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1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   12>, features an Honour Roll with individual pages of information for each of the 645 sailors lost. Families are invited to submit stories, images and other related content to feature on each sailor's pages.

The website also houses HMAS Sydney II historical information and an extensive set of archival photographs courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian War Memorial. Video footage can also be viewed. It includes previous commemorations; the search for the wreck; scenes of the ship and crew in Egypt (July 1940) after the successful engagement with the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni; the triumphant ceremonial welcome home march in Sydney (Feb 1941) and scenes aboard the ship taken during the months before her loss.

The organisers would be grateful if anyone with their own web site could establish a link to this new effort, tfk.

Below.NMASSydneyllin camouflage paint-courtesy John Ross

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) bereavement pin recognising the valued contribution of all Navy personnel who lost their lives while In theservtceoftheRAN, andthenatlon. Please go to for more Information.

Sydney In action as seen from the deck of the Bartolomeo Colleoni (author collection)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 131


Sailing into History:

The 1908 Voyage of the US Navy's Great White Fleet to

Australia, As Seen Through the Eyes of the Media

Remarks presented on September 29, 2008, in Canberra, Australia, on behalf of the Australian Naval Institute.

ByKathleen M. Bums

As we celebrate the centennial of this globe-girdling voyage, it is interesting to observe the many parallels between the attitudes in 1908 and 2008, when viewed on the world stage.

This was no ordinary trip, when 16 battleships and 14,000 men began the first circumnavigation of the globe by a fleet of this magnitude as they sailed out of Norfolk, Virginia, harbor on Dec.16,1907. Few on board knew the ultimate destination of the cruise. When the trip ended, the fleet would have covered 46,000 miles over a 14-month period, and established the US Navy's reputation as an international sea power.

Both US President Teddy Roosevelt and Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin had specific goals in mind for this voyage. They included aspects of domestic politics, economics, international finance, diplomacy, pragmatism and security. The backdrop was a world - then as now - that was faced with global unrest, threats of war, ethnic racism, political posturing and competition for military spending.

One hundred years ago, both

The "Great White Fleet"arriving in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne on August 29th. (Courtesy RAN)

leaders were also waging a battle for symbolism: to garner prestige, to actively shape public opinion and to win support for their policies. Roosevelt had no qualms about censorship and handpicked the embedded media who would give the coverage and he muzzled the seamen and officers who offered any dissent. There were threats of presidential impeachment by Congress for the costs and for the manpower that would be shifted from US shores to overseas for a lengthy period of time.

The trip also served as an incubator for future Navy talent during World War I and II, with several Ensigns eventually rising to the rank of

Admiral. This included: Husband E. Kimmel, who became chief of the Pacific Fleet; Harold R. Stark, who became Chief of Naval Operations and Kimmel's supervisor; and Raymond A. Spruance and William Halsey who became two of the Navy's most famous and respected Fleet commanders in the Pacific War against the Japanese that would occur more than 30 years later.

The Chesapeake farewell of Dec. 16, 1907, had the air of a festive national holiday. Reporters described the circus-like environment as "splendid cacophony!' with 21-gun salutes, military bands and wild cheering. In addition to its human passengers, the fleet resembled Noah's ark with 70 animals on board, including 25 goats, 32 dogs, 12 parrots and a donkey, who would serve as mascots for the different ships.

One Baptist preacher proclaimed in
A set of cards picturing the Captains and the Ships of the Great White Fleet at the time of I departure from Hampton Roads | were created by the American newspaper The Evening I Post. They were printed with I thestatement: "Howtogetthe I completesetoftheBattleship I Fleet: Cut the coupon from the j classihedpageofTheStarand |l present same with iOcents attheStarOfficeforcomplete including the battleship Nebraska. When sent by mail send 15 cents and coupon."

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


Sailing into History: The 1908 Voyage of the US Navy's Great White Fleet to Australia, As Seen Through the Eyes of the Media

his New York City sermon that

the day heralded "the most momentous

event in this country since the Civil


Such hyperbole was focused on the ships, lined up in a three-mile-long parade formation, prior to departure. The hulls, glistening in the sunshine, were painted white for the occasion. (It had not been dubbed the Great White Fleet from the onset. "Only long after the cruise had ended would someone hit upon the catchy name which caught the public's fancy and stuck. In contrast with the usual secrecy that surrounds movements of war ships, ths fleet's voyage was designed to attract the maximum notice of the news media," according to historian Kenneth Wimmel.)

Initially, it was only announced that the Navy armada was to sail around South America and then stop in San Francisco. It was not until the cruise was well underway that the crew was
Postcards celebrating the Great White Fleet
12 Inch Guns on USS Louisiana-issuedas a postcard

told of the extensive nature of the trip. For Roosevelt, standing on the deck of the presidential yacht, the Mayflower, to observe the ' departure from the Hampton Roads harbor, this was a moment to be savored. The magnificent I fleet was almost entirely his [creation, tangible evidence of his [devotion to the US Navy and his untiring years of service devoted to its strengthening and modernization. Prior to departure, Roosevelt quietly spoke to Rear Admiral Robley Evans, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, away from the media's attention. Both were aware of the international tensions bubbling below the surface on the eve of this historic venture. Said Roosevelt, as commander-in-chief, "Your cruise is a peaceful one, but you realize your responsibility if it should turn out otherwise."

In his public face, the fleet commander, dubbed by the media as "quotable Evans" and described as "a favorite with the newsmen," told his eager media audience: "You will not be disappointed with the fleet, whether it proves a feast, a frolic or a fight."

Setting The Scene

Some media observers saw the cruise as a masquerade, with the ships sailing in peacetime but being fully cognizant of the portents of war that could engulf them in the course of the lengthy voyage. Divided opinions prevailed. As reported in the New York Herald of Dec. 25,1907, a Baptist minister claimed that "God has led us into the Pacified could see it in America's assertion of her right to control

the Pacific in the interest of civilization and humanity!' But the New York Times of Dec. 26,1907, cited a contradictory opinion from the Catholic Archbishop of St. Louis who noted that the cruise underway was "hypocriticaL.carrying the palm of peace in one hand while the other holds the key to wherein is stored the 35 million pounds of ammunition for the 'fight or frolic!"

Journalist John Scott Merriweather wrote: "No one in these last hours is aware of the massive destructive power of this fleet. The band plays, the ladies and gentlemen promenade and talk, the blue jackets make merry during the last hours in a home port and all this time the ships are ready to let loose a storm of destruction such as never before has been wrought by man on the face of the waters."

Globally, the world was in a state of unrest.

Naval expansions were underway by Great Britain (then the dominant fleet) as well as naval expansions by Germany, France, Russia, Austria, Italy and Japan, which was emerging as the undisputed great power in the Pacific.

Kaiser Wilhelm II had coined the term "Yellow Peril," to define Japan's ambitions after the defeat of Russia in 1904-05. The phrase had ominous significance for West Coast Americans as well as for Australia, Europe and Asia.

In May 1907, Roosevelt spoke out against anti-Japanese riots in San Francisco and chastised "certain journalists" and editors who passed off rumors as fact. He added that "I shall continue to do everything I can by politeness and consideration to the Japanese to offset the worse then criminal stupidity of the San Franciscon mob, the San Francisco press and such papers as the New York Herald!'

Said Roosevelt," My own judgment is that the only thing that will prevent war is the Japanese feeling that we shall

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 131


Naval historical file photo ofthe Great White Fleet. In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president ofthe United States, sent a portion ofthe Atlantic fleet on a worldtourtotest naval readiness, establish global presence and generate international goodwill. (US Navy photo)

not be beaten, and this feeling we can only excite by keeping and making our navy efficient in the highest degree."

Roosevelt As A Major Player On The World Stage

Daring, individualistic, self-confident, determined, bigger than life, domineering, at times belligerent, Roosevelt was an adventurer and sportsman, beholden to no one. When he assumed the presidency in 1901, the military in general and the Navy in particular were to be among the centerpieces for his administration.

For two years, Roosevelt secretly planned the launch of his Great White Fleet, sharing little with the Congress or his Cabinet. It was not until the spring of 1907 that he began to discuss his strategy more openly with his military advisers.

Roosevelt had very specific goals in mind for this historic trip:

Politically: to influence the 1908 US elections on behalf of his party and to generate increased moral and financial

Below.From Cremome Heights the USS Minnesota in Sydney Harbour. Below: Crowd watching the Fleet from Centennial Park in Sydney

support in Congress for funding for the Navy, so he could gain a dozen or so new battleships.

Financially: to calm the panic that had ensued in 1907 when a stock market sell off had plunged values by $2 billion, and triggered credit speculation, overexpansion and the unsound banking conditions. International banking panic was also

occurring in London, Paris and Berlin.

Internationally: to create a diverting foreign adventure, such as the fleet's trip, to take the public's mind off the Depression, which had begun in 1907.

Economically: to focus on the fleet would be a boon for the US shipbuilding industry and a salvo to Wall Street magnates who were in steel and other similar industries. Diplomatically: to arrange courtesy calls by the fleet to Japan and China would help temper some of the simmering racial conflicts in the United States related to those countries.

Security-wise: to impress other countries with the might and power of the US fleet and to stave off swirling war sentiments while generating good will among allies such as Australia and New Zealand.

Geographically: to emphasize America's interests in the Atlantic and Pacific and to reinforce the expectation that the United States was to be considered a major player.

Patriotically: to generate a groundswell of domestic support and to drown out critics and muckraking journalists. Public Relations: the strongest reason for Roosevelt was to garner prestige and to significantly influence public opinion. "One disliked admitting he wanted prestige for its own sake, would pay millions of dollars for it and risked thousands of lives and 16 battleships to gain it. For prestige adhered best as a

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


Sailing into History: The 1908 Voyage of the US Navy's Great White Fleet to Australia, As Seen Through the Eyes of the Media

byproduct, the unsought dividend of solid achievement," noted historian Robert Hart.

In the battle for symbolism in 1907, a battleship was the ultimate weapon. Hart described it as "a paradox of power and beauty [that] demanded attention—pride and affection of people whose flag it flew and the envy and fear of adversaries. Why hide it in a stock pile? Why not place it on display as one usually does with costly and beautiful possessions? The meaning of prestige was quite clear to anyone who watched a parade of ships." It was a proclamation to the world of such intangible virtues of honor, dignity strength and respect.

And the harbinger of that prestige was tightly controlled positive publicity.

Above top: USS JolmS.Maain Commanding Officer, CommanderJohn Baniganandhis ships were welcomed to Melbourne by tlie traditional land owners, the Boon Wurrung people. (CourtesyRAN)

Above bottom: HMASDarwin, USS John S.Mccain andHMASSirius participate in the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet entry into Sydney Harbour 1908-2008. (Courtesy RAN)

Roosevelt was taking no chances. Censorship was an absolute necessity — never mind the First Amendment.

Mindful of some descriptions of the "highly exaggerated or even pure fiction" of the jingoist coverage inspired by Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer during

the Spanish American War of 1898, Roosevelt hand picked the reporters who would travel on board the Great White Fleet. A press center was created aboard the ship, Connecticut, "to cater to the needs of a pool of newsmen invited to sail as passengers."

Roosevelt declared that "It is absolutely essential to have men whom we can trust entirely on such a trip, and, of course, every article they send must be submitted to an admiral... We will take no one whom we do not entirely approve." While he was willing to consult with the major press organizations about suggested names, he reserved the right to reject any name suggested.

Beyond the press, he also muzzled the Navy, with any officer threatened

with a court martial who criticized the trip "as a waste of time."

Under Roosevelt's scenario, the voyage "was plotted as a romantic success story. No flaw or failure, no matter how minor, must be allowed to mar its inspiring effect upon America and the world," wrote Hart. Eager for international approval for its commanding fleet, Americans devoured the news coverage. "Never before had so much energy and money been invested in a search for prestige," echoed historian Kenneth Wimmel.

Some writers not on board spoke frankly, such as American humorist Mark Twain, who wrote that it was "'all for show' to make a great noise that would satisfy the president." Harper's Weekly called it "'an extravagant display of force' which caused uneasiness among its readers." A bit over the top, the US Navy League Journal called the cruise the "most remarkable [voyage] ever undertaken in the history of the world."

Historian Hart related the dire media predictions made during August and September 1907, when "almost all Eastern editors criticized Theodore Roosevelt [for the cruise.] Some even demanded an impeachment trial for sponsoring a project which would leave the Atlantic Coast unprotected. Cities would be bombarded and the White House burned. Storms, rocky coasts and hidden enemies would finish off the fleet long before it reached the Pacific." A NY. Herald poll revealed that "one-seventh of the American press was hostile to the cruise (largely for political reasons)."

Adding to the media frenzy were the openly "yellow press" and books on the "yellow peril." In May and June of 1907, both the New York Times and Colliers Weekly published fiction serials which described future fighting around Hawaii and the Philippines, while Banzai, a German novel, gave

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

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