OLD POINT COMFORT, Va., Feb. 22, 1909 (UP) -- The great American battleship fleet again is at home.
It was formally greeted Monday as it entered Hampton Roads by the president, the secretary of the navy and a distinguished party aboard the Mayflower, with all the elaborate pomp and circumstance that the naval regulations could provide.
A steady, drizzling rain and a heavy atmosphere cut off all view of the approaching men of war until they were within three miles of Old Point Comfort, abreast of which were the anchorage grounds. Only through the echo of saluting cannon were the waiting ones apprized of the armada's approach.
It was one hour from the time admiral Spurry saluted the flag of the commander-in-chief that the folks at this place sighted the blue flag of the Connecticut through the fog and rain.
This was the signal for the answering guns ashore, and at high noon the first sullen boom opened the welcome of those who had come, not because official duties demanded but because they loved the flag, the fleet, and the men who had gone around the world and had come home safe again.
Thousands stood without protection from the persistent drizzle that marred the day, and thus remained until the last ship had snuggled into its old berth.
The 16 magnificent warships pushed along a channel kept clear only with great difficulty by torpedo boats and extending a distance of eight miles to the anchorage in front of the Chamberlain hotel. There other hundreds of excited humanity, mainly wives, relatives and friends of the 15,000 world voyagers, were banked in a solid phalanx.
So ends the most remarkable continuous voyage ever made by the warships of any navy.
President Roosevelt and the secretary of the navy, the last to bid the fleet god speed Dec. 16, 1907, were the first to greet it. The president and his party, aboard the Mayflower, anchored off Thimble Shoal light, sighted the warships as they turned in through the Virginia capes, then formally reviewed them as they passed the Mayflower in single column.
When the fleet had dropped anchor just above Ft. Monroe, the Mayflower steamed in among them and Admiral Sperry and his flag officers and ship captains were received by the president.
Following the president's reception of the officers, the Mayflower is to start back to Washington. The officers and men, as many as can be spared at one time, will rush ashore to greet the members of their families and friends who have come to welcome them. The other officers will be given this shore leave in relays until all have had the round.
As the battleships came in, looking their fittest and apparently none the worse for the wear of the long voyage of 42,227 miles, equal to almost twice the distance around the equator, naval authorities drew a breath of relief. Not that there had been any apprehension at any time of any serious difficulties, either in the matter of navigation or possible military work to do, but because the handling of 16 modern sea-fighting engines, supplying them with coal, oil and food at the different ports, required careful and almost constant attention.
The completion of the cruise without noteworthy incident from either a naval or political point of view, is regarded by all nations as history making. Never before has any armada of any of the countries of the world visited so many ports, at such great distances, in so many countries, and under so many flags. And never was any naval command received with such universal manifestation of friendly feeling, as marked the progress of the American fleet at every one of its two-score stops on the cruise around the world.
Starting out from Hampton Roads 14 months ago the 16 dogs of war stood ready at every moment for prompt and effective action.
"We were ready for a fight or froile," said Rear Admiral "Fighting Bob" Evans. "Although there was no fighting, still it was not a continuous frolic."
Several important things were accomplished by the fleet on its cruise which were not anticipated. "Whether there was a political mission to be fulfilled does not concern the navy. But it was a comfort to know that the fleet, on a peaceful errand, was able to render more assistance than could have been given by any other country to the stricken people of Sicily in the recent earthquake disaster.
Aside from this, all nations had opportunity properly to estimate the military importance of the United States on the seas.
How much greater is the coast of maintaining the fleet on this cruise was than it would have been under normal cruising conditions in Atlantic home waters, is difficult to estimate. The principal item of increased cost was that of coal consumption.
This increase will amount to about $1,300,000. Much of this extra cost was in transporting the coal, which had to be shipped from the Atlantic coast to the various ports around South America, and to Honolulu, Australia, Manila, Japan and Gibraltar, consisted of about 22,000 tons.
Approximately 365,000 tons were consumed on the entire cruise, the total cost of which was about $2,600,000.
The monster warships again are on the spot they started from over a year ago, seemingly well content to receive the plaudits of the nation frothier record-breaking girdle of the globe.
President Roosevelt viewed the ships with a critical but pleased eye, as the long line steamed gracefully by. It was the last great event of the Roosevelt administration.
Before each ship neared the Mayflower, and while the guns were belching out their discordant greeting, the rails were manned by the blue jackets who stood side by side, each one his hand resting upon the shoulder of his companies, and facing the president's yacht.
The officers paraded in special full dress, and the marine guard that may appear no more on the warships unless congress finally legislates, as it threatens, to remove the existing executive order, presented arms, while the band played the "Star Spangled Banner."
With binoculars in one hand, which he frequently used, and his top hat in the other, which he almost constantly waved in the air, the president apparently enjoyed the spectacle to the utmost.
As the last ship passed, the Mayflower fell in behind and in schedule time passed between the lines made by their formation at anchorage in front of the Chamberlain hotel.
There was a slight drizzle of rain early in the day.
Rear Admiral Brownson, as chief of the bureau that formulated the original plans for sending the fleet around the world, but who was prevented from directing its further course by his differences with the President Roosevelt over the hospital ships, was one of the visitors Monday.
There is to be at least one wedding as soon as the men can come ashore. The expectant bride is Gladys Haile of Jacksonville, Fla. The prospective bridegroom is Midshipmen Alfred Martin.