Skip to main content

Third Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, “What the Navy Has Done Since the War Began”

[July 24, 1917]1


Since the beginning of


     The enlisted strength of the Navy has been more than doubled since the entrance of the United States into the war.2 On April 6 there were 64,680 enlisted men in the Navy; now there are more than I55,000, regulars In addition we have enlisted about 35,000 <50,000> naval reserves, and about 6,000 <7,000> in the Hospital Corps. <and there are about 16,500 National Naval Volunteers in service.>3

     Every battleship and cruiser that was in reserve has been fully manned and commissioned. The Atlantic Fleet now comprises twice as many vessels as it did in peace times, and a new plan of organization has been adopted, the fleet being composed of Battleship Force One, under Vice Admiral Grant, and Battleship Force Two, under Vice Admiral Coffman, both acting, of course, under Admiral Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet.4 Every effort has been made to bring the Battleship Fleet up to the highest state of efficiency and to keep it in the utmost readiness for action.

     Hundreds of vessels have been secured for coast defense, including yachts, fishing vessels, fast motor-boats and various types of [crossed out and illegible] small craft. They have been converted into submarine chasers, mine-sweepers, patrol boats and the other kinds of craft useful in coast defense.

     A large number of destroyers and submarines are being built, many already far advanced toward completion.

     A large number of destroyers, submarines and submarine-chase chasers are being built, and many of these are fast approaching completion. Special efforts have been made to speed up cons<truction and destroyers are being built in half the time required before the war.> mine-sweepers, patrol boats and the various kinds of craft needed. Nets have been placed at the entrance of the harbors and strategic points, and mines planted. Harbors have been patrolled day and night. The Coast Guard, with its vessels and personnel, has been taken over by the Navy. Observers stationed along the co coast give warning of any suspicious appearance.

     The entire radio service in the United States has been taken over and operated by the Navy. Our wireless catches everything that flashes across the seas, in whatever language. Cables have been taken over and a censorship established over all outgoing cablegrams.

     Upon the Navy devolved the task of convoying the transports that took General Pershing’s troops to France.5 How well that duty was fulfilled is now a matter of history, every ship and man being carried through safely, though the transports were twice attacked by enemy submarines <to France> For this, Rear Admiral Gleaves, commander of the convoy, and his officers and men have received the warmest praise---and they deserve it.

     The Navy has sent to France a hundred <a number of> aviators, <the 100> who landed there June 8, <being> the first contingent of the regular armed forces of the United States to land on French soil.6 They are there for duty in the anti-submarine warfare and for such other service as may be required of them. This is a picked corps, under command of experienced officers, among the best flying men in the Navy.

     The Aeronautic Corps of the Navy has been greatly enlarged. Numerous aviation bases have been established on our coast. A considerable number of All the men who could be accommodated at our aviation training school at Pensacola. Fla., have been under instruction there, and others are in training at other points. Seaplanes, dirigible balloons and the various types of air-craft are used in instruction. The new type of dirigible balloons known as “Blimps,” this particular type having been designed by one of our naval constructors, have proved successful, and a number of these are being built.7 In addition to the previous amounts provided, an appropriation of $65,000,000 has been submitted <made> to Congress for the enlargement of the Aeronautic Corps, the establishment of additional aviation stations, the purchase of machines, etc. The Navy <has erected an aircraft & factory at Philadelphia and> contemplated building a number of its own machines, not only to aid in increasing the production but also to keep up with the very latest developments in aircraft and to make important experiments.

     In order to provide for the immense increase in the personnel, a number of new it was necessary to build a number of new training stations and to enlarge those already in existence. Camps have been completed, are now in course or erection or will soon be begun at the following points: <built at> Philadelphia, for 5,000 men; Newport, R. I., 6,000, men; Cape May, N. J., 2,000; Charleston, Sout S. C., 5,000, completed; Pensacola, Fla., I,000 additional men, completed; Key West, Fla., 5005 500, in course of construction; Mare Island, Cal., 5,000, under construction; Puget Sound, Washn., 5,000, work begun; Hingham, Mass., 500 men, completed; New Orleans, 5,000 men, nearing completion; San Diego, Cal., 2,500, completed; Great Lakes Training Station, Chicago, <at> work begun on accommodations for 5,000 additional recruits; Jamestown exposition site and Pine Beach property, on Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Na., work under way on <work proceeding on> naval operating base; and training station for I0,000 men. <completed>

     The entire above building program of the Navy being carried out under the supervision of the Bureau of Yards and Docks involves an expenditure of about $100,000,000. This involves the improvement and extension of navy yards, training stations, aviation stations, submarine bases, the erection of immense storage warehouses for supplies and munitions, the construction of dry docks capable of accommodating the largest vessels; gun-shops, including the erection at the naval gun factory of the largest gun—shop of its kind and the erection of hundreds of buildings for the various branches of the service. At the New York Navy Yard some $5,000,000 is being expended on new ways for building the largest ships, the largest storage ware houses in the country, doubling the machine shops and erecting structural and other shops and buildings. At the League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia, a new dry-dock I,000 feet long is being built, as are also two now ways for shipbuilding; new structural and machine shops, pattern shop and the largest foundry on the Atlantic Coast. At the Norfolk Navy Yard we are building a dry-dock 1,000 feet long; large new structural and machine shops and foundry, the barracks and many other buildings. The Mare Island Navy Yard is being equipped to build the largest type of battleships, and $3,000,000 is being expended at Puget Sound, Washn., in facilities for building cruisers and various types of auxiliary vessels, erecting warehouses and other buildings. shipways Shipways, shops, warehouses and the like are being built at many other points.

     This work is being carried out at record speed, and much of the work that ordinarily would consume three or four years will be completed within nine or ten months.

     With the shipways now being built or provided for, our navy yards will be able to have in construction at one time on the ways at one time 16 war vessels, in addition to submarines and submarine-chasers, and can have double that number under construction. This will be an important addition to the shipbuilding facilities of the country.

     The German vessels which were taken over by the United States Government after the beginning of the war and now have been repaired.

     The work of repairing the German vessels taken over by the United States Government after the beginning of the war has proceeded rapidly, and a number of them are already <been completed and more than 150 are> are in service.> Sixteen of these vessels have been burned over to the Navy, making a substantial addition.8

     The acquirement of the Jamestown Exposition and Pine Beach properties on Hampton Roads, Va., gives the Navy its first Fleet Operating Base, something it has long needed.9 This well will include a training station for 10,000 men, a submarine base, an aviation operating base for a double coastal unit, coal piers for berthing coal barges loaded and awaiting the fleet’s demand; oil fuel storage, with piers piped for discharging cargo for fueling warships; fleet storehouses to accommodate all fleet stores ready for delivery; spa mine, and net store-houses, torpedo and torpedo storehouses, and a large storehouse for medical supplies and equipment. There will be fleet recreation and drill grounds, athletic fields; boat basin, parade ground, extensive aviation field and other features. Work was begun July 4 on the training station, and other buildings will be created we expect to have quarters for several thousand men ready in another month.

     Contracts have been let for the enlargement of Bancroft Hall and other buildings at the Naval Academy, which, when the improvements are completed, will be able to provide for over 2,000 midshipmen.10 The graduation of two classes this year has provided the Navy with nearly 400 well trained new officers. Congress made provision for over 500 extra appointments to the Academy and the new class just entering will number probably 800, <which entered last fall numbers 750> much the largest on record. Five <Several> hundred officers of the Naval Coast Defense Reserve have been sent to Annapolis for a special course of naval training.

     More than 500 <1,000> warrant officer of the have been appointed to commissioned rank, and recently at one time 325 enlisted <over 1300 enlisted> men were appointed to warrant grades. This not only furnishes a considerable number of [commisinoed?] officers who have had valuable naval experience, but shows that the door of opportunity is wide open for the enlisted man, and that he has every chance to rise from the ranks.

     While the pouring in of recruits by the thousand has resulted in 2 outbreaks of such disease as measles, mumps and scarlet fever, particularly in April and May, the situation has been promptly met by the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and every effect has been put forth to guard the health of the men. At every training station and navy yard new hospitals have been or are being erected. A Division of Sanitation has been created, manned by officers of the United States Public Health Service, to devote particular attention to sanitation and the prevention of disease. Health conditions have improved from week to week, and when the recruiting period is over

     There are many operations and activities of the Navy that must, of course, for military reasons, be kept secret. But enough has been stated to give a good deed <general idea> of what it is doing and has done in the past four months.

     The United States Marine Corps has been more than doubled in strength since the war began, <and now has an enlisted strength of 33,600> On April 8 there were in the Corps 426 commissioned officers, 40 warrant officer and 13,266 enlisted men. The Corps at this writing (July 24) has 26,II2 enlisted men, and there are in service in addition 1,032 reserves, 385 National Naval Volunteers and I5 retired men on active duty: commissioned officers: regular, 428: temporary, 45; reserve, 439; National Naval Volunteers, 32; retired officers on active duty, 43; warrant officers, 45; total number of officers,I, 1,032. Its strength, commissioned and enlisted, in 3I,076. A regiment of Marines consisting off seom 2,750 officers and men <A force of marines under command of Colonel Gen Charles A. Doyen <is serving in France> has been organized, equipped and landed in France for service under General Pershing. The Corps has never, in all its long history, been in better condition, and <has been since August> at the present rate of recruiting will soon enlist the 1,888 men needed to bring it up to its full authorized war strength of 30,000.

Source Note: Df, DLC-MSS, Breckinridge Long Papers, Box 178. Two versions of this document are overlaid here. The original draft, preapred on 24 July 1917, is indicated by the portions of the text that are “clean,” as well as those that are crossed through. At an undetermined later date-though apparently sometime in 1918-Long revised and updated this draft. While these revisions and updates were handwritten as interlineations in the original document, here they are set off by angle brackets. Despite being confusing at times, the editors have chosen to include both versions so the reader can get a snapshot of the self-proclaimed accomplishments of the Navy from July 1917 to an undetermined point in 1918.

Footnote 1: The document is undated, but in a crossed through portion of the text, Long wrote “at this writing,” giving the date 24 July.

Footnote 2: The United States entered the war on 7 April 1917.

Footnote 3: Members of the Naval Militia who were integrated into the United States Navy for the duration of the war.

Footnote 4: VAdm. Albert W. Grant; VAdm. DeWitt Coffman; Adm. Henry T. Mayo. On the composition of these battleship forces, see: William S. Benson to the Bureaus of Ordnance, Construction and Repair, and Navigation, 25 April 1917.

Footnote 5: The wording is ambiguous but presumably Long was referring to the first contingent of troops that was sent over to France in June 1917.

Footnote 6: For more on the arrival of this first group of American aviators, see: Kenneth Whiting to Josephus Daniels, 7 July 1917.

Footnote 7: “Blimps” are non-rigid airships without an internal structural framework or a keel. Unlike the semi-rigid and rigid airships, or Zeppelins, blimps rely on the pressure of the gas (usually helium) and the strength of the envelope holding the gas to maintain their shape. The naval contractor was Dr. Jerome C. Hunsaker who headed the Navy’s procurement of aircraft in World War I. He also led a team that designed and built a helium-filled dirigible for the U.S. Navy. That ship, the Shenandoah, operated successfully until crashing in a storm in 1925. National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, volume 78 (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000), 94-107.

Footnote 8: This is an example of the types of edits made in the later draft. The original draft, written in July 1917 (and later crossed through), noted that sixteen of the seized German vessels had been repaired and put into service. By the time the second draft was written, the number of vessels in service increased to 150.

Footnote 9: On 28 June 1917, Woodrow Wilson set aside 2.8 million dollars to purchase the former site of the Jamestown Exposition, a world fair opened on 26 April 1907, and closed on 1 December of that year, to be a Navy base. “Enduring Legacy: the jamestown Exposition,” accessed on 24 July 2017,; Josephus Daniels, Diary, DLC, entry of 12 June 1917.

Footnote 10: The expansion of Bancroft Hall, adding two wings to the original structure, was begun in July 1917 and completed in 1918. Activities of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, Navy Department, World War 1917-1918 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1921), 37.