Spruance in April 1944
|Born||July 3, 1886|
|Died||December 13, 1969(aged 83)|
|Place of birth||Baltimore, Maryland|
|Place of death||Pebble Beach, California|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1907 — 1948|
|Commands held||United States Pacific Fleet|
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
|Other work||Ambassador to the Philippines|
Spruance commanded US naval forces during two of the most significant naval battles that took place in the Pacific theater, the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Battle of Midway was the first major victory for the United States over Japan and is seen by many as the turning point of the Pacific war. The Battle of the Philippine Sea was also a significant victory for the US. The Navy's official historian said of the Battle of Midway "...Spruance's performance was superb...(he) emerged from this battle one of the greatest admirals in American naval history". After the war, Spruance was appointed President of the Naval War College, and later served as American ambassador to the Philippines.
Spruance was nicknamed "electric brain" for his calmness even in moments of supreme crisis: a reputation enhanced by his successful tactics at Midway.
Early life[edit | edit source]
Spruance was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Alexander and Annie Spruance. He was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Spruance attended Indianapolis public schools and graduated from Shortridge High School. From there, he went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906, and received further, hands on education in electrical engineering a few years later. His first duty would be aboard the battleship USS Iowa (BB-4), an 11,400 ton veteran of the Spanish-American War. His seagoing career included command of the USS Osborne, four other destroyers, and the battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41).
In 1916 he aided in the fitting out of the USS Pennsylvania and he served on board her from her commissioning in June, 1916 until November 1917. During the last year of World War I he was assigned as Assistant Engineer Officer of the New York Naval Shipyard, and carried out temporary duty in London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1924, as Bill Halsey was preparing to turn over command of destroyer Osborne to Spruance, he advised the bridge crew that they should not let Spruance's quiet manner deceive them into thinking they were getting anything but an outstandingly competent commander. The crew soon learned that Spruance liked a quiet bridge, without extraneous chit-chat or the use of first names, and with orders given concisely and clearly. In an incident in the harbor of Bizerte in French Tunisia, Osborne was anchored in 6 fathoms, or 36 feet, of water. A distraught torpedo officer rushed to the bridge and reported, "Captain, we've just dropped a depth charge over the stern!"
"Well, pick it up and put it back," was Spruance's measured response.
Notwithstanding their different personalities, Spruance and Halsey were close friends. In fact, Spruance had a knack for getting along with difficult people, including his friend Kelly Turner, the hotheaded commander of 5th Fleet's amphibious force. One exception was John Towers, a constant critic of Spruance, whom Spruance came to despise for his naked ambition.
Spruance began attendance at the Naval War College in 1926, and graduated in 1927. He also held several engineering, intelligence, staff and Naval War College positions up to the 1940s. On February 26, 1940 Captain Spruance reported as Commandant of the TENTH Naval District with headquarters at San Juan, Puerto Rico. On October 1 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. On August 1, 1941, he finished his tour in Puerto Rico.
World War II[edit | edit source]
Before Midway[edit | edit source]
In the first months of World War II in the Pacific, Spruance commanded four heavy cruisers and support ships that made up Cruiser Division Five. Spruance’s division was under a task force built around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise commanded by Admiral William "Bull" Halsey. Halsey led a series of hit and run raids against the Japanese, striking the Gilbert and Marshall islands in February, Wake Island in March, and carrying out the Doolittle Raid in April against targets on the Japanese homeland. The raids were important to morale, setting a tone of aggressive initiative taking, and also provided invaluable experience for the US Navy.
Midway[edit | edit source]
Admiral Halsey, commander of the Pacific Fleet aircraft carrier force, came down with a severe case of shingles just before the battle, which hospitalized him. He recommended Spruance to Pacific Fleet commander Chester W. Nimitz to take his place. Spruance had up to that time been a cruiser division commander, and there was some concern that he had no experience handling a carrier air battle. Halsey reassured him, telling Spruance to rely on his able staff, particularly Captain Miles Browning, a battle-proven expert in carrier warfare. Spruance commanded Task Force 16, with two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (flagship) and USS Hornet, and was under the overall command of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, trailing behind in the damaged USS Yorktown.
The U. S. task force, based on three carriers, faced a Japanese task force, divided into two groups: a lead group with all four task force fleet carriers under Admiral Nagumo, and a follow-on group under Admiral Yamamoto. The US Navy lost one carrier while sinking all four of the enemy's fleet carriers. The US victory came largely from the toughness of the fighting force, Spruance's combination of coolness plus his caution at just the right moments, and large doses of plain luck. Several waves of US aircraft were beaten badly by the Japanese both at the Island of Midway and at sea around the Japanese task force. Then a large group of US dive bombers happened to find Nagumo's four carriers—with air cover absent. Most of the Japanese strike planes had only returned from the attack on Midway, and the CAP deployed by Nagumo was busy attacking VT-8 torpedo bombers from Hornet. The US dive bombers badly damaged the Japanese carriers, all eventually sinking, which essentially ended the Japanese lead in fleet power in the Pacific. One of the carriers, Hiryu gave a brief respite for the Japanese by sending a strike wave which crippled Yorktown, but additional waves from Enterprise struck the carrier, which forced Hiryu to be scuttled afterwards.
Historian Samuel E. Morison wrote in 1949 that Spruance was subjected to much criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese, and allowing the retreating Japanese surface fleet to escape. However, Spruance was recommended for the Navy Distinguished Service Medal by both Fletcher and Nimitz for his role in the battle.
In fact, in summing up Spruance's performance in the battle, Morison stated "Fletcher did well, but Spruance's performance was superb. Calm, collected, decisive, yet receptive to advice; keeping in his mind the picture of widely disparate forces, yet bolding seizing every opening. Raymond A. Spruance emerged from the battle one of the greatest admirals in American Naval history".
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and cited as follows: “For exceptionally meritorious service… as Task Force Commander, United States Pacific Fleet. During the Midway engagement which resulted in the defeat of and heavy losses to the enemy fleet, his seamanship, endurance, and tenacity in handling his task force were of the highest quality.”
Before Midway, a small and fractional US Navy in the Pacific faced an overwhelmingly large and battle-hardened Japanese fleet. After Midway, the Japanese still held a temporary advantage in vessels and planes, but the setback gave the slow-to-crank-up US industrial production time to turn the tables. It also gave the US Navy confidence. Once running at full speed, American factories handed the allies a huge advantage against not only the Japanese but also the Germans. At the same time, American Pacific forces before and after Midway gained crucial combat experience, so that the Japanese lost the advantage there as well.
Truk, Philippine Sea and Iwo Jima[edit | edit source]
After the Midway battle, Spruance became Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) and later was Deputy Commander in Chief. In mid-1943, Spruance was given command of the Central Pacific Force. The command of the vessels which made up the big blue fleet alternated between Admiral William Halsey, at which time it was identified as the Third Fleet and Task Force 38, and Admiral Spruance, when it became the Fifth Fleet and Task Force 58. The two admirals were a contrast in styles. Halsey was aggressive and a risk taker. Spruance was professional, calculating and cautious. Most common sailors were proud to serve under Halsey; most higher-ranking officers preferred to serve under Spruance. Captain George Dyer of the CL Astoria, who served under both Spruance and Halsey, summed up the view of many ship captains:
My feeling was one of confidence when Spruance was there. When you moved into Admiral Halsey's command from Admiral Spruance's ... you moved [into] an area in which you never knew what you were going to do in the next five minutes or how you were going to do it, because the printed instructions were never up to date.... He never did things the same way twice. When you moved into Admiral Spruance's command, the printed instructions were up to date, and you did things in accordance with them.
This gave a description of Spruance as "an Admiral's admiral".
From 1943 through 1945, with USS Indianapolis or the USS New Jersey as his flagship, Spruance directed the campaigns that captured the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
Spruance directed Operation Hailstone against the Japanese naval base Truk in February 1944 in which twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and 249 aircraft were destroyed. This occurred at the same time when Admiral Turner's forces were attacking Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls, about 700 miles to the west. Spruance himself directed a task group of battleships, cruisers and destroyers that left the main body to go after Japanese ships that were fleeing Truk, sinking the light cruiser Katori and destroyer Maikaze. This was said to be the first time that a four-star admiral took part in a sea action aboard one of the ships engaged. Admiral Spruance commanded with deadly precision, reported an observer.
While screening the American invasion of Saipan, in June 1944 Spruance also defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Although he broke the back of the Japanese naval airforce by sinking 3 carriers, 2 oilers and destroying about 600 enemy airplanes—so much so that for ADM Halsey in the Battle of Leyte Gulf a few months later the remaining Japanese carriers were used solely as decoys due to the lack of aircraft, and aircrews to fly them—Spruance has been criticized for not being aggressive enough in exploiting his success in the Philippine Sea. Buell quotes Spruance speaking with Morison: "As a matter of tactics I think that going out after the Japanese and knocking their carriers out would have been much better and more satisfactory than waiting for them to attack us, but we were at the start of a very important and large amphibious operation and we could not afford to gamble and place it in jeopardy."
However, his actions were both praised or understood by the main persons ordering or are directly involved in the battle. Admiral Ernest J. King told him that "Spruance, you did a damn fine job there. No matter what other people tell you, your decision was correct". Spruance's fast carrier commander, Marc Mitscher, told his chief of staff Arleigh Burke that:
You and I have been in many battles, and we know there are always some mistakes. This time we were right because the enemy did what we expected him to do. Admiral Spruance could have been right. He's one of the finest officers I know of. It was his job to protect the landing force....
Spruance received the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, U.S. Navy, as Task Force Commander during the capture of the Marshall and Marianas Islands, rendered exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services from January to June 1944. During the joint operations leading to the assault and capture of the important enemy bases, complete integration of Army and Navy units was accomplished under his outstanding leadership, enabling all the forces to perform their closely co-ordinated missions with outstanding success.
Later life[edit | edit source]
Spruance's promotion to Fleet Admiral was blocked multiple times by Congressman Carl Vinson, a staunch partisan of Admiral William Halsey, Jr. Congress eventually responded by passing an unprecedented act which specified that Spruance would remain on a full admiral's pay once retired until death. Spruance was President of the Naval War College from February 1946 until he retired from the Navy in July 1948. He was appointed as American ambassador to the Philippines by President Harry Truman, and served there from 1952 to 1955.
Shortly before his retirement, Spruance received the following Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy: "Your brilliant record of achievement in World War II played a decisive part in our victory in the Pacific. At the crucial Battle of Midway your daring and skilled leadership routed the enemy in the full tide of his advance and established the pattern of air-sea warfare which was to lead to his eventual capitulation..."
Spruance was an active man who thought nothing of walking eight or 10 miles a day. He was fond of symphonic music, and his tastes were generally simple. He never smoked and drank little. He enjoyed hot chocolate and would make it for himself every morning. Besides his family, he loved the companionship of his pet schnauzer, Peter. Fit and spare in his 70s, Spruance spent most of his retirement days wearing old khakis and work shoes and working in his garden and greenhouse. He loved to show them to visitors.
Spruance died in Pebble Beach, California on December 13, 1969. He was buried with full military honors alongside his wife, Margaret Dean (1888-1985), Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, his longtime friend Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, an arrangement made by all of them while living.
Spruance became a shadowy sort of legend in the Navy. His achievements were well-known, but the man himself was a mystery. He did not discuss his private life, feelings, prejudices, hopes or fears, except perhaps with his family and his closest friends. He was uniquely modest and candid about himself all his life. "When I look at myself objectively," he wrote in retirement, "I think that what success I may have achieved through life is largely due to the fact that I am a good judge of men. I am lazy, and I never have done things myself that I could get someone to do for me. I can thank heredity for a sound constitution, and myself for taking care of that constitution." About his intellect he was equally unpretentious: "Some people believe that when I am quiet that I am thinking some deep and important thoughts, when the fact is that I am thinking of nothing at all. My mind is blank."
Legacy[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot (1963). The Two-Ocean War. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 162.
- Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won
- Buell, Thomas B. (1974). The quiet warrior: a biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-11470-7.
- U.S. Naval Heritage & History Command, Biography, Raymond A. Spruance, accessed March 17, 2013
- Tuohy, William. 2007. American's Fighting Admirals: Winning the War at Sea in World War II
- Kent G. Budge, The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
- Parshall & Tully (2005), Shattered Sword, p. 95
- Morison, "Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions: May 1942–August 1942". (History of United States Naval Operations in World War II), Volume IV, p. 142
- "Adm Spruance's Fitrep after Battle of Midway". SlideShare.net. Naval History & Heritage Command. June 17, 2010. http://www.slideshare.net/NHHC/adm-spruances-fitrep-after-battle-of-midway. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
- Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, 1963, ISBN 1-59114-524-4, page 162, Google
- Thomas Buell, The Quiet Warrior at p. 166
- Biographies, 20th century collection, Navy Department Library.
- Tuohy, William (2007). America's Fighting Admirals:Winning the War at Sea in World War II. Zenith Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-7603-2985-6.
- Michael D. Hull, World War II magazine, May 1998 issue
- Buell, Thomas The Quiet Warrior: a biography of Raymond Spruance page 303.
- Military Times, Hall of Valor, Citation, Navy Cross, Raymond A. Spruance, accessed march 17, 2013
- Biographies, 20th century collection, Navy Department Library
- Michael D. Hull, World War II magazine, 1998 issue
- "News Release: Navy Names Two New Guided Missile Destroyers". U.S. Department of Defense. http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=10886. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
- Bess, Michael (2006). Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-307-26365-7.
- Naval Historical Center: USS Spruance (DD-963)
- Naval Historical Center, Online Library of Selected Images
- Bess, Michael (2006). Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-307-26365-7.
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Chester W. Nimitz
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|U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines
1952 – 1955
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