Great White Fleet Visit Marks a Century of Friendship
The historic visit by the Great White Fleet 100 years ago became a turning point in Australia-US relations, helping to forge an enduring alliance between the two countries. Visits by a U.S. Navy ship this August and September are helping to commemorate the endurance of that partnership.
The USS John S McCain, a destroyer and member of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet based in Japan, is visiting ports in Sydney, Melbourne and Albany as part of the 100th anniversary of the famous voyage. It is being escorted for the commemorative visit by the HMAS Darwin and HMAS Sirius of the Royal Australian Navy.
The visit is part of re-enactment celebrations of the fleet’s epic 14-month voyage around the world from December 1907 to February 1909. The flotilla of 16 American warships painted all in white and carrying 14,000 sailors had been sent by President Theodore Roosevelt to test naval readiness, establish a global presence and generate international goodwill. It made more than 20 port calls including Japan, the Philippines and Brazil, but its stops in Australia during August and September 1908 were among the most notable.
The visit became a turning point in Australia-US relations, helping to cement a century-long friendship. Thousands lined the shore to welcome the fleet as it steamed into the Australian harbors. The visit also saw a surge in popular support for an independent Australian navy, which was inaugurated just three years later in 1911.
“This experience in diplomatic outreach to Australia set the stage for a century of closer ties and warm relations between the United States and Australia,” according to Donald C. Winter, Secretary of the U.S. Navy. “May the bonds of friendship between our navies and our nations always be strong and based on mutual respect.”
On hand to greet the USS McCain in the Sydney Harbor were U.S. Ambassador Robert McCallum and Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, as well as members of the Royal Australian Navy Band and the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet band. A flotilla of vessels from the Royal Motor Yacht Club and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia are also participating in the welcome. “We are delighted and honored to host the USS John S. McCain and her crew during their visit to Australia, just as our forefathers did 100 years ago,” said Defense Minister Fitzgibbon. “This visit serves to further strengthen the close ties our nations enjoy.”
In Sydney, Ambassador McCallum co-hosted with the Commander of the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Nigel Coates, a reception on board the USS McCain. The Ambassador also participated with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in the official launch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s traveling exhibition, “Great White Fleet to Coral Sea: Naval Strategy and the Development of Australia-United States Relations, 1900-1945.” He also spoke to the American Australian Association’s Great White Fleet Ball.
On Friday, August 29, the USS John McCain made its way to Melbourne where Ambassador McCallum again co-hosted a reception on board with Admiral Coates. Earlier that day, Ambassador McCallum went with representatives from the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Navy to pay courtesy calls on Governor David de Kretser and Lord Mayor John So. Ambassador McCallum also participated in the opening of the Great White Fleet Traveling Exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. On Monday, September 1, Ambassador McCallum spoke at the Naval & Military Club luncheon in honor of the Centenary of the Great White Fleet.
The fleet completed its visit with port calls in Albany, Western Australia.
The McCain has a crew of 24 officers and 270 enlisted personnel.