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Manila Bay, battle of

The following is an account of the memorable naval battle of May 1, 1898, by Ramon Reyes Lala, Filipino author and lecturer, here reproduced by courtesy of his publishers, the Continental Publishing Company:

It was the 19th of April. An American fleet lay in the harbor of Hong-Kong, where it had been anchored for nearly a month, impatiently awaiting the command that should send it to battle.

There was feverish expectation of war, and bustle of preparation, and Commodore Dewey nervously walked the deck; for every moment the longed — for order was expected.

It was the 19th of April, and the white squadron lay gleaming in the sunlight; and yet by the night of the 20th the white squadron was no more; for she had exchanged the snowy garb of peace for the sombre gray of war. The ships' painters had, in this short time, given the entire fleet a significant coat of drab.

The English steamer Nanshan, with over 3,000 tons of Cardiff coal, and the steamer Zafiro, of the Manila-Hong-Kong line, carrying 7,000 tons of coal and provisions, had just been bought by the commodore, in anticipation of a declaration of neutrality, which would preclude such purchases, and thus two more vessels were added to the fleet, Lieutenant Hutchins being made commander of the Nanshan, and Ensign Pierson of the Zafiro. the Zafiro was then made a magazine for the spare ammunition of the fleet.

Hong-Kong, for strategic reasons, had been chosen as a place of rendezvous for the Asiatic squadron.

On April 25 war was declared between the United States and Spain, and, at the request of the acting governor of Hong-Kong, the American fleet steamed away to Mirs Bay, about 30 miles from Hong-Kong. On April 26 the revenue-cutter McCulloch, which had been left at Hong-Kong, brought the desired message. It read as follows:

Washington, April 26.

Dewey, Asiatic Squadron,—Commence operations at once, particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture or destroy them.


“Thank God!” said the commodore.

“At last we've got what we want. We'll blow them off the Pacific Ocean.”

And now the fleet was headed direct for Manila, a distance of 628 miles; and, with hearts beating high with hope, the sailors cheered lustily for Old Glory and the navy blue.

In the squadron were the following vessels: Olympia, flag-ship, Capt. C. V. Gridley commanding; Boston, Capt. Frank Wildes; Concord, Commander Asa Walker; and the Petrel, Commander E. P. Wood. the Raleigh, Capt. J. B. Coughlan commanding, and the Baltimore, commanded by Capt. N. M. Dyer, also joined the squadron.

All these vessels were cruisers. The single armored ship in the squadron was the Olympia, and the armor, 4 inches thick, was around the turret guns.

In making the journey to the Philippines, a speed of only 8 knots was maintained, for the transport ships could not make fast headway against the rolling sea.

During this run, gun-drills and other exercises kept the men busy, and every minute was employed in earnest preparation for what all knew was to come.

It was on Saturday morning, April 30, that Luzon was sighted, and final preparations for the battle were immediately made. Impedimenta of all kinds were thrown overboard—chairs, tables, chests and boxes, and the ships were stripped and made ready for action. It was intensely warm, and the most ordinary evolution proved exhausting. the Boston, the Concord, and the Bal- [96]

Fort and earthworks at Cavite, captured by Dewey.

timore were now sent ahead to discover whether the Spanish fleet was anywhere around.

After looking in at Bolinao Bay, these three vessels cautiously approached Subig Bay, about 30 miles from Manila. However, only a few small trading-vessels were here discovered, though it had been reported that the enemy intended to give the Americans battle there.

When the scouting ships reported that the enemy was nowhere in sight, the commodore replied: “All right, we shall meet them in Manila Bay.” A war-council was then held on the Olympia, and the American commander told his officers that he intended to enter Manila Bay that very night.

The squadron then slowly proceeded in the direction of Manila. It was a sultry evening, and the yellow moon paved the waves with a pathway of gold, that seemed like a glorious avenue to victory.

Fearing that they might come upon the enemy at any moment, the men were posted at their guns, and, with the greatest quietness, the fleet steamed stealthily forward. The lights on all the ships were put out, save the one at the stern, and so the squadron slipped into the bay, each moment dreading a challenge from the strongly fortified batteries that the Americans had been taught to believe were located at every point along the entrance.

The speed was now increased to 8 knots; for the commodore wished to be as far inside as possible before his presence was discovered.

Through the dangerous channels, mined with death-hurling torpedoes, swept the silent squadron, grim and spectre-like. Well did the Americans know the dangers of this undertaking; and few there were that did not momentarily expect some exploding mine to hurl them into eternity.

Then Corregidor Island, with its lofty light-house, came within view, and the ships swept into the chief channel, known as the Boca Grande.

The commodore, having so far failed to discover the presence of the enemy, naturally concluded that the Spanish fleet was lying at Cavite, where it would have the advantage of the protection of the forts and the shore batteries.

And thus, with a full appreciation of [97] the thousand and one dangers, known and unknown, that beset his path, Dewey kept straight by Corregidor.

It was eleven o'clock, and the men of the fleet, which was now almost past the island, were congratulating themselves that they were undiscovered when a solitary rocket soared over the lofty lighthouse; there was an answering light from the shore, and every moment the Americans expected the boom of the Spanish guns, long primed with a deadly welcome for the “Yankee pigs.”

The narrowest part of the inlet had been passed; and still no sign that the entering fleet had been discovered. Impressive, indeed, was that long line of gloomy hulls, steering for battle, and courting destruction. the Olympia, the Baltimore, the Raleigh, the Petrel, the Concord, and the Boston, with the two transports the Nanshan and the Zafiro, convoyed by the McCulloch, on the flagship's port quarter—all kept on in the same straight course, while the men on board were partaking of light refreshment. For all felt that a great day's work was before them.

But where are the enemy? was the thought uppermost in every mind. For to the Americans themselves it seemed that they were surely making enough noise to be heard by the sentries on the shore. Doubtless they were asleep, dreaming a Spanish dream of mañana.

It was shortly past eleven o'clock, when from the smoke-stack of the convoy McCulloch flew a shower of sparks. A fireman had thrown open the furnace-doors and shovelled in a few pounds of soft coal.

This was evidently seen by some one on shore, for it was just fourteen minutes past eleven when a bugle sounded an alarm, and from the west came a blinding glare, a shrill whistle overhead, and the heavy boom of a cannon.

It was the first shot of the war, and it was fired with characteristic Spanish inaccuracy.

Again the battery thundered; and then a third time, before there was a reply from the American fleet. the Raleigh, which was the third vessel in the line, was the first to speak for the American side, and then the Boston followed, with stentorian roar, and the battle was on. Again the battery sent its deadly missive over the fleet, and this time the Concord, taking its aim by the flash, responded by throwing a 6-inch shell into the Spanish fort. A crash and a cry and all was still. It was learned afterwards that considerable damage was done by this wonderfully accurate shot, several of the Spanish gunners being killed. the Boston and the McCulloch fired another round or two, but the forts had evidently had enough of it; they were no longer heard from.

Meanwhile, the squadron continued its course, though its speed was reduced to about 3 knots an hour, the commodore not wishing to arrive at Manila before dawn.

Darkness hung over the harbor as the gray procession glided noiselessly in. Had a Spanish scout been on the lookout, it would scarcely have been possible for him to have distinguished his approaching enemy. A strict lookout was kept for the Spanish ships and for the dreaded torpedoboats, while most of the men lay down by their guns to get a little sleep. But with the terrible fate of the Maine vivid in their memories, the more imaginative ones conjured up a shuddering sense of insecurity in a harbor supposed to be literally planted with destructive mines.

This invisible foe, and not the longedfor and expected combat with the enemy's fleet, was feared by the brave Americans, and when the morning sun, in all his tropical splendor, rose right before the Americans, under the guns of the Cavite lay the Spanish fleet. The Americans were at last face to face with the enemy.

The commander-in-chief of the Spanish squadron was Rear-Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron; the second in command was the Commandante-General Enrique Sostoa y Ordennez.

Under Admiral Montojo's command were the following vessels:

Reina Cristina, flag-ship, armored cruiser, Capt. L. Cadarso commanding, 3,500 tons; battery, six 6.2-inch, two 2.7-inch, six 6-pounders, and six 3-pounder rapidfire guns; speed, 17.5 knots; crew, 400 officers and men.

Castilla, Capt. A. M. de Oliva commanding, 3,334 tons; battery, four 5.9-inch, [98] two 4.7-inch, two 3.3-inch, four 2.9-inch, and eight 6-pounder rapid-fire guns; speed, 14 knots; crew, 300.

Isla de Cuba, Capt. J. Sidrach, and Isla de Luzon, Capt. J. de la Herian; 1,030 tons each; battery, four 4.7-inch, four 6-pounder, and two 3-pounder rapid-fire guns; speed, 14 knots; crew, 200 men each.

General Lezo, Commander R. Benevento, and Marques del Duero, Commander S. Morena Guerra; the former was 524, the latter 500 tons; batteries, two 4.7-inch, one 3.5-inch, and two 3-pounder rapid-fire guns; speed, 11 knots; crew, 100.

Altogether, the Americans had four cruisers, two gunboats, one cutter; fifty-seven classified big guns, seventy-four rapid-firing guns and machine-guns, and 1,808 men. On the other side were seven cruisers, five gunboats, two torpedo-boats; fifty-two classified big guns, eighty-three rapid-firing and machine guns, and 1,948 men. It will thus be seen that the Americans had a few more heavy guns; but the Spanish had several more ships and over 100 more men. They were also assisted by the powerful land-batteries, and by the knowledge of the exact distance of the American ships. For the latter had no range-marks with which to determine the proper elevation to be given to their sights. In the American squadron, moreover, was not a single armored cruiser; besides, the Spaniards were at their base of supplies, while Commodore Dewey was more than 6,000 miles away from all aid. Such were the numbers and the disposition of the combatants now about to fight.

With Old Glory flying at every masthead, and with the beating of drums, the American squadron, after a brief reconnoitring detour in the harbor, sailed in a straight line past the fleet of the enemy. Each ship was to hold its fire until near enough to inflict the most damage, when as many shots should be fired as possible. Then to steam as quickly as possible out of effective range; to wheel and return— keeping close to the opposite shore—to the original point of starting, when the same manoeuvre was to be repeated—and so again and again till the enemy was destroyed or defeated.

On the Spanish fleet, too, all was bustle and preparation; the national flag, that symbol of medieval tyranny, floated from every masthead, the admiral's flag on the Reina Cristina being the cynosure of all eyes.

The Americans had left their supplyships behind, and their fleet, according to prearranged plan, steamed slowly past the enemy. Meanwhile the batteries of Cavite kept up an incessant roar, and now Montojo's flag-ship thundered a deadly welcome; while over the American flag-ship was hoisted a code-flag, with the watchword, “Remember the Maine!” This was the signal for a concerted yell from the sailors in the fleet. And thus, with colors flying, and with fire reserved till a closer range should make it more effective, the commodore and his brave officers bore down towards the Spaniards, who were awaiting their approach with curiosity not unmixed with alarm, at the same time they sent a thunderous fusillade as a greeting to the hated Yankees.

But the Americans, undeterred, grimly kept their course, notwithstanding one or two mines exploded beneath the water, one near the Raleigh and one beside the Baltimore. Again and again the Spanish guns thundered, until the roar became incessant and shells were bursting all around. When about 6,000 yards from the Spanish fleet the commodore shouted to Captain Gridley, who was in the conning tower: “Fire as soon as you get ready, Gridley.”

Hardly had he given the word, which also was passed down the line, when the whole ship shivered, and the 8-inch gun in the front turret burst into a sheet of flame, while a dull, muffled roar belched forth that awoke the apparent torpor of the whole fleet to instant activity. the Baltimore and the Boston now took up the cue, and sent their tremendous shells crashing into the enemy, who replied vociferously. The din was deafening, and over and around all the American ships was the shriek and scream of terrifying shells. Some of these fell upon the decks, some smashed into the woodwork, but, as if providentially, not an American was hit.

“Open with all the guns,” signalled the commodore; and all the ships joined together in a roaring chorus, as if Cerberus [99] and all the dogs of hell had opened their mighty throats.

And thus, with incessant firing, the battle-line passed the whole length of the stationary Spanish fleet, then slowly swung round and began the return to its starting-point, keeping up the same flash and clatter, the Spaniards responding furiously. It was at this time that a shot passed clean through the Baltimore, though, fortunately, no one was hurt. Lieutenant Brumby had the signal halyard shot out of his hands; while on the Boston a shell burst in the state-room of Ensign Dodridge, and another passed through the Boston's foremast.

During the third round the Raleigh was carried by the strong current against the bows of two of the Spanish cruisers, where all aboard seemed too bewildered to take advantage of their opportunity. Captain Coughlan, however, did not lose his presence of mind, but poured a destructive broadside into the enemy. His vessel was then carried back into the line.

While this fierce combat was waging the Reina Cristina moved out of the Spanish line and made direct for the American flag-ship, which hurled a perfect tornado of steel into the approaching cruiser, her immense hulk being soon riddled with large holes, where the 8-inch shells had entered. The portbridge, where Admiral Montojo was standing, was also struck, but he bravely stuck to his post, while ton after ton of steel fell upon the deck.

No ship, however, could withstand such a fire, and the gallant Reina Cristina turned round and made for the shore. As she swung round Captain Gridley gave her a parting shot that caused her to tremble and stagger, while the 250-pound shell crashed through the bowels of the ship and there exploded, hurling its deadly contents all round, while from the shattered deck rose columns of steam, mingled with human fragments. The ship, now completely disabled, continued her retreat. Sixty of her crew had been killed, and had she continued longer within the Americans' range all would have met a like fate.

Meanwhile, the little Petrel was engaged in a duel with two Spanish torpedoboats, headed for the American line. One

Wreck of the Reina Cristina.

of these she chased to the shore, where the crew sought shelter in the woods, while their abandoned vessel was blown into pieces by the daring American. The other advanced to within 500 yards of the Olympia, braving the storm of shot and shell that threatened to overwhelm her. As it was, a shell ploughed its way into her middle, where it exploded. From stem to stern she shivered, gave a forward plunge, and sank beneath the waves. the Baltimore, too, was engaged in an encounter with the Castilla that resulted most disastrously to the latter, for she was soon a blazing wreck.

Five times the American fleet passed [100] in front of the enemy, keeping up the same deadly fire that showed only too well the results of American training and marksmanship. And though the Spanish guns in the ships and the forts ceased rattling not an instant, they neither disconcerted nor damaged in the least the Americans. It was now a quarter to eight, and so dense was the smoke hanging over the waters that it was impossible for the Americans to distinguish not alone the enemy's ships, but their own vessels, and the signals, too.

The commodore now wisely concluded to stop for a while the fighting, and allow his men a chance to take some breakfast; for the brave fellows, after their morning's hard work, were hungry as wolves; so the signal “cease firing” was given, and the ships were headed for the eastern side of the bay, near the transport ships.

It is related that the Spaniards were exceedingly relieved when they saw the Americans in—as they thought—full retreat, and many of then stood on the decks and cheered, thinking they had gained the victory.

When the various commanders came on board to report to Commodore Dewey, it was found that not a ship was disabled, not a gun out of order, not a man killed or injured. It is true Frank B. Randall, the engineer of the McCulloch, died from heart-disease as the fleet steamed past Corregidor, but this was not in any wise due to the engagement. Many miraculous escapes, indeed, are related; and it is really wonderful that no serious casualties took place. The sailors, as may easily be imagined, were nearly wild with joy; and, as all hands were piped to breakfast, the decks were gay with merry jackies improvising a dance of victory, while the strains of Yankee Doodle and the Star-Spangled banner filled the morning air. Cheery was that breakfast, and sweet, ah, sweet, was the three hours rest so nobly earned!

At 10.45 the boatswains' whistles and the drums announced the renewal of the battle. Instantly every man was at his post, eager to finish the job so well begun. Again the American squadron was headed towards the enemy's battle-line; but several of the Spanish ships were now disabled, the Cristina and the Castilla were both on fire, and the Mindanao beached not far from Cavite.

Admiral Montojo had meanwhile transferred his flag to the Isla de Cuba; and the Baltimore, leaving the American line, made straight for his former flag-ship, which threw a torrent of shells towards the intrepid American. the Baltimore, however, notwithstanding that a few of these deadly missiles exploded on her deck, wounding eight of her crew, continued her course till within 2,500 yards of her antagonist. Then from her decks she fired a broadside at the Spaniard. There was an ominous silence for a minute or two, and both Spaniards and Americans waited anxiously for the smoke to lift. Suddenly, all saw a sight that struck every man in both fleets with terror, for it seemed the probable fate of all. the Cristina shot into the air and then fell back upon the waves with a thunderous crash, while a thousand fragments of men and timbers—promiscuously mingled in awful confusion—were whirling through the air. Down into the waves she sank— that gallant man-of-war—the pride of the Spanish fleet—down into the deep blue sea. Upon the surface, amid tons of floating debris, 100 sailors struggled for life; many sank to rise no more; some, however, succeeded in reaching one of the adjacent consorts. the Baltimore, aided by the Olympia and the Raleigh, now kept up a deadly fire on the Juan de Austria, which answered this terrible fusillade with intermittent volleys, that spoke well for the courage, but poorly for the aim, of her gunners.

It was at this moment that the Raleigh sent a shell crashing through the other's centre, exploding her magazine; in an instant she seemed a crater of flame, and sank back like the Cristina, a total wreck. Her flying fragments also inflicted such damage upon the gunboat El Correo, which lay beside her, that she was completely disabled. the Petrel gave her a finishing shot, that closed her brief career. Another Spanish gunboat, the General Lezo, also set out to accomplish great things, but the Concord, with a few good shots, put a quietus upon her warlike ambition, and, like her sister ships, she too was soon a floating wreck. [101]

Meanwhile, the Boston was engaged in a duel with the Velasco. Captain Wildes, of the former, stood on the bridge of his ship vigorously fanning with a palmleaf fan; for it was a hot morning, and it was the captain's policy to keep cool. the Velasco responded to the Boston's broadsides but feebly. Then with a plunge she careened to one side and sank heavily, her crew having scarcely enough time to escape to the adjacent shore. the Castilla had already been set on fire and scuttled by her crew, to prevent her magazine from exploding. the Don Antonia de Ulloa, which was engaged with the Olympia and the Boston, though riddled with shells and on fire in a dozen places, refused to surrender. Her gallant commander, Robion, stuck to his ship to the very last; then she sank with colors flying, a signal example of Spanish bravery. Another vessel had hauled down her flag, but when a boat's crew from the McCulloch approached to take possession of her, she treacherously fired on them. Suddenly from every ship in the American fleet there thundered a swift and awful retribution. There was darkness around her shivering hull, there was a dull explosion and a lurid glare; and when the smoke had rolled away nothing but a few floating fragments were left to indicate the traitor's fate.

Thus ship after ship of the Spanish fleet met a like fate, until Admiral Montojo, on the deck of the deserted and almost useless Isla de Cuba, took down his colors, and, with a few surviving officers, escaped to the shore.

But, notwithstanding the destruction and the surrender of the Spanish fleet, the batteries kept up an incessant fire. The Americans now turned their attention to these, and speedily silenced them. the Petrel was left behind to complete the destruction of the smaller gunboats. This she did most effectually.

As the Cavite arsenal unfurled the white flag, the command “Cease firing” was given, and the various American commanders once more gathered on the flagship, their men cheering themselves hoarse.

A most extraordinary victory, truly! Not one man lost, and only six men slightly wounded, all on the Baltimore; while the Baltimore, Olympia, and Raleigh suffered injuries that could be repaired in a few hours.

The Spanish, on the other hand, were almost annihilated, and lost the following

Wreck of the Isla De Luzon.

vessels: SunkReina Cristina, Castilla, Don Antonia de Ulloa; burned—Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, General Lezo, Marques del Duero, [102] El Correo, Velasco, and Isla de Mindanao; captured Manila, and several tugs and small launches. Besides this, the enemy lost more than 600 men.

On the day following the engagement, the squadron returned to Cavite, where it took up a permanent position until the arrival of the transports from America. On May 3 the Spanish evacuated Cavite arsenal, which was then held by a detachment from the fleet. The same day the batteries on Corregidor Island surrendered to the Raleigh and the Baltimore. And thus ended the greatest naval battle in American history.

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