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"How did the Spanish and Americans fight in the SAW?" Topic

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Brooklyn Wargamer07 Jun 2017 7:09 a.m. PST

Hello everyone:
I have been looking at some ORBATs and such for the Spanish American war, but I would like to know how they fought; was it close order (rank and file) or was it by that time standard procedure to fight as skirmishers? Also, where could I find this stated?

I referenced this thread, but I couldn't find any reference to my question.
TMP link

thank you everyone for your help!


Prince Alberts Revenge07 Jun 2017 7:33 a.m. PST

From what I have read, and its been a while, I would think that most of the combat would involve Spanish in either prepared defensive positions (earthworks), ambushes, etc. with Americans marching to contact and then moving in larger surges or smaller probes depending on the stiffness of Spanish resistance. I would imagine that the nature and scope/intensity of the warfare and consideration of terrain would mean that it was less close order than other conflicts of the time (Russo Japanese War or Omdurman campaign as examples).

dBerczerk07 Jun 2017 7:44 a.m. PST

I thought the 1997 US TV mini-series "Rough Riders" battle sequences were fairly-well researched.

If you haven't seen it, it may be worth viewing.

YouTube link

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 8:21 a.m. PST

Magazine-fed breech-loaders and machine guns pretty much eliminated close-order battle formations. Since authors assume everyone knows this, you may not find it explicitly stated anywhere.

Brooklyn Wargamer07 Jun 2017 9:39 a.m. PST

Thank you everyone.

I assumed as much. Chicklewis' observation is very true, but I wanted to corroborate the facts before I write it somewhere.

If anyone has sources to back up these claims, I am still interested.



Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 10:13 a.m. PST

The Yanks were trained in open order formations (about double spaced between each man, before and behind.

The Spanish were by far the most modern army in most every respect, and used to contra-guerilla warfare generally fought in small groups whose formations were appropriate to the terrain and enemy of the moment.

Training and discipline were so poor among the US units that they quickly broke down under fire and easily pinned. The assault up the San Juan Heights was made as a dispersed mob, composed of individuals motivated by superior leadership.

At the risk of evident self promotion, allow me to encourage you to look at "Rough Riders!" ( link ) as the only rules set designed specifically for the War of '98 and the psychological/leadership issues that describe and reproduce the actions as fought in Cuba and the Philippines.

Regarding sources, take a look at "Crossing The Deadly Ground: US Military Tactics, 1865-1899." Follow this link to buy a copy for less than $4.00 USD!


Old Contemptibles07 Jun 2017 10:15 a.m. PST

The only problem I had with the mini-series was that the director became obsess with maxim machine guns and German advisors.

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 11:05 a.m. PST

I felt the same, Rallynow.

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 11:06 a.m. PST

What are you writing, Brooklyn Wargamer ??

Cyrus the Great07 Jun 2017 12:31 p.m. PST

You might find the recommended books of use.


Brooklyn Wargamer07 Jun 2017 1:07 p.m. PST

@TVAG: Thanks and I will look into both those sources. Do you cover any action in Puerto Rico?

@ chicklewis: Just some scenarios set in Puerto Rico, which I believe is a bit underrepresented. I am a bit biased because my parents are from Puerto Rico and I lived on the island for 28 years..

So mainly I'm looking into actions done in PR.



basileus6607 Jun 2017 2:38 p.m. PST

The Spanish were by far the most modern army in most every respect, and used to contra-guerilla warfare generally fought in small groups whose formations were appropriate to the terrain and enemy of the moment.

The Spanish Army in Cuba was a mob of conscripts with scarce or no training, bad shooters due to lack of target practice with real ammunition, and ridden by hunger and disease. With the exception of a few units of cazadores, most of the troops were second rate, not by any fault of the soldiers, who were as brave as they could, but by a abysmal leadership, compounded by an almost complete collapse of logistics. Spanish soldiers begging in Havana and Santiago for food or drink were a common sight.

And the higher leadership! Good God! It was criminal! Despite the strategic importance of San Juan Hill, it was defended by a grand total of… 520 Spanish soldiers and two guns! Later they received a small reinforcement of 300 more troops. Linares should have been shot. He had at his disposal 10,000 men in Santiago, but chose to defend the key point of the approaches to the city with the equivalent of one battalion. What it is amazing is that the Spanish could made a defence of the hill at all!

The soldiers were brave, but badly trained -most of them-, sick, hungry and under commanders that showed all the dismal qualities of an Army ridden by nepotism and lack of professionality. What it is surprising is not that the Americans won the war, but that it took them so long!

mghFond07 Jun 2017 2:49 p.m. PST

My reading and impressions of the Spanish army are in line with Basileus66.

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 2:32 p.m. PST

I look forward to playing your scenarios, Jorge !!

Brooklyn Wargamer08 Jun 2017 4:36 p.m. PST

@chicklewis: It's going to take me some time because I am a teacher and in the middle of finals and the end of the year paperwork. but I am highly motivated to do them. I especially love the miniatures from 1898 Miniaturas (in Spain) link. I hope they do the US forces soon.

I will definitely post them up once I am done and let you know.

Best regards,


mghFond09 Jun 2017 8:15 a.m. PST

Now I havent watched it yet but yesterday I saw on Netflix that they have added a movie about an isolated unit of Spanish infantry fighting Filipino insurgents. Wish I could recall the name of it but who knows, it might be decent?

Col Durnford09 Jun 2017 12:05 p.m. PST

That's a movie I will not miss. The true story is really something.

Col Durnford09 Jun 2017 12:15 p.m. PST

Just found it under international.

1898 our last men in the Philippines.

I believe it's about the siege of Balor(sp).

Must see.

basileus6610 Jun 2017 3:06 a.m. PST

Baler. It is the story of the 355 days siege of a small Spanish garrison in the church of Baler (Luzon). They didn't believe that Spain had abandoned the Philippines, and fought on. They only surrendered when one of the officers in charge read in an old newspaper -the Philippine besiegers allowed some papers to pass through the siege lines, in order to convince the Spanish garrison that their defence was pointless- that one of his old army mates had changed posts in Spain. He realized that the Philippines couldn't know that he was an acquaintance, therefore the newspaper wasn't a forgery and the news that Spain had surrendered was true. The Philippines allowed the garrison to surrender with honors of war, in reconigtion for its bravery.

During the siege a US Navy party, under a Lt. James C. Gilmore, from the USS Yorktown, with 14 men and one machine-gun had tried to break the siege and contact the Spanish garrison in April 1899. The party was ambushed by the Philippines. Two men were killed outright, and the rest was wounded, two of them severely. Surrounded and outnumbered, Gillmore hadn't any other choice but surrender. At first, they were condemned to be shot by general Luna, but Aguinaldo intervened and spared their lives. They were finally released in December 1899.

Cacique Caribe12 Jun 2017 4:04 a.m. PST

This topic reminds me that I need to ask my 93-year old Mom for that photo of my Dad's uncles all dressed up in their cool Spanish uniforms, when they served in the SAW.


mghFond12 Jun 2017 9:12 p.m. PST

I watched that movie tonight and it wasn't bad. Of course I don't know how accurate a lot of the details were as far as the actual personalities.

Cacique Caribe12 Jun 2017 10:25 p.m. PST

I didn't even know about any defectors until now that I came across this.



Cacique Caribe13 Jun 2017 2:13 a.m. PST

Not surprisingly, they are seen as heroes by the locals:



Buckeye AKA Darryl07 Jul 2018 5:07 a.m. PST

This would have been a perfect topic for the only gaming forum dedicated to the Spanish-American War:


Come join!

coolyork29 Aug 2018 8:27 a.m. PST

Gen. del Rey at the battle of El Caney in Cuba was one of the rare commanders who was very competent and charismatic !

Old Contemptibles29 Aug 2018 9:05 a.m. PST

"Crossing the Deadly Ground" by Perry Jamieson



Old Contemptibles29 Aug 2018 9:07 a.m. PST

I joined the Spanish-American War Yahoo Group. Nothing I posted showed up and now I cannot log onto the board.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.