Navy, U.S

views updated May 23 2018

Navy, U.S. Overview1783–18651866–18981899–1945Since 1946
Navy, U.S.: Overview In the summer of 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the first ships of what became the U.S. Navy. Through the course of the Revolutionary War, each ship and each commission was made to fit an ad hoc need: to defend ports, to interrupt the flow of British personnel and goods, or to fight the enemy's warships at sea. Each of these—along with admirable cooperation from privateers and from the French and Spanish fleets—contributed to Britain's defeat. These operations and John Paul Jones's raids on British coastal communities gave the fledgling service a reputation for valor.

Like the Continental Army, the Continental Navy was all but dissolved after the war. The global wars of the French Revolution and British empire quickly showed the United States the importance of maintaining a navy, if only to protect a neutral's rights at sea. In 1794, Congress recognized this need, authorizing the first heavily armed frigates designed to deter depredations by European nations as well as those of the Barbary pirates. In 1798, it established a Navy Department to administer, procure, train, and direct the new fleet. President Thomas Jefferson had hoped that small coastal defense gunboats would take the place of a blue water navy, but these lacked sufficient deterrence value. By 1812, deterrence failed and war with Britain brought humiliating military defeats in Canada and the United States. Nonetheless, the navy's heroic deeds—particularly those of Oliver Hazard Perry and James Lawrence—ensured its survival for another generation.

Organized by bureaus and rapidly supplemented from the huge merchant marine community and unprecedented expenditures, the U.S. Navy thrived during the Civil War. It developed new gun and steam propulsion technology that made it one of the most modern and effective forces in the world. Critical to the Union strategy, a naval blockade cut off the rebellious states from life‐sustaining trade. Control of the littoral also provided the necessary platform for amphibious assaults of Confederate harbors and eventually for the riverine operations that split the Confederacy. Like the Mexican War, the Civil War saw extensive joint army‐navy operations.

After Appomattox, the navy reduced its vessels from over 700 to 200 mostly hybrid steam/sail frigates that aged quickly in an era of rapid technological change. With an aging, pre–Civil War officer class, relatively unskilled sailors, and increasingly decrepit ships, the navy barely performed its peacetime functions of policing American interests on far‐flung stations and undertaking occasional diplomatic or scientific missions. Between 1882 and 1916, navalists (such as Alfred T. Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt) revolutionized the service, constructing many first‐class steel battleships, training competent sailors, and educating first‐class officers. Against the decrepit Spanish fleet in 1898, the “New Navy” appeared to vindicate itself, winning dramatic victories at Manila and Santiago Bays.

In 1917, the U.S. Navy entered a war for which its battleship‐heavy fleet was ludicrously ill‐suited. Fortunately, in the process of building a large navy, the nation had also created the bureaucracy, education and training systems, and industrial capacity sufficient to adapt successfully to the challenges of convoys, troop transport, and antisubmarine warfare systems. Before it was over, the nation had joined with the Royal Navy to escort over 2 million men and supplies that aided the Allies to victory.

Following World War I, the Republican Party, blaming international naval competition, financial obligations, and Woodrow Wilson's idealism for America's participation in the war, managed a global political and military withdrawal now called isolationism. Successive administrations negotiated arms limitations treaties while Congress consistently kept the fleet below even permitted strength. This pruning proved healthy, as the smaller navy learned to adapt new technologies to enhance capabilities. While the U.S. Marine Corps developed a forward base concept and amphibious warfare capabilities, the navy concentrated on improving gunfire, submarine warfare, and—increasingly—carrier‐based aviation.

In the Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress began building ships to restart the economy as well as to counter the growing militaristic menaces in Germany and Japan. Most critically, Washington started the fast attack carriers that fortuitously avoided the December 1941 raid on the battle fleet at Pearl Harbor. From America's entry into World War II, the armed forces recognized the need for combined and joint operations. Adm. Chester Nimitz divided responsibility for the Pacific with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Admiral Ernest J. King and Adm. Royal E. Ingersoll shared the Atlantic with the Royal Navy, combatting the U‐boat threat and securing the astonishing flow of goods, personnel, and supplies to Britain and the Soviet Union. The amphibious operations in North Africa, Italy, Normandy, and across the Pacific offered the navy and its sister services some of their most daunting military challenges. American submarines established a deadly blockade of Japan. Again, battleships only supported the critical action. Two of the greatest naval battles ever—at Midway and the Philippine Sea—were fought by naval aviation, between commanders who could not see one another.

After World War II, U.S. blue water naval supremacy would remain virtually unchallenged, although the Soviet bloc did pose considerable threats across the globe. During the Cold War, the navy's role in national defense waned and waxed, vacillating with the intensity of operations and the current state of technology. An early bid for nuclear capabilities—the atomic‐bomb‐launching supercarrier—was canceled in 1949. Only with the advent of the Polaris missile‐launching submarine in 1960 did naval ships join the bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles as one leg of a nuclear triad. The surface navy remained centered on the aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, carrier task forces were supplemented by river gunboats for some of the most dangerous operations of the war.

In the decades following the fall of Saigon, the navy continued to move to a high‐low mix. Still, the carrier groups dominated the fleet, particularly after the 1985 introduction of a “maritime strategy”—a forward‐oriented, carrier‐based plan to bring a nonnuclear war to the Soviets. The collapse of the Soviet Union left the U.S. Navy without a credible strategic rival. Nonetheless, the carriers and amphibious capabilities developed in the late eighties were refocused for the expeditions and police actions the United States faced as the only superpower and the only sea power.
[See also Midway, Battle of; Philippine Sea, Battle of the; World War II, Naval Operations in: The North Atlantic; World War II, Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]


Peter Karsten , Naval Aristocracy: The Golden of Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism, 1972.
Ronald Spector , Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan, 1985.
David Long , Gold Braid and Foreign Relations: Diplomatic Activities of U.S. Naval Officers, 1798–1883, 1988.
Kenneth Hagan , This People's Navy: The Making of American Sea Power, 1991.
Christopher McKee , A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794–1815, 1991.
George Baer , One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890–1990, 1994.
Edward J. Marolda , By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the United States Navy and the War in Southeast Asia, 1994.
Mark Shulman , Navalism and the Emergence of American Sea Power, 1882–1893, 1995.

Mark R. Shulman

Navy, U.S.: 1783–1865 At the end of the Revolutionary War Americans had yet to form a political consensus for a strong nation and saw little need for an expensive and unnecessary navy. In 1785 the Confederation Congress sold off the frigate Alliance, the last ship of the Continental navy.

In the late 1780s, when Barbary corsairs preyed upon Yankee ships, Americans discovered that their vision of a new world order dominated by concepts of limited government and free trade was not universally shared. The Confederation Congress, without the power to tax, lacked the money to pay the tribute demanded by the Barbary states and lacked the ships to respond to force with force. This powerlessness contributed to a movement for a stronger national government and the ratification of the federal constitution in 1789.

When new Barbary troubles arose in the 1790s, the new U.S. government possessed options, and Congress and President George Washington responded in classic fashion, following the Roman maxim “if you wish peace, prepare for war.” Congress negotiated, but simultaneously passed the Naval Act of March 1794 calling for the construction of six large frigates. The Algerians signed a treaty in 1796.

American determination failed to deter the new French Republic, which angered by the Anglo‐American Jay Treaty of 1795, unleashed a war against U.S. commerce in 1797. When the French rebuffed the negotiators sent to Paris, the Federalist‐dominated Congress, with a core of six frigates built or being built (including the USS Constitution, completed in 1797), voted to expand the navy to a force of over thirty ships. To oversee the expansion, Congress established a separate Department of the Navy on 30 April 1798.

Between the spring of 1798 and 1801 the navy waged an undeclared naval war with France—the so‐called Quasi‐War. Benjamin Stoddert, the navy's first secretary, headed a minuscule administration that oversaw operations centered in the West Indies. Stoddert adopted an aggressive, offensive strategy, successfully carrying the war to the French bases in the Caribbean. The new American navy mostly patrolled the shipping lanes and escorted hundreds of merchantmen clear of danger, although there were a few battles of note. In February 1799 Captain Thomas Truxtun, commanding the thirty‐eight‐gun frigate Constellation, captured the French forty‐gun frigate l’Insurgente near Nevis.

For the navy, the Quasi‐War was a formative experience. The disappointments of the Continental navy were forgotten. The new American marine force emerged from the war with an excellent reputation, a core of powerful frigates, and a cadre of young officers including Edward Preble and Stephen Decatur.

Despite the efforts of Stoddert and other navalists, the United States did not emerge from the war with a big‐ship navy. Construction of a squadron of seventy‐four‐gun battleships began in 1799, but none was completed. The nation possessed the means to build such ships, and could have made good use of them in 1812. But for a navy that was usually 10 to 15 percent understrength, manning might have been a practical and political impossibility in a nation unwilling to resort to the press gang.

The electoral victor of President Thomas Jefferson's Democratic‐Republicans in 1800 terminated the building of the program. In Jefferson's scheme, army fortifications and an army and navy militia bore primary responsibility for national defense. The navy played a subsidiary role, protecting commerce and supporting coastal defense efforts with a fleet of small harbor gunboats. Jefferson's was in many ways a sensible policy, though he could have spared the nation the cost of the gunboat fleet.

Jefferson considered economic sanctions the chief weapon in his arsenal, a weapon he and his successors employed against Britain between 1807 and 1812 to no avail. Republican embargoes sent the American economy into a depression from which the commercial sector did not fully recover until the 1830s. James Madison and a frustrated Republican Congress declared war in 1812.

In the War of 1812, the nation's small navy achieved some notable successes, capturing three Royal Navy frigates in the first months of the war. But the navy could not prevent the British from blockading and raiding the coast. At Baltimore and New Orleans, Republican defense policies succeeded; but the British marched into Washington and burned the “President's Mansion.” Along the frontier with Canada, the navy achieved mixed success, winning significant battles on Lakes Erie and Champlain, but not on the most important of the lakes—Ontario. For the navy, war ended none to soon.

After 1815, the Democratic‐Republicans (soon to be simply Democrats) embraced many Federalist naval policies. They built more and larger ships, just in time for the “era of free security.” Many of the big ships were soon laid up, while the smaller vessels operated globally in support of American commerce, suppressing piracy in the Caribbean and conducting anti‐slavery patrols off the African coast. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to American trade. The navy also undertook scientific and geographic missions. Matthew Fontaine Maury broke ground in ocean science; William Lynch explored the Dead Sea, and Charles Wilkes the Pacific.

The post‐1815 era was also one of administrative reform and technological advance. Congress established the Board of Navy Commissioners (1815), the Navy Bureau system (1842), and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (1845). Other reforms included the prohibition of dueling (1857) and flogging (1850), and (unsuccessful) attempts to limit the spirit ration. The navy experimented with and embraced myriad new technologies—shell‐firing cannon, heavy guns, armor plating, steam power, and screw propulsion.

During the Mexican War (1846–48) the navy played a subsidiary, but important, role. The few American warships executed a big‐navy strategy—blockading the Mexican coasts, helping defeat the Mexicans in California, and transporting Gen. Winfield Scott's army to Vera Cruz in an amphibious operation that ultimately brought the war to a successful conclusion.

At the start of the Civil War, the U.S. Navy's officer corps suffered fewer defections than that of the U.S. Army. Employing many new technologies, the Union navy performed well, blockading the Confederate coast, supporting amphibious operations around the Confederate periphery, and conducting critically important riverine operations in the west. The navy did have a difficult time tracking down the handful of Confederate naval commerce raiders, although the Union cruiser Kearsarge destroyed the Alabama off Cherbourg, France, in 1864.

By 1865 the navy had reached a peak of efficiency and was one of the largest in the world. But many of its ships were hastily built or poorly suited for service beyond American coastal waters. Moreover, the immediate postwar decades were years of national reconstruction and introspection during which American naval policy atrophied.

The years 1783–1865 marked a formative period for the U.S. navy. The service's roles and missions were limited, in that the government assigned the navy the roles of safeguarding overseas commercial and diplomatic interests, and not the defending the nation itself. Nevertheless, the navy performed well and earned a reputation for excellence, despite its diminutive size. Over the decades American naval officers gained experience in all the corners of the globe and through their efforts, and those of a handful of competent civilian secretaries, laid the foundation for the establishment of a larger, more powerful, truly national navy in the 1880s and 1890s.
[See also Continental Navy.]


Theodore Roosevelt , The Naval War of 1812, 1882.
Alfred T. Mahan , Admiral Farragut, 1892.
Craig L. Symonds , Navalists and Antinavalists: The Naval Debate in the United States, 1785–1827, 1980.
John Schroeder , Shaping a Maritime Empire: The Commercial and Diplomatic Role of the American Navy, 1829–1861, 1985.
Michael A. Palmer , Stoddert's War: Naval Operations during the Quasi‐War with France, 1798–1801, 1987.
David F. Long , Gold Braid and Foreign Relations: Diplomatic Activities of American Naval Officers, 1798–1833, 1988.

Michael A. Palmer

Navy, U.S.: 1866–1898 Following the Civil War, the U.S. Navy suffered a sharp decline for over a decade. American commerce was in a shrunken state, and the country, with little foreign menace, was preoccupied with domestic matters. But in the 1880s a resurgence of “manifest destiny,” increased involvement in foreign affairs, and heightened professionalism within the service brought a naval renaissance that culminated in the navy's overwhelming victories during the Spanish‐American War of 1898.

In 1865, the U.S. Navy, with 471 warships on its roster, ranked as one of the world's largest in numbers, but it was strongly oriented toward coastal and riverine operations. With peace, Congress quickly ended funding for new construction and laid up or sold off the bulk of the Civil War fleet. The principal remaining mission for the navy was to show the flag on foreign stations; its active sailing warships, mostly wooden vessels, were prized more for their economy and cruising radius than for their military qualities. The few ironclad monitors retained were overhauled for lengthy periods at great expense, essentially with an eye to keeping the dockyards in existence rather than to strengthening the force. In personnel, the service grew top‐heavy with officers (one for every four enlisted men in 1882), and promotion, based entirely on seniority, came to a virtual standstill. As late as 1896, some lieutenants dated their ranks to the Civil War. Enlisted life was so unattractive that in the late 1870s, the navy averaged 1,000 desertions yearly out its authorized strength of 8,000 men. At the top, the navy was run by a series of political secretaries, some of whom were incompetent or corrupt. Abroad, its reputation so declined that an Oscar Wilde character who lamented that the United States had neither ruins nor curiosities was contradicted by reference to its navy.

Behind this facade of stagnation, the navy made some important advances. The quasi‐official U.S. Naval Institute, organized in 1873, initiated the next year the publication of a journal of professional opinion, the Proceedings. The pace of reform accelerated in the next decade. In 1882, the Office of Naval Intelligence was established. Two years later, the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, began instruction under its first president, Rear Adm. Stephen B. Luce. One of its early luminaries was Alfred T. Mahan, president in 1886–89 and 1892–93, whose stress on war games highlighted for the navy the importance of such disparate items as oil fuel, an isthmian canal, and bases in Hawaii. Mahan's cardinal book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783, published in 1890 and soon translated into six major languages, established him as the world's foremost naval thinker.

In force structure, the navy began in 1883 to match these quickening steps toward modernization when Congress provided funds for three new steel cruisers. This modest program was augmented later in the decade with the authorization of twelve more cruisers and the navy's first big‐gun ships, the Maine and Texas. Early in the 1890s, four battleships and three large cruisers followed. The military characteristics of these new steam‐powered ships reflected the essentially defensive mission of the service. The battleships were of low freeboard and thus best suited for coastal defense; the cruisers, such as the Columbia, possessed high speed and were designed as commerce raiders to hunt down fast passenger liners. The navy also experimented with smaller craft, such as torpedo boats and the ram Katahdin.

This expansion was stoked in part by a war scare with Chile in 1891, by the resurrection of the American merchant marine, and by rising imperial ambitions. Also, Mahan argued forcefully for the construction of a battle fleet and influenced civilian policymakers such as Secretaries of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy (1869–93) and Hilary A. Herbert (1893–97). Congress in 1895 and 1896 funded five additional battleships.

Before these could be completed, the steel navy was tested in war with Spain in 1898. Competent prewar preparations by Secretary of the Navy John Davis Long and his assistant Theodore Roosevelt paid dividends at the outset, when Commodore George Dewey moved quickly to defeat the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay. Off Cuba, the fleet of Rear Adm. William Sampson won an easy naval victory at Santiago Bay. Materially, the new ships of the navy performed well, with the battleship Oregon steaming from the West Coast around Cape Horn to the Caribbean in seventy‐one days, arriving in time to play a key role during the Santiago engagement. The Marines impressed observers with their élan and professionalism at Guantanamo Bay, earning the sobriquet from reporters of “first to fight.”

The navy's victories in 1898 helped lead to far‐flung bases and vast new commitments; the successes also garnered public acclaim, which translated into congressional support for ambitious construction programs that moved the navy rapidly into the first ranks of the world's powers. The contrast with the demoralized and decrepit service of only two decades earlier was marked indeed.
[See also Academies, Service: U.S. Naval Academy; Luce, Stephen B.; Marine Corps, U.S.: 1865–1914.]


Harold and and Margaret Sprout , The Rise of American Naval Power, 1776–1918, 1939.
Walter R. Herrick, Jr. , The American Naval Revolution, 1966.
Robert Seager II , Alfred Thayer Mahan, 1975.
James C. Bradford, ed., Admirals of the New Steel Navy, 1990.
Robert W. Love, Jr. , History of the U.S. Navy, Vol. 1: 1775–1941, 1992.

Malcolm Muir, Jr.

Navy, U.S.: 1899–1945 The U.S. Navy matured from a respectable and growing fleet in 1899 to a navy that was incontestably the greatest in the world by the end of World War II. Built initially around the big‐gun ship, the navy during World War II shifted its primary focus to aerial warfare and also waged a submarine campaign of unparalleled effectiveness.

Emerging triumphant from the Spanish‐American War (1898), the navy enjoyed generous support early in the century from presidents and the Congress, which yearly funded battleship construction. By 1902, the U.S. Navy ranked third in the world in battle line strength. Its new ships were tested and America's naval might flexed with the cruise of the Great White Fleet of 1907–09. The navy's personnel expanded correspondingly, from 16,000 in 1899 to 60,000 by 1916. With its emphasis on battleships, the navy paid less attention to smaller craft, arguing that those could be built quickly in an emergency. Nonetheless, the service did commission its first submarine in 1900 and led the world in experiments with naval aviation, conducting the first flight from a ship in 1910.

To provide leadership for the growing force, the Naval Academy was completely rebuilt, and the system of officer promotion by seniority was replaced by merit. At the top, the Naval General Board was established in 1900 as an advisory planning body to link the navy's strategy with its force structure. In 1915, Congress established the office of the chief of naval operations to oversee fleet readiness and employment. The next year, Congress authorized the construction of sixteen warships of unprecedented size to give the nation a “navy second to none.”

Work on this ambitious program was hardly under way when the United States entered World War I. Because German U‐boats posed the principal menace, the navy, needing destroyers desperately, suspended the 1916 construction program. During the war, American warships sank few submarines, but the navy did make significant contributions to the Allied victory by advocating the adoption of the convoy system and by escorting over 2 million army and Marine troops to France without the loss of a single sailor.

Following the armistice, the navy reverted to its emphasis on the big gun, but soon found its building plans stymied when the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty of 1922 mandated a ten‐year moratorium on battleship construction. Despite this setback, the navy worked hard on its long‐range gunnery in planning to fight in the Pacific. To that end, it placed great emphasis on aviation, which could provide the necessary spotting and air control. In 1921, the navy created a separate Bureau of Aeronautics, and in 1927 commissioned powerful aircraft carriers of the Lexington class. With almost 100 planes each, these ships possessed great striking power, and under the leadership of such air‐minded officers as Joseph M. Reeves, William A. Moffett, John H. Towers, and Ernest J. King, they became a potent force in their own right. Conversely, the threat of hostile aircraft caused such concern that navy planners made determined efforts to develop efficient antiaircraft defenses during the 1930s. The navy also experimented with radar for early warning and aircraft control, with dirigibles and seaplanes for long‐range scouting, and with at‐sea refueling and replenishment. Given its Pacific focus, the navy built fast long‐range submarines armed with an advanced torpedo, although lack of funding prevented adequate testing of this weapon. The Marines, studying the problem of seizing forward bases, focused on amphibious warfare, a mission that many military analysts deemed impossible.

Increasing tensions of the late 1930s and the outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to renewed warship construction; following Germany's defeat of France in 1940, the U.S. Navy won funds for essentially unlimited expansion. Before the new vessels entered the fleet, active belligerency brought crises in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The destruction of the battleships at the attack on Pearl Harbor forced the navy to scrap its plans for an advance with the battle line across the central Pacific; a German submarine offensive along the eastern coast of the United States caught the navy unprepared. But the emergency moved to the fore officers who would guide the fleet to victory: Ernest J. King as chief of naval operations, Chester Nimitz to head the Pacific Fleet, and William F. Halsey and Raymond A. Spruance as commanders of fast carrier task forces.

After a slow start, the navy helped win the Battle of the Atlantic against the U‐boats with long‐range aircraft and blimps, large numbers of specialized antisubmarine ships such as escort carriers and destroyer escorts, radar in both ships and planes, and code‐breaking successes. The navy's victory in this vitally important campaign enabled the U.S. Army and air forces to bring their weight to bear in the European theater with the strategic bombing campaign against Germany and the landings in North Africa, Italy, and France.

In the Pacific theater, the navy recovered rapidly from the Pearl Harbor defeat. Relying of necessity on aircraft carriers, the navy struck back with raids on Japanese‐held territories and on the home islands themselves. Then, in the first carrier battles of the war, the navy fought the Japanese to a draw at the Battle of the Coral Sea and won a stunning victory at the Battle of Midway. Quickly going over to the offensive, the navy with its Marine component began at Guadalcanal in August 1942 a series of amphibious operations against a skillful and dedicated enemy defending terrain from jungle to atoll and from the Aleutians to New Guinea. Despite some heavy casualties, not a single American landing over the next three years was repulsed. Simultaneously, U.S. submarines were cutting Japanese lifelines. Once their formerly faulty torpedoes became effective, the submarines inflicted lethal damage on the Japanese war machine by sinking 56 percent of its merchant marine and numerous imperial warships.

In 1944, the navy crushed the Japanese Imperial Fleet in two of the greatest naval battles in history: Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. Closing in on Japan, the navy and Marines secured bases in the Marianas and at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, thereby making possible the B‐29 aerial offensive. Despite grievous losses in men and ships to kamikaze aircraft late in the war, the U.S. Navy's triumph was complete. By the end of the conflict, its foes in both oceans had been utterly crushed, and it was bigger than all the rest of the navies in the world combined.
[See also Academies, Service: U.S. Naval Academy; Battle of Leyte Gulf; Philippine Sea, Battle of the; World War I, U.S. Naval Operations in; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The North Atlantic; World War II, U.S. Naval Operation in: The Pacific.]


William S. Sims , The Victory at Sea, 1920.
Ernest J. King and and Walter M. Whitehall , Fleet Admiral King, 1952.
Samuel E. Morison , The Two‐Ocean War, 1963.
Patrick Abbazia , Mr. Roosevelt's Navy, 1975.
Robert W. Love, Jr. , The Chiefs of Naval Operations, 1980.
Clark G. Reynolds , The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy, 1992.

Malcolm Muir, Jr.

Navy, U.S.: Since 1946 On V‐J Day, 1945, the U.S. Navy—the world's largest—had 105 aircraft carriers, 5,000 ships and submarines, and 82,000 vessels and landing craft deployed around the world, manned by experienced citizen‐sailors and led by aggressive and seasoned admirals. Arguably the most glamorous, tradition‐bound, and elitist of the American armed services, the navy had been given pride of place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now with no potentially threatening navy in existence, a new president, Harry S. Truman, who disliked the navy, endorsed the War Department's recommendation for centralization and reduction of the armed forces and ordered the process begun. Thus commenced the most bitter internal political struggle experienced by the U.S. government since the Civil War. On one side were the navy and Marine Corps and their congressional allies, and on the other the Truman White House, the army and the army air force, and their congressional allies. The army wanted the navy under the War Department and the marines integrated into the army. The air force wanted independence from the army and naval aviation put under the air force.

The battle for complete independence was lost by the Navy Department, which was moved under a new Defense Department. The air force gained independence from the army, but failed to obtain control of naval aviation, and the army failed to get the Marines. Largely through the leadership of Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal, the navy retained much autonomy and most of its roles and missions. To obtain the compromise, Forrestal was named the first Secretary of Defense. After Forrestal's suicide, he was succeeded by Louis Johnson, who set about reducing the navy with a vengeance. The triumphant 5,000‐ship fleet was retired wholesale, the 105 carriers were reduced to six, and the first supercarrier, the USS United States under construction at Newport News, was scrapped. That triggered the immediate resignation of Navy Secretary John Sullivan and the public protest in 1949 known as the “Revolt of the Admirals.” The lead role in the new nuclear strategy was taken from the navy and its carriers and given to the new air force and its B‐36 bomber.

The Korean War reversed the decline of the navy. Its reactivated carriers provided the bulk of allied air power after all land bases were captured or destroyed in the initial Communist attack. The dramatically successful amphibious flanking attack at Inchon renewed the important navy‐marine mission of “amphibious assault.”

Naval planning and procurement were centered for the next twenty years on the mission of projecting power ashore. Supercarriers were built and new aircraft procured to strike deep into the Soviet heartland from the sea around its periphery. The surge of the Cold War and adoption of the “containment strategy” launched the navy into a new (and classic) naval mission of “presence.”

By the mid‐1950s battleships and carriers were being kept permanently on station in the Mediterranean and were being deployed to trouble spots around the world. A small naval force was now kept permanently in the Persian Gulf in recognition of the new strategic value of oil in a region of volatile politics. Between 1946 and 1996, the navy was deployed in crises short of war 270 times. Crisis deterrence and crisis management have proved to be the most consistent and enduring naval mission throughout the last fifty years.

In pursuit of containment the direct U.S. combat involvement in the Vietnam War in 1964 began an intense decade of naval combat using virtually every dimension of naval warfare. SEAL team commandos and riverine gunboats engaged in bloody counter‐insurgent operations; destroyers, cruisers, and for a short time the battleship USS New Jersey provided massive naval gunfire supporting land forces; patrol aircraft and surface ships tried to prevent supply of the Communists by sea.

The overwhelming naval task, however, was the use of carrier aircraft to provide air support to land operations in South Vietnam, interdict supply routes to the south, and engage in strategic bombing in North Vietnam. The air war had an enormous impact on the naval service. All other naval missions were subordinated worldwide. Because the U.S. government wished to avoid “wartime” budgets, the navy consumed its capital, forgoing necessary maintenance of ships and equipment, much research and development, and quality‐of‐life expenditures. When combat operations ended in 1973, the navy was in very poor condition. Morale was corrosive, with mutinies breaking out on three capital ships, and the officer corps cynical about the constraints under which they had fought. Ships and aircraft were in disastrous condition after deferred repairs.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Elmo Zumwalt and his successor James Holloway carried out a program of dramatic reforms to rebuild the navy for the post–Vietnam War era. Planning focus was shifted away from projecting power ashore to dealing with the enormous new Soviet blue water fleet that had taken shape during the 1960s under the forceful Soviet Adm. Sergei Gorschkov, who was intent on achieving maritime superiority over the United States and NATO. The post–Vietnam, post‐Watergate defense cuts made rebuilding the U.S. Navy a difficult challenge. Zumwalt decided to retire some 500 ships to save the huge deferred cost of maintaining them, and directed funding instead to new ships and weapons to regain sea‐control credibility. Zumwalt later expressed the considered judgment that had war with the Soviets broken out during this period, the United States would have been defeated at sea. The arrival of the administration of President Jimmy Carter further slowed the renewal effort, with adoption of a security policy, PRM 10, that relegated the navy to a secondary role.

Modernization was cut back, pay frozen, and in 1979 the president vetoed the defense bill because Congress had authorized a new nuclear aircraft carrier. There was very nearly a repeat of the “Revolt of the Admirals,” when the CNO, Adm. James Holloway, refused to testify that the navy could continue to do its mission.

President Ronald Reagan had campaigned on a promise to build a “600‐ship navy,” to restore “maritime supremacy.” Immediately after his inauguration naval shipbuilding and aircraft procurement were nearly doubled, pay was substantially increased, and weapons modernization was intensified. Navy Secretary John Lehman and CNO James Watkins led the development of an assertive new forward naval strategy to put the Soviet navy on the defensive and convince the Soviets they would lose a naval war decisively. Massive annual naval exercises were held annually in sea areas close to the Soviet Union. By 1987 the U.S. Navy had ordered more than 200 new combatants including 5 nuclear carriers and had 592 ships in commission, including 4 recommissioned battleships. During this period the navy was engaged in sustained operations in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, Lebanon, and Grenada. Three confrontations off Libya including the shooting down of four Libyan aircraft, and air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi and the dramatic air intercept of the “Achille Lauro” terrorists. The culmination of this naval renaissance was reached with the unexpected collapse of Soviet communism, and the disintegration of the 1700‐ship Soviet fleet.

The aftermath of the Cold War victory once again brought difficult times for the navy. The disruptions of integrating women into combat roles, sharply reduced budgets, and leadership turmoil (from 1987 to 1995, five new secretaries of the navy were named and fourteen admirals were fired) made the navy a whipping boy for the media and Congress. Despite the political trauma, the navy played a vital role in shielding Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait, transporting the massive Desert Shield buildup and then conducting surface, submarine, and air operations during Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War.

A new post–Cold War strategy was also developed that focused planning once again on projecting power ashore. The innovations were applied in peacekeeping operations in Somalia in 1993, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, and Yugoslavia in 1999.
[See also Korean War, U.S. Naval Operations in the; Vietnam War, U.S. Naval Operations in.]


Elmo Zumwalt , On Watch, 1976.
Norman Polmar and and Thomas Allen , Rickover, 1981.
Edward J. Marolda and and G. Wesley Pryce III , A Short History of the U.S. Navy and the Southeast Asia Conflict, 1984.
John F. Lehman, Jr. , Command of the Seas, 1988.
Robert W. Love, Jr. , History of the U.S. Navy, Vol. II, 1942–1991, 1992.

John Lehman

Navy, United States

views updated May 18 2018


NAVY, UNITED STATES, dates its existence from 13 October 1775, when the Continental Congress voted to purchase a small number of warships in defense of American liberties, then being abused by the British colonial power. In the course of the War of Independence, the Continental Navy operated more than fifty warships, including thirteen frigates Congress ordered built. Their mission was to protect trade and to prey on British commerce. John Paul Jones, captain of warship Bonhomme Richard, brought the war to the enemy's shores when he led daring raids on the English coast. When asked to surrender his ship during a fierce battle with Royal Navy warship Serapis in 1779, Jones answered, "I have not yet begun to fight," and led his sailors to victory. In October 1781, combined American and French land and sea forces finally compelled the surrender of British Lord Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, Virginia. American independence followed this decisive victory.

A New Nation's Navy

During the next twenty years, corsairs controlled by the Barbary powers of North Africa repeatedly sortied from Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli to seize the merchant ships and cargoes of the new and energetic, but virtually defenseless, American nation. In the last years of the eighteenth century, Congress established a Department of the Navy, which soon included a U.S. Marine Corps, and authorized construction of six fast, powerfully armed frigates and other vessels to deal with overseas threats. USS Constitution and the other warships of the United States eventually convinced the rulers of the Barbary states that preying on American overseas commerce could be disastrous to their fortunes.

The navies of France and Great Britain also interfered with American trading vessels. U.S. and French warships fought pitched sea battles during the so-called Quasi-War of 1798–1800 over maritime trade and other issues (see France, Quasi-War with). The British often angered Americans by stopping their ships and seizing or "impressing" into the Royal Navy American merchant sailors and even U.S. Navy bluejackets. In 1812, impressment and other contentious issues finally led to war. The U.S. Navy was heavily outgunned by the Royal Navy, but the speed and firepower of the American frigates and the professional skill of their sailors routinely brought victory to the American side. Commodore Thomas Macdonough won an impressive victory on inland waters in the Battle of Lake Champlain. Peace in Europe removed the principal irritants that had led to war between the United States and Great Britain, prompting an end to the last war between these two nations. American success in battle ensured a peace treaty in 1814 that protected U.S. interests.

During the next forty-five years, U.S. naval vessels sailed in all the world's oceans while charting new lands and seas, promoting U.S. diplomatic interests, and protecting American merchantmen. The navy fought Caribbean pirates, established a patrol off the coast of Africa to stop the transportation of slaves to the Americas, and played a prominent role in the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848.

Civil War and Postwar Decline

The focus of the U.S. Navy turned toward home during the 1860s, as the issues of slavery and states' rights brought on internal conflict. Soon after eleven Southern states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America, President Abraham Lincoln directed the navy to blockade Norfolk, New Orleans, and other key ports.

To counter the blockade, the Confederate navy launched steam-powered ironclad warships, including CSS Virginia. In March 1862, the vessel boldly attacked the Union squadron off Norfolk and in a matter of hours destroyed two wood-hull sailing ships. With disaster looming, the North's own revolutionary ironclad, USS Monitor, arrived on the scene and fought a pitched battle that prevented the Virginia from destroying more Union ships. The Battle of Hampton Roads heralded a new era of naval warfare.

In addition to blockading Southern ports, the U.S. Navy mounted combined operations with the U.S. Army on the Mississippi and other major rivers to control those waterways and divide the Confederate states. David Farragut led naval forces that won the battles of New Orleans and Mobile Bay while David Dixon Porter helped General Ulysses S. Grant seize Vicksburg on the Mississippi. In short, the U.S. Navy was vital to Union victory in the long, bloody Civil War that ended in April 1865.

The absence of a threat from overseas and the small size of the post–Civil War merchant marine convinced Congress that funding for a large, modern fleet was not warranted. By the 1880s, the huge, powerful wartime fleet had declined to a small force of obsolete, rotting sailing ships and rusting monitors.

Emergence of a Sea Power

The navy's prospects began to change in the 1880s, when Congress authorized construction of the fleet's first steel-hull cruisers—USS Atlanta, USS Boston, and USS Chicago.

Naval strategists Theodore Roosevelt and Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan argued that the new industrial power and maritime commercial interests of the United States demanded a modern fleet capable of winning a major sea battle against any European naval power.

Their sea power theories passed the test in the Spanish-American War (partly ignited by the destruction of USS Maine on 15 February 1898 in the harbor of Havana, Cuba). U.S. naval forces under George Dewey and William T. Sampson destroyed enemy squadrons in the battles of Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba.

American expansionists and navalists stressed anew that the United States needed a first-rank navy to protect its newly won overseas empire. As president, Theodore Roosevelt championed construction of a battle fleet of heavily armed and armored battleships, propelled by coal-fired boilers and capable of seizing and maintaining control of the sea. During this period, the U.S. Navy and its foreign counterparts also developed two weapon systems that would revolutionize twentieth-century naval warfare—the submarine and the airplane.

Naval leaders recognized that to operate the machinery of the new steel warships they needed more technically skilled bluejackets, professionally prepared officers, and a more rational naval organization. This era witnessed the creation of technical schools for enlisted personnel and establishment of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1915, in response to the efforts of reformist naval officers, Congress established the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to improve direction of the battle fleet.

The U.S. Navy's most important accomplishments during World War I were two fold. First was the provision of warship escorts to Allied convoys bringing supplies and American troops to the European theater. Second was the laying of a massive minefield in the North Sea where German submarines operated.

With international agreements restricting the construction of battleships during the period between the world wars, the navy focused on developing improved weapon systems and battle tactics. The future of naval aviation got a boost when aircraft carriers USS Langley, USS Saratoga, and USS Lexington entered the fleet. Almost yearly during the 1930s, the navy refined its battle tactics in "fleet problems," or exercises. The Marine Corps, tasked in war plans with establishing advanced bases in the vast Pacific Ocean, developed a doctrine for amphibious warfare.

The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941 heralded a war in which sea power would figure prominently. As the naval, air, and ground forces of Japan seized U.S. and Allied possessions throughout the western Pacific in early 1942, the Kriegs-marine of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany unleashed U-boats against merchant ships all along America's East Coast. The U.S. Navy defeated both threats with decisive victories against the Japanese at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and against the Germans in a long antisub-marine campaign in the Atlantic Ocean. Allied codebreaking and other intelligence units played key roles in both victories. The start of operations on and around Guadalcanal Island by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units in August 1942 marked the opening of a major Allied counteroffensive in the South Pacific.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British naval forces had deployed Allied armies ashore in North Africa that went on to help destroy German and Italian forces in the combat theater. Following on this success, U.S. Navy and Royal Navy amphibious assault forces put American and British troops on Italian soil with landings in Sicily and on the mainland at Salerno.

To strengthen the Allied advance on Japan, in November 1943 Admiral Chester W. Nimitz launched his Pacific Fleet on a major thrust across the central Pacific. The bloody but successful marine landing on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands was followed by the seizure of the Japanese-held Marshall Islands. The Japanese fleet tried to prevent Allied capture of the Marianas in June 1944 but lost hundreds of first-line aircraft in the attempt during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

On 6 June 1944—D-Day—the U.S. and British navies executed one of the most masterful amphibious operations in history when they deployed ashore on the Normandy coast of France five combat divisions. The Allied armies that followed them ashore in succeeding months joined Soviet forces in bringing about the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.

Admiral Nimitz's fleet helped pave the way for the defeat of the Pacific enemy with its decisive victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy in the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. The elimination of enemy forces in the Philippines and on the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa during the first half of 1945, combined with the destruction of the Japanese merchant marine by the U.S. submarine force, foretold the demise of the Japanese empire. That end, hastened when American planes dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, came with the Japanese surrender onboard battleship USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.

A Global Navy

The navy suffered severe cutbacks in ships and sailors during the post–World War II years but still mustered enough strength to oppose the invasion of South Korea by North Korean communist forces on 25 June 1950. In this first conflict of the Cold War, navy and marine units executed one of the most decisive amphibious operations in history with the landing at Inchon behind enemy lines. Aircraft carriers, battleships, destroyers, minesweepers, hospital ships, and supply vessels proved indispensable to success in this war, which ended on 27 July 1953.

Throughout the Cold War, powerful U.S. naval forces remained permanently deployed on the periphery of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and other communist countries. Throughout the era, carrier task forces responded to threats and crises in the Mediterranean and the western Pacific. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the navy was instrumental in isolating communist Cuba from outside support and monitoring the removal of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles from the island nation.

A vital national mission of the navy throughout the Cold War was to deter a direct attack on the United States by the Soviet Union. To that end, the navy developed nuclear-powered Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident submarines, carrying nuclear-armed, long-range ballistic missiles, and deployed those vessels deep under the surface of the world's oceans. Fast, quiet, and lethal attack submarines prepared to destroy Soviet naval vessels if it came to war.

During the long struggle for Southeast Asia in the 1960s and early 1970s, navy carrier aircraft struck enemy bridges, railways, and supply depots. Battleships and destroyers bombarded troops concentrations; patrol ships and "Swift" boats prevented coastal infiltration; and riverine warfare units teamed up with army troops to fight Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army units on the waterways of Indochina.

A new concern developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Soviet Union increasingly put to sea heavily armed and capable warships and built a powerful military establishment in Russia. To counter the threat, the navy developed a new operational approach—a Maritime Strategy—that emphasized offensive action. If the Soviet Union started a war, the navy planned to launch attacks by powerful carrier and amphibious groups against enemy forces in northern Russia and in the Soviet Far East.

Even after the demise of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the need for international peace and order demanded that the navy remain on station in distant waters. The unprovoked invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi armed forces on 2 August 1990 signaled that naked aggression would continue to plague the world. As part of an international coalition, the navy deployed ships, planes, and troops to the Persian Gulf region to defend America's allies and to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis. In Operation Desert Storm, which began on 17 January 1991, Tomahawk ship-launched cruise missiles and carrier aircraft struck targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait. A massive ground assault by U.S. Marine, U.S. Army, and coalition units, assisted by a naval feint operation, ended the short war on 28 February.

The end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first brought the navy no respite. Ethnic conflict in the Balkans required navy carriers and cruise missile–launching surface ships and submarines to take part in strike operations against Serbian forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. The bloody terrorist attack on the United States on 11 September 2001 and the subsequent U.S.led war on terrorism involved aircraft carriers, missile-launching ships, SEAL special warfare units, and other naval forces in military operations from Afghanistan to the Philippines. In short, throughout its more than 225 years of existence, the U.S. Navy has defended the United States and its interests at sea, on land, and in the air all across the globe.


Baer, George W. One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890–1990. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Bradford, James C., ed. Quarterdeck & Bridge: Two Centuries of American Naval Leaders. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1997.

Godson, Susan H. Serving Proudly: A History of Women in the U.S. Navy. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

Holland, W. J., Jr., ed. The Navy. Washington: Naval Historical Foundation, 2000.

Howarth, Stephen. To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775–1991. New York: Random House, 1991.

Marolda, Edward J. By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1994.

Marolda, Edward J., and Robert J. Schneller, Jr. Shield and Sword: The U.S. Navy and the Persian Gulf War. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

Millett, Allan R. Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps. Rev. ed. New York: The Free Press, 1991.

Morison, Samuel E. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Boston: Little Brown, 1963.

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Free Press, 1984.

Edward J.Marolda

See alsoBattle Fleet Cruise Around the World ; Naval Academy ; Naval Operations, Chief of ; Navy, Confederate ; Navy, Department of the ; World War II, Navy in .

Navy, US

views updated May 14 2018

Navy, US Naval service of the US armed forces. It consists of more than 500,000 personnel under the President, who is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The Navy is under the general supervision of the Secretary of the Navy and his adviser, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), who is the Navy's highest ranking officer. The Navy was established by Congress in 1798, although naval activities had begun during the Revolutionary War.


views updated May 21 2018

USN United States Navy

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United States. Navy