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

Admiral Norman Scott was the first flag officer to fight a surface engagement in the Pacific with a carefully prepared battle plan. The resultant October 11-12, 1942 Battle of Cape Esperance made Scott a national hero. (US Naval Historical Center)

Rear Admiral Scott commanded a light cruiser division during the August 9, 1942 Battle of Savo Island. His forces did not engage during this terrible American defeat. He commanded a three-ship cruiser division assigned to defend the carrier Wasp during the August 24 Battle of the Eastern Solomons. An aggressive leader, his great opportunity came at the October 11-12, 1942 Battle of Cape Esperance. He had orders to protect a convoy sailing to Guadalcanal by offensive action. His orders required him to search for and destroy enemy ships and landing craft. Scott had studied previous night actions against the Japanese. He worked out a careful battle plan and trained his units intensively for three weeks to execute the plan. He conditioned his crews for night action by keeping them at their stations from sunset to dawn. Scott was also the first surface task force commander in the Pacific to enter battle with a carefully prepared battle plan. He instructed his ships to proceed in column, with destroyers in the van and rear. Destroyers were to illuminate with searchlights, fire torpedoes at large ships, and use their guns against smaller targets. Cruisers were to engage with gunfire without waiting for orders.

Superceded by Admiral Daniel Callaghan, who was a personal friend of President Roosevelt, Scott was relegated to a subordinate role on the night of November 13, 1942. He died in the opening moments of the battle, while aboard the antiaircraft light cruiser Atlanta. The Atlanta, shown here, later sank. (US Naval Historical Center)


Neither Scott nor his contemporaries understood how best to utilize the American radar advantage during a night action against the Japanese. (US Naval Historical Center)

The Battle of Cape Esperance proved to be a complicated, confused Fight. Scott had to order a countermarch shortly before the engagement began and this placed his ships in an awkward tactical situation. Moreover, at a crucial time, he mistakenly ordered a ceasefire because he thought that his ships were shooting at one another. Nonetheless, during the battle, his cruiser and destroyer task force managed inadvertently to "cross the T" of the Japanese cruiser force. The subsequent qualified success at the Battle of Cape Esperance marked the first time that the Japanese suffered a defeat in a night battle involving evenly matched surface forces. Over-optimistic reports of Japanese losses elevated Scott to hero status. In reality, the battle helped American morale but failed to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing Guadalcanal. Moreover, Scott had employed faulty tactics that succeeded more from luck than design. However, he fought the battle bravely and never allowed it to degenerate into a wild ship-to-ship mêlée.

In November, a desk officer whose commission antedated Scott's by a few days, Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, superceded Scott. Under Callaghan, Scott flew his flag aboard the anti-aircraft cruiser Atlanta. On November 12, 1942 Admiral Turner learned that a heavy Japanese force was steaming toward Guadalcanal. The only forces available to check them were Callaghan's two heavy and three light cruisers along with eight destroyers. Turner ordered Callaghan to stop the Japanese Navy at all costs. A month earlier, Admiral Nimitz had predicted that Guadalcanal could be defended only "at great expense to us." His words were prescient. On the night of November 13, 1942 (Callaghan emulated Scott's long, single column formation. The result was an exceptionally confused night action in which the American vessels plunged into the middle of a Japanese formation that included two battleships. At the very close range of 1,600 yards, the battle began. Japanese searchlights illuminated the Atlanta's bridge. Shells rained down on the Atlanta, killing Scott and all but one of his staff. Later, Callaghan also died. Scott received a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for his conduct. Vandegrift eulogized the two admirals and their crews for "their magnificent courage against seemingly hopeless odds."

Scott is best remembered for his leadership at the Battle of Cape Esperance. In the words of Samuel Eliot Morison, the foremost American naval historian of the war, he fought the battle "with a cool, determined courage."

Willis Augustus Lee Jr

Born in Natlee, Kentucky in 1888, Willis Lee graduated from Annapolis in 1908 and received his commission two years later. Lee's first duty after graduation was aboard a battleship. He remained a "battleship sailor" for the rest of his life. In 1914, he participated in the Vera Cruz expedition and served aboard destroyers in the Atlantic during World War One. Lee was an expert rifleman. While on the US team at the 1920 Olympics, he won five gold medals. Lee graduated from the Naval War College in 1929. During the interwar years, he held a variety of commands, including more destroyer service and command of a light cruiser. In July 1938, Lee became operations officer to the Commander Cruisers, Battle Force. Thereafter, he served this force as chief of staff to the Commander Cruisers. Holding the rank of captain, in June 1939 Lee became assistant director of fleet training. In January 1941, he was elevated to head of the fleet training division. In this capacity, he was responsible for training the large influx of sailor recruits who were to man the navy's newly constructed ships. Promoted to rear admiral, in February 1942 Lee became chief of staff to the Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet, Admiral King. After six months' service, he received the command he most coveted, commander of Battleship Division Six, Battleships, Pacific Fleet. For the remainder of his active service, Lee commanded battleships, rising to the rank of vice admiral in command of Battleship Squadron 2.

Unlike most senior officers, Lee studied modern technology and understood radar. He "knew more about radar than the radar operators." He put this knowledge to good use and played an important role in defeating the final Japanese effort to capture Guadalcanal. Lee was especially motivated to perform well during this operation because the Marine General Vandegrift, who had led the invasion of Guadalcanal, was a longtime friend. American carriers had recently suffered so severely that Admiral Halsey decided to block the Japanese using his new, fast battleships. Accordingly, Lee took Task Force 64, his first independent flag command, composed of four destroyers and the battleships Washington and South Dakota, to intercept a Japanese force. The enemy force, which included a battleship, was intent on bombarding Guadalcanal.

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