The engagement took place in Manila Bay, the Philippines, and was the first major engagement of the Spanish-American War. Montojo, who had been dispatched rapidly to the Philippines, was equipped with a variety of obsolete vessels. Efforts to fortify his position amounted to nothing when the incredibly corrupt Spanish colonial bureaucracy sent explosives meant for mines to friendly construction companies, guns were stripped from fortresses and left laying on the beach for weeks, and reinforcements promised from Madrid resulted in only two poorly armored Scout Cruisers. Montojo compounded his difficulties by retreating from the range of Spanish fortress guns - guns that might have evened the odds - and chose to anchor in a relatively shallow anchorage. His intent seems to have been to preserve the families of the Spanish sailors in Manila from bombardment, and to allow survivors of his fleet to swim to safety.
On May 1, George Dewey aboard USS Olympia and leading a small squadron of warships entered Manila Bay. With the now famous "You may fire when ready, Gridley.." Olympia's captain was instructed to begin the barrage that resulted in the destruction of Spain's fleet. Most of the Spanish ships were either destroyed or surrendered. The Spanish fleet fought back with great ferocity, but many crews were caught unaware - painting their vessels, at Mass, or doing other decidedly non-gunnery related tasks. The results were decisive.
A Spanish attempt to attack Dewey with Camara's Flying Relief Column came to naught, and the naval war in the Philippines devolved into a series of torpedo boat hit-and-run attacks for the rest of the campaign.
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