hyperlink presentation 1999 by Corregidor  Historic Society

 

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While the tactical withdrawal to Bataan had been completed successfully, much of its strategic success was lost due to poor staff work at the USAFFE HQ. Three major staff blunders in regard to the coast defense of Manila and Subic Bay command were to be costly.

1. The transfer of many non-combatants to Fort Mills, to the extent that they outnumbered the combat troops two to one.

2. The abandonment of Fort Wint

3. The failure to provide any field forces to defend the Cavite shore opposite Fort Frank.  Pre-war planning had always assumed that a field army would defend this area.

 

 

Manila, the crown jewel of the Philippines and one of the major cities of the world, was built on the fine harbor of Manila Bay, an unsurpassed anchorage. Aware of this the Spanish in 1571 seized Manila and set out to make it the headquarters of its Eastern Empire. Only once did the city fall, and that was to the English in 1762. At first the only Spanish defensive works at the bay were the wall around Manila and the great citadel. However, in the late 1800’s with the ever increasing range of cannon Spain began to fortify the four islands stretching across the mouth of Manila Bay. They were, from south to north, Carabao, El Fraile, Caballo and Corregidor.

With the development of these island fortresses some Spanish naval officers began to question the feasibility of holding Manila by only defending the entrance to the bay. They saw that the introduction of steam vessels had added a new problem to the defense of the city. Steamers were slaves not to the wind but of coaling stations. Thus to them the fortification and development of Subic Bay was of supreme importance. They saw Subic Bay and its port city of Olongapo as the keystone for the defense of Manila.

Subic Bay lies forty miles north of Manila and is separated from Manila Bay by the Bataan Peninsula. The importance of Subic Bay was that if controlled by an enemy its safe anchorage could be developed into a coaling and supply station for the enemy's fleet. Furthermore it could be quite easily developed into a support base to enable an expeditionary army to attack and perhaps capture Manila from the rear. Conversely, in the hands of the Spanish it would serve as a sally port to fall in the rear of a blockading squadron and cut off the ships of the supply train. In recognition of these facts the Spanish in 1885 began to develop Olongapo at the head of the Bay as a naval station. At the same time plans were drawn to fortify Grande Island which acts as a plug at the entrance of Subic Bay.

With the outbreak of the Spanish American War in April, 1898 Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron, the commander of the Spanish fleet in the Philippines set out to shift his major naval units from Manila to Subic Bay. He planned to use his smaller ships and the forts at Manila Bay to deny the American fleet entrance and use his major units as a constant threat to the American's fleet rear. In fulfillment of this plan Admiral Montojo sailed in April 28th for Subic Bay. Upon his arrival he found that nothing had been done to prepare the bay for his fleet and that the four 5.9 inch guns he had sent to be mounted on Grande Island to deny entrance to the Bay had not been mounted. Indeed work had not even commenced on their emplacements. In addition only a few of the mines that were to have formed a defensive screen around the harbor had been laid.

Unwilling to anchor his fleet in a bay unprotected by mines or coastal defense guns, Admiral Montojo returned to Manila on April 29th. The four 5.9 inch guns still lay in the dust of Grande Island. These guns had originally formed part of the Sangley Point Battery at Manila and their additional fire power was to be sorely missed by Admiral Montojo in the forthcoming battle of Manila. Admiral Dewey was later to report that this was the only Spanish coastal defense battery to offer effective resistance during his attack on the Spanish fleet. As for the mines the Spanish garrison was reported to have laid off Subic Bay, none were ever found by the American fleet during or after the war.

That the Spanish were correct in judging that Subic Bay was the key to Manila is born out by the fact that Admiral Dewey, before attacking Manila, first inspected Subic Bay. The Germans also recognized the importance of Subic Bay by dispatching the cruiser Irene there in May, 1898, to provide protection to the Spanish troops which had reoccupied Grande Island and were now under attack by Filipino insurgence troops. The Irene, however, departed upon the arrival of the U.S. gunboats Raleigh and Concord dispatched to Subic Bay by Admiral Dewey to lend support to the Filipino insurgents.

With the signing of the peace treaty between Spain and the United States Subic Bay was allowed to go back to sleep. Both the U.S. Army and the Navy preferred the bright lights of Manila to Olongapo. This changed slightly in December, 1902 when the Asiatic fleet under Admiral Robby D."Fighting Bob" Evans visited Subic Bay. Admiral Evans, who was conducting the first U.S. Fleet exercise in Asiatic waters, had posed as the fleet's problem the defense of the Philippines against a superior force. The proposed solution was for the fleet to base itself on Subic Bay fortifying Grande Island with 4-inch and 6-pdr. guns landed from the fleet. The Navy would depend upon the Army's coastal defense to prevent the enemy's fleet from forcing Manila Bay. The fleet in return would assail the rear of the enemy's fleet and attack its supply lines. Upon completion of the exercise a critique judged that the plan adopted by Admiral Evans was the soundest for defending Manila against a superior fleet. Admiral Evans later reported that "Grande Island, at the entrance to the bay, was the key to the position (Philippines)."

The Army in the face of this evidence was willing to acknowledge the importance of Subic Bay but claimed that they would need a force of 100,000 men to defend it, more men than the total in the Army at that time. Admiral Evans quickly pointed out that if the Army needed 100,000 men to defend Subic Bay how would it be able to defend Manila Bay with only a few thousand men? Later he was to state that "to hold Manila and not to hold Subic Bay does not make sense, as one is dependent on the other."

The real problem as one Admiral had earlier put it was "Olongapo (Subic Bay) is unquestionably the place for the (naval) station, but I hope it will not be established until I am relieved." The pleasures of Manila far outweighed the suitability of Subic Bay. The Navy in 1903 as a result of Admiral Evans exercise directed him to reopen the former Spanish Naval Station at Olongapo as a U.S. Naval Base. The base to be used as an ammunition and coaling substation of the Cavite Naval Yard in Manila Bay. Even the addition of the floating dry dock Dewey towed to Subic from the United States in 1905 did not change Olongapo's substation status. In fact Olongapo was to remain as a substation of Cavite until the loss of Subic Bay in 1941. The station was for most of this time in a reserve status as the facility at Cavite was more than able to handle the needs of the U.S. Asiatic fleet.

In 1905 the Taft Board, which had been set up by Congress with William H. Taft, Secretary of the Army, as Chairman to study the status and needs of the United States in coastal defense, submitted its report to Congress. Among its recommendations was that first priority for defense of the Philippines was to be given to fortifying Subic Bay and the second priority to the defense of Manila Bay. The Board in its report stated:

"Subic Bay occupies the same position in relationship to the control of the Philippines (As Quantanamo does to the Panama Canal) and its protection by fixed defense is of the greatest importance, not only in order that the fleet may protect Manila. but that it may have facilities for docking. repairing, and provisioning in those distant waters."

The Taft Board's recommendation that first priority be given to Subic Bay was reversed on August 24.1908 when the Army and Navy jointly agreed that Manila Bay, with Corregidor as the main defensive work, should receive priority over Subic Bay.

The Army had however in 1905, acting under the authority of the 58th Congress purchased the 96-acre Grande Island at the mouth of Subic Bay and began to fortify it. The Taft Board had recommended that Subic Bay be defended with four 12-inch disappearing guns, twelve 3-inch guns and eight 12-inch mortars. The Army decided to concentrate all of its fortifications in Grande Island. Due to the island's limited size it proposed to mount two 12-inch and four 6-inch disappearing guns. This was later changed to two 10-inch and four 6-inch disappearing guns and six 3-inch guns all mounted in five batteries. The fortifications were assigned the name Fort Wint in honor of Brigadier General Theodore J. Wint who had served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, Indian campaigns, the War with Spain and the Philippine Insurrection. Fort Wint's batteries were assigned the name of Warwick, 10-inch; Woodruff and Hall, 6-inch, and Jewell and Flake, 3-inch. In 1907 Fort Wint was enlarged by General Order 81 to include all outlying rocks, shoals and islands within one mile of the low water line of Grande Island. This added approximately three acres to the reservation increasing Ft. Wint's total size to about 100 acres.

An interesting fact observable from the above is that with the exception of the detachment from the 60th CA all of the garrison of Fort Frank were Philippine Scout troops. Battery D 2nd CA (Philippine Army) was transferred to Fort Frank on February 12, from Bataan. It consisted of 86 men and officers. The primary purpose of Fort Frank was to prevent enemy ships from sneaking into Manila Bay by hugging the Cavite Coast line and also to cover the southern edge of the defense mine field which extended from the tip of Bataan to the shore of Cavite.

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