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Cuban Navy Gunboats

By Alfredo E. Figueredo

 Rating Cuban nNavy

                    The Naval Program of 1911 was one of the most spectacular achievements of the government of José Miguel Gómez.  As part of the same, the third-class cruiser Cuba and the cruiser-schoolship Patria were built, both at the venerable firm of Cramp’s in Philadelphia.  This was the true launching of the Navy of Cuba.1

           Two gunboats were ordered from the famous firm of J. Samuel White, Cowes, Isle of Wight, EnglandDiez de Octubre and Veinte y Cuatro de Febrero each displaced 218 tons, measured 110 x 20 x 8 feet.  They had engines of 250 horse power with a speed of 12 knots, with bunkerage for 50 tons of coal.  The armament per unit was three 4.7 cm. guns and a Lewis .30 caliber machine gun.2

            Less known was the construction of four gunboats in domestic shipyards.  For this project, it was necessary to divide the order between the two existing capable private shipyards in the capital.  It was decided that each one would build two gunboats, all four with the same characteristics and for the same price.3

           These four steamships should each displace approximately 80 tons, with one screw, generating 200 indicated horsepower for a speed of 12 knots, and have bunkerage for 20 tons of coal.  Even though during their lifes their armament would vary, originally it would be of one 3.7 cm. gun.  The price per unit was set at $28,000.00.4

           These gunboats were given the names of provinces.  The Havana shipyard of Krajewski-Pesant & Co. was entrusted with the construction of Habana and Pinar del Río.  Casa de la Sra. Viuda de Ruiz de Gámiz, also of Havana, was entrusted with the construction of Matanzas and Las Villas.5

           Las Villas appears in some sources, above all in several editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships, as Santa Clara, but she is the same ship.6

           The armament of each gunboat almost only was a single 3.7 cm. gun.  Al Pinar del Río, in 1940 was given a “heavier gun” from Baire, which must have been one of 7.62 cm.; additionally, she mounted a Lewis .30 caliber machine gun.  Matanzas in 1932 mounted three 4.7 cm. guns, but this was briefly.  Her original armament seems to have been two 3.7 cm. guns foward.7

           On 24 October 1940, a report was submitted: R-496-40, Data on Ships of the Cuban Navy by the naval attaché of the United States.  Our four gunboats are included, and their information is as follows:

"HABANA" — Gunboat

Length – 84’

Displacement –  90 tons

Smokestack – 1

Mast – 1

Year of construction  – 1912

Condition – Poor.

Based at Casa Blanca (Navy Yard) HavanaHarbor.

Draft – Min. 5’ Max. 6 ½’

Speed – 7

Propellers – 1

ARMAMENT                                      AMMUNITION

1 – 37 mm                                          26 rds. 37 mm Mfd. 1917

16 – Springfield rifles                            1187 rds., .30 cal., Mfd. 1934.

                                                            300 rds. .45 cal.,  Mfd. 1936.

PERSONNEL

Officers 2

Enlisted men 17

 

PINAR — Gunboat

Length – 75’

Displacement – 75 toneladas

Smokestack – 1

Mast – 1

Year of construction – 1912

Condition – Poor.

Based at Casa Blanca (Navy Yard) Havana Harbor.

Draft – Min. Max. 6’

Speed – 7

ARMAMENT                                      AMMUNITION

1 – 7 mm                                            130 rds. 37 mm Mfd. 1917

1 – .30 cal. Lewis MG                           3500 rds. .30 cal., Mfd. 1934.

11 – .30 cal. Springfield rifles      

PERSONNEL

Officers 2

Enlisted men 17

 

"MATANZAS" — Gunboat

Length – 81’

Displacement – 90 tons

Smokestack – 1

Mast – 1

Year of construction – 1912

Condition – Fair.

Based at Casa Blanca (Navy Yard) Havana Harbor.

Draft – Min. 4’ Max. 5’

Speed – 7

ARMAMENT                                      AMMUNITION

1 – 37 mm                                            120 rds. 37 mm Mfd. 1917

10 – Springfield rifles                            1000 rds., .30 cal., Mfd. 1934.

PERSONNE

Officers 2

Enlisted men 15

 

"SANTA CLARA" — "LAS VILLAS" Gunboat

Length – 105’

Displacement – 52 tons

Smokestack – 1

Mast – 1

Year of construction – 1911

Condition – Poor.

Based at Cienfuegos.

Draft – Min. 5’ Max. 6’

Speed – 7

ARMAMENT                                      AMMUNITION

1 – 37 mm                                            60 rds. 37 mm Mfd. 1917

15 – rifles Springfieldde calibre .30       1570 rds., .30 cal., Mfd. 1934.

                                                            300 rds., .45 cal., Mfd. 1936.

PERSONNEL

Officers 2

Warrant Officer 1

Enlisted men 14”

 

As may be seen, the dimensions and displacement of the four gunboats was variable.  Also, only one was completed in 1911, the three others were not completed until 1912.8

 

          During the inspection of Commander C. A. Griffiths, USN (Ret.) on 8 May 1943, the condition of our four gunboats was given as:

 

Habana.  “Renewal of main deck and after section of second deck required.  Value on completion of repairs doubtful.  Required repairs are within the capacity of Cienfuegos Station.  Repair in a U.S. yard not recommended.  Slow speed.  Suitable only for inshore work.  With time and men available, Cienfuegos may as well go ahead with repairs."

 

Pinar del Río. “Sister ship of Habana but in better material condition."

 Matanzas.  “Condition good except for main engine parts now on order.  Repairs can be effected locally by ship’s force.”

 Santa Clara Las Villas].  “Considering the age of the ship it is in excellent condition.  After completion of present overhaul further repairs in a U.S. yard not required.  Ship has good speed.  Recommend fitting depth charge throwers and investigation of deck strength with a view of installing a heavier gun from the Baire.”9

           After the ending of the Second World War, \Cuba received from the United States five coast guard vessels of 110 feet length in 1947; these were given the names of sundry old gunboats, and were: GC-104, Oriente; GC-105, Camagüey; GC-106, Las Villas; GC-107, Habana, y GC-108, Pinar del Río.  The old gunboats were taken out of the service, leaving only Matanzas active, with the number GC-103, based at Cienfuegos.  Some, such as the old Pinar del Río continued for a while as “auxiliary coast guard vessels”.10

           GC-103 Matanzaswas repaired in 1953.  The engine propulsion system and the steam boiler were substituted by two Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines of 180 horsepowe, with a speed of 11 knots.  Later, the two 3.7 cm. guns were reduced to one, and then the 3.7 cm. gun was changed for a .50 caliber machine gun.11

           The naval construction project of 1911 was directed, grosso modo, by Commodore Julio Morales Coello.  The success of the program earned him a promotion in 1913, and the Cross of Naval Merit, second class, with a white distinction.12

           After the revolution of the first of January, 1959, little by little relations with the United States deteriorated.  The U.S. equipment of the Navy slowly had to be replaced by Soviet material, and the ships of the former Republic were placed out of service, or used as targets in artillery gunnery and missile tests.  The last survivor of the four 1911 gunboats, GC-103 Matanzas, served until the first years of the decade of 1970.13

           During the active lives of the four gunboats built in Cuba for the 1911 program, in addition to coast guard duties, also facilitated several scientific expeditions.  We must mention that Cuba has always been one of the few Latin American republics that took seriously coast guard duties, applying zeal to them.  Almost all other Latin American coasts are open to infiltration and contraband; it was never thus in Cuba.14

           The gunboat Pinar del Río was utilized by biologists and archaeologists for scientific missions, above all in the stretch of coast from the Port of Havana to the Cape of San Antonio.  But other ships of the Cuban Navy were always available for scientific trips.  For example, the gunboat Donativo took several expeditions of the archaeologist René Herrera Fritot to Punta del Este, Isle of Pinos during the years of the decade of 1930, and the third-class cruiser Cuba carried the Cuban Scientific Expedition of 1951 to Jamaica and to Haiti.15

         

NOTES

 1 Balbis, Historia; Goicoechea, Cuban Navy.

 2 Gálvez Aguilera gives the armament as a 4.7 cm. gun forward and two 3.7 cm. guns on either side.  Jane’s Fighting Ships of 1919 repeats this armament.  Other sources indicate three 3.7 cm. guns.  The sources of U.S. inspection officers indicate three 4.7 cm. guns, and even though the armament could have varied, by their nature these data inspire more confidence.  Wright, Cuban Navy.

 3 Wright, Cuban Navy.

 4 Ibidem.

 5 Idem.

 6 Jane’s Fighting Ships, passim.

 7 Wright, Cuban Navy; Jane’s Fighting Ships, passim.

 8 Wright, Cuban Navy, pp. 341-343.

 9 Wright, Cuban Navy, pp. 335-336.

 10 Balbis, Historia; Gálvez Aguilera, Marina de Guerra.

 11 Gálvez Aguilera, Marina de Guerra.

 12 Ibídem.

 13 Balbis, Historia; Wright, Cuban Navy; Jane’s Fighting Ships, passim.

 14 Balbis, Historia; Gálvez Aguilera, Marina de Guerra; , Cuban Navy; Jane’s Fighting Ships, passim.

 15 Balbis, Historia; Gálvez Aguilera, Marina de Guerra; Figueredo, Cuban Scientific.

  

                                      Works Consulted      

 Balbis Torregrosa, Pelayo.  Historia de la Marina de Guerra Cubana.  Miami: Isa Printing & Binding Corp., 2001.

 Blackman, Raymond V.B., ed.  Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1958-59.  New York The McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.

 Blackman, Raymond V.B., ed.  Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1963-64.  London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd.

 Figueredo, Alfredo E.  The Cuban Scientific Expedition to the Virgin Islands (1951), by Oswaldo I. Morales Patiño and Fernando Royo Guardia.  Translated and Annotated by A. E. Figueredo.  Journal of the Virgin Islands Archæological Society, no. 5 (1978), pp. 17-31.

 Gálvez Aguilera, Milagros.  Expediciones navales en la guerra de los Diez Años: 1868-1878.  La Habana: Ediciones Verde Olivo, 2000.

 Gálvez Aguilera, Milagros.  La Marina de Guerra en Cuba (1909-1958).  Primera Parte.  La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Historia, 2007.  (12) XIII-XIV, 1-333 (1) p.

 Goicoechea, J. M.  The Cuban Navy, 1902-1958.  Warship International, vol. XXXIV (1997), No. 1, pp. 13-31; vol. XXXIV (1997), No. 2, pp. 141-142.

 McMurtrie, Francis E., ed.  Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1941. (Issued 1942).  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942.

E. McMurtrie, eds.  Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1924.  Reprinted by Arco Publishing Company Inc., New York.

 Parkes, Oscar, and Maurice Prendergast, eds.  Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1919.  Reprinted by Arco Publishing Company Inc., New York.

 Scheina, Robert L.  Latin America: A Naval History, 1810-1987.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

 Wright, C. C.  The Cuban Navy as Seen from the United States, 1910-1946.  Warship International, vol. XXXIV (1997), No. 2, pp. 143-156; vol. XXXIV (1997), No. 4, pp. 333-359.

  

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