The Armada Espanola, was one of the most powerful fleets in the world. The Spaniards were highly experienced sailors and expert seafarers who had some of the world’s most advanced warships in 1898. In the Philippines, they had ships and coastal artillery batteries capable of defending the Spanish-owned islands from any foreign usurpers. Low and behold, their seeming naval invincibility was challenged by an emerging power, wrought from a vicious Civil War. The United States merely three-decades after its vicious and bloody war with itself dared to take on a European superpower. This unassuming challenger made the Spaniards disregard and underestimate their foe—during that era no one dared challenge Spain.
On April 30, 1898, Commodore George Dewey, a commander of a small American flotilla sailed off from the Mirs Bay near Hong Kong–their destination Manila Bay in the Philippines. A small rag-tag group of Filipinos followed through on May 19, 1898, on board the American revenue cutter, USRC McCulloch. The group of twelve Filipinos included Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and the rest were his staff. The Filipinos were promised support from the Americans and in return assist the Americans to defeat the powerful Spaniards in the Philippines once and for all. This verbal promise was the start of a short-lived and loose alliance between the Americans and the Filipinos. Likewise, it was the start of another bloody imperial war waged against an already war-torn country, the Philippines.
The American flotilla consisted of the powerful USS Olympia, USS Baltimore, USS Raleigh, and USS Boston all armored protected cruisers, with two fast gunboats the USS Petrel and USS Concord. They also had two transports, the USS Nanshan and USS Shafiro with the USRC McCulloch who later transported the Filipino revolutionaries from Hong Kong. The lightly armed ships were kept out of the main engagement and were tasked to support the Naval action from afar.
Commodore George Dewey’s flagship was the USS Olympia, a heavily armored protected cruiser that carried four 8-inch/35 caliber MarkVI guns, 10 5-inch/40 caliber MarkII guns, including rapid-fire guns and torpedoes. The protected cruiser, clad with steel armor and heavy guns, was meant to be the main battleship of that era. Compared to some Armada Espaniola warships, the USS Olympia was, in fact, inferior to some Spanish protected cruisers. The USS Olympia was considered to be a second-class protected cruisers by European Naval standards of that time. But in April 1, 1898, at the Battle of Manila Bay, the Spaniard cruisers were smaller and lightly armored compared to the USS Olympia itself.
The Armada Espanola commanded by Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo had two small protected cruisers, the Isla de Luzon and Isla de Cuba. They also had four fast unprotected cruisers, the Reina Cristina, Castilla, Don Antonio de Ulloa, and Don Juan de Austria, including one operational gunboat the Marques del Duero. Onshore, there were Spanish heavy coastal defense guns and naval mines that were designed to protect vital entry points of Manila Bay. But by 1898, they were already obsolete and the Spanish guns were out-ranged and out-gunned by the American warships—because of neglect and lack of interest for upkeep.
By April 30, 1898, the American flotilla sailed silently into Manila Bay that midnight to catch the Spanish fleet off guard. Having good military intelligence from the American consulate in Manila, the American fleet had a good element of surprise. Early morning May 1, 1898, the Battle of Manila Bay went underway. The American flotilla hit a few naval mines but because of their obsolescence were ineffective. After which, the unprepared Spanish shore artillery batteries open-fired, but due to lack of preparation, the guns were found to be easily out-ranged by the American naval guns and were easily taken out. By 0515HRS, more Spanish-controlled Manila and Cavite coastal batteries opened-up, including the Armada Espaniola warships that were surprised and scrambling for better firing positions. The American ships formed a “line ahead” formation and following a circular pattern, that allowed the American warships an optimal distance of 2,000 to 3,000 yards from the Armada Espaniola warships. The first Spanish warship to be destroyed was the Reina Cristina, the ship was made the Spanish flagship. Maria Cristina due to her speed and Spanish desperation was maneuvered to ram USS Olympia–she was easily sunk by overwhelming gunfire from the American ships. A quick lull occurred at 0745HRS due to some miscommunication about ammunition on the American side. Upon continuing the battle more Spanish ships were either destroyed or scuttled and active coastal batteries were silenced, by 1245HRS, the Armada Espanola surrendered. The door to the Philippines is now wide open for the victorious Americans.