- American Torpedo Boats (1885-1901)
- Delaware class battleships
- Indiana class battleships (1898)
- Pennsylvania class armoured cruisers
- South Carolina class battleships
- USS New York (ACR2)
- WW1 American Gunboats
The American fleet on the eve of World War I climbed from the rank of a regional navy to that of a naval superpower (third behind the Hochseeflotte, although this plays to a few thousand tonnes closely with France and Russia). The world cruise of the “Great White Fleet” of “Teddy” Roosevelt, its architect, advised by the great strategist and naval theoretician Alfred Thayer Mahan, was both a demonstration of this revival started in 1898 and the need to be present on both geographical areas.
TA Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, the stating point of the 1900′ “new navy” started in 1882. This 16 battleships strong expedition was to demonstrate the growing international ambitions and affirmation of the United States as a world stage power, signalling also the end of the Monroe doctrine that has tied up the navy since 1823. The fleet was also largely shown in the far east.
For as Russia, which had four fleets (Baltic, Arctic, Black Sea and Pacific), the US was bordered by two oceans and the Panama Canal was not inaugurated before 1914. For a more detailed view of the early “new navy” in the war of 1898, see this US Navy 1898 page from our sister website cyber-ironclad.com
The British Home Fleet could keep the bulk of its forces in its own territorial waters, relying on older ships to watch after distant stations of her empire, the Germanic fleet, short of an empire, was relegated mainly in the Baltic and the north sea, and the French navy, divided between Brest (Atlantic) and Toulon (Mediterranean), took the lion’s share for the allies in the neutralization of the Mediterranean. Japan was also an ally of the US as well as Russia. The “axis” of that time then included, besides the wonderful Hochseeflotte of Wilhelm II, Austro-Hungarian forces much lower than those present in the aisles and confined to the Mediterranean, and the Turkish fleet, once powerful but reduced to little thing since the arrival of Kemalism. It was also, at least for the first years of the war, a neutral Italy, at the start more inclined to lean towards the Central Powers.
The US Navy in 1914 had a significant potential, especially focusing on its battleships: Since 1903, it had no built any cruiser, and not build any before 1920, a situation which was quite unique at that time, but actually showed the radical emphasis about battleships alone. Regarded as scouts, cruiser’s role was attributed to the great destroyers of the fleet, as the latter, a few, could hardly stand. In addition to new dreadnought type units, the US had a formidable fleet of pre-dreadnoughts battleships, 23 of them in active service, plus 39 heavy and light cruisers, and 6 ocean-going monitor, survival concept dating back from the Civil War but their design dated back to the mid-1880s.
Destroyer fleet comprised 16 units of high value although from heterogeneous classes, by then still experimental. Torpedo boats had no justification given the “blue water Navy” policy and planned deployment on two oceans, so there was no need for a coastal defense comparable to the narrower European areas of deployment.
The USS Brooklyn (CA3), the third American Armoured Cruiser
However, the US Navy staff experimented TBDs, as well as submarines, as it cannot be indifferent to their usefulness in case of a possible conflict with its former colonial ruler, at least to try to achieve some parity by such “dishonorable” means. Therefore, the US Navy embarked in a veritable collection of prototypes, 35 units, of which the first, USS Stiletto, dated from 1880, and the last, the USS Wilkes, 1901. In all 25 were still in service what the war broke out. Believers in the virtues of the gunboat, a mini-cruiser sort of, the United States had launched 20, stationed in many distant stations, such as the USS Topeka, which became a prison ship, USS Bancroft, a customs patrol boat, USS Dolphin, a patrol vessel, USS Concord, a barracks ship. Other were joined by three units captured during the war against Spain in 1898.
USS New York in 1914
Before August 1914, the US Navy could count on the backing of her first dreadnoughts, 10 of which were in service at the outbreak of war. The Navy also began work on 33 destroyers. There was also a special relation of the US Navy with submarines: The first submarine, the “Turtle” from David Bushnell, preceded a long serie of inventions which showed the talent in many of its pioneers. Let us remember the “Underwater Bicycle” of Faidy, the confederate David and HL Hunley, or the Union’s Alligator of the Civil War. Americans were fond of this type of unconventional means before its industrial capabilities, political will and finances can deliver a true blue water navy capable to resist the Royal Navy.
USS Maine, the first American battleship, blew up in the harbor of Havana. This was exploited by the press to led to the 1898 war.
Brilliant engineers John P. Holland and Simon Lake both patented underwater systems well ahead of its time already in 1878. For Holland the success came from a simple and rational formula: A submersible torpedo. The USS Plunger was its first official order, a partial failure, rejected by the US Navy. The “Holland torpedo boats Company” will take later the name of “Electric company” and held for years a monopoly on this type of construction. The first successful, modern submarine was the USS Holland, commissioned in 1898, just in time for the Spanish-American War. Far ahead of his contemporaries, she became the standard adopted by the British as the Japanese. She was followed by 38 other units. Eventually, she was put into service as well as three new gunboats, of the USS Sacramento and Monocacy classes.
USS South Carolina, American dreadnought battleship of 1912
The core of the naval forces included the ten dreadnoughts of the South Carolina (1906), Delaware (1909), Florida (1909), Wyoming (1911) and New York classes (1912). The first displaced 17,000 tons, the last 28 000 tons. In addition to this already substantial force, the US Navy fielded 22 older battleships, but the bulk of it was launched in the 1901 to 1906 years. They were the USS Iowa, Indiana (1893), Kearsarge (1898), Illinois (1898), Maine (1901), Virginia (1904), Connecticut (1904), Vermont (1905). Two were removed from lists following their transfer to Greece in July 1914: This was the USS Missisippi and Idaho, which became Kilkis and Lemnos. Alongside these ships, there were the famous monitors, a tradition which was maintained since the 1860s, yet with extremely powerful ships with a shallow draft, but reduced marine qualities. The USS Puritan (1882) was in reserve since 1910, followed by the four Amphitrite (1883), sent to the Far East, the USS Monterey (1891) and especially the four Arkansas, renamed in 1909 and relegated to secondary roles.
Documentary about Alfred Thayer Mahan.
USS Atlanta, first American cruiser of the “new navy” (1884)
The most powerful Armoured were those of the Pennsylvania (1903) and Tennessee (1905) classes, between 13,700 and 14,500 tonnes. Both were veterans of the War of 1898, the USS Brooklyn (1895) and the old USS New York being renamed Saratoga. To these 12 cruisers, were added 25 more light cruisers, the three Chester (1907), the three St. Louis (1904), the six Denver (1903). There were a number of much older cruisers, New Orleans class (1896), Columbia (1893), Montgomery (1892), Cincinnati (1892) and unique ships of the USS Olympia, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark, Chicago and Boston, dated from 1884, relegated to training duties.
The Great White Fleet in 1910.
This force was part of the policy of maintaining peace in the American sphere of influence. Some had a significant firepower, worthy of a cruiser: USS Sacramento, Monocacy and Palos were recent, but the US Navy operated also the USS Yorktown (1889), Petrel (1888), Machias (1891), Nashville (1895), the two Wilmington (1896), and the four Annapolis (1896), the two Wheeling (1897), and the two Dubuque (1904). Former Spanish Isla de Luzon and Don Juan of Austria were used as training ships, and the Isla de Cuba was sold to the Venezuelan navy in 1912. In addition about 16 low military value, small gunboats were former Spanish captured ships in the Philippines, Cuba and on various theaters of operations.
USS Tutuila, gunboat (1921)
Developed in 1900, these destroyers were modern and powerful, divided into homogeneous classes. These were the five of the Bainbridge class (1900), two Hopkins (1902), two Lawrence (1900), three Paul Jones (1901), and the USS Stewart (1902). All are closely related to the Bainbridge. These were the three Truxton (1902) close to the Hopkins, but larger. They were used intensively and it was not until 1909 that a new standard was imposed, with the 5 units of the Smith class, which were much larger and heavier. The 10 of the Paulding class (1910), were followed by the 11 of the Monaghan (1911) and finally 8 of the Cassin classes (1913). In all, 45 destroyers, which were quite efficient and comparable to the Japanese and British units.
USS Truxtun DD 14
Torpedo Boats: Since the adoption of the theories of Mahan, there was a lack of interest of the Navy and the government for this type of “naval dust.” From this result, there were only few homogeneous classes, but rather a sampling of “prototypes”. However, one can attempt a nomenclature: The oldest units as Stilletto, tiny craft carrying two torpedoes, were out of service, as well as Cushing (1890), and it was not until 1897 to see the first torpedo pre- series, the USS Ericsson, named after the famous engineer, father of the Monitor. It was followed by the Foote (1897), Porter (1897), larger and built in Germany, as well as two Davis, both Talbott, the Morris and Somers, all very different. There were also those built in Britain, both Dahlgren, three Bagley. The only homogeneous class included 9 units from 5 different sites, tonnage and draft of different water, which can be designated as Class Shubrick/Blakely (1899). In total 27 therefore reclassified units in coastal destroyers, who saw little service during the conflict.