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United States Navy goodwill tour

Seventeen years after the visit of the Great White Fleet to Australia in 1908, the United States Navy’s Pacific contingent known as the Battle Fleet, undertook a goodwill tour to Australia and New Zealand. While the epic 1908 tour saw 23 US Navy vessels enter the ports of Sydney, Melbourne and Albany, the 1925 tour saw a record breaking total of 56 - the largest single foreign naval fleet ever received in Australia.

After undertaking annual manoeuvres off Hawaii, the fleet proceeded to Australia on 1 July, and divided its vessels and 25,000 officers and crew into two groups. On 23 July, 43 of the vessels arrived to wind and rain at Port Phillip, Melbourne, and 13 arrived to sunshine and blue-skies at Sydney Harbour. At the time, Admiral Robert E Coontz, who visited Australia in the 1908 tour as executive officer aboard USS NEBRASKA, was Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet. Admiral Samuel Shelburne Robison was Commander-in-Chief of the Battle Fleet who, after the tour, succeeded Coontz as Commander-in-Chief of the US Fleet.

As the nation’s capital at the time, Melbourne’s Port Phillip hosted the largest contingent including the battleships USS SEATTLE (the flagship of the Pacific Fleet), PENNSYLVANNIA, OKLAHOMA, and NEVADA; the light cruisers TRENTO, RICHMOND, MARBLE HEAD and MEMPHIS; LUNDLOW and BURNS of the mine division; destroyers OMAHA, MELVILLE, DECATUR, SOMMERS, STODDERT, FARQUHAR, THOMPSON, KENNEDY, PAUL HAMILTON, McDERMONT, SINCLAIR, MOODY, PERCIVAL, J F BURNES, ALTAIRS, LITFIELD, YARBOROUGH, SLOAT, WOOD, SHIRK, KIDDER, MERVINE, CHASE, ROBERT SMITH, MULLANY, MacDONOUGH, FARENHOLT, SUMMER, MARCUS, SELFRIDGE, MELVIA; and the repair ship MEDUSA.

With its deep harbour, Sydney hosted eight of the fleet’s largest ships, including the battleships USS CALIFORNIA, COLORADO, TENNESSEE, MARYLAND, WEST VIRGINIA, NEW MEXICO, MISSISSIPPI and IDAHO, the destroyer ARCTIC, the supply ship BRIDGE, hospital ship RELIEF, and three oil tankers.

The battleship WEST VIRGINIA acted as the radio control vessel for the navy tour. Just before the fleet left Honolulu, Admiral Coontz made a speech that was relayed to local listeners by stations 2FC and 2BL in Sydney. After the voyage to Sydney it made several other broadcasts directed to Australia. In addition, Admiral Robison offered heartfelt parting words to the citizens of New South Wales which were published in Adelaide’s ‘The Register’:

‘It is with deep regret that I find the day for the departure of the Sydney detachment of the United States Fleet has arrived. No words can portray the feelings that surged within us when we saw the shores of your wonderful harbour, from the Heads to the anchorage, packed with welcoming throngs; and realised that it was all in honour of the flag under which we sail. Every moment since we passed under your symbolic welcoming arch, we have felt a true welcome magnificently expressed by the Commonwealth, the city, the surrounding communities, and the people individually.’

On 1 August, a small contingent of vessels left Melbourne to visit Hobart, and five days later the remaining vessels visited the ports of New Zealand. Four sections of the fleet entered four different NZ ports simultaneously - with 14 destroyers at Lyttelton and 15 at Dunedin while eight battleships visited Auckland and nine arrived at Wellington.

The visit of the US Battle Fleet renewed the Australian-American alliance established by the Great White Fleet visit in 1908.