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Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898

On May 1, 1898, the naval battle between a squadron of the United States led by Admiral Geroge Dewey and a Spanish fleet under Admiral Montojo took place in Manila Bay, destroying the Spanish fleet. It was known as the first major battle of the Spanish-American War (April-August 1898).

Battle of Manila Bay, Philippines, undated print.
Image: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital File Number: cph 3b52211). (Courtesy:


It all started in the rebellion against Spanish rule in Cuba in 1895 due to Spain’s repressive measures.

On February 15, 1898 a massive explosion of unknown origin destroyed and sank the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor, killing 260 of approximately 400 American crewmembers aboard. A U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry did not directly placed the blame on Spain. On April 23, Spain issued a declaration of war, while the U.S. issued its own declaration two days later.

George Dewey
Image: Brown Brothers (Courtesy:

U.S. Commodore George Dewey (1837-1917), commander of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron anchored north of Hong Kong, was ordered to capture or destroy the Spanish Pacific fleet, which was known to be in the coastal waters of the Spanish-controlled Philippines.

On April 30, Dewey’s lookouts sighted the island of Luzon, in the Philippines. That same evening Dewey’s squadron slipped into Manila Bay under cover of darkness.

Map of Manila and its environs, c. 1900 from the 10th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Image: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (Courtesy:

At daybreak 5:40 of May 1, the U.S. Squadron found the antiquated Spanish fleet anchored off the Cavite naval station. At around 5:40 A.M. when Dewey and his men were within 5,000 meters of the Spanish fleet, he gave orders to Capt. Charles Gridley of the USS Olympia: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” At 7:00 A.M. the Spanish fleet was decimated and was now in a very bad condition. At 7:35 A.M. Dewey withdrew and gave his men breakfast, and held a consultation meeting with his commanders. The surviving Spanish vessels, trapped in the little harbor at Cavite, refused to surrender, then fighting resumed at 11:16 A.M. However even before the re-engagement, the Reina Cristina and Castilla had broken into flames. Early that afternoon, a signal was sent from the gunboat USS Petrel to Dewey’s flagship announcing that the enemy has surrendered.



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