This Place in History: Admiral H. T. Mayo

Vermont Historical Society

BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Burlington, looking out on Lake Champlain, with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re in Lakeview Cemetery and we’re going to talk about this outsize presence that our landlocked state of Vermont had on the United States Navy. We’re going to talk about Admiral Henry Thomas Mayo who was born right here in Burlington. Of course, he comes from a long line of famous Vermonters who were naval admirals. Dewey, we’ve talked about him before. Mayo came a little bit after Dewey,” began Perkins.

“He went to the Naval Academy and worked his way through the ranks until he was the Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic American Naval Forces during World War I.”

“Another really cool connection, other than being a native son of Vermont, to Vermont, was one of his early postings was on the USS Bennington. I think a lot of really big military buffs know that there was an aircraft carrier in World War II called the USS Bennington. But, before that, there was a gunboat, which was actually part of Dewey’s fleet. But when Mayo was on it, that gunboat was a hydro-graphic services boat, meaning it went out and mapped the currents and the harbor bottoms so that the Navy could establish bases. This guy helped map Pearl Harbor to turn it into the U.S. Naval base we all know now, while he was on the USS Bennington,” explained Perkins.

“He went on to work in the Lighthouse Service and he worked in the naval yards. He even served in Mexico. I think a lot of people forget that shortly before World War I, we had a little spat with Mexico. There were some issues, the Tampico Affair and Vera Cruz. He was very much involved with that. He was actually in charge of the squadron out of Vera Cruz during our issues with Mexico in 1914. It was from that that he got promoted to Vice Admiral and then ultimately Admiral of the Atlantic Fleet.”

“He was a big proponent of convoy work and anti-submarine warfare. And by really thinking about how does the Navy counter submarines, he became a big advocate for airplanes. I think most people know the U.S. Navy wasn’t too terribly involved in World War I because we came in later in the War. But, he saw what would be happening to navies between World War I and ultimately World War II.”

“He had the foresight to say I don’t think battleships are the answer. I think we should stop building battleships. We need to build ships that can fight against submarines. So, he advocated for building cruisers and destroyers. He said why don’t we investigate this idea of launching airplanes off of the decks of ships? This was before you really had aircraft carriers that we know now. He was advocating for that at the time. So, he really was a man ahead of his time.

“He did retire in 1928, well before the development of the Navy that fought in World War II, but he certainly had a big impact on the development of what a modern navy looks like,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

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