The Battle of Manila Bay took place on the 1st May 1898. The American Asiatic Squadron which was under the command of Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish Pacific Squadron in Manila Bay. History books record it as a great victory, however the fact it was the starting point of the genocide that the Americans carried out in the Philippines over the next the next 20 years.
Not only did the battle mark the start of the genocide it also marked the end of the Spanish colonial period for the Philippines. The battle of Manila Bay was the first major engagement of the Spanish–American War.
Prelude to the Battle of Manila Bay
A little bit of research into the reasons given for the Battle of Manila Bay soon shows that like more resent wars such as Iraq, the reasons do not add up.
A reason given in “Historic Ships on a Lee Shore”. Sea History. National Maritime Historical Society was.
Americans living on the West Coast of the United States feared a Spanish attack at the outbreak of the Spanish–American War. Only a few U.S. Navy warships, led by the USS Olympia, stood between them and a powerful Spanish fleet.
The fact that the Spanish fleet was decimated in just 2 hours in one of their own ports, is a clue that the Spanish fleet that it is claimed Americans living on the West Coast of the United States feared was not as powerful as was made out. The question has be asked did they really over rate the power of the Spanish fleet or was it propaganda to get public support for the war.
The Spanish fleet in the Philippines was mainly obsolete vessels and any attempt to strengthen it did not amount to much. The Spanish navy did quickly dispatch a career Spanish naval officer Admiral Montojo to take control of the fleet.
Other measures to strengthen the fleet did not amount to much and suggests that the Spanish knew it would be no more than an exercise to save face.
The Spanish fleet was manned mainly by an inexperienced crew that had done no training in over a year. It was also undermanned as the Spanish were using the men on civilian constructions ashore.
A Squadron of ships had been sent from Manila to the Caribbean to reinforce its fleet there, and the only replacement was two scout cruisers that were poorly armoured.
The Spanish admiral wanted to confront the American fleet in Subic Bay, however on learning there was not enough mines to defend the coast he abandoned the idea.
By placing his fleet in an area that was out of range of his shore artillery it seems Admiral Montojo realised the Spanish could not win and was just hoping to save Manila from being bombardment.
Because the Battle took place mainly out of range of the shore artillery the three forts and the six shore batteries had no affect on the battle of Manila bay.
The Spanish had just 7 ships that were all inferior to the American ships. One of the ships the Castilla had no power so was towed by a transport ship.
A shore battery was being installed on Isla Grande that could have made a difference to the outcome of the Battle of Manila Bay, however it was not completed on time.
When the American ships left Hong Kong they intended to take on the Spanish in Subic Bay this never happened because the Spanish realised they could not defend Subic Bay, so they moved their ships south to the shallow waters of Manila bay in the hope of saving lives by running the ships aground and allowing the crew to swim to shore.
The Spanish spotted the fleet in Subic Bay at 7pm on the 30th of April, but did not expect a night time attack on Manila Bay as it was considered unnavigable at night unless you knew the bay.
The American Consul gave Dewey detailed information about the Spanish defences and the state of the Spanish fleet, which I suspect even in them days would have been a crime for a consul to pass on such information.
At midnight on the 30th of April Dewey sailed in Manila Bay on the USS Olympia that led the reat of the US fleet.
Dewey choose the south channel that goes between El Fraile and Caballo Islands rather than the North channel that was the normal route into Manila Bay. The South channel was mainly unmined, 2 mines did explode but were to deep to do much damage. Did they have a Spanish traitor on board or maybe a Filipino that knew the channels well and guided them? I guess we will never know but it is possible and does seem likely.
The battery at El Fraile did open fire with a few rounds only to realise the American fleet was out of range. At 5:15 am the battery at Cavite fired some ranging shots, this was followed by the fire from the Spanish ships and the shore, however this was futile as the Americans were still out of range.
26 minutes later the the order was given to the Americans to open fire and they were ordered to start the destruction of the Spanish flotilla and the Battle of Manila Bay was truly underway, and the fate of the Philippines was going to take a bloody turn that would lead to suffering for millions of Filipinos.
The American ships sailed past the bow of the Spanish ships and opened fire on them and the forts, They then turned and sailed past the stern again opening fire, doing this limited the amount of fire the Spanish could return but it did also make a smaller target for the Americans to hit. In total the American ships did this 5 times first from a range of 5,000 yards and each time closing until they were 2,000 yards from the Spanish. The Spanish fired back both from ships and from shore bateries for 2 and a half hours, however the shore batteries had no affect as the Americans stayed out of range.
Realising they had been outgunned the Spanish admiral ordered his ships to ram the Americans, The first to attempt it was the Cristina, in doing so she took fire from most of the American ships and more than half her crew became casualties and she was left with only 2 men manning her guns. Luckily she managed to limp to shore before she was scuttled.
At 7:45 am Dewey received a message informing him that they only had 15 rounds of 5 inch ammo left per gun, so he ordered the American ships to withdraw.
With seeing the withdrawal of the Americans the Spanish took the opportunity to move their ships to Bacoor Bay and ordered them to resist the Americans for as long as they could.
The Americans taking stock of the battle so far discover the message that they only had 15 rounds per gun left was wrong, it should have said they had only fired 15 rounds per gun.
At 10:40 am the Americans resumed their attack and the Spanish were unable to put up much of a defence, so the order was given to scuttle the ships. At this point the Americans turned 3 of their ships and opened fire on Sangley Point battery which quickly put the battery out of action, next they sunk the Ulloa. The Spanish surrendered at 12:40 pm.
The Americans claimed it was a great victory, however it was not great for Filipinos that would soon suffer at the hands of the Americans.