Great White Fleet: American Heritage

Great White Fleet: American Heritage

Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the powerful United States Navy battleships which completed a journey around the globe from 16 December 1907, to 22 February 1909, by order of United States President Theodore Roosevelt. Its mission was to make friendly courtesy visits to numerous countries while displaying new U.S. naval power to the world. It consisted of 16 battleships divided into two squadrons, along with various escorts. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate growing American military power and blue-water navy capability.

Hoping to enforce treaties and protect overseas holdings, the United States Congress appropriated funds to build American naval power.  Beginning in the 1880s with just 90 small ships, over one-third of them wooden and therefore obsolete, the navy quickly grew to include new steel fighting vessels. The hulls of these ships were painted a stark white, giving the armada the nickname “Great White Fleet”.

Great White Fleet

The Great White Fleet refers to a large force of American battleships that circumnavigated the globe between December 16, 1907, and February 22, 1909. Conceived by President Theodore Roosevelt, the fleet’s cruise was intended to demonstrate that the United States could project naval power anywhere in the world as well as to test the operational limits of the fleet’s ships. Beginning on the East Coast, the fleet circled South America and visited the West Coast before transiting the Pacific for port calls in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, and the Philippines. The fleet returned home via the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean.

great white fleet

great white fleet

A Rising Power

In the years after its triumph in the Spanish-American War, the United States quickly grew in power and prestige on the world stage. A newly established imperial power with possessions that included Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, it was felt that the United States needed to substantially increase its naval power to retain its new global status. Led by the energy of President Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy built eleven new battleships between 1904 and 1907.

Concerns with JapanRelations with Japan were further stressed in 1906, by a series of laws which discriminated against Japanese immigrants in California. Touching off anti-American riots in Japan, these laws were ultimately repealed at Roosevelt’s insistence. While this aided in calming the situation, relations remained strained and Roosevelt became concerned about the US Navy’s lack of strength in the Pacific.

To impress upon the Japanese that the United States could shift its main battle fleet to the Pacific with ease, he began devising a world cruise of the nation’s battleships. Roosevelt had effectively utilized naval demonstrations for political purposes in the past as earlier that year he had deployed eight battleships to the Mediterranean to make a statement during the Franco-German Algeciras Conference.

great white fleet apush

great white fleet apush

Support at HomeIn addition to sending a message to the Japanese, Roosevelt wished to provide the American public with a clear understanding that the nation was prepared for a war at sea and sought to secure support for the construction of additional warships. From an operational standpoint, Roosevelt and naval leaders were eager to learn about the endurance of American battleships and how they would stand up during long voyages. Initially announcing that the fleet would be moving to the West Coast for training exercises, the battleships gathered at Hampton Roads in late 1907 to take part in the Jamestown Exposition.

Preparations

Planning for the proposed voyage required a full assessment of the US Navy’s facilities on the West Coast as well as across the Pacific. The former was of particular importance as it was expected the fleet would require a full refit and overhaul after steaming around South America (the Panama Canal was not yet open). Concerns immediately arose that the only navy yard capable of servicing the fleet was at Bremerton, WA as the main channel into San Francisco’s Mare Island Navy Yard was too shallow for battleships. This necessitated the re-opening of a civilian yard on Hunter’s Point in San Francisco.

Around the WorldSailing under command of Rear Admiral Robley Evans, the fleet consisted of the battleships USS Kearsarge, USS Alabama, USS Illinois, USS Rhode Island , USS Maine, USS Missouri, USS Ohio, USS Virginia, USS Georgia, USS New Jersey, USS Louisiana, USS Connecticut, USS Kentucky, USS Vermont, USS Kansas, and USS Minnesota. These were supported by a Torpedo Flotilla of seven destroyers and five fleet auxiliaries. Departing the Chesapeake on December 16, 1907, the fleet steamed past the presidential yacht Mayflower as they left Hampton Roads.

Great White Fleet Definition

Dubbed the Great White Fleet because the ships were painted all white, they set sail on the morning of December 16, 1907, from Hampton Roads, Virginia on its long voyage around the world. The main battleship fleet was accompanied by auxiliary ships for support. The popular ballad ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ played in the background and an enthusiastic President Roosevelt waved goodbye from his presidential yacht, The Mayflower. Rear Admiral Robley Evans commanded the fleet from his flagship, U.S.S. Connecticut. On the first portion of its voyage, the ships sailed around South America making a port of calls in Trinidad, Brazil, the Strait of Magellan, Chile, Peru, Mexico, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Two notable events were a bar-fight in Rio de Janeiro, where U.S. sailors were cleared of wrong-doing, and a nine-day celebration in Peru. Almost as if the Peruvian people saw themselves as part of some grand adventure, they even celebrated George Washington’s birthday while the U.S. sailors were in port. This portion of the voyage ended in May 1907 in San Francisco were the sailors practiced mock combat drills to sharpen their skills and to test the operational ability of their fleet. Before the fleet resumed its voyage in May 1908, Rear Adm. Evans was relieved of command due to poor health and was replaced by Rear Adm. Charles S. Sperry.

Great White Fleet go to Japan

Great White Fleet go to Japan

The fleet headed across the Pacific and stopped in Hawaii before jettisoning off to New Zealand, where the crew was entertained by a tribal Maori ceremony. In Australia, the fleet was greeted by 250,000 onlookers and entertained for several days. In Manila, the crew was quarantined due to a cholera epidemic on the island and they then battled a horrible typhoon in the South China Sea. Japan was a major surprise, given the tension between the two countries.

The flag officers were entertained in the Imperial Palace and junior officers were granted railroad passes and trolley passes to travel about at ease. Champagne, toasts, and parties were lavished on the senior command and the visit mutually benefited both countries.

The Great White Fleet Ships

Great White Fleet, consisting of 14,000 sailors on 16 battleships and accompanying vessels, was sent around the world for fourteen months by President Roosevelt. The fleet’s journey started on December 16, 1907, and concluded on February 22, 1909. Called the Great White Fleet because the ships were painted white instead of modern gray, the fleet covered 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six different continents.

The fleet first deployed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, and sailed to Trinidad, British West Indies, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and made port back in the United States at San Francisco. The fleet’s journey stopped briefly when they made a port call at San Francisco on May 6, 1908, because some ships left the fleet for other duties while others joined the fleet for the next leg of its journey. The command also changed from Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans to Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry.

Battleships

  • USS Alabama – Captain Ten Eyck DeW. Veeder
  • USS Connecticut – Captain Hugo Osterhaus
  • USS Georgia – Captain Henry McCrea
  • USS Illinois – Captain John M. Bowyer
  • USS Kansas – Captain Charles E. Vreeland
  • USS Kearsarge – Captain Hamilton Hutchins
  • USS Kentucky – Captain Walter C. Cowles
  • USS Louisiana – Captain Richard Wainwright
  • USS Maine – Captain Giles B. Harber
  • USS Minnesota – Captain John Hubbard
  • USS Missouri – Captain Greenlief A. Merriam
  • USS New Jersey – Captain William H. H. Southerland
  • USS Ohio – Captain Charles W. Bartlett
  • USS Rhode Island – Captain Joseph B. Murdock
  • USS Vermont – Captain William P. Potter
  • USS Virginia – Captain Seaton Schroeder

Fleet Auxiliaries

  • USS Culgoa (storeship) – Lt. Commander John B. Patton
  • USS Glacier (storeship) – Commander William S. Hogg
  • USS Panther (repair ship) – Commander Valentine S. Nelson
  • USS Yankton (tender/scooner) – Lt. Walter R. Gherardi

Torpedo Flotilla of Destroyers

  • Arethusa – (tender) – Commander Albert W. Grant
  • Hopkins – Lt. Alfred G. Howe
  • Hull – Lt. Frank McCommon
  • Lawrence – Lt. Ernest Friedrick
  • Stewart – Lt. Julius F. Hellweg
  • Truxton – Lt. Charles S. Kerrick
  • Whipple – Lt. Hutch I. Cone

What was the purpose of the GWF?

The Great White Fleet was a sixteen battleship fleet that sailed on a world voyage from December 16, 1907 – February 22, 1909. Its primary purpose was to showcase American naval power.

Why was the Great White Fleet so important?

The Great White Fleet was an important show of America’s naval power to the rest of the world. It was also an important event in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The Great White Fleet’s successful return and completion of its mission added luster to Roosevelt’s presidential career.

What was the great white fleet used for?

The Great White Fleet was a sixteen battleship fleet that sailed on a world voyage from December 16, 1907 – February 22, 1909. Its primary purpose was to showcase American naval power.

What ships were in the Great White Fleet?

The fleet consisted of sixteen new battleships painted white, with gilded scrollwork on their bows, six destroyers, and several auxiliary ships.

What was the great fleet?

The Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the powerful United States Navy battle fleet that completed a journey around the globe from 16 December 1907, to 22 February 1909, by order of United States President Theodore Roosevelt.

Why did the Great White Fleet go to Japan?

Thus, to impress upon Japan that the US Navy could shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Roosevelt ordered the Great White Fleet to sail around the world. U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battleships, steaming out of Hampton Roads, VA. , in December 1907, to begin their cruise around the World.

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