World War II: Admiral Marc A. Mitscher

Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, USN
Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Born in Hillsboro, WI on January 26, 1887, Marc Andrew Mitscher was the son of Oscar and Myrta Mitscher. Two years later, the family moved to Oklahoma where they settled in the new town of Oklahoma City. Prominent in the community, Mitscher's father served as Oklahoma City's second mayor between 1892 and 1894. In 1900, President William McKinley appointed the elder Mitscher to serve as the Indian Agent in Pawhuska, OK. Unhappy with the local educational system, he sent his son east to Washington, DC to attend grade and high schools. Graduating, Mitscher received an appointment to the US Naval Academy with the aid of Representative Bird S. McGuire. Entering Annapolis in 1904, he proved a dismal student and had difficulty staying out of trouble. Amassing 159 demerits and possessing poor grades, Mitscher received a forced resignation in 1906.

With the assistance of McGuire, Mitscher's father was able to obtain a second appointment for his son later that year. Re-entering Annapolis as a plebe, Mitscher's performance improved. Dubbed "Oklahoma Pete" in reference to the territory's first midshipman (Peter C.M. Cade) who had washed out in 1903, the nickname stuck and Mitscher became known as "Pete". Remaining a marginal student, he graduated in 1901 ranked 113th in a class of 131. Leaving the academy, Mitscher commenced two years at sea aboard the battleship USS Colorado which operated with the US Pacific Fleet. Completing his sea time, he was commissioned as an ensign on March 7, 1912. Remaining in the Pacific, he moved through several short postings before arriving aboard USS California (renamed USS San Diego in 1914) in August 1913. While aboard, he took part in the 1914 Mexican Campaign.

Taking Flight

Interested in flying from the start of his career, Mitscher attempted to transfer to aviation while still serving on Colorado. Subsequent requests were also denied and he remained in surface warfare. In 1915, after duty aboard the destroyers USS Whipple and USS Stewart, Mitscher had his request granted and received orders to report to Naval Aeronautical Station, Pensacola for training. This was soon followed by an assignment to the cruiser USS North Carolina which carried an aircraft catapult on its fantail. Completing his training, Mitscher received his wings on June 2, 1916, as Naval Aviator No. 33. Returning to Pensacola for additional instruction, he was there when the United States entered World War I in April 1917. Ordered to USS Huntington later in the year, Mitscher conducted catapult experiments and took part in convoy duty.

The following year saw Mitscher serve at Naval Air Station, Montauk Point before taking command of Naval Air Station, Rockaway and Naval Air Station, Miami. Relieved in February 1919, he reported for duty with the Aviation Section in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In May, Mitscher took part in the first trans-Atlantic flight which saw three US Navy seaplanes (NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4) attempt to fly from Newfoundland to England via the Azores and Spain. Piloting NC-1, Mitscher encountered heavy fog and landed near the Azores to determine his position. This action was followed by NC-3. Touching down, neither aircraft was able to take off again due to poor sea conditions. Despite this setback, NC-4 successfully completed the flight to England. For his role in the mission, Mitscher received the Navy Cross.

Interwar Years

Returning to sea later in 1919, Mitscher reported aboard USS Aroostook which served as flagship of the US Pacific Fleet's air detachment. Moving through posts on the West Coast, he returned east in 1922 to command Naval Air Station, Anacostia. Shifting to a staff assignment a short time later, Mitscher remained in Washington until 1926 when was ordered to join the US Navy's first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1). Later that year, he received orders to aid in the fitting out of USS Saratoga (CV-3) at Camden, NJ. He remained with Saratoga through the ship's commissioning and first two years of operation. Appointed executive officer of Langley in 1929, Mitscher only stayed with the ship six months before commencing four years of staff assignments. In June 1934, he returned to Saratoga as the executive officer before later commanding USS Wright and Patrol Wing One. Promoted to captain in 1938, Mitscher began overseeing the fitting out of USS Hornet (CV-8) in 1941. When the ship entered service that October, he assumed command and commenced training operations from Norfolk, VA.

Doolittle Raid

With the American entry into World War II that December following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hornet intensified its training in preparation for combat operations. During this time, Mitscher was consulted regarding the feasibility of launching B-25 Mitchell medium bombers from the carrier's flight deck. Replying that he believed it was possible, Mitscher was proved right following tests in February 1942. On March 4, Hornet departed Norfolk with orders to sail for San Francisco, CA. Transiting the Panama Canal, the carrier arrived at Naval Air Station, Alameda on March 20. While there, sixteen US Army Air Forces B-25s were loaded onto Hornet's flight deck. Receiving sealed orders, Mitscher put to sea on April 2 before informing the crew that the bombers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Doolittle, were intended for a strike on Japan and would hit their targets before flying on to China. Steaming across the Pacific, Hornet rendezvoused with Vice Admiral William Halsey's Task Force 16 and advanced on Japan. Spotted by a Japanese picket boat on April 18, Mitscher and Doolittle met and decided to begin the attack despite being 170 miles short of the intended launch point. After Doolittle's planes roared off Hornet's deck, Mitscher immediately turned and raced back to Pearl Harbor.

Battle of Midway

After pausing in Hawaii, Mitscher and Hornet moved south with the goal of reinforcing Allied forces prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Failing to arrive in time, the carrier returned to Pearl Harbor before being dispatched to defend Midway as part of Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance's Task Force 17. On May 30, Mitscher received a promotion to rear admiral (retroactive to December 4, 1941). In the opening days of June, he took part in the pivotal Battle of Midway which saw American forces sink four Japanese carriers. In the course of the fighting, Hornet's air group performed poorly with its dive bombers failing to locate the enemy and its torpedo squadron being lost in its entirety. This shortcoming greatly bothered Mitscher as he felt that his ship had not pulled its weight. Departing Hornet in July, he took command of Patrol Wing 2 before receiving an assignment in the South Pacific as Commander Fleet Air, Nouméa in December. In April 1943, Halsey moved Mitscher to Guadalcanal to serve as Commander Air, Solomon Islands. In this role, he earned the Distinguished Service Medal for leading Allied aircraft against Japanese forces in the island chain.

Fast Carrier Task Force

Leaving the Solomons in August, Mitscher returned to the United States and spent the fall overseeing Fleet Air on the West Coast. Well-rested, he resumed combat operations in January 1944 when he took command of Carrier Division 3. Flying his flag from USS Lexington (CV-16), Mitscher supported Allied amphibious operations in the Marshall Islands, including Kwajalein, before mounting a hugely successful series of strikes against the Japanese fleet anchorage at Truk in February. These efforts led to him being awarded a gold star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal. The following month, Mitscher was promoted to vice admiral and his command evolved into the Fast Carrier Task Force which alternated as Task Force 58 and Task Force 38 depending upon whether it was serving in Spruance's Fifth Fleet or Halsey's Third Fleet. In this command, Mitscher would earn two gold stars for his Navy Cross as well as a gold star in place of a third Distinguished Service Medal.

In June, Mitscher's carriers and aviators struck a decisive blow at the Battle of the Philippine Sea when they aided in sinking three Japanese carriers and decimated the enemy's naval air arm. Launching a late attack on June 20, his aircraft were forced to return in the darkness. Concerned about his pilots' safety, Mitscher ordered his carriers' running lights turned on despite the risk of alerting enemy forces to their position. This decision allowed the bulk of the aircraft to be recovered and earned the admiral the thanks of his men. In September, Mitscher supported the campaign against Peleliu before moving against the Philippines. A month later, TF38 played a key role in the Battle of Leyte Gulf where it sank four enemy carriers. Following the victory, Mitscher rotated to a planning role and turned command over to Vice Admiral John McCain. Returning in January 1945, he led the American carriers during the campaigns against Iwo Jima and Okinawa as well as mounted a series of strikes against the Japanese home islands. Operating off Okinawa in April and May, Mitscher's pilots worked the stem the threat posed by Japanese kamikazes. Rotating out in late May, he became Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air in July. Mitscher was in this position when the war ended on September 2.

Later Career

With the end of the war, Mitscher remained in Washington until March 1946 when he assumed command of the Eighth Fleet. Relieved in September, he immediately took over as Commander-in-Chief, US Atlantic Fleet with the rank of admiral. A staunch advocate of naval aviation, he publically defended the US Navy's carrier force against postwar defense cuts. In February 1947, Mitscher suffered a heart attack and was taken to the Norfolk Naval Hospital. He died there on February 3 from coronary thrombosis. Mitscher's body was then transported to Arlington National Cemetery where he was buried with full military honors.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Admiral Marc A. Mitscher." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War II: Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Admiral Marc A. Mitscher." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).