The U.S. Pacific Fleet has maintained and secured America's presence in this vast and vital ocean area for nearly two centuries, providing a stabilizing influence or military force as conditions and the nation's goal demand.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet's contributions to our Navy's proud heritage date back to 1821, with the establishment of the Pacific Squadron. This small force confined its activities initially to protecting U.S. commercial shipping in the waters off North and South America and around Hawaii, then expanded its scope to include the Western Pacific in 1835, when the East India Squadron joined the force. The Pacific Squadron mounted expeditions to Sumatra in the 1830s to protect American merchant shipping and was instrumental in capturing what is now California during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. The extent of its responsibility was further enlarged in the 1850s when California and Oregon were admitted to the Union.
The importance of U.S. Pacific naval forces as an instrument of foreign policy blossomed in July 1853, when Commodore Matthew C. Perry delivered a letter from President Millard Fillmore seeking diplomatic and trade relations between the United States and Japan. Less than nine months later, in March 1854, Commodore Perry negotiated and signed a treaty between the two countries, opening Japan to trade with other nations for the first time in 300 years.
Following the Civil War, the Pacific Squadron conducted anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of California. It was during this period, the 1870s, when the Navy and Hawaii became firmly intertwined. A warship of the Pacific Fleet helped quell riots following the election of King David Kalakaua in 1874, and the king later granted the United States the rights to use Pearl Harbor as a coaling station.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 resulted in further expansion of American naval power in the Pacific. Commodore George Dewey led America's Asiatic Squadron into Manila Bay for the first engagement of the war, on May 1, 1898. It was here that Commodore Dewey issued the famous order, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” When the battle ended seven hours later, eight Spanish warships had been destroyed. This decisive victory left the United States in possession of former Spanish territory in the Philippines and the Mariana Islands. More importantly, it established the United States as a major maritime power.
The Asiatic and Pacific squadrons remained separate until April 15, 1907, when they were combined to form the United States Pacific Fleet. In 1922, the Pacific and Atlantic fleets were combined to form the United States Fleet, which positioned a main body of ships in the Pacific and a scouting fleet in the Atlantic. For the first time, the major weight of American seapower was assigned to the Pacific.
The fragile peace during the years between the world wars began to wither in the late 1930s with the emergence of Germany and Japan as military threats. With the fall of France and England standing alone, the possibility of American involvement in the war saw the U.S. Navy again split into two separate fleets.
The Pacific Fleet established its new headquarters at Pearl Harbor on Feb. 1, 1941. Ten months later, on Dec. 7, Japanese warplanes attacked ships and installations at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere on Oahu without warning, thrusting America into World War II.
The war in the Pacific raised to glory some of history's finest naval commanders, legendary names including Nimitz, Halsey and Spruance. Likewise, America's most decisive blows toward total victory in World War II were struck here, from the early triumphs at Midway and the Solomon Islands to the climactic clashes of the Philippine Sea and Okinawa. This turbulent chapter in world history finally ended with the formal surrender of the Japanese aboard USS Missouri (BB 63) on Sept. 2, 1945. At the time, the U.S. Navy had 6,768 ships in service, most of them in the Pacific.
Five years of peace following World War II came to an end on June 26, 1950, when North Korean troops attacked South Korea. The Pacific Fleet responded by providing air strikes from offshore aircraft carriers and conducting the amphibious assault at Inchon. Control of the seas once again gave U.S. and other United Nations forces the decisive advantage. A cease-fire signed on July 27, 1953, halted the fighting.
Following a decade of peaceful operations, the Pacific Fleet was again called to war, this time in Southeast Asia. By the mid-1960s the Pacific Fleet was actively engaged in the Vietnam conflict, with more than 200 ships committed to operations in the South China Sea at the height of the conflict. In addition to providing air support from aircraft carriers operating off the coast, Pacific Fleet Sailors patrolled the Mekong River in gunboats. The Vietnam cease-fire was signed on Jan. 27, 1973.
In the post-Vietnam period, the Pacific Fleet increased operations with allied navies, thereby ensuring freedom of the seas for all nations. Pacific Fleet responsibilities expanded to include the Indian Ocean, where aircraft carrier battle groups operate in support of vital U.S. national interests in that volatile part of the world.
On Aug. 4, 1990, Pacific Fleet Navy and Marine Corps forces began deploying to the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield. More than 50 Pacific Fleet ships, including the USS Independence (CV 62), USS Midway (CV 41), USS Ranger (CV 61) and USS Missouri (BB 63) battle groups and approximately 20 amphibious ships were ultimately deployed. The ships and personnel were initially used to support economic sanctions set up against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm began Jan. 16, 1991, the day after Iraq failed to meet the deadline to leave Kuwait.
Ships of the USS Tarawa (LHA 1) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) demonstrated the flexibility of naval forces in May 1991. While returning from combat duty in the Persian Gulf, the Tarawa ARG served as the centerpiece of humanitarian relief operations in cyclone-devastated Bangladesh. In the summer of 1991, Seventh Fleet ships converged on the Philippines to evacuate U.S. military and families after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
During Operation Restore Hope in 1992-93, USS Rushmore (LSD 47) spearheaded a joint task force landing to provide humanitarian aid to drought-stricken Somalia. Naval forces also continued vital presence operations in the volatile Persian Gulf region, supporting Operation Southern Watch, which controlled and monitored airspace over Southern Iraq.
In December 1998, ships of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Carrier Battle Group and Carrier Air Wing 11 participated in Operation Desert Fox, striking key military targets in Iraq with a combination of attack aircraft and cruise missiles, launched from USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Princeton (CG 59), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) and other Pacific Fleet ships.
Following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, Pacific Fleet units again answered the call. On Oct. 7, less than a month after the attack, aircraft from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and surface ships conducted the first strikes on terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan, launching Operation Enduring Freedom. The following year, dozens of Pacific Fleet ships served in the Arabian Sea, including USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), USS Constellation (CV 64), USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).
In January 2003, the Pacific Fleet deployed a seven-ship Amphibious Task Force West, led by USS Boxer (LHD 4) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), to the U.S. Central Command. In February, the Pacific Fleet also deployed the USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group there, to serve alongside the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Constellation battle groups in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
More recently, the Pacific Fleet has taken a larger role in providing humanitarian relief throughout the region. USS Abraham Lincoln helped victims of the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami that devastated coastal areas from Indonesia to Africa. That operation led the U.S. Pacific Fleet to establish Pacific Partnership, an annual humanitarian assistance initiative that provides medical, dental, veterinary, engineering and agricultural civic action programs throughout Southeast Asia and the South Pacific to promote interoperability between host nations and partner nations. Pacific Partnership promotes sustainable improvements in the quality of life for the citizens of host nations while improving the partner nations' collective ability to respond to a natural disaster.
In 2006, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) visited the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East Timor), providing much-needed medical service to thousands of people in those nations. In 2007, USS Peleliu (LHA 5) deployed on a similar Pacific Partnership mission, providing medical and dental services as well as engineering work in the Philippines, Vietnam, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea. In 2008, as part of the Maritime Strategy, USNS Mercy returned to Pacific Partnership for a humanitarian/civic assistance mission to the Philippines, Vietnam, the Federated States of Micronesia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.
In 2009, USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4) traveled for the first time to Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati and returned for a second visit to the Solomon Islands and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, staying in each country for 10 to 14 days to deliver a variety of medical, dental, veterinary, preventive health, engineering and community relations programs. In 2010, Pacific Partnership again involved USNS Mercy, which visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Visits by USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) at Palau and HMAS Tobruk at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, were also part of Pacific Partnership 2010.
The amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7), served as the operation platform for the Pacific Partnership 2011 mission, which included visits to Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Federated States of Micronesia. Over the years, Pacific Partnership missions have included personnel and units and civilian volunteers from many other nations.
In March 2011, the Pacific Fleet led U.S. support for Japan in the wake of the devastating 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that destroyed much of the Tohoku region. The U.S. military engaged in two dynamic operations focused on assisting the government of Japan and Japan Self Defense Forces: humanitarian assistance and disaster response as part of Operation Tomodachi and closely monitoring events related to the Fukushima nuclear power plant in order to provide consequence management assistance if requested. More than 20,000 personnel, 140 aircraft, and 20 ships from the U.S. military were involved in Operation Tomodachi.
In May 2011, U.S. Pacific Fleet's USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), completing a deployment in support of U.S. Central Command, buried Osama bin Laden at sea after the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on America was killed in a Navy SEAL raid.
Today the Pacific Fleet remains the world's largest naval command, extending from the West Coast of the United States, into the Indian Ocean, encompassing three oceans, six continents, and more than half the Earth's surface.
The Pacific Fleet continues to be a credibly led, combat-ready and surge-ready Fleet prepared in peace, crisis or war. The U.S. Pacific Fleet is a purposeful presence, building trust and cooperation with our partners to advance Asia-Pacific regional security and prosperity.
Last modified: January 25, 2016