California Naval History
The Builder of California's Navy
By Harold French
The article entitled The Builder of California's Navy appeared in the Sunset Magazine, September 1914, pages 1321-1323, under the magazine's section "Interesting Westerners," and serves as a wonderful description of the head of the Naval Militia of California.


"When the fleet comes to the Pacific Coast after the Panama Canal is completed it will not come on a visit; it will come to its home" was the memorable declaration of Secretary Daniels in an address to the directors of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. And when the great gray squadrons ride forth upon the bay of Panama, the guns of California's own navy will roar a royal welcome of loyal westerners to this home-coming armada of America. According to the plans of the federal and state authorities the protected cruisers St. Louis, manned by the naval militia of California, will act as the escort of honor to the great battleship fleet. Professional sea-fighters will return the salutes of their clever understudies, the citizen sailors whose prowess and progress is due not alone to the high standards of the officers and men, but in a large degree to the devotion of their commanding officer to the upbuilding of this highly efficient organization.

A master mariner and master builder is George William Bauer, Captain of the California Naval Militia Corps. Not only is he a licensed navigator or ripe experience, but the builder of a trim little navy as well. During a dozen years of tireless endeavor he has constructed a fighting machine pronounced by naval experts to be of highest efficiency. Seven hundred able seamen, now in the service of their state, he has riveted together into a well ordered organization. In this combined naval and military mechanism every unit runs without friction. That California has such a force of well-trained bluejackets competent in case of war to fully man a first-class fighting ship may well be a source of pride not only to that state but to the nation.

In Captain Bauer, commanding officer of the Naval Militia of California, we find the physical and psychological reasons for the esprit de corps existent therein. On land and sea he has twice won the relative rank of colonel. A captain in the naval service ranks with a colonel in the military establishment. His zest for things military began in his boyhood. At the University of California he took an active interest in the cadet corps, which during his four years of ascending rank as an officer increased from a battalion to a regiment. Upon his graduation in 1897 he received the commission of colonel of the University Cadets and for several years following was identified with the National Guard of the Golden State. Entering the Naval Militia in 1901 with the rank of Commander, he advanced to the title of Captain and took full charge of the state naval forces. Ten years ago the service seemed hopelessly demoralized. There were more discouragements than inducements for young men to enlist in their nation's volunteer guard. The state was depressingly niggardly in its appropriations. The ranks of the naval reservists, as well as most other militia organizations, were decimated. Such drills as were held were of so elementary an order that they were of little practical value. Even the federal government preserved a repressive attitude of indifference. When Captain Bauer first took command of five skeleton divisions which aggregated about two hundred and fifty officers and men. Now, after ten years, this branch of the state service has become so popular that there are nine strong divisions with a total enrollment of some seven hundred volunteer jackies and their officers. In the beginning Captain Bauer started a successful campaign for the sine qua non sinews of war. He convinced the legislature of the necessity of making more liberal allowances for the Naval Militia. To the federal government he made requisitions for better equipment and succeeded in not only securing the latest modeled small arms, gatlings and rapid-fire guns, cutters and small-boats, but the full use of several gunboats as training-vessels.

Formerly, these amateur Jack Tars had commandeered the monitor Commanche, a relic of the Civil War, on which they acquired their first practical nautical knowledge. But, since this antiquated "cheese box on a raft" never put to sea, it was out of the question for these would-be able-bodied seamen to gain their sea-legs. When Captain Bauer took command, the gunboat Marion was placed at the disposal of his divisions. In 1906 he next secured the USS Alert as the training ship of the state naval forces. Four years later the trim and seaworthy little cruiser Marblehead was turned over as the flagship of this little navy. In the near future a protected cruiser of the St. Louis class will be required to accommodate a full complement of officers and men competent to manage such a ship at sea.

Captain Bauer realized that in order to attract the right kind of recruites, special inducements must be offered to encourage enlistment. He inaugurated a series of regular practice cruisers about the bay of San Francisco. These voyages in California's inland sea afforded much wholesome outdoor sport as well as giving highly instructive practice to the officer and men. Annual cruises up and down the coast in full charge of a government warship were next negotiated. Having passed a highly satisfactory examination in 1908, Captain Bauer was fully qualified to command an ocean-going steamer.

While a majority of the naval militiamen do not go down to the sea in ships as a regular calling, their annual cruise is of value to them in many ways. During two weeks each summer for even seasons they have sailed along our western sea coast, enjoying of the open ocean and visiting many new cities as guests of honor. Last summer special attention was paid to service with the torpedo flotilla in Monterey bay, a roadstead of high strategic importance where problems of coast defense were worked out.

Apart from the value of the technical training drilled into them, Bauer's bluejackets are benefitted in a business way. May master the details of marine engineering, navigation and nautical science, as well as branches of mechanical and electrical engineering taught free at the armories. They are trained to be good soldiers as well as able-bodied seamen. Every drill night there is a snappy infantry drill. Twice a month they exercise as artillerymen, handling field guns or manipulating the 4-inch rapid-fire guns stationed in the armories. In 1912, in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the gunners of the Marblehead established the world's record for accuracy with the 4-inch rifle. Their score was far in advance of the showing made by other and older state organizations, and this, in spite of ammunition and gun-sights which were pronounced to be in miserably poor condition. Lieutenant B. G. Barthalow, detailed by the U.S. Navy Department as the instructor and inspector of the California Naval Militia, rendered a glowing report of this cruise of the Marblehead under command of Captain Bauer.

To attain the high degree of efficiency aspired to by the California Naval Militia, its officers and men are spending thousands of dollars each year and devoting an average of two nights a week and every other Sunday. And in so doing they are following the example of their Captain, who has sacrificed his own time and money without stint in fitting seven hundred "first-rate fighting men" to serve their country in event of war.
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Updated 23 June 2017