World War II National Navies: U.S. Navy

American World War II destroyer escorts
Figure 1.--Here two sutiably outfitted boys are visiting their father's ship, pergaps in San Diego. The vessels in the background look like destroyer escorts. This was an entirely new class of ship, built for the first time during the War to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding U.S. Navy. They were extensively used for both convoy oprtations and as radar picket ships. In the later role they were exposed to Japanese Kamakazee attacks.

The U.S. Navy did not have the long tradition of the British Poyal Navy, but interestingly the United States was the only country that had any success in individual ship to ship combat against Royal Navy ships. The primary achievement of the U.S, Navy had been its role in blockading the southern Confederacy in the Civil War. The U.S. Navy was not heavily involved in World War I. America entered the War after the major sea battles (especually Jutland) had been fought. The Navy's principal task was getting the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) safely to France to reinforce the Allies on the Western Front. The Navy's Marine Corps was deployed there as infantry with the U.S. Army. The U.S. Navy like the Royal Navy decommisdioned many vessels in the inter-War years as part of the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaties. In contrast to the Army, the Congress approved substantial appropriations for naval contruction, especially after Japan failed to accept continued limits on naval construction. Most naval strategists before the War believed that the backbone of the fleet was the big-gun battleships. The United States also buit a fleet of carriers. The U.S. Navy was America's primary military force in 1941. President Roosevelt committed the Navy to an undeclared war against German in the North Atlantic even before America entered the War. He also noved the Pacific Fleet, including the new carriers, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a show of force against the Japanese. The American carriers were the primary target of Admiral Yamamoto's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Pacific Fleet was the only threat to Japan's desire to seiuze the Southern rResoource it coveted. The Japanese carrier attack devestated Battleship Row, but the carriers were not at Pearl when the Japanese attacked (December 1941). Had there been a climatic battle at sea, given the capacity of the Japanese carriers, the Pacific fleet might have been much more seriously damaged than what occurred at Pearl. With the battleships destroyed or sunk, Thus the Navy was forced to develop new tactics built around carriers. The Japanese were able in 6 months to seize most of the Southeast asia and the South Pacific, including the oil fields in the Dutch East Indies. The American carriers that escaped destruction at Pearl managed to sink four of the six Japanese fleet carriers at Midway (June 1942). That bought the United States the time for American industry to deliver large numbers of ships of every categoty. The most important was of course the Essex class carriers. Carrier tasks forces spearheaded the Navy's hearlded "island hopping" campaign. The U.S. Navy was forced to fight a two ocean war. They not only faced the Japanese in the Pacific, but a formidable U-boat campaign in the Atlantic. It was not the Germans, however, that conducted the only successful commerce war. It was the American submarine force which virtually destroyed the Japanese merchant marine and cut Japan off from the resources it won in its Southern Resource Zone. Southeast Asia. Whole new ship types were created, including destroyer escorts (DE), motor torpedo boats (PT) and jeep carriers. The Navy also created a wide range of landing cradt to support amphibious operations, including Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs). Those that sailed LSTs called them Large Slow Targets. Both Japan and Germany built ships during the war, nut neither could match the productive capability of the United States which opened whole new shipyards. The United States mid-way through the (1943) had a navy that was larger than the combined fleets of all the other combatant ountries, both Allied ans Axis. By the end of the War, the U.S. Navy had added hundreds of new ships. This included 18 fleet carriers and eight battleships. The U.S. Navy had over 70 percent of the naval vessels of 1,000 tons or larger. This was the result of both American consruction and Axis losses.

U.S. Navy Background

The U.S. Navy did not have the long tradition of the British Poyal Navy, but interestingly the United States was the only country that had any success in individual ship to ship combat against Royal Navy ships. The primary achievement of the U.S, Navy had been its role in blockading the southern Confederacy in the Civil War.

World War I (1914-18)

America's entry into World War I was the deciding factor in the War. Here it was the American infantry that brike the dead lock on the Western Front. The Royal Navy and French blockade of Germany played a major role in undermining the German and Autrian economies and civilian morale. This was largely accomplished before America entered the War. America had the third largest navy in the world, second only to the British and German navies. The U.S. Navy was not heavily involved in World War I even though it was the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare that brought the Inited States into the War. America entered the War after the major sea battles (especually Jutland) had been fought. The 300 warships of the American Navy only added to the effectiveness of the Allied blockade, but were primarily deployed in the North Atlantic to guard the sea lanes between America and the Britain and France. Especially important was guarding the troopships that delivered the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France. The AEF was safely delivered to France to reinforce the Allies on the Western Front. The Navy's Marine Corps was deployed there as infantry with the U.S. Army. A few Navy vessels were deployed in the Mediterranean, but the bulk of the Navy was deploted in the North Atlantics. Only a few Navy vessels were sunk during the War. The cruiser San Diego sunk by mines layed by a German U-boat off New York. Two Navy destroyers protecting convoys were sunk by U-boats. It was German U-boats and the German decesion to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare that brought America into the War. The German U-boat campaign proved unsuccessful because of the convoy system imnplemented by the Royal Navy and the invention of ASDAC (SONAR). The United States had a small sunmarine force of 30 ships. The U.S. Navy established its Submarine School at the main Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut (January 19, 1917). The AmeriWan submarines would play little role in World War I, but the force would play a major role in World War II.

Inter-War Era (1920s-30s)

The U.S. Navy was affected by the end of World War I and the ovrall political and economic trends of the inter-War era. The American people turned away from the Democrats and Wilsonian Idealism. The vast majority of Americans not only wanred a return to peacetime pursuits, but were less interested in the progressive reform movement pf the early-20th century. There were a range of issues that America needed to address, almost all of which were domestic matters: adjusting to demobilization, farm problems, labor issues, immigration, prohibition, and arange of other issues. The eurphoria of the World War I victory soon sissolved into disillusionment and rejection of war. Many Americans came to regret participation in World War I. Many were objected to the treaty-making process that followed the War. There was not only a rejection of the War, but a growing feeling that industrilists (arms makers which began to be referred to as the 'merchahts of death') had drawn America into the War. The result was a rapid growth in isolationism with substantial pacifust overtones, Americans attempted to withdraw from international commitments. Wilson attempted to make the League of Nations the center piece of post-War policy. The U.S. Senate rejected the League and as a result the Treary of Versailles (March 1920). Americans wanted no part of the responsibilities associated with world leadership. Republican Senator Warren G. Harding and Republican presidential candidate encapsulated what was on the minds of most voter called for 'a return to normalcy'. It was not even a world, but most Americans liked the sound of it. It would only later become all too paarent that try as it might to isolate itself, the United STates would not be able to isolate itself from the world. The U.S. Navy like the Royal Navy decommisioned many vessels in the inter-War years as part of the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaties. Thus the U.S. Navy had the task of meeting its responsibilities with a much smaller force. In contrast to the Army, the Congress approved substantial appropriations for naval contruction, especially after Japan failed to accept continued limits on naval construction. Most naval strategists before the War believed that the backbone of the fleet was the big-gun battleships, but an increasing number of vissionary thinkers began to see air power as the future.

Force Structure

When the Japanese strck at Pearl Harbor, the United States had afleet of nearly 350 major combat ships (December 1941). An equal number were under construction. [Westcott] Japanese assessments were based primarily on the active units at the time. Of course, the US. Navy, unlike the Imperial Fllet had to ocen commitments. The United States had a substantial force of big-gun battleships. The general consensus within the Navy was that battleship ws the capital ship type and that fleet actions would be won by big-gun battleships. Frtunately for the United Sttes, this was also the assessment of most Japanese commanders. The U.S. Navy after the Japanese pulled out of the Washington naval limitation treaty tesumed building battleships, although not immeditely. The first new bttle ship was the USS North Carolina (BB-55) (1937). As the danger of war increased, the United States began expanding the fleet. There were some forward thinking admirals that saw the future was with carriers and naval aviation. Thus the United States also buit a fleet of carriers, smller than the battleship fleet, but still substntial. And although given little attention at the time, there was also a sizeable submarine force. Tragically, the Navy refused to invest in developing a reliable torpedo. The United States fleet was substantial. The backbone of the flle was 17 battleships (with 15 under construction). They included: 1 Arkansas (1912), 2 New York class (1914), 2 Nevada class (1916), 2 Pennsylvania class (1916), 3 New Mexico class (1917-1919), 2 California class (1920-1921), 3 Colorado class (1921-1923), 2 North Carolina class (1941). Not fully ppreciated were 7 aircraft carriers (with 11 under construction): 2 Lexington class (1927), 1 Ranger (1933), 3 Yorktown class (1937-1941), 1 Wasp (1941). Also important were 18 heavy cruisers (with 8 Baltimore class under construction): 2 Pensacola class (1929-1930), 6 Northampton class (1929-1930), 2 Indianapolis class (1932-1933), 7 Astoria class (1934-1937), 1 Wichita (1939). There were 19 light cruisers (with 32 Cleveland class under construction): 10 Omaha class, 7 Brooklyn class, 2 Helena class, 6 anti-aircraft cruisers (4 in service, 2 almost ready). There were 171 destroyers (with 188 Benson, Livermore and Fletcher class under construction): 1 Allen (1917), 71 Flush-Deckers (1918-1922), 8 Farragut class (1934-1935), 12 Mahan class (1936-1937), 8 Porter class (1936-1937), 5 Somers class (1938-1939), 2 Dunlop class (1938), 19 Gridley class (1938-1940), 38 Benson and Livermore class (1940-1941). Finlly there were 114 submarines (with 79 Gato class under construction): 8 ‘O’ class (1918), 19 ‘R’ class (1918-1919), 38 ‘S’ class (1919-1924), 3 Barracuda class (1924-1925), 1 Argonaut minelayer (1928), 2 Nautilus class (1930), 1 Dolphin (1932), 2 Cachalot class (1934), 10 ‘P’ class (1935-1937), 16 ‘new S’ class (1937-1939), 12 ‘T’ class (1941-1942). The Navy would prove to be unprepared for world war II, but it was much better prepared than the Army. Fortuntly for the Army, it would have more time than the Nacy to prepare for combat. The U.S. Navy was America's primary military force in 1941. It fit in more with isolationist thinking which was opposed to American particiption in another War. Many thought that the Navy by dminating the Atlnicand Pacific Oceans couldprovide the security needed to keep America out of another War. As World war II developed, President Roosevelt woud orderthe U.S. Nvy into an undeclred shooting war with German U-boats (September 1941) bedore the Japanese carriet attck on Pearl Harbor propelled America into the War. It was a combination of code breaking, the number of ships underconstruction, and rapid developmnt of advance planes that would allow the U,S, Naby to recover so quickly from Pearl Harbor.

World War II (1939-41)

The United States declared itseld neutral when Hitler launched World War II in Europe as required by the neutrality laws. The Roosevelt Administration was, however, far ffom neutral and moved to repeal and evade the neutrality laws. President Roosevelt committed the Navy to an undeclared war against German in the North Atlantic even before America entered the War. He also noved the Pacific Fleet, including the new carriers, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a show of force against the Japanese.

Pearl Harbor: The End of Isolationism (December 1941)

The Isolationists were one of the most powerful political movements in American history. Beginning with President Washington, there has always been a strong isolationist movement in America, one that is still presentr today. For about 4 years President Roosevelkt had been fighting the isolationists who had come to see him as a war mongerer, detwrmined to drag America into the European war. Republican Congressmen were importaht isolationists. There were also Democrats, including the Ambassaor to Great Britain, Joeph P. Kennedy. Perhaps the most iportant isolationist was aviator Charles Lindurgh. the greatest hero of the inter-War era. He was an influential voice in the most important isolatiuonist group--the American First Committee. The President won the major battles with the isolationists, including repealing the Neutrality Acts, aiding Britin, beginning a peace-time draft, and Lend Lease. Even so, the isolationists significatly impeeded his efforts to resist Axis aggression. Even as the bombs were falling at Pearl, the American Firsters staged a major rally in Pittsburgh. In a hall festooned with red, white, and wall bannets, the American Firsters engaged in anti-Roosevelt cheers awaiting the main address by Congressman Gerald Nye. He brushed aside the first news reports of the attack and delivered an anti-Roosevelt tirade, charging that the President was leading us into War and included the standard isolationist line that the munitioin makers were behind the War. Immediately afterwards Nye would blame the British. Few of the isolationists includiung Nye knew as they filed out of the auditorium that their movement that had been so powerful and influential had literally evaporate as soon as the American public learned about the Japanese sneak attack on America. The American carriers were the primary target of Admiral Yamamoto's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Pacific Fleet was the only threat to Japan's desire to seiuze the Southern resources it coveted. The Japanese carrier attack devestated Battleship Row, but the carriers were not at Pearl when the Japanese attacked (December 1941). Had there been a climatic battle at sea, given the capacity of the Japanese carriers, the Pacific fleet might have been much more seriously damaged than what occurred at Pearl.

American Industry

Naval forces perhaps more than any other military force ws areflection of a country's industrial might. America eben with the Depression was the largest industrial power in the world. It thus had the potential to be the world's largest naval power. No single power, inclusing Britain, could have challrnged the United STates. A weakened Britain after Worlkd War I made the monumental decesion not to resist American emergence as the wotld's primary naval power, but rather to cooperate with America. Japan could not have matched American naval power except for the fact that the United States strictly limited naval building while the Japanese used a substantial share of its growing industrial base to military production, especually naval contruction. The Washington Naval Treaties which widely unpopular in Japan, were ctually highly advantageous to Japan. Whike they limited American naval contruction, they had little impact on the Imperial Navy. Japan did not have the industrial capacity to build such beyond its treaty capacity, esoecially in the 1920s. This began to change in the 1930s when Japan withdrew from naval limitation treaties. Pearl Harbor intantly removed any self-imposed American cinstraints on naval building. The full force of American industry was thrown into building a naval force, an undertaking Japan could now not hope to match. It would take some time, however, for American industry to overcome years od self imposed limitations.

American Naval Operations

It was in World War II that the ballance of naval power shifted from the British Royal Navy to the United States Navy. The United States Navy, although severely weakened by the Japanese carrier strike on Pearl Harbor, played a decisive role in the defeat of both Japanese militarism and European Fascism. Unexpectedly. it was the American submarine force that would play another critical role. American carriers cut Japan off from the resources of the empire it had seized. It was America that conducted the only successful submarine campaign of the War. Not only was the Japanese war economy starved of raw material, but by the end of the War, the Japanese people were facing starvation. The war in Europe is often seen as primarily a air and ground war. The most important battle of the war the Battle of the Atlantic. The U.S. Navy entered this battle even before America entered the War. Without victory here, none of the other Allied land and air battles were possible. And all of Europe would have fallen to either Soviet of NAZI totalitarian rule. American shipyards including many new ones would produce a miracle of construction. Ameican shipyards produce more ship tonnage than all foreign shipyards combined, both naval vessels and merchabnt vessels. At the end of thecWar the United States possessed a masduve fleet, the nost powerful naval force in the history of warfare.

The Pacific War (1941-45)

The Pacific War was primarily a naval war. The battleships which naval planners thought would decide a Pacific War played only a minor part in the War. With the battleships destroyed or sunk, Thus the Navy was forced to develop new tactics built around carriers. It was carriers that began the war and would play the key role in the War. The Japanese were able in 6 months to seize most of the Southeast asia and the South Pacific, including the oil fields in the Dutch East Indies. It was American carriers that would destroy the Imperial Fleet and help seize the islands that would bring the war home to the Japanese people. The American carriers that escaped destruction at Pearl managed to sink four of the six Japanese fleet carriers at Midway (June 1942). That bought the United States the time for American industry to deliver large numbers of ships of every categoty. The most important was of course the Essex class carriers. Carrier tasks forces spearheaded the Navy's hearlded "island hopping" campaign. It was not the Germans, however, that conducted the only successful commerce war. It was the American submarine force which virtually destroyed the Japanese merchant marine and cut Japan off from the resources it won in its Southern Resource Zone (SRZ)--Southeast Asia.

Atlantic Operations (1941-45)

The U.S. Navy was forced to fight a two ocean war. They not only faced the Japanese in the Pacific, but a formidable U-boat campaign in the Atlantic.

New Ship Types

Whole new ship types were created, including destroyer escorts (DE), motor torpedo boats (PT) and jeep carriers. The Navy also created a wide range of landing cradt to support amphibious operations, including Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs). Those that sailed LSTs called them Large Slow Targets.

Ship Construction

Both Japan and Germany built ships during the war, but neither could match the productive capability of the United States which opened whole new shipyards. The United States mid-way through the (1943) had a navy that was larger than the combined fleets of all the other combatant countries, both Allied ans Axis. By the end of the War, the U.S. Navy had added hundreds of new ships. This included 18 fleet carriers and eight battleships. The U.S. Navy had over 70 percent of the naval vessels of 1,000 tons or larger. This was the result of both American consruction and Axis losses.

Technology


Sources

Westcott, Allan Ferguson et al. American Sea Power Since 1775 (Chicago: J.B. Lippincott Company: 1947). This is a United States Naval Academy textbook.







CIH - WW II






Navigate the CIH World war II Section:
[Return to Main World War II country navy page]
[Return to Main U.S. Navy page]
[Return to Main U.S. World war II servicespge]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Main Holocaust page]
[Allies] [Biographies] [Children] [Concentration camps] [Countries] [Decision] [Denyers/Apologists] [Displaced persons] [Economics] [Eisatzgruppen] {German Jews] [Ghettoes] [Impact] [Justice] [Literature]
[Movies] [NAZIs] [Occupied Poland] [Process] [Propagada] [Resistance] [Restitution] [Questions] [SS] [Special situations] [Targets] [Wansee Conference] [World War II]
[Main mass killing pagel





Created: 5:11 AM 12/18/2011
Last updated: 7:00 PM 3/14/2016