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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
US COMMANDERS OF WORLD WAR II. NAVY AND USMC

Raymond Ames Spruance

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1886, Raymond Ames Spruance graduated 25th in his class from the US Naval Academy in 1907. He sailed in the global voyage of the "Great White Fleet" in 1907. Thereafter, he followed a typical career trajectory that did not include any combat duty. His specialty was gunfire control. His most uncommon service before World War Two involved three tours of duty at the Naval War College. In July 1941, Spruance assumed command of the Pearl Harbor- based cruiser squadron. The outbreak of war saw this unit assigned as a surface screen for Admiral Halsey's carrier forces. Spruance learned a great deal by observing Halsey in action. When Halsey, in turn, realized that he was too sick to command during the Midway campaign he recommended that Spruance replace him even though Spruance was not an aviator. In May 1942, Spruance assumed command of Task Force 16 aboard the carrier Enterprise.

Spruance immediately plunged into the pivotal Midway campaign. On June 4, he received orders from Admiral Fletcher to attack the Japanese carriers. Spruance initially intended to launch his strikes at 0900 hrs., when his planes would be only some 100 miles from the enemy. Upon learning of the Japanese early morning raid on Midway, Spruance revised his plan. He decided, on the basis of advice from his chief of staff, to attack two hours earlier. This meant his planes would risk running out of gas and probably result in the loss of planes and pilots. Nonetheless, Spruance judged it an acceptable risk because the possible reward was to catch the enemy carriers in the act of refueling their planes on deck. In addition, Spruance decided to launch even' available plane, "a full load," retaining only enough fighters for a combat air patrol over his own carriers. Spruance's calculated risk worked brilliantly. His planes did strike at a time when fuel lines, bombs, and ammunition were strewn about the Japanese flight decks. His divebombers fatally damaged three Japanese earners in their first strike, turning the tide of battle in the Pacific War.

Spruance's performance at the Battle of Midway justified his appointment. He had wisely used his available forces to help win this decisive action. His cool, calculated tactics overshadowed the performance of his superior, Admiral Fletcher. Two weeks later came promotion to chief of staff of the Pacific Fleet and subsequent assignment as a deputy to Fleet Commander Admiral Nimitz. In this capacity, he helped plan the offensive into the Central Pacific. In August 1943, he assumed command of this offensive, supervising the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The American earner task forces now dominated the Pacific. Spruance demonstrated this fact when he led a raid against the formidable Japanese base at Truk in February 1944. Thereafter, he directed the invasion of the Marianas.

Admiral Spruance (left) on Saipan, is standing next to Marine General Holland Smith (National Archives)


At the decisive Battle of Midway, Admiral Raymond Spruance (on left, standing next to Admiral Nimitz) performed superbly. He maintained a clear picture of the rapidly changing tactical environment and judiciously listened to advice from his staff to boldly seize the chance to strike the Japanese carriers when they were most vulnerable. According to naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, "Spruance emerged from this battle one of the greatest fighting and thinking admirals in American naval history." (National Archives)

During the Marianas campaign Spruance's Task Force 58 virtually annihilated the last of the Japanese carrier-borne air fleet. However, he also had a chance to destroy the Japanese surface fleet. Instead, he cautiously avoided using his battleship force in a night engagement. In the words of an American after-action report, "The enemy had escaped ... we could have gotten the whole outfit! Nobody could have gotten away if we had done what we wanted to do." Throughout the war, Spruance held a healthy respect for Japanese fighting prowess. In this case, his respect may have been misplaced. During subsequent operations, Spruance participated in a unique command arrangement. From the summer of 1944 on, when Spruance assumed active command, his force was known as the 7th Fleet. When Halsey commanded the same vessels, it was known as the 3d Fleet. The idea behind this sharing of command was that each admiral and his staff would have time to rest and plan after a major operation but that the ships themselves would stay in action. Spruance was in command during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was planning the invasion of japan when the war came to an abrupt end.

In November 1945, Spruance superceded Nimitz as Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet. He was appointed President of the Naval War College in February 1946 and held that position until his retirement in the summer of 1948. He served as Ambassador to the Philippine Islands from 1952 to 1955 and died in 1969.

Spruance's cautious, methodical command style contrasted with Halsey's impulsive, risk-taking approach. An officer who served with both admirals observed that whereas Halsey improvised and did not utilize up-to-date printed instructions, Spruance relied on printed instructions "and you did things in accordance with them." In Nimitz's words, "Halsey was a sailor's admiral and Spruance was an admiral's admiral." The cool, aloof Spruance inspired respect but not love.

Because he eschewed publicity, he never received the popular acclaim accorded to other officers. Among naval historians, Spruance is regarded as a great commander. Many claim him to be "the most brilliant fleet commander of World War Two."

Robert Lee Ghormley

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1883, Robert Ghormley graduated twelfth in his class from Annapolis in 1906 and received his commission two years later. He served with the Atlantic Fleet's battleship force and in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations during World War One. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1938 and received promotion to rear admiral. Thereafter, lie directed the Navy Department's War Plans Division and then served as assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations from 1938 to 1940. Because of his diplomatic skills, Ghormley served in London as senior naval observer from 1940 to 1942 and became a vice admiral in September 1941. He then transferred to the Pacific as Commander South Pacific Forces in April 1942.

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