Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On This Day in History: The Great White Fleet

P68.30
Gift of Mrs. Emily C. Yarnell and Ms. Ruth Thomas

On this day in 1907, the Great White Fleet departed Norfolk, VA on a fourteen-month cruise around the world. Initially commanded by RADM Robley D. Evans, the fleet included sixteen battleships painted gleaming white plus a handful of auxiliary vessels. President Theodore Roosevelt’s orders were to show the flag and signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. was capable of projecting power around the globe. It can be difficult to appreciate what an unprecedented undertaking this was for the time. Although small squadrons of ships had completed cruises around the world, nobody had attempted a circumnavigation with a battle fleet of this size. The journey covered 43,000 miles and included stops at twenty ports on six continents before concluding in February 1909.


The fleet arrived in San Francisco on May 6, 1908. So many people wanted to see the Navy’s new steel battleships that the number of riders on the ferries crossing the Bay reportedly increased by 450,000 during the first week alone. This photograph shows the fleet leaving on July 7, 1908 under the command of RADM Charles M. Sperry (tenth President of the Naval War College) who replaced Evans due to illness. The rear of the line is passing by Alcatraz Island while the lead ships are approximately where the Golden Gate Bridge stands today (it opened in 1937). The photograph was presented to the Museum in 1956 by Mrs. Emily C. Yarnell and Ms. Ruth Thomas. Their father, RADM Charles M. Thomas, served as second in command of the fleet until suddenly passing away from a heart attack in San Francisco.


Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

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