Most people know about the historic island of Corregidor found at the mouth of Manila Bay. But did you know that Corregidor is just one (albeit very major) part of the American-built defense system in Manila Bay? Other islands that were fortified include Caballo Island which was the site of Fort Hughes and the tiny El Fraile Island that is now completely covered and built as Fort Drum, nicknamed “America’s concrete battleship”, which we are now featuring on this blog.
Before Fort Drum was built, El Fraile Island was just a really small rock (see this photo) found at the mouth of Manila Bay south of Corregidor and near the Ternate, Cavite coastline. The Spanish authorities installed some defensive guns on the island and they saw some action during the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War. During the American rule in 1909, the island was leveled and then built up as a battleship-shaped steel-reinforced concrete sea fort with twin 14-inch turret guns, named Batteries Marshall and Wilson. The fort was then named Fort Drum after Brigadier General Richard C. Drum.
Fort Drum was heavily used during World War II and fell into Japanese hands on May 6, 1942 after Corregidor fell. The island was then retaken by the Americans on April 13, 1945 by pouring a gasoline-diesel mixture into the vents of the fort and igniting it, annihilating the remaining Japanese soldiers inside. Unfortunately, this effectively destroyed the fort and it has remained abandoned to this day. The only major change was when the Philippine Coast Guard installed an automated light on the fort’s deck to help guide ships navigating into Manila Bay.
If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of this “concrete battleship”, head on over to the Wikipedia article, or watch this short video on YouTube. If you prefer, this I-Witness documentary by GMA would also prove enlightening.