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Navy celebrated the centennial of the Great White Fleet

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  • Phelps Hobart
    Look for more on this marking the 100th anniversary of the fleet s arrival at West Coast ports. Might even be a bit of Navy League involvement - nothing
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 5, 2008
      Look for more on this marking the 100th anniversary of the fleet's arrival at West Coast ports. Might even be a bit of Navy League involvement - nothing announced yet.
       
      Phelps
       

      Navy marks 'Great White' launch


      http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2007/12/17/navy_marks_great_white_launch/6071/

      Published: Dec. 17, 2007
       
      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

      http://hamptonroads.com/node/447102

      Click for full view

      "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

      http://www.strategypage.com/on_point/2007121213318.aspx


      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 way 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

      http://hamptonroads.com/node/446949

      Image 1 of 3 | Click for more

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

      By Kate Wiltrout
      The Virginian-Pilot
      © 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 World War II.

      Roosevelt passed good wishes to officers and enlisted alike, according to news accounts.

      “In parting with the officers of the fleet, president Roosevelt was wholly informal and to each he had a cordial hand-clasp, a grasp of the uniformed shoulder and a hearty 'Good bye, old fellow, and good luck,’ spoken in his characteristic manner,” The Virginian-Pilot reported on Dec. 17, 1907.

      The president summoned a young seaman from the battleship 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.”

    • Michael Nerney
      Phelps - I thought you might be interested in this website on the Great White Fleet. http://www.greatwhitefleet.info/GWF_San_Francisco1.html Regards, Mike
      Message 2 of 2 , Jan 7, 2008
        Phelps - I thought you might be interested in this website on the Great
        White Fleet.

        http://www.greatwhitefleet.info/GWF_San_Francisco1.html

        Regards,
        Mike




        "Phelps Hobart"
        <nlsac@...>
        Sent by: To
        PMMC-NLUS@yahoogr <SeaPower@yahoogroups.com>,
        oups.com <PMMC-NLUS@yahoogroups.com>
        cc
        "William Stephens"
        01/05/2008 06:43 <wstepone@...>
        AM Subject
        [PMMC-NLUS] Navy celebrated the
        centennial of the Great White Fleet
        Please respond to
        PMMC-NLUS@yahoogr
        oups.com







        Look for more on this marking the 100th anniversary of the fleet's arrival
        at West Coast ports. Might even be a bit of Navy League involvement -
        nothing announced yet.



        Phelps


        Navy marks 'Great White' launch

        http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2007/12/17/navy_marks_great_white_launch/6071/
        Published: Dec. 17, 2007

        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

        http://www.wvec.com/news/topstories/stories/wvec_local_121107_great_white_fleet.6395a59.html


        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


        http://hamptonroads.com/node/447102





        Click for full view


        "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
        http://www.strategypage.com/on_point/2007121213318.aspx

        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 way 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


        http://hamptonroads.com/node/446949





        Image 1 of 3 | Click for more


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


        By Kate Wiltrout
        The Virginian-Pilot
        © 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 World War II.


        Roosevelt passed good wishes to officers and enlisted alike, according to
        news accounts.


        “In parting with the officers of the fleet, president Roosevelt was wholly
        informal and to each he had a cordial hand-clasp, a grasp of the uniformed
        shoulder and a hearty 'Good bye, old fellow, and good luck,’ spoken in his
        characteristic manner,” The Virginian-Pilot reported on Dec. 17, 1907.


        The president summoned a young seaman from the battleship 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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