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Fleet problem was the term used by the United States Navy to describe each of 21 large-scale naval exercises conducted between 1923 and 1940. They are labeled with roman numerals, from Fleet Problem I through Fleet Problem XXI. A 22nd Fleet Problem exercise, scheduled for 1941, was canceled because of World War II.

The fleet problems were usually once a year exercises in which U.S. naval forces would engage in mock battles. One or more of the forces would play the part of a European or Asian navy. They were the culmination of the Navy's annual training maneuvers.

Fleet Problems

Fleet Problem I

Fleet Problem I was held in February and March 1923 and was staged off the coast of Panama.[1] The attacking Black force, using battleships to represent aircraft carriers, tested the defenses of the Panama Canal. A single plane launched from Oklahoma—representing a carrier air group—dropped 10 miniature bombs and theoretically "destroyed" the spillway of the Gatun Dam.[2]

Fleet Problems II, III, IV

Fleet Problems II, III, and IV were held concurrently in January and February 1924 took place in the Caribbean and simulated actions that might occur in the Pacific.[1]

Fleet Problem II

Fleet Problem II simulated the first leg of a westward advance across the Pacific.[1]

Fleet Problem III

This exercise focused on a defense of the Panama Canal from the Caribbean side. The Blue force was defending the canal from an attack from the Caribbean by the Black force, operating from an advance base in the Azores. It was to practice amphibious landing techniques and the rapidity of transiting a fleet through the canal from the Pacific side.[3]

In the exercise, a Black force special operations action resulted in the "sinking" of Blue force battleship New York in the Culebra Cut which would have blocked the canal.[3]

Fleet Problem IV

This problem simulated the movement from a main base in the western Pacific to the Japanese home islands—represented in that case by islands, cities, and countries surrounding the Caribbean.[1]

Fleet Problem V

Fleet Problem V was held in March and April 1925 and simulated an attack on Hawaii.[1][4] The Black force, the aggressor, was given the United States' first aircraft carrier, Langley along with two seaplane tenders and other ships outfitted with aircraft, while the defending Blue force had no carriers. In addition, aircraft aboard the battleship Wyoming could not be launched for lack of a working catapult. Langley's positive performance helped speed the completion of aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga.[4]

One aspect of Fleet Problem V was conducted near Guadalupe Island off Baja California and involved attacking a lightly held position and refueling at sea.[5][6]

Fleet Problem VI

Held off the west coast of Central America in early 1926.[1]

Fleet Problem VII

This fleet problem was held March 1927 and involved defense of the Panama Canal.[1][7] The highlight of the exercise was Langley’s successful air raid on the Panama Canal.[7]

Fleet Problem VIII

Held in April 1928 between California and Hawaii and pitted Orange, a cruiser force from Pearl Harbor, versus Blue, the Battle Force.[1][8][9] It also involved a convoy search and anti-submarine operations.[10]

Fleet Problem IX

This scenario in January 1929 studied the effects of an attack upon the Panama Canal and conducted the operations necessary to carry out such an eventuality, and pitted the Battle Fleet (less submarines and Lexington) against a combination of forces including the Scouting Force (augmented by Lexington), the Control Forces, Train Squadron 1, and 15th Naval District and local army defense forces.[1] In a daring move, Saratoga was detached from the fleet with only a single cruiser as escort to make a wide sweep to the south and "attack" the Panama Canal, which was defended by the Scouting Fleet and Saratoga's sister ship, Lexington. She successfully launched her strike on 26 January and, despite being "sunk" three times later in the day, proved the versatility of a carrier-based fast task force.

Fleet Problem X

Held in 1930 in Caribbean waters.[11] This time, however, Saratoga and Langley were "disabled" by a surprise attack from Lexington, showing how quickly air power could swing the balance in a naval action.

Fleet Problem XI

Held in April 1930 in the Caribbean.[12]

Fleet Problem XII

Held in 1931 in waters west of Central American and Panama. Black, attacking from the west, was to land forces and establish bases in Central America and destroy the Panama Canal, While Blue defended with an aviation-heavy fleet. Blue's two carrier groups, centered on Saratoga and Lexington, attacked the invasion fleets but failed to stop the landings and got too close to the Black fleets. [13]

Fleet Problem XIII

Held in March 1932. In a simulated naval battle, an outnumbered scouting force inflicted staggering losses on a battle fleet in the first effective demonstration of aircraft carriers against sea-based targets. After-action critiques stressed the growing importance of naval aviation, and an increased need for the construction of aircraft carriers in the event of a war in the Pacific.[14]

Fleet Problem XIV

Held in 1933.

Fleet Problem XV

Held in May 1934 in Hawaii, this was a three-phase exercise which encompassed an attack upon and defense of the Panama Canal, the capture of advanced bases, and a major fleet engagement.[11][15]

Fleet Problem XVI

Held in May 1935 in the northern Pacific off the coast of Alaska and in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, this operation was divided into five distinct phases which were thought to be aspects of some real naval campaign of the future in which the U.S. would take the strategic offensive.[16]

Fleet Problem XVII

This problem took place off the west coast of the U.S., Central America, and the Panama Canal Zone in the spring of 1936. It was a five-phase exercise devoted to preparing the fleet for anti-submarine operations, testing communications systems, and training of aircraft patrol squadrons for extended fleet operations, and pitted the Battle Force against the submarine-augmented Scouting Force.[16][17]

Fleet Problem XVIII

This exercise was held in May 1937 in Alaskan waters and in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands and Midway, practicing the tactics of seizing advanced base sites—a technique later to be polished to a high degree into close support and amphibious warfare doctrines.[16]

Fleet Problem XIX

Ranger, foreground; Lexington, middle distance; and Saratoga, background, lie at anchor off Honolulu, Hawaii, 8 April 1938 during Fleet Problem XIX.

This operation in April and May 1938 gave the navy added experience in search tactics; in the use of submarines, destroyers, and aircraft in scouting and attack, in the dispositions of the fleet and the conduct of a major fleet battle. In addition, the exercise again dealt with the matter of seizing advanced fleet bases and defending them against minor opposition. Fleet Problem XIX also tested the capabilities of the Hawaiian Defense Force, augmenting it with fleet units to help to defend the islands against the United States fleet as a whole. The last phase of the exercise exercised the fleet in operations against a defended coastline.[16][18]

Fleet Problem XX

Took place in February 1939 in the Caribbean and Atlantic, and observed in person by President Franklin Roosevelt.[2][19][20] The exercise simulated the defense of the East Coast of the United States and Latin America by the Black team from the invading White team.[21] Participating in the maneuvers were 134 ships, 600 planes, and over 52,000 officers and men.[20]

Fleet Problem XXI

An eight-phase operation for the defense of the Hawaiian area in April 1940.[22]

Fleet Problem XXII

Scheduled for the Spring of 1941, but cancelled.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Yarborough". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Wright". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "From the Archives". Strategy Page. 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 McCue, p. 14
  5. "S-28". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  6. "William Jones". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Wildenberg, pp. 144–48
  8. "Sloat". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  9. "Argonne". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  10. "S-45". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Sicard". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  12. "Schenk". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  13. Albert A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet For War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923–1940 (Newport, R.I.: Naval War College Press, 2010)
  14. Herts, "Fleet Problem XIII & Grand Joint Exercise No. 4: Reconsidering Aircraft Carrier Doctrine"
  15. "Waters". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 "Tuscaloosa". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  17. "Aylwin". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  18. Merrill, Grayson; Lester J. Stone. "A Day of Infamy: Mock Attack On Pearl Harbor, Circa 1938, And The Attack On Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941". Sea Stories. Annapolis, Maryland: U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association. Retrieved January 5, 2012. 
  19. "Utah". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Strong Arm". Time magazine. 1939-02-20.,9171,760742,00.html?iid=chix-sphere. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  21. "Fleet Problem XX". Time magazine. 1939-01-09.,9171,771265,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  22. "Shaw". DANFS. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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