Frank H. Brumby

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Frank Hardeman Brumby
Frank H Brumby.PNG
Admiral Frank H. Brumby, 1941
Born (1874-09-11)September 11, 1874
Athens, Georgia
Died July 16, 1950(1950-07-16) (aged 75)
Portsmouth, Virginia
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1895-1938
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held Battle Force
Battles/wars Spanish-American War
Philippine-American War
World War I

Frank Hardeman Brumby (September 11, 1874 – July 16, 1950) was a four-star admiral in the United States Navy who commanded the Battle Force of the United States Fleet from 1934 to 1935.

Early career[edit]

Born in Athens, Georgia to Belle Hardeman Brumby and former Confederate States Army officer John Wallis Brumby,[1][2] he was appointed from the state of Georgia to the United States Naval Academy in 1891. Graduating 3rd of 45 in the class of 1895,[3] he served the required two years of sea duty as a passed midshipman before being commissioned ensign on July 1, 1897.[4]

During the Spanish-American War, he was a junior officer aboard the armored cruiser New York, flagship of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson's squadron at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, and later served during the Philippine Insurrection.[1]

His first command was the protected cruiser Cincinnati, which he received shortly before the United States' entry into World War I,[1] during which he was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. After the war, he commanded the battleship Kansas from 1920 to 1921 and the battleship New Mexico from 1924 to 1926, before being promoted to rear admiral and assigned as Commander Control Force, United States Fleet and Commander Submarine Divisions, Control Force.[4]

S-4 court of inquiry[edit]

USS Paulding

On December 17, 1927, the United States Coast Guard destroyer Paulding accidentally rammed and sank the Control Force submarine S-4 off Provincetown, Massachusetts. Brumby took charge of the rescue effort, assisted by Captain Ernest J. King, who had recently commanded the salvage operation for the sunken submarine S-51. As the weather worsened, the submarine tender Falcon attempted to attach air hoses to the sunken submarine to force it to the surface by filling its ballast tanks, or at least supply air to the six surviving crewmen, but to no avail. Finally, Brumby had to order Falcon into Provincetown Harbor to ride out the winter storm, which lasted days. The trapped crewmen died of suffocation.

Newspaper reporters flocked to Provincetown to cover the disaster as it unfolded. Brumby was swamped by letters and telegrams, all of which he answered conscientiously, although some were so abusive that King advised him to ignore them. Months later, King still refused to shake hands with a particular reporter; told of King's snub, Brumby exclaimed, "Why, King, if I had known it was that son-of-a-bitch, I would not have shaken hands with him either."[5]

To investigate the sinking and failed rescue operation, the Navy convened a court of inquiry presided over by Rear Admiral Richard H. Jackson. Under questioning, Brumby appeared to be technically uninformed about the details of the rescue operation: "I just can't be positive about such things. I just can't remember. Ask the technical people...I am not familiar with the details of the construction of submarines, but those who were there thought the steps being taken were the proper ones...Well, I don't really know. I can't answer that question. My impression is the divers did all they could do. As to details I can't tell you. You'll have to ask the technical men."

The court concluded that while the rescue plans Brumby approved and supervised "were logical, intelligent, and were diligently executed with good judgment and the greatest possible expedition," Brumby himself had demonstrated he was unfit to command the Control Force and should be removed. "He had not the familiarity with the essential details of construction of submarines and the knowledge of rescue vessels, and the knowledge of the actual work being carried on by his subordinates necessary to direct intelligently the important operations of which he was in charge."[6]

Professing puzzlement that the court could praise the rescue operation but condemn its commander, Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur rejected its recommendation to remove Brumby and asked that the court reconsider Brumby's performance in more detail. Brumby redescribed his actions and Wilbur found them to be entirely "commendable," concluding that Brumby had properly consulted his technical experts and followed their consensus. Furthermore, Wilbur felt that Brumby's exemplary 31-year service record outshone whatever "errors or oversight or failures" could be inferred from his testimony.[7]

Fleet command[edit]

As Commander Scouting Force, 1934 (seated, second from left)

After completing his normal tour as commander of the Control Force on November 6, 1928, Brumby served as president of the Board of Inspection and Survey from November 1928 to June 1929[8] and as commandant of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard from May 31, 1930 to September 28, 1932,[9] before returning to sea as commander of Battleship Division 1, Battle Force, United States Fleet.

In May 1933, he was selected to succeed Vice Admiral Frank Hodges Clark as Commander Scouting Force, United States Fleet (COMSCTGFOR),[10] and was advanced to the temporary rank of vice admiral for the duration of his tour, which lasted from May 20, 1933 to June 14, 1934.[11] The highlight of his tour was Exercise M, a phase of the annual fleet maneuvers that studied control of the Caribbean Sea. Brumby commanded the Grey Fleet, assigned to defend against an amphibious assault by the Blue force commanded by Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, whose objective was to take one or all of Ponce, San Juan, Culebra and St. Thomas, and who finally succeeded in landing Marines on Culebra on the fifth and last day of the exercise.[12]

In 1934, Reeves was elevated to Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (CINCUS), and Brumby succeeded him as Commander Battle Force, United States Fleet (COMBATFOR) with the temporary rank of admiral on June 15, 1934.[11] Fleet commands rotated every year and it was common for COMBATFOR to be promoted to CINCUS, as Reeves had been,[12] but when Brumby's year as COMBATFOR was up, Reeves was reappointed to a second year as CINCUS, so Brumby relinquished command of the Battle Force to Admiral Harris Laning on April 1, 1935 and returned to shore in his permanent rank of rear admiral.

His last assignment was as commandant of the Fifth Naval District and the Naval Operating Base at Norfolk,[13] which he commanded from April 8, 1935 to September 30, 1938[14] before retiring on October 1, 1938 after forty-five years of service. He was advanced to the rank of admiral on the retired list on June 16, 1942 by new legislation that allowed officers to retire in the highest active-duty rank in which they had served.[15]

Personal life[edit]

In retirement, he resided in Norfolk, Virginia. He died at the age of 75 at the Norfolk Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia after a two-week illness attributed to complications following an operation.

He married the former Isabelle Truxtun on June 4, 1907, and they had two children, Isabelle Truxtun Brumby Fitzgerald and Navy officer Frank Hardeman Brumby, Jr.[1][4] An uncle, Lieutenant Thomas Mason Brumby, was flag lieutenant to Rear Admiral George Dewey during the Spanish-American War.[2]

Namesake and honors[edit]

He is the namesake of the destroyer escort Brumby, launched in 1963 and co-sponsored by two granddaughters. The Brumby Bowl, the annual golf championship tournament of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Golf Association, is also named for him, as the shipyard commandant when the tournament began in 1931.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Admiral Brumby Dies In Norfolk, 75 - Retired Officer, in Service for 45 Years, Once Commander of Fleet's Scouting Force", The New York Times, July 17, 1950 
  2. ^ a b Brumby family website
  3. ^ "Annapolis Naval Academy: First Class Cadets Who Will Graduate in June with Honors" (PDF), The New York Times, February 11, 1895 
  4. ^ a b c Who's Who In America 19 (1936–1937), Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company, 1936, p. 422 
  5. ^ Buell, Thomas B. (1980), Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Boston: Little, Brown & Company, pp. 66–67 
  6. ^ "Again, S-4", TIME Magazine, March 5, 1928 
  7. ^ "S-4, Finis", TIME Magazine, April 23, 1928 
  8. ^ History of the Board of Inspection and Survey
  9. ^ Norfolk Naval Shipyard - Former Shipyard Commanders
  10. ^ "Standley for Pratt", TIME Magazine, May 8, 1933 
  11. ^ a b World Almanac and Book of Facts (New York: The New York World-Telegram), 1946: 124 
  12. ^ a b "CINCUS", TIME Magazine, June 4, 1934 
  13. ^ Fifth Naval District - Lists of Commanding Officers and Senior Officials of the US Navy
  14. ^ Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic - Former Commanders
  15. ^ "20 Named Admirals On The Retired List; President Sends List to Senate -- Nearly All Serving", The New York Times, July 10, 1942 
  16. ^ The NNSY Golf Association annual club championship tournament is known as the BRUMBY BOWL
Preceded by
Joseph M. Reeves
Commander, Battle Force
June 15, 1934–April 1, 1935
Succeeded by
Harris Laning