The world cruise of the Atlantic battleship fleet: the great white fleet and the U.S. Navy, 1907-1909

by Reckner, James R.

Abstract (Summary)
Restricted Item. Print thesis available in the University of Auckland Library or available through Inter-Library Loan. Historical treatment of the world cruise of the United States Atlantic Fleet (later more commonly known as the Great White Fleet)has traditionally examined the cruise largely in the context of Japanese-American relations and the evolution of America's Pacific defense strategy. Historical treatment of the Navy's efforts to modernize during the Administration of Theodore Roosevelt has dealt with the topic in the larger context of the evolving naval bureaucracy and also as an element in the early career of Admiral William S. Sims. No effort has been made to treat the world cruise in the context of other contemporary American naval events, to balance its foreign relations implications with a consideration of its influence upon the evolution of a more modern Navy. Indeed, no effort has been made to connect the cruise experience with the movement to modernize. Further, with one exception, no effort has been made to provide an accurate narrative description of the cruise; and that effort is seriously flawed. The goals of this work are to provide an accurate narrative account of the cruise based as much as possible upon unpublished contemporary accounts of participants; to explore the impact of the fleet's visit upon nations along its route; and, to clarify the relationship between the fleet cruise and the contemporary debate over battleship design and naval reorganization. To achieve an accurate narrative, strong emphasis has been placed upon contemporary sources. The unpublished correspondence and diaries of seven participants, supplemented by official correspondence in the State and Navy Department archives and newspaper reporting of events constitute the main sources of the narrative. Little reliance has been placed upon memoirs, which have in some instances proven remarkably inaccurate, or upon contemporary published narratives which uniformly avoided contentious issues such as the extended incapacitation of the commander-in-chief. Examination of the reform effort has been based largely upon documents and correspondence contained in the William S. Sims Papers in the Library of Congress, but valuable insights were gained from the Navy Department archives, records of the General Board of the Navy, and correspondence from the fleet. Newspaper reporting and editorial comment provided valuable sources as well as indications of the level of popular interest in and understanding of the debate. Although modern historians have generally failed to emphasize the relationship, that the cruise and the naval reform debate were part and parcel of the same problem seemed apparent to contemporary Americans. Although the world cruise of the American battleship fleet presented a colorful spectacle upon the international stage, its impact upon world events was minimal. The cruise touched upon many American foreign relations issues of the day but the tendency at the time and in subsequent studies to attribute diplomatic successes to the cruise generally disregards the underlying reasons for those successes. The cruise might more validly be seen as a catalyst for certain developments in American foreign relations, but not their cause. Similarly, the world naval armaments race of the first decade of the twentieth century was made possible by the rapid industrialization of the European continental powers at the end of the nineteenth century and greatly accelerated by HMS Dreadnought in 1906 and the failure of the Second Hague Conference in 1907. The American battleship cruise might be seen as a manifestation, a result, of that arms race, but most certainly not one of its major causes. The true significance of the battleship fleet cruise, therefore, must be understood in terms of developing capabilities of the United States Navy. The cruise was the first effective test of the 'new Navy's' sea legs, of its ability to respond to newly perceived defense requirements in the Pacific; the experience gained led to a reappraisal of American Pacific defense capabilities. The unprecedented publicity surrounding the cruise led to critical examination of the design of battleships and the organization of the Navy Department. Both were found wanting. The story of that critical examination is an integral, but often overlooked, part of the story of the fleet cruise, just as the understanding of the fleet's limitations gained by the senior officers of the fleet in the course of the cruise is an integral part of the Navy's often painful process of modernization in this period. The fleet which returned from the world cruise was a fleet which had been welded into a single, highly professional unit through long and sustained practice. The combined effect of the cruise and the reform debates was to place the United States Navy firmly upon the road toward more rational, efficient, and professional development.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau

School Location:New Zealand

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/1985

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