The "Great White Fleet" sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. The battleships were painted white except for gilded scrollwork on their bows. The Atlantic Fleet battleships only later came to be known as the "Great White Fleet."
The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power. The squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors. They covered some 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six continents.
The battleships were accompanied during the first leg of their voyage by a "Torpedo Flotilla" of six early destroyers, as well as by several auxiliary ships. The destroyers and their tender did not actually steam in company with the battleships, but followed their own itinerary from Hampton Roads to San Francisco. Two battleships were detached from the fleet at San Francisco, and two others substituted.
With the USS Connecticut as flagship under the command of Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, the fleet sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 16 December 1907 for Trinidad, British West Indies, thence to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sandy Point, Chile; Callao, Peru; Magdalena Bay, Mexico, and up the west coast, arriving at San Francisco, 6 May 1908.
After the arrival of the fleet off the west coast, the USS Glacier was detached and later became the supply ship of the Pacific Fleet. At this time also, the USS Nebraska, Captain Reginald F. Nicholson, and the USS Wisconsin, Captain Frank E. Beatty, were substituted for the USS Maine and USS Alabama.
At San Francisco, Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry assumed command of the Fleet, owing to the poor health of Admiral Evans. Leaving that port on 7 July, 1908, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet visited Honolulu, Hawaii; Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Melbourne and Albany, Australia; Manila, Philippine Islands; Yokohama, Japan; Colombo, Ceylon; arriving at Suez, Egypt, on 3 January 1909.
In Egypt, word was received of an earthquake in Sicily, thus affording an opportunity for the United States to show it's friendship to Italy by offering aid to the sufferers. The Connecticut, Illinois, Culgoa and Yankton were dispatched to Messina at once. The crew of the Illinois recovered the bodies of the American consul and his wife, entombed in the ruins.
The Scorpion, the Fleet's station ship at Constantinople, and the Celtic, a refrigerator ship fitted out in New York, were hurried to Messina, relieving the Connecticut and Illinois, so that they could continue on the cruise.
Leaving Messina on 9 January 1909, the Fleet stopped at Naples, Italy, thence to Gibraltar, arriving at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 22 February 1909. There President Roosevelt reviewed the Fleet as it passed into the roadstead.
Illustration: Souvenir of the cruise of the Great White Fleet. Photograph of Edward S. Oliver Sr., mounted on embroidery. Photograph given in remembrance of Edward S. Oliver Sr. by his family, Naval Historical Center Acc. 84-062-A.
Related Web Sites:
The Great White Fleet: postcards, photographs, and memorabilia
The Great White Fleet: Postcards from the Myers Collection
Visit to San Francisco
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