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13 August 2014

The Great White Fleet.

On December 16th 1907 sixteen battleships clad in white with gilded scrollwork with red, white, and blue banners on their bows Left Hampton Roads on a historic journey that would take them around the world, showing the power and capability of the United States Navy.
That is what we have learned but why did we need to show force?  What is “The rest of the story”?

Our victory in the Spanish American war demonstrated the United States Navy as a powerful fleet but we still were mostly a coastal fleet; Countries overseas did not believe we had the capability to defend our assets abroad.
Relations between Japan and the U.S. had been building stress since the signing of the treaty of 1894 which guaranteed Japanese people the right to immigrate to the U.S. with the same rights as American citizens and opened trade with China.  Our mistreatment of Japanese immigrants on the west coast highlighted by the “Pacific Coast Race Riots” and trade issues with Japan and China had our countries on the brink of war in 1906. Japans conflict with Russia in the Battle of Tsushima just one year before resulted in 21 Russian ships being sunk and 7 captured and almost 10 thousand Russians either dead or captured, while japan only lost 117 sailors and 3 ships, this showed Japan as the dominant power in the Far East.  With our assets in the pacific like the Philippines seemingly undefended, the threat of Japanese attack seemed imminent.   President Roosevelt felt something had to be done diplomatically and militarily something to show we wanted peace but show we had the force and capability to defend our assets in the pacific if necessary.  Thus the idea of the Great White Fleet was born.

New ship classes like the Connecticut and Virginia where built incorporating lessons learned from the Spanish-American War.   They were designed as modern warships capable of long-range operations faster and more powerful than any United States sailor had manned before.  The limited experience gained in the recent war with Spain was not sufficient to man these mighty Battle Ships more training was needed to bring the fleet to its optimum capability’s.
The deployment of the Great White Fleet from Hampton Roads to San Francisco would send a message to Tokyo that the American fleet could be deployed to anywhere; even from Atlantic ports we would be able to defend American interests in the Pacific.  The training attained from the cruise by the fleet would help transform the United States Navy to the primer Fighting force.   Diplomatic visits and port calls in South America and would help draw support and respect for the United States and the Navy. 

Sixteen Battleships left Norfolk December 16th 1907 destined for the west coast.  Cruising separately from the rest of the fleet to Showcase the MIGHT of the USN that is why you rarely see them with the Auxiliaries.  Some of  Notable Battleships where;
  • The two oldest ships the Kearsarge and Kentucky, were already labeled obsolete and unfit for battle. 
  •  The Maine and Alabama, had to be detached at San Francisco, California because of mechanical troubles and were replaced by the Nebraska and the Wisconsin .  After repairs, Alabama and Maine completed their "own, more direct, circumnavigation of the globe" and arrived back in Hampton Roads 4 month BEFORE the rest of the fleet.). 
  • The Only one Battleship to serve during both WWI and WWII was the USS Illinois during WWII it was under the name USS Prairie State as a Training School for midshipmen. 

Destroyers provided a screening force for the fleet from Norfolk to San Francisco; also they carried out limited independent visits to ports too small to accommodate the battleships in South America and Cape Horn.     Incapable of long open-ocean transits the destroyers were left in San Francisco and the fleet continued on without them.
Seldom-seen auxiliaries supplied and supported the fleet during its long voyage.  All of these ships were former civilian vessels, acquired by the Government to supplement the fleet during the Spanish-American War.  They were the predecessors to the vast fleets of auxiliaries which were a feature of the U.S. Navy during World War II.
 The day the fleet departed the trip was supposed to be From Hampton Roads, to San Francisco, and back a 29 thousand Mile trip (A distance now cut in half by the Panama Canal).  Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans led the fleet but he had a secret one only entrusted to him and other high ranking officers in the navy by President Roosevelt. After the fleet was underway that evening Evens passed that secret to the officers and men of the fleet the secret was that after a short stay on the West Coast, the fleet would return home by way of the Pacific, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean and to the Atlantic in other words they would be circling the globe. 

It took 28 ships, with 14,000 sailors, a total of 14 months, 6 continents, 20 port calls and 43,000 nautical miles to successfully get the Great White Fleet around the world returning to Norfolk on 22 February 1909.

Not only did we show our ability to defend and strike anywhere in the world, goodwill missions in countries such as to japan,  Egypt and China  helped to build support for the US and improved foreign relations.  The visit to Sydney, was no exception, with almost half a million Aussies showing up to welcome the ships, it was the largest reception for any fleet that Australia had ever given, the visit to Sydney has been accredited for leading to the creation of the Royal Australian Fleet in 1911.

The experience gained by the fleet was immense;

  • New approaches to coal economy and steaming formations strategies led to a more efficient navy, some formations strategies we still use today. 
  • Goodwill missions not only improved foreign relations but also improved morale.
  • Gunnery exercises doubled the fleet's accuracy.      
  • The fleet's dependence on foreign colliers and fueling stations was highlighted and led to building 7 new Collier ships before WWI. 

The Great White Fleet used visiting foreign ports not only as morale booster but it gave sailors the ability to represent the United States.  Every time you step on foreign soil as a United States sailor, NOT only are you representing your ship, your family and the United states, but you represent the sailors that visited those shores before you the sailors of the Great White Fleet.  
For a Powerpoint of this for training Right click HERE and Save As.  

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