During the Spanish–American War, the Battle of Manila Bay (Filipino: Labanan sa Look ng Maynila; Spanish: Batalla de Baha de Manila), also known as the Battle of Cavite, took place on May 1, 1898. The Spanish Pacific Squadron, led by Contraalmirante (Rear admiral) Patricio Montojo, was fought and defeated by the American Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey. The combat took place in Manila Bay, Philippines, and was the Spanish–American War's first significant confrontation. The fight signaled the end of the Spanish colonial period in Philippine history and was one of the most momentous naval conflicts in history.
Tensions between Spain and the United States grew as a result of Spanish actions during the Cuban War of Independence, with many Americans angered by mainly false claims of Spanish atrocities against the Cuban people. Fearing for the fate of American interests in Cuba as a result of the conflict, the cruiser USS Maine was despatched to safeguard them in January 1898. The cruiser exploded less than a month later while at anchor in Havana harbor, killing 261 sailors and inflaming American sentiment.
When the conflict broke out, the Americans believed that defeating a large Spanish squadron stationed in the Philippines was critical to winning the war. To ensure victory, the United States Asiatic Squadron, commanded by Dewey, an American Civil War veteran, was despatched. The American squadron arrived in Manila Bay on May 1 to fight the Spanish. The Spanish made a desperate defense against the Americans, knowing they were fatally outgunned. The fight was hardly a contest, with superior American naval gunnery and seamanship ensuring that the whole Spanish fleet was sunk with only ten casualties for the Americans. When Montojo realized the combat was futile, he ordered the scuttling of his two protected cruisers to prevent them from falling into American hands. The engagement is remembered as one of the most important naval conflicts in American history.
At the start of the Spanish–American War, Americans living on the West Coast of the United States dreaded a Spanish attack. Only a few US Navy warships stood between them and a formidable Spanish fleet, led by the cruiser USS Olympia. Olympia, on the other hand, was vastly superior to the Spanish colonial fleet in practice, as the fight would demonstrate.
Admiral Montojo, a career Spanish naval commander who had been quickly despatched to the Philippines, was armed with a number of antiquated ships. Efforts to bolster his position were ineffective. The Spanish bureaucracy's policy implied that they couldn't win a war and that resistance was merely a face-saving exercise.: 59 The Spanish fleet in Manila was severely undermanned, with untrained sailors who had not had any instruction in over a year. The promised reinforcements from Madrid were simply two badly armored scout cruisers, while the authorities dispatched a squadron from the Manila fleet to reinforce the Caribbean under Admiral Pascual Cervera. Admiral Montojo had planned to engage the Americans in Subic Bay, northwest of Manila Bay, but he changed his mind after learning that the prepared mines and coastal defenses were not in place and the cruiser Castilla began to leak. Montojo made matters worse by putting his ships out of range of Spanish coastal fire (which may have evened the odds) and anchoring in a shallow spot. His goal appears to have been to avoid bombarding Manila and to allow any survivors of his fleet to swim to safety. Six shore batteries and three forts guarded the harbor, but their fire proved ineffectual throughout the battle. Only Fort San Antonio Abad had guns with the range to reach the American fleet, but during the conflict, Dewey never came within range of them.
The cruisers Reina Cristina (flagship), Castilla, Don Juan de Austria, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, and the gunboat Marques del Duero made up the Spanish squadron. The Castilla was unpowered and had to be pulled by the cargo ship Manila because the Spanish ships were of lower quality than the American ships. The squadron set off from Manila Bay on April 25th, intending to defend the port of Subic. The squadron was counting on the installation of a shore battery on Isla Grande. Before that installation could be completed on April 28, a cablegram from the Spanish Consul in Hong Kong came, stating that the American squadron had departed Hong Kong straight for Subic with the intention of eliminating the Spanish squadron and then proceeding to Manila. With the exception of the Commander of Subic, the Spanish Council of Commanders believed that no defense of Subic was possible in the current situation, and that the squadron should return to Manila, positioning itself in shallow water so that the ships could be run aground to save the crews' lives as a last resort. On April 29, the squadron departed Subic at 10:30 a.m. At midnight, Manila, towing Castilla, arrived in Manila Bay last.
Montojo was informed at 7 p.m. on April 30 that Dewey's ships had been observed in Subic Bay that afternoon. Because Europeans thought Manila Bay was impassable at night, Montojo predicted an attack the next morning. The US Consul in Manila, Oscar F. Williams, had furnished Dewey with precise intelligence on the state of the Spanish defenses and the Spanish fleet's lack of readiness. Dewey, who had embarked aboard Olympia, led his squadron into Manila Bay at midnight on April 30th, based in part on this intelligence.
Two Spanish mines burst as they passed through the entrance, but they were ineffectual because they were well below the draft of any of the ships due to the depth of the water. Ships used the north channel between Corregidor Island and the northern coast inside the bay, and this was the only passage mined. Instead, Dewey used the unmined south channel between the islands of El Fraile and Caballo. The El Fraile battery fired a few rounds, but the distance between them was too considerable. The McCulloch, Nanshan, and Zafiro were then removed from the combat line and did not return. The squadron was off Manila at 5:15 a.m. on May 1, and the Cavite battery fired range shots. The Spanish fleet and shore batteries subsequently opened fire, but all of the shells missed because the fleet was still out of range. The Olympia's captain was ordered to commence the destruction of the Spanish flotilla at 5:41, with the now famous words "You may fire when ready, Gridley."
The US squadron fired their port guns in front of the Spanish ships and forts in line ahead. They wheeled around and returned, firing their starboard cannons. This process was performed five times, with the range being reduced from 5,000 to 2,000 yards each time. The Spanish forces had been alerted, and the majority of them were ready to fight, but they were outgunned. Although the range was too great for the guns on shore, eight Spanish ships, land batteries, and forts returned fire for two and a half hours. Five more minor Spanish ships were not involved in the battle.
Montojo admitted defeat and ordered his ships to ram the enemy if feasible. The Cristina's cables were then slid and charged. She was then targeted by much of the American fleet's fire, and she was shot to bits. More than 200 members of the crew, including Montojo, were killed, leaving only two men to man the ship's cannons. Montojo ordered the ship to be scuttled after it returned to land. The Castilla had her front cable blasted away, leaving her to swing about and expose her weaponless starboard side. After that, the captain ordered her to be sunk and abandoned. The Ulloa was hit by a shell at the waterline, killing her commander and rendering half of her crew disabled. The Luzon was uninjured except for three cannons that were out of commission. The Duero had lost one of its engines and was down to one cannon.
Dewey ordered an urgent withdrawal at 7:45 a.m. after Captain Gridley informed him that only 15 rounds of 5" ammunition remained per cannon. To keep morale high, he told the crews that the combat would be stopped to allow them to have breakfast. "At least three of his (Spanish) ships had broken into flames, but so had one of ours," said an observer on the Olympia. All of the fires were put out without causing any damage to the ships. In general, nothing significant had happened to indicate that we had gravely injured any Spanish ships." Montojo used this opportunity to transfer his remaining ships into Bacoor Bay, where they were commanded to hold out as long as they could.
On the Olympia, a commanders' meeting revealed minor damage and no sailors dead. The original ammunition warning had been garbled—rather than stating that only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun were left, the message stated that only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun had been used. During the discussion, reports arrived that sounds of bursting munitions had been heard and fires had been seen on the Cristina and Castilla. The combat was resumed at 10:40 a.m., but the Spanish provided little resistance, so Montojo ordered the remaining ships to be scuttled and the breechblocks of their guns to be hauled ashore. After that, the Olympia, Baltimore, and Boston fired on the Sangley Point battery, knocking it out of commission, and subsequently sank the Ulloa. The Concord opened fire on the Mindanao, causing the crew to abandon ship. After firing on the government offices close to the arsenal, the Petrel flew a white flag over the structure, and all firing stopped. At 12:40 p.m., the Spanish colors were raised.
According to American reports, Dewey won the engagement with seven soldiers slightly wounded, nine injured, and only one casualty among his crew: Francis B. Randall, the McCulloch's Chief Engineer, who died of a heart attack. Dewey, on the other hand, according to Spanish naval historian Agustn Ramón Rodrguez González, sustained higher losses, though still far less than the Spanish fleet. According to Rodrguez, based on trustworthy information acquired by the Spanish consulate in Hong Kong, the American casualties were assessed to be 13 crewmen dead and more than 30 wounded. Dewey may have covered the deaths and injuries by adding the figures among the 155 soldiers who purportedly defected during the campaign, according to Rodrguez.
The Spanish attempt to strike Dewey with Camara's Flying Relief Column failed, and the naval combat in the Philippines descended into a series of torpedo boat hit-and-run attacks for the remainder of the campaign. Despite the fact that the Spanish scored many hits, no Americans were killed as a result of Spanish gunfire.
Dewey landed a force of Marines at Cavite on May 2. They finished destroying the Spanish fleet and batteries, and created a garrison to protect the Spanish hospitals. The fortifications offered little resistance. The Olympia fired a few guns at the Cavite arsenal, causing its magazine to explode and putting a halt to the Spanish batteries' fire.
Dewey sent a message to Washington saying that while he had control of Manila Bay, he required 5,000 more men to take Manila.
A special award known as the Dewey Medal was handed to the officers and sailors under Admiral Dewey's command in honour of George Dewey's leadership during the Battle of Manila Bay. Dewey was promoted to the unique rank of Admiral of the Navy later on. With his popularity growing, Dewey ran for president in 1900, but withdrew and endorsed incumbent William McKinley, who won. Dewey was appointed President of the United States Navy's General Board the following year, and he would play a crucial role in the Navy's growth until his death in January 1917.
Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Dewey Square in Boston are both named after Commodore Dewey. A 97-foot (30-meter) tall monument commemorates Admiral George Dewey's victory at the Battle of Manila Bay in San Francisco's Union Square.