and coiled in the hold and again paid out, a work of two or three hours.

Three days were thus occupied before another cable was caught in 1,044 fathoms. Straining the machinery to its utmost, and with the assistance of a detail of sailors from the Texas, it required more than three hours to bring the bight on board.

The work of repairing the cable at Guantanamo and Siboney and the laying of the new cable from Guantanamo to Daiquiri was but a repetition of the slow and uncertain work of grappling, of delays incident to the conditions encountered. When the work was completed on July 15 the entire resources of the Adria were exhausted. Every grapple was broken, all of the 2,000 feet of grappling rope was worn out or lost, and every mile of cable expended. Twenty miles of the insulated wire had been landed for use in constructing land lines, together with supply of telephones for working them. Ample means of communication had been established between all points in Cuba occupied by our troops and between Cuba and the United States.

I especially recommend for brevet of major Capt. Martin L. Hellings, United States Volunteer Signal Corps, to whose experience and skill and untiring energy, under dangerous and difficult circumstances, was largely due the success of the undertaking.

The valuable assistance and devotion to duty, under the same circumstances, of Lieut. Victor Shepperd and Lieut. F.M. Jones should not go unrewarded. I recommend that they be appointed second lieutenants in the regular establishment.

Lieut. Walter L. Clarke, United States Volunteer Signal Corps, under whose direction the Adria was fitted out, rendered services of the highest value, and I especially recommend him for appointment as second lieutenant in the regular establishment.

Mr. E.H. Strickland, an expert operator of the Western Union Telegraph Company, is entitled to great praise for valuable services rendered at Key West and during the entire expedition.

Acknowledgments for services rendered at critical times are due to Col. Charles S. Diehl, of the Associated Press; to Mr. Frank B. Richards and Mr. Willis J. Chamberlin, of the New York Sun ; to Mr. Ernest K. Coulter, of the New York Herald, and to Mr. Henry B. Chamberlain, of the Chicago Record.

July 16.—Went alongside the Yale and reported to the Major General Commanding.

July 18.—Transferred signal material from the Adria to the S.S. Comanche and sailed July 21 for Porto Rico.

[The section of the Report dealing with operations in Porto Rico from July 22 to September 1 is omitted here]

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel, United States Volunteer Signal Corps.

The next article is from the 1915 memoir of James A. Scrymser, whose International Ocean Telegraph Company had laid the first line from Florida to Cuba in 1867. Scrymser describes some of the politics behind the cable cutting, and provides more information on the operations of the Adria.

Personal Reminiscences


James A. Scrymser

In  Times  of  Peace  and  War


Pages 92-97

Value of American-Owned Cables to the American
Government and Necessity of Governmental

The European War has taught the nations the immense value of strategic cables. For years Great Britain, France and Germany have been diligently engaged in establishing cable communication entirely independent of each other. English, French and German Cable Companies have been heavily subsidized by their respective Governments. Complete control of cable communication is most desirable in times of peace and it is most essential in times of war, for it then guarantees to a Government a means of communication with its navy and its ministers abroad which, because of strict neutrality laws, the Government would not enjoy if forced to depend upon a foreign cable system.

For years I have been endeavoring to impress upon the United States Government the vital importance of such control. Its importance was many times exemplified in our war with Spain.

The Mexican Telegraph Company and the Central and South American Telegraph Company, comprising altogether a system of nearly seventeen thousand miles and connecting Washington, telegraphically, with Mexico and all of the Central and South American Republics, have given to the Government, gratuitously, an all-American cable system, the value of which is inestimable.

I say “gratuitously,” for the United States Government has never contributed one cent to the establishment of this great system to the South of us.

The origin of these two Companies has already been alluded to, but it is an interesting fact worth recording that they grew out of a monopoly which was granted by the United States Congress in 1865 to the International Ocean Telegraph Company. Little was it dreamed at that time that the sole right for 14 years then granted was destined to be the foundation stone of an all-American cable system with Mexico, Central and South America.

Although neither Company has ever received a subsidy from the United States Government, I feel that here I should record my sincere appreciation of the assistance which we have received, diplomatically, from the following Secretaries of State, viz., William H. Seward, Thomas F. Bayard, James G. Blaine, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, John Hay, Elihu Root, Philander C. Knox and William Jennings Bryan, and from the present Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Lansing. All of these distinguished officials have been far-seeing enough to recognize the political and commercial value of an independent American cable communication and have ably assisted in the establishment and extension of the system.

It is regrettable, however, that other high officials of the United States Government have blindly opposed the extension of the cables of our two Companies and have been the means of withholding the governmental support to which the Companies were entitled, in their endeavor to strengthen an all-American cable system. In some quarters, in recent years, it has been considered unwise (politically) to aid “corporations” and to give them the encouragement, support and protection to which they are entitled.

It is well, occasionally, to ponder upon the fact that if it had not been for the prompt and wise action of Secretary Seward, in 1865, the present system to which I have referred (connecting United States with Mexico, Central and South America) might to-day be in foreign hands and, in case of war, our Government, if so engaged, would suffer very considerably.

Our absolute unpreparedness at the time of the war with Spain was pitiable, although our sins of omission were ultimately forgotten in the victory of the United States.

The purpose of this article is to emphasize the value of American-owned cables and a brief history of our cable troubles both in Cuba and in Manila, during the Spanish war, will not, I am sure, be amiss.

When war was declared, our Government and its officers were wholly unprepared to arrange for telegraphic communication with the island of Cuba, where, it was expected, our Army would land, at either Matanzas or Santiago. There was not a cable repair ship in the United States service, and no materials whatsoever for picking up or laying cables, were available.

After the declaration of war, in the Spring of 1898, I received a wire from Washington asking me to make an appointment for the next morning at 8 .00 o’clock with a high Government officer, who wished to see me on important official business. The appointment was made, and at the hour named the proposed conference took place. I found the high official very much excited. He told me that the Army was about to be dispatched from Florida to Santiago and that the President had no means of communicating with it when it reached there. He confided to me that the Government had thought of the possibility of using the British cable, running from Colon, on the Isthmus of Panama, to Santiago, via Jamaica, in connection with the lines of the Central and South American Telegraph Company, then running from New York to Colon, via Galveston.

“In this emergency,” said my distinguished visitor, “the Government has given me authority to purchase the British cable outright.” I listened until he had fully outlined the Government’s plans and then was obliged to point out to him the fact that inasmuch as the cable in question was a British-owned cable, it would be a distinct violation of neutrality for the United States Government to make use of it, even should the Government buy every share of the British Cable Company. “Spain,” I said, “would protest at once and the English Government must, by the rule of nations, prohibit either its purchase or its use by the American Government. And, if it were possible for our Government to purchase the said cable,” I remarked, “the cable would be of no use unless it were picked up off Santiago and landed on the coast of Cuba under cover of our guns.”

My visitor saw the truth of this contention and, in desperation, asked me if I could not solve the problem.

It so happened that at the time there was one other cable to Cuba, a subsidized French-owned cable, part of a system which bound North and South America to France. This particular section ran from New York to Santiago, via Hayti. Everybody recognized that it was a part of the French system and it seemed to be as impossible to use it as the English cable, which I have mentioned.

I was well acquainted with the history of this French-owned cable and had in my desk, at the time, a printed copy of the legal proceedings in a United States Government suit against the French Company. The policy of the United States Government, respecting the landing of foreign cables, required that reciprocal rights should be granted to American Companies and, inasmuch as the French Company held exclusive rights in the West Indies, President Cleveland had instructed the Attorney-General to bring suit to enjoin the landing of that cable on the shores of the United States. The Hon. Elihu Root represented the United States in this suit and was amazed when representatives of the Postal Telegraph Company presented an affidavit to the Court showing that ownership of the French cable, between New York and Santiago, had been transferred to an American Company. Now, this Company was a dummy, purely invented to get around the United States injunction. It was called the United States and Hayti Cable Company, and incorporated under the laws of West Virginia. All that this Company actually did was to lay about ten miles of cable from Coney Island through the inshore waters of the United States to the high seas and, yet, it solemnly submitted an affidavit which said :

That it was really the owner of the cable now being laid from New York City to Hayti; that it was the Company’s intention to control and operate such cable and all the parts thereof ; that it had no connection whatsoever with the French Cable Company; and that it was its intention to continue to own, operate and control the proposed cable.

As a result of this affidavit, the Court was forced to decide the suit in favor of the Company. Little did the “United States and Hayti Cable Company” ever dream that their affidavit was to be of distinct service to the United States Government!

I explained to the officer, with whom I was conferring, the full history of this French Company and, in response to his request for a solution of the problem which confronted Washington, I advised him that the United States Government should immediately seize the New York-Hayti-Santiago cable, and this the Government did without delay. As soon as the fact of the seizure was learned, the French Ambassador called at the State Department to protest against the seizure of “the French cable,” but when the Ambassador was shown a copy of the affidavit of his “French Company” he had nothing more to say.

With the seizure of this cable, communication with our army in Cuba was possible, provided the United States Government could obtain possession of the cable at the Cuban end. The Cuban end landed in Santiago, and Santiago was under the control of the Spanish Government. It was necessary, therefore, to pick up that end, and this was done a few miles east of Santiago. On the very day our Army landed, the cable was brought ashore and direct communication between Shafter’s headquarters and the War Department in Washington was established. The steamer “Adria” was converted into a cable ship, the cable machinery and all the necessary equipment, including buoys, tackle and testing apparatus, was supplied by the Mexican Telegraph Company, and the whole expedition was planned in its New York office. The picking up of the cable and the relaying was no easy job. Much of the work was done under fire, with soldiers for cable hands.

Lieut. Martin L. Hellings, previously the Company’s engineer for many years, personally took charge of the work. He received the rank of Lieutenant in the Signal Corps, in order that he might have authority over the soldiers and might not be interfered with. I am sure that it will be of interest if I quote some extracts from a letter received from Mr. Hellings. He says:

As the “Adria” is now nearing Tortugas, for fumigation, and the expedition, apparently, about over, I will give you a synopsis of adventures since leaving Key West, May 29th.

Owing to the nature of the work required, i.e., cutting cables under fire, I found it impossible to persuade any of my experienced cable hands to go with me, hence was supplied with ten soldiers from the First Artillery, U. S. A.

Well, after a good deal of work, I succeeded in cutting two cables near the Santiago entrance in about 900 fathoms of water, when Captain Rasmussen and his crew struck, claiming he could not risk the lives of his men or injury to his ship any longer. After losing about a week on this account, we went to Guantanamo Bay and arranged to repair the Guantanamo-Haiti and the Guantanamo-Santiago sections, which, under many trying difficulties, was accomplished in depths varying from 30 to 800 fathoms.

After this I was instructed to pick up the Guantanamo-Santiago section, just outside of its western landing place, Aguadores, which was in possession of the enemy and splice on to the cable aboard and run it in Saboney, six miles east of Aguadores, which was done. And then the order came to lay a new cable from Daiquiri to Guantanamo, which was the worst of all! But after a great deal of hard work and kinking of cable in hold, about every ten minutes, I succeeded in laying about 43 miles of cable in 108 hours. Did you ever hear of anything to beat that?

The cable connection with Cuba was of inestimable value to our Government. At one critical time, General Shafter telegraphed President McKinley that he proposed to fall back six miles in order to reach his supplies. On receipt of this telegram, the President, himself a veteran of the Civil War, realizing how such a retreat in the face of the enemy would demoralize the Army, ordered General Shafter to hold every inch of ground and not to fall back until he had orders to do so. Shortly after this the Spanish Army surrendered.

It will also be recalled that Col. Roosevelt and others cabled to Washington protesting because of the detention of the army in Cuba when, owing to sickness, it was rapidly disintegrating. The cable here again played an important part for, within a few hours, it was arranged to withdraw the Army from Cuba. Thus it was saved from serious loss through yellow fever.

This final extract, from a contemporary British history of the war, gives a good general description of the American operations on the Cuba cables, and includes a cautionary note on the security of cables around the British Isles.

The Downfall of Spain
Naval History of the Spanish-American War

by H.W. Wilson

London, Sampson Low, 1900.
Pages 384-389.

On May 13 1898 the St. Louis dragged for the San Juan-St. Thomas cable, some miles east of San Juan, picked it up and cut it. On the 15th she came up with Sampson’s fleet on the coast of Hayti, and was ordered with the Wompatuck to go to Santiago and cut the cables there, and then to sever the two cables running from Jamaica to Puerto Rico. On the night of the 16-17th the two arrived off Santiago. They stood close in under the Morro, and the Wompatuck dragged for the cables. One was quickly found, but the winch raising it made so much noise that two Spanish vessels came out of the harbour. They were mistaken for torpedo boats, and Captain Goodrich of the St. Louis at once took his valuable charge out of range, whilst the Wompatuck dropped the cable. Next day about 10 a.m. the cable-cutting operations were resumed by a party from the St. Louis, who were sent on board the Wompatuck. The Spaniards fired from their old pattern rifled guns, the projectiles of which fell short, and with two howitzers, which made the cable-cutting unpleasantly warm work. The American 6- and 3-pounder guns replied without the slightest effect. [1] One cable was at last got upon the deck of the St. Louis and 100 fathoms cut away, but not before the Spaniards had obtained the range of the ships. The mortars ashore were now firing with some effect, and the cable-cutters withdrew. The severed cable was one of the two to Jamaica, or, perhaps, was only a dummy.

From Santiago the two ships proceeded to Guantanamo to cut the cable which runs thence to Hayti. The Wompatuck entered the bay, and under a heavy fire picked up the cable. She was hoisting it on deck when the little Spanish gunboat SANDOVAL appeared and opened fire, supporting the troops ashore. Captain Goodrich therefore signalled to the Wompatuck to withdraw, as the fire of the enemy was too hot for her to face, [2] and though she steamed away dragging at the cable, the grapnel seems to have slipped off without parting the cable. On the 20th she proceeded to Mole St. Nicolas, and there, just outside the marine league, grappled and cut the cable which runs thence to Guantanamo. On May 22 she was off Ponce, Puerto Rico, grappling for the cable which leads from there to Jamaica. The bottom hereabouts is very irregular and rocky, and after bending her two last grapnels she abandoned the enterprise.

On June 7 a fresh attempt was made to interrupt the Hayti cable at Guantanamo, [3] this time by the St. Louis, Marblehead, and auxiliary cruiser Yankee. The two latter vessels bombarded a small blockhouse near Caimanera, inside Guantanamo Bay, whilst the St. Louis grappled the cable, discovered it, severed it and buoyed it. On June 11 the Adria cut the loop of the Santiago-Guantanamo cable about two miles south of the Santiago Morro. Grappling was then carried on to get hold of the two Jamaica-Santiago lines, the last remaining means of communication with the outside world. But after a whole month’s work the Adria, though equipped with special appliances, did not succeed in severing a single live cable. Several dummy cables had been laid by the Spanish authorities [4] near the coast, and these caused a good deal of trouble. On June 21, at last, the St. Louis grappled one of the Jamaica-Santiago lines and cut it. Probably it was the same cable which she had already severed on May 18, as communications between Santiago and Madrid were still uninterrupted. On July 10 the Wompatuck dragged for the Santa Cruz-Manzanillo cable, and after three drives got hold of it and heaved it on board, when it was severed, and the seaward end towed out to sea, after 200 feet had been cut off it. The bottom was muddy and the work easy. On the 17th the Wilmington grappled and cut the Santa Cruz-Jucaro cable off Santa Cruz.

Several points in this warfare against cables are of interest. In the first place, the American naval authorities asserted the right to cut any cable which led from a neutral point to Spanish territory, outside the marine league from the neutral point. This is seen in the case of the cutting of the Mole St. Nicolas cable. In the second place, they warned the neutral owners of the cables that any attempt to repair such breaks would be regarded as a hostile act, [5] and they brought pressure upon the companies to cut San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico, out of the circuit, by the threat of injuring the cables. In acting thus they were probably well within their rights, but the circumstances are novel and interesting.

The usual procedure when the cable had been picked up was to cut a length of 200 to 400 feet from it, and then to drag the seaward end out to sea. This, of course, rendered repairs very difficult. The recommendation of Admiral Makarov to cut off some miles was, perhaps, found impracticable or unnecessary.

Because the Americans found it so very difficult to get hold of the cables round the Spanish islands, it has been assumed that it would be equally difficult to cut the cables which connect Great Britain with her dependencies and with the outside world. But before such a conclusion is arrived at the peculiarities of West Indian waters must be considered. “Apart from the climate,” says the Life of Sir Charles Bright, [6] when speaking of the grappling for the Puerto Rico-Jamaica cable, “fishing for a cable in the soft ooze forming the so-called ‘telegraphic plateau’ at the bottom of the North Atlantic was mere child’s play to the work entailed in recovering this line between the west end of Hayti and Holland Bay, Jamaica, where the bottom is mostly volcanic, and probably one of the roughest in the world. . . . Mr. Edward Bright does not hesitate to say—after nearly two and a half years of continuous cable work in the West Indies—that many parts of the sea bottom in these regions are, as sea precipices, worse in their constant variations in height than any part of the Swiss or Dauphin mountains. . . . The difficulty of getting hold of a broken cable in such irregular ground consists in finding a smooth patch either of ooze or gravel to plough through.” The depths are often enormous, some of the West Indian cables lying in 5000 feet of water. When dragging for a single cable in the West Indies, Sir C. Bright with the best appliances broke or bent forty grapnels and lost several grapnel ropes.[7] The circumstances in West Indian waters are therefore very exceptional, and no conclusion affecting our Atlantic cables can be drawn from what happened in this war. If Admiral Makarov can be believed, any warship can pick up cables on a smooth bottom in depths up to 1200 feet.[8] The waters surrounding the British Isles do not exceed 660 feet in depth, and steps ought certainly to be taken to give some modest protection to the shore-ends of cables, which otherwise are at the mercy of the smallest torpedo boat. Even in 1500 fathoms, says the authority already quoted, grappling a cable with special appliances in fine weather is fairly easy.[9]

[1] Neither ship carried heavier weapons.
[2] Reports, 211.
[3] The injury inflicted on the cable on May 20 appears to have been repaired.
[4] So Admiral Sampson (Reports, 213). Such foresight, however, is so unlike Spain that it would seem these were more probably abandoned or worn-out cables, which had been left at the bottom when replaced.
[5] Reports, 212.
[6] ii. 294-5.
[7] Life of Sir C. Bright, ii. 284.
[8] Notes ox Naval Progress, Washington, II. xvii. 131.
[9] Notes on Naval Progress, Washington, II. xvii. 137.

See also: Cable Cutting at Cienfuegos and Punta Rassa Cable Station and the Sinking of the USS Maine by Tim Knox

Last revised: 25 April, 2015

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