The USS New Jersey passes by Fort Drum, sometimes known as the Concrete Battleship, as it approaches Manila Bay on July 3,

Fort Drum, also known as El Fraile Island, was a heavily fortified island operated by the United States in the Philippines for several decades. Constructed between 1909 and 1914, the fort was made of reinforced concrete and served as a formidable defense installation.

Fort Drum is located in Manila Bay, Philippines, situated approximately 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) west of the coast of Cavite City. The island itself is part of the larger Corregidor Island group, which includes other notable fortifications such as Fort Mills (Malinta Tunnel) and Fort Hughes. These islands are strategically positioned at the entrance of Manila Bay, providing a vantage point for defense and control of the bay.

Historical Significance

Spanish-American War: Fort Drum played a significant role in the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The battle took place on the evening of April 30, when Commodore George Dewey led a U.S. Navy squadron into Manila Bay. As the American ships entered the bay, Spanish guns situated on El Fraile Island fired upon them. The crew of the USS McCulloch returned fire, while other American ships, including the USS Boston, USS Raleigh, and USS Concord, retaliated by firing at the island. Despite facing enemy fire, the American ships managed to navigate through the bay, leading to the subsequent American occupation of the bay.

Construction and Armament: Following the Spanish-American War, under the direction of Secretary of War William Howard Taft, the Board of Fortifications recommended establishing fortified defenses in the acquired bays and harbors. Originally intended to be a mine control and casemate station, El Fraile Island was transformed into a fort resembling a concrete battleship. The construction involved leveling the island and building a formidable structure using reinforced concrete, with a design inspired by the shape of a battleship. The fort’s armament included four guns in two turrets, initially planned to be four 12-inch guns but later changed to four 14-inch guns. Additionally, there were four 6-inch guns and two 3-inch mobile anti-aircraft guns.

World War II and Japanese Occupation

Initial Assaults: In late December 1941, during World War II, Japanese forces launched an offensive targeting the strategically important forts in Manila Bay, including Fort Drum. The fort was defended by the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment (E Battery), which had been stationed there since December 7, 1941. Despite facing intense air bombardment and further assaults, the fort’s defenses held strong, and the main turrets remained operational.

Japanese Capture: As the Japanese advanced and captured most of the Philippines, Fort Drum and a few other installations remained under U.S. control. The fort continued to resist enemy attacks until May 5, 1942, when the Japanese launched another assault. Despite valiant efforts by the American defenders, the relentless Japanese offensive ultimately led to the surrender of Fort Drum. Before handing over the fort, American forces disabled the guns, rendering them useless.

Recapture by American Forces: The recapture of Fort Drum by American forces during World War II was significant in the overall campaign to retake the Philippines from Japanese control. On April 13, 1945, after heavy aerial and naval bombardments, American troops landed on the deck of Fort Drum. They faced fierce resistance from the entrenched Japanese forces but managed to regain control of the fort. A unique technique was employed to overcome the fortified defenses: white phosphorus mortar rounds ignited a mixture of diesel and gasoline pumped into the structure through a vent, causing a massive fire and explosion that neutralized the Japanese defenders.

Post-War Period

After World War II, Fort Drum’s significance diminished, and the fort gradually fell into disuse. The abandoned fort became a subject of interest for explorers and urban adventurers. Unfortunately, it also became a target for looters seeking to profit from the valuable metals present in the structure. Despite post-war neglect and the effects of looting, Fort Drum remains an enduring symbol of American military presence in the Philippines and the battles fought during World War II.

Legacy and Preservation

Today, Fort Drum stands as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by soldiers and the historical significance of the Philippines’ wartime experiences. Efforts to preserve and protect Fort Drum’s heritage continue, aiming to safeguard its historical importance for future generations. The concrete battleship serves as a testament to the engineering ingenuity of its construction and the fortitude of those who defended it.

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