From the Archives - A Message from the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet, May 19, 1936
In April of 1936, the U.S. Fleet sortied from San Diego, bound for Panama, where Fleet Problem XVII was to be held. In command was Adm. James Mason Reeves. Now Reeves was first aviation officer to be promoted to admiral in the U.S. Navy, and the first aviator to become Command-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet. A staunch advocate of aviation and the aggressive use of aircraft carriers, Reeves was a thoroughly innovative thinker. But he was also very dedicated to the traditions of the service.
Having held senior posts in the Navy for a good many years, Reeves was aware that it had been some time since the fleet had last crossed the equator. This meant that most of the men in the fleet were not truly sailors, but mere pollywogs and tadpoles, never having been initiated into the true mysteries of the deep. So in the middle of the Fleet Problem, after elaborate exercises in the Gulf of Panama but before the fleet returned to San Diego, Reeves took it on a cruise to the Equator.
And on May 19, 1936, the admiral issued a special order to the fleet.
From: CINCUS, U.S.F.
To: All Hands
The senior shellback of the United States Fleet, the Commander-in-Chief, has reported to His Imperial Highness, Neptunus Rex, High Ruler of all the Seas, that he is approaching the headquarters of the Royal Domain with the largest number of pollywogs and tadpoles ever to be brought at a single time to pay homage to His Highness and to seek admission into the Loyal Order of Shellbacks.
There has just been received by seaweed communication in kelp code, information that Davy Jones, Peg-Leg, and the Royal Scribe are being dispatched by His Gracious Majesty Neptunus Rex via Sea Horse squadrons to board each vessel and to serve notice on all slimy fish to be prepared at 0830 tomorrow, Wednesday, to appear before the Royal Court ready to forswear their uncertain standing as amateur sailors and prepare to achieve the August and Glorious status as loyal subjects in the Order of Shellbacks.
Tomorrow, at 0830, King Neptune will board the fleet. All ships will fire a three-gun salute and stop, on signal, for five minutes. Display the Royal Flag of King Neptune at the mast truck for thirty minutes and render full honors as befits the occasion. The Loyal Order of Shellbacks will then proceed with the thorough initiation of all pollywogs on board.
/S/ James Mason Reeves, Admiral, U.S.N
Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet
Thus it was that on May 20, 1936, King Neptune and his entourage boarded the ships of the fleet and, following the hoary traditions of the sea, turned 29,751 pollywogs in shellbacks, including a vice-admiral, setting a world record that seems still to stand. And in appreciation of Reevesí thoughtfulness in seeing that all those amateur sailors were properly initiated into the Order of Shellbacks, King Neptune personally decorated the admiral.