Missouri Endgame

By Alan P. Rems

As for the Marines, the commander most closely identified with the Corps' glorious campaigns was deliberately kept away. Lieutenant General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith was never forgiven for the interservice tumult he created by removing an Army major general from division command on Saipan.

Thus, through availability and choice, ten Navy and Marine leaders emerged to stand prominently with Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz as he signed the instrument of surrender for the United States. They included two full admirals, four vice admirals, three rear admirals, and a Marine lieutenant general. Significantly, at the end of a conflict in which aircraft came to play a dominating role, seven of the ten wore airman's wings. Studying the personalities, performance, and relationships of Nimitz and the ten leading naval commanders who stood with him that day provides insight into the dynamics of command and the qualities that affect military success.

Without Blemish or Dent

As Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet (CinCPac) and Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPoa), Nimitz controlled all Allied land, sea, and air forces in the Pacific except General of the Army Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific command and an inactive area in the Southeast Pacific. With such vast responsibility and scope for error, Nimitz's virtually uninterrupted success was truly remarkable and unlike the record of MacArthur, whose brilliant later victories could not erase his early blunders in the Philippines. Spruance, a deep thinker, admired Nimitz's "intelligence, his open-mindedness and his approachability . . . above all, his utter fearlessness and his courage in pushing the war."

That fearlessness was particularly demonstrated in the first six months of the conflict, when Japan was in the ascendant, Nimitz's resources were slender, and the failure of a major enterprise could mean disaster. Taking calculated risks with his precious few carriers, Nimitz launched them on hit-and-run raids that raised morale and provided valuable training. He then boldly committed them at Coral Sea and Midway, where they turned the tide. Later, during planning for the Marshall Islands invasion, Nimitz confidently dismissed the fears of Spruance, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and others and resolved to strike directly at the heart of the enemy position, Kwajalein. For Rear Admiral Harry Hill, who was present, it was "the most thrilling moment of the war." By that time, according to Samuel E. Morison in his History of United States Naval Operations in World War II , plans "were so carefully drafted that the need of fleet and force commanders to face unforeseen contingencies was reduced to a minimum."

No less pivotal in Nimitz's success was his skill in dealing with personnel at all levels. From his immediately preceding billet as head of the Navy's personnel bureau, Nimitz was completely familiar with the records of all senior officers and used that knowledge and his keen judgment to choose the most able people. Commanding officers of all vessels arriving at Pearl Harbor were asked to visit, which became known throughout the Pacific Fleet and conveyed the message that Nimitz cared about his men. A good listener, he claimed, "Some of the best help and advice I've had comes from junior officers and enlisted men." After learning early in the war not to try to control a battle from long distance, he trusted commanders to exercise their discretion on the spot. Recognizing possible missteps in exercising that discretion, he was willing to give those who deserved it a second chance - and, when justified, more.

Particularly important was the close relationship Nimitz established with his imperious and irascible superior, Admiral of the Fleet Ernest J. King, who was perfectly captured in his U.S. Naval Academy yearbook entry: "Temper ? Don't fool with nitroglycerine!" According to Nimitz biographer E. B. Potter, "It would be difficult to find personalities more sharply contrasting than the rough, tough King and the calm, courteous Nimitz, but . . . there developed between them a friendship based on respect for each other's ability, integrity, and devotion to duty." Much of the winning strategy was formulated through their frequent meetings and continuous communications.

In Carrier Admiral , Admiral Joseph J. "Jocko" Clark declared: "Admiral Nimitz was the one great leader in the Pacific who had no blemish on his shield or dent in his armor, and never did I hear a shred of criticism against him." Going one step further, D. Clayton James observed in A Time for Giants , "In retrospect, Nimitz ranks with Field Marshall William Slim of the British Army as the senior commander whose leadership in World War II has come closest to winning universal praise from professional contemporaries and from military historians."

The Mad Monks of Makalapa

Until the last months of the war, when Nimitz set up an advance base on Guam, the naval high command was concentrated in a compound at Makalapa, Hawaii, 12 miles outside Honolulu. According to Holland Smith in his memoir Coral and Brass , "newspaper correspondents, with alliterative irreverence" referred to the inhabitants as "The Mad Monks of Makalapa." In a mock-heroic vein, he continued, "Nimitz was godhead of the hierarchy at Makalapa and the Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues and Powers of brass ranked through Vice Admiral down to the lowest myrmidons." Three "mad monks" accompanied Nimitz to the surrender ceremony: Vice Admiral John H. Towers, Rear Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, and Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood Jr.

Because he exercised his considerable talents off the battlefield, Towers never received the public acclaim he deserved. At the time of Pearl Harbor he headed the Bureau of Aeronautics, overseeing the production of more and better aircraft and training a continuous stream of highly proficient pilots to fly them. An irritant to King because he insisted on obtaining greater authority for airmen, Towers was sent off to Pearl Harbor as administrative head of the Pacific Fleet carriers. Nimitz and Towers had locked horns before the war, but respecting each other, they generally worked cooperatively if without warmth. It was now Spruance with whom Towers collided, and a mutual animosity developed.

A brilliant and careful non-aviator in command of carrier forces, Spruance expected the carriers to provide close support during invasion operations. Towers and his fellow airmen strongly opposed such defensive thinking, believing the carriers should forestall opposition by launching wide-ranging strikes against Japanese fleets and bases. In time, Nimitz would come to accept that view. Towers also regarded the tactical handling of the carriers as inept, lobbying for more forceful leadership until Nimitz put Mitscher in command.

In early 1944, Towers was given a seat alongside "the godhead" as Nimitz's deputy. But when the commander-in-chief moved his forward headquarters to Guam, Towers was left behind at Makalapa to oversee administration and logistics, unhappily distant from operations in the final months of war. Thwarted by Nimitz or King (sources disagree) from securing a sea command until then, Towers finally gained command of the fast carriers, but not until the day before the Japanese surrender ceremony.

As captain of the USS Wasp (CV-7), Forrest Sherman was the last man off the carrier when she was sunk while escorting transports to Guadalcanal, and he earned the Navy Cross for his heroism. As Sherman had long since acquired a reputation as a profound thinker, and had expressed some of his ideas in the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings , Towers eagerly snapped him up as chief of staff. In that capacity, Sherman often dealt with Nimitz, who developed considerable respect and personal liking for an officer he found easier to deal with than Towers. When Nimitz needed a new operations officer and decided it should be an airman, Towers reluctantly surrendered Sherman.

With this move, and after Towers' elevation as Nimitz's deputy, airmen who had long complained about an insufficient voice in formulating doctrine, planning, and operations could finally feel adequately represented. Sherman's talents made him a natural emissary for Nimitz, including in meetings with MacArthur, King, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, his sharp intelligence and ambition went unappreciated by many, and the ascendance of his former subordinate emphasized Towers' diminished influence. As Nimitz's principal adviser, Sherman was given a position of honor when Nimitz signed the instrument of surrender.

Early in the war, Lockwood led submarines operating from Fremantle, Australia, in MacArthur's Southwest Pacific command. His ascent to Makalapa resulted from an aircraft crash in California in early 1943 that claimed the Pacific Fleet's submarine commander, Rear Admiral Robert H. English. An upbeat leader, Lockwood won the deep affection of his crews, who dubbed him "Uncle Charlie." Highly respected as a submariner's submariner, he did not dictate attack doctrines or policies, leaving it to the skippers to decide what tactics to employ.

From cruise reports during his days in Fremantle, Lockwood became painfully aware that torpedoes were exploding at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or not at all. Unable to obtain cooperation from the Bureau of Ordnance, which was reluctant to accept that their weapon was at fault, Lockwood tirelessly conducted tests that uncovered multiple problems. With their correction by late 1943, his boats were finally equipped with a reliable weapon. Also, Lockwood established a lifeguard service that saved several hundred downed aviators. By attending Nimitz's daily conferences even after he followed Nimitz to Guam, Lockwood's tactical dispositions were tied to the larger war plan.

Having risen in the Navy through service on submarines, and fully appreciating their importance, Nimitz took a keen interest in Lockwood's operations. However, as the submarine campaign was waged so effectively, with nearly two-thirds of the Japanese merchant fleet destroyed by war's end, Nimitz rarely found it necessary to intervene. Operating on the same wavelength personally and professionally, Nimitz and Lockwood became lifelong friends.

The Bull from the Sea

E. B. Potter, in his biography of Nimitz, described the host of the surrender ceremony, Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey Jr., as follows: "He was a swashbuckler of the old tradition and, like most swashbucklers, part little boy who never grew up." In his exploits and swagger, Halsey personified the fighting Navy to a wartime generation. In the earliest days Halsey buoyed American spirits with daring carrier raids. When, during the worst days of Guadalcanal, Nimitz sensed that new leadership was needed, Halsey was brought in and infused the South Pacific command with his spirit. Under his effective leadership, American forces climbed the ladder of the Solomons, implementing the island-hopping strategy that became standard in the Pacific. Discussing this shore-bound phase of the admiral's career, James M. Merrill wrote in Men of War : "Halsey had the knack of appointing extremely intelligent officers to his staff upon whom he relied for decision-making. On only rare occasions did he overrule them."

Later, commanding the Third Fleet, Halsey's natural inclination to go for the enemy's jugular led to one of the most controversial decisions of the war: He abandoned a strategic position guarding Leyte Gulf to pursue a decoy Japanese carrier fleet. Halsey's actions resulted in devastating losses to a heroic escort carrier group and near disaster to the invasion beachhead. As the decoy force was largely destroyed and the overall result was a resounding American victory, neither Nimitz nor King uttered a word of complaint. But no allowance could be made later when Halsey twice led the fleet into typhoons that sank and damaged many vessels with great loss of life. Nimitz considered it "the greatest loss that we have taken in the Pacific without compensatory return since the First Battle of Savo [Island]" in August 1942. A court of inquiry held Halsey responsible, and Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal wanted to remove him from command, which would have happened had not Nimitz continued to support him, although with lessened enthusiasm.

With Halsey at the surrender ceremony was his chief of staff, Rear Admiral Robert B. "Mick" Carney, a nonaviator whom Morison considered Halsey's "tower of strength." In one notable instance, during Leyte Gulf, Carney needed to bring Halsey to his senses when a seemingly insulting communication from Nimitz caused the Third Fleet commander to lose all reason. The staff formed a close-knit family that was fiercely loyal to their charismatic leader and shared his conviviality. Carney would say of Halsey, "I don't know anybody I'd rather go on liberty with; more damned fun than a circus." In The Fast Carriers , Clark G. Reynolds observed that Carney "shared Halsey's fiery temperament," which was "fine for cooperation but not conducive to stimulating disagreements." In From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam , one of Halsey's task group commanders, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, wrote, "Fearless leader though he was, Admiral Halsey either suffered from poor advice in connection with carrier air operations or insisted on making his own decisions, which could be worse."

The Fast-Carrier Revolution

The most important change in naval operations brought about by the war was the displacement of the battleship by the fast carrier as the capital ship of the U.S. Fleet. Representing the fast carriers at the surrender ceremony were Vice Admirals John S. McCain and Frederick C. Sherman. For the battleships, there was Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth.

"Slew" McCain was not in a celebratory mood that day and would not have attended had Halsey not insisted. Held responsible for losses in the two typhoons that devastated the Pacific Fleet, and without Nimitz's fame and backing that had preserved Halsey, who was actually more culpable, McCain was ordered home to a non-naval position that he would never assume. McCain was personally likable, profane, and full of endearing eccentricities, with a craggy face and demeanor that easily lent to his additional nickname, "Popeye."

Considered by King as more politically reliable, McCain had replaced Towers as chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics and afterward was installed as King's deputy for air. When the Pacific Fleet was reorganized, with Halsey and Spruance alternating command of the same ships, Halsey needed a commander for his fast-carrier task force. To the chagrin of the aviators clustered around Towers who coveted the position, King picked McCain. While McCain was learning the ropes, Mitscher was borrowed from Spruance to lead Halsey's fast carriers.

Comparing Mitscher and McCain in Admiral Halsey's Story , Halsey found "nothing to choose between them as strategists and leaders." As Halsey tended to disregard his task-force commanders and to direct carrier operations himself, that judgment made some sense, although the carrier task group leaders who revered Mitscher and held no high regard for McCain's ability would entirely disagree. Recalling that time, Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan said: "Pete Mitscher . . . was a consummate master of naval air power. . . . When McCain ran [the task force], it was a goddamn circus. He'd come up with one screwy idea after another." In The Fast Carriers , Clark G. Reynolds called Halsey and McCain "sloppy" in their procedures and concluded that in the last year of the war "both men were inferior third-act heroes in the Central Pacific offensive. . . . Their commands belonged to more competent officers."

While McCain was on the way out, Frederick "Ted" Sherman's star had finally risen. Mitscher's move to Washington opened up that task force command to him, the most experienced and aggressive of the fast-carrier admirals.However, as happened to Towers, who took over from McCain, Sherman reached his goal too late to lead the task force in battle.

Sherman had commanded carrier task groups with distinction, most notably during the Bougainville invasion, when a daring raid on Rabaul upended the Japanese plan to annihilate the beachhead. Described by Reynolds as "headstrong, outspoken, and a taskmaster," Sherman's aggressiveness was not confined to the battlefield. Demanding that aviators be given powers appropriate to their increased importance, Sherman advocated that the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), and those in other key commands should be active aviators. Such an attitude hardly endeared him to nonaviator Nimitz and inactive aviator King, and even fellow airman Towers appraised him negatively: "Able but not for high command because personality absolutely precludes establishment of wholehearted loyalty." However, the pressure Sherman and the other airmen brought for a greater voice produced changes, including the requirement, enforced by King, that surface commanders take on aviators as their chiefs of staff - and vice versa.

That the era of the battleship had passed was proved by the presence, at the forefront of the ceremony, of just one representative of the "Gun Club" that had once ruled the Navy. With scant regard for the far more prominent figures assembled there, it was 280-pound "Big Jack" Shafroth who caught the eye of Life magazine's photojournalist for its surrender issue. Shafroth had once been an assistant to Nimitz and intimate of Nimitz's family, which may partly explain his positioning up front with the military elite. He had commanded a small force in one of the most peaceful bodies of water in the world, the Southeast Pacific off Central and South America, and then served as Navy inspector general.

In late 1944 Shafroth was given command of a fast- battleship division under Vice Admiral Willis A. "Ching" Lee Jr. When Lee was sent stateside to devise tactics to combat the kamikazes, he temporarily turned over command of Battleship Squadron Two to Shafroth, saying as he departed: "Don't get yourself settled in that job, because I'm coming back." That never happened, as Lee died suddenly in America days before the surrender. During the two months of war that remained after Shafroth stepped into Lee's shoes, he directed one noteworthy operation, the first surface bombardment of the Japanese homeland.

Courageous Amphibians

Along with the aircraft carrier, amphibious warfare came fully of age in the Pacific war, represented at the ceremony by the supreme master of that discipline, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and by a great leader of invasion troops, Marine Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger.

Driven by an outsized ego and volcanic disposition made all the more combustible by ample ingestion of alcohol, "Terrible" Turner easily lived up to his sobriquet. But he also had formidable intelligence, enormous capacity for work, and great courage. Turner's war began inauspiciously when, as King's war plans officer at the Navy Department in 1941, he bore some responsibility for not providing all available information to the commanders at Pearl Harbor. When an invasion force leader was needed for Guadalcanal, King picked Turner, answering his protestation that he knew little of amphibious war with the answer, "You will learn."

As Thomas B. Buell noted in Master of Sea Power : "Turner resembled King - brilliant, caustic, arrogant and tactless. If anyone could succeed . . . it would be Turner." Guadalcanal began badly when, through inadequate surveillance and vessel preparedness, Turner's covering cruisers sustained a cataclysmic defeat at Savo Island. But Turner was a fast learner and, as Morison wrote, "He learned more about this specialized brand of warfare than anyone else ever had, or probably ever would." Turner came into his own in the Central Pacific under Spruance, who regarded him very highly. But operating in tandem with the equally stubborn and combative Howlin' Mad Smith, leader of the invasion troops, the fur flew when they disagreed, which was often. One continued source of friction was Turner's attempts to control the invasion forces after they landed. Smith distrusted the Navy to do right by his Marines, a concern that was well justified by Turner's unwillingness to order a more prolonged and deliberate preinvasion bombardment of Iwo Jima.

When the commander of the I Marine Amphibious Corps, Major General Charles D. Barrett, died suddenly on the eve of the invasion of Bougainville, Halsey and his chief of staff hurriedly considered replacement possibilities and separately came up with the same choice. So impressed were they by Roy Geiger's unflagging energy and upbeat spirit in rousing the exhausted aviators at Henderson Field to a supreme effort during the darkest days of Guadalcanal, it did not matter that virtually his entire post-1916 career was in aviation.

Geiger's superb performance at Guadalcanal had won him a position in Washington as chief of Marine aviation, which he gladly gave up for a battlefield command. Always in the thick of the fight and extolled by Spruance for his "natural fearlessness," Geiger proved himself at Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu, and Okinawa as no less proficient leading ground forces and better able than Smith to work amicably with the Army. On Okinawa, as Army Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner Jr.'s deputy, he assumed temporary command of the Tenth Army after Buckner's death, the greatest authority ever exercised by a Marine general. In the last days of the war, Geiger inherited Smith's mantle as top commander of Marine forces in the Pacific.

Exeunt

Probably after having suffered an earlier heart attack, McCain died a day after arriving home, prompting Carney to say: "He knew his number was up, but he wouldn't lie down and die until he got home." Halsey headed home soon after, with MacArthur saying at their parting: "When you leave the Pacific, Bill, it becomes just another damned ocean." First there was a round of celebrations, then elevation to the Navy's highest rank as Admiral of the Fleet, and later celebration on film in The Gallant Hours , highlighting his inspiring leadership during Guadalcanal. But Leyte Gulf would not go away, and it absorbed much of Halsey's energy as he tried to defend his actions against the judgments of Morison and other critics.

Nimitz, Forrest Sherman, and Carney would gain the ultimate prize, each eventually becoming CNO starting with Nimitz, who King insisted should be his successor. Before becoming the youngest CNO until then, Sherman provided a valuable voice of moderation during the bitter debate over military unification. Appointed CNO in the correct perception he could best bring about healing, Sherman's term was cut short by his sudden death at age 55. The last survivor of the leading U.S. Navy and Marine commanders who attended the Missouri surrender, Carney lived 35 years after his term as CNO, sitting on several corporation boards before his death at 95 in 1990.

After commanding in turn the Fifth Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, Towers retired and brought his aviation expertise to industry as vice president of Pan American World Airways. Ted Sherman succeeded Towers at the Fifth Fleet, then retired and wrote naval features for the Chicago Tribune , resuming his outspoken ways by attacking Spruance's wartime decisions. Shafroth commanded the Panama Sea Frontier and held other commands before retiring. After continuing as the supreme Marine Corps commander in the Pacific, Geiger died in 1947 shortly before his scheduled retirement and was posthumously awarded a fourth star. Turner served as Navy representative on a United Nations military staff committee and then retired and increasingly yielded to his old nemesis, alcohol. Lockwood hoped for creation of a new top-level submarine department that he would lead but was instead appointed Navy inspector general. Ill-suited by his gregarious nature for what he considered Gestapo-like duty, Lockwood retired to write extensively about submarines.

Nimitz, Spruance, Turner, and Lockwood are still together, buried by prearrangement along with their wives in Golden Gate National Cemetery, close by the Pacific.

 



Sources:

Clay Blair, Jr. Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1975).

Thomas B. Buell, Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Admiral Ernest J. King (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980).

Thomas B. Buell, The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974).

Admiral J. J. Clark with Clark G. Reynolds, Carrier Admiral (New York: David McKay, 1967).

Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey and Lieutenant Commander J. Bryan III, Admiral Halsey's Story (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1947).

Stephen Howarth, editor, Men of War: Great Naval Leaders of World War II (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993).

Edwin P. Hoyt, How They Won the War in the Pacific (New York: Lyons Press, 2000).

D. Clayton James, A Time for Giants: The Politics of the American High Command in World War II (New York: Franklin Watts, 1987).

Stephen Jurika Jr., editor, From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam: The Memoirs of Admiral Arthur W. Radford (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1980).

Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, volumes VI, XII, XIV (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950, 1958, and 1960).

E. B. Potter, Bull Halsey (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985).

E. B. Potter, Nimitz (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976).

Clark G. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992).

General Holland M. Smith, Coral and Brass: Howlin' Mad Smith's Own Story of the Marines in the Pacific (New York: Scribner's, 1949)

 

Rear Admiral Hicks is Program Director, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the sea-based element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System under development by the Missile Defense Agency.

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