World War II: Admiral Thomas C. Kincaid

Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid
Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Early Life & Career

Born in Hanover, NH on April 3, 1888, Thomas Cassin Kinkaid was the son of Thomas Wright Kinkaid and his wife Virginia. An officer in the US Navy, the elder Kinkaid saw service at the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts (now University of New Hampshire) until 1889 when he received a posting to USS Pinta. A sea-going tug, Pinta operated out of Sitka and the assignment saw the entire Kinkaid family move to Alaska. Subsequent orders forced the family to live in Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Annapolis before settling in Washington, DC. While in the capital, the younger Kinkaid attended Western High School before departing for a preparatory school. Eager to follow in his father's path, he sought an appointment to the US Naval Academy from President Theodore Roosevelt. Granted, Kinkaid commenced his naval career as a midshipman in 1904.

A standout on the crew team, Kinkaid participated in a training cruise aboard Admiral David G. Farragut's former flagship, USS Hartford while at Annapolis. A middling student, he graduated ranked 136th in the 201-man Class of 1908. Ordered to San Francisco, Kinkaid joined the battleship USS Nebraska and took part in the cruise of the Great White Fleet. Returning in 1909, Kinkaid took his ensign's exams in 1910, but failed navigation. As a result, he spent the remainder of the year as a midshipman and studied for a second attempt at the exam. During this time, a friend of his father, Commander William Sims, encouraged Kinkaid's interest in gunnery while the two served aboard USS Minnesota. Retaking the navigation exam in December, Kinkaid passed and received his ensign's commission in February 1911. Pursuing his interest in gunnery, he attended the Naval Postgraduate School in 1913 with a focus in ordnance. During his time in school, the US Navy commenced the occupation of Veracruz. This military action led to Kinkaid being posted to USS Machias for service in the Caribbean. While there, he took part in the 1916 occupation of the Dominican Republic before returning to his studies that December.

World War I

With his instruction complete, Kinkaid reported aboard the new battleship USS Pennsylvania in July 1916. Serving as a gunfire spotter, he received a promotion to lieutenant the following January. Aboard Pennsylvania when the US entered World War I in April 1917, Kinkaid came ashore in November when he was ordered to oversee the delivery of a new rangefinder to the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet. Traveling to Britain, he spent two months working with the British to develop improved optics and rangefinders. Arriving back in the US in January 1918, Kinkaid was promoted to lieutenant commander and posted to the battleship USS Arizona. He remained on board for the remainder of the conflict and took part in the ship's efforts to cover the Greek occupation of Smyrna in May 1919. The next few years saw Kinkaid move between assignments afloat and ashore. During this time, he became an avid writer on naval topics and had several articles published in the Naval Institute's Proceedings.

Interwar Years

On November 11, 1924, Kinkaid received his first command when he took over the destroyer USS Isherwood. This assignment proved brief as he moved to the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, DC in July 1925. Elevated to commander the following year, he returned to sea as gunnery officer and aide to the Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet, Admiral Henry A. Wiley. A rising star, Kinkaid entered the Naval War College in 1929. Completing the course of study, he attended the Geneva Disarmament Conference as a naval adviser to the State Department. Departing Europe, Kinkaid became executive officer of USS Colorado in 1933. Later that year, he aided relief efforts after a severe earthquake struck the Long Beach, CA area. Promoted to captain in 1937, Kinkaid took command of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis. Completing his tour aboard the cruiser, he assumed the post of naval attaché in Rome, Italy in November 1938. His portfolio was expanded the following year to include Yugoslavia.

War Approaches

From this post, Kinkaid provided accurate reports regarding Italy's intentions and preparedness for combat in the months leading up to World War II. Remaining in Italy until March 1941, he returned to the US and accepted the somewhat junior post of Commander, Destroyer Squadron 8 with the goal of garnering additional command experience in the hopes of achieving flag rank. These efforts proved successful as Kinkaid performed well and was promoted to rear admiral in August. Later that year, he received orders to relieve Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher as commander of Cruiser Division Six which was based at Pearl Harbor. Traveling west, Kinkaid did not reach Hawaii until after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7. In the days that followed, Kinkaid observed Fletcher and took part in the attempted relief of Wake Island but did not assume command until December 29.

War in the Pacific

In May, Kinkaid's cruisers served as the screening force for the carrier USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Though the carrier was lost in the fighting, Kinkaid's efforts during the battle earned him the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. Detached after the Coral Sea, he led his ships north to rendezvous with Vice Admiral William "Bull" Halsey's Task Force 16. Uniting with this force, Kinkaid later oversaw TF16's screen during the Battle of Midway in June. Later that summer, he assumed command of TF16, centered on the carrier USS Enterprise, despite lacking a background in naval aviation. Serving under Fletcher, Kinkaid led TF16 during the invasion of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. In the course of the latter battle, Enterprise sustained three bomb hits which necessitated a return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts, Kinkaid recommended that American carriers carry more fighter aircraft to aid in their defense.

Returning to the Solomons in October, Kinkaid oversaw the American carriers during the Battle of Santa Cruz. In the fighting, Enterprise was damaged and USS Hornet was sunk. A tactical defeat, he was blamed by the fleet's aviation officers for the carrier's loss. On January 4, 1943, Kinkaid moved north to become Commander, North Pacific Force. Tasked with retaking the Aleutians from the Japanese, he overcame complicated inter-service command relationships to accomplish the mission. Liberating Attu in May, Kinkaid received a promotion to vice admiral in June. The success on Attu was followed by landings on Kiska in August. Coming ashore, Kinkaid's men found that the enemy had abandoned the island. In November, Kinkaid received command of the Seventh Fleet and was appointed Commander Allied Naval Forces, Southwest Pacific Area. In this latter role, he reported to General Douglas MacArthur. A politically difficult position, Kinkaid was appointed due to his success at fostering inter-service cooperation in the Aleutians.

MacArthur's Navy

Working with MacArthur, Kinkaid assisted in the general's campaign along the northern coast of New Guinea. This saw Allied forces conduct over thirty-five amphibious operations. After Allied forces landed in the Admiralty Islands in early 1944, MacArthur began planning for a return to the Philippines at Leyte. For the operation against Leyte, Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet received reinforcements from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's US Pacific Fleet. In addition, Nimitz directed Halsey's Third Fleet, which included the carriers of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's TF38, to support the effort. While Kinkaid oversaw the assault and landings, Halsey's ships were to provide cover from Japanese naval forces. In the resulting Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 23-26, confusion arose between the two naval commanders when Halsey moved away in pursuit of a Japanese carrier force. Unaware that the Halsey was out of position, Kinkaid focused his forces to the south and defeated a Japanese force at the Surigao Strait on the night of October 24/25. Later that day, elements of the Seventh Fleet came under heavy attack by Japanese surface forces led by Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita. In a desperate action off Samar, Kinkaid's ships held off the enemy until Kurita elected to withdraw.

With the victory at Leyte, Kinkaid's fleet continued to assist MacArthur as he campaigned through the Philippines. In January 1945, his ships covered Allied landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon and he received a promotion to admiral on April 3. That summer, Kinkaid's fleet supported Allied efforts on Borneo. With the end of the war in August, Seventh Fleet landed troops in China and Korea. Returning to the United States, Kinkaid assumed command of the Eastern Sea Frontier and sat on a retirement board with Halsey, Mitscher, Spruance, and Admiral John Towers. In 1947, with the support of MacArthur, he received the Army Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his efforts to aid the general's advance through New Guinea and the Philippines.

Later Life

Retiring on April 30, 1950, Kinkaid remained engaged by serving as the naval representative to the National Security Training Commission for six years. Active with the American Battle Monuments Commission, he attended the dedication of numerous American cemeteries in Europe and the Pacific. Kinkaid died at Bethesda Naval Hospital on November 17, 1972, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery four days later.

Selected Sources

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Admiral Thomas C. Kincaid." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: Admiral Thomas C. Kincaid. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Admiral Thomas C. Kincaid." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).