This Ghostly Fort Abandoned in WWII Bears the Scars of Manila Bay's Forgotten Past

IMAGE Wikimedia Commons

For over a hundred years, a lonely ghost stands as sentinel in Manila Bay, guarding against enemies long vanquished. The ghostly island was once known as El Fraile (The Friar), until it was leveled, reshaped, and named Fort Drum by the Americans after the Spanish-American War.

El Fraile Island was a jagged rock island in Manila Bay, located eight kilometers south of Corregidor Island. When the Spanish-American War concluded with the 1898 Treaty of Paris and the sale of the Philippines to the Americans for a mere $20 million, El Fraile Island was transformed and turned into what is now Fort Drum.

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El Fraile Island’s Last Spaniard Stand in 1898

During the Battle of Manila Bay between the Spaniards and the Americans on April 30 to May 1, 1898, El Fraile was the first line of defense that protected Manila from invaders, along with Corregidor, Fort Carabao, and Caballo Island. Together, these four islands in Manila Bay formed a perfect naval line of defense against any armada seeking to lay siege on Manila.

A Spanish Gun Called Gonzalez Hontoria de 12 cm mod 1883

Fort Drum
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

However, the ill-equipped fort did not have enough firepower to ward off Commodore Dewey’s advance. It did, however, have three Spanish guns mounted: a Gonzalez Hontoria de 12 cm mod 1883, and two 12-mm guns.

El Fraile Island During the Spanish Occupation

Fort Drum
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The three guns exchanged salvos with the American cruisers, but did very little damage. Commodore Dewey’s fleet was allowed to advance through Manila Bay unscathed.

After America had successfully laid siege on Manila and other Spanish territories around the world, Spain eventually capitulated and surrendered most of its overseas territories to the Americans, including the Philippines.

The Construction of Fort Drum

After capturing Manila and securing the entire Philippines in 1902, the United States set to work on ensuring it kept its new territory in Asia. It had learned lessons about the decrepit Spanish fortifications it had encountered four years earlier, and was not keen on making the same mistakes.

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Construction of Fort Drum started in 1909. The first step was to protect the capital from pirates and nations by strengthening the forts in Manila Bay. Fort Drum was part of a string of islands at the mouth of Manila Bay, which the Americans fortified. The rocky outcrop was leveled and then became the foundation for a concrete structure shaped like a battleship.

A String of Forts at the Mouth of Manila Bay

Fort Drum
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

On top of the concrete structure, the Americans installed four 12-inch (305 mm) guns on twin mounts. Together, Corregidor, Fort Frank, Fort Drum, and Carabao Island formed a formidable line of defense and credible deterrence to anyone who would attempt to invade Manila. The greatest of these forts was Corregidor.

One of the Turrets Installed by the Americans on Fort Drum

Fort Drum
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Fort Drum in World War II

Unfortunately, when the Japanese blitzkrieged through the Philippines in 1942, Fort Drum was among the bastions captured by the Japanese. The attackers used the fort and restocked its ammunition.

In 1945,  when the full force of the entire American navy came to retake Manila after its victory at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Americans decided to unleash hell on every Japanese-occupied outpost in Manila Bay.

Fort Drum was not spared. The Americans napalmed the entire structure, killing dozens of Japanese troops occupying the fort. The napalm strike was so intense it left the fort burning for days. Fort Drum’s blackened surface is a reminder of that terrible retribution exacted by the Americans.

Today, Napalm is one of the weapons banned by international laws. Other banned weapons include poisoned bullets, cluster bombs, land mines, and poisonous gases.

Fort Drum or El Fraile has been abandoned ever since. Today, its rusty turrets and charred concrete remain silent testaments to the violent end to the Japanese occupation of Manila and the forceful retaking of the country by the U.S.




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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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