Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Battleship Squadron Leaves For Mexico, 1914

A newspaper photograph of Atlantic Fleet battleships deploying from Hampton Roads to Mexico,
April 15, 1914.  It should be noted that the newspaper's caption have the wrong ship names.
One hundred years ago yesterday, acting on instructions from President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ordered the Hampton Roads-based ships of the Atlantic Fleet to mobilize and head to the east coast of Mexico. The first squadron to deploy included the new battleships USS Arkansas (BB-33), USS Utah (BB-31), and Florida (BB-30); the older battleships USS New Jersey (BB-16) and USS New Hampshire (BB-25); and the dispatch boat/armed yacht USS Yankton. Daniels had specifically ordered the squadron to Tampico and Vera Cruz. Daniels deployed the squadron of heavy ships to reinforce a smaller squadron already on the scene.

The deployment of American battleships came from a culmination of a series of international incidents. A few days before, Mexican authorities had arrested several American sailors in Tampico, and later a Marine who got lost while trying to deliver official mail. These arrests occurred during the latest civil war in Mexico. There was also an American belief that European powers were attempting to intervene in the war. Thus, tensions between Mexico and the United States were high.

Mexican authorities agreed to release the American servicemen, but some senior U.S. Naval officers, and later President Wilson himself, beleived American honor had been insulted. They demanded official apology and a 21-gun salute to the American flag by the Mexican government. When the Mexican reply to the American demands was not forthcoming quickly enough, Wilson put the Navy's ships on alert.

While Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt commented to the press that the Navy was prepared for anything, there is evidence that the mobilization order caught the Atlantic Fleet somewhat off guard. Several of the ships were not prepared for an extended deployment. New Hampshire's sailors, for example, worked through the night and early morning of April 15 loading 1,600 tons of coal on board. The Navy quickly called up all sailors stationed at St. Helena Naval Training Station and on board the local receiving ships Franklin and Richmond, regardless of rate, sea experience, or enlistment status, to fill in personnel gaps. Many other ships in the Atlantic Fleet were not ready, including the battleships Texas (BB-35) and Delaware (BB-28) and several repair vessels and coal colliers.

Even though the initial operation was only a partial mobilization of the Atlantic Fleet, the five battleships' deployment raised American jingoism to a fever pitch. Most Americans fully supported the deployment and even offered to help in their own special way. The Governor of Texas, for example, offered to invade Mexico on behalf of the United States. The President politely declined.

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