Pascual Cervera y Topete (February 18, 1839 – April 3, 1909) served as an admiral (almirante) of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron during the Spanish-American War, and prior to this served his country in a variety of military and political roles.
Born at Medina-Sidonia, Cervera was a highly decorated veteran of the Spanish Navy, and served with some distinction during the Carlist Wars before retiring from the active service to act as head of Spain's Ministerio de Marina, the bureaucratic body that governed the naval and merchant marine forces of Spain. During his tenure, Cervera attempted a number of far-reaching reforms to make right what he called the numerous evils of Spanish naval administration at the time.
In 1896, Cervera resigned his position in disgust when a number of reforms put in place were overturned by vote-hungry politicians supported by sycophantic officers who were hungry for his job. After two years of isolation, Cervera was called back to service in the fleet, through the personal intercession of the Queen Regent and began a reorganisation of the vessels under his command, determined at least to bring the fleet to fighting shape before the now inevitable war with the United States of America erupted.
When war with America broke out, Cervera found himself given orders to sail immediately to the Caribbean and break the U.S. blockade. Despite a desperate plea for time to re-fit and to await the completion of badly needed reinforcing vessels, Cervera was immediately dispatched to Cuba. Despite a brilliant circumnavigation of U.S. naval forces, Cervera simply did not have the firepower to engage the might of the United States fleet. Foolish advertisement of his position in Cuba by the Spanish government of that island endangered a plan by Cervera to isolate the U.S. fleet in sections, and doomed his command to destruction.
On July 3, 1898, Cervera's fleet attempted to leave the safety of Santiago de Cuba and run the American blockade. The Battle of Santiago de Cuba was heroically fought by the Spanish sailors under Cervera's command, but the end result was a nearly foregone conclusion. After the destruction of his fleet, Cervera was briefly imprisoned at Camp Long in the United States with his surviving officers before being returned to Spain. Here, he stood trial for the loss of his command, but compelling testimony by Cervera's staff forced the court to recognize that the defeat of the fleet was not the fault of its men, but of politicians.
Thereafter, Cervera lived the rest of his life quietly. He remained loyal to the crown, and never held it responsible for his defeat, blaming instead the corrupting influence of "Parliamentary procedure" for his ultimate defeat. Cervera died in 1909, but remains a national hero in Spain.
It is perhaps a mark of the great affection held by the Spanish people for Cervera that even the government of Republican Spain acknowledged him as a man of "great patriotic fervor," to the point of naming a light cruiser after him.
Carrer de L'Almirall Cervera, a street at in Port de Pollença, Majorca, is named in his honour.
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