The United States Navy has played a vital role both in resolving conflicts and in peacekeeping for 250 years. In this course, you’ll learn the saga of its history, from the exploits of the young US Navy and its emergence as a global naval power to its vital role in World War II, the Cold War, and beyond. These engrossing lectures offer you an unforgettable view into a core element of American life.
The History of the United States Navy
Craig L. Symonds is a Professor Emeritus of History at the US Naval Academy and a former Ernest J. King Distinguished Professor of Maritime History at the US Naval War College. He earned a PhD in History from the University of Florida and is the author or editor of more than two dozen books. His book Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize in Naval History. He also wrote Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War, which won several awards.
01: The British Origins of the US Navy
Begin with an overview of the British Royal Navy at the time of US independence. Learn about the British ships-of-the-line—the premier warships of the age—including their military technology and procedures during engagements. Visualize the lives of naval personnel, both officers and sailors, and the severe hardships of life at sea. Note how the early American naval system was modeled on the British system.
02: American Revolution on River, Lake, and Sea
Take account of the three arms of sea power on the American side during the American Revolution. Follow the first American naval shipbuilding at Lake Champlain, the birth of the Continental Navy in 1775, and the exploits of John Paul Jones. Then, observe the role in the conflict of privateering against British merchant ships, and the French Navy’s critical assistance in undermining the British war effort.
03: Alexander Hamilton and the Early Navalists
Trace the disputes between factions for and against establishing a standing US naval force. Then, learn about the threats against American merchant ships by both Barbary Coast corsairs and the French, leading to the “Quasi War” with France in the Caribbean and the creation of the Department of the Navy. Witness the ensuing American naval action in Tripoli, and the events of the first Barbary War.
04: British Blockade and the War of 1812
Investigate the economic and political conflicts that led the United States to declare war on Britain in 1812. In the wake of the British blockade of the US coast, track the frigate duels in the Atlantic and Pacific that gave the United States its victories over the British. Then, study the most strategically significant naval battles of the war, on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, and their impact on the war’s outcome.
05: Pirates of the Barbary Coast and Caribbean
One of the US Navy’s first tasks was combatting piracy on the high seas. Following the War of 1812, witness the Navy’s actions in North Africa to subdue pirate attacks on US merchant ships. Then, follow US naval campaigns against privateering and piracy in the Caribbean and South Asia. Finally, learn about the Navy’s involvement in ending the African slave trade.
06: Navy Expeditions from Antarctica to Japan
The US Navy became a global force through its actions in the first half of the 19th century. Track the Navy’s four-year scientific expedition to find and chart new islands, circumnavigating the Earth. Take account of significant naval episodes in the Mexican-American War. In the new era of steam warships, trace the US mission to open trade with Japan, and the founding of the US Naval Academy.
07: Civil War Ironclads, Torpedoes, and Submarines
The era of the Civil War brought new technology to naval warfare. Picture the battle of the USS Merrimack and the USS Monitor, the conflict’s first ironclad warships. Investigate propeller-driven steam warships, and new naval firepower, larger guns with far greater range and accuracy. Witness the Union’s naval blockade of the South, and Confederate innovations of underwater mines and the submarine.
08: Union Gunboats on Confederate Rivers
Learn how control of the western rivers played a critical role in the Civil War. Begin with the Union’s building of ironclad gunboats, and their assaults on Confederate river forts and role in the battle at Shiloh. Note how the Navy and Army worked together in important engagements. Then, follow the Union naval conquest of Confederate defenses below New Orleans, and the capture of Vicksburg.
09: Union Victories from Charleston to Cape Fear
As the Civil War drew on, Confederate vessels slipping through the North’s naval blockade were a sore point for the Union war effort. Trace the Navy’s dramatic campaign to capture the forts used by blockade-runners. Study the lengthy effort to take Charleston, South Carolina, the longest military siege in American history, followed by intense engagements at forts in Mobile and Wilmington.
10: Mahan’s Navy and the Spanish-American War
Bear witness to the renaissance of the US Navy in the 1890s, as a substantial, modernized fleet and a standing force capable of responding to crises. See how the Cuban rebellion against Spain in 1895 triggered events leading to the Spanish declaration of war on the United States. Relive two major US naval victories in the war, at Manila and Santiago, Cuba, leaving the US Navy a global naval power.
11: Teddy Roosevelt and the Battleship Age
Take the measure of the battleship as the dominant naval warship between about 1890 and 1940. Study their design, firepower, and dramatically increasing proportions. Under Teddy Roosevelt, observe the use of the Navy as a tool of diplomacy, and the ensuing multi-country naval arms race. During World War I, track the Navy’s critical role in protecting Allied convoys from German U-boats.
12: The Naval Threats of Nazi Germany and Japan
Delve into key events affecting the US Navy between the world wars, including sweeping naval arms reduction agreements, the emergence of the aircraft carrier, and the US Marines’ development of amphibious assault operations. Learn how US relations with Japan deteriorated, and how the United States dramatically expanded its navy just as Germany was allowed to rebuild theirs under Hitler.
13: Big Aircraft Carrier Battles of the Pacific
Follow the deployment of US aircraft carriers in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and see how these carriers became the dominant naval weapon of the war. Observe how carriers worked in “Task Forces” with other ships and the aircraft they hosted. Witness the key events of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first fought entirely with carrier-based aircraft, the pivotal Battle of Midway, and more.
14: U-Boats, Convoys, and Radar in the Atlantic
For three years, German U-boats (submarines) fought to destroy Britain’s maritime supply line. Chart the severe losses of ships to U-boats, and the Allied convoys throughout the Atlantic region that worked to counteract them. Grasp the roles of codebreaking operations, radar, and American industrial productivity in winning what was arguably the most consequential naval engagement of the war.
15: Amphibious Warfare from Sicily to Saipan
Visualize the procedures and logistics of amphibious naval operations, which became a major aspect of war in World War II. Begin with the US invasion of the Pacific island of Guadalcanal, a six-month ordeal on land and sea. Then, study key amphibious assaults on the island of Betio, the Marshall Islands, and the D-Day invasion of Normandy—the largest amphibious operation in world history.
16: Kamikazes, Atomic Bombs, and America’s Triumph
The US Navy ended the war as the greatest maritime power in world history. In the Pacific Theater, trace the monumental battle of Saipan, a major turning point. Then, study the dramatic American recapture of the Philippines, and the months-long US invasion of Okinawa, leading to the final defeat of Japan’s Navy, the deployment of the atomic bomb, and the unconditional surrender of Japan.
17: The Birth of NATO and New Cold War Threats
Following World War II, take stock of integral changes in US naval operations. Grasp how the Cold War and the creation of NATO brought new, global defense responsibilities for the Navy. With the advent of nuclear weaponry, examine the Navy’s key role in deterrence through its nuclear-armed submarines. Finally, learn about the historic ending of racial segregation in the military.
18: MacArthur’s Bold Landing at Incheon, Korea
The US Navy was called into action in 1950 in the first aggressive move of the Cold War. Survey the events that led to war in Korea, and the US and United Nations’ response to the invasion of South Korea by the North’s armies. Observe how General MacArthur’s risky landing at Incheon reversed the war’s dynamic, and how strategic support from the Navy and Marines aided in repelling the invaders.
19: Hyman Rickover and the Nuclear Navy
From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, the US Navy often acted as a global peacekeeper. Follow the events of crises in the Mediterranean, Lebanon, and Taiwan, and the Navy’s role in resolving conflicts without violence. Then, meet the extraordinary Hyman Rickover, who oversaw the development of the Navy’s nuclear-powered forces, and relive the legendary Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
20: The Gulf of Tonkin and War in Vietnam
Though the Vietnam War was largely a land war, the Navy played a distinct strategic role in the conflict. Learn how US naval action with the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin brought the United States formally into the war. Trace the Navy’s key roles in the war, from tactical air support for ground troops to impeding enemy supply vessels along the coast and critical operations in the Mekong Delta.
21: How the Navy Reformed after Vietnam
The era of the Civil Rights movement exposed racial inequities within the Navy, leading to violent confrontations aboard ships. Examine naval reforms under Admiral Elmo Zumwalt that sought to address both racial and gender discrimination. Then, observe the expansion of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, and its intervention in political conflicts on the island of Grenada, and later in Libya.
22: Projecting Naval Power in the Middle East
In the late 20th century, the US Navy operated in a new and dangerous world, fraught with ambiguous political relationships, as well as highly sophisticated weaponry. Examine conditions within the Middle East that led to attacks on American ships during the Iran/Iraq War and the Six-Days War. See how tensions with Iran resulted in the largest surface naval battle since World War II.
23: America’s 21st-Century Missions at Sea
At the turn of the 21st century, new conflicts required the US Navy to reassess its role in the post-Soviet world. Track the Navy’s important work in the air campaign of the Gulf War of 1990, and its logistical roles during the 2003 war against Iraq. Learn also about the Navy’s peacetime operations, in areas such as the suppression of piracy and drug trafficking, and humanitarian aid.
24: China’s Threats to US Naval Supremacy
Review the complex history of China over the last century, and the parameters of China’s territorial claims to Taiwan and other neighboring islands, which underlie a current rivalry at sea between the Chinese and US navies. Compare the US and Chinese naval forces, factored against China’s present naval buildup, and assess the potential for future conflicts in the China seas and beyond.