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The Spanish Navy 1899-1918 - The Great War

During 1901 the navy was reorganized and it was proposed to construct a new and powerful fleet, but the matter was delayed for some years. An ambitious naval plan was adopted under the new conservative Maura Government as a consequence of a royal decree issued on June 1st, 1907. The Ferrndiz Act, named after the ministry of the Navy established a large-scale construction plan based on a 200 million pesetas budget divided over a period of 6 to 8 years, which was designed to authorize the synchronized production of 3 battleships, 3 destroyers, 24 torpedo boats and 4 gun boats. This new policy was supported to a great extent by the Parliament and also by the public opinion thanks to a subtle propaganda in the newspapers and the recent events in Morocco. As a matter of fact, the approval of the Cartagena agreement signed with France and Britain on April 8, 1907 not only recognized the political personality of Spain as component of the European entente, but also its imminent cooperation in favour of the European peace.

The subsequent January 7, 1908 "Squadron Act" (Ley de Escuadra) established the following program, voted by the Cortes: 3 battleships of 15,000 tons, 3 destroyers of 350 tons, 3 submarines of 300 tons, 24 torpedo boats of 180 tons, 4 gunboats of 800 tons, 3 fish-guard vessels of 157 tons. All these except the submarines were under construction before the end of 1913, and all were completed by 1916. In 1913 a second program was presented to the Cortes and approved in the spring of 1914. It provided for 3 battleships of 21,000 tons, 2 scout cruisers of 3000 tons and 28 knots' speed, 6 destroyers of 700 tons, and 8 submarines of 400 tons. It was proposed to follow this In about five years by a third program, which would bring the number of battleships to 9 in 1926, with a corresponding number of other vessels. The naval bill of 1908 also provided for the reconstruction of the dockyards at Ferrol and Cartagena. This was done, and all the new vessels were built at these yards. Many old and valueless ships were sold or broken up and the ineffective expenses of the service largely reduced.

To complete such a huge program supposed financial and technical possibilities that Spain was far from being able to combine. No armament effort had been made actually since the end of the 1880's so that the Spanish ship industry had lost any kind of aptitude to compete with the main European and non European arsenals.

The Constructora Naval was the product of the absorption by Vickers in 1897 of the oldest British armament company established abroad, The Placencia de las Armas Company Limited, founded ten years before thanks to the sole British investments and since then in great financial troubles.

In 1914 and again in 1915, the Spanish government decided to initiate two new naval programs in order to finalize the restoration of the Armada and to take into account the technical experience and advancement acquired in this field since the beginning of the war in Europe.

The fleet in May, 1915, consisted of the following: 3 battleships of 15,460 tons (1 not quite finished), 1 battleship of 21,000 tons (building commenced), 1 old battleship of 9740 tons (launched 1887, rebuilt 1899), 3 armored cruisers (2 of 6900 tons, 1 of 9900 tons), 1 protected cruiser of 5800 tons, 2 small cruisers (1920 and 2100 tons), 12 gunboats (600 to 1137 tons), 5 small gunboats (less than 300 tons), 7 destroyers (370 to 400 tons), several other destroyers building, 29 torpedo boats, several school ships, training ships, fish-guard vessels, and station hulks.

By the time of the Great War the navy was presided over by the Minister of Marine, formerly always a naval officer, occasionally a civilian. He is assisted by a council of persons, of whom five are officers of the navy, one is a senator, one a deputy of the Cortes, one an inspector general of engineers, and one a field marshal of artillery. The central administration consisted of: (1) section of personnel; (2) section of equipment; (3) section of navigation and maritime industries; (4) section of naval construction; (5) section of naval ordnance; (6) section of accounts; (7) section of administrative affairs.

The principal dockyards are at Ferrol, Cartagena, Cadiz (La Carraca), and Bilbao. The ordnance is made at Trubia (army gun factory). There were, in addition, several naval stations and supply depots. All executive officers are required to pass through the school; the course is three years, after which the cadets serve as midshipmen for further instruction.





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