On February 12, 1922, the American fleet began their annual exercises.
These exercises had been conducted for a very long time and were designed to test the readiness of the sips and the men who sailed on them. But in 1922, a very different atmosphere hung heavy over the entire fleet. Coming off of a massive build up during the Great War, the country suddenly was gripped by a desire for peace and demilitarization. Dollars were being spent on expensive ships and the arms race around the world was draining national budgets of money that could be used for developing other types of infrastructure. The prevailing thought was that the great menace of the German war machine was over, and the country was not yet aware that it had a Pacific threat that could even begin to challenge our shores.
From the Naval history web site:
Toward the end of the 19th century, the Navy gradually entered into Huntington’s “Oceanic Era,” a period in which the nation shifted its sights from homeland territorial defense to defense of its interests at sea and its overseas territories. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the North Atlantic and Asiatic Squadrons conducted sea control operations in the Caribbean and the Philippines, respectively. Resounding victory in the war directly resulted in the U.S. acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and the subsequent annexation of the Republic of Hawaii through the Newlands Resolution. These new territories increased the defense responsibilities of the Navy and Army and contributed to an increase in peacetime-tailored forward presence forces in the Western Pacific and Caribbean.
The period’s most influential navalist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, contended that apart from requisite forces for coaling stations, the Navy should consolidate its ships in a home battle fleet, rather than forward squadrons that could be destroyed in detail. Nonetheless, the Navy continued to maintain the North Atlantic Squadron, the European Squadron, the South Atlantic Squadron, the Pacific Squadron, and the Asiatic Squadron, with the preponderance of heavy naval forces in the North Atlantic Squadron.
In 1905, Roosevelt eliminated the Mediterranean and South Atlantic Squadrons and over time reorganized the Navy into an Atlantic Fleet, a Pacific Fleet, and an Asiatic Fleet, with the majority of heavy battleships allocated to the Atlantic Fleet in support of War Plan Black to counter potential German naval forces that might seek to establish an advanced base in the Caribbean. Although the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets focused on sophisticated fleet exercises near the United States, they were occasionally surged for short deployments from 1905 to 1914 to signal diplomatic support to various states and demonstrate U.S. power. These were frequently opposed by naval officers, who protested these distractions from fleet exercises in support of war plans. The most famous cruise for diplomatic purposes of this period was that of the Great White Fleet of 1907–1909, which highlighted the importance of refueling stations and the relative utility of oil over coal to power naval ships.
With the outbreak of World War I, the nation ceased deploying the Navy on forward surges, leaving it to concentrate on exercises in its Atlantic and Pacific Fleets in preparation for its potential involvement in the war. Small groups of forward naval forces in the Caribbean and China did conduct minor diplomatic and peacekeeping operations. Additionally, the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 increased the ability of the fleet to consolidate.
So, on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, the fleet was underway conducting their annual exercise.
From the February 12, 1922, Washington Times Newspaper came this report:
ATLANTIC FLEET STARTS DRILLING
Intensive Training Planned.
Sailors Seem Embodied With Old Spirit
The battleship force and all the Vessels of the Atlantic fleet In Cuban waters have assembled at the naval station at Guantanamo, and the entire personnel has started on the very strenuous schedule of drills find exercise’s outlined for them.
The commander-in-chief. Admiral Hilary P. Jones, U. S. N., has been there for about a week on his flag ship, the U. S. S. Columbia. The battleship force, in command of Vice Admiral John D. McDonald, U. S. N. with its auxiliaries, has been at Guacanayabo gulf, about one hundred and eighty miles west, since January 10, in active and hard rehearsal for the schedule to be carried out.
Though the ships are undermanned no let-up has been allowed to creep into this period of the training at sea. The program is a most intensive one, and until their arrival in Cuban waters none of the men has been ashore since leaving northern ports. The liberty on shore will be devoted to athletics on the station reservation, so that there will be nothing to in any way detract from the one purpose of the commander-in-chief, and that to reach the highest attainable efficiency with the personnel and material at hand.
Old Spirit Prevails.
In harmony with this plan there is eagerness for sea training and a presence of old-time spirit, which is said to be most encouraging to every officer. With the battleship force are the destroyer squadrons, except those ships with 50 per cent personnel now at Charleston, S. C., submarine squadrons, the ships and tugs of the train and an air detachment of seaplanes to operate with the fleet in its practice. Much work and some play is the rule for this year’s program, and the play is athletics. The fleet in an expansive bay and in proximity to the sea, with fine shore facilities for drills and small arms practice, as well as every branch of athletics, has nearly four months to itself, undisturbed, and at a station screened off from the rest of the world by a mountain range on one side and the sea on the other. The sailor man is being trained for sea on ships at sea, and after all, that is what he went in the Navy for, and the life that rounds out a real man-of-war’s man and a Navy up to topnotch efficiency.
But the fleet that sailed was already feeling the effects of the Washington Naval Arms Limitation treaty that had not even been ratified yet. Not enough men. Low on fuel. Ships aging and slowing down.
From the February 9, 1922, Washington Times newspaper:
NAVY STOPS WORK ON 14 GIANT CRAFT
Scrapping or Conversion to Merchant Ships in Store for 11 War Vessels.
In anticipation of ratification of the naval limitation treaty, which resulted from the Washington conference, and under which only three of the vessels involved will be completed as war craft, Secretary of the Navy Denby yesterday afternoon, under direction of President suspended construction work on fourteen capital ships under the treaty provisions.
The action of Secretary Denby after Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt had consulted with President Harding on the terms of the treaty affecting the new ships. The President approved the work be immediately suspended on the eight superdreadnoughts and six battle cruisers. It is estimated the building operations thus halted have cost the government approximately $5,000,000 a month.
Contracts to Be Canceled.
Following ratification of contracts for the new ships will be canceled. The ultimate cost of this cancellation cannot be determined in advance, but naval officials believe that a considerable saving will be made through yesterday’s action.
Only one capital ship under construction was exempted from the suspension order. She is the Colorado, more than 90 percent complete, and which will be retained in the permanent fleet.”
What about the men? With all these ships being cancelled, would we need the men?
From the same Washington Times article, members of the House naval committee reported that there was a strong sentiment for a sharp reduction in naval personnel. While some felt 100,000 should be sufficient, with the large cuts, many felt a base force of 50,000 would be sufficient.
Just as significant, the Navy stopped working on fortifying the far-flung island outposts such as Guam and Wake and cancelled orders for strengthening the defenses of the Philippine Islands.
From the Navy History Web Site:
During the Inter-War Period, the large fleet consolidated first in 1919 into two equally sized Atlantic and Pacific Fleets to prepare to counter either Great Britain or Japan and then in 1922 into a single United States Fleet largely based on the West Coast to counter Japan. Avoiding forward deployments that were perceived as provocative, the U.S. Fleet focused on annual fleet exercises and experiments near the United States. The fleet was only deployed forward once this period, to Australia and the southwest Pacific in 1925, which elicited significant criticism from Japan.
Harding and the visionaries told the Senate that it had great confidence in the peaceful intentions of all of the nations that signed the treaties. Including Japan.
In his speech to the Senate, Harding noted this about objections to the treaties:
“It has been said, if this be true, these are mere meaningless treaties. And therefore valueless. Let us accept no such doctrine of despair as that. If nations may not establish by mutual understanding the rules and principles which are to govern their relationships; if a sovereign and solemn plight of faith by leading nations of the earth is valueless; if nations may not trust one another, then indeed, there is little on which to hang our faith on advancing civilization or the furtherance of peace. Either we must live and aspire and achieve under a free and common understanding among peoples, with mutual trust, respect and forbearance; and exercising full sovereignty, or else brutal armed force will dominate, and the sorrows and burdens of war in this decade will be turned to the chaos and hopelessness of the next. “
So how did the world do after this radical treaty?
By the time the Japanese formally withdrew from both the Washington and the London Naval Treaties, America found itself in the position of not having enough ships or men to meet the threat. In February 1942, twenty years after this disastrous treaty was signed, there was not enough ships or men to rescue the brave soldiers and sailors that were being crushed by the Imperial Japanese forces. And all of those weakened island outposts that had been signed away were either already in Japanese hands or on the verge.
Article XIX of the treaty prohibited the British, the Japanese and the Americans from constructing any new fortifications or naval bases in the Pacific Ocean region. Existing fortifications in Singapore, the Philippines and Hawaii could remain. That was a significant victory for Japan, as newly fortified British or American bases would be a serious problem for the Japanese in the event of any future war. That provision of the treaty essentially guaranteed that Japan would be the dominant power in the Western Pacific Ocean and was crucial in gaining Japanese acceptance of the limits on capital ship construction.
In August of 1942, the weakened outposts and lack of sufficient ships and manpower would be felt even more. The Marines that landed on Guadalcanal would languish for months while the “treaty ships” did their very best to try and keep the Japanese at bay.