The Germans and British vs. Venezuela


A classic case of gunboat diplomacy, and business driving foreign policy:
When a combined English-German fleet went to Venezuela to pressure that country into honoring its debts to European businesses, which included bombarding a coastal base, the Germans and British took an opportunity to sink or capture Venezuelan gunboats there and bombard fortifications as well. The light cruiser Gazelle captured the gunboat Restaurador, which the Germans used themselves for a time before returning it to Venezuela. Italy also had two cruisers involved, the Bausan (similar to Japan's Naniwa class) and a smaller protected cruiser. The French were not involved, although they had protected cruisers such as the large Tage and small Suchet stationed in the Caribbean (the latter responded to a deadly volcanic eruption the same year). Of the British ships, the largest was a Diadem-class protected cruiser as big as most navies' armored cruisers, but without side armor, while most of the rest were standard small protected cruisers. The British had some "sloops" which were similar to colonial gunboats and equally useless against a real enemy. The torpedo-boat destroyers were a more modern type of ship and a real threat to rival naval powers (although Spain's destroyers had still been handily sunk by the Americans at the Battle of Santiago in 1898). Germany's Vineta was a protected cruiser with heavy guns (somewhat comparable to the American Olympia) and the Gazelle was an early example of the small light cruisers that Germany and England would be building in large numbers up to World War I. Also note the presence of Germany's favorite troublemaker, the gunboat Panther.

Venezuela (which is, one hundred years later, again in the news for prickly relations with foreign powers) never had a strong navy, compared to Brazil, Chile, Argentina and (at times) Peru. All of its ships were gunboats or smaller. Fortunately, after the conflict with England and Germany, most of the other captured ships were returned, but some were scuttled by their captors. The torpedo boat was disabled by a raid on its dock. The "23 de Mayo" is a ship that is hard to identify, since one source described it as a torpedo gunboat while a post-conflict Jane's entry is of a much smaller ship. There is also a listing below of a rebel ship (a minor faction funded by corporate interests) which itself was hunted down by one of the Venezuelan gunboats.

This was a time of expansion for the German overseas empire and its navy, as the Kaiser sought to join the older imperial powers. Germany had acquired African and Pacific colonies and a base in China, and had provoked England during the Boer War and was to antagonize France and England over the issue of Morocco. See also the German destruction of a Haitian gunboat in 1902 and their buildup in the Philippines in 1898.

MORE DETAILED INFORMATION ON THE CRISIS (link to an external website detailing friction between Germany and the USA caused by this conflict)

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