Frank Jack Fletcher

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Frank Jack Fletcher
Frank Jack Fletcher-g14193.jpg  A light blue neck ribbon with a gold star shaped medallion hanging from it. The ribbon is similar in shape to a bowtie with 13 white stars in the center of the ribbon.
Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, USN Photographed aboard USS Saratoga (CV-3), September 17, 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph
Born (1885-04-29)April 29, 1885
Marshalltown, Iowa
Died April 25, 1973(1973-04-25) (aged 87)
Bethesda, Maryland
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1906-1947
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Battles/wars Mexican Revolution
Battle of Veracruz
World War I
Battle of the Atlantic
World War II
Battle of the Coral Sea
Battle of Midway
Guadalcanal campaign
Tulagi
Eastern Solomons
Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Relations Nephew of Frank Friday Fletcher

Frank Jack Fletcher (April 29, 1885 – April 25, 1973) was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War II. Fletcher was the operational commander at the pivotal Battles of Coral Sea and of Midway. As a lieutenant, Fletcher was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in battle at Veracruz. He was the nephew of Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher, another Medal of Honor recipient.

Early life and early Navy career[edit]

Fletcher was born in Marshalltown, Iowa on April 29, 1885. Appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from his native state in 1902, he graduated from Annapolis on February 12, 1906 and commissioned an Ensign on February 13, 1908 following two years at sea.

The early years of his career were spent on the battleships USS Rhode Island (BB-17), USS Ohio (BB-12), and USS Maine (BB-10). He also spent time on USS Eagle (1898) and USS Franklin (1864). In November 1909 he was assigned to USS Chauncey (DD-3), a unit of the Asiatic Torpedo Flotilla. He assumed command of USS Dale (DD-4) in April 1910 and March 1912 returned to Chauncey as Commanding Officer. Transferred to USS Florida in December 1912 he was aboard that battleship during the United States occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, in April 1914. For distinguished conduct in battle at Veracruz he received the Medal of Honor (see citation below).

World War I and post-War period[edit]

Fletcher became Aide and Flag Lieutenant on the staff of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in July 1914. After a year at this post, he returned to the Naval Academy for duty in the Executive Department. Upon the outbreak of World War I he served as Gunnery Officer of USS Kearsarge (BB-5) until September 1917, after which he assumed command of USS Margaret (SP-527). He was assigned to USS Allen (DD-66) in February 1918 before taking command of USS Benham (DD-49) in May 1918. For distinguished service as Commanding Officer USS Benham, engaged in the important, exacting, and hazardous duty of patrolling European waters and protecting vitally important convoys, he was awarded the Navy Cross.

From October 1918 to February 1919 he assisted in fitting out USS Crane (DD-109) at San Francisco. He then became Commanding Officer of USS Gridley (DD-92) upon her commissioning. Returning to Washington, he was head of the Detail Section, Enlisted Personnel Division in the Bureau of Navigation from April 1919 until September 1922.

Interwar service[edit]

He returned to the Asiatic Station, having consecutive command of the USS Whipple (DD-217), USS Sacramento (PG-19), USS Rainbow (AS-7), and Submarine Base, Cavite. He served at the Washington Navy Yards from March 1925 to 1927; became Executive Officer of USS Colorado (BB-45); and completed the Senior Course at the Naval War College, Newport in 1929-30 followed immediately by the Army War College in Washington, D.C., 1930–31, in preparation for strategic leadership responsibilities.

Fletcher became Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet in August 1931. In the summer of 1933 he was transferred to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Following this assignment he had duty from November 1933 to May 1936 as Aide to the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Claude A. Swanson. He assumed command of USS New Mexico, flagship of Battleship Division THREE in June 1936. In December 1937 he became a member of the Naval Examining Board, and became Assistant Chief of Bureau of Navigation in June 1938. Returning to the Pacific between September 1939 and December 1941 he became Commander Cruiser Division THREE; Commander Cruiser Division SIX; Commander Cruiser Scouting Force; and Commander Cruiser Division FOUR.

World War II[edit]

Wake Island — December 8–23, 1941[edit]

Responding to reports from US Marines on Wake Island of Japanese bombardment and a subsequent invasion attempt in the first week after Pearl Harbor, Fletcher was sent west with the carrier Saratoga (Task Force 11) to provide relief. He was one day away when plans were changed and ordered to wait for Lexington (Task Force 12, Vice Admiral Brown).[1] The next day the Japanese successfully invaded Wake Island. The task force was recalled by Admiral Pye, who was "keeping the seat warm" until Admiral Nimitz could arrive at Pearl and take over as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet.

January - April 1942[edit]

On January 1, 1942, Rear Admiral Fletcher took command of Task Force 17 built around the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). He, a surface fleet admiral, was chosen over more senior officers to lead a carrier task force. He learned air operations on the job while escorting troops to the South Pacific. He was junior TF commander under tutelage of the experts: Vice Admiral William Halsey during the Marshalls-Gilberts raids in February; Vice Admiral Wilson Brown attacking the enemy landings on New Guinea in March; and had aviation expert Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with him during the first battle at Coral Sea.

Coral Sea — May 4–8, 1942[edit]

In May 1942, he commanded the task forces during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This battle is famous as the first carrier-on-carrier battle fought between fleets that never came within sight of each other.

Fletcher with Yorktown, Task Force 17, had been patrolling the Coral Sea and rendezvoused with Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with USS Lexington (CV-2), Task Force 11, and a tanker group. Fletcher finished refueling first and headed West. On hearing the enemy was occupying Tulagi, TF 17 attacked the landing beaches, sinking several small ships before rejoining Lexington and an Australian cruiser force under Rear Admiral John Gregory Crace on May 5.

The next day, intelligence reported a Japanese invasion task force headed for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and a Carrier Strike Force was in the area. The morning of May 7, Fletcher sent the Australian cruisers to stop the transports while he sought the carriers. His combat pilots sank Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō, escorting the enemy troop ships, — "Scratch one flat top." radioed Lt. Commander Robert Dixon flying back to the USS Lexington. That same day, Japanese carrier planes of Rear Admiral Chuichi Hara found the American tanker USS Neosho (AO-23). Believing they had found a carrier, they severely damaged her after several all-out attacks, and sank her escorting destroyer, USS Sims (DD-409); on May 11, USS Henley (DD-391) located her, rescued the surviving crew, and sank her by naval gunfire.

On May 8, at first light, "round three opened." Fletcher launched seventy-five aircraft, Hara sixty-nine. Fitch had greater experience in handling air operations, and Fletcher had him direct that function, as he was to do again later with Noyes at Guadalcanal. Shokaku was hit, but not damaged below waterline; it slunk away. Zuikaku had earlier dodged under a squall. The Japanese attack put two torpedoes into Lexington, which was abandoned that evening. Yorktown was hit near her island, but survived. Hara failed to use Zuikaku to achieve victory and withdrew. The invasion fleet without air cover, also withdrew, thereby halting the Port Moresby invasion. Fletcher had achieved the objective of the mission at the cost of a carrier, tanker, and destroyer. In addition, his Wildcats had beaten Japanese air groups, 52 to 35, and had damaged Shokaku,; neither Japanese carrier would be able to join the fight at Midway the following month.

This was the first World War II battle in which the Imperial Japanese Navy had been stopped. In battles in Pearl Harbor, East Indies, Australia and Ceylon, they had defeated the British, Dutch, and Asiatic Fleets, and had not lost a fleet ship larger than mine sweepers and submarines.

Midway — June 4–7, 1942[edit]

In June 1942, Fletcher was the Officer in Tactical Command at the Battle of Midway with two task forces, his usual TF 17 with quickly repaired Yorktown, plus TF 16 with USS Enterprise and USS Hornet. Vice Admiral William Halsey normally commanded this task force, but became ill and was replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance. When aircraft from four Japanese carriers attacked Midway Island, the three U.S. carriers, warned by broken Japanese codes and waiting in ambush, attacked and sank three enemy carriers – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu. Enterprise and Hornet lost seventy aircraft. Japanese attacks on June 4 severely damaged Yorktown; repairs returned her to the battle until she was hopelessly disabled by a new round of attacks two hours later. Fletcher's scouts found the fourth carrier and Enterprise with Yorktown planes then sank Hiryu. At dusk, Fletcher released Spruance to continue fighting with TF 16 the next day. During the next two days, Spruance found two damaged cruisers and sank one. The enemy transport and battle fleets got away. A Japanese submarine, I-168, found crippled Yorktown under tow on June 5 and sank her, along with an adjacent destroyer, USS Hammann (DD-412). Japan had had seven large carriers (six at Pearl Harbor and one new construction) – four were sunk at Midway. This did not win the war, but evened the odds between Japanese and American fleet carriers. Following the battle Fletcher was promoted to Vice Admiral and continued to command a carrier group at sea after shifting his flag to USS Saratoga.

Landing at Guadalcanal — August 7–9, 1942[edit]

As the U.S. took the offensive in August 1942, Vice Admiral Fletcher commanded the Task Force 61's invasion of Tulagi and Guadalcanal by the 1st Marine Division (United States). Carrier close air support was provided at Tulagi. The invasion of Guadalcanal was uncontested on the beach. Fletcher requested permission from Admiral Ghormley, the overall commander, to withdrew his carriers from dangerous waters when they were no longer needed, claiming that his aircraft losses and fuel state due to maneuvering required him to leave. Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner's offloading of supplies did not go as well as expected, he did not tell Fletcher, and then had to withdraw the transports after Fletcher left, over the strenuous objections of the ground commander, Marine General Alexander Vandegrift. The Marines refer to this as the 'Navy Bugout', because the reserve Marine regiment and the division's 155mm heavy artillery, much of its ammunition and also most of its medical supplies and rations had yet to be unloaded. Fletcher and Turner felt that the few US carriers could not be risked against multi-engine, land based, torpedo bombers, when they were needed for combat against carriers. Fletcher chose to withdraw on the third morning to prepare for the inevitable Japanese counterattack. The Navy's withdrawal left the Marines ashore initially completely unprotected against Japanese land-based air raids from Rabaul and from nightly shelling by IJN cruisers and battleships that came down the "Slot" from their large Naval and air base at Rabaul.

The Battle of Savo Island occurred on August 9, 1942. Allied warships under Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley, RN, screening the transports were surprised at midnight and defeated in 32 minutes by a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyer, commanded by Japanese Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa. One Australian and three U.S. heavy cruisers were sunk, and one other U.S. cruiser and two destroyers were damaged in this lopsided Japanese victory. However, as Crutchley notes, the transports were not touched. Fletcher is sometimes criticized because his carriers were at the far end of their nightly withdrawal, steaming back for the morning, yet too far away to seek revenge.

East Solomons - August 24–25, 1942[edit]

Fletcher fought a superior Japanese fleet intent on counter-invasion in the carrier aircraft Battle of the Eastern Solomons. He started the engagement and sank his sixth carrier, Ryūjō. The ensuing battle was essentially a giant aerial dog fight interspersed with ship borne antiaircraft fire. The U.S. lost 20 planes, the Japanese lost 70. USS Enterprise was hit by three bombs and Chitose was nearly sunk, but survived. The enemy withdrew without landing troops on Guadalcanal. They had to resort to the Tokyo Express : overnight delivery of a few hundred troops and supplies by destroyers. Fletcher was second guessed by non-combatants, and was criticized by Admiral Ernest King, the US Chief of Naval Operations, for not pursuing the Combined Fleet as it withdrew. This criticism may have affected the decision to not return Fletcher to his command[citation needed] after his flagship, the carrier USS Saratoga, was torpedoed and damaged by a Japanese submarine on August 31, 1942. Fletcher himself was slightly injured in the attack on Saratoga, suffering a gash to his head and was given his first leave after eight months of continuous combat.

Northern[edit]

In November 1942, he became Commander, Thirteenth Naval District and Commander, Northwestern Sea Frontier to calm the public fear of invasion from the north. A year later, he was placed in charge of the whole Northern Pacific area, holding that position until after the end of World War II, when his forces occupied northern Japan. He also held that command when he ordered the front to bombard the Kurile Islands and other operations as well.

Postwar and final days[edit]

Vice Admiral Fletcher was appointed to the Navy's General Board in 1946 and retired as Chairman of that governing board in May 1947 with the rank of full Admiral. He retired to his country estate, Araby, in Maryland.

Many of Fletcher's papers were lost in combat. He declined to reconstruct them from Pentagon archives and to be interviewed by Samuel Eliot Morison, who was writing the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. In return, he received no consideration by Morison, an attitude picked up by later authors.[2]

Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher died on April 25, 1973, four days before his 88th birthday at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His widow, Martha Richards Fletcher (b. 29 March 1895, at Kansas City, Missouri), whom Fletcher married in February, 1917; died seventeen months later on 14 September 1974. Martha Fletcher was buried next to her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

Citation:

For distinguished conduct in battle, engagements of Vera Cruz, 21 and 22 April 1914. Under fire, Lt. Fletcher was eminent and conspicuous in performance of his duties. He was in charge of the Esperanze and succeeded in getting on board over 350 refugees, many of them after the conflict had commenced. Although the ship was under fire, being struck more than 30 times, he succeeded in getting all the refugees placed in safety. Lt. Fletcher was later placed in charge of the train conveying refugees under a flag of truce. This was hazardous duty, as it was believed that the track was mined, and a small error in dealing with the Mexican guard of soldiers might readily have caused a conflict, such a conflict at one time being narrowly averted. It was greatly due to his efforts in establishing friendly relations with the Mexican soldiers that so many refugees succeeded in reaching Vera Cruz from the interior.

Legacy[edit]

USS Fletcher (DD-992), the second ship to bear the Fletcher name, was named for Admiral Fletcher. The first USS Fletcher (DD-445), commissioned June 30, 1942, was named for Admiral Fletcher's uncle, Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher.

The 1976 movie Midway depicted Fletcher (played by Robert Webber) as somewhat confused and hesitant during the battle. Charlton Heston, who played a fictional naval officer working with Fletcher, wrote in his personal journals that this portrayal was based on the advice of some Navy veterans critical of Fletcher[citation needed], and he said he and Webber tried to make it as subtle as possible.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Morison, Samuel E. Supplement and General Index, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume 15, Cumulative Errata
  2. ^ Lundstrom, John B. (2006). Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. pp. 509–513. ISBN 1-59114-475-2. 

External links[edit]

  • "Frank Jack Fletcher". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  • Layton, Edwin T. (with Roger Pineau and John Costello) (1985). And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway — Breaking the Secrets. 
  • "Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, USN, (1885-1973)". Online Library of Selected Images: People - United States. Naval History & Heritage Command, Department of the Navy. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  • "Frank Jack Fletcher, Admiral, United States Navy". ArlingtonCemetery.net. March 26, 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  • Lundstrom, John (2006). Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway & Guadalcanal. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-475-2. 
  • Lundstrom, John B. (2005). First Team And the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942 (New ed.). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-472-8. 
  • Regan, Stephen D. (1994). In Bitter Tempest: The Biography of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-0778-6. 
  • Morison, Samuel E., Admiral USN. The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931 - April 1942, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume 3. 
  • "A Critical Revisit to the Battle of Midway". George J. Walsh, Lieutenant Cmdr. USNR. December 22, 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  • Bauer, James L. (2010). Fletcher, Task Force Commander; the early years of WWII. Manorborn Press. ISBN 0-9830502-0-1.