World War II: Fleet Admiral William "Bull" Halsey

Fleet Admiral William "Bull" Halsey. Photograph Courtesy of US Naval History & Heritage Command

Early Life & Career:

William Frederick Halsey, Jr. was born on October 30, 1882, at Elizabeth, NJ. The son of US Navy Captain William Halsey, he spent his early years in Coronado and Vallejo, CA. Raised on his father's sea stories, Halsey decided to attend the US Naval Academy. After waiting two years for an appointment, he decided to study medicine and followed his friend Karl Osterhause to the University of Virginia.  While there, he pursued his studies with the goal of entering the Navy as a doctor and was induced into the Seven Society. After his first year in Charlottesville, Halsey finally received his appointment and entered the academy in 1900. While not a gifted student, he was a skilled athlete and active in numerous academy clubs. Playing halfback on the football team, Halsey was recognized with the Thompson Trophy Cup as the midshipman who had done most during the year for the promotion of athletics.

Graduating in 1904, Halsey ranked 43rd out of 62 in his class. After joining USS Missouri (BB-11) he was later transferred to USS Don Juan de Austria in December 1905. Having completed the two years of sea time required by federal law, he was commissioned as an ensign on February 2, 1906. The following year, he served aboard the battleship USS Kansas (BB-21) as it took part in the cruise of the "Great White Fleet." Promoted directly to lieutenant on February 2, 1909, Halsey was one of a few ensigns who skipped the rank of lieutenant (junior grade). Following this promotion, Halsey began a long series of command assignments aboard torpedo boats and destroyers beginning with USS DuPont (TB-7).

World War I:

After commanding the destroyers Lamson, Flusser, and Jarvis, Halsey went ashore in 1915, for a two-year stint in the Executive Department of the Naval Academy. During this time he was promoted to lieutenant commander. With the US entry into World War I, he took command of USS Benham in February 1918 and sailed with the Queenstown Destroyer Force. In May, Halsey assumed command of USS Shaw and continued to operate from Ireland. For his service during the conflict he earned the Navy Cross. Ordered home in August 1918, Halsey oversaw the completion and commissioning of the destroyer USS Yarnell. He remained in destroyers until 1921, and ultimately commanded Destroyer Divisions 32 and 15. After a brief assignment in the Office of Naval Intelligence, Halsey, now a commander, was sent to Berlin as the US Naval Attaché in 1922.

Interwar Years:

Remaining in this role until 1925, he also served as the attaché to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Returning to sea service, he commanded the destroyers USS Dale and USS Osborne in European waters until 1927, when he was promoted to captain. Following a one year tour as executive officer of USS Wyoming (BB-32), Halsey returned to the Naval Academy where he served until 1930. Departing Annapolis, he led Destroyer Division Three through 1932, when he was sent to the Naval War College. Graduating, Halsey also took classes at the US Army War College.

In 1934, Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, the head of the Bureau of Aeronautics offered Halsey command of the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3). At this time, officers selected for carrier command were required to have aviation training and King recommended that Halsey complete the course for aerial observers as this would fulfill the requirement. Desiring to achieve the highest qualification possible, Halsey instead elected to take the full twelve-week Naval Aviator (pilot) course rather than the simpler aerial observer program. In justifying this decision, he later commented, "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."

Battling through the training, he earned his wings on May 15, 1935, becoming the oldest individual, at age 52, to complete the course. With his flight qualification secured, he took command of Saratoga later that year. In 1937, Halsey went ashore as the commander of Naval Air Station, Pensacola. Marked as one of the US Navy's top carrier commanders, he was promoted to rear admiral on March 1, 1938. Taking command of Carrier Division 2, Halsey hoisted his flag aboard the new carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5).

World War II Begins:

After leading Carrier Division 2 and Carrier Division 1, Halsey became Commander Aircraft Battle Force with the rank of vice admiral in 1940. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II, Halsey found himself at sea aboard his flagship USS Enterprise (CV-6) Upon learning of the attack he remarked, "Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will only be spoken in hell." In February 1942, Halsey led one of the first American counterattacks of the conflict when he took Enterprise and Yorktown on a raid through the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Two months later, in April 1942, Halsey led Task Force 16 to within 800 miles of Japan to launch the famed "Doolittle Raid."

By this time, Halsey, known as "Bull" to his men, adopted the slogan "Hit hard, hit fast, hit often." Returning from the Doolittle mission, he missed the critical Battle of Midway due to a severe case of psoriasis. Naming Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance to serve in his stead, he sent his gifted chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning, to sea to assist in the coming battle. Made Commander South Pacific Forces and South Pacific Area in October 1942, he was promoted to admiral on November 18.

Leading Allied naval forces to victory in the Guadalcanal Campaign, his ships remained at the leading edge of the Admiral Chester Nimitz's "island-hopping" campaign through 1943 and early 1944. In June 1944, Halsey was given command of the US Third Fleet. That September, his ships provided cover for the landings on Peleliu, before embarking on a series of damaging raids on Okinawa and Formosa. In late October, the Third Fleet was assigned to provide cover for the landings on Leyte and to support Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet.

Leyte Gulf:

Desperate to block the Allied invasion of the Philippines, the commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, devised a daring plan which called for most of his remaining ships to attack the landing force. To distract Halsey, Toyoda sent his remaining carriers, under Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, to the north with the goal of drawing the Allied carriers away from Leyte. In the resulting Battle of Leyte Gulf, Halsey and Kinkaid won victories on October 23 and 24 over the attacking Japanese surface ships led by Vice Admirals Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita and Shoji Nishimura.

Late on the 24th, Halsey's scouts sighted Ozawa's carriers. Believing Kurita's force to have been defeated and retreating, Halsey elected to pursue Ozawa without properly informing Nimitz or Kinkaid of his intentions. The next day, his planes succeeded in crushing Ozawa's force, but due to his pursuit he was out of position to support the invasion fleet. Unknown to Halsey, Kurita had reversed course and resumed his advance towards Leyte. In the resulting Battle of Samar, Allied destroyers and escort carriers fought a valiant battle against Kurita's heavy ships.

Alerted to the critical situation, Halsey turned his ships south and made a high-speed run back towards Leyte. The situation was saved when Kurita retreated of his own accord after becoming concerned about the possibility of aerial attack from Halsey's carriers. Despite the stunning Allied successes in the battles around Leyte, Halsey's failure to clearly communicate his intentions and his leaving the invasion fleet unprotected damaged his reputation in some circles.

Final Campaigns:

Halsey's reputation was again damaged in December when Task Force 38, part of the Third Fleet, was hit by Typhoon Cobra while conducting operations off the Philippines. Rather than avoid the storm, Halsey remained on station and lost three destroyers, 146 aircraft, and 790 men to the weather. In addition, many ships were badly damaged. A subsequent court of inquiry found that Halsey had erred, but did not recommend any punitive action. In January 1945, Halsey turned the Third Fleet over to Spruance for the Okinawa Campaign.

Resuming command in late-May, Halsey made a series of carrier attacks against the Japanese home islands. During this time, he again sailed through a typhoon, though no ships were lost. A court of inquiry recommended that he be reassigned, however Nimitz overruled the judgment and allowed Halsey to retain his post. Halsey's last attack came on August 13, and he was present aboard USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered on September 2.

Following the war, Halsey was promoted to fleet admiral on December 11, 1945, and assigned to special duty in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy. He retired on March 1, 1947, and worked in business until 1957. Halsey died on August 16, 1959, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Selected Sources