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Battle of Manila Bay (may, first, 1898).

Manila battle actions (public domain)

The Battle of Manila was mainly a surprise attack by a U.S. Navy squadron of the Pacific Spanish fleet anchored at Manila Bay in the Philippines. Complete destruction of the fleet would have the effect of preventing any reinforcements to Cuba and bring down the huge archipelago in the lap of the United States. It was also the fall of the Hispanic empire colonies of the Pacific, acquired since 1565. This victory was all the more dazzling for the Navy, its realization was daring, hazardous and risky, and ended with no casualties but some minor injuries, a feat rarely equalled later on. The impression it made, led among other things, the Japanese to apply the very same tactic at Port Arthur against the Russians some seven years later. This mode of surprise attack (Although the Spanish hsquadron has expected more or less the very same threat at this time) and Preventive strike would inaugurate, not a new concept in naval operations, but a "splendid example of a splendid naval action" and makes known the world the american navy wasn't any more a joke.

This success was largely celebrated and do well for the war nicknamed "the splendid little war" by all the press, at the US and abroad. It all starts with the plans reviewed by the Admiralty in the event of confrontation with Spain, a few years ago. That's when Commodore George Dewey, then based in Hong Kong, was appointed to head the U.S. Pacific fleet at the insistence of the personal assistant to the secretary at the Naval affairs of the White House, Theodore Roosevelt. His squadron was quite thin in Asia in terms of impact force, especially compared to the Spanish fleet, reinforced by many land-based coastal batteries. This squadron and included the cruiser USS Olympia, the cruiser USS Boston, gunboat USS Petrel and the very old steam paddle USS Monocacy.

In addition, knowledge of the Spanish forces in the sector was meager, and based on the assumption that the bulk of the fleet was anchored in Manila, which was confirmed later by the American consul there, Oscar. F. Williams. Lieutenant Upham (USS Olympia) was also there in civilian disguise, roaming in the capital of the Philippines to try to glean detailed information on ships in harbour and movements. Finally Dewey hismelf has his own sources form an american businessman who went there regularly and also passed more valuable information. But the supply of ammunition (as well as coal quality) was a real problem. US Squadron ships had, few days before the battle, not yet received a quarter of their shell stock. Supply ships were hard to find and charter, many companies and crews refused to take the risk... The cruiser USS Baltimore, dry-docked, has her hull cleaned and repainted in dark gray within 48 hours, a moire suitable livery than the classic "black hull, canvas and white" for naval operations.

However, reinforcements arrived on the eve of the battle, with some equipment for the fleet and ammunition to complete inventories (40% Empty), accompanied by the cruiser USS Raleigh and a Customs patrol boat, the USS MacCulloch. Still later after the departure of the squadron, the gunboat USS Concord joined the group. Some fumes were also collected for the purposes of last-minute supplies. At the outbreak of war, the squadron has coaled after many difficulties, but now the squadron was en route, and morale was very high.


The Spanish pacific fleet was managed by Admiral Don Patricio y Montojo Pasaron, whose fleet included the cruisers Don Antonio de Ulloa, Don Juan de Austria, Reina Cristina, Castilla, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, and the gunboat Marques del Duero, stationed at Manila Bay, and deployed in front of Subic Bay, whose defenses were reinforced. In the final minute, spare battery from the old Don Antonio and General Lezo were placed on coastal fortifications, as well as the guns of the cruiser Velasco. Castilla was also in so bad condition that its 150 mm (6 in) guns were landed but left shortly before the attack on the beach instead of being swiftly mounted in position. The entrance of Subic Bay was undermined, as well as that of the harbor of Manila, and steam poured across. But if Subic was of a tactical point of view an excellent choice, no fortification was there and there was a risk that the batteries could not be installed on schedule. The shallow water area also allowed in the worst case ships that Montojo commanded not be bailed out and thus not serve then in the Navy.

In April 28, he learned the departure of the American squadron of Commodore Dewey. In emergencies, we tried to install some parts, but we assured him that the defense would not be ready on time. In addition he received a message from one of the highlights of Subic alerting him that Dewey sent some units in recognition. Therefore he chose this moment to return under the protection of the guns of Manila and to emboss his ships in front of the fortified Sangley Point battery and Ulloa, on Cavite. The funds were high and the vessels were sunk flush once, able to continue to make but conversely as easily bail. The cruiser Castilla, partly disarmed, has her sides protected by two old collier hulls filled with sand shells. Other preparations were in progress when the American fleet stood at the entrance of the bay. They heard from the bridge the distant roar of the city of Manilla...

On april 30, the fleet arrived in Luzon. Dewey sent USS Boston and USS Concord in recognition of Subic, and USS Baltimore, which followed them in front of the fleet, received an erroneous report alleging artillery duels, quickly rectified. There were agreed that the Spanish fleet was not in Subic. Dewey turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "Now we have them!". The ship's bridges were prepared in case of fire by throwing overboard all that was made of wood, except on the ship bearing the Admiral, the USS Olympia. Tons of sand were also thrown on bridges, and certain sensitive parts protected with thick cloth soaked in vinegar, as was done traditionally to ensure no fire can take root or spread.

The fleet headed for the entrance of the bay, protected by islands and islets, forming two more or less wide entries: Boca Chica and Boca Grande. This was dangerous because of its many reefs and narrows, although the maneuvers were feasible. Boca Grande entrance was marked by the forts of the island of Caballo and El Frail, and Boca Chica was less manoeuvrable and more heavily defended, notably by the island of Corregidor, surrounded by fortresses able to deliver (at least in theory) a punishing crossfire. Dewey did finally move his squadron in Boca Grande, at 23 pm, lights off except the pilot stern that allowed the battle line to follow. His line passed between Caballo and El Fraile north to south, included leading USS Olympia, followed by the steamer USS Nanshan, Zafiro, McCulloch, and Petrel, then the USS Raleigh, Concord and Boston.

The poor coal used by USS McCulloch made that little flame that arose from his high chimney, causing her to be discovered by the watchman of fort of El Fraile, which promptly after opened fire. The first salvo fell between Raleigh and Petrel. The whole line answered, and silenced the battery, without it seems affected. However, the telegraphist was able to sent the alert at 2 am, to Admiral Montojo, already warned by the rumbling in the distance, frowned behind the hills of Cavite. He sounded the rally and the crew hurried to put away, or throw overboard everything that was a source of bursts during the battle, removing the yards, the boats down, placing here and there many sandbags. Dewey line of battle went up quietly in the middle of the bay, and at 4:00, the armada signaled the general steadyness for combat. The men were at post, cruisers ready from the tip of Cavite, to the batteries of Sangley Canaco. The Spanish fleet was forming a line of stepped defence in front of the city of Cavite, the Velasco drawing the battle line to the east of the fort at Sangley. The Zafiro, the Nanshan and McCulloch, the first two unarmed, were eventually sent back into the bay, as observers, while the line drawn by the Olympia arrived at Manila, finding only innoffensive steamers, tacked through the course to the southeast, toward Cavite.

The battle

The squadron was walking very slowly, at 3 knots, Dewey hoped that its vessels could stay unidentified. However, the watchman of the Don Juan of Austria saw at 4:45 am the fire arose from U.S. ships chimneys and gave the alarm. The American line was then at 5 o'clock in the morning, taken to task by the heavy batteries of the forts of Manila, when the sun jus began to glow below the horizon. Two cruisers responded with strict orders to summers limit the use of ammunition against these forts, sparing them for the enemy ships. Montojo, seeing the artillery duel in front of Manila, decided to allow its ships to sail in an emergency and blew a few mines that blocked his maneuver by his cruiser Admiral, the Reina Cristina. Dewey at 5:15 pm, when his squadron approached, saw the light of the guns of Fort Canacao (one 120 mm (5 in) gun) and Sangley Point (two 150 mm (6 in) guns), soon followed by those of Spanish cruisers.

Only 35 minutes later he ordered to respond when everyone was ready. The two 203 mm guns (6 in) of the USS Olympia front turret, thundered, followed by other vessels of his squadron. By not presenting the Spanish as their bows, the ships of the squadron did not run a great risk. But soon the Olympia began to turn course East to present the bulk of side guns. The whole line swung into its sides with the Spanish ships, opening fire at point-blank range(400 meters).

First, the Reina Cristina was hit, after few impacts sparking a fire and knockout its main artillery. Dewey initiated to bring a turning movement, the famous "spiral" in reduced mode (6-8 knots, approx. 10-12 km/h), precisely in order to concentrate his fire back to the north, then back again by the east, each time bearing all its side guns. It was far enough, however, to avoid the shallows of the Bay of Canacao.

At 7:30 am, he suddenly learned that the reserves of ammunition for his main guns (those of the Olympia), had only fifteen rounds left of ammunition. The situation still could turn around very quickly. He decided, though men were still ready to fight, to withdraw to replenish his ships, and to allow men to take a breakfast, always under Spanish gun threat, which was later noted in the press as further evidence of the extraordinary American nonchalance or overconfidence... But in truth the inventory had been misinterpreted, because only fifteen summers had shells fired by gunners in all that time, they take more time aiming for the exercise!... The result seemed to live up as many shots were off course (2% hits, which at the time was a very good result ...). The order given by Dewey in any case was not well received by the crew, especially the gunners who were stunned, and the officers suddenly had to provide a detailed report of losses of men and ammunition remaining. Men from the boiler rooms ran to the deck tryieng to check the damage of the Spanish ships... Confusion even shortly reigned aboard the Olympia, which amid the smoke of the fire seemed to see a torpedo attack on two Spanish quickly knocked out by the rapid-fire small pieces of the cruiser. It turned out later that it was two small civilian boats, simply in the wrong place wrong time...

The Spanish did not, however, remain idle. Not only they replicated feverishly, but they also attempted an attack in the old style, when Don Juan de Austria and Reina Cristina began a maneuver to spur the Americans. The barrage of fire kept them at bay. The Cristina, already deprived of its firing direction, was also manhandled by several hits, one of which entered her hospital room and the other in its rear ammunition store, which began to roast but did not explode, beeing promptly drowned by the pumps. But nonetheless the fire quickly spread, and soon ran out of control, and with only a handful of gunners remaining, half her crew ashore, and most officers killed or wounded, Montojo decided to scuttle his ship. Taking a skiff, the Admiral quickly joined the cruiser Isla de Cuba to raise his own flag. The Don Antonio de Ulloa was soon casted as well, but in shallow water, so that the crew remained on board, and others severely damaged. Spanish had scored almost no hit. The Castilla, finally followed and was also evacuated and scuttled. Montojo ordered the remaining ships to sail out towards Bacoor Bay to pursue the fight, and surrender before it scuttled in shallow water.


The American fleet had taken several impacts, almost without damage and without victims. The most succesful and most memorable hit was taken by the USS Baltimore, by the freeboard, ricocheted off the bridge, crossed a deckhouse, bounced inside the shield of a piece of 6 inches from the opposite side, ricocheted a second time on the bridge and came to buring itself in a sock, without exploding... There was eventually 8 minor injuries as a result of sparks and splinters. More fear than harm. At 11h 16 pm, the cease-fire became evident as the Spanish squadron appeared to have been completely knockout. However there was a final artillery duel between USS Baltimore and the still undamaged Canacao and Sangley forts, which were silenced. Yet watchers warned that the crew of Don Antonio de Ulloa, although half submerged, was using the latest usable gun to reply. In fact it was not true, but a rain of shells quickly fell on what was soon a wreck, and yet the last remaining men on board for the honor of their flag. The american gunners themselves were impressed by the bravery of these Spanish crews. The gunboat USS Petrel was then ordered to enter the harbor, checking Spanish unit still able to fight and then coming back to make a report. Arriving off the town of Cavite, she wiped out and silenced another battery with her 6 inches guns.

At noon, the case was made. All Spanish ships were reported permanently disabled. Montojo noted in its report 127 dead and 214 injured. The heavy batteries of Manila, however, able to sink American ships, stood quiet for fear of reprisals. The only two American deaths were due to the chief engineer of the McCulloch Randall, a heart attack during the transition from Boca Grande, and Captain Charles Gridley, already ill, and who directed the firing of the Olympia since confined to the blockhouse, a real oven under the relentless sun of the region suffered from the heat to the point that he died a month later at Kobe, back home. Later, the Americans seized the Isla de Cuba and Isla de Luzon, repaired them, and resumed their service in the US Navy as gunboats under their original names. In 1912, the Isla de Cuba was also sold in Venezuela, which kept it in service until the late 40... As for the Olympia, it was preserved and is currently the visiting centerpiece of Independence Seaport Museum, at Philadelphia.

At sunset, the USS Olympia came quietly mooring at the waterfront of Manila, all flags were disposed like in parade, sailors and officers alike in clean uniforms, and the full orchestra dresed in their in their gala uniform lined up on its rear deck and began a series repertoire of songs in honor of the defeated man of the day, Montojo, and the gallantry of the entire fleet. The crowded astonished Manileers came to hear these tunes on the docks, while echoing from Cavite continuous explosions of the last stocks of ammunition still smoldering wrecks...

An epilogue:

While the Spanish fleet was clearly out of action, Dewey still did not controlled the city, as it was not unlike Cuba, the prey of insurgents. The entire American squadron did not even have a company capable of rallying the governor palace... Dewey then took the decision after the news of his victory were cabled, to set up a naval blockade of Manilla harbour. He was promised troops quickly. In town, several persistent rumors speak of an alliance in Europe between Germany and Spain, in Habsburg memory... Some even predicted an imminent declaration of war, and a rumored report said that an army of 10,000 Germans from Tsing Tao had landed at Subic... However, the Filipino independence movement was quickly sent into action, and revolutionaries under the leadership of a Cuban Metis, Vicente Catalan, mutinied in the steam Compania de Filipinas, July 5, 1898. The Spanish officers were executed, and the ship rallied the port of Manila, where some other steamer crews to the cause lay ahead. Promoted "Admiral" of the "Mosquito Fleet" flying the flag of the Philippine Republic, Catalan ordered to paint false barbettes on the hull and put on the main deck of copper pipe painted black, some mocked guns. Thus disguised as "cruiser", the transport of Filipinas Tobacco rallied Subic Bay in order to obtain the surrender of the garrison of the fort, under the threat of his "guns".

But the Spanish garrison refused and decided Catalan to send an infantry company to finish them. Preparations went on, when the sailors of the improvised cruiser discovered with amazement the "real" German cruiser Irene. The latter raised on her mast a recognition signal and a summons. The Filipino steamer was seen by the German as a "pirate", as the Philippine Republic was far from being an official reality. Diplomatic waltz took place in Europe, each nation had ordered naval vessels, often only to "show the flag". But in this case German were there, and Filipinos were aware, this situation could quickly degenerates. The mock cruiser was no match and bowed, hoisting the white flag. Informed of the situation, Dewey sent the Concord and Raleigh to intervene and require in turn the Spanish surrender. The Irene, seeing the American ships arrived, went quietly mooring on the other side of Isla Grande, and after a warning shot from Commander Coghlan of USS Raleigh, he saw with satisfaction the garrison stir in turn the white flag.

Them, reassured by the hope of surrendering to regular troops, left the fort in good order and joined the Raleigh. Coghlan, however, had been ordered to assign prisoners to Catalan, the latter having been ordered to hand them over to the smooth govenor of Manila, while maintaining their military presence ended armes.Ainsi Spanish in the Philippines. The latter acquired their "independence" after the Treaty of Paris signed Dec. 10, 1898, but in reality the first elected president, Emilio Aguinaldo, was seen as a puppet of the White House by the majority of former revolutionaries who took over arms. Under strong U.S. military presence, army and navy after an extensive operation against guerrillas-was mounted with the blessing of the Philippine president, the "war of Boro." The situation was all so simple that the insurgents had taken control of the old Spanish fort.

On September 23, 1899, a small squadron consisting of Charleston, Concord and Monterey, and the former Spanish gunboat Zafiro, handled by crews "loyalists," rallied the shores of the tip Kalakhan, where a battery in the hands of insurgents threatened sector. After a volley of large pieces of 305 mm from the USS Monterey (a monitor), the only canon replied to the form, and an American company landed and completed the job. It was an incident among many others. Later, U.S. troops also had to face the revolt of the indigenous Moros. Their presence became as important as that of the Spanish past, but a new form, and the former Spanish bases were developed and strengthened and fortified considrablemet over the years 20-30. In 1941, General MacArthur directed the U.S. forces in the Philippines, and considered the approaches to Manila (by jungle or sea), impregnable. It was December 1941, but that's another story ...

Useful links and bibliography : (USS Olympia)