The British in Manila, 1762-1764

During the Seven Years' War with France and Spain, writes A.P. Thornton, a British expedition from India captured and held the Philippine capital.

“The reduction of the Manilas [Philippines],” commented an enthusiastic contemporary reporter, “will be handed down as a memorable event to the latest posterity.”1 But the bequest has been somehow mislaid, and the oddly raffish “combined operation,” which resulted in the capture of the centre of Spain’s Pacific empire, has managed to escape adequate mention in most of the text-book accounts of the doings of the British on far horizons.

The culmination of the Seven Years’ War saw Britain on a tide of success, and her fighting machine in first-class order. The measure of the French had been taken in North America and in India, while in Europe the resourceful Frederick the Great was pursuing plans of his own at the expense of the British Treasury.

Spain entered late into these lists, and soon had occasion to rue her decision to do so. In her first (and only) year of battle, 1762, the British filched from her the keys of her two treasuries in the West and in the East: Havana fell after a two months’ siege (August 14th), and two months later Manila, by a surprise twelve-day campaign—a surprise that was the more profound as the Spaniards in the Philippines had received no news from Europe that Britain and Spain were at war with one another.

The investment and capture of Havana was an affair of the professionals, taking place in an area where the necessary strategy had long been studied; it has received detailed examination from the professionals, both naval men and historians. But the affair at Manila resembled more a sleight-of-hand trick.2

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