William Frederick Halsey Jr. (1882–1959), a U.S. naval officer, Fleet Admiral, also known as Bill Halsey, or «Bull» Halsey.
The future admiral was born on October 30, 1882 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. His parents were naval officer William F. Halsey and Anne Brewster Halsey. In 1900, he enrolled in the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and four years later began his service on battleships. On board USS Kansas he took part in the famous round-the-world 1907–1909 Great White Fleet voyage, and, upon returning, he received the rank of Lieutenant. The officer spent the following 10 years of his service on torpedo boats and destroyers. For his distinguished service during World War I, he was promoted and awarded with the Navy Cross.
The brave, energetic, and insightful Halsey lived a glorious life, full of victories, defeats, and mistakes that cost hundreds of lives. Here are a few memorable stories from his military biography.
In 1934, Admiral Ernest King, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics of the U.S. Navy, offered Halsey the chance to become commander of the aircraft carrier Saratoga, provided that he completed an air observer course. Halsey decided to test himself in a more complicated program and enrolled in the full 12-week training course of a naval pilot:
«I thought it better to be able to fly the aircraft itself than to just sit back and be at the mercy of the pilot."
On May 15, 1935, a 52-year-old Halsey received his well-deserved «wings» as a naval aviation pilot, becoming the oldest graduate in the course’s history, and on July 6, he took command of USS Saratoga. Later, he commanded the Naval Air Station Pensacola, where future carrier aviation pilots were trained. On March 1, 1938, Halsey was awarded with the title of Rear Admiral, and during this time, became commander of a division of aircraft carriers. Halsey had acquired a huge amount of command experience, and was well-aware of the power of aircraft carrier-based formations, saying:
«The naval officer in the next war had better know his aviation, and know it well."
In the summer of 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral and took command of the Pacific Navy Air Force.
During the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, Halsey's squadron was 200 miles out at sea, on their way back to the base, after delivering a fighter air group to Wake Island. Frustrated with the unfortunate start of the war, the energetic Admiral realized that the preponderance of forces in the region was not in favor of the U.S. Navy. The morale of his staff was at its lowest. At such dark times, the Navy needed any, even the smallest victory; any blow to the Japanese could reinvigorate the American sailors. Halsey suggested that Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, use hit-and-run tactics, suddenly striking Japanese bases. In early February 1942, operational forces of the Pacific Fleet attacked the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, in March, they struck Wake Island, and in April, B-25 bombers took off from the deck of aircraft carrier Hornet to carry out the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.
Before the Battle of Midway, Halsey was sent to hospital with severe dermatitis, caused by the stress of the last six months the Admiral spent at sea. Later, Halsey commented on his forced dismissal from the command:
«This has been the greatest disappointment of my career."
After returning to duty, on October 18, Halsey took command of all forces in the South Pacific area of operations. The Admiral's appointment was met with universal elation—he enjoyed unquestionable authority in the Navy for his combat qualities. At the same time, Japanese forces launched an offensive on land, attempting to drop the defenders of Guadalcanal into the sea. Almost simultaneously with the land forces, a large carrier group of the Imperial Navy was approaching the island, trying to force a battle. The Americans were fewer in number, so it was important for them to gain the initiative. At the dawn of October 26, Halsey gave his naval forces an order:
Thus began the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the fourth battle of aircraft carriers in the Pacific ocean. During the battle, Halsey lost aircraft carrier Hornet and destroyer Porter, Enterprise, two other destroyers were damaged as well. Japanese aircraft carriers Shōkaku and Zuihō as well as heavy cruiser Chikuma were incapacitated. Despite the tactical victory of the Imperial Navy, Japan suffered serious losses in flight crews—148 people against 26 Americans. Thus, since the beginning of the war, Japan had already lost about 53% of their deck aviation pilots. In November, the Japanese attempted to attack Guadalcanal again. During two violent night battles, the American Navy completely seized the initiative from the Japanese. The Imperial Navy was forced to launch Operation Ke to evacuate all its troops from the island the next month.
Despite some «calm» in Halsey's sector of activity until the summer of 1943, he was constantly striving for dynamic actions to advance on the Solomon Islands. To overcome the barrier created by the Japanese in the Bismarck Archipelago, in June, the long-awaited American offensive began. A series of amphibious landings rolled one after another, accompanied by constant clashes with light forces of the Imperial Navy that, in most cases, did not end in favor of the latter. On November 26, 1943 at Cape St. George, the American Navy brought to a close the sea confrontation during the Solomon Islands Campaign, crushing the Japanese forces once again.
By the summer of 1944, the Third Fleet under the command of Halsey was a formidable force. During the Philippine operation, which began in September, his battle group was initially assigned to neutralize Japanese aviation and support ground forces. To repel the U.S. invasion, the Japanese command developed Operation Sho I: the Japanese planned to divert the attention of the American strike force with their aircraft carriers, while two other groups were to attack the ships carrying landing forces.
On October 24, the war's largest battle of the fleets began in the Leyte Gulf. The Japanese attacked first—around 150 aircraft raided the American forces. The wave of attackers was almost destroyed, but a single bomber broke through to light aircraft carrier Princeton, and the bomb it dropped exploded on the deck. The ship was set alight, her torpedo magazine exploded, and before the night set in, she sank. Admiral Kurita's force, located in the west, came under the Americans' retaliatory strike; Halsey's aircraft destroyed battleship Musashi, and damaged battleships Yamato, Nagato, and many escort ships. Halsey decided that this group of Japanese ships was done away with, and concentrated on pursuing the detected Northern Force aircraft carriers of Admiral Ozawa. The Japanese plan worked: for the first time, Halsey made a mistake. Kurita's squadron slipped through the uncontrolled San Bernardino Strait and soon, near Samar Island, stumbled across the group of escort aircraft carriers of Admiral Sprague with cover from the destroyers. Only the brave actions of American sailors helped them avoid defeat—Kurita thought that Sprague's aircraft had taken off from heavy carriers and opted to retreat, a step away from his goal. Subsequently, Halsey received a scolding from Nimitz for his mistake.
This wasn't the end of the admiral's misadventures—on December 17, 1944, the Third Fleet was to face Typhoon Cobra. The data received from meteorologists was inaccurate, and Halsey decided to hold formation, hitting the very heart of the typhoon. What the Japanese could not do, the elements did. Within two hours, the fleet lost three destroyers, 146 aircraft, and around 800 people. Halsey was summoned to court, presided by Nimitz himself. Despite the apparent mistake of the Admiral, he was not found guilty.
On September 2, 1945 onboard Halsey's flagship—battleship Missouri— the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed, the war was over. In 1947, Fleet Admiral Halsey retired.