HOOYAH! October 27th is the day set aside for honoring the United States Navy. The men and women of the Navy fight for us on foreign soil, so we here at home should take every chance we get to honor their service and their sacrifices. On this day, let’s learn a little bit more about our naval forces and celebrate Navy Day!
Rhode Island had the first naval force
During the War for Independence, the Rhode Island assembly commissioned ships to comprise the first American Naval force. These ships were also the first to fight back against the British forces. Seeing how successful the Rhode Island force was, and understanding the need to fight the British on the seas, the Continental Congress established the Continental Navy on October 13th, 1775.
“I have not yet begun to fight”
This famous quote is attributed to John Paul Jones (the naval commander, not the bass player for Led Zeppelin). In 1779, during the Battle of Flamborough Head, Jones was the commander of the Bonhomme Richard. While entangled with an enemy ship, the HMS Serapis, Jones was asked to surrender. His response? “I have not yet begun to fight.” This quote might have been lost or forgotten had it not been for the fact that the Bonhomme Richard ended up winning the battle, sending their enemies ascending the Stairway to Heaven (I know. I’m sorry about that one.)
The Treaty of Paris
The end of the Revolutionary War came about with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The Continental Congress put together a 5-person committee to help negotiate a treaty consisting of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Laurens, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin. Laurens was captured and held in the Tower of London, and Jefferson didn’t leave the country in time to take part in the negotiations, so British recognition of American Independence was brought about by Adams, Franklin, and Jay. After this treaty the Navy was disbanded, as the Continental Congress saw no need for a standing Navy anymore.
A pirate’s life for me
After the glow of victory against the British, the Navy was disbanded. This lasted about 11 years before new threats came along to convince Congress that having ship patrolling the seas was a good idea. Piracy was one of them, along with other nations becoming aggressive against the United States. Because of these factors the Congress voted on the Naval Act of 1784. Six ships were commissioned, including the USS Constitution. The Department of the Navy is created in 1798 to oversee the management of the naval forces.
The war of 1812
America vs. the United Kingdom! This had all the makings of a mismatch, as the Royal Navy outclassed the United States Navy by a 50-1 margin. But those plucky Americans and their can-do spirit would not back down. From 1812 through 1815, when the war ended, the US naval forces won many decisive battles, including:
- 35-minute battle between the USS Constitution and the HMS Guerriere. This battle earned the USS Constitution the nickname “Old Ironsides”
- The USS Chesapeake capturing the HMS Shannon in 1813
- The Battle of Lake Champlain, which caused the British forces to cede control of Detroit and the Great Lakes area back to the US
A house divided
The Civil War propelled the US Navy forward technologically and strategically. Some of the advances seen during this war include:
- The Confederate Army introduced the torpedo
- Steamships became the preferred war vessels
- The US ended their use of privateers during times of war
- The Anaconda Plan became the largest blockade ever by the Navy to that point
- The first ever battle between ironclad ships happened when the USS Monitor clashed with the CSS Virginia. The battle ended in a draw
- Submarine warfare was born when the CSS Hunley used a torpedo to sink the USS Housatonic
For all these advancements, the end of the Civil War saw the US Navy enter into disrepair. Calls for building better, more modern ships came about in 1882, 17 years after the end of the war.
Under the sea
Even though the Confederate Army used one against the Union Army in the Civil War, the first commissioned submarine in the US Navy was the USS Holland, which joined the fleet on October 12th, 1900. In addition to this, President Theodore Roosevelt added 16 battleships to the naval fleet and had them sail around the world to display the power and grace of the US Navy. Roosevelt called this his “Great White Fleet.”
World War II
In the early years of the war, the US kept its distance from all entanglements, but country placed almost all of their Navy Reservists on active duty. Among this group of included 5 young men who would go one to be future Presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush.
The US Navy took a huge hit on December 7th, 1941: Pearl Harbor was attacked. Many ships were damaged, others were completely lost. To this day the USS Arizona is leaking oil into the ocean from the bottom of the harbor.
In case you thought that naval officers only sailed the oceans blue, World War II navy intelligence centers worked hard to decrypt JN-25, a Japanese code used by the Imperial navy. On March 13th, 1942, the cryptologists were successful at breaking the code, even figuring out that the codename “AF” was a designation for Midway Island, a naval station in the Pacific Ocean that served as a launching and resting place for air support.
Thanks to massive decryption efforts, naval cryptologists intercepted anywhere from 500-1000 Japanese radio messages per day, bringing important intelligence to the war effort. Station HYPO, a unit located at Pearl Harbor dedicated to decrypting messages, determined that June 4th was the date for the impending attack on Midway Island. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz sent the USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise, and the USS Hornet to Midway Island to spring a surprise attack on the Japanese. The attack took place on June 4th, and because of the extra American naval presence the Japanese were routed after a four day battle. Four Japanese fleet carriers are sunk, along with other warships. The four carriers sunk participated in attacking Pearl Harbor, a fitting piece of revenge. American naval carriers took heavy damage, but the only one lost is the USS Yorktown. It was the biggest upset victory ever achieved by the U.S. Navy.
By 1944 the Imperial Japanese Navy worked hard to regain the advantage over the U.S fleet during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. By this time the Imperial Navy was out of carriers so they used battleships and cruisers as their main attack force. Utilizing kamikaze attacks, the Japanese pressed their advantage and pushed the U.S Navy back. Thanks to Rear Admiral Thomas Sprague and his small group of carriers and destroyers the advantage of the Imperial Navy is short lived. This battle ended up being the final major naval engagement of World War II in the Pacific. The last official act of the U.S Navy, however, was taking the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri.
The first Gulf of Sidra incident
In 1981, Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi declared that the Gulf of Sidra sovereign Libyan territory. President Ronald Reagan felt this would impact the safety of shipping in the area, so he ordered the Navy to violate the “sovereign” waters of the Gulf of Sidra. A brief aerial skirmish ensued, and two Libyan planes were shot out of the sky. Gaddafi backed off, but only for a few years.
In 1986 Gaddafi once again stretched the reach of Libya to include the Gulf of Sidra. And once again the U.S Navy crossed into these “sovereign” waters. There was no air combat this time, but the USS Yorktown, rebuilt after its loss in World War II, is ordered to fire and sink a Libyan ship that approaches too closely.
The USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship, is activated and sent to Manhattan to assist with medical emergencies after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. An invasion of Afghanistan commenced in the form of Operation Enduring Freedom as a retaliatory effort. The initial ground troops that set foot in Afghanistan are the Navy SEALs.
When the War on Terror moved to include Iraq, the Navy went with it, providing pilots, Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), amphibious troops, and more SEALs. None of the naval forces faced danger from sea battles, but they were instrumental to ending the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
For two days in April, 2009, Somali pirates held the MV Maersk Alabama hostage off the coast of Africa. It was the first successful hijacking of a ship flying the American flag by pirates since the early 19th century. Navy SEALs are dispatched to monitor the pirate’s activities, and they are eventually given the authorization to use deadly force to take the ship back. The SEALs are able to make kill shots on the pirates without any civilian casualties. The Navy left a contingent to patrol the coast of Africa to help combat future pirating in the area.
Osama Bin Laden
In 2011, U.S intelligence services thought have found Osama Bin Laden living in a safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The Navy SEALs were chosen to lead an assault. They were able to get into the safe house, confront Osama Bin Laden, and take him out.
These are just some of the impressive, important moments in the history of the Navy. Do you have a favorite? Were you, or someone close to you, in the Navy? Share your stories with us in the comments!