A Brief History of Sangley Point
The Spanish Era
The U.S. Naval Station Sangley Point was located on a peninsula jutting into Manila Bay, approximately eight miles southwest of the city of Manila.
Prior to the arrival of the Americans in 1898, the Spanish colonial government of the Philippine Islands, which had ruled the Philippines since 1571, found a useful purpose for the tiny peninsula across the bay. Ever distrustful of the Chinese merchants who called on every port from Japan to the Arabian peninsula, the Spanish passed laws restricting their entry into the capitol city of Manila. These Chinese merchants, then known as xiang-li, could, however, peddle their wares across the bay from the city on the narrow strip of land that would eventually bear their name. In addition to their role as international traders, Chinese artisan and craftsmen were employed as inexpensive labor by the Spanish shipbuilders who built ships at Sangley that were used in the galleon trade route between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico.
In 1871 the Spanish established a naval hospital, managed by the Sisters of Charity, at Cañacao near the western end of the peninsula. In addition, as the age of sail began to wane and the age of steam was ushered in, the eastern end of Sangley Point became a coaling station and support facility for the Spanish naval base located just across Cañacao Bay at the Cavite naval yard.
The U.S. Takes Possession
In 1898 diplomatic relations between the United States and Spain were strained by events related to the insurrection taking place on the Spanish controlled island of Cuba.
In anticipation of hostilities with Spain, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Asiatic Squadron, under the command of Commodore George Dewey aboard the USS Olympia, to proceed to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. There he was to make preparations to move on the Spanish Fleet in the Philippines, believed to be anchored at Subic Bay. After war with Spain had broken out following the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor, Dewey proceeded to the Philippines and arrived at Subic Bay just before sunset on April 30, 1898. However, Spanish naval authorities had determined that their position there was undefendable and had moved the fleet to Manila Bay.
Under cover of darkness, Dewey proceeded to Manila Bay, arriving just off Corregidor after 11 pm. The ships stealthily moved past the south side of the island fortress, through Boca Grande, and into Manila Bay.
Shortly after midnight they had nearly passed unnoticed when soot in the USS McCulloch’s smokestack caught fire, revealing the squadron’s position. Spanish batteries on the south shore near Punta Restinga and on El Fraile island opened fire on the shadowy ships. A few rounds were fired in response by the USS Raleigh. One shell scored a direct hit on El Fraile battery. The Spanish guns then fell silent after firing only three rounds. However, the big guns on Corregidor remained silent. Although concerned that his presence may had been revealed, Dewey proceeded slowly eastward toward Manila.
Dawn was beginning to break on the morning of May 1 as the squadron arrived at Manila. At first, however, lookouts posted high on the American ships could not locate the enemy fleet. Then, off to the right, they spotted a number of white buildings on the narrow strip of land known as Sangley Point, and beyond them a line of dark gray objects on the water. A hard turn to starboard brought the American squadron to bear on the Spanish fleet. The Spanish ships were anchored in an arc stretching eastward and southward from the mouth of Cañacao Bay near the tip of Sangley Point. As they approached, the column of American ships, with Olympia at the head of the line, followed by Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, and Boston, gradually turned to starboard, bringing their port guns to bear on the Spanish fleet. Dewey turned to Captain Charles V. Gridley, commanding officer of Olympia, and said, “You may fire when ready, Gridley.” At 5:41 a.m. the squadron opened fire. The Battle of Manila Bay had begun.
At last, just as the sun of May 1 rose over the hills and meadows of Luzon, the Olympia’s eight-inch guns in the forward turret burst forth at 5.000 yards range as the signal that the action should begin, she herself turning to starboard and leading the column past the enemy with port broadsides bearing. About the same time two while columns of water rushed upward in front of the flagship as if from exploded mines.
The smoke from the first discharge, as it sagged away, disclosed a long, lead-colored launch coming out from behind Sangley Point and standing rapidly toward the flagship, flying the Spanish flag. The secondary batteries of the flagship and Baltimore turned upon her a hail of shell, under which she stood on for awhile with plucky persistence, but finally fled toward Sangley Point, where she was beached and abandoned under the guns of the fort. She was afterward claimed by the owner of the marine railway at Cañacao, a Britisher, who said she was only going to market at Manila, but as this man’s Spanish sympathies and interests were strong, it seems quite probable that she had been impressed by the enemy as a torpedo-boat.
(from THE NAVAL BATTLE OF MANILA.
By LIEUTENANT JOHN M. ELLICOTT, U.S. Navy.)
The firing became incessant, the white smoke of gunfire becoming so thick that it was difficult to gauge accuracy or effectiveness. Although trapped in the narrow confines of Cañacao Bay, the Spanish fleet managed to maintain a heavy barrage of return fire.
However, most of the Spanish gunfire fell short of its mark. After making five passes in front of the enemy fleet, Dewey withdrew at 7:35 a.m. to investigate reports that he was low on ammunition. He passed the word that the men should take advantage of the break to eat breakfast. One gunner, eager to return to action, yelled out, “For God’s sake, Captain. Don’t let us stop now! To hell with breakfast!”
Just after 11:00 a.m., after determining that the report of low ammunition was in error and that his ships had suffered little or no battle damage, Dewey re-engaged the enemy. However, this time he met very little resistance. As the smoke cleared, the devastation inflicted by American guns became clearly evident. With the exception of a few gunboats, the Spanish fleet had been totally annihilated. More than 300 Spanish sailors had been killed or wounded. There were no casualties on the American side. By 12:30 p.m., the Spanish colors over the arsenal at Sangley Point were replaced by a white flag. The Battle of Manila Bay was over.
The following day the naval facilities at Cavite and Sangley Point were officially taken over by U.S. Naval Expeditionary Forces under the command of Commodore George Dewey.
Sangley Point continued to serve essentially the same function for the U.S. Navy as it had for the Spanish navy. The coaling facilities on the eastern end continued to supply the Navy with coal until ships converted to oil. At that time a tank farm was established to provide the US Pacific fleet with fuel oil.
The Cañacao Naval Hospital Reservation was established on the western end. The US Navy continued to operate the hospital started by the Spanish. In the mid-1920’s a new modern hospital was built as part of a major construction project to modernized the facility. The new hospital continued to serve the Navy, as well as the local population, until early 1942. Sadly, it was destroyed during World War II.
Three 600-foot steel antenna towers were erected in 1915 for the operation of a powerful radio communications station, named Radio Sangley. Later on, a submarine support facility was established. As naval aviation grew, a seaplane facility was established which also served as sevice facility for the Pan American China Clipper service. The Cavite U.S. Navy Yard, just across Cañacao Bay, became the major ship repair facility for the Asiatic fleet.
However, World War II and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines interrupted all US naval operations in early 1942.
World War II
The first bombing by the Japanese on December 10, 1941, heavily damaged the Cavite Navy Yard. Japanese forces occupied Cavite in January 1942. the Japanese continued to use Sangley and Cavite for basically the same purpose. They rehabilitated and expanded the facilities and used them for repair of their own craft and construction of small wooden vessels for coastal shipping of supplies.
American carrier-based planes first bombed the repair facility in September 1944. The Cavite Navy Yard was again badly damaged, as were most of the hospital buildings at Cañacao.
On March 20, 1945, units of the Seventh Fleet landed on Sangley Point, chasing the Japanese out of the area. Within a month, ACORN-45 arrived and set up an advance base maintenance organization, under the command of Cmdr Donald W. Darby. They immediately began construction of an airstrip in preparation for the attack on the Japanese mainland.
The base maintenance organization was officially designated Naval Air Base (NAB), Sangley Point in 1945. Early in 1955, top echelon planners of the Navy recognized the importance of Sangley Point services and designated it as a permanent facility. Later, after the establishment of the naval air station at NAS Cubi Point at Subic Bay, the designation was changed to Naval Station (NS) Sangley Point in accordance with the treaty with the Philippine government which allowed for only one official naval air station (NAS).
The Naval Station Sangley Point was not large, encompassing an area of only 341 acres. Half of which was occupied by its most valuable asset: the 8000 foot runway and its associated air-operations facilities and air-navigational aids. The primary mission of Sangley was to provide maintenance, support, and materials for the regional operations of U.S. Seventh Fleet.
The base was the headquarters of Commander U.S. Naval Forces Philippines/ Commander In Chief Pacific Representative Philippines (COMNAVPHIL/ CINCPACREPPHIL), considered to be the most important activity supported by Naval Station Sangley Point.
It also supported two patrol squadrons, deployed on Sangley on a rotational basis to help fulfill the Mutual Defense Pact with the Philippines.
The Coast Guard Air Station and the CG Ship Nettle played a vital role in search-and-rescue operations and in the maintenance of remote long-range aid-to navigation (LORAN) stations located throughout the Philippines. The Fleet Weather Facility was tasked with furnishing weather information to ships and aircraft operating in the Western Pacific and East China Sea areas.
The Naval Station Sangley Point also provided support for one Fleet Air Wing detachment, a Naval Communications Center, Marine Barracks, a Recruiting Detachment, and Navy Exchange and Commissary Stores.
Early in December 1970, it was officially announced that U.S. Naval Station Sangley Point would be closed. On July 1, 1971, Sangley Point changed status from active to inactive in preparation for the turnover of the facility to the government of the Philippines. The Sangley Point Closure Detail was activated under the command of an Officer-In-Charge, Capt. Waldo Atkins, with a 95-man, 7-officer contingent.
In the extremely compressed 60-day period of deactivation, more than 350 items of automotive and construction equipment were transferred; over 400 industrial buildings and government quarters were stripped of furnishings; installed equipment was disconnected and readied for shipment, and all buildings were secured.
(Click on an area of the map for a close-up of that area.)
A total of 2,500 tons and 1,500,000 cubic feet of material assets were identified, packed and shipped by sea and land to various other U.S. military bases. Much of this transfer was accomplished at night and on weekends due to severely restricted barge and trucking schedules.
Approximately 300,000 pounds of materials and supplies were prepared for turnover to the government of the Philippines, including 375 buildings, 77 structures and 60 utilities systems and improvements. In connection with the relocation of equipment and materials to other bases, 49 stilt housing units were relocated to Subic Bay by a detachment of SEABEES. On-the-job-training sessions were conducted for Philippine naval personnel to ensure the safe and proper operation of all base industrial facilities.
Operating under the most austere conditions of manpower, material and transportation facilities, and handicapped by the adverse effects of the rainy season, and two minor typhoons which passed near the base, personnel of the closure detail extended their work day and carried on during the weekends in order to meet the rigid and inflexible schedule.
The End Of An Era
On September 1, 1971, the base was officially turned over to the government of the Philippines, thus ending 73 historic years as a U.S. Naval facility. It is currently used as a facility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
by Loren Stiegelmar