Happy Independence Day

English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippi...

English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippines, as conceived by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Created with Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Huh, what? Is that what I hear you saying? Today is Independence Day, in the Philippines, they celebrated yesterday, by the way. It’s sort of a weird holiday, in my opinion.

You see, the Philippines declared their independence on 12 June 1898, about a month after the Battle of Manila Bay between the U.S. Asiatic Squadron and the Spanish Pacific Squadron. The problem is that neither the United States nor Spain recognized it. The Treaty of Paris (1898) gave control of the Philippines to the United States which granted them their independence on 4 July 1946. It was postponed by the World War II occupation by Imperial Japan..

It could hardly have been otherwise in the atmosphere of 1898, although it may was not have been the most moral choice ever made by the United States. This is true because the Philippines set dead athwart almost all of the trade routes in the Western Pacific. You see, the Imperial German fleet was already nosing around in Manila Bay, and the Japanese weren’t far behind. The United States took control, with the urging of the British. It was undoubtedly the right decision, for both nations, although it led to a nasty guerrilla war, the so-called Philippine Insurrection. This war was so nasty that it led John Moses Browning to develop the Model 1905 .45 ACP Pistol (the predecessor of the 1911) to increase the last-ditch defensive strength of the American Soldier.

I think it is well to also remember the Filipino people were incredibly stout allies under very harsh conditions during World War 2. A great people who got caught in the tides and currents of great power politics and wars.

You may fire when ready, Gridley,

The Battle of Manila Bay was pretty one-sided, as were all the naval battles in this war. There was nothing wrong with the courage of the Imperial Spanish Navy but, the were severely under trained and supplied, partially due to corruption. Here is a description from Wikipedia.

The U.S. squadron swung in front of the Spanish ships and forts in line ahead, firing their port guns. They then turned and passed back, firing their starboard guns. This process was repeated five times, each time closing the range from 5,000 yards to 2,000 yards. The Spanish forces had been alerted, and most were ready for action, but they were heavily outgunned. Eight Spanish ships, the land batteries, and the forts returned fire for two and a half hours although the range was too great for the guns on shore. Five other small Spanish ships were not engaged.

Montojo accepted that his cause was hopeless and ordered his ships to ram the enemy if possible. He then slipped the Cristina’s cables and charged. Much of the American fleet’s fire was then directed at her and she was shot to pieces. Of the crew of 400, more than 200, including Montojo, were casualties and only two men remained who were able to man her guns. The ship managed to return to shore and Montojo ordered it to be scuttled. The Castilla, which only had guns on the port side, had her forward cable shot away causing her to swing about, presenting her weaponless starboard side. The captain then ordered her sunk and abandoned. The Ulloa was hit by a shell at the waterline that killed her captain and disabled half the crew. The Luzon had three guns out of action but was otherwise unharmed. The Duero lost an engine and had only one gun left able to fire.

Contemporary colored print, showing USS Olympia in the left foreground, leading the U.S. Asiatic Squadron in destroying the Spanish fleet off Cavite. A vignette portrait of Rear Admiral George Dewey is featured in the lower left.

At 7:45 a.m., after Captain Gridley messaged Dewey that only 15 rounds of 5″ ammunition remained per gun, he ordered an immediate withdrawal. To preserve morale, he informed the crews that the halt in the battle was to allow the crews to have breakfast.[8] According to an observer on the Olympia, At least three of his (Spanish) ships had broken into flames but so had one of ours. These fires had all been put out without apparent injury to the ships. Generally speaking, nothing of great importance had occurred to show that we had seriously injured any Spanish vessel. Montojo took the opportunity to now move his remaining ships into Bacoor Bay where they were ordered to resist for as long as possible.

A captains’ conference on the Olympia revealed little damage and no men killed. It was discovered that the original ammunition message had been garbled – instead of only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun remaining, the message had meant to say only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun had been expended. During the conference reports arrived that sounds of exploding ammunition had been heard and fires sighted on the Cristina and Castilla. At 10:40 AM action was resumed but the Spanish offered little resistance and Montojo issued orders for the remaining ships to be scuttled and the breechblocks of their guns taken ashore. The Olympia, Baltimore and Boston then fired on the Sangley Point battery putting it out of action and followed up by sinking the Ulloa. The Concord fired on the transport Mindanao, whose crew immediately abandoned ship. The Petrel fired on the government offices next to the arsenal and a white flag was raised over the building after which all firing ceased. The Spanish colors were struck at 12:40 PM.

One of the reasons we should remember this battle is that this was the début of the United States as a world power, only 112 years ago. The United States and especially the US Navy and Marines performed very well. Thus we have the sight of a brand new world power totally defeating the oldest of world powers decisively, although the Spanish Empire had been in decline since the Battle of the Armada in 1588. Thus 310 years after the victory of the nascent Royal Navy over the Armada, the American cousins drove the famous Orange and Red war ensign of Spain from the sea.

I do want to note that the Protected Cruiser USS Olympia is preserved in Philadelphia, and is very interesting to visit. Also note this again from Wikipedia.

Dewey’s flagship, the Olympia, was preserved as a museum ship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Independence Seaport Museum (formerly the Philadelphia Maritime Museum). However, in 2011 the Independence Seaport Museum launched an effort to identify new stewards for the Cruiser and announced that the Cruiser will be scrapped or scuttled unless a new owner can be found.

I think that this ship that was present at the dawn of America’s world power needs to be preserved.

Also note that the Philippine government moved their Independence Day celebration from 4 July to 12 June in 1962. They found it more appropriate to celebrate their Declaration of Independence than to celebrate the voluntary withdrawal of American colonial power. I find that entirely right and proper, since Independence cannot be granted, but only won, and held.

Happy Independence Day to our Filipino friends.

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

2 Responses to Happy Independence Day

  1. giliar says:

    NEO – you always have the most interesting historical posts! Thanks for all the research and for sharing this info.

    • Thanks, Giliar. They are fun to write, and sometimes the reasons are obscure. For instance this one came up because a friend has a Filipino fiancée who had yesterday’s holiday off and I was curious why they celebrated Independence Day on 12 June instead of 4 July.

      It’s too bad they don’t teach history properly anymore, though, it can be fascinating.

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