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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
During the ensuing Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on the night of November 14-15, 1942, Lee lost three of his destroyers and scores of men during the initial exchange. A power failure aboard the South Dakota caused that ship to become a helpless target of the Japanese heavy ships. Only Lee's flagship, the Washington, was undamaged. Through it all, Lee remained imperturbable. Near midnight, the Washington's radar locked onto a Japanese battleship and mortally wounded it with a withering barrage; nine 16-inch shells and 45-inch shells hit in less than seven minutes. The burning battleship retreated, accompanied by the rest of the Japanese fleet. Lee took the Washington on a solo nighttime search for enemy transports. Failing to find any, he gave up the search at dawn only to confront torpedoes launched from two enemy destroyers. The Washington managed to dodge the torpedoes. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a series of actions that included Lee's fight with his beloved battleships, was hugely significant. In the words of naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal "was decisive, not only in the struggle for that island, but in the Pacific War at large." It marked a definitive American shift from the defensive to the offensive and a corresponding Japanese loss of offensive initiative.
Known for having "one of the best brains in the Navy, Willis "Ching" Lee displayed the capacity for quick decisionmaking on the night of November 14-15. During the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a ferocious night surface action, Lee kept his head and displayed calm reasoning. In the words of naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, "An able and original scientist as well as flag officer, [Lee] appreciated the value of radar, used it to keep himself informed of enemy movements and tactics, and made quick, accurate analyses from the information on the screens." (US Naval Historical Center)
At the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Rear Admiral Willis Lee's flagship was the new battleship Washington. This battle was one of three battleship-to-battleship actions of World War Two. The others were the Battle of Calabria, June 27, 1940 and the Battle of Surigao Strait, October 25, 1944. In addition, the Prince of Wales fired at the Bismark during the latter's last fight. (US Naval Historical Center)
After the Solomons campaign, Lee's ships supported the series of amphibious assaults that catapulted US forces through the Central Pacific. Lee received promotion to vice admiral in March 1944. During the Marianas campaign in June 1944, Lee's battleships had a chance to engage the Japanese in a night action. However, his big ships had spent all of their time recently supporting the carriers, and this duty exclusively involved anti-aircraft defense. They had not practiced surface engagements of any sort, let alone a night action. As one of Spruance's officers noted, "He'd had a lot of experience in night attacks and most of it had." Consequently, with Spruance's concurrence, Lee declined to seize the chance. Late in the war, Lee received the assignment of developing tactics to combat the Japanese kamikaze attacks. He died from a heart attack aboard a launch taking him to his flagship in August 1945.
Admiral Halsey presents the Navy Cross to Willis Lee for his leadership at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. (National Archives)
Known to his friends as "Ching" Lee, Willis Lee was the most notable American battleship admiral of World War Two.
Charles Lockwood was born in 1890 in Midland, Virginia. Raised in Missouri, he received a commission from the US Naval Academy in 1912.
At the age of 24, in 1914 he commanded a submarine, and by 1917 commanded a submarine division. After a brief stint aboard a surface ship, he returned to submarines and commanded the ex-German submarine, UC-97, from March until August 1919. During the interwar years, Lockwood held both surface and submarine commands, including duty on the Yangtze Patrol off China, served as a member of the US Naval Mission to Brazil, and taught at Annapolis. In the fall of 1937, he served in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and then became chief of staff to Commander Submarine Force. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor found Lockwood serving in London as US naval attachГ©, where he acted as chief of staff to Admiral Ghormley.
Rear Admiral Lockwood entered front-line service on May 26, 1942 when he assumed command of the submarines operating in the Southwest Pacific. Initially, these boats operated from western Australia, but Japanese pressure in the Solomons and New Guinea caused a shift to bases in eastern Australia. During the summer and fall, Lockwood sent occasional long-range patrols into the South China Sea and off the Philippines. Although there were many targets, his submarines achieved few successes because of faulty torpedoes. Not until September 1943 were all of the problems fixed. After 21 months of war, Lockwood's submariners finally had an effective weapon.
When the commander of all the US submarines in the Pacific Fleet died in a plane crash, Lockwood replaced him in February 1943. He held this position until the end of the war. Lockwood made it a habit to personally greet newly commissioned submariners who joined his force. Along with a train of experts, he boarded the new submarine to meet its captain and to learn about any teething problems and new equipment and gadgets. Then he invited the captain to lunch. He employed a familiar style that made him popular with officers and men alike. He became known as "Uncle Charlie."
By early 1943, code breakers cracked the code used by the Japanese to direct their supply and merchant ship convoys and escorts. Henceforth, the Pacific Fleet's submarines utilized this information to sail directly to potential targets, thereby eliminating the need for long, fuel-consuming, and often fruitless searches. Still, submarine warfare remained a difficult enterprise. During 1943, decrypts directed submarines to over 800 potential targets. Submarines sighted only some 350, attacked about one-third of these vessels, and sank only 33.