Fire When Ready:  Famous Leader Commands

By | November 15, 2020

[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 (on YouTube, 2:57 minutes)

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

14 thoughts on “Fire When Ready:  Famous Leader Commands

  1. Greg Heyman

    Excellent article and I learned something about history as well, today.

  2. Jerome Smith

    I do believe we all learned something important today and not just a quote but what leaders have done in the past that made them heroes.

  3. The Kid 1945

    Gen. Satterfield, once again you’ve done it with your new series on famous leader commands. I can’t wait as i come to your site daily for another dose of leadership. Today’s article was very entertaining and I learned something about history.

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    A psychological point that Gen. Satterfield commented on but did not elaborate on is the effect of sudden fire. When unexpected, it can be devastating on the enemy. You can see this in war movies a lot. For example, esp. in older battles, firing was done on command – like in the US civil war. When the command fire when ready is given and all the guns fire at once, the psy impact is multiplied over and over. Interesting, eh!

    1. Eric Coda

      I never thought of it Willie. Appreciate you highlighting the impact of sudden fire.

  5. KenFBrown

    Enjoyed today’s article, Gen. Satterfield. Thank you! Please keep this mini-series going. I love it. As a kid when playing battleship with my brother, we would yell “fire when ready”….. great times.

    1. Tony B. Custer

      I know what you mean Ken. FIRE WHEN READY. Very common and easily understood.

      1. Dennis Mathes

        Yes, Tony and Ken. I think an important point is not stated. Great leader commands must be easily understood and are those that cannot be misinterpreted. This one, ‘fire when ready’ has a very clear meaning. Being a great leader means speaking and giving commands that are abundantly clear. This one does it.

  6. Forrest Gump

    Here is an important quote from Gen. Satterfield, “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.” Read and learn!

  7. Army Captain

    Great quote from Commodore Dewey, and one of the most famous Naval commands ever given in the West.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Yes, and this was one of the greatest and most famous naval battles the US was involved in. It also shows what being prepared is about and that it works. The Spanish were not prepared and they took a serious beating. And, like we were not prepared at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and look what happened to us then. BE PREPARED.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Good one, Army Capt. Famous, yes, great results from the battle, yes, and that is how we learn to be leaders. 😊


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.