Commander Edward P. Wood to Commodore George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Squadron
May 4th, 1898.
1. I respectfully report as follows concerning my share in the action fought by the fleet under your command in Manila Bay off KCavite, on the morning of May 1, 1898.
2. The ship had been partly cleared for action at Hong Kong and on the run to Manila. Went to quarters for action at 9:45 P.M. of April 30th, and all preparations were completed; hammocks were not piped down but men were allowed to sleep at their guns.
3. The position of the “PETREL” was fourth from head of column, astern of “RALEIGH” and ahead of “CONCORD”. We passed in through BocoGrande about one1 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 “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 5:00 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 “Prepare 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 KCavite 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.
4. 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 92 6-inch common shells. 8 6-inch full charges, 10 reduced charges and 253 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 opportunities 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, Lieutenant B.A. Fiske,1 was stationed in the top with a stadimeter to determine the distance and report upon the efficiency of the fire.
5. At 7:30 we ceased fire 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 fire until we were well out of range, and the batteries below Manila were firing at intervals during breakfast. At 11:00, 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.
6. This vessel left her station, passed outside of “BALTIMORE” and rounded SangleyPoint 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 further inside and opened fire upon the ships behind inner break water and whose masts were seen above government buildings. During the firing on the “Ulloa”, a white flag with a Geneva Cross2 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 signalled to fleet and firing ceased.
7. In obedience to a signal from Flagship to destroy all shipping in the harbor, Lieutenant Hughes3 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”: Afterward Ensign Fermier was sent to set fire to the “Velasco” and “El Correo”.4 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 not be destroyed because she was unarmed and a coast survey vessel. Lieutenant Fiske and P.A. Engineer Hall5 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.
8. Lieutenant Fiske was sent ashore and brought off two tug boats, the “Rapido” and “Hercules”, and three steam launches.
9. I was anchored in KCavite harbor from 12:50 to 5:20 P.M. when I got under way and returned to the fleet.
10. 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.
11. After the white flag was displayed, there was apparently the greatest confusion in the arsenal. Parts of the crews of 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 destruction of the ships, they were rather inclined to assist with theiradvice and evinced a desire to surrender to the first officer they met.
12. The action of ammunition was exceedingly good. There was expended during action, 113 6-inch common shells, 3 8-inch A.rmorP.iercing6 shells, 82 6-inch full charges, 34 6-inch reduced charges and 313 3-pounder ammunition. Owing to the heat due to firing, the pads swelled and made it very difficult to lock the breach 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. The loading was rapidly done and the firing was deliberate. Due to your caution to Commanding Officers that no ammunition should be wasted, Lieutenant Plunkett7 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 your attention Lieutenant Hughes8 his gallantry in taking a boats 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.
16. 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.
17. Lieutenant Wood9 had charge of the Powder Division, assisted in the after part by Asst. Paymaster Seibels.10 There was at no time a halt in the firing due to failure of the Powder Division.
18. Ensign Montgomery11 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.
19. 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 highest state of efficiency of that Department, and the whole credit is due to P.A. Engineer Hall.
20. I can make no statement regarding the service of P.A. Surgeon Brownell,12 as the “PETREL” was most fortunate in having no casualties.
21. I enclose the report of the Executive Officer.13
Source Note: CyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 363. Addressed below close: “ To the/Commander-in-Chief,/U.S. Naval Force,/Asiatic Station”
Footnote 1: Lt. Bradley A. Fiske.
Footnote 2: The flag of the International Red Cross.
Footnote 3: Lt. Edward M. Hughes.
Footnote 4: That is, Spanish gunboat Elcano, and En. George L. Fermier.
Footnote 5: P.A. Engineer ReynoldT. Hall.
Footnote 6: “rmor” and “iercing” were written above the line.
Footnote 7: Lt. (J.G.) Charles P. Plunket.
Footnote 8: Lt. “Hughes” was written above the line.
Footnote 9: Lt. Albert N. Wood.
Footnote 10: Asst. Paymaster George G. Seibels.
Footnote 11: En. William S. Montgomery.
Footnote 12: P.A. Surgeon Carl D. Brownell.
Footnote 13: Executive Officer’s report has not been found.