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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Naval Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898.

Ship Action Reports: USS Petrel


[Report of engagement at Manila Bay, May 1, 1898]

 

U. S. S. PETREL,
Manila Bay, May 4, 1898.

SIR: I respectfully report as follows concerning my share in the action fought by the fleet under your command in Manila Bay, off Cavite, on the morning of May 1, 1898.
          The ship had been partly cleared for action at Hongkong and on the run to Manila. Went to quarters for action at 9.45 p. m. of April 30, and all preparations were completed. Hammocks were not piped down, but men were allowed to sleep at their guns.
          The position of Petrel was fourth from head of column, astern of Raleigh and ahead of Concord. We passed in through Boco Grande, about 1 mile from El Fraile. All lights were masked and only stern lights showing. At 11.10 a rocket and light were shown from Corregidor Island, and just as the Raleigh and Petrel came abreast El Fraile three shots were fired from a shore battery on the rock, these being promptly replied to by the Raleigh, Concord, and Boston. We steamed slowly up the bay, and just as day was breaking, about 5 o=clock, the shore batteries below Manila began firing. It was scarcely light enough to distinguish signals from this vessel when flagship made signal to APrepare for action,@ so signal was repeated from the Baltimore. During time column was forming and closing up, the batteries from below Manila were firing. As flagship stood to southward the ships and batteries at Cavite began their firing, and gradually, as we approached, we could make out ships under way in harbor and three guns on shore firing. The battery of this vessel began firing at 5.22 by the deck clock at a range of 5,000 yards.
          The column circled three times from east to west in front of shore, standing in a little nearer each time, the first time being 3,000 yards and the third time 1,800 yards. During these three rounds this vessel expended ninety-two 6-inch common shells, eight-two 6-inch full charges, ten reduced charges, and two hundred and fifty-three 3-pounders. Several times during rounds had to cease firing on account of smoke and in order to economize ammunition. The greater part of our great-gun fire was at the Reina Christina and Castilla, the former steaming around the harbor and the latter anchored about 500 yards off Sangley Point; but the other and smaller vessels were fired at when opportunity offered. Especially was the fire of the rapid-fire guns aimed at a yellow launch, which was apparently a torpedo boat trying to turn our flank. The navigator, Lieut. B. A. Fiske, was stationed in the top with a stadimeter to determine the distance and report upon the efficiency of the fire.
          At 7.30 we ceased firing and withdrew from action in obedience to a signal from flagship to fleet to that effect. The men were given their breakfast. While withdrawing the enemy continued firing until we were well out of range, and the batteries below Manila were firing at intervals during breakfast. At 11, when the signal was made to get under way, the Petrel followed Olympia and stood well in. While steaming across the fire the signal was hoisted for the Petrel to pass inside.
          This vessel left her station, passed outside of Baltimore, and rounded Sangley Point about 500 yards outside of where Castilla was burning. The fire was then directed at the Don Antonio de Ulloa, and when it was found that she was sinking and deserted, the ship passed farther inside and opened fire upon the ships behind inner breakwater and whose masts were seen above government buildings. During the firing on the Ulloa a white flag with a Geneva cross was discovered in range with her, and I stood in further so as to get it out of range. After the first two or three shots fired through the public building at ships behind the mole, the Spanish flag was, at 12.30 p.m., hauled down and a white flag run up. The surrender was immediately signaled to fleet and firing ceased.
          In obedience to a signal from flagship to destroy all shipping in the harbor, Lieutenant Hughes was sent with a whaleboat=s crew of seven men, this whaleboat being the only one on the ship which would float, and set fire to the Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, General Lezo, and Marques del Duero. Afterwards Ensign Fermier was sent to set fire to the Velasco and El Correo. The Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, and Don Juan de Austria were aground and full of water when they were fired. Their outboard valves were opened and the ships allowed to fill. The breech plugs of 4-inch guns had been taken off and could not be found. During the night the magazines of the Don Juan de Austria blew up. The Manila was not burned because the Spanish officers begged that she be not destroyed because she was unarmed and a coast-survey vessel. Lieutenant Fiske and Passed Assistant Engineer Hall raised steam on the ship this morning, the 4th instant, and brought her out. At the time she was aground. The Don Antonio de Ulloa was sunk and the Reina Christina and Castilla were burning in outer harbor.
          Lieutenant Fiske was sent ashore and brought off two tugboats, the Rapido and Hercules, and three steam launches.
          I was anchored in Cavite harbor from 12.50 to 5.20 p. m., when I got under way and returned to the fleet.
          There were no casualties or accidents of any kind, the ship having been struck only once just beneath hawse pipe by a piece of shell which burst just as it sank, and threw a column of water over the forecastle.
          After the white flag was displayed, there was apparently the greatest confusion in the arsenal. Parts of the crews of the various ships were there, and all were armed and were constantly falling in and moving about; yet there was no evidence of any desire to continue the fighting, and instead of any resistance being offered to the destruction of the ships, they were rather inclined to assist with their advice and evinced a desire to surrender to the first officer they met.
          The action of the ammunition was exceedingly good. There was expended during action, one hundred and thirteen 6-inch common shells, three 6-inch armor-piercing shells, eight-two 6-inch full charges, thirty-four 6-inch reduced charges and three hundred and thirteen 3-pounder ammunition. Owing to the heat due to firing, the pads swelled and made it very difficult to lock the breech plug. Nothing would remedy this save shifting plugs, replacing hot plug by the one from the other gun which was cool. The wedge of firing lock jammed frequently, due to hot parts. This was remedied by shifting locks.
          The percussion primers worked very unsatisfactorily; sometimes four primers would be expended before one would act. Primers leaked badly, causing excessive deposit in primer seat, hard extraction, and delay in priming of gun and requiring frequent boring of vent.
          The action of no one can be censured, the conduct of each and every officer and man being excellent. There was no confusion; I should say less than at ordinary target practice.
          The loading was rapidly done and the firing was deliberate. Due to your caution to commanding officers that no ammunition should be wasted, Lieutenant Plunkett fired the forward 6-inch guns and Ensign Fermier the after ones, and the work was thoroughly done. Lieutenant Hughes stationed himself on the poop, as it was deemed essential that he should not be with the commanding officer on the bridge. He materially assisted Ensign Fermier by observing fall of shot and tendering advice regarding pointing. I wish particularly to call to your attention Lieutenant Hughes, his gallantry in taking a boat=s crew of seven men and in the face of a large armed force on shore setting fire to the five ships before mentioned. He was aware that he had the only boat in the ship which would float, until the steam whaleboat could be prepared.
          Lieutenant Fiske stationed himself on the fore cross trees with stadimeter to measure the range and report on the fall of shots. He also took charge of the steam whaleboat to cover Lieutenant Hughes in his operations in burning the ships.
          Lieutenant Wood had charge of the powder division, assisted in the after part by Assistant Paymaster Seibels. There was at no time a halt in the firing due to failure of the powder division.
          Ensign Montgomery was in charge of the signals and materially assisted me on the bridge. He also directed the fire of the forward 3-pounder when it was allowed to be fired. He also afforded assistance to Lieutenant Plunkett by observing the fall of shots from the forward 6-inch guns.
          I desire also to mention the efficient service of the engines. In order to maintain our position and to take advantage of every opportunity, the engine telegraph was in constant use from full speed to stop, and the engine never failed to respond in the quickest time possible. This I consider to be due to the high state of efficiency of that department and the whole credit is due to Passed Assistant Engineer Hall.
          I can make no statement regarding the services of Passed Assistant Surgeon Brownell, as the Petrel was most fortunate in having no casualties.
          I inclose the report of the executive officer.
          Very respectfully,

E. P. WOOD,
Commander, U. S. N., Commanding.

The COMMANDER IN CHIEF U. S. NAVAL FORCE,
Asiatic Station.

________

U. S. S. PETREL,
Off Cavite, Manila Bay, May 2, 1898.

SIR: In accordance with the requirements of article 525, U. S. Navy Regulations, I have the honor to submit the following report concerning the part taken by this vessel in the general action fought yesterday off Cavite, in Manila Bay:
          The ship was gradually cleared for action, this work having been begun in Hongkong, when the fore and foretopsail yards, fore trysail gaff, ladders diving outfit, part of the running rigging, etc., were placed onboard the transport Nanshan, and completed the day before the squadron entered Manila Bay. In the operation of preparing the ship for action certain articles and material in the equipment and construction departments were necessarily thrown overboard. Among these may be mentioned all of the varnishes, inflammable paints and oils, tar, turpentine, etc., lumber, two boats= strong backs, one turpentine chest, one ice chest, one large hammock box, and carpenter=s bench, etc. During the action the discharge of the after 6-inch guns shattered the gig and first whaleboat and they were cut adrift, carrying with them their outfits complete. These boats have been temporarily replaced by two taken from the enemy.
          No description of the maneuvers during the action is included in this report. As regards the Petrel, the first shot was fired at 5.22 a.m. and the last one, before hauling off for breakfast, was fired at 7.30 a. m. The times of beginning and finishing the firing during the second part of the action were, respectively, 11.30 a. m. and 12.30 p. m., at which latter time the Spanish flag on the arsenal sheers in Cavite was hauled down.
          The return of ammunition expended will be made by the ordnance officer; but, approximately, about one-third of the entire supply on board for the 6-inch guns was expended, including a large proportion of common shell and full charges. So far as could be observed, the fuses acted exceedingly well, all the shell bursting. Some complaint was made by the officers commanding gun divisions that the primers frequently failed, both electric and percussion.
          The bearing of all on board was satisfactory in the extreme, and I can specially call attention to no one in this connection. With little excitement, a quiet enthusiasm and the utmost steadiness prevailed throughout the ship=s company. The practice of the gun captains was excellent, being both deliberate and precise.
          After the action was over, in obedience to your instructions, boat=s crews from this vessel burned the following Spanish ships lying in Cavite harbor: the protected cruisers, Don Juan de Austria, 1,160 tons; Isla de Luzon, 1,050 tons; Isla de Cuba, 1,050 tons; the gunboats General Lezo, 520 tons; Marques del Duero, 500 tons; El Correo, and one (not engined) name unknown.
          On rejoining the squadron the Petrel towed from Cavite to the anchorage off Manila two small tugs---the Rapido and Hercules---and three steam launches, which were this morning turned over to the flagship.
          No casualties occurred on board. The vessel was not hit, save for a scratch on the stem, and no repairs will be necessary. That part of the equipment sacrificed in clearing for action should be replaced.
          Very respectfully,

EDWD. M. HUGHES,
Lieutenant, U. S. N., Executive Officer.

The COMMANDING OFFICER,
U. S. S. Petrel.

 

Continue to Ship Action Reports: USS Boston


Source: Appendix to the Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1898. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898.

23 July 1999