Thursday, August 1, 2013

German Warships and President Taft in Hampton Roads, 1912

USS Idaho (BB-24) waiting for the German squadron east of Hampton Roads
Those who hold public office know that one must be careful when making a comment within earshot of the media.  In 1910, the battleship USS Minnesota (BB-22) made a port call in England. During an official reception, the mayor of London asked Minnesota's commanding officer, the always outspoken Captain William Simms, what the United States would do if England were attacked by a foreign power. Simms responded, "It is my opinion that you may count on every man, every dollar, every drop of blood of kindred from across the sea."

The German dreadnought SMS Molkte near Fort Monore
This statement infuriated Kaiser Wilhelm who naturally believed he was speaking of the German Empire. Relations between Germany and the United States were lukewarm at best in the early 20th century, particularly with Germany's increased involvement in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, President Howard Taft had to publicly reprimand Simms and apologize to the Kaiser in person.  But that was not good enough for German diplomats. The diplomats also noted in their official protest that the American Navy frequently visited France and Great Britain, but never Germany. 
The German Squadron from left to right-The cruisers SMS
Stettin and Bremen and the battleship Molkte.

The Germans demanded a public showing of goodwill between the United States and the Germans.  Taft agreed. In the Summer 1911, the Navy's Second Division of the Atlantic Fleet travelled to Kiel, Germany where the Kaiser and the entire German fleet greeted them.

In the Summer 1912, the German Navy reciprocated the visit with three ships, the cruisers SMS Stettin and Bremen and the brand new dreadnought-type battleship SMS Moltke. Realizing that Taft was in the middle of a reelection, the Kaiser wanted to send the ships as not to cause distraction to the American election season. Thus he sent them to Hampton Roads from Kiel in May 1912. The three ship squadron arrived off the Virginia Capes in late May, and were saluted by USS Idaho (BB-24) upon arrival. Two divisions of U.S. Battleships lined Hampton Roads to greet the Germans, including Utah (BB-31), Michigan (BB-27), Delaware (BB-28), and South Carolina (BB-26).
The Presidential yacth Mayflower entering Hampton Roads
and approaching the line of U.S. battleships on the left and
the German squadron on  the right.

Taft arrived in the Presidential yacht Mayflower and boarded Molkte. There, Vice Admiral Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz greeted the President and his entourage and personally gave him a tour of the ship. Taft remarked "Admiral, I'm glad to welcome you and to have an opportunity of visiting the Moltke, of the finest ships I have ever seen." Upon leaving the ship, Moltke's band struck up the "Star Spangled Banner." Once the Hampton Roads' festivities were over, the senior staff of the German ships proceed to Washington and New York City where they were wined and dined by America's leading politicians and business leaders.

The Washington, D.C. photo studio of Harris and Ewing followed the President to Hampton Roads and took these very vivid shots of the President, the U.S. Navy and the German squadron. Many more of the studio's collection can be found at the Library of Congress' website.
President Taft being given a tour of Moltke by German Vice Admiral Hubert von Rebuer-Pachswitch


dreadnought71 said...

The picture identified as the USS Idaho (BB-24) is incorrect. The image appears to be either the USS Florida (BB-30) or her sister the USS Utah (BB-31).

Elijah Palmer said...

Thank you for pointing out the mislabeled ship. After investigating the matter, we believe that the ship in the photograph is indeed USS Utah (BB 31). USS Florida (BB-30) was not present in Hampton Roads at that time.