The following is the report of Admiral Montojo, the Spanish Admiral in charge of the Spanish Squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay. It should be noted that Montojo places the U.S gunboat HELENA at the battle. She was, in fact, serving on the other side of the world off Cuba.
DEPARTURE FOR SUBIC
On the 25th of April, at 11 P.M., I left the bay of Manila for Subic with a squadron composed of the cruisers REINA CRISTINA, DON JUAN DE AUSTRIA, ISLA DE CUBA, ISLA DE LUZON, despatch boat MARQUES DEL DUERO, and the wooden cruiser CASTILLA. This last could merely be considered as a floating battery, incapable of maneuvering, on account of the bad condition of her hull. The following morning, being in Subic, I had a conference with Captain Del Rio, who, though he did not relieve my anxiety respecting the completion of the defensive works, assured me that they would soon be finished. In the meanwhile the cruiser CASTILLA, even on this short cruise, was making much water through the bearings of the propeller and the opening astern. They worked day and night to stop these leaks with cement, finally making the vessel nearly water-tight, but absolutely impossible to use her engines.
On the morning of the 27th, I sailed with these vessels to cover the entrance to the port of Subic. The CASTILLA was taken to the northeast point of Isla Grande to defend the western entrance, since the eastern entrance had already been closed with the hulls of the SAN QUINTIN and two old merchant vessels which were sunk there. With much disgust, I found that the guns which should have been mounted on that island were delayed a month and a half. This surprised me, as the shore batteries that the navy had installed (with very little difficulty) at the entrance of Manila Bay, under the intelligent direction of Colonel of Naval Artillery, Senor Garces, and Lieutenant Venavente, were ready to fight twenty-four days after the commencement of the work. I was also no less disgusted that they confided in the efficacy of the few torpedoes which they found feasible to put there. The entrance was not defended by torpedoes nor by the batteries of the island, so that the squadron would have had to bear the attack of the Americans with its own resources, in 40 meters of water and with little security. Our vessels could not only be destroyed, but they could not save their crews. I still held a hope that the Americans would not go to Subic, and give us more time for preparations, but the following day I received from the Spanish consul at Hong Kong a telegram which said *Enemy squadron sailed at 2 P.M. from the bay of Mira, and according to reliable accounts they sailed for Subic to destroy our squadron, and then will go to Manila.
This telegram demonstrated that the enemy knew where they could find my squadron and that the port of Subic had no defenses. The same day, the 28th of April, I convened a council of the captains, and all, with the exception of Del Rio, chief of the new arsenal, thought that the situation was insupportable, and that we should go to the bay of Manila in order to accept there the battle under less unfavorable conditions.
THE RETURN TO MANILA
I refused to have our ships near the city of Manila, because, far from defending it, this would provoke the enemy to bombard the plaza, which doubtless would have been demolished on account of its few defenses. It was unanimously decided that we should take position in the bay of Canacao, in the least water possible, in order to combine our fire with that of the batteries of Point Sangley and Ulloa. I immediately ordered Del Rio to concentrate his forces in the most strategic point of the arsenal, taking every disposition to burn the coal and stores before allowing them to fall into the power of the enemy. I sent the DON JUAN DE AUSTRIA to Manila to get a large number of lighters filled with sand to defend the water line of the CASTILLA (which could not move) against the enemy*s shells and torpedoes. At 10 A.M. on the 29th I left Subic with the vessels of my squadron, towing the CASTILLA by the transport MANILA. In the afternoon of the same day we anchored in the Gulf of Cacacao in 8 meters of water. On the following morning we anchored in line of battle, the CRISTINA, CASTILLA, DON JUAN DE AUSTRIA, DON ANTONIO DE ULLOA, LUZON, CUBA, and MARQUES DEL DUERO, while the transport MANILA was sent to the Roads of Bacoor, where the VELASCO and LEZO were undergoing repairs.
At 7 P.M. I received a telegram from Subic announcing that the enemy*s squadron had entered the port at 3, reconnoitering, doubtless seeking our ships, and from there they sailed with course for Manila. The mail steamer ISLA MINDANAO arrived in the bay. I advised her captain to save his vessel by going to Singapore, as the enemy could not get into the entrance probably before midnight. As he was not authorized from the trans-Atlantic he did not do so, and then I told him that he could anchor in shallow water as near as possible to Bacoor. At midnight gun fire was heard off Corregidor, and at 2 on the morning of the 1st of May I received telegraphic advices that the American vessels were throwing their search lights at the batteries of the entrance, with which they had exchanged several shots. I notified the commanding general of the arsenal, Senor Sostoa, and the general-governor of the plaza, Captain Senor Garcia Pana, that they should prepare themselves. I directed all the artillery to be loaded, and all sailors and soldiers to go to their stations for battle, soon to receive the enemy. This is all that occurred since I sailed to Subic until the entrance of the American squadron into the bay of Manila.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE ENEMY
The squadron being disposed for action, fire spread, and everything in proper place, we waited the enemy*s arrival. All the vessels, having been painted dark gray color, had taken down their masts and yards and boats to avoid the effects of projectiles and the splinters, had their anchors buoyed and cables ready to slip instantly. At 4 A.M. I made a signal to prepare for action, and at 4.45 the AUSTRIA signaled the enemy*s squadron, few minutes after which they were recognized, with some confusion, in a column parallel with ours, at 6,000 meters distant; the flagship OLYMPIA ahead, followed by BALTIMORE, RALEIGH, BOSTON, CONCORD, HELENA, PETREL and McCULLOCH, and the two transports ZAFIRO and NANSHAN. The force of these vessels, excepting transports that were noncombatant, amounted to 21,410 tons, 42,290 horsepower, 163 guns (many of which were rapid fire), 1,750 men in their crews, and of an average velocity of about 17 miles. The power of our only five effective ships for battle was represented by 10,111 tons, 11,200 horsepower, 76 guns (very short of rapid fire), 1,875 crew, and a maximum speed of 12 miles.
THE FIRE FROM SHORE
At 5 the batteries on Point Sangley opened fire. The first two shots fell short and to the left of the leading vessel. These shots were not answered by the enemy, whose principal object was the squadron. This battery had only two Ordonez guns of 15 centimeters mounted, and but one of these could fire in the direction of the opposing fleet. In a few minutes one of the batteries of Manila opened fire, and at 5.15 I made signal that our squadron open fire. The enemy answered immediately. The battle became general. We slipped the springs and the cables and started ahead with the engines, so as not to be involved by the enemy.
The Americans fired most rapidly. There came upon is numberless projectiles, as three cruisers at the head of the line devoted themselves almost entirely to fight the CRISTINA, my flagship. A short time after the action commenced one shell exploded in the forecastle and put out of action all those who served the four rapid-fire cannon, making splinters of the forward mast, which wounded the helmsman on the bridge, when Lieut. Jose Nunez took the wheel with a coolness worthy of great commendation, steering until the end of the fight. On the meanwhile another shell exploded in the orlop, setting fire to the crews* bags, which they were fortunately able to control.
The enemy shortened the distance between us, and rectifying his aim, covered us with a rain of rapid-fire projectiles. At 7.30 one shell destroyed completely the steering gear. I ordered to steer by hand while the rudder was out of action. In the meanwhile another shell exploded on the poop and put out of action nine men. Another destroyed the mizzen masthead, bringing down the flag and my ensign, which were replaced immediately. A fresh shell exploded in the officers' cabin, covering the hospital with blood, destroying the wounded who were being treated there. Another exploded in the ammunition room astern, filling the quarters with smoke and preventing the working of the hand steering gear. As it was impossible to control the fire, I had to flood the magazine when the cartridges were beginning to explode. Amidships several shells of smaller caliber went through the smokestack and one of the large ones penetrated the fire room, putting out of action one master gunner and 12 men serving the guns. Another rendered useless the starboard bow gun; while the fire astern increased, fire was started forward by another shell, which went through the hull and exploded on the deck.
The broadside guns, being undamaged, continued firing until there were only one gunner and one seaman remaining unhurt for firing them, as the gun crews had been frequently called upon to substitute those charged with steering, all of whom were out of action.
THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR SHIPS
The ship being out of control, the hull, smoke pipe, and mast riddled with shot or confused with the cries of the wounded; half of her crew out of action, among whom were seven officers. I gave the order to sink and abandon the ship before the magazines should explode, making the signal at the same time to the CUBA and LUZON to assist in saving the rest of the crew, which they did, aided by others from the DUERO and the arsenal.
I abandoned the CRISTINA, directing beforehand to secure her flag, and accompanied by my staff, and with great sorrow, I hoisted my flag on the cruiser ISLA DE CUBA. After having saved many men from the unfortunate vessel, one shell destroyed her heroic commander, Don Luis Cadaro, who was directing the rescue. The ULLOA, which also defended herself firmly, using the only two guns which were available, was sunk by a shell which entered the water line, putting out of action her commander and half of her remaining crew, those which were only remaining for the service of the two guns stated. The CASTILLA, which fought heroically, remained with her artillery useless, except one stern gun, with which they fought spiritedly, was riddled with shot and set on fire by the enemy*s shells, then sunk, and was abandoned by her crew in good order, which was directed by her commander, Don Alonzo Algado. The Casualties on this ship were 23 killed and 80 wounded.
The AUSTRIA, very much damaged and on fire, went to the aid of the CASTILLA. The LUZON had three guns dismounted, and was slightly damaged in the hull. The DUERO remained with one of her engines useless, the bow gun of 12 centimeters and one of the redoubts. At 8 o'clock in the morning, the enemy's squadron having suspended its fire, I ordered the ships that remained to us to take positions in the bottom of the Roads at Bacoor, and there to resist to the last moment, and that they should be sunk before they surrendered.
At 10.30 the enemy returned, forming a circle to destroy the arsenal and the ships which remained to me, opened upon them a horrible fire, which we answered as far as we could with the few cannon which we still had mounted. There remained the last recourse to sink our vessels, and we accomplished this operation, taking care to save the flag, the distinguished pennant, the money in the safe, the portable arms, the breech plugs of the guns, and the signal codes. After which I went with my staff to the Convent of Santo Domingo de Cavite, to be cured of a wound received in the left leg, and to telegraph a brief report of the action, with preliminaries and results.
THE JUDGEMENT OF THE ADMIRAL
It remains only to say that all the chiefs, officers, engineers, quartermasters, gunners, sailors, and soldiers rivalled one another in sustaining with honor the good name of the navy on this sad day. The inefficiency of the vessels which composed my little squadron, and lack of all classes of the personnel, especially master gunners and seamen gunners; the inaptitude of some of the provisional machinists, the scarcity of rapid-fire cannon, the strong crews of the enemy, and the unprotected character of the greater part of our vessels, all contributed to make more decided the sacrifice which we made for our country and to prevent the possibility of the horrors of the bombardment of the city of Manila, with the conviction that with the scarcity of our force against the superior enemy we were going to certain death and could expect a loss of all our ships.
Our casualties, including those of the arsenal, amounted to 381 men killed and wounded.
(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)
Dewey, George, Autobiography of George Dewey (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987, originally published in 1913 by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York) ISBN 0-87021-028-9. p. 266 - 272.