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If the prospects for war with Spain had been a foregone conclusion for months, so too was the predicted outcome of such a conflict.  The Spanish fleet, while still large, was an aging fleet that no longer reflected the luster and might that had made the terms "Spanish" and "Armada" synonymous.  Despite the fact that many ships of the enemy fleet were constructed of steel, as were the newer warships of the U.S. Navy, they were no match for the modern guns of the American sailors.  Author Sherwood Anderson had his own unique perspective of America's coming battles with Spain.  He said it would be "Like robbing an old gypsy woman in a vacant lot at night after a fair."

Upon receiving orders to proceed, Admiral George Dewey set his own fleet on a course towards Luzon, departing Mirs Bay in China on April 27th.   His flagship was the first class protected cruiser U.S.S. Olympia, followed by three second class cruisers Baltimore, Raleigh and Boston, the gunboats Petrel and Concord, the revenue cutter Hugh MuCulloch, and two transports Nanshan and Zafiro.  

The three-day run across the South China Sea was made, as one Naval lieutenant later reported, "As directly and with as little attempted concealment as if on a peace mission.  Lights were carried at night and elecric signals freely exchanged; but gruesome preparations were going on within each ship.  Anchor chains were hung about exposed gun positions and wound around ammunition hoists; splinter nets were spread under boats; bulkheads, gratings and wooden chests were thrown overboard; furniture was struck below protective decks; surgical instruments were overhauled and hundreds of yards of bandaging disinfected.  The sea was strewn for fifty leagues with jettisoned woodwork unfit to carry into battle."  (Lt. John Ellicott)

Once his fleet had put to sea, Admiral Dewey ordered the men to muster on each ship to hear a reading of the proclamation issued five days earlier by General Basilio Augustin Davila, the Spanish governor-general of the Philippine Islands.  In that proclamation Davila asserted that, "The North American people...have exhausted our patience and provoked war...with their acts of treachery.   
"A squadron manned by foreigners, possessing neither instruction nor discipline, is preparing to come to this archipelago with the ruffianly intention of robbing us of all that means life, honor and liberty.  Pretending to be inspired by a courage of which they are incapable, the North American (U.S.) seamen undertake as an enterprise capable of realization, the substitution of Protestantism for the Catholic religion you profess, to treat you as tribes refractory to civilization, to take possession of your riches as if they were unacquainted with the rights of property, and to kidnap those persons whom they consider useful to man their ships or to be exploited in agriculture or industrial labor."

When the entire text of General Basilio's March 23rd proclamation had been read, the officers of each American ship informed the crew that their destination was the Philippine Islands to "capture or destroy the Spanish fleet."  The cheers of the sailors and Marines echoed across the South China Sea as the United States Navy prepared for its first major foreign test as a world power.

 

As morning dawned on April 30th, Admiral Dewey's fleet sighted the coastline of the largest of the Philippine islands, Luzon.  The United States Navy had finally arrived, prepared for war.  First however, they had to locate the enemy fleet.  Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron was no novice at sea, and among the more than 700 islands of the archipelago there were literally thousands of small coves that would hide his vessels.  

The logical location for finding the enemy would be somewhere in the vicinity of Manila Bay, a large inlet near the Philippine capital city, midway on the western coast of Luzon.  Arriving at Luzon eighty miles north of Manila Bay, Dewey dispatched his warships Boston and Concord to reconnoiter the smaller bays and inlets as the remaining seven vessels slowly continued southward towards Manila Bay.  

The Boston and Concord found no sign of the enemy fleet, then proceeded to enter Subic Bay at the northwest edge of the Bataan peninsula.  Again they found no sign of the enemy vessels, and turned to rejoin the fleet.  As they departed the bay they met the Baltimore, recently dispatched ahead of the rest of Dewey's warships to meet them.  (Had the reconnaissance occurred one day earlier, the Boston and Concord would have steamed directly into the Spanish fleet.  Within the previous 24 hours Admiral Montojo had sailed his warships out of Subic Bay after a 4-day stay, opting to enter the shelter of the larger Manila Bay.)  As the sun began to set on the evening of April 30th, Admiral Dewey's full fleet of 7 warships and 2 transports had marshaled outside Subic.  He ordered the commanding officers of each ship to join him on the flag ship Olympia, where he outlined his plans.  For the men of the United States Navy, it would be a long night.

Manila Bay is a large inlet on the western coast of Luzon, nearly twenty miles wide and twenty miles deep.  Entrance to the bay is only achieved through a narrow passageway less than ten miles across, and broken up by the tadpole shaped fortress island of Corregidor, and the smaller islands of Caballo and El Fraile.  At the north end of the entrance is the Bataan Peninsula and the city of Mariveles.  With heavy guns placed on fortifications at Mariveles and Corregidor, and with additional batteries on the two smaller islands and the southern tip of the entrance, an enemy attempting to enter Manila Bay would be subject to an intense cross-fire from at least five batteries.  At the north end of a small peninsula just southwest of the capitol city sat the Cavite arsenal, as well as additional fortifications on Sangley Point.  Admiral Montojo chose to anchor his ten warships and their transports just outside the city of Manila, knowing that before an enemy could attack him, they would first have to run the gauntlet of shore batteries at the harbor's entrance.  Scattered throughout the smaller coves and river inlets to the harbor he had another 20 or more small river boats.  It was a perfect place to hide or, should an enemy dare to run the gauntlet, to stand and fight.

 

Aboard the Olympia, Admiral Dewey was planning to do just that.  As the ship's band played "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight," the American commander explained his order of battle.  The young moon would provide just enough light for the lead ship to spot the island of Corregidor and the entrance to Manila Bay.  By midnight however, the moon would set to provide a darkened passage for his fleet as they ran the enemy gauntlet.  If all went well, when morning dawned, he would find and destroy the Spanish fleet.

 

At 7:30 that evening, the commanders each having returned to their respective warships, Admiral Dewey began leading the convoy towards Manila Bay in his flagship.  Cruising at 8 knots, strung out behind him at intervals of 400 yards, was a single line of American Naval power:  Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, Boston, McCulloch, Zafiro, and Nanshan...in that order.  Each ship traveled under complete blackout conditions, save for a single light aft.  Even that light was shielded so as to be hid from the periphery.  Only the ship directly behind could see its faint glow, as the silent warships crept in a single line towards the battlefield.

At 10:40 the lights of the enemy encampment at Corregidor came into view, and the men of the American war ships were ordered to stand by their guns.  Within the half hour the "Olympia" entered the Boca Grand, the larger of two channels entering Manila Bay.  In the darkness the dull, gray ships silently crept forward, young and untested soldiers crouching in hushed anxiety near their guns.  None would sleep on this night.

By 11:30 the fleet was committed to its dangerous course when the night was lit by a rocket from Corregidor.  Young sailors held their breath as they awaited the crash of enemy guns that was destined to follow.  None came.  The American fleet had not yet been spotted and slowly continued onward.  A short time later the lights at Corregidor, Caballo Island and on the San Nicolas Banks were extinguished for the night.

Midnight and total darkness fell over the passageway, and then came the first sounds of enemy fire.  At last the shore batteries had detected the passage of the American battleships, and shells began to rain over the convoy.  The first rounds came from the south shore near Punta Restinga, followed by the shells from the batteries at Caballo and El Fraile.  The Raleigh and Concord briefly returned fire, but the Americans quickly noted that the enemy shells were falling far over their heads.  In the darkness the ships were still nearly invisible as they ran the gauntlet.  

Shortly after four o'clock on the morning of May 1st, the Olympia was well into the harbor, the other American ships behind her and prepared for battle.  Skill and daring had enabled the 9 vessels to negotiate the passageway, thought to have been mined and directly under the shore batteries of the enemy, to find and sink the Spanish fleet.  Twenty miles distant Admiral Dewey could see the lights of Manila. In front of the capitol city in a line northward from Sangley Point was anchored ten warships of Admiral Montojo.  Concealment was no longer important, the Spanish now knew the Americans had arrived.  Admiral Dewey's flagship became a beacon of flashing signal lights as he organized his ships for the battle that would come with dawn.  

 

It was not until two o'clock in the morning that Admiral Montojo  had been awakened to be informed that the Americans had entered the bay.  He was stunned.  The thought that the American commander would make the three-day trip from China and, on his first night upon arrival and without reconnaissance, dare to run the batteries and probable mine fields to enter Manila Bay in the dead of night, had never crossed his mind.   Be that as it may, the Americans had arrived, and Montojo ordered his ships to raise steam.  All his officers who had gone ashore to be with their families were awakened and called back to their ships.

 

At 4:00 A.M. coffee was served to the officers and men of Admiral Dewey's fleet.  Three vessels of the reserve squadron were sent northward to lay to, while Dewey's remaining six ships continued their course towards Manila.  At 5:05 A.M. the Stars and Stripes were unfurled from each of the war ships and Dewey gave the command to "Prepare for general action."  Ten minutes later the enemy shore batteries at Sangley Point opened fire.  The American ships returned fire, then turned towards the ships of Admiral Montojo.

Within minutes the early morning air was filled with the thunder of heavy guns, and geysers of water shooting heavenward as the enemy shells began falling around the American ships.  Dressed in his crisp white Naval dress uniform, Admiral George Dewey stood on the bridge of his flagship "Olympia".  In the preceding hours he had done the unthinkable, navigating the Boca Grand to find and meet the enemy.  As the smell of smoke filled the air and the shells of the enemy erupted around his fleet, Dewey led the way into battle.  At 5:40 A.M. he turned to the Captain Charles V. Gridley of his flagship, the USS Olympia and said: 

 

"You  may  fire  when  ready."

 

May 1, 1898

 

 

The Spanish fleet was anchored in what was almost an east-to-west line across the bay as Captain Gridley made his first broadside run on the enemy battleships.  From the bridge, Admiral Dewey personally directed the entire battle, most of which lasted only two hours.  As the  Olympia opened fire at 5:41 A.M., it steamed westward across the line of enemy ships.  Three shore batteries at Manila opened fire on the American ships, sustaining fire for the period.  Most of the rounds sailed harmlessly past Dewey's fleet to fall into the waters of the bay.  Meanwhile Admiral Montojo's aging warships faced a deadly fusillade from the Olympia and the five American ships strung out behind it, the Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, and Boston.  

The starboard batteries of the American ships pounded the port sides of the Spanish fleet with devastating effect as they made the first pass.  From a distance of from 2,000 to 5,000 yards the combat was furious, but most of the return fire from Admiral Montojo's ships fell short of the Americans.  Two Spanish torpedo boats broke from the anchored enemy vessels to approach the Olympia.  One was quickly sunk, the other damaged beyond further effort and had to be subsequently beached.

The first pass left many of the ten Spanish warships badly damaged and the smoke from the fires caused by the battle hung low over the bay.  Reaching the westward end of the line, at 6:40 Dewey ordered his line of warships to turn and pass broadside once again, this time attacking from west to east.  Again the heavy guns of the US Navy rained death and destruction on the Spanish.  Five times in all, three to the west and twice to the east, Admiral Dewey's ships made runs on the enemy.

At 7:00 A.M. Admiral Montojo's flagship, Reina Cristina tried desperately to leave the line and engage the Americans at short range.  A galling fire from the Olympia turned her back, heavily damaged and fires erupting in several places.  At least one 8-inch shell pierced the Reina Cristina and her fate was quickly sealed.  The Admiral's flag was transferred to the nearby Isla de Cuba.

By 7:35 all ten ships of the Spanish fleet were almost totally in ruin and fires burned in many places across the bay.  Admiral Dewey received a report, which later proved to be erroneous, that only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun remained for his 5-inch rapid fire battery.  After less than two hours of battle, he called a cease-fire and pulled his ships back to regroup and redistribute ammunition.  It also afforded his crew opportunity to have breakfast.

During the lull in the battle of Manila Bay, the captains of the ships of the US Navy took stock of their own damages, then made their reports to Dewey on the Olympia.  Amazingly, considering the ferocity of the battle, casualties had been light...only three of the six battleships bore any scars.  The bridge of the Olympia where Admiral Dewey directed the battle had been peppered with fragments of a bursting shell,  Another shell struck the starboard side of the flagship while another had cut the signal halyards from the flag lieutenant's hand.  The Boston had taken a direct hit near the water line on the port side aft, setting fire in the officers quarters.  The fire had been quickly extinguished however, and the Boston was capable of continued battle.  The Baltimore had survived all five passes on the Spanish fleet directly behind the flagship, and had taken the most damage.  Five times the enemy shells had struck the large second-class cruiser, seven men and two officers receiving minor wounds from shrapnel.  They were the only Americans wounded in the course of the entire battle.   

Despite the five direct hits, not counting a sixth that had cut a hole in the Stars and Stripes that flew from its mast, compared to the burning and sinking wreckage of the Spanish ships, Baltimore had been fortunate indeed.  The only American craft to sink had been the Baltimore's two quarter-boats, blown to pieces by the blasts of the Baltimore's own guns and subsequently cut loose to add to the wreckage in Manila Bay.

During this lull in the battle, Admiral Dewey sent a warning to the Governor-General in Havana, where the three shore batteries had maintained a steady fire on his fleet.  Unless the guns were silenced, the American warships would begin shelling the city.  The devastation of the US Navy's guns already apparent in the bay, Manila's Governor-General took heed of this warning and the firing from the shore batteries at Havana ended.

 

By 11:16 A.M. Admiral Dewey had regrouped his fleet, received reports from his captains, and determined that the earlier report on the shortage of ammunition was in error.  A second time he turned his warships towards the enemy fleet, this time to finish the job.  There wasn't much to finish.  The Reina Cristina and one of the enemy gunboats were burning beyond hope.  (Admiral Montojo later estimated his flagship had taken seventy hits before the transfer of his flag to the Isla de Cuba.)  The Spanish cruiser Castilla had taken heavy fire in the first five passes and, during the lull before the second assault commenced, had been destroyed by an explosion within, presumably caused when onboard fires reached the ship's magazines.  The Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Cuba, and Isla de Luzon had also taken heavy fire, rupturing the sea valves and causing many of the crew to abandon ship.  In the "mop-up" operation, only Don Antonio de Ulloa remained in any semblance of fighting order.  Despite Admiral Montojo's final desperate order to "scuttle and abandon",  the commander of Ulloa remained with his ship at anchor just inside Sangley Point.  As the Baltimore moved past Sangley Point, the sailors of Ulloa opened fire, a last valiant effort by the crew of a doomed enemy ship.

The Baltimore returned fire, joined shortly thereafter by the Olympia.  Passing to the other side of the point, the Raleigh joined in the swan song of the Spanish Armada, catching the Ulloa in a crossfire that destroyed her within minutes.  Meanwhile the rest of Dewey's warships cruised past to train their guns on the arsenal at Cavite.  Within half an hour the five Spanish flags were lowered at the Spanish Naval base, to be replaced by a white flag of surrender.  

By 12:40 Admiral Dewey anchored his valiant fleet abreast of the city of Manila.  In seven hours the untested sailors and Marines of the United States had survived their first engagement.  In those seven hours they had destroyed virtually every ship of Spain's Pacific Fleet,  ten huge warships now exploding, burning, or sinking.  A squadron annihilated, the American forces had also captured an enemy navy yard and more than 400 enemy lay dead or wounded.  For the Americans, not a single ship was disabled, not a life lost.  (The only casualty of the day was the the death of the engineer of the McCulloch, a victim of heat stroke.)

Spanish ships destroyed:  Reina Christina, Castilla, Velasco, Don Juan de Austria, Don Antonio De Ulloa, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, Elcano, General Lezo, Marquis del Duero, Argos  

 

 

The Battle of Manila bay is considered by many to be the birth of the modern United States Navy.  It was indeed, a great source of pride for all citizens of the United States, the first GOOD news since the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine.  As could be expected, reports of the unbelievable victory in Havana made for pages of ink in the American newspapers.  Admiral Dewey and Captain Gridley became instant heroes, Dewey's initial order, "You may fire when ready" the new buzz word of the times.

Admiral Montojo would not be so fortunate.  Upon return to Spain he was court-martialed and cashiered.

There were many other heroes on that first day of the Spanish-American war, untested young sailors who stood in the face of violent enemy fire to courageously do their duty.  Even among the ranks of the enemy, one could not overlook the valiant last stand, when all hope was gone, of the captain and crew of the Don Antonio de Ulloa.  In Captain Gridley's report he stated, Every officer and man did his whole duty there is only room for general praise."  The captain of the Olympia paid further tribute in his report to 3 clerks who, in time of combat, voluntarily took up battle stations.  He also gave a good report of a reporter from the New York Herald, along for the story, who "served as a volunteer aid to the commander in chief and rendered invaluable assistance in carrying messages and in keeping an accurate account of the battle."

Franz Anton Itrich

Other officers similarly reported on the courage and tenacity of the men under their command.  The heroism of Franz Anton Itrich, Chief Carpenter's Mate on the U.S.S. Petrel was recognized in a single, simple sentence..."Serving in the presence of the enemy, Itrich displayed heroism during the action."  That description was far too brief to truly preserve for future generation the courage of this American sailor.

Born in Germany, Itrich was one of the many immigrants who chose to serve his adopted country in the latter part of the 19th century.  During the 7-hour battle of Manila Bay, Itrich's ship the Petrel gave a solid accounting of itself.  Itrich himself performed his duties coolly and professionally. 

When the battle had ended and Admiral Dewey withdrew his ships to anchor abreast of Manila, the entire bay was awash with flaming wreckage and debris.  Many of the Spanish ships, though reduced to hulks of twisted metal, still drifted dangerously on the swells of the bay.  Of additional concern were the smaller gunboats, perhaps as many as twenty, hidden in the shallow coves and river inlets that spilled into Manila Bay.  As the victorious fleet was pulled together to accept the the glorious moment of surrender at Manila, Admiral Dewey instructed Commander Wood of the Petrel to conduct the final sweep and destruction of the remnants of the Spanish fleet.

It was Franz Itrich who volunteered for the dangerous task.  Captain Wood dispatched a whale boat with Itrich and seven men to board those enemy vessels still afloat and destroy them.  

Slowly, carefully, Franz Itrich had his men row their small boat to each of the still burning enemy vessels.  Itrich himself personally boarded each ship, braving flames and explosions to determine the best places both fore and aft to spread the fires that would send the floundering death-traps to the bottom of the bay.  In each boarding there was always the potential for harm to himself from the flames and secondary explosions, perhaps even a very real danger of a one-on-one confrontation with an enemy who had remained behind or was wounded and unable to abandon ship.  The cool, thorough manner in which Itrich completed his job resulted in the final destruction of Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, Marquis del Duero, and Velasco.  Upon boarding the transport Manila, Itrich found it to carry 350 tons of coal, 35 head of cattle, 45 barrels of wine, and a large supply of light artillery ammunition.  Using good judgment, Itrich chose to spare this ship, which was later converted to an American gunboat.

For his service that day, Franz Itrich was commended by his captain, promoted to Carpenter, and given a gratuity of $100 from the Navy department.  His actions were preserved for future generations in that one, simple sentence ....

Serving in the presence of the enemy, Itrich displayed heroism during the action." 

They were the explanation for an even more prestigious recognition.  Franz Anton Itrich became the first American to earn the Medal of Honor in the Spanish-American war.

 

A Splendid Little War

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