Navy Birthday: Celebrating Our Honorable and Glorious Sailors
“Everything honorable and glorious.” That’s what George Washington knew a naval force could accomplish. And since 1775, the United States Navy has proved that true time and time again in both peace and war. From protecting American shores to projecting its strength across the globe, the brave Sailors of the US Navy have been essential to the defense of freedom. And, in honor of the US Navy birthday, we’d like to highlight some of the history and facts regarding our nation’s naval service.
The Start of the Revolutionary War
Prior to the creation of the Navy, many of the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States had their own naval militias that, when the Revolutionary War broke out, officially became state navies. It was not until August of 1775 that a Continental Navy fighting on behalf of all states was proposed by Rhode Island and its representatives at the Continental Congress. Several months elapsed before the matter was acted on, though in the meantime American’s began taking to the seas for the cause. The former fishing schooner Hannah and its captain, Nicholas Broughton, were personally paid for by George Washington to become the first armed vessel of the United States in September of 1775.
The Continental Navy
On October 13th, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized that “a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportional number of swivels, with eighty men” be obtained for service. That resolution calling for a single ship would lead to more, and the date of its approval is regarded as the birth of the Continental Navy. Several months later, on December 3rd, the Alfred became its first commissioned vessel with Captain Dudley Saltonstall in command. More vessels followed as the war continued, with Congress authorizing the construction (rather than purchasing or refitting) of thirteen frigates on December 13th. Ships and Sailors of the Continental Navy fought bravely throughout the war, perhaps none so famously as the Scottish-born John Paul Jones. While in command of the Bonhomme Richard during the Battle of Flamborough Head on September 23rd, 1779, he (may have) responded to a request to strike his colors with the challenge with the legendary words “I have not yet begun to fight!” The Navy fought and disrupted British supply convoys up until the war’s end in 1783.
Establishment of the United States Navy
With no direct need for a standing military after the defeat of Britain the US began to disband the armed forces, including the Continental Navy. By 1785 the last of her ships had been sold off. Without a navy, the task of protecting America’s waters and shores fell to the newly created Revenue-Marine of the Treasury Department, the precursor to the United States Coast Guard. While the creation of a navy was explicitly permissible in the US Constitution, it wasn’t done for several years after its ratification. On March 27th, 1794 Congress finally passed the Naval Act of 1794 calling for the construction of six frigates. These original six ships designed by Joshua Humphreys would become the very first vessels of the United States Navy. Among them was the famed USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” launched on October 21st, 1797 and still an active vessel to this day.
The Old Navy
The US Navy went to work nearly as soon as it was established. In 1798 the country fell into an undeclared Quasi-War with their erstwhile allies, the French, and the conflict was fought almost entirely at sea. On July 7, 1798 the USS Delaware captured the privateer Le Croyable and on February 9th, 1799 the USS Constellation defeated the French frigate L’Insurgente, marking the Navy’s first victory and its first over an enemy naval vessel, respectively. The Quasi-War ended in 1900, but the Navy continued to fight piracy and other threats. The service would once again see heavy action throughout the War of 1812. During the Battle of Boston Harbor on June 1st, 1813 the USS Chesapeake was captured by the HMS Shannon, but not before her mortally wounded commander, Captain James Lawrence, issued the famous command “Don’t give up the ship!” After the war’s end in 1815, the Navy continued to combat piracy and the slave trade and defend America’s shores, shipping, and citizens around the globe. Steam power revolutionized nautical travel and, therefore, the way the Navy operated. But the monumental changes that would lead to the birth of what many consider the modern navy came out of the Civil War.
The First Ironsides
After the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Navy’s primary role in the conflict was to blockade the Confederate states and cut them off from European supplies. The plan was largely successful, effectively crippling the South’s economy throughout the war. Major naval conflicts were seldom, though it was at the Battle of Mobile Bay that David Farragut, America’s first admiral, uttered the legendary command “Damn the torpedoes!” The first US Navy Sailors to receive the Medal of Honor did so for actions during the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the first African American to ever receive the award was Sailor Robert Blake in 1864. Another major battle would signify a groundbreaking change for all navies, America’s included: the Battle of Hampton Roads. On March 9th, 1862 the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia fought to a standstill of the city of Norfolk in the first ever battle between ironclad warships. Navies all over the world ceased production on wooden ships almost immediately and began to research and construct their own ironclads. The days of tall, wooden fighting vessels had come to an end.
The “New Navy”
Following the Civil War’s end in 1865, the US Navy experienced several decades of decline. It wasn’t until the end of the century that America began to see the need for a larger, modern Navy. And the Spanish-American War, which began after the explosion of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor was erroneously blamed on Spain, further highlighted the need for an expanded US Navy. So when Theodore Roosevelt, who had advocated for such an expansion during his term as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, became president in 1901 the Navy underwent a period of rapid expansion. Within a few years it was the second largest in the world, behind only Britain’s Royal Navy, and included several dreadnought type battleships. The need for a highly mobile fleet that could cover all the world’s oceans was also a major impetus in America’s completion of the Panama Canal. The invention of the airplane also had its effect on naval warfare, with Lieutenant Theodore “Spuds” Ellyson becoming America’s first naval aviator in 1911. While the Navy saw little action during WWI, it continued to expand and innovate, becoming the first service to allow women to join. The first of whom, Loretta Perfectus Walsh, enlisted on March 17th, 1917.
US Navy in WWII
The Navy’s expansion and modernization went on at a great scale and pace between the wars, with aviation and submarines achieving greater roles in naval strategy. The US Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, was converted from an older coal ship in 1920. In the lead up to America’s entry into WWII, US Navy vessels escorted ships carrying supplies to the allied side under the Lend Lease program. And once America joined the fighting following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the Navy saw extensive action on all fronts of the war. Aircraft carriers overtook battleships as the key vessels in naval battles and the value of submarines became unmistakable. And while African Americans served as enlisted Sailors throughout much of the branch’s history (they were barred between 1919 and 1938 and mostly only allowed in steward and mess ratings until 1942), in March of 1944 the Golden Thirteen became the first black commissioned and warrant officers in the United States Navy.
US Navy During the Cold War
The end of the Second World War in 1945 led to an immediate drawdown of all branches of the military. But the onset of the Cold War and, in 1950, the start of the Korean War led the US to once again expand the Navy. Nuclear powered ships, like the famed USS Nautilus, were developed thanks to the influence of the “Father of the Nuclear Navy,” Admiral Hyman Rickover. Ballistic missile submarines became a key component of America’s nuclear weapon and deterrence capabilities. Jet aircraft and missiles overtook propellor planes and large caliber guns as the primary offensive weapons of naval fleets. The Navy fluctuated in size throughout the periods of shooting wars and tense peace throughout the decades of the Cold War, but its importance never declined.
The US Navy Today
The United States Navy is the largest, most widely deployed, and most capable in the world today. And innovations continue apace, with newer, larger, and more technically advanced ships, weapons, and aircraft constantly in development. Naval vessels and personnel have served in countless capacities, both at sea and on land throughout the War on Terror. The Sailors of America’s Navy continue to defend our nation’s interest and the cause of freedom in every corner of the globe. And they do so, as their unofficial motto goes, “non sibi sed patriae;” not for self but for country.
When Is the Navy Birthday?
The United States Navy celebrates its birthday on October 13th, in honor of that day back in 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized its very first ship.
Given its importance in America’s founding and very existence, it should come as no surprise that there are a whole host of amazing facts and tidbits to learn about the United States Navy. Be sure to share your favorites and impress your friends with your wealth of naval knowledge.
- Since the decommissioning of the USS Simpson in 2015, the USS Constitution is the only currently active vessel of the US Navy to have sunk an enemy ship. (Click to Tweet this)
- Six US presidents have served in the United States Navy, all at least partially during WWII: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. (Click to Tweet this)
- Two different towns in Massachusetts claim to be the home port of the Hannah and, therefore, the birthplace of the US Navy: Beverly and Marblehead. (Click to Tweet this)
- If a US Navy vessel is named after a person, she must be christened by that person’s oldest living female descendant. (Click to Tweet this)
- Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, served as a naval aviator during the Korean War. (Click to Tweet this)
- Numerous celebrities have served in the United States Navy, including Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Heinlein, and Stanley Burrell (better known as MC Hammer). (Click to Tweet this)
- The USS Enterprise (the starship from the original Star Trek series) was named after the USS Enterprise (the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier). (Click to Tweet this)
- “Anchors Aweigh,” written by Lieutenant Charles Zimmerman in 1906, started as the Naval Academy’s fight song before gradually becoming the Navy’s song. (Click to Tweet this)
- The US Navy fought in two of the largest naval battles in history: the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, both in 1944. (Click to Tweet this)
- The youngest US service member to fight in WWII was Calvin Graham, who lied about his age to enlist at age 12. (Click to Tweet this)
For those brave Sailors and dependents reading this, know that you have the utmost gratitude from all of us here at MyBaseGuide. As the premiere source for base and regional info, we’re proud to offer our guides and articles for those looking to learn about a new installation, be it for a PCS move or a quick TDY. MyBaseGuide is here to help you move to any US Navy base, from Norfolk to San Diego, with ease and confidence.
If you’re looking for housing near your next duty station check out AHRN.com for the best real estate options around military installations across the country.
The United States Navy has been protecting our nation and its ideals since before America’s founding. And they will unquestionably continue to do so on, under, and above the waves for countless years to come. So in honor of this year’s Navy Birthday we salute our country’s Sailors, past and present, who truly embody the phrase Semper Fortis; Always Courageous.