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Bombardment of San Juan
Part of the Spanish-American War
American ships bombarding San Juan, 5-12-1898.jpg
The Bombardment of San Juan
Date May 12, 1898
Location San Juan, Puerto Rico,
San Juan Bay
Result U.S. victory, severe damage inflicted on Spanish defenses
Spain Kingdom of Spain United States United States
Spain General Manuel Macías y Casado US Naval Jack 45 stars.svg Rear Admiral William T. Sampson
~2,500 infantry,
unknown artillery,
1 castle,
2 forts,
1 shore battery
3 gunboats
2 battleships,
2 cruisers,
2 monitors
2 auxiliary cruisers,
1 torpedo boat,
1 collier
Casualties and losses
8 killed,
34 wounded,
1 castle damaged,
2 forts damaged,
1 battery damaged,
San Juan moderately damaged
2 killed,
3 wounded,
1 battleship lightly damaged,
1 cruiser lighlty damaged

The Bombardment of San Juan or the First Battle of San Juan on May 12, 1898 was an engagement of the Spanish-American War, between United States Navy warships and the Spanish garrison of San Juan's citadels.



Under the command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, a U.S. fleet consisting of the battleships USS Iowa, USS Indiana, the cruisers USS Mountgomery, USS Detroit, the monitors USS Amphitrite, USS Terror, the torpedo boat USS Porter, two auxiliary cruisers with unknown names and one unarmed collier, prepared to attack Puerto Rico.

Their mission was to intercept the Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete and his fleet steaming from the Cape Verde Islands to the Antilles. American commanders believed the Spanish fleet was steaming for Puerto Rico. With this understanding Sampson set steam from Havana and lifted anchor at about noon on May 2, for the Spanish colony. Sampson intended to destroy the Spanish squadron and then move on to attack San Juan's castles, forts and batteries.

Finally on May 11, a day away from Puerto Rico and after receiving no new information about the Spanish fleet, William Sampson boarded the Detroit and issued his orders. The Detroit was to lead the U.S. battle line up San Juan's bay, their orders where to initiate a bombardment of the enemy positions if fired upon. Sampson also tranferred his flag to the Iowa.


The next morning at at 5:00 am, Detroit proceeded with leading the American battle line. Steaming far up into the bay, initially no Spanish shots were fired on the approaching U.S. fleet. Which allowed the American ships to reach the tip of the bay in full view of San Juan's harbor. Commander Sampson, feeling his warships were steaming too close to the enemy held city, ordered his ships to stop. Despite these orders the Detroit steamed forward, which prompted the other U.S. ships to follow.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro during the battle.

After failing to stop his vessels, Sampson ordered Iowa to train her guns on the nearest enemy stronghold, the Morro castle. This was only a ruse, Iowa fired one shot into the water. The Spanish, believing they had been fired on, returned a salvo from their battery. This salvo failed to score a direct hit. Iowa fired again with a massive broadside which reportedly blew away a large portion of the castle.

Rough seas and high winds meant that both American and Spanish rounds were being blown off target, which resulted in a severe disadvantage for the American and Spanish gunners. Several shots ended up falling on San Juan houses and other buildings. The rough seas made the U.S. ships wobble back and forth, disallowing the sailors a steady platform to fire from, this also attributed to stray rounds. At least one shell struck the San Jose, a sixteenth-century church.

All the damaged civilian structures were adjacent to Morro castle, which meant that any round failing to hit the castle would most likely hit the town accidentally. The U.S. warships maneuvered in circular motions, firing from both their port and starboard guns. Once Morro seemed to be considerably damaged, Sampson ordered his fleet to begin bombarding Fort San Cristóbal, the Spanish Ballaja Barracks, a small 3.4 acre fort, El Cañuelo on Isla de Cabras and a battery known as San Carlos.

The battle damage inflicted on the Ballaja barracks

The American ships were reported to be so close to the Spanish positions that infantry were in able range to fire on the U.S. warships. However, none of their small arms were capable of inflicting serious damage on the modern steel vessels. A French cruiser, the Amiral Rigault de Genouilly sat in San Juan's harbor, along with three small Spanish gunboats. Two of the gunboats were most likely the General Concha and the Ponce de Leon. Possibly to avoid an international crisis with France, no major American attack was made on the Spanish gunboats as they were quite close to the Amiral Rigault de Genouilly.

Either way, a few shots were fired in that direction which resulted in damage to the French cruiser's smoke stack and rigging. It is not believed that either the French or Spanish ships responded with hostile actions towards the Americans. From 5:00 am to 8:00, Sampson's fleet fired their guns, while receiving light damage on only two ships, the New York and the Iowa.

USS Iowa, firing her guns.

A total of 1,362 American shells were fired, the Spanish fired only 441 rounds. At 8:00 am, Sampson instructed his ships to cease fire. The monitor Terror failed to receive these orders and continued her bombardment solo until 8:30 am before receiving the cease fire order. The only American killed in action served aboard the New York, three others were slightly wounded aboard the Iowa. Amphitrite suffered one gunner's mate killed of heat exposure while occupying one of Amphitrite's barbettes.


After the battle, the commanding Spanish Military Governor, Manuel Macías y Casado, confirmed that eight of his troops were killed while manning the few different batteries and another thirty-four injured. Civilian casualties were light if any, most of the Puerto Rican colonists fled their city at the sound of the first salvo. The number of refugees was reportedly so large that San Juan's streets were almost deserted, with the exception of the several hundred strong Spanish garrison. The American fleet steamed, or sailed in some cases, back to the Havana, Cuba blockade, on May 18, Sampson learnt that Admiral Cervera's force had sailed to Santiago de Cuba.


USS Yale off Cuba, 1898

This was the first major engagement of the Puerto Rican Campaign. On May 8, in San Juan Bay, the capture of a Spanish cargo ship, the Rita, by USS Yale, occurred. The Americans installed a prize crew and sent the cargo vessel to Charleston, South Carolina. The following day, a Spanish auxiliary cruiser, name unknown, and Yale fought a minor battle off San Juan. The Spanish auxiliary cruiser contained a much larger armament than the Yale, this forced the U.S. vessel to flee not long after hostilities commenced. The next day on May 10, the Yale returned to San Juan Bay and briefly exchanged fire with Fort San Cristobal, resulting in little damage to the structure.

A 15 centimeter Ordoñez cannon at San Cristobal, one of the guns which fired on the Yale

See also


  • Nofi, Albert A., The Spanish American War, 1898, 1997.
  • Carrasco García, Antonio, En Guerra con Los Estados Unidos: Cuba, 1898, Madrid: 1998.
  • Freidel, Frank Burt. The Splendid Little War. Boston: Little, Brown,1958.
  • Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War. New York : Morrow, 1992. ISBN 0688097146.

External links



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