A Brief History
On February 22, 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt made good on his advice to “carry a big stick.”
Digging deeper, we find the “Great White Fleet,” 16 modern battleships of the U.S. Navy, along with various smaller craft, returning home.
Roosevelt was determined to show the world that the United States was a power to be reckoned with and so had this fleet painted all white so that it would be instantly recognized. It was!
On the pretext of a goodwill cruise, the Great White Fleet circled the globe to show friend and foe alike the power of the U.S. Navy and its ability to project that power anywhere in the world. The world had seen plenty of goodwill visits before as well as shows of force under the guise of “showing the flag,” but never had such a powerful fleet been painted up and paraded around every corner of the world!
Since ships could not steam around the world without refueling (prior to nuclear power), only a navy with adequate coaling stations along the way could perform such a feat. The Russians had paid heavily in the Russo-Japanese war (1905) for just that reason (among others), but the U.S. had gained all sorts of new possessions with the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War, enabling them to pull it off. Additionally, with the lessons of the Russian disaster in mind, care was taken to assemble adequate merchant shipping to carry coal and other supplies to support the voyage.
Fourteen months, 20 ports, every continent, the traversing of the Suez Canal (Panama Canal not yet completed) and over 40,000 nautical miles later, the fleet made it safely home, a huge success! The U.S. Navy has reigned supreme ever since and has been able to carry out every mission the country needed done.
Just to make a point, a cracked aspect of this voyage (besides the white paint) was that the ships involved were the Navy’s Atlantic fleet, which served to show Pacific naval powers such as Japan that the U.S. could reinforce its formidable Pacific fleet as needed. Anchors aweigh!
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