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Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday Ship History (late edition): Who was Carl Vinson?

At the end of World War I, Japan had allied herself with the Allied Powers and ended up gaining former German possessions in the Pacific, the northern Marianas, the Marshall and Caroline Islands (the "mandated islands"). President Wilson, protesting these gains, supported the growth of the U.S. Navy in a massive ship building campaign, at least part of the purpose being to be able to defend U.S. interests in the western Pacific. But these great shipbuilding plans came to naught, because it was the 1920's and despite the recent end of the first world war, isolationists held sway the United States - seeking to have the U.S. keep out of other people's affairs. Demanding peace and supporting the idea that one way to keep peace was to disarm and to agree with others for them to disarm.

Out of this familiar peace movement came the Washington Naval Conference and the 1922 "Washington Naval Limitations Treaty" by which five great powers (U.S., Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) agreed to limit the size and composition of their fleets. The United States, then possessing the largest fleet, and bordering two oceans, along with Great Britain, then having a world-wide empire to protect, agreed to halt fortification of certain islands or overseas possessions (e. g. Guam and the Philippines) and to limit the size (measured in tonnage) of "capital ships" and aircraft carriers:
Article IV

The total capital ship replacement tonnage of each of the Contracting Powers shall not exceed in standard displacement, for the United States 525,000 tons (533,400 metric tons); for the British Empire 525,000 tons (533,400 metric tons); for France 175,000 tons (177,800 metric tons); for Italy 175,000 tons (177,800 metric tons); for Japan 315,000 tons (320,040 metric tons).

Article V

No capital ship exceeding 35,000 tons (35,560 metric tons) standard displacement shall be acquired by, or constructed by, for, or within the jurisdiction of, any of the Contracting Powers.

Article VI

No capital ship of any of the Contracting Powers shall carry a gun with a calibre in excess of 16 inches (406 millimetres).

Article VII

The total tonnage for aircraft carriers of each of the Contracting Powers shall not exceed in standard displacement, for the United States 135,000 tons (137,160 metric tons); for the British Empire 135,000 tons (137,160 metric tons); for France 60,000 tons (60,960 metric tons); for Italy 60,000 tons (60,960 metric tons); for Japan 81,000 tons (82,296 metric tons).

Article VIII

The replacement of aircraft carriers shall be effected only as prescribed in Chapter II, Part 3, provided, however, that all aircraft carrier tonnage in existence or building on November 12, 1921, shall be considered experimental, and may be replaced, within the total tonnage limit prescribed in Article VII, without regard to its age.

Article IX

No aircraft carrier exceeding 27,000 tons (27,432 metric tons) standard displacement shall be acquired by, or constructed by, for or within the jurisdiction of, any of the Contracting Powers.

However, any of the Contracting Powers may, provided that its total tonnage allowance of aircraft carriers is not thereby exceeded, build not more than two aircraft carriers, each of a tonnage of not more than 33,000 tons (33,528 metric tons) standard displacement, and in order to effect economy any of the Contracting Powers may use for this purpose any two of their ships, whether constructed or in course of construction, which would otherwise be scrapped under the provisions of Article II. The armament of any aircraft carriers exceeding 27,000 tons (27,432 metric tons) standard displacement shall be in accordance with the requirements of Article X, except that the total number of guns to be carried in case any of such guns be of a calibre exceeding 6 inches (152 millimetres), except anti-aircraft guns and guns not exceeding 5 inches (127 millimetres), shall not exceed eight.
In order to meet these tonnage limits, the U.S. had to scrap part of its existing and planned fleet. In addition, a pair of the "battle cruisers" it was building, the Lexington class cruisers Lexington and Saratoga, were diverted and converted into aircraft carriers:
USS Lexington, a 33,000-ton aircraft carrier, was converted while under construction from the battle cruiser of the same name. Built at Quincy, Massachusetts, and commissioned in December 1927, Lexington was one of the U.S. Navy's first two aircraft carriers that were large and fast enough to be capable of serious fleet operations. During the late 1920s, through the 1930s and into the early 1940s, she took an active part in the development of carrier techniques, fleet doctrine and in the operational training of a generation of Naval Aviators.
and
Saratoga, the first fast carrier in the United States Navy, quickly proved the value of her type. She sailed from Philadelphia on 6 January 1928 for shakedown, and, on 11 January, her air officer, the future World War II hero, Marc A. Mitscher, landed the first aircraft on board.
Stripping its navy down, even to levels below those mandated by the treaty, the United States was in a precarious position:
Lacking a strong navy and an interventionist Far Eastern foreign policy, the United States was now dependent upon a treaty to stem Japanese expansionism. U.S. policy makers had failed to recognize the value of Far Eastern outposts as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with the Japanese. Being a Far Eastern power, Japan had bases within easy steaming distance of any potential area of confrontation.

By contrast, the United States could reinforce its outposts on Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines only after a long and dangerous voyage from San Diego, the main fleet base on the West Coast. Consequently, America needed strong outposts in the Pacific far more than the Japanese. Without such outposts, American strategists were forced to adopt a holding strategy for the defense of America's Far Eastern possessions.
As Morison points out in The Two-Ocean War, Japan had the advantage of interior lines of communication while the U.S. built a war plan based in fantasy. War Plan Orange
...looked to the Army to defend Manila and hold out for an estimated three to four months until the Battle Fleet could cross the Pacific and raise the siege. Japanese possession of the mandated islands made this task impossible unless key positions in the Marshalls and Carolines were first secured...that increased the time for the Army to hold out in Luzon to nine months...
***
An impossible situation in grand strategy had been created for us, largely by our own folly. We were promising to defend the integrity of China and of the Philippines, without anything near the military means to implement such a policy.
Japan invaded Manchuria and Shanghai in 1931. The U.S., instead of arming to the teeth, issued strong protests.The Japanese withdrew from the League of Nations and renounced the Washington Treaty.

In the United States, Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and in 1931, Carl Vinson, a congressman from Georgia, became the Chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. Together, Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Congressman Vinson made a formidable team. At the time, the Navy had fallen well below even the limits set by the Washington treaty. In 1935, Morison notes, the Navy had only 8063 officers and 82,500 men and the ships the navy did have had only 80% manning. Vinson and Roosevelt got Congress moving - construction started on new cruisers, new destroyers, submarines and the carriers Enterprise and Yorktown, Eventually more new cruisers and numerous other ships were authorized and the battleships North Carolina and Washington completed. Things were not good, especially with respect to advanced bases, but things were better.

Earlier, under the treaty, the U.S. was able to design and build its first non-converted aircraft carrier, USS Ranger (CV-4), completed in 1934.

So, who was Carl Vinson? From the website of the aircraft carrier named in his honor:
Carl Vinson's service in the House of Representatives exceeds that of anyone elected to the Congress of the United States since it first convened in 1798. During his unparalleled tenure of fifty plus years, he also completed a record breaking twenty-nine years as Chairman of the House Naval Affairs and Armed Services Committee. In that position, Congressman Vinson forged and moved through Congress the landmark Vinson-Trammel Act which provided authority for the eventual construction of ninety-two major warships, the birth of the two ocean Navy. From Capitol Hill, he also guided the establishment of a separate air academy and the launching of the Navy's first nuclear powered submarine.

Stating that, "The most expensive thing in the world is a cheap Army and Navy," Congressman Vinson became a powerful force in the growth of America's land, sea and air forces. His skilled legislative abilities assisted in the creation of the Army Air Corps, the improvement of aviator and aircraft procurement, and the pre-World War II expansion of the Navy's air arm.

Few men in American history have made so profound an impact on the nation's defenses. The crew of this aircraft carrier is proud to serve on the ship that bears his name and proud to honor his outstanding service to the United States of America.
and the Vinson Naval Plan
Congressman Carl Vinson of the Tenth Congressional district of Georgia and chairman of the House naval affairs committee has introduced a bill calling for construction of 120 ships at a cost of $616,000,000. The bill provides for a 10 year building program for the replacement of ships incapacitated for service from wear and tear and antiquated in construction. The provisions of the bill are in perfect harmony with the London treaty and have received the approval of the Navy general board.

The Vinson program calls for construction of three aircraft carriers, nine six-inch gun cruisers, 13 destroyers leaders, 72 destroyers and 23 submarines. In commenting on his bill, Congressman Vinson is quoted as follows:

"This replacement Navy not only will be far more efficient and effective, but also less expensive to operate and maintain. This applies to both personnel and material, combatant ships and auxiliaries.

"It reduces the number of ships and overall tonnage displacement at the same time tremendously increasing the fighting strength of our Navy.

"It's generally understood but not thoroughly appreciated how far we're dropped behind other countries in naval strength since the World War (I) and particularly since the Washington treaty.

"In ratifying the London treaty it was the general understanding that it was the policy of the country to build up to the naval strength permitted by that treaty. This problem is not a political question, but a national problem - namely, an adequate national defense - a first class Navy for a first class nation."

While, of course, it's regular to hold hearings on such bills, it's not expected any serious opposition will arise in the committee. There should be no delay in action - a favorable report on the bill and its immediate enactment into law by Congress should follow. The Vinson program is one of great importance and interest to the United States. A stronger Navy and Army is highly important for the protection of this country and for the preservation of peace with foreign nations. Without a superior Navy and Army, entanglements with European countries may be expected. To preserve peace and good will between nations, it's absolutely essential to build up our Navy and Army above the peer of other nations.

Peace is desirable at all times, but peace at any price is an expensive sacrifice and becomes stultifying to self-respecting nations. Therefore, the 10-year naval program of Congressman Vinson should be passed immediately and without amendments, unless the amendments provide for an increase and not a decrease in shipbuilding.
And from here:
Carl Vinson, Georgia Congressman, was one of the most important and influential individuals in naval affairs. He not only mastered the traditions, processes, and rules of the House of Representatives where he served for a half century, but also acquired a vast and detailed knowledge of naval matters (and later the armed services in general) and displayed consummate skill in drafting and managing legislation designed to modernize and strengthen the Navy in particular and the armed forces and national defense in general.

Known as the “Georgia Swamp Fox” or “the Admiral,” Vinson was an astute and crafty tactician in the political arena with an incredibly acute sense of timing, who knew how to play pork barrel politics and knew when and how to compromise. For most of his tenure in Congress he was either the chairman or the ranking minority member of the Naval Affairs/Armed Services Committee. In time, he came to wield enormous power in shaping naval and military policies. In many respects, he was the principal architect of the nation’s modern defense system. (emphasis added)
More from Sea Power, a book review of CARL VINSON: Patriarch of the Armed Forces"
by James F. Cook:
On March 15, 1980, Carl Vinson was the first man to watch the launching of a ship that bore his name. Simultaneously, a generation asked of the little-known congressman, "Who is Carl Vinson?"

Vinson once wrote, "It takes genius to commit the story of a crusty old man like myself into something readable." But James F. Cook, professor at Floyd College, ingeniously offers Carl Vinson: Patriarch of the Armed Forces to challenge that precis, despite the fact that Vinson himself left few traces of his legacy - never providing an autobiography, keeping a journai or preserving his private papers.

A product of a classic rural curriculum in Georgia that eventually led him to law school, Vinson always felt destined to represent his home district in Congress, according to a classmate. This prophecy was realized in November 1914, 15 days before his 31st birthday, when he began his service as the youngest congressman to date. Two years later, he proclaimed, "No government which fails to provide for its own preservation against the assaults of every probable foe is entitled to the support of its people."

With this mantra governing his life, he served for a half-century fighting, with all of his heart, for the security of the nation. Over the years, his influence grew and his dynamic speeches and passionate governance led him to serve on the House Naval Affairs Committee. He was drawn to this particular committee because "he expected sea power to grow in importance," Cook writes.

***
Vinson earned the title "Father of the Two-Ocean Navy" during the 1920s and '30s, a period when America was more focused on "disarmament and isolationism than [on] preparing for war." During this period, he served as chairman or ranking minority member of the Naval Affairs and Armed Services Committees.

Perhaps the zenith of his clout was realized on Jan. 5, 1938, when "The troubling international situation had prompted [President] Roosevelt to summon Vinson ... to the White House for a conference" on Adolf Hitler's rapid naval armament, a tremendous threat to U.S. security. Vinson, who co-authored the Vinson-Trammell Act of 1934, demanded that the United States expand its construction of battleships and aircraft carriers to make the U.S. Navy "a Navy second to none" by increasing "the total tonnage of the Navy by 20 percent," he said.

This was a controversial move at the time. "Critics called him a dictator," Cook wrote. But Vinson, who insisted that his committee meetings be held publicly, efficiently conducted the meetings of the Naval Affairs Committee. During the battle for funding, Vinson rapidly emptied his witness chair in a controlled and orderly fashion.
***
Ultimately, Vinson delivered on his promise and commitment to build two additional battleships, construct two more cruisers and provide $15 million for new types of small ships. Additionally, he fought for and realized plans to build a fleet air arm of 3,000 aircraft.

***
Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England writes of Cook's book that, "All who love freedom owe Carl Vinson a profound debt of gratitude. His example of honor, courage and commitment live on in the magnificent aircraft carrier that bears his name, our sailors and Marines who serve today." (By David W. Munns) (emphasis added)
So, next time the issue comes up about who Carl Vinson was, tell the person who asks:
"He was a man who believed that freedom needs to be protected and, for the United States, that requires a strong Navy. He was the man who wrote:
"I do not advocate a Navy to rule the waves, but I do believe our country has a tremendous responsibility in helping to preserve the freedom of the seas for peaceful commerce.
***
"Our Navy is and must remain our first line of national defense. Our prosperity depends upon our ability to import raw materials and to export our produce and manufactured materials."
Similar words live on in our current Maritime Strategy. That's who Carl Vinson was."

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