THE GREAT WHITE FLEET

 

Navy marks 'Great White' launch


NORFOLK, Va., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy celebrated the centennial of
the launching of the 16 battleships of the Great White Fleet in Norfolk,
Va.

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt pushed for the creation of the fleet,
which he intended as a show of U.S. maritime power, the Newport News (Va.)
Daily Press reported Sunday.

Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the day the ships -- and their more
than 14,000 sailors -- set off on a 43,000-mile odyssey to six continents
to impress potential rivals and allies with American naval might.

At an event Saturday commemorating the launch, Navy Secretary Donald Winter
and chief of naval operations Adm. Gary Roughead praised Roosevelt for his
foresight in launching the fleet.

"It's not possible to improvise a Navy after war breaks out," Roughead
said.

Great White Fleet celebrates 100th anniversary

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Associated Press


NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- The Navy's Great White Fleet is celebrating its 100th
anniversary.

Sixteen battleships departed Hampton Roads on December 16th 1907 for a
14-month global naval voyage.

The deployment included about 14,000 sailors, covered 43,000 miles and made
20 port calls on six continents. The ships that took part were later be
dubbed the Great White Fleet because each was painted white.

Naval history says the trip was supposed to be a "grand pageant of American
sea power."


Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter will be in Norfolk Saturday for a
ceremony marking the anniversary. The ceremony will take place on board the
Naval Station Norfolk-based USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

Leaders pay homage to Roosevelt's vision for Navy


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"It was first and foremost a demonstration of U.S. Navy strength. America
was a nation eager to be recognized as a respected actor on the world
stage." - Navy Secretary Donald Winter .


By Kate Wiltrout
The Virginian-Pilot
© December 16, 2007


ABOARD THE ROOSEVELT


There was an ice sculpture in the shape of an aircraft carrier, and another
depicting a fighter jet.
Teddy Roosevelt himself – well, an impersonator of the 26th president,
anyway – roamed among about 600 guests at Saturday night’s gala aboard the
carrier Roosevelt at Norfolk Naval Station.


There was even a message from the president on White House stationery.

All the fanfare marked the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet’s
departure from Hampton Roads.

The Navy’s top officials, Secretary Donald Winter and Adm. Gary Roughead,
the Chief of Naval Operations, paid homage to Roosevelt’s ambitious vision
of the Navy. The Great White Fleet’s 14-month voyage symbolized the Navy’s
evolution from a continental force that patrolled America’s shores to a
global power that could take its might – and its fight – anywhere in the
world.

“It was first and foremost a demonstration of U.S. Navy strength,” Winter
said during a ceremony in the carrier’s hangar bay. “America was a nation
eager to be recognized as a respected actor on the world stage.”

But the party was more than just a chance to look back. It was also an
opportunity for Roughead and Winter to talk about the Navy’s future – and
the importance of investing in ships, planes and technology that cost
billions.

A brief video that played after the speeches interspersed pictures of Navy
helicopters and F/A-18 Hornets with reasons why the U.S. Coast Guard,
Marine Corps and Navy are crucial: Seventy percent of the Earth is covered
in water. Eighty percent of the world’s population lives within a few hours
of the coast. And 90 percent of global commerce – from crude oil to
Christmas wrap – travels via the ocean.

Those themes are familiar to Navy observers: They reiterate the tenets of
the maritime security strategy the Navy unveiled this fall.

Even as the Army and Marine Corps fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Navy
is defining itself as a military branch that projects power through
strength, defends the world’s sea lanes and responds to natural disasters
and offers humanitarian assistance.

The message is one that Roosevelt would likely have supported, and that was
another reason to toast Teddy on Saturday night.

“America has been, is, and always will be a maritime nation with maritime
interests,” Winter said. “Those interests must be and can only be defended
by a strong navy, a branch of service which – by its very nature –
encourages an international perspective.”


TR's Big Stick: The Great White Fleet's Voyage


by Austin Bay
December 12, 2007


When the fleet sailed out of Norfolk, Va., on Dec. 16, 1907, it was simply
the Atlantic Fleet beginning a globe-circling voyage. But trust writers to
coin a flashy marquee name: the Great White Fleet.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that peacetime
naval expedition -- which still has historic resonance.

President Theodore Roosevelt sent the fleet of 16 white-painted battleships
on the 14-month cruise for a number of reasons. I doubt the headline "TR
PR" appeared in 1907, but it would have been accurate, as well as succinct.
The Great White Fleet's journey certainly served as a global public
relations event.

In a recent interview, naval historian Dr. A.A. Nofi agreed with that
assessment. "The voyage was an announcement, " Nofi said. "America had been
quietly building up the second-largest navy in the world, and no one was
paying attention. The Great White Fleet said, 'Hey, we're here.'"

Nofi said, however, there was another reason to send the fleet, one that
had less to do with showoff bravado and more to do with calculated
geostrategic signaling in the wake of Japan's victory over Russia in the
Russo-Japanese War in 1905. An Asian power had defeated a European power in
a major naval engagement that featured the movement of the Russian fleet
from European waters to East Asia. "In the immediate political context (of
the early 20th century)," Nofi said, "the fleet's voyage was a message to
Japan that said that unlike Russia, if America has to cross the ocean to
fight you, its navy will be there in force and ready."

Having mediated the peace negotiations between Japan and Russia, Roosevelt
was acutely aware of Japan's military capabilities. In 1906, TR received
the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful mediation. The Great White Fleet
embodied TR's dictum, "Talk softly and carry a big stick." The fleet was a
"big stick" behind a man with a peace prize.

A big stick indeed -- peace through strength, a later generation would call
it -- "but the Great White Fleet also garnered an extraordinary amount of
good will for the U.S.," Nofi added, a different kind of publicity payoff.
The fleet generated positive buzz; its arrival in a port of call was good
PR for the port. Elements of the fleet also assisted in the Messina
(Sicily) earthquake of 1908. "Some of the fleet's ships were in the
vicinity," Nofi said, "and responded, similar to the U.S. military
forces aided victims of the terrible tsunami of 2005 (which smashed
Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka)."

The voyage provided the U.S. Navy with operational insights that would
prove useful during the next 100 years, especially in terms of exposing
U.S. Navy planners to the problem of truly global logistics. A huge
battleship squadron steaming around the planet in peacetime is impressive,
however, wartime combat requires sustaining the fleet with fuel and
ammunition.

The Navy hired private colliers from around the world to support the
voyage. "In effect," Nofi said, "the USN was using contractors for global
support. So using contractors like KBR isn't a new idea." However, Nofi
pointed out, the Navy ultimately decided it was a bad idea, or at least an
inadequate answer. "It took the Navy until the 1930s to convince Congress
to purchase sufficient support ships -- fleet auxiliaries so the Navy could
support its warships" in transoceanic combat operations.

The Great White Fleet's voyage took place in peacetime, when contractors
(the privately owned colliers) were eager and available. "Upon analyzing
extended naval movements (such as the Great White Fleet)," Nofi said, "the
question the Navy faced was would these privately owned support ships be
available in wartime? Moreover, would their crews be willing to sail with
battle fleets in hostile waters?" The Navy concluded if it had to fight a
global war, it needed its own auxiliaries manned by Navy personnel who knew
that fighting in wars was their job.

The same question confronts contemporary war planners. In the 1990s, the
Pentagon decided to cut military support structure and hire private
contractors.

The Great White Fleet returned to Norfolk on Feb. 22, 1909, after a journey
of 43,000 miles. Go to www.history.
navy.mil/ library/online and click on
"gwf cruise" for a detailed article on the voyage, as well as an excellent
bibliography.

Navy salutes a history-making tour


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The Great White Fleet, consisting of 16 coal-powered battleships painted
white, steams off Hampton Roads in 1907


By Kate Wiltrout
© December 14, 2007


NORFOLK

When 16 battleships steamed out of Hampton Roads on Dec. 16, 1907, there
was no doubt something momentous was unfolding.

Crowds gathered at Fort Monroe in Hampton to watch the ships pass by.
Thousands more viewed the naval parade from Cape Henry.

As the gleaming, coal-powered ships passed before the presidential yacht
Mayflower, each offered a thunderous 21-gun salute to the man who’d ordered
them to sea: Theodore Roosevelt.

Pacing the deck, Roosevelt could hardly contain his excitement, according
to the next day’s edition of The Virginian-Pilot: “To the Secretary of the
Navy Metcalf and to others of his guests on board he was constantly
exclaiming upon the beauty and grandeur of the surrounding scenes. 'Did you
ever see such a fleet? And such a day! Isn’t it magnificent? Oughtn’t we
all to feel proud?’”

Roosevelt made no speech that day. He didn’t have to. For the man who
uttered the phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” the fleet’s
departure said it all.

Its circumnavigation of the globe, with stops in 20 cities on six
continents, marked the debut of the modern, mobile U.S. Navy.

Saturday, the Navy will celebrate the 100th anniversary of what came to be
called the Great White Fleet aboard the aircraft carrier that bears
Roosevelt’s name.

Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter will host the pier-side party at
Norfolk Naval Station. Like Roosevelt, Winter grew up on Long Island.
Roosevelt served as an assistant secretary of the Navy, and a portrait of
him hangs in Winter’s Pentagon office, above a “standing desk” that
reportedly belonged to the 26th president.

“When we take a look at the history of the Navy, one of the seminal events
in the evolution of the Navy really was the Great White Fleet,” Winter
said. “He brought the U.S. Navy out of a level of almost obscurity, through
a period of tremendous technological change and political change.”

Painted bright white, the warships were easily visible from foreign shores.
The color made them vulnerable, but no amount of paint could disguise the
reality of the 12-inch guns, capable of launching an 850-pound projectile
almost three miles.

Among the 14,000 sailors aboard were old men who’d served on wooden ships
during the Civil War – and young officers named Nimitz, Spruance and
Halsey, whose defining battles would come during Louisiana onto
the Mayflower and introduced him to the first lady and other guests, then
sent him back to his ship with greetings for the rest of the crew.

“I tell you our enlisted men are everything. They are perfectly bully and
they are up to everything required of them,” Roosevelt said as the sailor
departed, according to the Pilot. “This is indeed a great fleet and a great
day.”

The 14-month deployment was a great adventure. The crews visited Rio de
Janeiro, San Francisco, Honolulu and Melbourne, Australia, on the first two
legs of the journey. A crowd of 250,000 Australians welcomed them to
Sydney. Festive banquets awaited them in Amoy, China, and Yokohama, Japan.
On the final leg of the trip, sailors explored what’s now Sri Lanka, rode
camels in Egypt, and posed for pictures in front of the Sphinx.

But the cruise was more than an adventure. The fleet spent a month doing
gunnery exercises off the Baja peninsula and again in the Philippines.

Roosevelt’s decision to test the fleet was born out of his understanding of
naval history. As a young man, he wrote an analysis of the naval battles of
War of 1812 that is still considered a classic. He was a devotee of Alfred
Thayer Mahan, the great naval strategist of the time. Before resigning to
serve with the Rough Riders in Cuba during the Spanish-American War,
Roosevelt had, during his stint as assistant Navy secretary, battled for
money to build modern, steel-hulled ships. As president, Roosevelt had
noted the Japanese navy’s defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of
1905. The Russian ships had sailed successfully from Europe around the tip
of Africa and into Asian waters, but they weren’t ready for battle when
they arrived.

“I want all failures, blunders and shortcomings to be made apparent in time
of peace and not in time of war,” Roosevelt said before the fleet departed,
according to the Naval Historical Center.

Outwardly, Roosevelt emphasized the fleet’s message of diplomacy and
friendship.

“The warships of America exist for no other purpose than to protect peace
against possible aggression, and justice against possible oppression,” he
wrote in a 1908 letter to President Alfonso Penna of Brazil.

Winter will emphasize a similar message this weekend in Norfolk, when an
expected crowd of 500 people will gather on the Theodore Roosevelt.


“I love the quote from his 1902 message to Congress,” Winter said this week
in a phone interview. “'A good navy is not a provocation to war, it is a
guarantor of peace.’ He viewed investment in a navy as being part of what
we would now refer to as having 'deterrence and dissuasive capability.’”

The Navy secretary’s voice rises when he talks about the service’s rapid
transition from sail to steam, from wooden hulls to steel. “The technical
transformation was incredible,” said Winter, who has a doctorate in
physics.

“The old Navy was more focused on coastal defense, river operations, the
Mississippi. These were battleships intended for use wherever, whenever.”

Winter noted that in 1909, the Great White Fleet was in the Mediterranean
when an earthquake struck Sicily. Several ships were dispatched to the city
of Messina to help search for survivors – a decision echoed in recent years
by the Navy’s response to the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004, Hurricane
Katrina in 2005 and in Bangladesh last month after a cyclone.

“A lot of what we talk about now as humanitarian assistance and disaster
relief finds its antecedent in what transpired in Messina with the Great
White Fleet,” Winter said.

Roosevelt was a lame duck by the time the fleet returned to Hampton Roads
on Feb. 22, 1909. He had only two weeks left in office when he came down on
the Mayflower for the homecoming.

“The battleship fleet is the topic on every tongue for miles around,” The
Virginian-Pilot reported on Feb. 20. “No other subject is worthy of
consideration as compared to the importance of the 'boys in blue.’”

Later, Roosevelt declared the cruise of the Great White Fleet “the most
important service that I rendered for peace.” Bill Stewart, a retired naval
officer who owns a massive collection of Great White Fleet memorabilia and
runs an extensive Web site about it, sees a lot of parallels between
Roosevelt’s era and the modern Navy.

“We’re going to peacefully coexist with the rest of the planet, but they
understand we deal from a position of strength. It’s the same thing we
operate on today,” Stewart said. “I think Roosevelt understood the impact
it had on the rest of the world.”

 

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