Navy Day is celebrated in the United States on October 27th and provides us with an opportunity to express our gratitude and thanks to those who have served, those who are currently serving in the US Navy and the families of servicemen and women.
Here’s a brief history of the US Navy
A Matter Of Trade Protection And Defense
On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress passed a resolution creating the Continental Navy. It was disbanded at the Revolutionary War’s end, and replaced with the Naval Act of 1794 under John Adams. This created our first standing navy, originally made up of just six frigates. No longer under British protection, the colonies had to defend their merchant ships from the Barbary nations and the French.
After the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy spent decades fighting pirates and slave trade. In 1861, the US Navy fought the Confederate Navy in the Civil War, successfully blockading them from supply. Congress voted in 1882 to enhance US defense, and over the next decade the fleet would go from a collection of mostly wooden sailing ships to compete with the world’s strongest navies. The US Navy won key battles during the Spanish-American War, and drew comparisons to the formidable British.
During the ’20s and ’30s, shipbuilding was an integral part of the US defense effort, and by 1946 the Navy employed over 1,600 warships. Following the Cold War, the Soviet navy was in ruins due to lack of funding, and the US focused on stronger arsenals and less building. Many of the ships used in World War 2 were obsolete, and advances in ballistic missiles and submarine technology had altered the mindsets of defense planners.
The US Navy, as seen in the following examples, has been vital to the continued existence of the United States.
The Battle Of Lake Erie
In July, 1812, the Salina was delivering salt at Fort Mackinac in northwestern Lake Huron when the fort was captured by the British. Captain Dan Dobbins brought news of the capture of Detroit and Fort Mackinac to Erie.
President Madison gave Dobbins material and men to build ships in Erie, calling it a “fleet in the wilderness”. Dobbins enlisted the tactical aid of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who procured carronades, a short-range but devastating English weapon. Once built, Perry and the fleet sailed up the channel toward the British, who, due to fog and distance, had not seen their advance.
Perry’s fleet had the maneuvering advantage. Perry closed to about a half mile to take full advantage of the carronades, avoiding damage from the long guns. Perry, in the Lawrence, bore most of the battle, and soon the ship was no longer manageable. Perry noted the Niagara was intact, called for a boat and transferred. The British thought the Lawrence was about to surrender and ceased firing, assuming they had won.
Perry maneuvered the Niagara to cut the enemy line of formation. He raked the Lady Prevost at close range, and fired a starboard broadside at the Detroit and Queen Charlotte. The rest of Perry’s sailors redoubled their efforts and in time, the suprise attack and resulting press proved too much for the British, who surrendered.
In Britain, the Duke of Wellington was requested to recapture western Canada and control of the Lakes. Wellington refused, due to the now untenable naval situation. The dream of the British empire in North America was finished.
The Battle of Manila Bay
On commencement of the Spanish-American War of 1898, George Dewey was ordered to destroy the Spanish ships in the Philippines. Dewey’s group consisted of three cruisers, two gunboats, and two steamers. The Spanish naval force, led by Admiral Montojo, consisted of seven unarmored ships, the largest of which was entirely wooden.
Montojo recommended moving to Subic Bay near Manila to wait for the attack, and counter the Americans as they sailed into nearby Manila. But work there on gun batteries was far from complete, so the Admiral was forced back into defending Manila directly. The Spanish anchored southwest of Manila.
Upon finding Subic Bay empty, Dewey moved to Manila Bay and formed his ships into an oval line. The Americans scored early hits on the large Spanish warships. The gunnery emplacements there were under heavy repair, and the few that operated fired ineffectually.
Montojo’s fleet was destroyed, with 371 casualties compared to only 9 Americans wounded. When official word on the magnitude of the U.S. Navy’s victory reached the United States, Dewey was hailed as a hero by the American public. His victory at Manila Bay began a series of events that dramatically increased America’s interests and commitments in the Pacific.
The Battle of Midway
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese continued their attacks in the Pacific, wishing to rid itself of the American threat there. To this point, the US had adopted a defensive stance.
Code breakers, who had been exhaustively intercepting and analyzing coded messages from the Japanese, finally cracked their complex JN-25 code. This gave Admiral Nimitz access to the Japanese playbook, and with it the ability to turn an enemy ambush into one of their own.
The Japanese goal was to attack Midway, capture it and use it as an advance base that would establish an eastern shield for its own Pacific operations. They knew the U.S. would defend it with all available resources and hoped to lure the Navy carriers and fleet into a trap.
On June 2nd, 1942, the Navy positioned three aircraft carriers with aircraft, support ships, and personnel around Midway Island. On June 4, Japanese planes took off from four Japanese carriers and began bombing Midway at dawn. The US responded by sending out waves of bombers and torpedo planes, sinking the four Japanese carriers. This action effectively halted the Japanese offensive in the Pacific.
The US Navy Today
Today, the United States Navy has 104 ships deployed globally, and there are 272 currently active, with about 160 in reserve. There are around 70 more in either the planning stages or under construction, according to the Naval Vessel Register. It also has 3,700 aircraft, and 328,000 personnel on active duty and 111,000 in the Navy Reserve. Its total tonnage makes the US Navy the largest navy in the world.