World War II: Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf

Jesse B. Oldendorf during World War II
Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Jesse Oldendorf - Early Life & Career:

Born February 16, 1887, Jesse B. Oldendorf spent his early childhood in Riverside, CA.  After receiving his primary education, he sought to pursue a naval career and succeeded in obtaining an appointment to the US Naval Academy in 1905.  A middling student while at Annapolis, "Oley" as he was nicknamed, graduated four years later ranked 141st in a class of 174.

  As the policy of the time required, Oldendorf commenced two years of sea time prior to receiving his ensign's commission in 1911.  Early assignments included postings to the armored cruiser USS California (ACR-6) and the destroyer USS Preble.  In the years prior to the United States' entrance into World War I, he also served aboard USS Denver, USS Whipple, and later returned to California which had been renamed USS San Diego.  

Jesse Oldendorf - World War I:

Completing an assignment aboard the hydrological survey ship USS Hannibal near the Panama Canal, Oldendorf returned north and later prepared for duty in the North Atlantic following the American declaration of war.  Initially conducting recruiting activities in Philadelphia, he then was assigned to lead a naval armed guard detachment aboard the transport USAT Saratoga.  That summer, after Saratoga was damaged in a collision off New York, Oldendorf transferred to the transport USS Abraham Lincoln where he served as gunnery officer.

  He remained aboard until May 31, 1918 when the ship was hit by three torpedoes fired by U-90.  Sinking off the Irish coast, those aboard were rescued and taken to France.  Recovering from the ordeal, Oldendorf was posted to USS Seattle that August as an engineering officer.  He continued in this role until March 1919.

Jesse Oldendorf - Interwar Years:

Briefly serving as executive officer of USS Patricia that summer, Oldendorf then came ashore and moved through recruiting and engineering assignments in Pittsburgh and Baltimore respectively.  Returning to sea in 1920, he did a short stint aboard USS Niagara before transferring to the light cruiser USS Birmingham.  While aboard, he served as flag secretary to a series of commanding officers of the Special Service Squadron.  In 1922, Oldendorf moved to California to serve as aide to Rear Admiral Josiah McKean, the commandant at Mare Island Navy Yard.  Completing this duty in 1925, he assumed command of the destroyer USS Decatur.  Aboard for two years, Oldendorf then spent 1927-1928 as an aide to the commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Having attained the rank of commander, Oldendorf received an appointment to the Naval War College in Newport, RI in 1928.  Completing the course a year later, he immediately began studies at the US Army War College.  Graduating in 1930, Oldendorf joined USS New York (BB-34) to serve as the battleship's navigator.  Aboard for two years, he then returned to Annapolis for an assignment teaching navigation.  In 1935, Oldendorf moved to the West Coast to serve as executive officer of the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48).

  Continuing a pattern of two-year postings, he moved to the Bureau of Navigation in 1937 to oversee recruiting duties before assuming command of the heavy cruiser USS Houston in 1939.

Jesse Oldendorf - World War II:

Posted to the Naval War College as a navigation instructor in September 1941, Oldendorf was in this assignment when the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Leaving Newport in February 1942, he received a promotion to rear admiral the following month and an assignment to lead the Aruba-Curaçao sector of the Caribbean Sea Frontier.  Helping to protect Allied commerce, Oldendorf moved to Trinidad in August where he took an active role in anti-submarine warfare.  Continuing to fight the Battle of the Atlantic, he shifted north in May 1943 to lead Task Force 24.

  Based at Naval Station Argentia in Newfoundland, Oldendorf oversaw all convoy escorts in the Western Atlantic.  Remaining in this post until December, he then received orders for the Pacific.

Hoisting his flag aboard the heavy cruiser USS Louisville, Oldendorf assumed command of Cruiser Division 4.  Tasked with providing naval gunfire support for Admiral Chester Nimitz's island-hopping campaign across the Central Pacific, his ships went into action in late January as Allied forces landed at Kwajalein.  After aiding in the capture of Eniwetok in February, Oldendorf's cruisers struck targets in the Palaus before conducting bombardment missions to aid troops ashore during the Marianas Campaign that summer.  Transferring his flag to the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), he directed the pre-invasion bombardment of Peleliu that September.  In the course of operations, Oldendorf courted controversy when he ended the attack a day early and omitted shelling an obvious Japanese strong point.  

Jesse Oldendorf - Surigao Strait:

The following month, Oldendorf led the Bombardment and Fire Support Group, part of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid's Central Philippine Attack Force, against Leyte in the Philippines. Reaching its fire support station on October 18 and his battleships began covering General Douglas MacArthur's troops as they went ashore two days later. With the Battle of Leyte Gulf underway, Oldendorf's battleships moved south on October 24 and blocked the mouth of the Surigao Strait.

  Arraying his ships in a line across the strait, he was attacked that night by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura's Southern Force.  Having crossed the enemy's "T", Oldendorf's battleships, many of which were Pearl Harbor veterans, inflicted a decisive defeat on the Japanese and sunk the battleships Yamashiro and Fuso.  In recognition of the victory and the preventing the enemy from reaching the Leyte beachhead, Oldendorf received the Navy Cross.

Jesse Oldendorf - Final Campaigns:

Promoted to vice admiral on December 1, Oldendorf assumed command of Battleship Squadron 1.  In this new role he commanded the fire support forces during the landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon in January 1945.  Two months later, Oldendorf was put out of action with a broken collar bone after his barge hit a buoy at Ulithi.  Temporarily replaced by Rear Admiral Morton Deyo, he returned to his post in early May.  Operating off Okinawa, Oldendorf was again injured on August 12 when Pennsylvania was hit by a Japanese torpedo.  Remaining in command, he transferred his flag to USS Tennessee (BB-43).  With the Japanese surrender on September 2, Oldendorf traveled to Japan where he directed the occupation of Wakayama.  Returning to the United States in November, he assumed command of the 11th Naval District in San Diego.

Oldendorf remained in San Diego until 1947 when he moved to the post of Commander, Western Sea Frontier.  Based in San Francisco, he held this position until his retirement in September 1948.  Promoted to admiral as he left the service, Oldendorf later died on April 27, 1974.

  His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery.         

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