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Ship Building 1901-09 - Roosevelt, Theodore

With the assassination of President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, not quite 43, became the youngest President in the Nation's history. He brought new excitement and power to the Presidency, as he vigorously led Congress and the American public toward progressive reforms and a strong foreign policy. He took the view that the President as a "steward of the people" should take whatever action necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution." I did not usurp power," he wrote, "but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power."

As President, Roosevelt held the ideal that the Government should be the great arbiter of the conflicting economic forces in the Nation, especially between capital and labor, guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none. Roosevelt emerged spectacularly as a "trust buster" by forcing the dissolution of a great railroad combination in the Northwest. Other antitrust suits under the Sherman Act followed.

Roosevelt steered the United States more actively into world politics. He liked to quote a favorite proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick. . . . " Aware of the strategic need for a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific, Roosevelt ensured the construction of the Panama Canal. His corollary to the Monroe Doctrine prevented the establishment of foreign bases in the Caribbean and arrogated the sole right of intervention in Latin America to the United States. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War, reached a Gentleman's Agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of the world.

Following the defeat Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States acquired overseas colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific. In its new status as an imperial power, the United States pursued a series of policies designed to protect American territories and aggressively expand its international commercial interests. These policies included the promotion of the "Open Door" policy in China and the attachment of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that formally announced the intention to use military force to defend the Western Hemisphere against European incursions. At the same time, President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal, which would have profound economic implications for American trade, and engaged in great power diplomacy in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. In just over a decade, the United States had redefined its national and international interests to include a large overseas military presence, overseas possessions, and direct engagement in setting priorities in international affairs.

Two first-class battleships, the Connecticut and the Louisiana, two armored cruisers, the Tennessee and Washington, two gunboats, the Dubuque and Paducah, were authorized by congress in 1902. The congress of 1903 authorized even a greater addition to the navy, providing for no less than five firstclass battleships of 16,000 tons displacement each, the equals of any fighting ships afloat in any navy. In 1904 congress added a firstclass battleship, and three swift cruisers to the navy, while the naval program of 1905 added two more firstclass battleships to the fighting fleet.

The General Board of the Navy, in 1903, recommended a continuous building program, but no action was taken upon it. The basis of the recommendation was forty-eight battleships by 1919, and lesser units and auxiliaries in proportion. The report contemplated two battleships each year.

Since 1903 the General Board had advocated 48 battleships. Some people said that that meant having one ship for each State in the Union. At that time the Union did not possess 48 States, and if America should by chance have 50 States, taking in Alaska and Porto Rico, the General Board will not for that reason ask for 50 battleships. The reason for advocating 48 battleships was that the General Board studied what is going on abroad and the development abroad led to the adoption of that number. The impression prevailed that the General Board recommended an annual and ever-continuing building program of 4 battleships with accompanying lesser units and auxiliaries.

The general naval board, at the head of which stood Admiral Dewey, was on record officially as stating that the work of construction should continue without interruption until at least 48 first-class battleships and 48 firstclass armored cruisers of the heaviest class and highest type should be in commission. That estimate is based on what to their minds was the needs of the government. After that number of battleships and cruisers had been added to the navy the future needs of the nation would be a matter for consideration. The navy was far below the minimum strength favored by Admiral Dewey and the general naval board. The battleships numbered twenty eight and the armored cruisers twelve. To bring the American naval strength up to the Dewey minimum, congress must provide twenty additional battleships and thirty six armored cruisers.

By letter dated October 17, 1903, the General Board of the Navy, submitted a report expressing its opinion of what the ultimate strength of the United States Navy should be and recommended a program for the completion of the Navy to the strength then believed adequate by 1919. The basis of the fleet recommended was 48 battleships, and lesser units in auxiliaries were recommended in the proportions believed to be best to complete a fighting fleet in the light of the best information obtainable at that time. The influence of new inventions changed the proportions and character of some of the lesser units and to that extent was modified in subsequent recommendations the original recommendations of the General Board, but nothing occurred to persuade the board to alter its recommendations as regards the number of battleships.

In October, 1903, the condition of the Navy in battleships was 10 battleships completed and 14 authorized, the last of these 14 to be completed by 1907. In view of this condition and to complete a fleet of 48 battleships in 1919 the General Board in paragraph 8 of its letter of October 17, 1903, recommended: "To sum up, the General Board recommends that Congress be requested to authorize for the present a yearly building program, not limited by the amount appropriated last year, composed of the following ships: Two battleships, etc. ... "

To this letter was appended a table, showing what the condition of the Navy would be in battleships, year by year to 1919, starting with the 10 completed and 14 already authorized and following a 2-battleship-per-year program from 1904. The General Board's recommendation provided for a 2-battleship program consistently pursued from 1904 to 1915 to provide a fleet of 48 battleships in 1919.

The recommendation for the laying down of 2 ships in 1904 failed of enactment, and only one was provided for, leaving the program for the creation of a 48-battleship fleet by 1919 one snip in arrears. To make this deficiency good and maintain the general program, one additional ship, or 3 in all, were recommended for the 1905 program. Two were authorized, still leaving a deficiency of one for the two years, 1904, 1905. To provide for this 3 were again recommended for the 1906 program. In 1906 and again in 1907 one ship only was authorized, leaving by 1908 the general program 3 ships in arrears.

In its report submitted in 1903, recommending new construction to be embodied in the act of 1904, the General Board urged the construction of 2 battleships, 1 armored cruiser. 3 protected cruisers. 4 scout cruisers. 2 fuel ships, and 3 destroyers. The Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Moody, in his report stated: "The advice of the General Board and the Board of Construction has been sought and received and will be submitted to the Members of Congress." But he made provision in his estimate for the construction of only 2 hospital ships and 2 submarines, later recommending before the House Committee on Naval Affairs the construction of 1 battleship, 1 armored cruiser, Naval Affairs the construction of 1 battleship, 1 armored cruiser, 3 protected cruisers, 2 to 4 scout cruisers, aud 2 fuel ships. Congress with these recommendations before it passed the naval appropriation bill, which provided for the construction of only 1 battleship, besides 1 armored cruiser, 3 scout cruisers, 4 submarines, and 2 fuel ships.

The following year, 1904, the General Board's program embodied 3 battleships, 6 destroyers, 5 scout cruisers, 6 torpedo boats, 2 fuel ships, 5 gunboats, and $850,000 for submarines. The recommendation of 3 battleships was intended to provide the 2 desired for the regular program, and the third to make up the deficiency of 1 battleship In the program of the preceding year. Secretary Morton, in his annual report under the caption of " The Naval Appropriations," states " the naval estimates for the next fiscal year are large, the largest ever submitted, notwithstanding the fact that they have been cut down from those sent in by the bureaus by more than $1 7,000,000. We have asked for less than the money actually required to continue the nnval program as laid down by the General Board, of which Admiral Pewey is the head, notwithstanding all who have studied the question carefully agree that this program should be carried out." The Secretary recommended no new construction in his report, but during his appearance before the House committee he recommended 3 battleships, and added, that, If practicable, 6 destroyers might also be included. No recommendation was made as to the 18 other vessels besides all the submarines which were recommended by the General Board, and Congress provided for no other vessels than battleships, of which 2 were authorized. The authorization of 2 battleships in 1905 still left the Navy in arrears by 1 battleship of the number recommended by the General Board.

The following year, 1905, the General Board renewed its recommendations for 3 battleships, 2 to constitute the number required for the regular program imd the third to fill the omission of the 1904 act, and it urged also the construction of 4 gunboats, 3 scout cruisers, 4 destroyers, 4 submarines, and 4 torpedo boats. In referring to the estimates he submitted to Congress that year, Secretary Bonaparte states in his annual report : "It will be observed on examining them that there is a large reduction in the amount asked for the increase of the Navy, the aggregate of the sums requested for this purpose being somewhat less than what was given for the present fiscal year." He recommended the authorization of 2 battleships, 2 scout cruisers, 4 destroyers, 2 submarines, and 3 gunboats. And in commenting upon the difference between his recommendations and those submitted by the General Board Secretary Bonaparte stated: "It will be observed, however, that I have assumed the grave responsibility of overruling both boards with regard to the number of battleships and that I have disregarded the advice of the board on construction to make all reductions which economy renders needful In other types. In my judgment, the Navy needs at least 4 new destroyers, at least 2 more scouts, and at least 1 vessel of the Helena type. I retain 2 submarines or submersibles for the sake of experiment and by reason of their comparatively small cost, and the 2 river gunboats for the last reason and also for their ascertained utility."

The appropriation bill passed by Congress on the receipt of these recommendations provided for the construction of only 1 battleship, 3 destroyers, and 8 submarines, the scout cruisers and the gunboats being omitted altogether. The provision for only 1 battleship in this act set the number under construction two behind the number recommended by the General Board. As a result of Secretary Bonaparte's decision and the embodiment by Congress in the naval appropriation bill of a proviso stipulating that the battleships should displace 16,000 tons, the Michigan and South Carolina were about 2,000 tons smaller and 2 or 3 knots slower in speed than the dreadnaught of the same date. On account of these deficiencies these vessels can not be maneuvered with vessels of the dreadnaught type and can not be classified as dreadnaughts.

In its report for 1906 the General Board, besides two scout cruisers, four destroyers, four ship's motor boats, two colliers, one ammunition vessel, and five gunboats, recommended the construction of only two battleships, and Secretary Bonaparte, notwithstanding the fact that Congress at its last session appropriated for only one battleship, was somewhat reluctant In recommending the construction of more than one in the next program. The view was expressed : "I now think it highly advisable that a consort to the single vessel authorized as a substitute for the last two recommended be authorized at this session, and, if possible, early in the session, so that we may have greater benefit from the increased speed of these larger ships."

Mr. Bonaparte further recommended five gunboats, four destroyers, four ship's torpedo boats, and two fuel ships. Congress for the second time in two years authorized only one battleship, and, with the exception of two destroyers, made no provision for the other types of vessels recommended, both by the General Board and the Secretary of the Navy, and as a result the Navy was, within four years after the plan of the General Board was first submitted, three battleships and numerous smaller craft behind the contemplated schedule of construction.

An unprecedented event in America's naval history and one of the most spectacular of cruises was the sailing of the United States battleship fleet around the world; it departed from the Atlantic Coast 16 December 1907 and returning without mishap on 20 Feb. 1909. When the fleet sailed, Admiral Evans, in command, declared that it was ready "for a fight or a frolic." It proved to be the latter, and while the proposition to take the trip was vehemently opposed when first broached, it was so successful in its results that those who felt most disgruntled could, after the return, find no more cogent reason for even a lukewarm opposition than the expense attending the excursion.

In 1907 and 1908, during the incumbency of Secretary Metcalf, the two reports of the General Board were almost Identical. That for 1907 recommended four battleships, four scout cruisers, ten destroyers, four submarines, two fuel ships, one ammunition ship, one repair ship, four ship's motor boats, and the conversion of two cruisers into mine layers. In the following year the same recommendation was renewed, except that only three fuel ships instead of four were recommended, and the ship's motor boats and torpedo boats were omitted. Mr. Metcalf endorsed the recommendations of the General Board in both instances, and in the two years - that is, by the acts of 1908 and 1909 - Congress authorized a total of four battleships, fifteen destroyers, twelve submarines, three fuel ships, and one destroyer whose vitals were to be located below the water line. The Navy was three battleships behind the schedule prescribed by the General Board, and also deficient in the number they recommended in practically every other type of ships.

The navy had benefited by the energetic naval policy which has been pursued of late years. Never had the construction of ships for warlike purposes been so active on the American continent. Construction, it was true, proceeded far more slowly than in Great Britain or Germany, but this was not entirely due to the industrial conditions. Congress still continued to keep a firm hand upon the expansion of the navy, whereas the great fleets of Europe were developed almost entirely on the sole responsibility of the experts at the several admiralties within the financial limits laid down by the respective governments.

In the British fleet, the shipbuilding program from year to year was developed by the Admiralty without consultation with the House of Commons ; and legislators, recognizing that naval defense was a technical subject, never press criticism to the point of forcing upon the naval authorities any variation of the programme submitted, or any changes in the types of ships to be laid down. The House of Commons had sanctioned shipbuilding without obtaining any details of the character of the vessels to be laid down. Year by year the Admiralty applies for authorization of a program which is submitted in the barest skeleton ; the numbers of battleships, cruisers, and torpedo craft were stated numerically and the designs are developed by the Board of Admiralty in complete independence of legislative interference. The program was always known to the Cabinet in greater detail, but the House of Commons was usually in ignorance of the exact manner in which the sum appropriated to new ships is being spent until the vessels are far advanced, and then not infrequently the information leaks out through the press unofficially and was not formally communicated to Parliament.

This principle of the independence of the exports applied also to almost every detail of administration. Officers are promoted and receive appointments, changes were made in the terms of service, naval establishments were abandoned or expanded, and the whole machinery for the preparation of war was carried on by the board, the only check being the power retained by the Cabinet to intervene. Seldom did the ministers of the Crown as a body interfere with the administrative freedom of the Cabinet minister at the head of either of the fighting services.

In the United States the naval authorities did not enjoy the same freedom. Congress exercised its right to supervise the exact types of ships which were to be built, and general particulars were embodied in an acr thus formulated, tying down the naval administration. This system led to many delays, which may be illustrated by quoting the case of the battleships for which tenders had been accepted. Early in 1906 Congress called upon the Navy Department to prepare a general scheme of design for a battleship which it was insisted should be superior to anything which was being built abroad. Not until twelve months later did the Navy Department have an opportunity of submitting its suggestions, and in the meantime the British battleship Dreadnought had been built and completed for sea, and the three Indomitable cruiser-battleships far advanced. The British authorities, in virtue of the confidence reposed in them, were able to gain an advantage of twelve months in the construction of ships of the new design without revealing even the general details of the ships building.

The delays in naval construction are not however, confined to the interference of Congress. The American Navy Department was divided up into a number of subdepartments, as in the British service, but the American subdivision was much more complete and the references from one department to another were far more formal, with the result that the work of ship design and construction was not pursued with concentrated effort, which led in the case of British men-of-war to very rapid construction. In Great Britain the Board of Admiralty was supreme, and day by day not only exercises its authority, but was in complete touch with all the developments which were under consideration in all the different sections of the administration, with the result that as the work of design and construction proceeded all the details were made almost imperceptibly to dovetail into one another without loss of time or waste of effort.

It may be also that the American navy suffered somewhat from its virtues. The technical officers of the American navy were above all things enterprising and were continually reaching out for the latest developments in mechanical equipment for war ; they were ambitious to make progress, and this very spirit had in the past frequently led to vital changes in design after ships had been laid down, and thus contributed to slowness of construction, besides embarrassing shipbuilders and adding to the cost. As a general principle in the British service vital alterations, once the type or the class had been designed, were seldom permitted. The name ship was not laid down until all the expert advisers of the Admiralty had expressed their concurrence in the compromise which has been evolved from all the divergent views and after the tank and other experiments have been completed.

Once the parent ship of a class is laid down, that class is completed with little or no variation between the various units. This rigidity of construction has led to a standardization which existed in full measure only in the British and German navies and results in seagoing squadrons having the immense tactical advantage of homogeneity. In the American service the advantage of this system had been increasingly recognized, and the fleet began to secure a large measure of homogeneity in modern battleships and the larger type of cruisers.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:52:29 ZULU