water battery

Battle of Manila Bay (1898)

The Battle of Manila Bay took place on 1 May 1898, during the Spanish-American War. The American Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey engaged the Spanish Pacific Squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón and destroyed the Spanish squadron. The engagement took place in Manila Bay, the Philippines, and was the first major engagement of the Spanish-American War.


Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón, who had been dispatched rapidly to the Philippines, was equipped with a variety of obsolete vessels. Efforts to fortify his position amounted to little. The corrupt Spanish colonial bureaucracy may have worked against the effort, sending explosives meant for mines to friendly construction companies. Reinforcements promised from Madrid resulted in only two poorly armored scout cruisers. Montojo compounded his difficulties by retreating from the range of Spanish fortress guns—guns that might have evened the odds—and choosing to anchor in a relatively shallow anchorage. His intent seems to have been to preserve the families of the Spanish sailors in Manila from bombardment, and to allow survivors of his fleet to swim to safety. The harbor was protected by four batteries.


At daybreak on Sunday 1 May, George Dewey aboard the protected cruiser USS Olympia led a small squadron of ships into Manila Bay. Two mines were exploded but were ineffective. Shortly after five A.M., the Spanish shore batteries and the Spanish fleet opened fire. At 5:40 with the now famous phrase, "You may fire when ready, Gridley," the Olympia's captain was instructed to begin the barrage that resulted in the destruction of the Spanish flotilla.

The U.S. squadron swung in front of the Spanish ships and forts in single file, firing their port guns. They then turned and passed back, firing their starboard guns. This was repeated five times, each time at closer range. The Spanish forces had been alerted, and most were ready for action, but they were outgunned. The eleven Spanish ships and five land batteries fought back for two and a half hours. The American ships withdrew at 7:45 a.m. to redistribute ammunition, then attacked again at 10:40. Most of the Spanish ships were either destroyed or surrendered. The Spanish colors were struck in surrender at 12:40 p.m. The results were decisive; Dewey won the battle with only a single fatality among his crew: Francis B. Randall, Chief Engineer on the McCulloch, from heart attack.

Subsequent Action

A Spanish attempt to attack Dewey with Camara's Flying Relief Column came to naught, and the naval war in the Philippines devolved into a series of torpedo boat hit-and-run attacks for the rest of the campaign. While the Spanish scored several hits, there were no American fatalities directly attributable to Spanish gunfire.

On May 2, Dewey landed a force of Marines at Cavite. They completed the destruction of the Spanish fleet and batteries and established a guard for the protection of the Spanish hospitals. The resistance of the forts was weak. The Olympia turned a few guns on the Cavite arsenal, and its magazine at once exploded, killing some and wounding many. This practically ended the fire from the batteries.


In recognition of George Dewey's leadership during the Battle of Manila Bay, a special medal known as the Dewey Medal was presented to the officers and sailors under Admiral Dewey's command. Dewey was later honored with promotion to the special rank of Admiral of the Navy; a rank that no one has held before or since in the United States Navy. Building on his popularity, Dewey briefly ran for president in 1900, but withdrew and endorsed William McKinley, the incumbent, who won.

Dewey's flagship, the Olympia, is preserved as a museum ship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Independence Seaport Museum (formerly the Philadelphia Maritime Museum).

Ships involved

United States


Engaged vessels ranged in size from 5870 tons (Olympia) to 500 tons (Marques del Duero).

Dispatches Between Dewey and the Secretary of the Navy

Dewey sent multiple dispatches to John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, immediately prior to, and following, the Naval Battle of Manila Bay. These dispatches included George Dewey's promotion from the rank of commodore to rear-admiral.

HONGKONG, May 7, 1898. (Manila, May 1.)
The squadron arrived a Manila at daybreak this morning. Immediately engaged enemy and destroyed the following Spanish vessels: Reina Christina, Castilla, Don Antonio de Biloa, Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, General Lezo, Marquis del Duaro, El Curreo, Velasco, one transport, Isla de Mandano, water battery at Cavite. I shall destroy Cavite arsenal dispensatory. The squadron is uninjured. Few men were slightly wounded. I request the Department will send immediately from San Francisco fast steamer with ammunition. The only means of telegraphing is to the American consul at Hongkong.

HONGKONG, May 7, 1898. (Cavite, May 4.)
I have taken possession of the naval station at Cavite, Philippine Islands, and destroyed its fortifications. Have destroyed fortifications bay entrance, paroling garrison. Have cut cable to main land. I control bay completely and can take city at any time, but I have not sufficient men to hold. The squadron excellent health and spirits. The Spanish loss not fully known; very heavy; 150 killed, including captain, on Reina Cristina, alone. I am assisting and protecting Spanish sick and wounded, 250 in number, in this hospital, within our lines. Will ammunition be sent? I request answer without delay. I can supply squadron coal and provisions for a long period. Much excitement at Manila. Scarcity of provisions on account of not having economized stores. Will protect foreign residents.

See also


Additional References

  • Nofi, Albert A., The Spanish American War, 1898, 1997.
  • Carrasco García, Antonio, En Guerra con Los Estados Unidos: Cuba, 1898, Madrid: 1998.
  • Freidel, Frank Burt. The Splendid Little War. Boston: Little, Brown,1958.
  • Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War. New York : Morrow, 1992. ISBN 0688097146.

External links

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