The History of the US Pacific Fleet

October 13, 2017

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The Pacific Fleet was one of the most important branches of the United States Navy. Not only was it the main focus of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—the deciding factor in America’s decision to enter World War II—it also was the main defender against Japan’s expansion across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

While the US Pacific Fleet played a prominent role in World War II, it has an extensive history that began long before the deadly events of December 7th, 1941.

Forming the Pacific Fleet

US Pacific Fleet

Admiral James O. Richardson

The creation of the US Pacific Fleet came from an order to combine the Asiatic Squadron and the Pacific Squadron. In 1907, the two were merged to create the fleet, but within three years, the First Squadron of the Pacific Fleet separated to reconstitute the Asiatic Fleet.

From the time of its inception until May of 1940, the fleet was stationed primarily at San Diego, but that changed when the Empire of Japan became very aggressive in its expansionism. San Diego was deemed too far from Japan should open hostilities break out.

During the summer of 1940, the Battle Fleet was transferred to Pearl Harbor on Oahu, a part of the American Territory of Hawaii. The fleet's commander at the time, Admiral James O. Richardson, opposed the long-term use of Pearl Harbor as its base. When he personally protested the idea, he was replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel.

Though the Pacific Fleet had technically been disbanded and named the Battle Fleet with the creation of the Asiatic Fleet, on February 1st, 1941, it was reformed yet again, this time accompanied by the creation of the Atlantic and Asiatic Fleets.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

US Pacific Fleet

Battleship Row December 7, 1941

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Pacific Fleet comprised nine battleships, divided into three divisions. The first division was made up of the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), USS Arizona (BB-39), and USS Nevada (BB-36); the second included the USS Tennessee (BB-43), USS California (BB-44), and USS Oklahoma (BB-37); and finally, the third division comprised the USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Maryland (BB-46), and USS West Virginia (BB-48).

All but the Arizona and Oklahoma survived the attack and continued fighting the war until its conclusion in 1945.

The Pacific Fleet Post-World War II

After the war, the Pacific Fleet participated in Operation Magic Carpet, which returned American servicemen from the Pacific islands back to the US mainland. The fleet's involvement in America's wars didn’t end with World War II, as the nation soon found itself engaged in Korea and later, Vietnam.

Today, the US Pacific Fleet is still based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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