After making numerous port calls in Australia, the fleet headed for Japan. While in route, there was a layover in Manila to take on coal. Upon resumption of the voyage, the Fleet encountered a category four typhoon in the South China Sea. It was there that the ships proved just how sea-worthy they were, escaping the storm intact and undamaged. On 18 October 1908, the Fleet finally entered Tokyo Bay (Figure #1).
The visit to Japan marked the high point of the Great White Fleet’s trip. During the visit to Japan, Admiral Sperry’s diplomacy and professionalism as a naval officer earned him the admiration of many high-ranking Japanese officials, including the Emperor himself. Sperry’s efforts on behalf of the United States went a long way in easing the tensions between the two nations. Japan, for her part, could not seem to do enough to welcome America’s sailors and marines. From the day the Fleet made port in Yokohama, there was a series of celebrations, balls, and parties to honor the American visitors (Figure#2). One aspect of Japan’s gracious hospitality was the production of dozens of exceptional color postcards to commemorate the visit. Many of the cards bore fancy cancellations in addition to beautiful artwork.
Once the prodigious mission to Japan was successfully completed, the Great White Fleet set off for Europe. After stops in Amoy, Manila and Colombo, the ships entered the Red Sea. First, they traveled through the Suez Canal. Then the Fleet stopped to take on coal at Port Said (Figure#3). While the crew was taking in the sights of Egypt, a severe earthquake occurred in Messina, Sicily. Immediately, the battleships Connecticut and Illinois were dispatched to Messina. Upon their arrival, American sailors and marines provided assistance to the devastated city (Figure #4). The portion of the Great White Fleet which did not travel to Messina was divided into small groups that visited Algiers (Figure #5), Tripoli, Naples, Marseille, Athens, and Malta. The fleet regrouped on February 6, 1909. After a quick trip to Gibraltar, the next stop on the itinerary was home to America!
On February 22, 1909, the Great White Fleet sailed into Hampton Roads, Virginia (Figure #6). Thousands were on hand to cheer the Fleet’s return. President Theodore Roosevelt was in attendance to commend the Fleet’s crew for the successful completion of the mission he had sent them on almost a year and a half earlier. More than fourteen thousand sailors and marines had traveled some forty-three thousand nautical miles visiting ports of call on six continents. The voyage of the Great White Fleet had made history, and with its conclusion, the United States had secured its claim as a legitimate naval world power.
To this day, the postcards of the Great White Fleet remain extremely popular with collectors. While many of these cards can be purchased for less than ten dollars American, the majority of the better cards in good condition cost between twenty dollars and one hundred dollars. A few of the rare cards now bring much more than a hundred dollars each at auction.