The Great White Fleet is an impressive American naval accomplishment that is all but forgotten today. The name comes from the fact that American battleships were then painted white. The idea of an American fleet circumnavigating the globe originated with President Teddy Roosevelt, the most naval-minded of any American president.
American naval strength had grown strong in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, which had been decided largely by naval battles in Cuba and the Philippines. The fleet gathered near Washington DC in December of 1907, and included four squadrons of four battleships each, for a total of sixteen, all from the Atlantic fleet.
The Panama Canal was not completed at that time, so the voyage meant rounding the southern tip of South America. The voyage lasted until February 1909, and covered in all some 44,000 miles. Navy personnel and Marines totaled 14,000. On the US West Coast, a couple of slow ships were dropped and a couple from the Pacific fleet added. The fleet then sailed for Asia.
It visited Australia, Japan, India and many other ports of call. Part of the intent was to display American naval strength to an ambitious Japan, which had just soundly defeated Russia, and annihilated most of the Russian navy. The fleet sailed through the Suez Canal and visited European ports on the way home. It was the first circumnavigation by a steam-powered fleet.
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