Based on three interviews conducted by Commander Etta-Belle Kitchen, USN (Ret.) from February through May, 1971, the volume contains 216 pages of interview transcript. The transcript is copyright 1995 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use. This is a revised version of the original, which was issued in 1972. The new version has been completely retyped, annotated with footnotes, and given a detailed index.
Hedding served on the USS Maryland (BB-46) after USNA graduation, and in 1926 was designated naval aviator. He then received his MS degree from MIT in 1931; served on the USS Saratoga (CV-3); was in Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington; commanded Fighting Squadron 2-B based on the USS Lexington (CV-2); was air officer and XO on the USS Essex (CV-9). In 1943 became Chief of Staff, Commander Carrier Division Three, participating in raids on the Gilberts, Kwajalein, Marianas, Truk, and Palau. Then was CO of the USS Valley Forge (CV-45); was on the Joint Staff of JCS; Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, CinCPac; Commander Formosa Patrol Force in 1953; Department Director, Joint Staff Office, JCS; Commander Carrier Division Three in 1955; and Bureau of Aeronautics General Representative, Western District, until his retirement in 1959.
In this selection from his first of three interviews with CDR Etta Belle Kitchen, USN (Ret.), at his home in Coronado, California, on February 27, 1971, VADM Hedding describes how operational planning worked under Nimitz in 1943 during the first steps in the march across the Pacific when, as Captain, Hedding served as Chief of Staff to Commander Carrier Division Three.
Admiral Hedding: So, as I said, our first real operation was the Gilberts, from which we learned a lot. It was at the Gilberts that Admiral Radford had a task group.
Commander Kitchen: I'd like to have you give me as much detail as you can on the preparation for this, and what actually took place.
Admiral Hedding: The way it worked for an operation like this was that a decision would be made by the Joint Chiefs in Washington that we would do certain things in the Pacific. What would happen really was that Admiral Nimitz, as area commander, and his planners would say, "We should go into the Gilberts." So he would write up a plan and send it back to CominCh for approval. If necessary, it would be discussed with the Joint Chiefs. Then Admiral Nimitz would be given authority to carry out this operation, this objective, this time. That, in turn, would determine how many ships you'd have—how many carriers and how many battleships and cruisers, etc.
Then he would draw up a plan. In general, he would state the objective of the plan, what he would like to have accomplished, and give certain timing, and a broad idea of what the operation would consist of. But he would never say how to do something. He would tell you what he wanted to be done, to the fleet commanders or the operational commander at sea, and he would tell you what forces you would have to do the job.
Then you would take that and sit down and broaden your plan, based on that. So then the task force would have a plan. First there would be Admiral Nimitz's plan. That would go to the fleet commander, who usually at that time was Spruance, and later on it was Admiral Halsey.
The planning would be coordinated with the Marines, the Army, and the amphibious command. All that had to be done under Commander Fifth Fleet, who would draw up his plan. Of course, he would have an annex in there of what the carrier task force should do, and what the amphibious should do, etc. Then we each, in turn, would write up our own operation orders. At that time in our operations orders we would designate the task group commanders and what ships they would have. We would outline the basic plan—what would be done and the timing.
The task group commanders would then take the task force operation orders and draw up their own operations orders, in which they would get into the details of the actual missions to be flown from what carrier—how many planes, how many fighters, how many dive-bombers, how many torpedo bombers, and what their particular targets would be.
Then you were getting down to the meat of the thing. Once we would issue our order, we would more or less ride along, just like Admiral Spruance was riding along, or Admiral Lee, who had the battleships. They'd just ride along.[*]
Each carrier task group, of course, had an officer in tactical command, an aviation admiral. He would command that task group, even though there might be a battleship admiral or a cruiser admiral senior to him in the task group. That was one of the things that Admiral Nimitz got Admiral King to approve. You have to have an aviator as the tactical commander of a carrier task group. You couldn't have someone who didn't understand carrier operations. It needed that knowledge that an aviator had. Once we were embarked in an operation Admiral Nimitz and his staff would just sit back and watch this.
The Gilberts operation was one of our first operations where we started to bring our aviation power to bear. We were getting enough carriers and air groups so that we could start doing the things that we wanted to do. We were organizing our task groups around the carriers, with the defense of battleships and cruisers and destroyers. After Guadalcanal that was the first time we stated landing and taking over these islands.
Commander Kitchen: It was actually the first step towards driving across the Pacific.
[*]Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., USN, was potentially the commander of the battle line. However, for most of the amphibious operations his fast battleships were split up and integrated into the screens of the carrier task groups.