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A Spanish Account of the Battle of Manila Bay

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The following is a Spanish civilian's view of the Battle of Manila Bay, as reported in the newspaper Diario de Manila on May 4, 1898. The account was written by a non-military observer who was somewhat removed from the scene of action. It shows how the people of Manila interpreted the battle. There are many points of inaccuracy, however.

The Account:

...All who appreciated the impunity with which the hostile ships maneuvered, as if on a harmless parade, were full of such rage and desperation as belongs to the brave man who can make no use of his courage; to whom remains no remedy except an honorable death rather than a cowardly inactivity. A soldier of the First Battalion of Cazadores gazed at the squadron sweeping over the waters out of reach of the fire of our batteries, looked out at the ships and then toward heaven, saying "If Holy Mary would turn that sea into land, the Yankees would find out how we can charge in double time." And a crouching native staring out at the ships said, "Just let them come ashore and give us a whack at them". On they stood at full speed in column of battle heading for Cavite with the decision due to a sense of safety and a firm assurance of success.


For more than an hour and a half the bombardment held in suspense those whose souls followed the unequal struggle, in which the Spanish ships went down with their glorious banners flying. What was going on in the waters of Cavite? From Manila we saw through glasses the two squadrons almost mingled together in the clouds of smoke. This was not far from a triumph for our side, considering the weakness of our batteries. For, once alongside the enemy the cry of "Boarders Away!" and the flash of cold steel might have enabled our devoted seamen to disturb the calm in which watches and instruments were regulating and directing those engines of destruction. In the blindness of our rage how should we paint the heroic deeds, the prowess, the waves of valor which burst forth from our men-of-war? Those who fought beneath the Spanish flag bore themselves like men, as chosen sons of our native land who never measure forces, nor yield to superior force in the hands of an enemy; who would rather die without ships than live in ships which have surrendered. To name those who distinguished themselves in battle would require the publication of the entire muster-rolls of our ships, from Captain to cabin-boy. To these victorious seamen of ours we offer congratulations; laurels for the living; prayers for the dead; for all, our deepest gratitude. Since we cannot reconstruct the bloody scene which was exhibited last Sunday in the waters of Cavite, we will not attempt a description, which would only be a pale shadow of great deeds deserving a perpetual place in the pages of history. When the hostile squadron turned toward Cavite, the crew of the steamer ISLA DE MINDANAO heard the drums beating to quarters, and answered with enthusiasm the three rounds of cheers for the King, for the Queen, and for Spain, which echoed along our line.

Later, until a quarter to five, absolute silence reigned. Everything was ready. The idea of death was lost in ardor for the fray and every eye was fixed on the battle flags waving at our mast heads. In perfect and majestic order - why should we deny this? - the nine Yankee ships advanced in battle array. The OLYMPIA, bearing the Admiral's flag, led the column followed by the other ships, steering at full speed toward Cavite. The OLYMPIA opened fire and an instant reply came from the battery on the mole, which kept on firing at five-minute intervals, while the iron-clad shaped her course for the REINA CRISTINA and CASTILLA. Into both these ships she poured a steady and rapid fire seconded by the ships which followed in her wake. Another ship which directed a heavy fire on our line was the BALTIMORE, and so the cannonade went on until a quarter to eight. At that moment the DON JUAN DE AUSTRIA advanced against the enemy intending to board the OLYMPIA, and if a tremendous broadside had not stopped her self-devoted charge, both ships might perhaps have sunk to the bottom. The Captain of the REINA CRISTINA, seeing that the resolute attempt of his consort had failed, advanced at full speed until within 200 yards of the OLYMPIA, aiming to attack her. Then a shower of projectiles swept the bridge and decks filling the ship with dead and wounded. Heroes and martyrs whom the nation will remember as long as it endures!

A dense column of smoke from the bow compartment showed that an incendiary projectile, such as the law of God and man prohibits, had set fire to the cruiser. The ship, still keeping up her fire on the enemy, withdrew toward the arsenal, where she was sunk to keep her from falling into the hands of the Yankees. The desperation of the men of the REINA CRISTINA was aggravated by the sight of the CASTILLA also in a blaze, from a similar use of incendiary projectiles. The principal ships of our little squadron having thus been put out of action, the Yankee vessels, some of them badly crippled by the fire of our ships , and the batteries at Point Sangley, stood out toward Mariveles and the entrance of the bay, ceasing their fire and occupying themselves in repairing injuries until ten o'clock, when they began a second attack to complete their work of destruction.

In this second assault the fire at the arsenal was extinguished, and they continued to cannonade the blazing gunboats. One gunboat, which seemed to have nothing more venturesome to undertake , detached herself from the squadron and set to work to riddle the mail steamer ISLA DE MINDANAO.

Now that the ships were in flames, the Admiral Senor Montojo, who had shown his flag as long as there was a vessel afloat, landed, and the hostilities ceased. The only Spanish ship which had not been destroyed by fire or by the enemy's projectiles , was sunk so that she could in no wise be taken. Such in broad outlines which we cannot correct at this moment, was the naval battle of Cavite, in which the last glimpse of our squadron showed the Spanish flag. A thousand sensational details have reached us , which we would reproduce gladly, after the necessary correction, if our pen would serve for anything except to sing the glory of these martyrs of the nation... ...The gunners of the batteries defending Manila and Cavite showed the highest degree of energy and heroism. Every one applauds these brave artillerymen who by their calmness and skill did all that was possible with the guns assigned to them, allowing for their deficiencies and imperfections. The battery that did the most harm to the enemy was the one on Point Sangley made up of Hontorio guns. From one of these guns came the shot which the BOSTON received, while four ships which had altogether 65 guns were pouring their fires on this battery to reduce it to silence. One gun having been crippled the other kept on playing, firing whenever damage could be done, and avoiding waste of ammunition. To one of its shots is attributed the hurt which turned the BALTIMORE from the fight. This gun must have greatly annoyed the Yankees, to judge by the effort they made to silence its fires, following it up until six gunners had been killed and four wounded. On this account it is proposed to demand the bestowal of the laurel wreathed cross of San Fernanado upon the valiant gunners who served this battery.


Young, L. S. ed.; The Bounding Billow., Manila: Published on board the USFS OLYMPIA, Vol. I, No. 5, June 1898.

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