The Sham Battle Of Manila


With Teutonic thoroughness, Vice-Admiral von Diederichs and six of the seven warships which comprised his Asiatic Squadron had arrived to safeguard German interests—a grand total of one import firm. English, French, and Japanese naval detachments were also at the scene, but the German concentration was stronger than Dewey’s, and its actions were, to say the least, disconcerting. As early as May the Raleigh had been forced to fire a shot across the bows of a German ship which ignored an identification pennant. When von Diederichs called personally to demand an apology, Dewey pointed out that a war was going on and that his blockade regulations governed the shipping in Manila Bay. He also observed that the German naval force seemed disproportionate to that nation’s responsibilities there. Von Diederichs responded stiffly and not quite relevantly, “I am here by order of the Kaiser, sir.” He could not confess that those orders were to negotiate with the Spaniards for an invitation to mediate between them and the Americans.


So he crudely intruded, while Dewey sat in his wicker chair under the Olympia ’s forward guns, and watched, and smoldered. When German vessels persisted in knifing through his flotilla without saluting, he dispatched this curt message: “Don’t pass the American flag again without seeing it.” But von Diederichs’ men-of-war continued to behave as if they controlled the bay, anchored where they pleased, saluted only the Spanish flag on shore, and landed sacks of flour for their beleaguered friends. When the German cruiser Irene went so far as to prevent insurgent troops from capturing the Spanish naval post on Grande Island, Aguinaldo complained to Dewey, who sent the Raleigh and Concord to chase the Irene away. The consequences were twofold and unexpected. For it was the Americans—not the insurgents—who proceeded to occupy Grande Island. And again it was von Diederichs who protested. Dewey listened passively to the German emissary and then exploded, “Do you want war with us?”

“Certainly not.”

“Well, it looks like it, and you are very near it.” And he added that “as we are in for it now, it matters little to us whether we fight Spain, or Germany, or the world; and if you desire war, you can have it right here. You need not cable to Berlin, nor need I to Washington; you can just have war here and now.”

Back home the affair was splashed across front pages; and America showed that her martial spirit was still in full bloom. The New York Times said editorially, “Expansion is a new idea with us. The defense of our rights is an old habit.” And the Atlanta Constitution welcomed war with Germany as another step toward delivering the peoples of Europe from oppressive, outmoded monarchies.

It might have been the year 1917. The violence of the reaction, plus the fact that Captain Chichester, commanding the strong British squadron at Manila, had gone out of his way to show support for Dewey, startled the German chancellory. As spring and early summer waned, the leaden mind of Vice-Admiral von Diederichs slowly came to realize that Dewey and Merritt were not there to free the Philippines and then set them adrift, nor solely to whip the Spaniards, nor to round out the Cuban crusade. And when the extent of American interests in the Islands was suggested by John Hay to the German ambassador in London, the interfering tactics of von Diederichs ceased, much to the regret of our yellow press.

No longer distracted, Admiral Dewey was now able to assist General Merritt in creating another and even more unusual tableau—the capture of Manila by a battle which was not to be a battle.

Seated gloomily beneath a large mango tree in Camp Dewey, General Anderson asked Father William McKinnon, “Why in the name of common sense don’t some of you Catholics enter Manila and tell that archbishop of yours to call this thing off?” The Californians’ chaplain remarked, “I believe I could walk right down the beach and into Manila without any trouble at all.” On the spur of the moment he started off. A torrent of rifle fire sent him scurrying back. He tried again. Halfway across the eight hundred yards of sand between the American and Spanish trenches, a bullet went through his hat. He kept walking. Upon entering the enemy lines, he was taken to Archbishop Nozaleda. The conference came to nothing: Governor General Jaudenes declined to end hostilities just yet. For some time he had been negotiating desultorily with the American commanders, while both sides waited for U.S. troops to arrive. By early August the first three expeditions had landed, and the fourth was preparing to do so. Still, Jaudenes’ problems involved something more than merely putting out a white flag.