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1917 Cuban Pacification Campaign

A civil war in Cuba occupied the attention of the Guantanamo Naval Station and particularly its Commandant, at least for a brief period. This civil war grew out of the campaign and national election of 1916, and a dispute as to who won. President Menocal and Alfredo Zayas of the Liberal party were the candidates. The Liberals revolted. Santiago fell to the revolutionists on 13 February 1917, and three Cuban gunboats appeared the next day in Guantanamo Bay, having left Santiago to escape capture.

The American Consul at Santiago requested the presence of a US man-of-war to maintain communications and allay excitement of the populace, his request arriving at about the same time as information that the Revolutionists were intending to mine the mouth of Santiago Bay. The Commandant volunteered the services of the station ship Petrel, an old gunboat. The Petrel was in poor shape and a feeble show of power, but she was readied and departed for Santiago with Commander Knox aboard.

The experiences of Commander Knox at Santiago are a rather long and interesting story, as later narrated by him in an article entitled "An Adventure in Diplomacy" which appeared in the February 1926 issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. He became the "go-between" in dealings between the Federals and Revolutionists, and was able to dissuade the latter from blocking and mining the channel; and the former, from attacking from sea with their gunboats. That the mines were poor in quality and would not have been a serious menace to shipping, and furthermore, that the Cuban gunboats were not much of a threat to Santiago, were not recognized at the time.

Anyhow the people of Santiago, were delighted with the temporary neutralization of the area. In his negotiations, Commander Knox had to exceed his radio instructions from the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, and from Washington, and there were anxious moments, but his actions were later sustained. The Petrel was soon relieved by a larger ship, and returned to Guantanamo Bay with the Commandant.

US Marines were landed at Santiago to aid in the preservation of order. Also records indicate an expeditionary force of about 100 Marines of the 51st Company under First Lieutenant Lloyd W. Williams was based at Guantanamo Bay from 4 March to 23 May 1917. Fortunately, the revolution was short-lived; the Liberals were defeated; and President Menocal entered upon his second term in May 1917.



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