Thursday, November 18, 2010


Commodore George Dewey’s flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay, the USS Olympia, got a reprieve from being turned into a veritable “talabahan”.

The 344-foot battle cruiser, built in 1892, was in danger of being scrapped or sunk and turned into an artificial reef due to disrepair.

Moored at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, caretakers were scheduled to close her down next week.

One of the US Navy's latest cruisers on Penn's Landing along the Delaware River that took part in last July's Independence Day festivities

They need $10 million to dry-dock and restore the Olympia, and another $10 million to establish a trust fund for her upkeep.

They raised an undisclosed amount to make basic repairs and keep the ship open to the public.

The Olympia was the flagship of Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron that demolished the Spanish flotilla in Manila Bay, and paved the way for the US occupation of the Philippines in 1898.

She was armed with twin 8-inch guns fore and aft, ten 5-inch guns, fourteen 6-pound mortars, four Gatling guns and six torpedo tubes.

When the US declared war against Spain in April 1898, it dispatched the Squadron to the Philippines.

The Olympia and eight other cruisers, gunboats and transport ships arrived at Subic Bay in the evening of April 30, 1898.

They raced into Manila Bay the following morning, sparking a one-sided fight that decimated the outgunned, obsolete, slower Spanish armada commanded by Admiral Patricio Montojo.

Spain had seven cruisers and five gunboats.

They were protected by six shore batteries – Fort Abad (where the present Philippine Navy headquarters is located) and Malate in Manila; Fort San Felipe, Sangley Point and Canacao in where Cavite City stands today; and Corregidor, Caballo and El Fraile islands.

The Spanish forces lost all their cruisers and suffered 161 dead and 210 wounded.

After destroying the Spanish ships, the Olympia joined the USS Baltimore and USS Boston in bombarding Sangley Point. On May 2, Dewey landed the Marines in Cavite.

Wreck of the Reina Cristina at Battle of Manila Bay

American forces lost only one man, chief engineer Francis Randall, who died from a heart attack aboard the support ship USS McCulloch, which didn’t join the actual fight.

As a footnote, the McCulloch was dispatched to Hongkong to fetch Emilio Aguinaldo, who arrived in Cavite on May 19 to resume command of Filipino revolutionaries.

The USS Olympia today has the distinction of being the oldest steel warship still afloat, although it’s still uncertain for how long.

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