Battle of La Naval
The year 1646 was the height of the Dutch marauder's invasion to grab the Philippines from Spain. The Dutch had the advantage against the Spanish and Filipino troops due to their advanced battleships and heavily armed infantry. The Philippines at that time was a young colony of Spain and very vulnerable to other colonial forces, while Spain was just starting to gain ground on Philippine soil. What Spain had were two merchant galleons plying the Philippines-Mexico route refitted as battleships, against the Dutch armada of 18 galleons and numbers of galleys and small vessels. The two Spanish ships were the Encarnacion and the Rosario under the command of General Lorenzo de Orella y Ugalde and Admiral Sebastian Lopez respectively. Though the two captains were veteran military men, their calculations of the upcoming battle were grim and to win was almost impossible. In desperation, they turned to the Virgin of the Rosary for divine intervention and protection, vowing barefoot with their troops at the Sto. Domingo Church which was then located at Intramuros, Manila.
The first battle took place on March 15, 1646. The two small battleships were up against the Dutch's five battleships and a small vessel, with all signs pointing to an easy victory for the Dutch. But this was not the case. The Spanish-Filipino armada fought intelligently and was able to defeat the Dutch, who retreated after five hours of hostilities. Encarnacion and Rosario, victorious of the first encounter, were left with only minor damage and zero casualties.
On July 29, 1646, seven Dutch warships were ready to take down the two-ship Spanish-Filipino armada. The Dutch battleships waited until midnight since the Dutch fire ships could attack more efficiently in the dark. They circled around the Encarnacion, making it impossible for the lone ship to survive. Armed with prayers, the Spanish-Filipino troops did not surrender. Shots were exchanged, and the Encarnacion was able to fight against the seven ships, with the help of the Rosario which was outside the circle of battle and freely attacked from behind, doing a lot of damage to the enemy.
In one instance the Filipino flagship and the Dutch Almiranta accidentally got tangled with each other -- a real danger for the Encarnacion considering the other enemy ships were still attacking. Luckily, some of the Filipino troops were able to cut the tangled ropes and free the ship. Danger continually approached as the Dutch fireboats attacked the Encarnacion hoping to set it on fire; when they were unsuccessful, they tried to attack the Rosario. The Rosario armada was ready. They fired simultaneous cannon shots, sinking the fire ship.
The encounter lasted until daybreak, and for the second time, the remaining Dutch forces fled. Before the fight, Gen. de Orella proclaimed in the name of the Virgin of the Holy Rosary that his entire armada would be victorious and no one would be killed. True enough, there were no deaths on the Encarnacion, though there were two wounded.
In high spirit after their recent success against the Dutch, the Spanish-Filipino troops were looking forward to another fight. On July 31, 1646, only two days after the previous encounter, a fiercer battle took place, this time in the island province of Mindoro. This battle was different because the Spanish-Filipino force was on the offensive, and it took place during the daytime, unlike previous battles.
At about two in the afternoon, the Dutch fleet was cornered for battle. Rapid exchange of cannon fire exchange took place early in the battle. The Encarnacion and Rosario aggressively fired on the Dutch ships, which defended themselves desperately. The Spanish and Filipino troops were in awe of the efficiency of their equipment during the battle, considering the Dutch weaponry was better. While firing on the Dutch ships, the men shouted Viva la Virgen. Badly damaged, one of the Dutch battleships sank and the others retreated once again. The battle lasted only four hours and there were no casualties among the Spanish-Filipino troops.
With the overwhelming victory, the officers and men of the Philippine armada set foot on land and immediately proceeded to the Sto. Domingo Church to fulfill their vow and pray in thanksgiving.
A month and a half respite from battle enabled the Philippine armada to reorganize and make much-needed repairs. Gen. de Orella retired as the captain of Encarnacion and Don Sebastian Lopez took over the command, while Rosario was put under Sergeant-Major Don Agustin de Cepeda.
Because of the victories against the Dutch, the Philippine Armada became complacent. Believing the enemy to be out of the way, a new galleon – San Diego – was released to bring cargo to Acapulco under the command of General Cristobal Marquez de Valenzuela. Overly confident, it left the port without an escort. But as it neared Fortune Island, three Dutch warships were waiting for a surprise attack. The poorly armed commercial ship retreated towards Mariveles while the Dutch fleet trailed, firing continuously. Luckily, San Diego was able to escape the danger and came back to the port.
The Philippine troops wasted no time in countering the Dutch move. The San Diego was remodeled into a battleship along with the Encarnacion and Rosario. On September 16, 1646, with three battleships and a galley, the troop eagerly sailed towards Fortune Island where the unexpected battle had transpired, but the Dutch were nowhere to be found. Sailing farther, the Dutch fleet was seen near Calavite Point in Mindoro.
The encounter started late in the afternoon. The Spanish-Filipino ships opened the battle with series of shots at a distance. After five hours of exchange, the Rosario drifted closer and was cornered by the three Dutch ships. Looking for a kill, the Dutch drew nearer, but Rosario under Admiral Agustin de Cepeda was prepared for the attack and rigorously fired on all sides, hitting the Dutch vessels heavily and forcing them to withdraw.
As the battle was going on, all the troops were loudly invoking the name of the Lady of the Rosary who they believed would once again intercede in their fight and deliver victory against all odds.
San Diego had been bound to leave for Acapulco before the September 15 encounter. Before it could leave again for Mexico, it was found to have a defect that made it impossible to travel and was anchored at Mariveles for repair. The flagship Encarnacion and Rosario escorted it this time, guarding against a possible Dutch attack; however, the Rosario fleet was swayed by the wind and carried far from the other two ships. Seeing that the San Diego was guarded only by one ship, which they outclassed in arms, the Dutch fleet attacked and came very close to boarding the Encarnacion. However, they were once again battered by the Philippine armada, with the San Diego firing cannon balls and putting the Dutch in great distress, forcing them to retreat for the last time.
- Zulueta, Lito, ed. The Saga of La Naval: Triumph of a People's Faith. Quezon City: Dominican Province of the Philippines, 2007.