[November 15, 2020] Just after midnight on May 1, 1898, the USS Olympia led a squadron of warships into Manila Bay. Spain and the U.S. had been at war for only a few days. As morning dawned, Commodore George Dewey hailed Olympia’s captain and spoke the now-famous words; You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.
The ensuing Battle of Manila Bay ended with the destruction of the Spanish fleet and the surrender of the Philippine capital of Manila. It signaled to the world that the United States was a major naval power and made Dewey a national hero.
Fire when ready is a famous leader command, given in both peacetime and war. A standard firing range command, fire when ready, is given by a military range officer when qualifying with small arms. In war, the command is given to begin firing to provide shock value when it starts.
Several Korean War veterans from my hometown in Northeast Louisiana told me stories about Chinese soldiers’ mass attacks. The Chinese would use stealth to approach American defensive positions and launch an attack with little warning. Their goal was to overwhelm the allied defensive line quickly.
To counter this tactic, the Americans would hold their firing until the last moment when an officer would command, “fire when ready” or sometimes, just “Fire.” Returning fire onto an approaching enemy is no simple task because it requires tremendous discipline. Commands to start and cease firing are thus necessary to control the situation and conserve ammunition.
‘Fire when ready’ dates back to antiquity when bows were used against an approaching enemy. It was the command given by the leader of a large group of archers. When thousands of arrows are launched simultaneously, the surprise value to an enemy is great.
This is why reading history is such an important task. Read about how old battles were fought. Reading the battlefield reports and stories about warfare gives an unprecedented inside look at the battles and the psychological impact of combat. This is how a good leader gains a better understanding of the leadership skills necessary to succeed.
Note: There is a country-western song that goes by Fire When Ready. Listen to it. Fire When Ready: by Perfect Stranger https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4gVv7cO274 (on YouTube, 2:57 minutes)