International Naval Review

12 June 1957

by Jim Gill U.S.C.G. Ret.


The International Naval Review of 1907 was possibly the last of it’s kind.  There had  been only two such events held prior to that time, the first in 1890, the second in 1893. These were “saber rattling” affairs, held in the days when sea power was the principal measurement by which maritime nations established their pecking order. When the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945, there was an immediate and total change in the outlook of the world’s peoples concerning many things. The so-called “Atomic Age” hailed the end  of  many long valued traditions, and among them the face of sea-power,  a major victim. The giant battleship, once a symbol of superior might, was relegated to the pages of history. Air power firmly established dominance but only to be quickly challenged by “Star Wars” technology. Sea power remained important but there was a new trend among nations (except for the USSR) to establish dominance through financial and economic means rather than warfare. Aside from several convulsive incidents (The Gary Powers U-2 affair, the Cuban missile crisis, Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs, and the ravings of Nikita Khrushchev) the world began to compete in a more peaceful manner. Although Third World misfits continued their time worn efforts to annihilate one another, civilized countries for the most part retracted from warlike endeavors            .

The announcement of a naval review to be held in 1957 was therefore somewhat of a surprise, begging the question, “for what purpose?” Perhaps it was the last grasp of sea power to stay dominant or a last ditch appeal for public interest.  Whatever the case,  excitement in maritime circles was intense for the event would be the first held in 50 years!  The plan called for the Hampton Roads area to again be chosen as the location of this great display so the excitement was even more fervid on the local scene.

            Personally I found my own brand of excitement in the International Naval Review. Years ago I listened to my father’s description of the same event as he had experienced it aboard the brand new USS VERMONT (BB-25) back in 1907. As with most old sailors, Pop could spin a good yarn and the story he painted of the Review was most colorful. It looked now as if I would have the opportunity to see it myself for CGC CHEROKEE (WATF-165) was chosen to play a small but important roll in the proceedings. The participating ships would gather and begin to form up several days before the event. Precisely designated positions were assigned each ship in lines along both sides of the channel beginning at about Willoughby and extending for several miles out Thimble Shoal Channel almost to the Virginia Capes. During this form-up period, CHEROKEE would patrol the area to fend off the curious and the unknowing from interfering. On the day of the review itself, the Port of Hampton Roads would be closed to ALL shipping and CHEROKEE would enforce that edict. First by a complete sweep along the line of ships to warn away any stragglers and then taking station at the seaward end to direct entering vessels to stand clear.

            As the great occasion neared, we labored mightily to turn CHEROKEE into a show-piece. Fresh paint was applied everywhere topsides and anything that could be shined was polished, even the gypsy-heads on our winches. Actually, there was a secondary occasion, aside from the Naval Review, to take pride in. The long struggle to drag CHEROKEE  up out of the doldrums had succeeded. Starting a year and a half before, the need to “get it done” was  painfully apparent. As the new First Lieutenant, I was joined by Chief Edward Midgett and encouraged by an enthusiastic Commanding Officer CDR Henry Keene USCG. Winning over the deck-force to endure the brunt of this huge labor was not easy, but soon enough there began a momentum that more than sufficed. The ship’s assignment to the Naval Review task was a timely reward and there was not a man aboard that was not justly proud.

            The early morning of 12 June dawned sunny and clear as CHEROKEE took station at the head of the line of warships. The sight was truly amazing. Assembled here were 80 U.S. warships joined by 30 combatants representing 17 countries including Belgium, Canada, Columbia, Cuba, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands , Norway, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela.

One hour before the official start time, CHEROKEE, assisted by four Coast Guard 40 footers, began the security sweep along the line of ships to ward off intruders. We started off dead-center down the two columns just as would the reviewing ship, USS CANBERRA. Overhead, scores of various types of military aircraft thundered at low altitude along the columns, practicing for the main event. Every ship was manned at the rails ready for passing honors and “full dress” flags whipped out in the breeze. It was as though CHEROKEE was the “reviewing ship” as we steamed down the channel. The major warships, carriers and battleships, were stationed at the start of the columns. Then came cruisers, destroyers, submarines followed by auxiliaries of various types. Four Coast Guard cutters held down the far end. Last perhaps, but looking magnificent.

            There had been but few wayward intruders along the route, chased away by the nimble “40-boats” and now we had reached the seaward end where we would take station and maintain a “closed port” for the next three hours. At precisely the appointed time USS CANBERRA, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson embarked, began the official review passing sedately between the columns. With all ships rendering “passing honors” and aircraft  roaring overhead it was certainly a most impressive affair. For those of us in CHEROKEE it would be a day long remembered.

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