|United States Asiatic Fleet|
|Branch||United States Navy|
The United States Asiatic Fleet was a fleet of the United States Navy during much of the first half of the 20th century. Before World War II, the fleet patrolled the Philippine Islands. Much of the fleet was destroyed by the Japanese by February 1942, after which it was dissolved and incorporated into the naval component of the South West Pacific Area command, which eventually became the Seventh Fleet.
The fleet was created when its predecessor, the Asiatic Squadron, was upgraded to fleet status in 1902. In early 1907, the fleet was downgraded and became the First Squadron of the United States Pacific Fleet. However, on 28 January 1910, the ships of that squadron were again organized as the Asiatic Fleet. Thus constituted, the Asiatic Fleet, based in the Philippines, was organizationally independent of the Pacific Fleet, which was based on the United States West Coast until it moved to Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii in 1940.
Although much smaller than any other U.S. Navy fleet and indeed far smaller than what any navy generally considers to be a fleet, the Asiatic Fleet from 1916 was commanded by one of only four four-star admirals authorized in the U.S. Navy at the time. This reflected the prestige of the position of Asiatic Fleet commander-in-chief, who generally was more powerful and influential with regard to the affairs of the United States in China than was the American minister, or later United States Ambassador, to China.
After Rear Admiral Charles J. Train became commander-in-chief of the fleet in March 1905, it was involved in various ways with the closing weeks of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. After the Imperial Japanese Navy's decisive defeat of the Imperial Russian Navy in the Battle of Tsushima Strait in May 1905, units of the Asiatic Fleet escorted three fleeing Russian cruisers into Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands, where Train ensured that their crews were well taken care of during a lengthy stay until they were able to return to Russia.
In November 1905, Train was at the center of a diplomatic dispute while with a group of American officers on a pheasant-hunting expion near Nanking, China, when he accidentally shot a Chinese woman with birdshot, inflicting minor injuries on her. A mob of hundreds of Chinese villagers formed around Train's party and attacked it, pushing Train into the mud, seizing the officers' guns, and taking Train's son, Navy Lieutenant Charles R. Train, hostage. When the Asiatic Fleet landed 40 United States Marines to rescue the officers, the villagers attacked them with pitchforks and the Marines fired two shots. Local Chinese officials refused to return the officers' guns, but Train and his companions were able to extricate themselves without further injury to anyone. The governor of Nanking later apologized for the mob's actions, returned the American officers' guns, and punished the ringleaders of the mob.
On 4 August 1906, Train died in Yantai (known to Westerners at the time as "Chefoo"), China, while still in command of the Asiatic Fleet. After a memorial ceremony, which Japanese Admiral Heihachiro Togo and other dignitaries attended at Yokohama, aboard Train's flagship, the battleship USS Ohio, the steamer Empress of China carried his body out of the harbor under escort en route to Washington, D.C.
On 28 January 1910, the United States Asiatic Fleet was reestablished.
In December 1922, when the U.S. Navy was restructured, with the U.S. Pacific Fleet and United States Atlantic Fleet combining to form a unified United States Fleet. the Asiatic Fleet remained a separate entity and was charged with defending the Philippines and Guam and with upholding the Open Door Policy in China.
In late July 1937, the Asiatic Fleet's commander-in-chief, Admiral Harry E. Yarnell, took his flagship, the heavy cruiser Augusta, to the Soviet Union's main naval base in the Pacific, Vladivostok, along with four of the fleet's destroyers. The visit, urged by the Soviet government, was an attempt to display solidarity between the Soviet Union and the United States in the face of increasingly aggressive Japanese behavior in China and along the border between the Soviet Union and the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria. The visit was unsuccessful in deterring further Japanese military operations in either area.
On 25 July 1939, Admiral Thomas C. Hart was appointed the commander-in-chief of the fleet. It was based at Cavite Naval Base and Olongapo Naval Station on Luzon, with its headquarters at the Marsman Building in Manila. On 22 July 1941, the Mariveles Naval Base was completed and the Asiatic Fleet began to use it as well.
Hart's submarines, commanded by Commander, Submarines, Asiatic Fleet (COMSUBAF) Captain John E. Wilkes were six elderly S-class submarines (plus submarine tender Canopus) and seven Porpoises ( Submarine Squadron 5). In October 1941, 12 Salmons or Sargos—in Captain Stuart "Sunshine" Murray's Submarine Division 15 and Captain Joseph A. Connolly's Submarine Division 16, accompanied by the tender Holland, were added. Walter E. "Red" Doyle was assigned as Wilkes' relief. Hart's defensive plan relied heavily on his submarines, which were believed to be "the most lethal arm of the insignificant Asiatic Fleet", to interdict the Japanese and whittle down their forces prior to a landing, and to disrupt attempts at reinforcing after the landings took place. When war began, Doyle's inexperience in Asian waters meant Wilkes remained de facto COMSUBAF.
Problems were encountered almost from the beginning. No defensive minefields were laid. Ineffective and unrealistic peacetime training, inadequate (or nonexistent) defensive plans, poor deployments, and defective torpedoes combined to make submarine operations in defense of the Philippines a foregone conclusion. No boats were placed in Lingayen Gulf, widely expected to be where the Japanese would land; in the event, several S boats, aggressively handled, scored successes there. Nor were any boats off ports of Japanese-held Formosa, despite more than a week's warning of impending hostilities. Successes were few in the early days of the war.
From 1901 to 1937, the United States military maintained a strong presence in China to maintain Far East trade interests and to pursue a permanent alliance with the Chinese Republic, after long diplomatic difficulties with the Chinese Empire. The relationship between the U.S. and China was mostly on-again off-again, with periods of both cordial diplomatic relations accompanied by times of severed relations and violent anti-United States protests.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Asiatic Fleet was based from China, and a classic image of the "China Sailor" developed, as a large number of U.S. Navy members would remain at postings in China for 10–12 years then retire and continue to live in the country. The classic film The Sand Pebbles is a dramatization on the life of the China Sailors.
The U.S. military also created several awards and decorations to recognize those personnel who had performed duty in China. The China Service Medal, China Campaign Medal, Yangtze Service Medal, and the China Relief Expion Medal were all military medals which could be presented to those who had performed duty in China.
With the approach of World War II, the U.S. military in China was slowly withdrawn to protect other U.S. interests in the Pacific. With the rise of Communist China, there was no further U.S. military presence in mainland China, a status which continues to this day.
Early in November 1941, the Navy Department ordered Hart to withdraw the fleet's Marines and gunboats stationed in China. Five of the gunboats were moved to Manila, Wake was left with a skeleton crew as a radio base and was seized by the Japanese on 8 December and Tutuila was transferred to the Republic of China Navy under Lend-Lease.
The majority of the 4th Marine Regiment was stationed at Shanghai, and other detachments were at Peking (Beijing) and Tientsin (Tianjin). These troops were loaded onto two President class liners on 27–28 November (at either Shanghai or Chinwangtao (Qinghuangdao) and arrived in the Philippines on 30 November-1 December.
President Harrison returned to Chinwangtao, to move the remaining Marines, but was captured by the Japanese on 7 December. Those Marines who had reached the Philippines were tasked with defending the naval stations, particularly Mariveles Naval Base.
Manila Bay and Subic Bay had Army-operated minefields as well as naval mines. The Army minefields were operated by the Coast Artillery's Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays. These minefields were designed to stop all vessels except submarines and shallow-draft surface craft. In Manila Bay, two controlled minefields were placed, one between Corregidor and La Monja Islands, and the other between Corregidor Island and the Bataan Peninsula east of Mariveles Bay, both operated from Corregidor. Also, in mid-1941 US Navy minefields of contact mines were laid between Mariveles Bay and La Monja Island, and between Corregidor and Carabao Islands. The Subic Bay minefield was laid in July 1941 and operated from Fort Wint, with the controlled Army mines in the ship channel, and naval mines to the sides of the channel.
The Asiatic Fleet and the 16th Naval District possessed:
Also stationed at Cavite Naval Base was the Offshore Patrol.
The aviation elements of the Asiatic Fleet comprised Patrol Wing 10, with two patrol squadrons (VPs or PatRons), a utility unit, and the aviation units aboard the Fleet's two cruisers and the large seaplane tender Langley.
Patrol Wing 10 had been commissioned in December 1940, and included Patrol Squadrons 101 (VP 101) and 102 (VP 102), each equipped with fourteen Consolidated PBY-4 Catalina flying boats. By Mid-1941, these 28 PBYs were numbered 1 through 14 for VP 101, 16 through 29 for VP 102. The Utility Unit included Grumman J2F Duck amphibians (1 J2F-2 and 4 J2F-4s), as well as five new Vought OS2U-2 Kingfisher floatplanes, delivered in the late summer. Also, a number of Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes were present. Houston carried four, Marblehead two, and Langley two or three, and two more were under repair or in storage at the Aircraft Overhaul Shop (Shop X 34) at Cavite Navy Yard.
As of 8 December, PBYs of Patrol Wing 10 patrolled the northwest and northeast of Luzon daily. These flights were based at either NAS Sangley Point, the Navy's auxiliary seaplane station at Olongapo on Subic Bay, or seaplane tender Childs in Manila Bay. Trios of PBYs rotated down to the southern islands to base on William B. Preston at Malalag Bay on Davao Gulf, Mindanao. These patrols over the Philippine Sea to the east bordered with similar patrols flown by Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service flying boats based in the Netherlands East Indies. Seaplane tender Heron, with a detachment of four OS2U-2s from the Utility Unit, ran morning and evening patrols from Port Ciego, Balabac Island, over the strategically important Balabac Straits from 4–13 December.
Early in the morning of 8 December, Preston dispatched one aircraft on patrol and a short time later was attacked by aircraft from the small Japanese carrier Ryūjō, and her other two PBYs were sunk on the water.
Patrol Wing 10 was ordered south into the Netherlands East Indies on 12 December, when the collapsing defenses of the islands made further operations untenable. Within the first 90 days of the war, Patrol Wing 10 had fallen back to Perth, Western Australia, being reinforced by VP 22 from Hawaii but losing 43 of 45 PBYs—all but four lost to enemy action—together with Langley.
Asiatic Fleet Headquarters, ashore from mid-1941 at the Marsman Building on the Manila waterfront. The Fleet flagship, Houston, was assigned to lead Task Force 5 (TF 5).
TF 4, Asiatic Fleet: Patrol Wing 10, seaplane tenders, and aviation resources.
TF 5, Asiatic Fleet: surface strike forces, including cruisers and Destroyer Squadron 29 (DesRon 29).
TF 6, Asiatic Fleet: submarines force, including all submarines, tenders and rescue ships.
4th Marine Regiment
Commandant 16th Naval District (COM16): The Cavite Navy Yard and all the shore establishment on Luzon, including the radio station, ammunition depot, hospital, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE, naval air station, mine depot, and similar facilities on Corregidor,at Mariveles, Bataan, and Olongpago, on Subic Bay.
The historic Yangtze Patrol was concluded in early December 1941. Of the five remaining gunboats, Tutuila remained at Chungking, Wake was in reduced commission at Shanghai as a radio station for the U.S. State Department, and ComYangPat sailed in Luzon with Oahu for Manila, joined by Mindanao.
As the Japanese sought sources of oil and minerals in the Netherlands East Indies and Borneo immediately following Pearl Harbor, the only fleet available to defend against them was the Asiatic Fleet. Outnumbered, outgunned, outmanned, the U.S. Navy, part of the ABDA (American, British, Dutch and Australian) force was unable to stop the Japanese, and could only attempt to slow them down.
Catching a Japanese invasion fleet of 16 transports, a cruiser and several destroyers anchored in Balikpapan Bay, four U.S. "four stacker" destroyers—John D. Ford, Pope, Paul Jones and Parrott—attacked at night using torpedoes and gunfire to sink four transports and one patrol craft. The Japanese believed that the attack came from submarines, and sent cruiser and destroyers out to sea in pursuit, leaving the transports unprotected. This was the first American surface action of the Pacific War and the first since the Spanish–American War. Although it significantly boosted morale, it had a negligible effect on Japanese operations.
Planning a night attack, the ABDA force had to sail some distance in open water in daylight. It was attacked by Japanese bombers which severely damaged the light cruiser Marblehead and disabled turret #3 on the heavy cruiser Houston. The force retreated to Tjilatjap, Java, having failed to prevent the Japanese landing.
In an effort to break up another invasion, a small force of ABDA ships arrived on the island of Bali after the Japanese had made their landing and had retired, leaving only four Japanese destroyers on station. This attack failed. Three Japanese destroyers were damaged by gunfire, but the Dutch destroyer Piet Hein was sunk and a Dutch and American destroyer were damaged.
This was the largest battle fought in the area. The ABDA force of five cruisers and 11 destroyers, led by Dutch Admiral Doorman sailed against a Japanese force of seven cruisers and 25 destroyers. The Japanese had air cover, while ABDA did not (nor in any of the other battles described here). It was a rout, fought during the afternoon and evening, a running gun battle with Japanese planes constantly dropping flares to illuminate the ABDA ships. The Dutch lost two cruisers and a destroyer, the British two destroyers. One Japanese destroyer was damaged.
Retreating south to Batavia after the Battle of Java Sea the day before, the U.S. cruiser Houston and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth—while heading at high speed for Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java—came upon a Japanese invasion force making a landing in Bantam (now Banten) Bay. In a confused night battle, both ships were sunk inside the Bay and not in Sunda Strait as is usually written. The two Allied ships fought bravely, but were overwhelmed by superior numbers. Four of the Japanese transports were torpedoed, most likely by their own side. The Japanese fired 87 torpedoes in the first half-hour of the battle.
Of the 40 surface vessels in the Asiatic Fleet on Pearl Harbor Day, 19 were sunk by 5 May 1942, the day General Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese at Corregidor in the Philippines. Most of the surviving ships safely reached Australia.
After the defeats in the defense of the Philippine Commonwealth and the Dutch East Indies, the remaining vessels retreated to Australia. They would fall under the command of the South West Pacific Area which would establish the 7th Fleet in 1943.
The commanders-in-chief of the Asiatic Fleet were:
|•||Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans||29 October 1902||–||21 March 1904|
|•||Rear Admiral Philip H. Cooper||21 March 1904||–||11 July 1904|
|•||Rear Admiral Yates Stirling||11 July 1904||–||23 March 1905|
|•||Rear Admiral William M. Folger||23 March 1905||–||30 March 1905|
|•||Rear Admiral Charles J. Train||30 March 1905||–||4 August 1906|
|•||Rear Admiral Willard H. Brownson||15 October 1906||–||31 March 1907|
|•||Rear Admiral William S. Cowles||1 April 1907||–||August 1908|
|Asiatic Fleet abolished,
became First Squadron,
United States Pacific Fleet
|Asiatic Fleet reestablished||28 January 1910|
|•||Rear Admiral John Hubbard||19 February 1910||–||16 May 1911|
|•||Rear Admiral Joseph B. Murdock||16 May 1911||–||24 July 1912|
|•||Rear Admiral Reginald F. Nicholson||24 July 1912||–||3 May 1914|
|•||Rear Admiral Walter C. Cowles||3 May 1914||–||9 July 1915|
|•||Rear Admiral Albert G. Winterhalter||9 July 1915||–||4 April 1917|
|•||Rear Admiral Austin M. Knight||22 May 1917||–||7 December 1918|
|•||Vice Admiral William Ledyard Rodgers||7 December 1918||–||1 September 1919|
|•||Admiral Albert Gleaves||1 September 1919||–||4 February 1921|
|•||Admiral Joseph Strauss||4 February 1921||–||28 August 1922|
|•||Admiral Edwin A. Anderson, Jr.||28 August 1922||–||11 October 1923|
|•||Admiral Thomas Washington||11 October 1923||–||14 October 1925|
|•||Admiral Clarence S. Williams||14 October 1925||–||9 September 1927|
|•||Admiral Mark L. Bristol||9 September 1927||–||9 September 1929|
|•||Admiral Charles B. McVay, Jr.||9 September 1929||–||1 September 1931|
|•||Admiral Montgomery M. Taylor||1 September 1931||–||18 August 1933|
|•||Admiral Frank B. Upham||18 August 1933||–||4 October 1935|
|•||Admiral Orin G. Murfin||4 October 1935||–||30 October 1936|
|•||Admiral Harry E. Yarnell||30 October 1936||–||25 July 1939|
|•||Admiral Thomas C. Hart||25 July 1939||–||14 February 1942|