U.S. Navy – 101 Years of Global Reach

  • Published
  • By Master Chief Petty Officer Zimmerman,
  • Center for Information Dominance Detachment
One hundred and one years ago this week, on Feb. 22, 1909, the "Great White Fleet" entered Hampton Roads, completing a 14-month voyage around the world. President Theodore Roosevelt was on hand to welcome the fleet as it entered the Virginia roadstead. The 16 new battleships together with provisioning and support ships had departed Hampton Roads more than two years earlier on Dec. 16, 1907.

The warships were painted all white with gold escutcheons and scrollwork, buff-colored bridges and polished wood decks. The fleet, lead by the battleship USS CONNECTICUT, and her 14,000 Sailors had traveled a distance of 43,000 miles and made 20 port calls on six continents. In its day, the voyage of the "Great White Fleet" was the most lengthy and complex naval expedition ever attempted.

Fresh from victory over the Spanish fleets at Santiago and Manila, the United States had launched into a massive naval expansion program. All 16 battleships of the fleet had been build and commissioned since the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898. They were the newest and finest ships afloat, demonstrating United States naval might to an astonished world.

The fleet sailed to several ports in South America, around the horn to San Francisco and on to Hawaii. They visited New Zealand, Australia, and Japan as well as a number of other ports in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Diplomatic visits of the sort pioneered by the "Great White Fleet," continue to this day. On any given day, of the more than 250 ships in the modern U.S. Navy, more than half are at sea, showing the flag, providing support to our allies and causing our potential adversaries to think twice.

Interestingly, while visiting Suez, Egypt, commanders of the "Great White Fleet" received word of a terrible earthquake in Sicily. Several ships of the fleet were immediately dispatched to render aid to Messina and the surrounding area. This sort of speedy response, rendering aid to victims of natural disasters is echoed today in our military's swift response to the recent tragic events in Haiti.

While the voyage of the tubby little ships of the "Great White Fleet" may seem quaint by modern standards, their bold, unprecedented cruise foretold the confidence, determination and worldwide reach of the modern United States Navy.