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The Spanish-American War in the Phillipines

When the United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered Commodore George Dewey, commander of the Asiatic Squadron, to sail to the Philippines and destroy the Spanish fleet anchored in Manila Bay. Dewey's flagship, the USS Olympia, was more heavily armed than earlier US cruisers and could also move much faster at 21.4 knots (over 24 miles an hour). On May Day at dawn, the Olympia steamed into the waters of Manila Bay, launching the first shell at the Spanish ships. When the entire American fleet opened fire, the Spanish were quickly defeated. The Spanish navy, which had seen its apogee in the support of a global empire in the sixteenth century, suffered an inglorious defeat, as Spain's antiquated fleet, including ships with wooden hulls, was sunk by the guns of Dewey's flagship, the Olympia, and other United States warships. More than 380 Spanish sailors died, but there was only one American fatality.

The Manila campaign was a sequel to the first naval engagement of the war. On 1 May 1898 a small American squadron under Comdr. George Dewey completely destroyed a Spanish naval force in Manila Bay. To take the city of Manila, Dewey needed ground forces; he therefore sent a request to Washington for 5,000 troops. Meanwhile he blockaded the port and encouraged Filipino insurgents, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, whom Dewey had brought from exile in China, to besiege the city pending the arrival of American troops. Aguinaldo, who had previously led an insurrection against Spanish rule, hoped for recognition of his Philippine Republic. While waiting the arrival of ground forces, Dewey was faced with delicate diplomatic problems as English, German, and French naval forces arrived, ostensibly to protect their nationals in the islands, but also to be on hand to pick up any loose territory in case the United States decided against taking control after the collapse of Spanish power.

The War Department responded eagerly to the request for ground forces, and had sent about 11,300 troops to Manila under the command of Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt by 25 July. The Spaniards in Manila indicated a willingness to surrender to the Americans, but not to the Filipinos, since they did not want the city exposed to undisciplined native insurgents after capitulation. Such an arrangement was agreeable to tee Administration in Washington, which by this time was planning to take control of the Philippines. Dewey and Merritt accordingly persuaded the Filipinos to let only Americans make the final assault on Manila, at the same time they quietly made arrangements with the Spanish authorities for what was planned to be a noisy but bloodless capture of the city. The operation began as planned on 12 August 1898, but a few bands of Filipinos became mixed with the advancing troops, and some uncontemplated fighting took place in which 5 Americans were killed and 35 wounded. Eventually the firing and confusion were reduced sufficiently to permit the Spaniards to surrender to the Americans.

As Spain and the United States had moved toward war over Cuba in the last months of 1897, negotiations of a highly tentative nature began between United States officials and Aguinaldo in both Hong Kong and Singapore. When war was declared, Aguinaldo, a partner, if not an ally, of the United States, was urged by Dewey to return to the islands as quickly as possible. Arriving in Manila on May 19, Aguinaldo reassumed command of rebel forces. Insurrectionists overwhelmed demoralized Spanish garrisons around the capital, and links were established with other movements throughout the islands.

In the eyes of the Filipinos, their relationship with the United States was that of two nations joined in a common struggle against Spain. As allies, the Filipinos provided American forces with valuable intelligence (e.g., that the Spanish had no mines or torpedoes with which to sink warships entering Manila Bay), and Aguinaldo's 12,000 troops kept a slightly larger Spanish force bottled up inside Manila until American troop reinforcements could arrive from San Francisco in late June. Aguinaldo was unhappy, however, that the United States would not commit to paper a statement of support for Philippine independence.

By late May, the United States Department of the Navy had ordered Dewey, newly promoted to Admiral, to distance himself from Aguinaldo lest he make untoward commitments to the Philippine forces. The war with Spain still was going on, and the future of the Philippines remained uncertain. The immediate objective was to capture Manila, and it was thought best to do that without the assistance of the insurgents. By late July, there were some 12,000 United States troops in the area, and relations between them and rebel forces deteriorated rapidly.

By the summer of 1898, Manila had become the focus not only of the Spanish-American conflict and the growing suspicions between the Americans and Filipino rebels but also of a rivalry that encompassed the European powers. Following Dewey's victory, Manila Bay was filled with the warships of Britain, Germany, France, and Japan. The German fleet of eight ships, ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests (a single import firm), acted provocatively--cutting in front of United States ships, refusing to salute the United States flag (according to naval courtesy), taking soundings of the harbor, and landing supplies for the besieged Spanish. Germany, hungry for the ultimate status symbol, a colonial empire, was eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the islands might afford. Dewey called the bluff of the German admiral, threatening a fight if his aggressive activities continued, and the Germans backed down.

The Spanish cause was doomed, but Fermn Jaudenes, Spain's last governor in the islands, had to devise a way to salvage the honor of his country. Negotiations were carried out through British and Belgian diplomatic intermediaries. A secret agreement was made between the governor and United States military commanders in early August 1898 concerning the capture of Manila. In their assault, American forces would neither bombard the city nor allow the insurgents to take part (the Spanish feared that the Filipinos were plotting to massacre them all). The Spanish, in turn, would put up only a show of resistance and, on a prearranged signal, would surrender. In this way, the governor would be spared the ignominy of giving up without a fight, and both sides would be spared casualties. The mock battle was staged on August 13. The attackers rushed in, and by afternoon the United States flag was flying over Intramuros, the ancient walled city that had been the seat of Spanish power for over 300 years.

Formal articles of capitulation were signed on 14 August 1898. Total American losses during the operations in the Philippines were 18 killed and 109 wounded. Filipino units that had entered Manila were persuaded to leave, but subsequently Aguinaldo led a rebellion against American rule.

The agreement between Jaudenes and Dewey marked a curious reversal of roles. At the beginning of the war, Americans and Filipinos had been allies against Spain in all but name; now Spanish and Americans were in a partnership that excluded the insurgents.

The Treaty of Paris aroused anger among Filipinos. Reacting to the US$20 million sum paid to Spain, La Independencia (Independence), a newspaper published in Manila by a revolutionary, General Antonio Luna, stated that "people are not to be bought and sold like horses and houses. If the aim has been to abolish the traffic in Negroes because it meant the sale of persons, why is there still maintained the sale of countries with inhabitants?" Tension and ill feelings were growing between the American troops in Manila and the insurgents surrounding the capital. In addition to Manila, Iloilo, the main port on the island of Panay, also was a pressure point. The Revolutionary Government of the Visayas was proclaimed there on November 17, 1898, and an American force stood poised to capture the city. Upon the announcement of the treaty, the radicals, Mabini and Luna, prepared for war, and provisional articles were added to the constitution giving President Aguinaldo dictatorial powers in times of emergency. President William McKinley issued a proclamation on December 21, 1898, declaring United States policy to be one of "benevolent assimilation" in which "the mild sway of justice and right" would be substituted for "arbitrary rule." When this was published in the islands on January 4, 1899, references to "American sovereignty" having been prudently deleted, Aguinaldo issued his own proclamation that condemned "violent and aggressive seizure" by the United States and threatened war.

Defense of the Philipines

The act to grant the Philippines commonwealth status in 1935-with independence scheduled for 1946-meant that the defense of the islands had to devolve gradually on the Philippine government despite its limited resources. On 21 December 1935, the new Philippine National Assembly passed the Philippines National Defense Act that outlined the commonwealth's plan for its self-defense. It envisioned a small force of 10,000 men supplemented by a 400,000-man reserve, large enough to make any invasion prohibitively expensive. General Douglas MacArthur, who had been advising the commonwealth government on defense matters, came to Manila to organize the new Philippine Army after his retirement as Chief of Staff in 1937. A man of considerable presence and vast military experience, MacArthur was destined to play the principal role in the defense of the Philippines as well as their triumphant recovery in 1945.

The US Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan ORANGE, last updated in April 1941, limited defense of the islands to Manila Bay and critical adjacent areas. If attacked, the US Army garrison was expected to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula, a tongue of land on Luzon forming the northwestern boundary of Manila Bay, and to the island of Corregidor. The plan did not envision reinforcement or relief of the Philippine garrison. With a small army committed to continental defense and a general agreement that in the event America went to war it would adopt a defeat-Germany-first strategy, the US military had reluctantly concluded that the Philippines must be sacrificed if the Japanese attacked.

MacArthur faced a daunting task in creating an army and training the necessary reserves. Operating within a minuscule budget, he suffered a chronic shortage of weapons, transportation, communications equipment, and even housing and uniforms for his men. Moreover, the linguistic diversity of the commonwealth created serious communication problems between the new recruits and their officers and among the soldiers within individual units. The effort to build a cadre was stymied because the schools needed for the training of commissioned and noncommissioned officers did not exist. In dire straits, MacArthur turned to the War Department in Washington, D.C., which was also chronically short of funds, for equipment and supplies.

In addition to the force that MacArthur was trying to build, the U.S. Army maintained Regular units in the islands. Organized in a Philippine Department under the command of Maj. Gen. George Grunert, the regulars included the Philippine Scouts, units of Filipino soldiers led for the most part by American officers. Just over half the 22,532 soldiers in the Philippine Department were scouts. The US forces and the new Philippine Army at first operated independently, but as war grew more likely Grunert and MacArthur increasingly cooperated.

For all the courage and resourcefulness of the Philippine defenders, their fate was sealed when the Japanese crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and virtually destroyed U.S. air power in the Philippines a few hours later. The devastation of the fleet left the Philippine forces isolated in the heart of the Japanese-dominated Pacific. Without the fleet or covering air units, it was only a matter of time. Cut off from all support and heavily outnumbered by a determined enemy, the American and Filipino units faced annihilation or surrender.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:35:24 Zulu