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This Day In History, May 1st, 2022 – “You May Fire When Ready, Gridley”


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It was 124 years ago today, on May 1, 1898, that the American Asiatic Squadron decimated the decaying Spanish Fleet, which had been controlling, with an iron fist, the peoples of the Philippines. The two fleets were as different as night and day. Spain, once the “Master of the World”, was a dying empire. The ships were in so poor a condition, that their commander, Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón, purposely placed his outdated navy manned by poorly trained sailors and marines in the shallows of Manila Bay so survivors could safely swim to shore after the inevitable disaster. Several forts and shore batteries were meant to protect the ships, but many of them were not yet built, and those that were proved to be ineffective. On the other hand, the American Asiatic Squadron, commanded by Commodore George Dewey, were full of hard chargers and first-rate ships, including the protected cruiser U.S.S. Olympia, which was built recently in 1895.

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U.S. Asiatic Fleet destroys the Spanish Fleet at Manila Bay, on May 1, 1898. Image courtesy of Wikicommons, Public Domain.

War was declared on Spain on April 25, 1898. The U.S. fleet sailed from Hong Kong, eager to meet the enemy. On May 1, the battle was on. The old Spanish fleet consisted of seven poorly maintained ships, 6 cruisers; the Reina Cristina, which was the Spanish capitol ship, the Castilla, Don Juan de Austria, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, and a gunboat Marques del Duero. The American battle line consisted of the U.S.S. Olympia, the U.S.S. Baltimore, the U.S.S. Petrel, the U.S.S. Raleigh, the U.S.S. Concord, and the U.S.S. Boston.

At 5:42 a.m., the good Commodore turned to Captain Gridley, commander of the U.S.S. Olympia, and with the words “You may fire when ready, Gridley”, the battle commenced. Immediately the outcome became clear to the Spanish, American shells quickly hit their mark, while the Spanish proved inept. All but one of the Spanish ships were destroyed, while only a few of the American ships suffered superficial damage. By 12:30, the smoke had cleared, and some 400 Spanish sailors and marines were killed, while U.S. casualties were only seven wounded, one passing out from heat stroke as the U.S. ships fired shell after shell. The Battle of Manila Bay was a masterstroke victory, which only highlighted the fall of Spain and the emergence of the United States as a World Power.

What was happening yesterday, on April 30th?


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