The Battle of Manila is a forgotten part of history and rarely mentioned as part of the Spanish American War. On May 1st, 1898 the US Pacific Fleet under the command of Admiral Dewey trashed the Spanish Far East Fleet in Manila Bay. The US Fleet blockaded Manila, preparing for a long siege and waiting for US ground forces to arrive. In July, around 40,000 US soldiers and Marines arrived, around 11,000 of which were devoted to capturing Manila itself.
The Spanish dug in with 13,000 troops of their own, but it was clear that they could not hold out. Along with the American soldiers were 30,000 Filipino fighters of the Philippine Revolutionary Army. Spanish general Fermin Jaudenes saw the writing on the wall. Surrender was an inevitability, but the last thing he wanted to do was surrender to his former Filipino subjects. Thus, he secretly began negotiations with Admiral Dewey to not only negotiate a surrender, but to stage a mock battle so that the Spanish could save face while the Americans could take all the glory.
Without informing their Filipino allies of the faux assault, the Americans began the battle on August 13th. Although a peace accord had been signed the day before, neither side had yet received news that the war was over. The Americans began by shelling Spanish forts, the gunners taking care to only hit abandoned buildings. Then US troops advanced, firing above the heads of the Spanish while the Spanish did likewise. For the most part the mock battle went off without a hitch. The shooting stopped when the Spanish raised the white flag of surrender, and US troops quickly occupied Manila before the Philippine Army could enter the city. Only two thing went wrong. First, the gunners of one of the American ships had not been informed that the battle was staged, purposely shelling Spanish fortifications. Second, a group of Filipino fighters joined the battle thinking it was a genuine battle, causing a real firefight with Spanish troops leading to the death of 49 Spaniards, 1 American, and an unknown number of Filipino fighters.
After the Spanish American War, the Americans would claim possession of the country. Enraged at the American’s unwillingness to grant them independence, the Filipinos rebelled. What resulted was a long and bloody war which lasted decades. Americans responded brutally, committing many atrocities, leading to the death of thousands.
The major issue was the Philippines.
The Japanese did not really need the archipelago during this phase, but their advance to the so-called “Southern Resources Area” would be threatened by the US forces centered on the Clark airbase complex north of Manila and the Cavite Navy Yard on Manila Bay, pointing like a dagger at the Japanese supply lines back to the home islands.
Even if the United States remained neutral, their presence was still a major danger. Only by seizing control of the Philippines could Japan eliminate that threat.
But, as Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku of the navy’s Combined Fleet successfully argued, that danger would be eliminated only at the expense of adding a bigger one –a sortie of the US Pacific Fleet out of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to relieve the US forces in the Philippines.
So the concept of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was born, out of the mind of Yamamoto Isoroku, who had lived in the United States, understood it, even liked it.
Better than anyone around Emperor Hirohito and his political circle, Yamamoto knew what going to war with the United States would most likely mean –a catastrophic defeat for Japan.
As Yamamoto had famously told Prime Minister Konoye in August 1940, “In the first six to twelve months of war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.”
While the Japanese would have the advantage in the short term, they knew they could not match America’s industrial and military might in the long term.
What they were hoping for was a continuing manifestation of the American political weakness and isolationism that had kept it out of the war so far.
Admiral Yamamoto’s projection of six months was key. The Japanese hoped they could build up their East Asian empire during that timeframe –adding the Philippines, Malaya, the East Indies, Thailand (already an ally), and Burma, and building up a defensive web of islands including Guam and the Marianas, the Carolines, the Marshalls, the Gilberts, Wake, and New Guinea.
By the time the United States was mobilized, Japan hoped its new defensive network would make the American public question whether retaking far-away East Asia was worth the cost in lives and in materiel, opening the door to a political settlement that could allow Japan to keep its territorial gains.
Yet that strategy relied on doing nothing to so outrage the American people that they would refuse to listen to any settlement short of an unconditional surrender.
Slowly, quietly, in ones and twos, the aircraft carriers whose names would become infamous –Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku, Zuikaku –made their way to a rendezvous in a remote, isolated bay on Etorofu in the Kurile Islands north of Hokkaido variously called Hitokappu or Tankan Bay.
The carriers, officially called the 1st Air Fleet, would be joined by a sizable escorting force: Hiei and Kirishima, two fast battleships that had been converted from battlecruisers; Tone and Chikuma, two bizarre-looking heavy cruisers capable of carrying an increased number of seaplanes; and the light cruiser Abukuma, leading a squadron of eight destroyers. Referred to as the Japanese Carrier Striking Force in US Navy circles, it was and is more commonly known by the informal name of Kido Butai –“Striking Force.”
On November 26, Kido Butai departed Hitokappu Bay for its date with Pearl Harbor and history. Less well known are the other elements of the Japanese plan, or, as US military analysts would later call it, the “Centrifugal Offensive”: simultaneous strikes designed to leave the Americans, British, Australians, and Dutch completely off-balance, all peripheral objectives but necessary to achieve Japan’s overall strategic goal: final victory in China. The biggest strike, tasked with conquering the all-important “Southern Resources Area,” would be led by the appropriately named Southern Expeditionary Force.
And so on the day before Pearl Harbor, Imperial Japan was a maze of contradictions. An island nation run by the army. An emperor constitutionally limited to absolute power. An emperor with absolute power who would only use that power indirectly. An effort to end a war by starting a much larger war. Ending a war next door by starting another war 3,000 miles away. Starting a war they knew they would most probably lose.
Toast #2 for the military men in Vladivostok! This week’s toast is between the same men that are part of the same goodwill exchange program as last week’s Tuesday Toast, but they are in a new location. These toasts occurred while the US Navy guided missile cruiser USS PRINCETON (CG-59) and guided missile frigate USS REUBEN JAMES (FFG 57) were in Vladivostok, Siberia for four days as part of a goodwill exchange program.