Part 6: Caught between empires: Spain, America and the Philippines (1895-1900)
Once Lisenia's first military adventure had ended, the country found itself in unknown territory. Despite having played only a bit part in Japan's crushing victory over China, the general feeling throughout the population was one of national pride and nationalist fervor was high. Eager for international recognition and seeking to portray their country as a modern nation, Lisenian leaders nonetheless realized the precarious position of the young nation. Lisenia was caught between large and powerful nations, with many times the economic muscle and military power of the island nation, and woefully behind them in technology. The nearby Philippines were still a bastion of the Spanish empire, and relations with the mother country were still far from friendly. Japan to the north dominated Lisenian thoughts. Its growing navy and remarkable growth caused a great deal of apprehension, despite the fact that relations were very cordial and Japan showed no signs of changing its stance. Throughout the end of the 19th century, the Lisenian government followed a fine path of doing their best to keep Japan on friendly terms but its territorial ambitions at arms length.
To this end, Congress approved the largest naval expenditures bill yet, signing an expensive contract with the Italian firm Ansaldo in 1896 to supply two powerful armored cruisers of the De León
class. Battleships were simply too expensive and out of the question for the small navy. Drawing on the yard's experience with building similar cruisers for the Italian navy and export, but built to Lisenian specifications, these well-built ships were without a doubt a leap ahead in capability for the Lisenian navy. Two 10-inch guns and ten 6-inch QF guns gave the De León
and sister ship Patria
good firepower, backed by modern Terni armor and new machinery capable of 20 knots. The new cruisers also carried an electric plant, providing improved lighting and life aboard the ship. Delivery of the two ships was delayed until 1899, due to the heavy backlog of orders at Ansaldo and the Spanish-American War.
No sooner had the war with China ended that hostilities once again broke out in Lisenia's backyard. The Philippine Revolution erupted into violence and soon presented Lisenia with an opportunity to try its hand at influencing events on the neighboring colony. While remaining ostensibly neutral in the war between the Filipino rebels and Spain, Lisenian agents were secretly supplying arms and money to the Filipinos. The reasons for the covert support were simple: thousands of Lisenians could trace their heritage back to the Philippines, and were hugely in favor of the revolution, while the hawks in the government secretly hoped to annex parts of the Philippines if the Spanish were to lose.
The 1897 peace accord offered only a brief respite from the fighting, with some of the exiled Filipino leaders landing on Lisenian shores. The following year would bring even more momentous events. The Spanish-American War took Lisenia by surprise, and it was only in late April that negotiations with the Americans began after careful deliberation. Confident in an American victory, the Lisenian government made sure to throw in its lot with the winning side, offering the US the use of its coaling stations in return for expanded trade. The military and government scrutinized the US conduct of the war with great interest, especially the impressing naval victories over the depleted Spanish fleet. The public was largely ambivalent towards the conflict, hoping for a Spanish defeat but also worried that once Spain was sent packing, the Americans would settle in instead.
The stunning ease with which the Americans swept aside the Spanish and won the war was very worrying. Not a year later, the sale of the Mariana Islands to Imperial Germany in 1899 caused even more headaches for the country's top strategists, who now saw themselves likely to be surrounded on all sides by strong powers: Japan and China to the north, Germany to the east, Americans to the south and British to the east. This led to the gradual development of a siege mentality, as more treasury funds were poured into modernizing the navy and improving coastal forts in the hope of dissuading an invasion.
As a result, great effort had been made to absorb as much foreign technology as possible, by buying weapons and expertise from abroad, especially from Europe and the US. The cruiser deal with Italy also included technical assistance for the navy yard's first locally designed torpedo boats. The Rayo
class were meant to replace the obsolete flat-iron gunboats and after significant trouble with building appropriate engines, they began entering service by 1900. These new boats were fast, agile, relatively cheap and could carry four torpedoes and light guns. Compared to earlier TBs they were more reliable, more comfortable, had longer range and better sea-keeping. The navy had great faith in the torpedo and these nimble craft, but their real contribution was in providing national shipyards with further experience in building combat ships, especially the new and exciting breed of "torpedo boat destroyers".