US Navy's Growth and Expansion During the Great War

Soldiers on Deck of the USS Madawaska Awaiting Their Turn to Go Ashore.

Soldiers on Deck of the USS Madawaska Awaiting Their Turn to Go Ashore. A History of the Transport Service, 1921. GGA Image ID # 18a74916b7

Huge Overseas Transportation Service

The Naval Overseas Transportation Service, which was organized in January 1918 to carry supplies and munitions to the American forces abroad, grew in ten months to a fleet of 321 cargo-carrying ships aggregating 2,800,000 dead-weight tons.

Five thousand officers and 30,000 men were required to man this immense fleet, which became one of the Navy's tire largest divisions. Millions of tons of cargo were carried overseas, the service being so expanded that on an average of every five hours, one of its vessels, laden with supplies for our soldiers and sailors, sailed from an American port.

Rapid Growth of Navy Flying Corps

The development of the Navy Flying Corps has been rapid and consistent.

On July 1, 1917, there were 45 Naval aviators, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard officers who had been given special training. There were some 200 student officers under training and 1250 enlisted men attached to the Aviation Service.

A year later, there were 823 qualified naval aviators, 2,052 student officers, and 400 ground officers; 7,300 trained mechanics and 5,400 mechanics in training.

At the time the armistice was signed, the total aviation personnel was more than 40,000; the figures of November 25, 1918, being as follows:

At Home

  • Pilots: 831
  • Officers, exclusive of Pilots: 940
  • Student Officers: 3,912
  • Enlisted Men: 16,788
  • Total at Home: 22,471


  • Pilots: 825
  • Officers, exclusive of Pilots: 409
  • Student Officers: 0
  • Enlisted Men: 18,879
  • Total Abroad: 20,113

Coastal air stations were established at various points along our coasts, and an aerial coast patrol was maintained. In a typical month, June 1918, a total of 25,642 flights, covering about 2,155,860 miles were made by seaplanes from stations along the United States coast, including both patrol and training; and lighter-than-air craft—dirigible balloons, etc.—made a total of 613 flights, covering over 56,000 miles.

27 US Naval Air Stations in Europe

American naval aviators took a most active part in the patrol of the European coast, scouting for submarines, assisting in a convoy of vessels, conducting reconnoitering expeditions over enemy territory, and engaging in bombing expeditions. Twenty-seven U. S. naval air stations were established in England, Ireland, France, and Italy, with total personnel of more than 800 pilots, 400 other officers, and 18,000 machinists and other assistants.

In the development and production of aircraft, the Navy made a notable record. New types of Hying boats, superior to any previous model, were designed and produced; the latest was the huge N C-I, equipped with two Liberty motors, which carried up fifty men on a recent flight. The dirigible balloon was developed up to the large C-I, 192 feet long, which recently made a 1500-mile flight from Rockaway Beach, L. I., to Key West, Fla.

Navy Built Its Own Aircraft Factory

Three months after war was declared, when it was apparent that resources would be taxed to produce a large amount of aircraft required, the Navy decided to build its own aircraft factory. This work was accomplished in record time. Secretary Daniels, on July 27, 1917, authorized its construction at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

On October 16th, the first power-driven machine was started, 67 days after the ground was broken, and by the end of November, the plant was completed.

On March 27, 1918, the first machine built in the factory was completed and given its trial flight. From that time on, a constant succession of seaplanes was produced there, most of them being sent abroad immediately for service on the European coasts.

A large addition to the factory was built last Spring, and when the armistice was signed, about 4,000 employees were engaged there in the production of aircraft.

Largest Radio Service in the World

The Navy has operated all the wireless telegraph in the United States and its possessions since the declaration of war. The high-power radio service has been increased until it is now the largest in the world. New high-power stations were completed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Cavite, Philippine Islands, and Annapolis, Md.

Through the Annapolis, Tuckerton, Sayville, and New Brunswick, N. J., stations, direct communication was maintained with Europe, enabling this government to keep in touch with London, Paris, and Rome without depending on the trans-Atlantic cables.

Radio apparatus and operators were furnished hundreds of merchant ships, as well as all naval vessels. Thousands of operators were required, and large schools were established for their training, the largest, that at Harvard University, accommodating 4,000 students.

To ensure uninterrupted communication with France, the United States Navy built at Bordeaux the most powerful wireless station in existence. Negotiations have just been completed for selling this plant to the French government.

Navy Yards Greatly Expanded

Navy yards have been greatly expanded, large new machine shops, foundries and warehouses erected; and these yards have not only cared for the immense amount of repairs necessary to keep the fleets in trim but have converted many merchant vessels into auxiliaries and have, at the same time, been engaged in building all types of naval vessels. Their shipbuilding facilities have been greatly enlarged and form an important part of the country's ship-construction facilities.

Investigating Committee Commended Naval Administration

Soon after Congress convened, in December 1917, the Naval Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives appointed a sub-committee, of which Hon. Wm. B. Oliver was chairman, to investigate the conduct and administration of naval affairs. That committee's conclusions were thus summed up in its report made March 11, 1918:

"First. All appropriations have been expended or obligated with judgment, caution, and economy when you consider that haste was necessary to bring results and abnormal conditions obtained in reference to all problems of production or operations.

"Second. With limited personnel and materiel, the Navy was suddenly called to face many difficult and untried problems in sea warfare and has met the situation with rare skill, ingenuity, and dispatch, and a high degree of success.

"Third. The efficiency of the Navy's pre-war organization, the readiness, and fitness of its men and ships for the difficult and arduous tasks imposed by war was early put to the acid test, and thus far in no way have they been found wanting, and we feel that the past 12 months present for the Navy a remarkable record of achievement, of steadily increasing power in both personnel and materiel, of rapidly expanding resources, and of well-matured plans for the future, whether the war be of long or short duration."

No Change in Organization Required

The ease with which the Navy passed from a peace to a war basis was due largely to the efficient departmental system which had been built up in previous years. The creation of the office of Chief of Naval Operations, who is "charged with the operations of the Fleet and with the preparation and readiness of plans for its use in war," provided a long-needed improvement in the organization of the Department, and the system inaugurated four years ago gives the advantages of a General Staff without its disadvantages.

So efficient was the system built up in a time of peace that no change whatever was found necessary in the Navy Department's organization, which merely expanded its personnel to care for the immensely increased demands that war imposed. In his report for 1917, Secretary Daniels said:

"In its work since the war began, the Department has not been hampered by the necessity for any modification of its organization in passing from a peace basis to a war basis.

There has been a natural and temporarily unavoidable shortage of personnel. Strong pressure—which was resisted—has also come from many officers who wished to give up important duty ashore for any kind of duty afloat, hut every new expansion and activity was placed readily and naturally with an existing bureau or office of the Department, and, as far as its organization is concerned, the difficulties that have faced the Navy Department as regards the Navy proper have been those of expansion and not of reorganization."

John Wilber Jenkins, Our Navy's Part in the Great War, New York: John J. Eggers Company, Inc., 1919, pp. 46-48.

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