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On This Day… The Great White Desertion

Written by: George Chittenden : 27 May 2019

It was on this day, 20th August, back in 1908 when the US Navy’s ‘Great White Fleet’ arrived in Sydney, Australia. The fleet consisted of sixteen white painted battleships and was the greatest display of sea power Australians had even seen. President Roosevelt deployed the fleet for several reasons, including stirring up interest and enthusiasm for his navy, testing their professionalism and more importantly demonstrating to the world that the United States had arrived on the world stage. Sailing such a large convoy of warships into the Pacific Ocean was a great way of sending a message to the Japanese too.

The ‘Great White Fleet’ was named after the colour of the ships, however for many it had racial connotations. The majority of Australians perceived the visit as an unmistakable expression of white solidarity. On this day, as the fleet arrived in Sydney it’s believed that around half a million people came out to witness the sight, which was the largest gathering of Australians up until that point in history. Australians clearly liked the American ships, and the American sailors liked Australia too, with over 300 of them deserting while in Australian ports.

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