Great White Fleet

Great White Fleet

The Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the United States Navy battle fleet that completed a circumnavigation of the globe from December 16, 1907, to February 22, 1909 by order of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It consisted of four squadrons of four battleships each, with their escorts. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate growing American military power and blue-water navy capability.


In the twilight of Roosevelt's administration, the president dispatched sixteen U.S. Navy battleships of the Atlantic Fleet and their escorts, on a world-wide voyage of circumnavigation from December 16, 1907, to February 22, 1909. With their hulls painted white except for the gilded scrollwork with a red, white, and blue banner on their bows, these ships would later come to be known as the Great White Fleet


As the Panama Canal was not yet complete, the fleet would pass through the Straits of Magellan. The scope of such an operation was unprecedented in U.S. history, as ships had to sail from all points of the compass to rendezvous points and proceed according to a carefully-orchestrated, well-thought out plan. It would involve almost the entire operational capability of the U.S. Navy. Unlike the badly coordinated moves of the Russian fleet from the Baltic to the Pacific that led to its destruction by the Japanese, the U.S. effort would benefit from a peaceful environment which aided the coordination of ship movements. The voyage itself would eventually set a number of world records including, for example, the sheer number of ships simultaneously circumnavigating the earth. Fact|date=March 2007

The fleet was greeted with excitement around the world. In port after port, citizens in the thousands turned out to see and greet the fleet. In 1908 The Great White Fleet visited Monterey, CA from May 1-4. The posh Hotel Del Monte hosted a grand ball for the officers of the fleet. The Del Monte was later to become the headquarters for the Navy's Post-Graduate School.In Sicily, the sailors helped in recovery operations after a serious earthquake. When the fleet sailed into Yokohama, the Japanese went to extraordinary lengths to show that their country desired peace with the U.S.; thousands of Japanese schoolchildren waved American flags to greet Navy officials as they came ashore.Fact|date=February 2007 In Australia the arrival of the Great White Fleet on 20 August 1908 was used to encourage support for the forming of Australia's own navy. [cite news| last = |first = |coauthors = |title =Great White Fleet revisits Sydney Harbour | work =Afloat | pages =40 | publisher =Afloat Publications Pty Ltd | date =2008-09-01| url = | accessdate =2008-09-12 ] In February 1909, Roosevelt was in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to witness the triumphant return of the fleet and indicating that he saw the fleet's long voyage as a fitting finish for his administration. To the officers and men of the fleet Roosevelt said, "Other nations may do what you have done, but they'll have to follow you." This parting act of grand strategy by Roosevelt greatly expanded the respect with which the United States was held, as well as her the role in the international arena.Fact|date=February 2007

Fleet composition

The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American seapower. The squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors. They covered some 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six continents. The fleet was impressive, but already the battleships were technically outdated, as the first battleships of the revolutionary Dreadnought class had just entered service, and the U.S. Navy's first dreadnought, "South Carolina", was already fitting out. The two oldest ships in the fleet, USS "Kearsarge" and USS "Kentucky", were already obsolete and unfit for battle; two others, USS "Maine" and USS "Alabama", had to be detached at San Francisco, California because of mechanical troubles. (After repairs, Alabama and Maine completed their "own, more direct, circumnavigation of the globe" via Honolulu, Guam, Manila, Singapore, Colombo, Suez, Naples, Gibraltar, the Azores, and finally back to the United States, arriving on October 20, 1908, long before the remainder the fleet, which had taken a more circuitous route.)

The battleships were accompanied during the first leg of their voyage by a "Torpedo Flotilla" of six early destroyers, as well as by several auxiliary ships. The destroyers and their tender did not actually steam in company with the battleships, but followed their own itinerary from Hampton Roads, Virginia to San Francisco, California. Two battleships were detached from the fleet at San Francisco, and two others substituted.

Civil War era leaders

When the fleet left Hampton Roads there were four senior officers who had served during the Civil War. While, in modern times, only such men as Admiral Hyman Rickover have been allowed to serve more than 40 years on active duty, in 1908 the mandatory retirement age was 62. For the fleet this meant Admiral Robley D. Evans, Rear Admiral Thomas, and Rear Admiral Emory needed to retire before the cruise would end. Admiral Sperry started his naval training in 1862 and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1866. Admiral "Fighting Bob" Evans, was wounded four times on January 15, 1865, when, as a leader of company of Marines, he landed from Admiral David Dixon Porter's squadron attacking Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Evans continued to fight even after his fourth wound, drawing his pistol and threatening to kill any man who attempted to amputate his leg in surgery when he was evacuated.Fact|date=February 2007

General fleet itinerary

With the USS "Connecticut" (BB-18) as flagship under the command of Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, the fleet sailed from Hampton Roads on December 16, 1907, for Trinidad, British West Indies, thence to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Punta Arenas, Chile; Callao, Peru; Magdalena Bay, Mexico, and up the West Coast, arriving at San Francisco, May 6, 1908.

After the arrival of the fleet off the west coast, the USS "Glacier" was detached and later became the supply ship of the Pacific Fleet. At this time also, the USS "Nebraska", Captain Reginald F. Nicholson, and the USS "Wisconsin", Captain Frank E. Beatty, were substituted for the USS "Maine" and USS "Alabama". In San Francisco, USS "Minnesota" was brought forward into First Squadron, First Division and USS "Louisiana" took her place as flagship, Second Squadron.

At San Francisco, Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry assumed command of the Fleet, owing to the poor health of Admiral Evans. Also at San Francisco, the squadrons were slightly rearranged, bringing the newest and best ships in the fleet up to the First Squadron. Leaving that port on July 7, 1908, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet visited Honolulu; Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; Manila, Philippines; Yokohama, Japan; Colombo, Ceylon; arriving at Suez, Egypt, on January 3, 1909.

As mentioned earlier, in Egypt, word was received of an earthquake in Sicily, thus affording an opportunity for the United States to show its friendship to Italy by offering aid to the sufferers. "Connecticut", "Illinois", "Culgoa", and "Yankton" were dispatched to Messina, Italy at once. The crew of "Illinois" recovered the bodies of the American consul and his wife, entombed in the ruins.

USS "Scorpion", the Fleet's station ship at Constantinople, and USS "Celtic", a refrigerator ship fitted out in New York, were hurried to Messina, relieving "Connecticut" and "Illinois", so that they could continue on the cruise.

Leaving Messina on January 9, 1909, the Fleet stopped at Naples, Italy, thence to Gibraltar, arriving atHampton Roads on February 22, 1909.There President Roosevelt reviewed the Fleet as it passed into the roadstead.

The First Leg

from Hampton Roads to San Francisco, 14,556 miles


ee also

* Theodore Roosevelt


World Cruise of the Great White Fleet

*Crawford, M. J., "The World Cruise of the Great White Fleet: Honoring 100 Years of Global Partnerships and Security." (2008)
*Hart, R. A., "The Great White Fleet: Its Voyage Around the World, 1907-1909." (1965)
*Nolte, Carl, "Great White Fleet Visited S.F. 100 Years Ago", San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2008, pg. B3.
*Reckner, J. R., "Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet: The World Cruise of the American Battlefleet, 1907 - 1909." (1988)
*Wimmel, K., "Theodore Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet: American Sea Power Comes of Age." (1998)

Russo-Japanese War

*Corbett, Julian, Sir. "Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905". (1994). Originally classified Secret/Confidential until the 1950s; published in two volumnes. ISBN1557501297
*Pleshakov, Constantine. "The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima." (2002). ISBN 0465057926
*Semenov, Vladimir, Capt. "The Battle of Tsushima." (1912). E.P. Dutton & Co.

External links

* Great White Fleet Website
* US Navy Historical Center Site

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