After over three decades of service, you've made LT and screened for Command! Wow! Tell me about your warship!
... the ... five-year old unarmed third rate Revenue Cutter Hudson was manned by two officers(one line and one engineer) and nine men and performed routine duties in New York harbor. Her compliment would grow to five officers and sixteen men when taken into Naval service. When ordered to Naval service she steamed first to Norfolk to install new armaments, a 6-pounder fore and aft with a Colt 6mm machine gun on top of the wheel house. Configured as many harbor tugs of the period, she was 128 tons, 96 feet long, 20 feet in the beam, with a 8 foot draft, the 24-inch stroke of her pistons made her slow, her superstructure was high out of the water topped with a large smoke stack.Oh, come on my dear readers, this is Fullbore Friday. You know better than that.
Is anything impossible? No - just a challenge.
Manned, armed, and armor plate installed across bridge and engine room the Hudson made her way to Key West
The Hudson's commander, Massachusetts native First Lieutenant, Frank H. Newcomb, USRCS, was assigned to patrol Cuba's northern coast east of Havana. One of the ports he was to help blockade was Cardenas.
On May 11, Newcomb received orders to join the U. S. Navy gunboats Machias and Wilmington and the torpedo boat Winslow.
Machias's, Commander Merry, draft was too deep for the secondary channel and remained outside to give gunfire support. The other three made their way through the mango trees and entered the harbor. Receiving no fire from the Spanish, the three vessels across Cardenas Bay toward the three moored Spanish gunboats.
The Winslow commanded by the brash LT. John B. Bernadou, USN, charged ahead of the others(at a speed of about 24 knots) to cutout a gunboat for a prize and, probably to his surprise, immediately drew heavy fire from hidden Spanish shore batteries and the gunboats that mounted tweleve-pounder guns. The Spanish-American War was the last in which U. S. Naval Officers could receive prize money for captured vessels. Bernadou was the prototype of the brashness needed for the PT boat skippers of World War II and the figher pilots of today. The Winslow returned fire with her three one-pounders on the Spanish gunboats. The Hudson saw the predicament and hurried at best speed (12 knots maximum -- on a good day) to assist the Winslow with her heavier six-pounder guns. The Wilmington , stopped by shoal waters, laid off the mile and one half and gave support with her 4-inch guns. Both the forward vessels sank two of the Spanish gunboats, the Antonio Lopez and Lealtad, at their moorings and then turned their attention to the shore batteries.
Although the Spanish had placed ranging buoys in the bay and both vessels were among the red buoys, the Spanish artillery was not accurate in its fire in part because of the black stack smoke and the fog of cannon smoke. Their shells exploded in the air spraying shrapnel or fell into the water alongside the vessels. The engagement was about twenty minutes old when the Winslow took her first hits. One round hit the bow, entered the captain's cabin and exploded in the paint locker causing a fire. Another round struck the conning tower wounding Bernadou in the leg. Two hits destroyed her steering gear and damaged a boiler, another hit puts the emergency(hand gear) steering out of commission as well as hitting an engine. The Winslow, without power and steering, became a target for the Spanish gunners. Nature too, began to conspire against Winslow and a rising eastward wind began pushing her toward the Spanish batteries but using the remaining undamaged engine Bernadou was able to back away from the shore and ranging buoys.
Lt. Newcomb saw the Winslow's plight and with Spanish shells exploding all around the cutter went to the Winslow's assistance. The Hudson took a position 150 yards inshore of the Winslow to draw Spanish fire and protect the disabled torpedo boat. Newcomb attempted to suppress the Spanish fire, but the Spanish used smokeless powder that did not reveal their positions. However, once the cutter got the range was able to place several rounds near the Spanish batteries.
Newcomb received a report that the Winslow was badly damaged and offered Brenadou assistance but he "declined by a negative shake of his head." However, Brenadou realizing the dangerous position he was in relented to a tow from Hudson. The Winslow, with its seven-foot draft, had shoaled causing the Hudson to literally plow through the bottom silt to reach the Winslow. Brenadou later wrote his account of the action in which he said he directed Hudson to take him in tow. Newcomb had to abandon his inshore position to reach the stricken vessel and when within 100 feet a Spanish shell exploded on board Winslow killing North Carolinian Ensign Bagby( who has the dubious distinction of being the only U. S. Naval officer killed in action during the war) and two others. Two others were mortally wounded.
During Hudson's attempts to attach a tow, the Wilmington fired her guns over both of the other vessels. A number of her shells exploded prematurely showering fragments on Hudson and Winslow. The Winslow passed its heavy tow line, but as Hudson took up the strain to swing the torpedo boat around the line parted. Although some believe the line was shot away, Newcomb reported it was caused by the excessive yawing of the torpedo boat because of the damaged steering gear. Newcomb then tried taking Winslow along side but the bay had become rough and he feared the Winslow would sink because to the water thrown up between the two. The Spanish fire had ceased but the threat was still there as and another line was hastily rigged and the Winslow towed to safety. Somewhat bitterly, Newcomb noted "after a long and laborious chase dead to windward, we finally overtook the Wilmington." Although the Wilmington had a doctor on board, it had not come about to assist with the wounded despite wig-wag signals from both vessels.
The engagement began about 1 PM and lasted until 4 PM when Hudson towed the Winslow out of the bay. The Hudson fired some 135 rounds and although in the midst of the battle she escaped with only minor structural damage.