Spanish Cruiser Castilla - Operational History

Operational History

Castilla was commissioned in 1882. She spent her early years in Spanish waters as a part of the Spanish Navy's Instructional Squadron, making several courtesy visits to Mediterranean ports.

In 1890, Castilla was sent to the Philippines to reinforce the Asiatic Squadron. During the first two years of the Philippine Revolution in 1896–1897, referred to by colonial Spaniards as the "Tagalog Revolt", Castilla patrolled to intercept contraband destined for the Philippine insurgents and supported Spanish Army forces fighting ashore in Cavite Province on Luzon.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, Castilla was part of the squadron of Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón in Manila Bay. At 1100 hours on 25 April 1898, Castilla and five other ships of the squadron set out for Subic Bay, where Montojo hoped to take advantage of minefields and shore batteries in the likely event of an attack by U.S. Navy forces on his squadron. During the voyage, Castilla began to take on water through her propeller shaft housing. Her machinery and boilers had been in such poor shape that she was capable only of low speed already, and the only method of stopping the flooding—plugging the hole with concrete—immobilized her propeller shaft, leaving her to rely on sails or towing for propulsion. Montojo's flagship, unprotected cruiser Reina Cristina, took her under tow.

Arriving at Subic Bay, Montojo found that few of the mines had been laid and the shore batteries had not yet been mounted. At 1030 hours on 29 April 1898, Montojo's ships departed Subic Bay to return to Manila Bay, where shore batteries could support Montojo's squadron and where the shallow water might reduce the loss of life if the Spanish ships were sunk; Castilla again was towed by Reina Cristina on this return voyage. The squadron anchored later that day in Cañacao Bay off Sangley Point, in the lee of the Cavite Peninsula, about eight miles southeast of Manila. Unprotected cruiser Don Juan de Austria made a quick trip to Manila to procure small craft, such as lighters, small boats, and barges, to be tied up alongside Castilla to protect her wooden hull from hostile gunfire. Castilla also was sandbagged along the side exposed to enemy fire.

At 0400 hours on 1 May 1898, Montojo signalled the anchored squadron to prepare for imminent action. The U.S. Navy's Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey was sighted approaching the anchorage at 0445 hours. Castilla and the other Spanish ships opened fire at 0520 hours, beginning the Battle of Manila Bay, the first major action of the Spanish-American War.

Dewey's squadron made a series of slow firing passes at the Spanish squadron. Still unable to get underway, Castilla had to fight it out at anchor. She had not been repainted, and still sported her peacetime white sides and yellow funnels, making her an easy and attractive target for American gunners. At 0630 hours, Castilla had one 5.9-inch (150-mm) and one 4.7-inch (120-mm) gun disabled by an American shell hit which also killed several of her crew. American shellfire cut her anchor cables, and she drifted to expose her unprotected side to Dewey's squadron. Three 8-inch (203-mm) hits started a large fire which by 0715 had begun to destroy her deck, and she was ordered abandoned at 0830; unprotected cruiser Don Juan de Austria rendered assistance to Castilla under enemy fire.

Hit by five 8-inch (203-mm) and 6-inch (152-mm), twelve 5-inch (127-mm), and about 33 smaller shells, Castilla soon sank, a total loss, having suffered 23 to 25 men killed and 80 wounded during the battle.

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