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General Gregorio Del Pilar, the hero of Tirad Pass, who chose to sacrifice his life to cover the retreat of the Revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo
With the armistice between Spain and the United States of America, all hostilities between the two countries ceased and the US was poised to take control of the country. However, Philippine revolutionaries which came into being as a response to over three centuries of Spanish incursion yet persisted with their own plans for the country.
Rout of Grande Island
It was during the last few month of the Spanish-American War in 1898 that revolutionaries led by a Vicente Catalan mutinied and took over the Spanish tobacco carrier Compania de Filipinas, turning it from its intended course and instead heading to Subic Bay. Now hoisting the revolutionary Philippine flag, Filipinas was en route to the naval stronghold in order to liberate it but by the time they reached their destination, the navy yard had been abandoned by the Spaniards. The reason being that the Spanish fleet had decided that their defenses in Subic Bay were woefully lacking and had instead gone to Manila Bay to clash directly with the US naval fleet.
The few Spaniards who remained, about 1300 soldiers and civilians, were garrisoned at Grande Island so Catalan’s forces chose to disembark there in order to demand their surrender. However, the German cruiser Irene appeared on the bay before the Filipinas could go ashore. Faced with a vastly superior foe, the Filipino revolutionaries whose artillery were just disguised pieces of boiler pipe, were forced to a retreat.
News of the German cruiser reached Commodore George Dewey who immediately ordered two ships from his fleet to resolve the situation and capture the island. With the situation reversed, the then-outgunned German carrier fled at first sight of the US naval forces. After such a display of prowess, the Spanish garrison immediately surrendered and both they and their armaments were eventually turned over to the Filipino revolutionaries.
Stoking the Embers of War
Now emboldened by the elimination of the Spanish forces in the country, the Philippine revolutionaries led by General Emilio Aguinaldo resumed their rebellion – only this time, against the United States of America.
The year was 1899 and with the official declaration by both sides, the Philippine-American War was at its full swing. The recently inaugurated Philippine Republic, the first one of its kind in Asia, moved quickly to claim majority of the territories within the island of Luzon.
Although the situation has been tense between the locals and the occupying US forces since the signing of the Paris treaty, it wasn’t until February of that year that actual fighting broke out.
Battle of Kalaklan Ridge
The clash raged on for years between the two countries; one driven by nationalism and a burning desire for freedom, the other by imperialism and the potential gains of a strategically located colony in the Asia-pacific region. Subic Bay and Olongapo, for the most part, were largely left untouched by the ravages of battle. Except one instance during the summer of 1899 when a patrolling gunboat came under fire from Filipino revolutionaries in the area.
The Presidencia Municipal at Olongapo, circa 1900. Source 1
Installed atop Kalaklan Ridge, a strategic piece of terrain that juts out into the bay, the cleverly hidden gun battery controlled by the rebels ensured that US vessels were effectively blocked from entering the bay. The six-inch gun was one of the artilleries that the Spaniards brought to Grande Island for their defense during the height of the Spanish-American but were ultimately left unused and were now used by Filipinos instead.
Upon hearing of this development, the US naval headquarters at Cavite quickly dispatched the armored cruiser USS Charleston in order to thwart the rebels. With its eight-inch guns, the Charleston was able to silence the rebel-operated battery. However, as the ship was withdrawing from battle the Filipino forces rallied and fired one last parting shot after it. This seemed to irk the US naval forces who then decided to throw the full might of their forces against the “insurgents”.
Kalaklan Ridge as it appears in present day – more than a hundred years after the battle between the occupying American forces and Filipino revolutionaries
On September 23 of that year, the American returned to Olongapo with a veritable war fleet: the warship USS Baltimore, the gunboat Concord, the collier Zafiro and the returning USS Charleston. Upon sight of the ridge, the American forces began to bombard the gun battery with their superior armaments. In the face of heavy onslaught the revolutionaries were only able to fire a single shot as retaliation.
With the gun battery rendered effectively inoperable, it did not take long before the American forces reached the shores of Olongapo City. The landing party, composed of a couple hundred American soldiers, were met by an offensive of Filipino rebels who rushed out of the navy yard.
The fight between the two forces was easily one-side though. As the American soldiers scrambled up the rock-strewn slopes of Kalaklan Ridge toward the gun battery, the barrage from the rebels were all off the mark. Deeming that it would improve their accuracy, the Filipino soldiers had previously filed off the rear sights of their rifles. As such, the gun battery was captured by the Americans with hardly any casualties – from either side, thankfully. Deciding that the risk presented by the artillery was too great, the Americans ultimately destroyed the gun battery with guncotton charges.
Kalaklan Ridge, a strategic staging point for ranged attacks against vessels in Subic Bay
Olongapo City itself, was captured not long after. On December 10 of that year, a full year after the signing of the Treaty between the USA and Spain, a force of about a hundred American marines gained control over the city.
In the end, the ill-equipped revolutionaries succumbed to the might of the superior military force of the USA. And while there were no lives lost during the battle at Kalaklan Ridge, the human cost of the war nationwide was truly staggering.
An estimated 20,000 Filipino troops were killed, and more than 200,000 civilians perished as a result of combat, hunger, or disease. Of the 4,300 Americans lost, some 1,500 were killed in action, while nearly twice that number succumbed to sickness.
Without the menace of the gun battery at Kalaklan Ridge, American patrols and trade vessels were finally able to traverse the sea route past the Olongapo-Subic Bay area.
Company A, 2nd US Marine Regiment at Subic, 1901. Source 1
1. Dumindin, A. (2006). Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.filipinoamericanwar.com/thewarrages1899.htm↩
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