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Under the Iron Cross: What if Germany ruled the Philippines?

Written By J.P. Sakuragi on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 | Tuesday, January 24, 2012


We have been taught by our history teachers that the chronological order of Western colonizers who stomped their boots in our lands were in this particular sequence: Spanish-British (for a few years)-Spanish-American. We can add up Japan if we want to. The thing is, the Spanish-American War brought about opportunities for our nationalist leaders to break the chains of colonial rule and time to rule ourselves as we want to. Although the idea of having a unified "indigenous" government can be a big question mark since unifying people from the Ilocos, the Tagalog heartland, the scattered islands of the Visayas, and the untamed region of Mindanao can be a huge challenge for a government dominated by a certain few. Chaos would be the order of the day without the stabilizing presence of a Western colonial power willing to take the void left behind by the Spanish. Surely, the long list of possible replacement foreign ruler would include the mighty and imperial British, the newly "republican" Frenchies, the upstart Americans, and the feared warmongering Huns, err Germans.

The idea of invasion literature has come a long way in my mind because I really love the idea of turning things around like what alternate history buffs think about. The scenario of having Germans barging into the situation brought about the American victory in the Battle of Manila Bay seem to be a possible event that would put a continuation war for the archipelago, this time - the inexperienced American Navy of Commodore George Dewey would be forced to fight the war all over again against the German Far East Squadron under Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee*. Who would have won if that titanic showdown happened?

Baloney? No! In fact, during the engagement between Dewey and his Spanish adversary Admiral Patricio Montojo, German ships were already in the bay helping its citizens and protecting vital business interests in Manila. There were even sightings of German ships in Cebu even before the USS Petrel arrived the scene and as far as Sulu and Mindanao, German ships and merchant marine roamed the seas! Now, what would have been the pretext if that would happen.

Possibilities and Near-Misses

Remember, there has been an arms race between the unified German Reich (united under Prussia years earlier and eventually defeated France in 1871) against the British and French. Although almost half of the world is already carved up by the latter, the Germans were keen into expanding its commercial and industrial interests in Asia in order to get a bigger slice of the Chinese market. With the British establishing a clean foothold in Singapore and Hong Kong, the Dutch obtained the rich Indonesian archipelago, and the French gaining foothold in the weak Indochinese kingdoms, the Germans have only the scattered Pacific islands and the rebellious Philippines to consider.

Years before the Great War, a deadly game of bluffs and intimidation almost went wrong and out of hand. Sure, the Americans soundly defeated the old and broken-down Spanish ships but the arrival of German ships would have been a different story. Would Dewey engage in a time where anti-German sentiments are brewing in the English-speaking world? A strong presence in Asia would have been made if the Americans backed off from the islands. Perhaps, William Jennings Bryan defeating William McKinley in the presidential election would have make the German claim feasible. During that time, tensions have become near boiling point that Dewey even said to Vice Admiral Otto von Diederichs "if Germany wants war, all right, we are ready"**.


The image (above) shows von Diederichs' flagship battleship Kaiser (far left), the cruiser Irene (center), and the cruiser Kaiserin Augusta (far right). Also part of the Far East Squadron was the Prinz Wilhelm and Cormoran. A trivial fact is that the Kaiser's brother Prince Heinrich of Prussia was on the Kaiserin Augusta with the future World War 2 admiral (then 1st Lieutenant) Erich Raeder***. A steam cutter is flying the German Imperial Navy ensign. These ships were active in Manila Bay during the American naval blockade of Manila from May to August 1898. While the blockade was enforced and Filipino troops surrounded the city, German, British, French, and even Japanese ships were present as they evacuated some of their citizens and protect their properties at the same time. Dewey realized that the German contingent is far stronger than the force that he can muster. In fact, he was really concerned about the German motives so he requested for more ships, additional ammunition and reinforcements in order to deter any potential German threat and Spanish relief expedition.

Despite the tense moments, cooler heads prevailed. By July 1898, Spanish finally gave up hopes to recapture the Philippines as American reinforcements started to pick up its numbers. In August, additional warships have arrived together with a strong expeditionary force and surrender ultimatum was announced. On August 13, 1898, following heavy bombardment of Fort San Antonio de Abad a few miles south of the city, and the fort's capture by U.S. troops, Manila's Spanish government finally surrendered.


The possibility that Germany would seize the Philippines led President William McKinley's administration to transform the islands into a U.S. protectorate. It may be explain the annexation of Hawaii and Guam, the territories contested by Germany.

Battle Lines Have Been Drawn

In a "World War One"-like campaign fought even earlier than the war that destroyed Europe 15 years later would have been possible if the circumstances were favoring Germany at that time. With Germany destroying the French army (the largest army at that time) in mere weeks in the Franco-Prussian War, including the stunning victory of Sedan, it is known by the Americans that waging a disastrous land campaign against the battle-hardened Germans is out of the question. The pain of the mechanized rampage of the Civil War is still fresh on the memories of American military leaders. But times are changing, military adventurism and jingoistic fervor are the rules of the jungle.

By this time, the Germans have already island-hopped in the Pacific with new territories to colonize including the eastern half of New Guinea in 1873 and Samoa in 1889. Even Jolo's German resident Captain Hermann Leopold Schuck went on to ask the German government to intervene on behalf of the Sultan of Sulu to stop Spanish military incursions into the area.

It is a fact that the German Far East Squadron outnumbered Dewey's forces and leadership is far superior than the Americans. A small skirmish can provoke a sleeping giant and an unfortunate series of events can plunge the world into war. If the Germans were not interested in becoming Spanish proxies, they are surely interested in naval bases and coaling stations. If that means to support Filipino rebels to wage guerrilla war against the oblivious Americans then they would be willing to do it if the price is right. Raeder's view on supporting Filipinos oppose American designs would probably help them gain vital Filipino support in setting up a limited governing protectorate, wherein Germans gaining favorable economic privileges and concessions.

Before American reinforcements could arrive, the Germans have enough troops to prevent U.S. forces from gaining a foothold in the Philippines. The transport ship Darmstadt have 1,400 men or maybe more than Dewey's men. The Germans were playing a risky game with the possibility of provoking the Americans into engaging first. In fact, violations to Dewey's blockade were openly made with the Germans supplying flour and foodstuff to the encircled Spanish forces while Spanish residents were even treated aboard the German ships. Some officers even visited the outposts held by Spanish and Filipino forces. The German warship Irene even interfered with the landing of Filipino troops on Grande Island, Zambales, to much of Dewey's dismay that he was forced to send his cruiser Concord. It was too late as the German ship quietly left Subic Bay before a violent confrontation can occur. Battle lines have been drawn this time and one wrong move can result into battle and succeeding battles can result into a war between the Reich and the United States.

The terms of the blockade was still being violated by the Germans as they took the soundings off Malabon and the Pasig River estuary. Diedrichs even landed in Manila and occupied one of the Spanish officers' quarteres there while some German soldiers took Manila's lighthouse and others landed in Mariveles and conducted military drills. They also irritated Dewey by sending a launch one night at 11 p.m. to deliver an unimportant message.

Without British presence, Germans would have never backed off. In a tense situation, the Germans have pushed Dewey into the edge of breaking point knowing pretty well that they are superior in both men and firepower to the Americans. The British squadron of Captain Sir Edward Chichester sided with Dewey with its ship Immortalite played "The Star Spangled Banner."

Under the Reich

Filipino support to German presence would be favorable because of the way Jose Rizal and other Filipino reformers admired all things German from its culture down to its industries. In fact, many of them have made Germany their home during their long exile in Europe and went on to the point of hoping that fellow Filipinos would imitate the German work ethic, efficiency, and frugality. Rizal even raised a German flag in his hometown. The idea of Philippines becoming a German colony would probably be welcome since most Filipino elites have a positive image for this rapidly progressive and modern European nation.

If Germany and the Central Powers won the World War One then we may be speaking Deutsch right now and most of our friends would be named Hans or Ingrid. We can only imagine how we would have live under their rule. Nazism would never exist if there was no lost war and victorious Allies to hate. Although German rule in its territories would differ from the Herero extermination of Namibia to the "good old days" of the Marianas. German rule would not last long if war went the historical way since Japan would have occupied all German territories in Asia by then.

If we follow the Marianas model then we will have German education and health care. We should have German language instruction with emphasis of work as a virtue. We would have valued German traits of order, punctuality, camaraderie and obedience to authority. Technical knowledge would have been emphasized and industries from BMW to Krupp would probably sprout like mushrooms. Unlike the "big stick" policy later espoused by Teddy Roosevelt, the Germans did not seize colonies by force, they do it by purchase or treaties with local tribal chiefs. This is one way of creating goodwill with other colonial powers and lessening further tensions. In my own opinion, Germany should probably made the move of purchasing the Philippines before the Americans declared war on Spain in April 1898.

What do you think if we were Germans?

Notes:


* - Graf Spee even visited Manila in 1913 where some of his men took a picture with their American counterparts.

** - Highlights of Dewey's provocative attitude towards the German presence:

While listening to the German officer, Dewey’s complexion changed from white to red.

Dewey: “Does his Excellency [von Diederichs] know that it is my force and not his is that is blockading this port [Manila]?

German officer: "Yes."

Dewey: "And is he aware that he has no rights except as I choose to allow him and does he realize that he cannot communicate with that city without my permission?"

German officer: "One can imagine, sir, that you were conducting this blockade."

Dewey: "Do you want war with us?"

German Officer: "Certainly not!"

Dewey (his voice raised so that he could be heard by officers below deck): "Well, it looks like it, and you are very near it, and . . . you can have it as soon as you like!"

German officer (backed in consternation and whispered to Dewey’s flag lieutenant): "Your admiral seems to be much in earnest."

American flag lieutenant: "You can be certain that he means every word he says."

*** - Lt. Raeder taught himself Spanish and even mastered it. In fact, he started his career as a writer with a paper entitled "The Philippine Revolt Against Spanish Domination."

Credits:

Peaceful Anchorage by Robert Taylor
Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe, Biographien – ein Spiegel Marinegeschichte von 1815 bis zur Gegenwart by H. H. Hildebrand and A. Rohr
What If's in Philippine History by Augusto V. de Viana
The American Way of Strategy by Michael Lind
The Spanish American War Centennial Website - Revenue Cutter Hugh McCulloch by Patrick McSherry
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