Saturday, 9 May 2015

INFOGRAPHICS #14: The Great White Fleet

The arrival of the Great White Fleet at San Francisco (May 6, 1908).
Magic Lantern Slide, scan courtesy of John Freeman
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 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 U.S. Congress appropriated funds to build American sea power. Beginning with just 90 small ships, over one-third of them wooden, the navy quickly grew to include new modern steel fighting vessels. The hulls of these ships were painted white, the Navy's peacetime color scheme, decorated with gilded scroll-work with a red, white, and blue banner on their bows. These ships would later come to be known as the Great White Fleet.

Click to enlarge and save the image to view the details: The Great White Fleet by Steve Freeman (sfreeman421 for deviantart). For a higher resolution image click here.

The Great White Fleet off the Coast of
San Diego
Great White Fleet leaves Hampton Roads
(Feb. 20, 1909). Photo: O.W. Waterman
The purpose of the fleet deployment was multifaceted. Ostensibly, it served as a showpiece of American goodwill as the fleet visited numerous countries and harbors. In this, the voyage was not unprecedented. Naval courtesy calls, many times in conjunction with the birthdays of various monarchs and other foreign celebrations, had become common in the 19th century. Additionally, the voyage of the Great White Fleet demonstrated both at home and on the world stage that the U.S. had become a major sea power in the years after its triumph in the Spanish–American War, with possessions that included Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. The voyage also provided an opportunity to improve the sea- and battle-worthiness of the fleet. While earlier capital ship classes such as the Kearsarge, Illinois and Maine were designed primarily for coastal defense, later classes such as the Virginia and Connecticut incorporated lessons learned from the Spanish-American War and were conceived as ships with "the highest practicable speed and the greatest radius of action," in the words of the appropriation bills approved by the United States Congress for their construction. They were intended as modern warships capable of long-range operations.
Great White fleet souvenir scurf
The cruise of the Great White Fleet provided practical experience for US naval personnel in sea duty and ship handling. It also showed the viability of US warships for long-range operations as no major mechanical mishaps occurred. However, while the cruise uncovered design flaws, it did not test the abilities to engage in battle fleet action. In fact, the success of the deployment might have helped obscure design deficiencies that were not addressed until World War I. These included excessive draft, low armor belts, large turret openings and exposed ammunition hoists. For more details about the voyage, the commanders and the port-calls click here.
The Great White Fleet in San Francisco Harbor in 1908

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