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    The Great White Fleet Visits Australia

    The first decade of the twentieth century was a time of heightened tension between Japan and the United States. The two nations were emerging as the dominant naval powers in the Pacific. Japan had devastated the Russian navy in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, surprising the world, Russia, and to some extent themselves. Likewise, victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898 served not only to bolster United States prestige as a world power, but gave the country tangible Pacific assets in the Philippines and Guam.

    Against this backdrop were two major points of contention between the countries. Japan’s continued expansion in Asia was interfering with the United States’ own economic agenda in the region and in general fueling worries about Japan’s ambitions. California’s strict anti-immigration laws and other discriminatory practices were becoming a national embarrassment for Japan who above all wished to be taken seriously and respected as a peer on the global scene. Race riots and other unpleasantries in both the United States and Canada led to anti-American editorials in Japanese newspapers, political posturing and militaristic rhetoric. By 1907 Americans increasingly believed a confrontation with Japan was likely.

    President Theodore Roosevelt who had been working to ease diplomatic tensions, knew as well as anyone that the United States was ill prepared for war with Japan. Roosevelt was a Spanish-American war veteran, former assistant secretary of the Navy, and a great believer in the need for a strong navy. Under his leadership United States shipyards turned out 11 new battleships between 1904 and 1907 dramatically expanding the country’s capabilities. However, the bulk of the United States naval forces were concentrated in the Atlantic, and in the event of hostilities realignment would take time. A defense study ordered by Roosevelt at the time provided a sobering assessment of the progress of an all-out war in the Pacific.

    In a move of sweeping showmanship, and the epitome of his "big stick" philosophy, Roosevelt elected to deploy the Atlantic fleet on a round the world tour. The armada would come to be known as the Great White Fleet because the ships were painted white with gold trim. It was a massive assemblage of 16 battleships and their attending auxiliary ships manned by 14,000 sailors.

    The mission itself was honestly multifaceted. Roosevelt wanted to test the seafaring mettle of the “new” Navy, and prove to the world that it could be relocated from the Atlantic to the Pacific intact and arrive ready for action. The tour was also one of good will and international outreach. The fleet made twenty port calls on six continents with stops including New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, and Egypt. When news of an earthquake in Sicily reached the fleet, a detachment was immediately sent to Italy to give aid.

    Amongst other nations, The Great White Fleet was very warmly greeted by Australia!

    Sydney hailed the arrival of the American Fleet as a sign that Japanese aggression would not be allowed to expand towards them without having the American Fleet to deal with. The defeat of the Russian Navy and the departure of the British Navy to waters closer to home had left a void that the people of Australia felt America could fill.

    http://www.thepeacefulsea.com/great-white-fleet.html

    http://www.greatwhitefleet.info/GWF_Visits_Sydney.html


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    Celebrations for the arrival of a United States Navy fleet in Australia in 1908 had been surpassed only by those conducted for Federation. The Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, ignored Britain's concerns and overlooked protocol when he invited the Americans to visit. Sixteen warships were a dramatic presence when they arrived in Australian waters. In Sydney 80,000 people stood on South Head to watch them enter Sydney Harbour. Crowds, parties, speeches and parades greeted the fleet at each port it visited.



    What a time we are having!
    From The Bulletin 20 August 1908, pg 5.

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    We live in hopes that from our own shores some day a fleet will go out not unworthy to be compared in quality, if not in numbers, with the magnificent fleet now in Australian waters.
    Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, August 1908
    Cited in AW Jose, The Royal Australian Navy, University of Queensland Press, 1987 (reprint of 1928 edition), p. lviii.

    On 20 August 1908 well over half a million Sydneysiders turned out to watch the arrival of the United States (US) Navy’s ‘Great White Fleet’. For a city population of around 600,000 this was no mean achievement. The largest gathering yet seen in Australia, it far exceeded the numbers that had celebrated the foundation of the Commonwealth just seven years before. Indeed, the warm reception accorded the crews of the 16 white-painted battleships during ‘Fleet Week’, was generally regarded as the most overwhelming of any of the ports visited during the 14 month and 45,000 mile global circumnavigation. The NSW Government declared two public holidays, business came to a standstill and the unbroken succession of civic events and all pervading carnival spirit encountered in Sydney (followed by Melbourne and Albany) severely tested the endurance of the American sailors. More than a few decided to take their chances and stay behind when the fleet sailed!

    http://www.navy.gov.au/Publication:S..._8,_July_2008#



    US Navy bluejackets coming ashore at Melbourne 29 August 1908. (US Naval Historical Center)

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    The American fleet arrives at the head of Port Phillip Bay on its Melbourne leg in 1908.


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    Australia
    August 20 - September 18th

    On Aug. 15, the fleet sailed for Sydney, Australia, where it arrived five days later. The fleet was greeted by more than 250,000 people, who had stayed up all night so as not to miss the ships' arrival. For the next eight days, there was a non-stop celebration in honor of the Navy visitors.

    With all this celebrating, some of the crewmen were beginning to feel the wear and tear. One sailor was found asleep on a bench in one of Sydney's parks. Not wishing to be disturbed, he posted a sign above his head which read:

    "Yes, I am delighted with the Australian people.

    "Yes, I think your park is the finest in the world.

    "I am very tired and would like to go to sleep."

    Being truly hospitable, Sydney let him sleep.


    Melbourne also rolled out the red carpet for the fleet. Nothing was too good for the Yankee sailors, and they were given the key to the city. Melbourne's hospitality made such an impression that many sailors were reluctant to leave when the ships got underway for Manila on Sept. 18 and arrived Oct. 2


    http://www.navy.mil/gwf/australia/australia.html

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    Naval Parade in Melbourne - August 31, 1908


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