The two most striking features of the modern United States Navy are the strength and power of the battleships and the number of destroyers and submarines.
Many people in Great Britain would be surprised to learn that the United States Navy has been in existence for over 160 years. Most of us are accustomed to regard the great English-speaking commonwealth across the Atlantic as a comparative newcomer into the family of nations, and its institutions as youthful or, at best, adolescent. Yet the thirteen original United States had national aspirations before the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the year that witnessed also the birth of the United States Navy.
The Arkansas. Lattice masts at one time such a distinctive of United States battleships, have been replaced by tripod mast, of the British type, in the more recent battleships. The Arkansas built in 1910-12, has a standard displacement of 26,100 tons and a speed of 21 knots. She has an overall length of 562 feet, a beam of 106 feet and mean draught 26 feet. This photograph was taken before extensive alterations were made to the Arkansas In 1925-27, when one funnel was removed.
Although this new fighting force was called into being to wage war against Great Britain, it “was closely modelled on the British Navy in its organization, customs and discipline, and of its original personnel probably ninety-five per cent were of pure British extraction. To these factors may have been due the astonishing efficiency which was displayed by the unfledged navy.
Several of its ships proved more than able to hold their own in action with veterans of the British fleet, and it is on the hard-fought encounters of the Revolutionary War and the subsequent Anglo-American conflict of 1812 that the earliest traditions of the American Navy are founded. But a century and a quarter of peace between the two nations has removed all trace of ill-feeling on this score. No modern British sailor grudges his American cousins the laurels gained in those wars of long ago, when the young republic obeyed its inherited instinct to assert its power on the sea and did so with surprising efficiency.
Yet the naval operations of these two wars were mere side-shows, which left no deep impression on the mass of Americans and certainly did not fire them with the ambition to become a great naval Power. Thus, for the next fifty years the national navy languished in neglect, and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 found it wholly inadequate to cope with the situation.
It is the considered verdict of all historians that had the Federal Government owned a naval force of sufficient strength to establish from the outset even a moderately effective blockade of the Southern coast-line, the war would have ended in eighteen months at the latest, instead of dragging on for well over four years and inflicting untold misery and hardship on victor and vanquished alike. As it was, the North had to improvise the sea power which eventually imposed a stranglehold on the Confederacy and led more or less directly to its military collapse.
When the Civil War ended the United States Navy had become exceedingly formidable, alike in the number and quality of its ships and in the proficiency of its war-hardened personnel, but since its operations had been confined in the main to coastal waters and rivers, it was deficient in the ocean-going ironclads of the type then included in the leading European navies.
The position, therefore, was that the United States could, had it wished, have developed from its existing resources a really powerful battle fleet, equal if not superior in quality to that of any afloat. But the country was weary of war and, instead of developing the improvised armaments at its disposal, it turned to the more congenial and eminently Anglo-Saxon task of beating the swords into ploughshares and repairing the ravages of four years of fratricidal conflict.
For the next twenty years the navy led a hand-to-mouth existence, and rapidly dwindled, to a small collection of obsolete ships scarcely capable of anything more serious than police work. Early in the year 1880 America’s only armoured vessels were the monitors which had been built or laid down during the Civil War. These low-freeboard turret ships, designed by the Swedish American engineer Ericsson, were the progenitors of the modern Dreadnought.
Not until 1883 was a beginning made with the building of steel ships and several more years elapsed before the first genuine battleship, the Texas, was laid down from designs furnished by a British naval architect. From then onwards a fairly methodical shipbuilding policy was pursued. When the war with Spain broke out in 1898 the United States had a small but well-balanced fleet, consisting chiefly of up-to-date ships. The decisive naval victories gained at Manila and Santiago, and the subsequent acquisition of Spain’s former territories in the West Indies and the Pacific, not only exalted the naval prestige of the United States, but also, by making her a colonial power, forced upon her new responsibilities which rendered the maintenance of a first-clase navy indispensable.
The father ot the modern American Navy was without doubt the late Theodore Roosevelt. During his term as President, large shipbuilding programmes were undertaken.
It is unnecessary here to recapitulate the services performed by the United Slates Navy after April 1917, when America entered the war of 1914-18, but it is pleasant to recall the extremely cordial relations which existed between the British and American naval forces during those stern times – relations which happily still survive. A squadron of American battleships joined the Grand Fleet and served under Admiral Beatty, and at Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, a large force of American destroyers operated under the orders of another British admiral, Sir Lewis Bayly. American minelayers and other war ships worked side by side with British units in the North Sea laying the Famous Northern Barrage, and the two navies were closely associated in almost every theatre of war.
The Washington Conference
In the United States itself a colossal programme of shipbuilding was launched, including over 200 destroyers and though the war ended when but few of the new vessels were ready for action, the immediate post-war years found the United States with so much new fighting tonnage on the stocks that the completion of all this material would have made the American Navy equal, if not superior, to the British.
At this juncture, however, certain economic and political factors came into play, and eventually led to the summoning of the Washington Conference, from which emerged in 1922 the famous agreement for the limitation of naval armaments. By this compact the British Empire and the United States were placed on an equal footing in naval strength, and Japan, France and Italy were-allotted lower ratios of fighting tonnage. So far as Great Britain and America are concerned, the principle of “parity” then established still holds good and, although the original agreement was due to lapse at the end of 1936 it is well understood that naval rivalry between the two countries is definitely and permanently eliminated.
In 1932, for the first time in Amencan history, legislation was introduced which automatically effected the timely replacement of obsolete ships of the American Navy. A certain standard of strength is to be achieved by 1942, and thereafter maintained by such new construction as may be necessary to replace ships of every type as they approach the age limit. This far-reaching measure, known as the Vinson-Trammell Act, attracted little notice abroad, but it is unquestionably a landmark in American history. Its immediate result may be seen in the American Navy Estimates for 1936, which amount to no less than £106,000,000 – record figure for peacetime – and in the 1936 building programme, which included eighty-one fighting ships of various types.
It is abundantly clear that the United States are firmly resolved to implement the policy of building and maintaining a navy “second to none.” The United States Navy, of which the President is Commander-in-Chief, is administered from Waahington by the Navy Department, a body organized on somewhat similar lines to the British Admiralty with a civilian head and a naval officer (Chief of Naval Operations) who exercises the functions of a First Sea Lord. All executive and engineer officers graduate from the Naval College at Annapolis, Maryland, which is a more elaborate edition of the British institution at Dartmouth. Whereas, however, the British naval cadet enters Dartmouth in his thirteenth year, candidates for Annapolis are on the average at least four years older. The entrance age for seamen is also higher than in the British Navy, and the period of first enlistment is five years, instead of twelve as is common in the British Navy.
The Detroit. A light cruiser of 7,050 tons displacement, the Detroit is one of the ten vessels of the Omaha type completed in 1923-25. These cruisers have an overall length of 555 ft. 6 in., a beam of 55 ft. 4 in. and a maximum draught of 14 ft 4 in. The is armed with ten 6-in. four 3-in. anti-aircraft, and two smaller guns. There are six 21-in torpedo tubes. Her speed is nearly 35 knots.
Differences in national temperament are reflected in the outward manfestations of discipline in the two services. If to a British observer the routine on board an American man-of-war may seem rather casual, it would be a great mistake to conclude that the United States Navy is deficient in any of the fundamental elements of discipline. Team work is the guiding principle of the service, and the competitive spirit between individual ships and squadrons is sometimes carried to lengths which recall the bygone days of sail in the British Navy, when the fiercest inter-ship rivalry was displayed in sail drill and other evolutions.