Military: United States Navy

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In 1929, as its first line of defense, the United States owned the world's most balanced navy, equally developed in all its elements. The U.S. Navy possessed the most modern battleship fleet, although it was limited in tonnage by the Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty, adopted by Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States after the 1922 Washington Conference. The U.S. Navy continued perfecting new technical applications in communications and engine designs, and under the direction of William Moffett, the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics also cultivated the first carrier force. Development of the fast carriers, with speeds beyond thirty knots, would doom the reconditioned but slow battleships to secondary status. Yet, both elements struggled for appropriations and personnel assignments. Congressional calls for a unified air force caused additional career anxieties among Navy professionals. Aside from these internal bureaucratic tiffs, the Department of the Navy continued its competition with the Army, and both services squabbled over whose planes would defend the coasts.

William Veazie Pratt, chief of naval operations from 1930 to 1933, promoted a plan for systematic new construction to replace the common practice of irregular and spontaneous building, and he called for the improvement of cruisers and the construction of oceangoing submarines. Pratt's endorsement of the 1930 London Naval Treaty with France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan to limit naval armaments recognized the political reality of Herbert Hoover's intention to reduce both armaments and federal expenditures. Those who supported a larger navy attacked the president and raised questions as to the Navy's size and effectiveness. But the Navy proved more popular than the Army with the public, and Hollywood romanticized the service in a series of movies.

When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, Carl Vinson, chair of the House Committee on Naval Affairs, led Congress and the Navy to initiate a massive ship replacement program. An even larger building effort followed the Japanese withdrawal in 1936 from the naval treaties. The Vinson Trammell Act of 1934 and the Supplemental Navy Bill of 1938 were benchmarks, but other authorizations, some financed by relief funds, contributed as well. Between 1933 and 1940 Congress appropriated $4.2 billion for the construction of 238 combatant ships and forty-five auxiliaries. Personnel increases occurred regularly after 1936, and by 1939 dozens of air fields were constructed and 4,500 planes had been authorized. In addition, the Marine Corps, which averaged seventeen thousand enlisted men and one thousand officers, was intent upon developing amphibious landing techniques.

By December 1939, the Navy could call upon fifteen battleships, six carriers, eighteen heavy cruisers, nineteen light cruisers, 185 destroyers, and sixty-four submarines. Other ships were authorized and built, but the department decided during the 1937 to 1939 period to construct six battleships at the expense of more carriers. Still, the USS Yorktown, commissioned in 1938, became a prototype for dozens of carriers in the next decade.

Working with Congress, William Leahy proved more effective as chief of naval operations than his predecessor, William Harrison Standley. In 1938, Leahy warned the congressional appropriations and Navy service committees of the double dangers growing in the Atlantic and Pacific, as evidenced by Japan's aggression in Asia and the sinking of the American ship Panay on the Yangtze in 1937. In response, the Navy developed a series of defensive schemes directed at possible opponents. The plan to deal with Japan was called Plan Orange, and it anticipated a Japanese surprise offensive that might include an attack on Pearl Harbor. According to the plan, the United States could withstand the loss of the Philippines and Guam, and would rally by moving across the Pacific, seizing Japanese bases and confronting its battle fleet and air force. In line with these projections, ship designs, especially for new cruisers, accentuated range and durability. These defensive plans served as training paradigms throughout the Depression era. In the late 1930s, the Orange Plan evolved into a series of so-called Rainbow Plans, which involved attacks by several nations, defense of the Western Hemisphere, and possible abandonment of U. S. possessions in the far Pacific. On October 14, 1939, Roosevelt agreed to this amended strategy, which moved the Navy from a defensive to an offensive stance.



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