THIS is Why US Navy Went from Sail Boats to Aircraft Carriers

THIS is Why US Navy Went from Sail Boats to Aircraft Carriers

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The United States is, and always has  been, a maritime nation- this is the   story of how the US Navy went from sails  to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. America is one of the largest nations on earth,  which leads many to forget just how important the   ocean has always been for the US. During the  colonial era, the colonies relied heavily on   overseas trade, inspiring a rich naval tradition  that produced many seafaring captains and expert   shipbuilders. The East Coast was a rich source  of building materials, especially the oak forests   around Massachusetts, and by 1680, the colony had  over two dozen sawmills in the Northeast alone. Demand for lumber was so great that  it prompted the early Americans to   develop many revolutionary technologies,  such as the water sawmill. Thick pine   forests also provided the pitch and gum  that would be used to waterproof ships,   making the small colonies a powerhouse of ship  construction. Early America's expertise in  

shipbuilding and rich resources were so valuable  to the British Empire that the colonies were   seen as of critical importance to national  security and the health of the Royal Navy. The official birth of an independent American  navy, however, would come courtesy of the British.   When Britain tried to force the Americans to drink  tea and wear funny wigs forever, the colonies   revolted- and of pressing need was a continental  navy to fend off the mighty Royal Navy. At the   time, American seamen were prolific smugglers, but  royal navy ships frequently intercepted American   ships- putting a serious crunch on the economy of  the colonies. On August 26th, 1775, Rhode Island  

passed a resolution calling for a national navy  to be funded by the Continental Congress. However,   George Washington was already acquiring  ships to form the start of a formal navy,   and the poor finances of the colonies necessitated  tabling the resolution for the time being. It was clear, though, that without freedom of  navigation for its ships, the colonies would not   last long under the thumb of the royal navy. Thus,  with mounting pressure from the colonies, the  

Continental Congress approved the establishment  of the Continental Navy on October 13th, 1775-   a date that the US Navy counts as its official  birthday. The first purchase for the official   navy would be two ships to be operated as  privateers, targeting British shipping. A   common practice by many world powers at the time,  privateers were basically naval mercenaries-   they carried out attacks on enemy shipping  with the blessing of their sponsor and were   entitled to seizing and selling cargo, crew,  and even the ships themselves, with a portion   of their earnings taken by the privateer's  sponsor. For the young United States, this  

was an excellent way to harass British shipping  while earning some badly needed coin in return. In December, the Continental Congress approved  the construction of thirteen brand-new frigates   to be operated as part of a continental navy.  These ships were built hastily and significantly   outmatched by their Royal Navy counterparts-  but they served the purpose of harassing the   Royal Navy and slowing the progress of the British  army making landfall on the colonies. Famously,   Benedict Arnold successfully delayed British  forces entering from Canada with a fleet of   12 hastily built ships, buying time for the  continental army to reinforce Fort Ticonderoga. The official continental navy would meet with  little success, hopelessly outmatched by the far   more powerful royal navy. However, American  privateers managed to inflict considerable  

damage on British shipping. The colonies  sent agents to Europe and the Caribbean,   who, along with the colonies, issued an estimated  over 2,000 commissions to various privateers. This   would result in over 2,200 British merchant  ships being captured by American privateers,   inflicting a significant financial blow  on the trade-dependent British empire. In 1783, Americans won the right  to drink high fructose corn syrup,   and King George called it quits. The American  Revolutionary War was, by all accounts, a minor   affair for the globe-spanning British empire- and  yet it was a disproportionately costly one. The   entry of the French on the American's side further  complicated matters, and Britain's globe-spanning   commitments prevented it from massing the  type of power needed to crush the resistance.

America had thrown off the shackles of  the metric system and won its freedom,   but the young nation was desperately broke.  To make matters worse for the nascent navy,   there was a litany of domestic issues that took  precedence over any international concerns,   prompting Congress to disband the navy  and sell off all of the ships currently   in service. However, both domestic and  international problems would soon arrive. By 1790, the US Navy was nothing more than a  wartime memory, and yet the nation was facing   a critical economic threat. With little economy  to speak of, the government relied on tariffs  

placed on imported goods to fund itself, which  prompted rampant smuggling. In order to combat   the epidemic of smugglers, Secretary of the  Treasury Alexander Hamilton implored Congress   to create the Revenue-Marine. This progenitor of  the US Coast Guard was less about saving people   in distress and more about getting Uncle Sam's  money, resulting in ten cutters that would be   responsible for cracking down on smuggling  and ensuring much-needed tax money flowed. But in 1793, Portugal let the evil genie out  of the bottle. Portugal had been blockading the  

Strait of Gibraltar, which prevented pirates  from the Barbary states from sailing out into   the open Atlantic. At the start of the French  Revolutionary Wars, though, Portugal and Algiers   negotiated a truce that allowed the pirates  to roam the seas once more. American ships,   which had long enjoyed the protection of the Royal  Navy, were now fair game- and almost immediately,   Barbary pirates captured 11 American  ships and over a hundred sailors.

The United States was too poor to pay  the tribute demanded by the Barbary   states, and with no navy to protect them, American  merchants were at the mercy of roving pirates. The   northern states pressed Congress to invest in the  building of a new fleet, but the southern states   largely believed that it would ultimately  be a waste of money and only cause trouble,   inviting the US to get embroiled in foreign  affairs. Ultimately, the Naval Act of 1794   would authorize the construction of six  frigates, revitalizing the American navy. However, due to pressure from relatives  and the public at large, Congress ended   up amending the Naval Act after raising $800,000  to appease the Algerians and ensure the release   of hostages. Only three of the six frigates  would end up being built: the United States,   Constellation, and the ship that would  become a national legacy: the Constitution.

Soon, though, more problems would be heaped on the  young nation. Under the same Treaty of Alliance,   signed in 1778, which had brought France into the  war on the Americans side, the US was obligated   to help France in its wars with Britain. The  fledgling US sought neutrality with both sides,   which led to predictably poor relations  with both Britain and France. Ultimately,   the US would sign the Jay Treaty in 1794,  normalizing relations with Great Britain   and opening up economic opportunities for  the colonies. This angered the French,  

who immediately went to war with  America on the high seas. By 1797,   the French had seized over 300 American merchant  ships, and President John Adams threw his full   support behind building the three additional  frigates originally part of the Naval Act of 1794. The Department of the Navy would be formed on  April 30th, 1798, separate from the War Department   and responsible for running the entire maritime  war against France. The war was largely fought by   French privateers who plundered American shipping  right off its own coast. In an act of unofficial   cooperation, British and American merchants  would band together and sail in protected convoys   guarded by each other's warships. The quasi-war  as it was known- for a declaration of war was  

never issued by either side- would result in the  first official victory of the United States Navy,   with the capture of the French privateer Le  Croyable by the USS Delaware on July 7th,   1798. The Navy's first victory over an actual  warship would be on February 9th, 1799,   when the Constellation captured the French frigate  L'Insurgente and her full load of croissants. By the end of 1800, France ended the quasi-war  with a formal agreement with the United States.   Fearful of the US Navy being disarmed a second  time, Congress rushed through an act authorizing   a peacetime navy before elections took place- this  would prove a wise decision almost immediately.

On May 10th, 1801, the Tripoli pirates  chopped down the flag in front of the   American embassy and declared war  on the United States. This was in   response to the United States refusing to  pay tribute to Tripolitania in exchange for   its pirates not raiding American shipping.  Sweden would join with the United States,   as it had already been at war for a full  year for also refusing to pay tribute. The Barbary pirates were made up of the  semi-autonomous Ottoman provinces of Algiers,   Tunis, and Tripoli, as well as the independent  Sultanate of Morocco. These pirates ran roughshod   across the Atlantic, capturing as many as  1.25 million Europeans between the 16th and   19th centuries and selling them as slaves. This  made the pirates very wealthy and very powerful.

On June 23rd, 1786, Morocco signed  a treaty with the United States that   ended all Moroccan piracy against  US interests. It also stated that   any Americans captured by any Barbary  pirates aboard ships docked at Moroccan   ports were to be set free and placed under the  protection of the Moroccan government itself. Negotiations with Algeria, however, failed to  produce any results. All four Barbary Coast   States demanded $660,000 in tribute  each, but the American diplomats had   only been allocated a budget of $40,000  total. War was inevitable, and in 1801,   when President Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated,  he refused a renewed request for tribute.

The US would cooperate with the Kingdom of  Naples and the Swedish Navy to wage war on   the Barbary pirates within the Mediterranean.  Ultimately, it would be a cross-desert march by   8 US Marines and a force of 500 mercenaries that  captured the Tripolitan city of Derna and urged   the signing of a peace treaty. The First Barbary  War would be a huge boon to the United States,   which until that point had been untested  in a major war away from home. It proved   to the world that the colonies could  fight together as a cohesive force,   as well as the skill and bravery  of American sailors and Marines.

Having learned nothing from  history and under financial stress,   President Jefferson reduced the navy  significantly after the war. Instead,   Jefferson believed that only a force of gunboats-  far smaller ships without the capacity to fight   war on the open sea or far from home- were  necessary to protect Atlantic harbors. This   would come back to bite the US in the rear with  the declaration of war against Britain in 1812. In order to bolster its forces during its wars  against France, the Royal Navy had taken to   impressing American sailors since 1799. Under the  guise of repatriating British deserters- which,   technically, every single person in America  was one- the British impressed an estimated   10,000 sailors in thirteen years. This prompted  the United States to declare war on Britain.

The American navy was outnumbered 50 to 1,  with the British fielding better ships and   more firepower. Despite this, the young navy  managed some impressive victories early in   the war, and the Constitution would earn her  nickname of “Old Ironsides” after sailors from   HMS Guerriere watched their cannon balls  bounce off the incredibly strong oak hull. American sailors would score victories  in South America and the Pacific,   where the USS Essex raided British shipping  and whaling vessels. However, ultimately,  

the weight of numbers was against the Americans-  and soon, US ships were blockaded in their ports,   unable to leave. Despite this, stunning  American victories at the Battles of Lake   Champlain and Lake Erie prompted an end to  the war by cutting off the British advance   in the north. They would ensure that the lakes  would not become economically exclusive to the   British in the subsequent peace treaty. This  would be a massive boon to the future economy  

of the United States- with hundreds of millions of  dollars in shipping crossing each lake every year. At the end of the War of 1812, the US turned its  attention back to the matter of Barbary piracy.   Morocco had rescinded its earlier agreement with  the US, and piracy had continued during and after   the war against the British. President Madison  requested that Congress declare a state of war   against the Dey and Regency of Algiers  to solve the problem once and for all,   and while the war was not formally  declared, the president was given   full power to do as he saw fit to protect  American seamen and commerce in the region.

On May 20th, 1815, a 10-ship squadron left New  York and headed for the Mediterranean. After   capturing and sinking numerous Algerian ships,  the naval squadron started negotiations with   the various rulers- demanding compensation  for past offenses and threatening all-out   war if it was refused. After returning  two captured vessels to the Algerians,   they agreed to end all tribute demands  and released any American hostages,   along with $10,000 in compensation. This would  mark the beginning of the end of Barbary piracy,  

with America and European powers now building much  technologically superior and better-equipped ships   that the pirates couldn't hope to match.  At the end of the Second Barbary War,   three centuries of piracy had come to an end,  a major accomplishment for the young US Navy. For the next three decades, the US Navy  enjoyed a period of relative peace and   quiet. The young nation was growing, which meant  a stronger economy and better funding- but the   Navy was still frequently underfunded. While the  adoption of new technologies such as steam power,  

armored ships, and shell guns made the  Navy more than a match for any pirate-   and effectively ended the age of piracy-  the US still lagged significantly behind   larger global powers such as Britain and France.  Luckily, no new conflicts arose, and the United   States' growing land power made it untenable for  European powers to challenge it on the continent. The age of piracy persisted a bit longer  in the waters off South America, where   the newly independent Latin American countries  hired privateers to harass European shipping.   President James Madison made it a priority to end  piracy and open up American shipping in the area,   but preferred a carrot-and-stick approach that  prioritized diplomacy, backed up by the guns   of the West India Squadron. This formation of  American warships utilized frigates to protect   merchant ships, while smaller and faster ships  would scout the coastline and nearby islands,   looking for places pirates would lay in  hiding. This allowed the Navy to rapidly  

find and destroy the pirates; their ships either  sunk or seized. The USS Sea Gull would be the   first steam-powered ship in history to engage  in combat during this counter-piracy operation. By 1826, South American pirates  had been pacified either through   diplomacy or force of arms, and the  region was safe for American shipping.

Back on the world stage, the US Navy  was called upon to help the British   enforce an end to the trans-pacific slave  trade. However, the southern states and   their chosen congressmen worked hard to  suppress the effort, sabotaging it from   within. The African squadron was formed in  1820 but withdrawn just three years later,   with claims that the ships were needed for  the South American anti-piracy campaign. In truth, vested southern business interests  were putting major pressure on Congress to not   stop the slave trade they depended on. It  wouldn't be until 1842, and the signing of   the Webster-Ashburton treaty, which resolved  several border disputes between the US and   British colonies in North America, that US ships  were forced by treaty to return to the duty of   intercepting slave vessels. However, fewer ships  than were required for the mission were assigned,  

and of those that were assigned, they were  too large to operate near the African coast,   where slaving vessels would lurk. In  five years, the British would capture   423 ships carrying 27,000 slaves, while  the US squadron only captured ten ships. During the Mexican-American War of  1845 to 1848, the Navy would play a   far smaller role than the US Army- but a  critical one in two key conflict zones. On March 9th, 1847, an operation was hatched to  assault the Mexican fortress town of Veracruz.  

At the time, Veracruz was the most heavily  defended fort in all the American continent,   with a garrison of 3,360 soldiers spread out  across three mutually supporting forts. Two   of the forts were equipped with 89 guns  each, and one, sitting just off shore,   had 135 guns. The Navy, operating a small fleet  of various craft, would be instrumental in the   siege to come by successfully landing the invasion  force in a single day without any loss of life. Back home, it was becoming clear that  discipline and poor training were a   significant problem in the US Navy. Discipline  was much more lax than in the Royal Navy,   after which the US Navy had been modeled, and  there was no professional training for officers.   This would change with the establishment  of the United States Naval Academy in 1851,   reshaping the old American Navy into a more  modern, professional force. The experience  

and education gained by new officers would also  prove indispensable in various smaller conflicts   that the Navy would take part in during the next  few decades. When the siege officially began,   the Navy would bombard the defensive works from  offshore, breaking the walls of Fort Santiago. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the  navy cut Mexican troops off from   reinforcements and chased off any  Mexican ships. This would, in turn,   lead to the capture of California from  Mexico, which the Mexican government   was forced to accept as a term of peace.  Unable to challenge the Pacific squadron,   Mexico was left without hope of holding on to its  territory in what would become a future US state.

After the war, the United States turned its  focus on opening up trade with Japan. The   nation was in a state of full-blown xenophobia,  wanting nothing to do with Europeans whom they   considered barbarians. After witnessing the first  and second opium wars, the Japanese became even   more adamant about keeping Westerners out- but a  fierce debate raged within the Japanese government   on how best to do that. Traditionalists wanted  to stick to Japanese methods and strategies,   while reformists pointed out the need  to adopt advanced Western technology. Amidst this debate, Commodore Matthew C. Perry  arrived in Japan with a squadron of four heavily  

armed frigates. The United States wished to open  Japan up to American shipping- if not trade,   then at least to allow American whalers to dock  and purchase supplies and for ships experiencing   emergencies to be granted access to Japanese  ports and their crews to receive good treatment.   Perry had come prepared for diplomacy or  violence, and to demonstrate his resolve,   he ordered his ships to fire on several empty  buildings around the harbor in Tokyo Bay. The   new Paixhans shell guns blasted the buildings to  pieces, deeply impressing the Japanese observers. Eventually, Japan agreed to the establishment  of an American consul in Shimoda and to allow   American whalers or those experiencing maritime  emergencies to dock in Japanese harbors. This   would kick the door open to Japan for the rest  of the world, ending centuries of isolationism.

The opening of Japan would catapult the United  States to the forefront of the world stage,   now seen as a mature and global power. It directly  led to the normalizing of relations with Europe,   including trade, and the grudging  respect and acceptance by European   powers of American might. The US, which had  been largely seen as a backwater nation,   had scored two major back-to-back  victories- the defeat of Mexico in   the American-Mexican war and the  opening of Japan to global trade.

When the First American Civil War broke out, the  Union Navy would prove decisive in the conflict.   Winfield Scott, commanding general of the American  Army, decided that the best way to defeat the   Confederacy was to strangle it to death. The  South's lack of heavy industry made it extremely   reliant on imports for its war needs, with trade  deals in place with many European powers. Southern  

cotton and tobacco were highly sought after  and fetched high prices around the world. Yet   if the South couldn't export its cotton, it  wouldn't be able to finance its insurgency. Thus, the Anaconda Plan was devised, with  the Union Navy establishing a blockade   of every Southern port along the eastern  seaboard and into the Gulf of Mexico. This,   combined with the capture of the Mississippi  River, would effectively paralyze the Southern   economy. The Confederates grew desperate  to break the Union blockades, which were  

choking the South economically, prompting  some ingenious developments in naval war,   such as the first use of the submarine in combat. The CSS David would attack the USS New  Ironsides utilizing a spar torpedo-   which amounts to an explosive mounted on  a long pole and put at the bow of a ship.   When the explosive head made contact with  an enemy vessel, it exploded. The crude   weapon successfully detonated but caused  only minor damage to the New Ironsides,   while the resulting geyser of water drowned the  proto-submarine's boiler and immobilized her.

While submarines were tried and tested as ways  of beating the suffocating Union blockades,   the South did manage to produce more ironclads  during the war than the Union. However,   the Union responded by building  a fleet of monitor ships- small,   lightly armored but disproportionately armed  ships that could be produced quickly. These   ships rode so low in the water that only their  turrets were above the breaking waves and carried   very powerful cannons disproportionate to their  small size. The monitors were very effective and   would be exported to Europe, where they  served until after the First World War. The Union blockade would prove decisive,  ending the war by starving the South into   submission. However, immediately after the  war, the US Navy went into a steep decline  

once more. At the end of the war, the US Navy  operated 700 ships and 60 coastal ironclads,   making it the second most powerful in  the world after the Royal Navy. However,   this was slashed down to 48  commissioned ships and 6,000 men,   with decrepit shore facilities and dockyards  that Congress had allowed to languish. When Cuban revolutionaries hired an American ship  to deliver troops to Cuba to fight the Spanish,   the Spanish navy captured said ship and began  to execute its American and British crew,   charging them as pirates. Britain stepped in,  

and negotiations between the three  sides began. During those negotiations,   the Spanish sent an ironclad to dock in New  York harbor. US Navy leaders realized that,   at the moment, they had no ships which could  defeat the Spanish ironclad in service,   prompting a panic by Congress fueled along by the  belief that the US and Spain might go to war soon. In 1881, President James A. Garfield took office  and ordered a review of the US Navy. He discovered   that of 140 ships on the Navy's registry, only  52 were actually operational- and of these,   only 17 were iron-hulled. 14 of the 17 were  obsolete and aging Civil War relics of little  

use in a modern fight. A focus on building  monitor ships meant the US could not project   power past its own shores, and morale in the  US Navy was low as every officer and sailor   knew that in case of war with Spain or any other  maritime power, the US would be easily defeated. The Navy would embark on a period of rebuilding  in 1883 when Garfield's request for lasagna and   increased funding for new ships was approved  by Congress. This led to the construction of  

several protected cruisers as well as the first  battleships of the US Navy: the USS Texas and the   USS Maine. These new ships were quickly proven to  be technologically advanced and extremely capable. As the US accomplished its expansion across the  American continent, it began to look outwards   for new avenues of economic and political power.  The strong support for further American expansion   led to a building boom for the US Navy, with  the building of nine more battleships by the   start of the 20th century. But the US would  soon prove itself a global maritime power. In 1898, the USS Maine was sunk by an internal  explosion while docked in Havana Harbor. The   US had been trying to pressure Spain  to sell some of its colonial holdings,   but Spain had refused. Despite knowing the  Maine had been sunk by an internal accident,  

newspapers pushed anti-Spanish propaganda that  soon put the US on the warpath with Spain. The US Navy would perform admirably during the  war, with the Asiatic Squadron dispatched to   the Philippines, where they crushed the Spanish  fleet protecting their colony. In the Caribbean,   the North Atlantic Squadron likewise delivered  a decisive defeat to Spanish vessels protecting   the Cuban colony. However, despite these  victories, it was clear that the United States   had taken a significant risk. With no overseas  holdings, the US had flirted with disaster,   as severe damage to the ships would have left  them with nowhere to dock for repairs. Likewise,  

operating 7,000 miles from friendly ports,  as in the case of the Asiatic Squadron, meant   that there was always the risk of simply running  out of supplies and being forced to surrender. The taking of the Philippines would give  the US a critical foothold in the Pacific,   while at the start of the 20th century,  President Theodore Roosevelt reached   agreements- sometimes through coercion-  with Latin American nations. However,   Roosevelt had his eyes set on a major  prize- the construction of a canal across   Colombian-controlled Panama. This would  allow ships to easily transit from the   Atlantic to the Pacific, a major strategic and  economic boon for the United States. However,  

the Colombian senate failed to ratify a treaty  that would allow the construction of the canal   by the United States and subsequently leave  it in US control. In response, Roosevelt told   Panamanian rebels that the US Navy would prevent  interference from Colombia if they rebelled. The rebels would successfully liberate themselves  from Colombia thanks to the assistance of the USS   Nashville, which prevented Colombia from  dispatching reinforcements. The canal was  

approved for construction, and the US purchased  control of the Panama Canal Zone for $10 million. Roosevelt's Big Stick diplomacy hinged heavily on  an invigorated US navy, and under his watch, the   American Navy expanded to become the second most  powerful in the world. A program of apprenticeship   also established a formal and professional  military education for enlisted sailors. By  

the construction of the Panama Canal, the United  States Navy began to resemble the Navy of today. But Roosevelt wasn't done. He ordered  the construction of 16 pre-dreadnoughts,   which were formed into what was termed the  'great white fleet' for the color of their   hulls. These mighty ships were then sent on  a cruise around the world, stopping in ports   of friends and enemies alike, with foreign  dignitaries invited aboard. The professional   conduct of the American sailors, coupled  with the considerable firepower on display,   cemented the US as a world power, as well as  the credibility of American military might.

Behind the scenes, though, a fight for  the future of the Navy was playing out,   and it almost ensured the  United States lost World War II. At the turn of the 20th century, two key  technologies were sparking debate about the future   of naval warfare around the world. The first of  these was the torpedo, which had originally been   developed as an unpiloted, self-propelled boat  that could be steered using long yoke lines.  

However, in 1895, the use of the gyroscope allowed  torpedoes to correct their own course, greatly   opening up the possibilities of the torpedo. Soon,  torpedoes were able to alter their course up to a   full 90 degrees from launch, meaning ships no  longer had to be broadside to an enemy vessel. Further refinements to torpedoes allow  them to travel further and without the   need to be physically tethered to a launch  platform. Packed with a large warhead,   torpedoes could sink or seriously damage  even the most well armored battleships,   and soon navies around the world began to develop  small, fast torpedo boats. The Royal Navy would  

be the first to adopt the use of torpedo  boats, with others quickly following suit. The invention of modern torpedoes  at the turn of the century created   great controversy amongst American naval  officers. The battleship was an impressive   and fearsome weapon of war- but during its  entire history, the battleship only played   a decisive role in a single naval engagement:  the Battle of Jutland. In the pre-war years,   many American naval officers were already aware  of the battleship's vulnerability to small,   fast torpedo boats and their general lack of  utility other than as a powerful symbol of   political resolve. They argued that the navy  would be better served with a fleet of small,   nimble torpedo boats for ship-on-ship combat and  a few larger gun platforms for shore bombardment.

At the same time, the airplane was becoming  exponentially more capable. Many had already   seen the writing on the wall during the First  World War, and immediately after the war,   there was a strong push for wider adoption of the  airplane and the aircraft carrier not as tools   to support the battleship but to be the  premier tool of naval power. This ignited   a heated internal war amongst the political  and military leadership of the United States,   with the old guard refusing to believe  the aircraft could ever supplant the   mighty battleship. In 1919, Chief of Naval  Operations William S. Benson even tried to   do away with aviation entirely in the Navy, but  his plans were scuttled by President Roosevelt.

Leading the charge for the adoption of the  aircraft carrier was US Army airman Billy   Mitchell. Mitchell directly attacked Navy  leadership, which made him deeply unpopular,   but his status as a World War I hero gave  him significant public reach. It was his   access to the public that forced the navy to  accept his challenge when he proposed trials   using decommissioned battleships that would pit  his bombers against their ship. Navy leadership  

scoffed at the idea that an airplane could  sink a ship, and the trials were approved-   but Mitchell was sabotaged at every step  of the way. The Battleship lobby was so   afraid that Mitchell might succeed that they  repeatedly changed the rules of the exercise,   including moving the target battleship out to  deeper waters where the reverberation from bomb   strikes couldn't bounce off the sea floor and  strike the ship from below, damaging or even   sinking it. The added distance also significantly  reduced the amount of time Mitchell's pilots   would have for bomb runs, and they even tried to  limit how many bombs could actually be dropped.

Despite the best efforts of Navy leadership,  Mitchell's team struck true, and the target   battleship was sunk in short order. Mitchell  would repeat the results in two more tests,   sinking another two decommissioned dreadnoughts  with his bombers. However, the Navy attempted   to suppress the results of the tests until  they were leaked to the press. Despite this,   the Navy refused to budge and give up its  battleships- but the limitations on the total   tonnage and number of capital ships each  nation could build put in place by the   Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 favored  the building of more aircraft carriers. Before he died, Mitchell predicted that  the next great war would be waged with the   aircraft carrier as the primary tool of naval  might. He also predicted that the war would be   against Japan and that Japan would carry out an  attack on Pearl Harbor using aircraft carriers.

As the tensions leading to World War II mounted,  the Navy saw a significant increase in capability   with the Second Vinson Act, which prompted  a 20% increase in the size of the Navy,   and the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940, which would  lead to the greatest increase in naval power in   US history. The Act authorized the navy to  procure 8 Essex class aircraft carriers,   2 Iowa class battleships, 5 Montana class  battleships, 6 Alaska class large cruisers,   4 Baltimore class heavy cruisers, 4  Atlanta class anti-aircraft cruisers,   an additional 115 destroyers, 43  new submarines, and 15,000 aircraft. As the US began a major shipbuilding program, it  started to lend its old destroyers out to Britain   in 1940 in exchange for access to British  bases. As German U-boat attacks escalated,   the Atlantic Fleet was formally reactivated a  year later. On April 9th of 1941, the destroyer   USS Niblack would be the first US Navy vessel  to engage an enemy ship during the World War 2   period. While engaged in the rescue of the crew of  a Dutch freighter who'd been torpedoed by a German   U-boat, the Niblack detected the submarine  and dropped depth charges on its location.

The submarine had grown in capabilities  during the interwar period. American   naval officers were so impressed with  the German use of U-boats in the First   World War that they lobbied for a large  expansion of the submarine force. However,   on inspection of captured German U-boats,  it was clear that America needed to do   some significant work to increase  the capabilities of its submarines. Older officers believed that submarines should  serve as scouts for the surface fleets and assist   during fleet-on-fleet engagements. However,  submarines were far slower than surface vessels   and unsuited for the role. Younger officers,  impressed by the German U-boat campaign in   the First World War, instead lobbied for  the submarine to be used as an offensive   weapon to attack merchant shipping deep in  enemy waters. They would win out in the end,  

and shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked, US  submarines were let loose on Japanese shipping. In the wake of World War II, the United  States would become- and remain- the   undisputed global naval power. But how  it projected that power was once more in   fierce debate. The Truman administration  wished to depend on strategic bombers in  

use by the Air Force combined with nuclear  weapons as the primary deterrent to war,   while the Navy argued that conventional power  was still critical to safeguarding US interests. The Navy also wanted the role of strategic nuclear  bombing for itself, prompting intense disagreement   from the Air Force. Eventually, Truman would get  his way, and the Air Force would get its strategic   bombers, but as the Korean War broke out, it  became clear that nuclear power alone was not   enough to deter conflict. All of Truman's proposed  cuts to the Navy would end up being reversed,   though the Air Force would remain the  strategic arm of the nuclear triad. The Korean War also made it clear that in order  to preserve peace, the United States could not   afford to be an isolationist power anymore.  Traditionally, the size of the US naval fleet   always shrunk dramatically during peacetime, but  now, for the first time in its history, the United   States realized that it needed a much larger  peacetime navy than ever before. The US would  

develop the seeds of what would eventually become  its global strategic commands, with different navy   fleets assigned to different geographic areas  around the world. The threat of a US fleet near   the shores of potential hot spots had a dramatic  effect in limiting the spread of new wars. The adoption of nuclear power made  this possible, and now US carriers   and nuclear submarines could prowl waters  far from home without intense logistical   support. With the successful integration  of submarine-launched ballistic missiles,   the Navy was once more treading on the Air  Force's toes- who at the time held the sole   job of responding to nuclear attacks with its  own ballistic missiles. But submarine-launched   weapons were far more survivable than  land-based ones, and the Navy's fleet   of ballistic missile submarines- or boomers-  became the third leg of the nuclear triad. Despite its global mission, though, the Navy  would shrink again due to the focus on ground   and air combat in Korea and then Vietnam. By  1978, the Navy numbered at only 217 ships and  

119 submarines- dwarfed by the Soviet fleet  in everything but aircraft carriers. American   military planners believed that in case of war,  there was a good chance the US Navy would be   beaten by the Soviet Navy and its superior  numbers, prompting President Ronald Reagan   to dramatically increase shipbuilding.  The Navy swelled to 588 vessels by 1988,   though inevitably, that number would  decline with the end of the Cold War. Entering the new millennium, the Navy operated  under a doctrine that called for the US to   fight and win two simultaneous high-intensity wars  anywhere in the world. The importance of the Navy,   with its global reach, was paramount in such a  scenario, yet the lack of a true peer competitor   led to stagnation. US anti-submarine  capabilities, which had once made it   the best in the world at the task, had atrophied  to such a sorry state that in exercises against   a Swedish sub in 2005, the HMS Gotland managed  to score multiple killing blows on a US carrier.

The focus on the war on terror wouldn't help  matters much for the Navy, and it wouldn't   be until the 2010s that the United States would  wake up to the threat posed by the rising power   of China. In his second term, President Barack  Obama announced the famous pivot to the Pacific,   moving a significant amount of Atlantic  naval power into the Pacific theater. Up against China, the US Navy realized that it  was now facing a foe that its aging Cold War-era   fleet would be ill-prepared to face. A slew of  rapid modernization initiatives were immediately   put into place, including the development  of a new generation of aircraft carriers,   a new carrier fighter, and a new anti-ship  missile. The Harpoon had performed admirably in   Cold War era conflicts, but by the 21st century,  it was dated technology, and there was a loss of   confidence that its small warhead of 500 pounds  would ensure a fatal blow on an enemy ship. Advancements in missile defense also made  the probability of intercept unacceptably   high. The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile would  be set to rectify those problems with a warhead  

double the size, and stealth features  to dramatically reduce intercept ranges. Yet today despite fielding a navy more capable  than its Chinese counterpart, the US Navy still   faces a significant shortage of combat power. To  remedy this situation, the Navy has begun what   might be its most revolutionary change since the  adoption of the aircraft carrier. Known as the   Ghost Fleet, the US Navy is planning to add over  100 unmanned vessels to directly support manned   ships. These drone ships would offset superior  Chinese numbers and undertake missions too   dangerous for crewed ships in China's increasingly  lethal anti-access/area-denial bubble. The United States Navy has been the dominant  naval power for nearly a hundred years and is   set to remain so despite challenges from China.  Yet the rapidly evolving nature of technology  

could change the balance of power  in the blink of an eye if the Navy   proves as stubborn about embracing  change as it has been in the past. Now go check out What If Hitler Won WWII-  1950s, or click this other video instead!

2024-05-19 00:10

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