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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
Mitscher's airmen enjoyed overwhelming success during operations around the Marianas Islands in the summer of 1944, in part because of the decline in the ability of Japanese pilots. More powerful US anti-aircraft fire also took its toll on the Japanese. A Japanese plane is downed while attacking the Kitkun Bay. (National Archives)
Admiral Theodore Wilkinson mastered the complexities of organizing and directing an amphibious invasion fleet. This type of job did not confer the same glory as a gun-to-gun duel or a carrier engagement, but it was indispensable to winning the war in the Pacific. (National Archives)
Promoted to vice admiral in March 1944, Mitscher commanded the carrier forces that raided the Marianas in June. The subsequent, overwhelming victory became known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." During this action, Mitscher's bold decision to turn on his ships' lights to guide his aviators back to safe night landings saved numerous lives. Under Halsey's command, Mitscher's carriers destroyed the Japanese decoy carrier force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. His planes flew over Japan as a distraction from the attack on Iwo Jima. His forces completed the destruction of the Japanese surface fleet in the Battle of the East China Sea in April 1945.
Mitscher returned to Washington in July 1945, and received promotion to full admiral the following year. The strain of war had undermined his health. Mitscher died while C-in-C of the Atlantic Fleet in 1947. A modest leader, who avoided publicity, Mitscher was much respected by his men. In the words of historian Ronald Spector, he was "an inspiring leader [who] soon became the acknowledged master of the new carrier warfare."
Born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1888, Theodore Wilkinson did not have to travel far to attend the US Naval Academy. He graduated first in his class from Annapolis in 1909 and received a commission two years later. Wilkinson won the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading a landing party during the 1914 invasion of Vera Cruz. During World War One, Wilkinson served as a naval attache in Paris and then aboard American ships in European waters. Prior to World War Two, he commanded destroyers, performed staff work, and commanded the battleship Mississippi. Wilkinson became Director of Naval Intelligence in October 1941 and, thus, became partially involved in the post-Pearl Harbor investigation of intelligence failures. Exonerated, in August 1942 Wilkinson assumed command of a battleship division in the Pacific but saw no action. Next came a brief tour as Deputy to Vice Admiral Halsey.
In July 1943, Wilkinson assumed the role that became the crowning achievement of his professional life: commander of the 3d Amphibious Force. In this capacity, he supervised amphibious landings during both the American drive though the Solomon Islands and General MacArthur's advance in New Guinea. Amphibious planning and implementation were particularly complex operations. Wilkinson met the challenge ably. The 3d Amphibious Force conducted the landings during the Central Pacific campaign. Thereafter, Wilkinson received promotion to rice admiral in August 1944. The following January, he flew to Pearl Harbor to begin planning for the projected invasion of the Japanese mainland. In the event, he instead supervised the landing of American occupation troops in September 1945. Wilkinson received a post-war assignment to the strategic bombing survey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 1946. He drowned the next month, when his car drove off a pier in Norfolk, Virginia.
Wilkinson began his career in a blaze of glory at Vera Cruz. His wartime service required meticulous planning, an essential duty for the American amphibious advance to prosper, but was without the credit attached to fighting sailors aboard carriers, cruisers, and submarines. He died a premature, tragic death.
Born in Hampton, Iowa in 1875, William Leahy graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1897. For the next twenty years, his active duty assignments included service in the Spanish American War, the Philippine revolt, the Boxer Rebellion, the occupation of Nicaragua, the Haiti campaign, and the 1916 expedition against Pancho Villa. In summary, he crammed as much active duty into this period as possible. While commanding the Secretary of the Navy's dispatch boat, Dolphin, in 1916, Leahy met the young Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt. During the course of several cruises, the two became friends. The next year, Leahy commanded the battleship Nevada. In 1927, Rear Admiral Leahy received promotion to the important job of Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. He next commanded the destroyers assigned to the fleet's Scouting Force. From 1933 to 1935 he was Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Promoted to vice admiral in 1935, he became commander of battleships. Promoted again the next year to full admiral, he commanded the entire Battle Force. His friendship with Roosevelt led to Leahy's appointment, in 1937, as Chief of Naval Operations.
Leahy was certain that war with Japan would come, so he began preparing strategic plans for coalition warfare that later became the foundation of American global strategy. He participated in secret prewar meetings with the British as part of his coalition-building efforts. Leahy reached retirement age in 1939. Rather than lose his services, Roosevelt appointed him Governor of Puerto Rico. The outbreak of war in Europe prompted the president to recall Leahy and, subsequently, send him to Vichy France as ambassador. Leahy accomplished little in this capacity but his unswerving devotion to Roosevelt's policies impressed the president. Roosevelt recalled Leahy to Washington, in April 1942, to join his inner circle of advisers and return to active duty.
At the Yalta Conference, Admiral William D. Leahy stands behind President Roosevelt, as befitting his position as one of the powers behind the throne. Leahy mastered political-military affairs to a high degree, winning the trust of most of the top-ranking leaders he dealt with. (National Archives)
Leahy spent the remainder of the war working to solve the novel challenges of total war on a world scale. In 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) was a new organization, combining the senior heads of each service. The JCS's task was to advise Roosevelt on military strategy and to implement his decisions. General George Marshall suggested that Leahy be appointed to a special post to provide liaison between the JCS and Roosevelt. Marshall's inspired choice recognized that Leahy was senior in service to the chiefs and was liked and respected by them. Moreover, Roosevelt trusted him. Therefore, he would be an ideal channel between the president and the military. Also, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Leahy restored a balance to the JCS of two admirals and two generals. In July 1942, Leahy became the first chief of staff to the commander-in-chief.