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Friday, May 27, 1898

A Last Word on the Fight in Cavite

The Spanish fleet did not remain in Subic since it could not secure any ground defense. I think Admiral Montojo ordered the fleet to return to Manila because he felt that there would be fewer losses if it were anchored in Cavite. This it accomplished on the 30th. Only five of the ships held on to their positions: the R. Cristina, the D. Juan d’Austria, the I. de Cuba, the I. de Luzon, and the M. del Duero. The remaining ships were able to maneuver freely.

The Spanish ships formed a semicircle around Canacao. The closest to Punta Sangley was the D. Antonio de Ulloa, and the furthest out, the Cristina.

The bay, therefore, was defended as follows:

A few small range cannons in bad condition in Mariveles, Punta Gorda, at Boca Chica, and at Pulo Caballo;

In Corregidor, two Armstrong cannons, sizes 15 and 16, which were not utilized;

At El Fraile, three size 16 Trubia cannons, in good condition, which fired a few rounds. The same goes for Punta Restinga;

In Luneta, a size-24 cannon shot fell short of the Americans;

At Punta Sangley were two size 16 Trubia cannons, in good condition; one was dismantled before the battle and the other was used up to the end but did not sink a single American ship, although traces of the damage done can be found on the Boston and the Baltimore, Lieutenant Valera of the artillery was in command. The Spaniards reported six dead and four wounded.

There was not a single officer or sailor in charge of the torpedoes, and not a single torpedo anywhere. At first the Americans believed that they had sunk two torpedo carriers. Actually, they were ordinary tugboats.

On April 27, the American fleet left the Miro Bay in Hongkong. On board the Baltimore was Mr. Williams, the American consul in Manila. Being a former naval officer, he briefed Commodore Dewey on all salient points. The fleet was coming to Subic in search of the Spanish fleet, which they thought would logically be anchored there protected by its artillery and torpedoes. But the fleet was not there, so they headed for Manila. At midnight on May 1, the fleet was between Pulo Caballo and El Fraile. It seems certain that it was sighted by the artillery division in the south coast. Seven or eight shots were fired, but missed their mark. At around 5 o’clock, the American fleet was in front of Manila Bay.

The Luneta fired its size 24 cannon at the Americans at a distance of seven kilometers, but they remained unscathed.

The fleet turned right towards Cavite, with the Olympia at the head and the MacCulloch following behind. At 5:30, the fleet opened fire with light guns on the Spanish fleet at a distance of 3,000 meters. Firing was directed both at the R. Cristina and the Castilla. At about 1,500 to 1,800 meters from the enemy, the Americans changed course to follow the line of Spanish ships in parallel formation, and maintained that distance for some 1,000 meters until about 7:30. At this time, the Spanish ships were either sinking or in flames. When the R. Cristina caught fire after a mere 20 minutes of fighting, its admiral carried his flag on board the I. de Cuba.

Throughout this battle, the northern artillery emplacement of Punta fired continuously. Some of the shells seemed to have scored hits on the American fleet. Soon after, the Americans started aiming at the Punta Sangley defense, destroying it before the battle ended.

The American fleet, according to some of its officers, withdrew from the arena of battle in order to take lunch. Actually, the fleet withdrew to secure more ammunition from the transport ships.

Meanwhile, the officers of seven Spanish ships held in the arsenal were drinking their coffee, thinking the day’s battle was over, when the watchman announced the return of the enemy.

The second round began at 11 o’clock. The Spaniards froze when they realized that every American shot was a hit while theirs kept missing their marks. They then decided that their only option was to sink what remained of their fleet. They opened the hatches and abandoned their ships.

In this second battle, the Americans fired shells at the arsenal and sank the Mindanao. The Baltimore, perhaps due to damage, was the only ship missing in their formation. Petrol was used to burn the gunboats and the other ships. The cannons were salvaged and placed on the Manila, which transported them to the United States not so much as arms but rather as trophies, together with the flag of the Ulloa.

The Spaniards lost all their ships and all their cannons.

The exact figure of the dead is still unknown. The number has been inflated on both sides. It must be around 200 dead and 450 wounded.

The dead include D. Luis Cadarao, the commandant of the R. Cristina, the chaplain, the first captain of the gun, and the chief petty officer of this ship. Among the wounded were D. Alonso Morgada, commander of the Castilla; D. Jose Horralde, commander of the Ulloa; D. Mariano Esbert, lieutenant-commander of the Cristina; Sr. Diaz Zuazo, lieutenant-commander of the Don Juan of Austria; a purser; two doctors, and two chief mechanics.

The Americans did not lose men, but they sustained some material damage:

The Olympia, 13 missiles — traces can be found on its masts and one of the missiles. The Baltimore bore traces of being hit in three or four places; the Boston in two places,  a missile exploding in an officer’s cabin. The Raleigh was hit once.

It took the American fleet three hours to crush the Spanish ships, which were anchored. The Spanish allowed themselves to be caught in a mousetrap, which defies all the rules of naval battle. They showed extreme carelessness before and during the battle, and a great lack of military talent at all times. Their artillery was even worse. They remained in a bay without any vigilant watch. They could have waited for the enemy either on the island of Corregidor or somewhere else, where their ships could have sunk honorably in battle.

This kind of defeat is unthinkable. We should not think in terms of this cowardly paradox which makes defeat honorable as long as it ends in death. Defeat in itself is criminal and looks for excuses. There are indeed many similar cases. But the greatest fault belongs to the Spanish government for leaving Manila undefended.

The Americans had a relatively easy task to accomplish, which they easily did all throughout, since they were superior shots. They did not show any special aptitude, but their aims were well directed upon an adversary which was not capable of holding up against them. In the final analysis, they showed decisiveness and dynamism.

The Spaniards were lacking in both. They keep repeating the famous words of Mendez Nuñez at Callao: “It is better to have honor without ships than ships without honor!” (España mas quiere honor sin barcos que barcos sin honor!) The one does not exclude the other, and the two can sink together. They should have realized that their artillery was worthless, their cannons were without powder, Subic was not defended, and that there was no organized defense anywhere. So, they should glorify their deeds with more restraint. Even if there was much disparity between the two, victory would have cost the Americans dearly if the Spanish had fought on the open seas and displayed more skill and bravura. My criticism may be severe but fair.

Indeed, one tends to find consolation when defeated. There is no sense in the proclamations heard in Manila: “Today, although we are without boats, without shelter, with nothing, the honorable survivors of Cavite are willing to share the bitterness and dangers of war with their brothers in the army. Peace and glory to our dead! History will render them justice!” Knowing how to die is not that important. One has to know how to live, or else renounce life. The courageous people who lost their lives in Cavite, in a way, served their own ends. But those in Madrid who wash their hands of all the responsibility by singing praises to the dead heroes are in effect betraying their country. The most beautiful funeral oration cannot resuscitate the dead. In Cavite, all Spain was punished. The people are, after all, responsible for the government they tolerate or accept. When each man knows what he seeks for himself, the nation as a whole knows, too, and puts it in motion for everyone. Today, people who have no interest in politics have no interest in themselves. When citizens remain passive, stupid statesmen are born.

Victory always belongs to those who possess good judgment.