Spanish 3rd Class Gunboats

Gunboats “General Blanco” and “Lanao”

Gunboat “General Blanco”

Gunboat General Blanco. Midsection cross-section frame (drawn by one of the crew)

The Spanish Empire, once the greatest in the world, largely disappeared during the Napoleonic era, leaving only a few colonies in Africa (Morocco), the West Indies (Puerto Rico and Cuba), and the Pacific Ocean (the Philippines and smaller island groups, among them the Carolines and Marianas). During the latter years of the 19th century, anticolonial movements emerged in the most important of Spain’s possessions, the Philippines and Cuba. Spain’s Restoration Monarchy, which had been established in 1875, decided to put down these insurgencies rather than grant either autonomy or independence. The Spanish Army crushed the first outbreaks, the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) in Cuba, and the First Philippine Insurgency (1896-1897).

Spain attempted to gain support from the great powers of Europe but failed to do so. The nation had no international ties of importance, having followed a policy of isolation from other nations during many years of internal political challenges, notably the agitation of Carlists, Basques, Catalonians, and other groups. Wide- spread domestic unrest raised fears of revolution and the fall of the Restoration Monarchy. Given these domestic challenges, Spain did not involve itself in external affairs. The European powers, preoccupied with great issues of their own including difficulties with their own empires, refused to help Spain, having no obligations and no desire to earn the enmity of the United States. Bereft of European support, Spain had to fight alone against a formidable enemy.

Popular emotions influenced the Madrid government to some extent; many Spaniards believed that the empire had been God’s gift as a reward for the expulsion of the Moors from Europe and believed that no Spanish government could surrender the remaining colonies without dishonoring the nation. War seemed a lesser evil than looming domestic tumult.

GENERAL BLANCO Class gunboats

These steel-hulled vessels were built in 1895-96 at Cavite for service in the Philippines against the insurgents. They were built in lieu of the series of torpedo-boats that were originally planned in the 1887 shipbuilding program.

The vessels of the GENERAL BLANCO class are as follows:


    60 tons, 11 knots., Armament: 1 x 42mm/42cal quick-fire gun, 1 machine gun.

    The vessel was named for General Blanco, who served as general-governor of the Philippines at the time, prior to being sent to Cuba, where he spent the Spanish American War.

    Career: She was built for service on Lanao lake.

    Details and fate are unknown.

LANAO (1895)

    60 tons, 11 knots, Armament: 1 x 42mm/42cal quick-fire gun, 1 machine gun.

    The vessel was named for a lake on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

    Career: She was built for service on Lanao lake.

    Details and fate are unknown.

Specifications: General Blanco, Lanao

General Blanco launched 8/18/1895

Lanao launched 9/22/1895

Displacement 65 tons

Dimensions (length × width × bead height × draft) 25.0 × 4.8 × 2.0 × 1.3 metres

Powerplant 2 propeller shafts, 20 kW

Speed 11 knots

Range 1200 miles (coal 7 tons)

Armament 1 – 42mm, 2 (1 on Lanao) – 25mm, 2 – 11mm mitrailleuse

Crew 29

U.S. Navy (ex-Spanish) gunboat Villalobos

American Gunboat Operations, Philippine Islands

Following the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, U. S. Navy ships blockaded Manila until army forces could arrive. In August, army troops captured the city. Over the next five months, gunboats helped U. S. troops seize key positions around the islands. When the Philippine-American War began in February 1899, naval gun- fire helped repulse Filipino attacks on Manila. In the insurgency that followed, U. S. Navy gunboats provided essential mobility to American troops and played a vital role in winning the Philippine- American War. Indeed, gunboats were absolutely essential during an insurgency that theoretically spanned some 7,000 islands and 500,000 square miles of terrain.

Rear Admiral George C. Remey, who commanded the Asiatic Squadron, deployed its gunboats and other small warships to four patrol zones: one on the island of Luzon; the second on the islands of Panay, Mindoro, Palawan, and Occidental Negros; the third on the Moro country of the Sulu group and southern Mindanao; and the last one on the Visayas group composed of Cebu, Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Oriental Negros, and northern Mindanao from the Straits of Surigao to the Dapitan Peninsula. Some gunboats patrolled as far away as Borneo and China to cut off arms shipments to the Filipino guerrillas.

The gunboats patrolled Philippine waters to isolate Filipino forces on individual islands and interdict the flow of arms and supplies to them. The gunboats also supported ground operations with fire- power, escorted troop transports, covered landings, and evacuated endangered garrisons. Ships, particularly the army’s improvised troop transports, frequently ran aground, and gunboats then helped pull them free, frequently under hostile fire. At night, gunboats sailed deep behind insurgent lines, landing and retrieving scouts who reported on enemy positions and strength. The gunboats maintained communication with scattered army and marine garrisons and mobile columns and delivered their supplies, pay, and mail.

To supplement its meager forces, the navy seized 13 former Spanish gunboats and converted yachts and other small civilian craft to naval service. Most of these gunboats, particularly the converted yachts, were of small size. They averaged about 90 feet in length and carried a variety of weapons including 1-, 2-, and 3- pounder guns; 37-millimeter cannon; Colt and Gatling guns, and various small arms. Among them, however, were a few heavily armed warships such as the Petrel, an 892-ton, 176-foot gunboat armed with four 6-inch guns that earned it the nickname “Baby Battleship.” A landing force from the Petrel seized the important port of Cebu in the first weeks of the war.

Despite the acquisition of Spanish and converted civilian ships, the navy could rarely deploy more than two dozen gunboats to patrol the thousands of islands and numerous navigable rivers of the Philippines. Dispersed across the islands, gunboats generally operated singly or in pairs.

Fairly typical of gunboat operations were the final campaigns to secure the island of Samar. Despite earlier campaigns there, including a celebrated effort by Major Littleton W. T. Waller and 300 marines, Filipino insurgents continued to operate on Samar, eluding U. S. forces in its dense jungle and mountainous terrain. In January and February 1902, the gunboats Frolic and Villalobos carried soldiers on a series of raids on Samar that yielded valuable intelligence and led to the capture of Filipino commander Vicente Lukban. Four more gunboats arrived in March, and these allowed their commander, Lieutenant Commander Washington I. Chambers, to blockade the island, cutting off vital supplies to the insurgents, particularly food, which Samar imported from neighboring islands. In April, Chambers’s squadron embarked the troops of Brigadier General Frederick D. Grant and carried them deep into the island along its rivers. These forces overran the insurgents’ main camp and harried them across the island in a three-week campaign that forced their surrender, ending the war on Samar two months before the official proclamation of peace on July 4, 1902.

As the war wound down, the navy shifted gunboats to other operations. Some worked to suppress the slave trade among the Moros in the Sulu archipelago, southern Mindanao, and southern Palawan. Others hunted pirates in Philippine and Chinese waters. Gunboats thus played a vital role in the Philippine-American War. Without them, conquest of the Philippines might well have been impossible.

1 thought on “Spanish 3rd Class Gunboats

  1. Good article. It is correct and rigorous. The geographical peculiarity of the Philippine Islands, with about 7,000 islands, mountainous and jungle areas in each of them. It made maritime communication and its dominance indispensable during the Spanish colonial period and then during the period of North American control. That’s why light boats were so important.


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