The United States Navy is a proud military force, one of seven US uniformed services, and the strongest, most advanced navy in the world. The US Navy is also the largest in the world, both when it comes to battle fleet weight and the number of aircraft carriers. But when did the Navy start and how did it get to be so big and so powerful? US Navy history begins with the United States of America’s history and tells a similar story of a ragtag team of revolutionaries becoming a major world power.
Currently, the US Navy is part of the Department of Defense, and it is managed by a division within the DOD called the Department of the Navy. The president of the United States is commander-in-chief of the Navy and is usually advised by the senior-most naval officer in the country, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). However, if the Chairman or the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are naval officers, they outrank the CNO.
The Start of US Navy History
The population of Colonial America included an abundance of sailors, shipbuilders, and other career seafarers. So, when the American Revolutionary War began gaining traction, the state of Massachusetts was able to quickly assemble a naval militia of its own. Certain members of the Second Continental Congress were hesitant to create a national navy, given that their enemy, the British Empire, was in possession of the most powerful navy in the world at that time. Eventually, George Washington made the establishment of the Navy possible when he commissioned the interdiction of British merchant ships. Today, the US Navy recognizes October 13, 1775, as the day it first came to be, even if that formation was temporary. On that day, the Continental Congress bought the first two ships that would make up the Continental Navy. When the Revolutionary War ended, the Continental Navy was disbanded.
Civil War Era
Between 1790 and 1797, the United States had no sea-based military force. As a result, many American merchant ships were subject to harassment and plunder on the high seas. In 1794, Congress passed the Naval Act, and the first American warships were demised and constructed over the next three years. The USS United States, USS Constellation, and the USS Constitution were brought into service in 1797. Their first conflict was with France in 1798 and 1799.
When the War of 1812 rolled around, the United States Navy had grown considerably and was ready for major battles. It defeated the British Royal Navy eleven times and was successful in securing American sovereignty over territories near Lake Erie and Lake Champlain. After the War of 1812, the Navy’s primary purpose was to protect ports and US merchant ships in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Pacific, and around Africa.
When civil war broke out in the United States, the Union’s ownership of the Navy gave them a clear advantage over the South. They were able to block off most Southern ports and stop the flow of supplies and reinforcements. In 1862, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia were the first ironclad warships to be deployed by the United States, facing off at the Battle of Hampton Roads.
20th Century Advancements
After the Civil War, the US Navy once again fell into the background of American military development. But things changed when steel began dominating American manufacturing around 1880. It was at this time that the first steel-hulled warships were built. After a victorious battle against Spain in 1898, the US Navy gained a new reputation for being high-tech and on the cutting edge of military science. Numerous ships were built during these years of a booming steel industry, and the US Navy came to be regarded as equal in might to British and German fleets.
World War I
During World War I, the United States Navy’s main mission was to intercept and destroy German U-Boats and other enemy submarines. But the Navy didn’t really enter the thick of things until 1917, when Battleship Division Nine joined the Sixth Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet. A year earlier, the Naval Act of 1916 was passed, speeding up production of American warships and furthering the Navy’s involvement in the war.
In 1921, expansion of the Navy was stalled by the Washington Naval Conference. Instead, incomplete battle-cruiser hulls were re-purposed to build aircraft carriers such as the USS Saratoga and USS Lexington. As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise, and USS Wasp were built. By then, Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for the United States Navy had encouraged senior military officers to continue technological advancement research, one being the utilization of magnets on torpedoes. War Plan Orange was also developed at this time, as a hypothetical plan in case of war with Japan and other Pacific powers. Little did Roosevelt and his cabinet know that war with Japan was actually coming.
World War II
In 1937, battleship production resumed, quickly growing the Navy into a formidable force and the United States’ naval power only grew as WWII started and progressed. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prompted America to finally join the war. Although this attack was unsuccessful, it was certainly a startling and tragic blow.
US Naval Damage from Pearl Harbor:
- 8 battleships
- 3 cruisers
- 3 destroyers
- 1 anti-aircraft training ship
- 1 minelayer
It comes as no surprise that entry into the US prompted even more tremendous growth in the Navy as the country faced a massive war requiring extensive sea power. In the Pacific Theater, the US played a vital role in successfully accomplishing the “island hopping” campaign. The US participated in many key battles and proved to be both an indispensable asset and formidable enemy. A few of these major battles included the following:
Major Sea Battles of WWII:
- The Battle of Okinawa
- The Battle of Leyte Gulf
- The Battle of the Philippine Sea
- The Solomon Islands Campaign
- The Battle of Midway
- The Battle of the Coral Sea
By the close of WWII, the United States Navy had outgrown the size of any other in the world. It was operating 6,768 ships at its peak, and in 1945, had more than 70 percent of the world’s total naval forces.
The Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cold War was another time of major advancement for the US Navy. Technological progress turned out newer and better weapons systems, aircraft, and ships. As far as strategy was concerned, the Navy started using forward deployment, especially with carrier battle groups, to support allies.
With the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy played a huge role by primarily blockading Cuba. Ballistic missile submarines started being produced more and were the focus of the nuclear strategic deterrence policy the US set in place.
21st Century Advancements and the Navy’s Role Today
The end of the Cold War brought with it an end to large-scale war and the beginning of smaller, regional conflicts, which have prompted the use of more special forces operations and even strike missions. In the 21st century, the Navy still plays a huge role in the United States armed forces and will likely continue to do so into the foreseeable future. The biggest role that the Navy continues to hold on a worldwide scale is that of keeping international order. As said above, it is certainly an intimidating force, and therefore the perfect candidate for protecting global trade and aiding allied nations.
The Navy has recently participated in many combat conflicts, including Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today the Navy takes on many additional responsibilities, and not all of them are combat-related. The Navy and its special forces unit known as the SEAL’s perform many search-and-rescue missions as well as salvage operations. In many cases, they will work hand-in-hand with the US Coast Guard and even with other countries. In the execution of A Cooperative Strategy (2007), the Navy has sought to prevent war alongside the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. The strategy first researches global economic links and then targets any disruptions that could negatively affect the country’s economy. With outside help, these branches strive to stop these disasters from occurring, or at least, from getting any worse.
In 2010, however, the US Navy fleet had shrunk significantly and continued to diminish over the next few years to the point that it almost did not meet military requirements for sustainable support. Due to this insufficiency, the Navy is now working on a plan that will increase its fleet in three steps. First, it will create the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, which will have more coverage than previous anti-ship missiles. Second, it will use laser weapons in place of defensive missile systems. Third, most or all ships will be equipped with electromagnetic rail guns. With these changes, the Navy believes it can boost its firepower to newer and stronger levels.
Another big change is that the secretary of the Navy anticipates that 60 percent of the Navy’s fleet will be sent to the Pacific in response to the Pivot to East Asia by 2020. At that point, the fleet will likely grow to around 308 ships.
Supporting Our Military
At Low VA Rates, supporting our troops is our priority. That’s why we wear red every Friday—to Remember Everyone Deployed. It’s also why we strive to offer veterans amazing benefits on their VA home loans. All members of the Navy and every other branch of the armed forces work hard to protect our freedoms here in the States and we’re only trying to repay that favor. Give us a call at 855-223-0705 to learn more or get started on your home loan application.