The Great White Fleet was a flotilla of sixteen United States Navy battleships (Kearsarge, Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama (Figure #1), Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut (Figure #2), Louisiana, Vermont, Kansas and Minnesota). Together with twelve supporting vessels, the Fleet, by order of President Theodore Roosevelt (Figure #3), circumnavigated the globe between December 16, 1907, and February 22, 1909. With their tremendous hulls painted bright white instead of the standard issue battleship gray, the ships were an impressive sight to behold.
As the sparkling vessels floated majestically on the Ocean, a complex three prong mission was being carried out below decks. One aspect of the mission involved testing the sea worthiness of the ships. Many of the ships were newly constructed and therefore had no established track record in the water. In addition to addressing the logistical concerns of the Fleet’s day to day functioning, the crews were mandated to implement a strategy for demonstrating friendliness and good will towards allied nations of the United States.
As important as it was to strengthen ties with allies, it was equally crucial to convey to potential foes that the Fleet was a force to be reckoned with. Delivering this message of strength and readiness was particularly important where Japan was concerned. The very presence of the impressive Fleet was meant to demonstrate that America could and would deploy a significant naval military force to any place on earth to protect her interests.
During the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, Japan’s navy dealt a humiliating defeat to Russia by destroying the Russian Battle Fleet at the Battle of Tushima (Figure #4). With this victory, Japan emerged as the primary naval power in the Pacific. United States military experts suspected that Japan would soon look to expand her empire. President Roosevelt, as a former Secretary of the Navy, had firsthand experience with what was required to demonstrate military might. He believed that a show of American naval power within the Pacific would serve to prevent a Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands which at the time was a United States possession. It was with this underlying objective of preventing an all-out war with Japan that the Great White Fleet set sail around the world.
On December 16, 1907, the Great White Fleet steamed out of the harbor at Hampton Roads, Virginia (Figure #5), under the command to Rear Admiral Robley “Fighting Bob” Evans. Evans, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, had served with valor and distinction during both the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War (Figure #6).