Battle of Manila Bay, 1898

Contemporary print of the battle, with Commodore Dewey's portrait in the bottom left corner. Original in the collection of the US Navy History & Heritage Command.

Location Manilia Bay, Philippines

When the US declared War on Spain in April, 1898, there was fear of an attack on the American West Coast by the Spanish Pacific Squadron. However, it was only equipped with a handful of largely obsolescent ships, one of which only had enough guns for one side of the ship. Nevertheless, Commodore George Dewey was dispatched to deal with them, leading from the USS Olympia. Three protected cruisers and two gunboats accompanied Olympia into Manila Bay from the South, bypassing the mines in the Corregidor channel, and avoiding gunfire from the defending forts. The Spanish ships were anchored in a line, making them sitting ducks, and the crews had not been training for over a year, but they opened fire at 5:15 in the morning, 1 May, 1898. Unfortunately for the Spanish, their greatest asset in the battle, the shore batteries, never came within range of the American ships. At 5:41, Dewey gave his now famous order "You may fire when ready, Gridley" and the Yankee ships laid into the Spaniards. Firing at ranges from 5,000 down to 2,000 yards, the Americans made several passes at the Spanish line. The Spanish flagship Reina Cristina managed to get underway, and tried to ram, but was taken under fire by all US ships and forced to beach herself. At 7:45, Dewey was informed that ammunition was running low, and ordered a withdrawal, telling the crews it was so they could have breakfast. Initially it was hard to see if any damage had been done to the Spanish ships, but action was resumed mid morning after finding that the low ammunition report was inaccurate. Most of the Spanish ships were scuttled, and they had surrendered by 12:40 that afternoon. Seven Spanish cruisers and a transport were sunk, and seventy-seven men killed, while the Americans lost a single man dead to heatstroke.