|Marc Andrew Mitscher|
Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher during World War II
|Born||January 26, 1887
|Died||February 3, 1947
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1910–1947|
|Commands held||USS Wright
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Air
Fast Carrier Task Force
|Awards||Navy Cross (3)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Legion of Merit
Admiral Marc Andrew "Pete" Mitscher (January 26, 1887 – February 3, 1947) was a pioneer in naval aviation who became an admiral in the United States Navy, and served as commander of the Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific during the latter half of World War II.
Early life and career
Mitscher was born in Hillsboro, Wisconsin on January 26, 1887, the son of Oscar and Myrta (Shear) Mitscher. Mitscher's grandfather, Andreas Mitscher (1821–1905), was a German immigrant from Traben-Trarbach. During the western land boom of 1889, when Marc was two years old, his family resettled in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where his father, a federal Indian agent, later became that city's second mayor. Mitscher attended elementary and secondary schools in Washington, D.C. and received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1904 through Bird Segle McGuire, then U.S. Representative from Oklahoma.
An indifferent student with a lackluster sense of military deportment, Mitscher's career at the naval academy did not portend the accomplishments he would achieve later in life. Nicknamed after Annapolis's first midshipman from Oklahoma, Peter Cassius Marcellus Cade, who had "bilged-out" in 1903, upperclassmen compelled young Mitscher to recite the entire name as a hazing. Soon he was referred to as "Oklahoma Pete", with the nickname shortened to just "Pete" by the winter of his youngster year. Having amassed 159 demerits and showing poorly in his class work, Mitscher was saddled with a forced resignation at the end of his sophomore year. At the insistence of his father, Mitscher re-applied and was granted reappointment, though he had to re-enter the academy as a first year plebe. This time the stoic Mitscher worked straight through, and on June 3, 1910, he graduated 113th out of a class of 131. Following graduation he served two years at sea aboard USS Colorado, and was commissioned ensign on March 7, 1912. In August 1913, he served aboard the USS California on the West Coast. During that time Mexico was experiencing a political disturbance, and the California was sent to protect U.S. interests and citizens.
Mitscher took an early interest in aviation, requesting a transfer to aeronautics while aboard the Colorado in his last year as a midshipman, but his request was not granted. After graduating he continued to make requests for transfer to aviation while serving on the destroyers USS Whipple and USS Stewart in charge of the engine room, before receiving his orders to transfer to the Naval Aeronautic Station in Pensacola, Florida. There, he was assigned to the armored cruiser USS North Carolina, which was being used to experiment with aircraft, having been fitted with a catapult over her fantail. Mitscher trained as a pilot, earning his wings and the designation Naval Aviator No. 33 on June 2, 1916. Almost a year later, on April 6, 1917, he reported to the renamed armored cruiser USS Huntington for duty in connection with aircraft catapult experiments. The Navy was interested in using aircraft for scouting purposes and as spotters for the direction of their gunnery. Lieutenant Mitscher was then put in command of NAS Dinner Key in Coconut Grove, Florida. Dinner Key was the second largest naval air facility in the U.S. and was used to train seaplane pilots. On July 18, 1918, he was promoted to lieutenant commander. In February 1919, he transferred from NAS Dinner Key to the Aviation Section in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, before reporting to Seaplane Division 1.
On May 10, 1919, he was among a group of naval aviators who were attempting the first transatlantic crossing by air. Among the men involved was future admiral Jack Towers. Mitscher piloted NC-1, one of three Curtiss NC flying boats that attempted the flight. Taking off from Newfoundland, he nearly reached the Azores before heavy fog made flying in the early aircraft extremely dangerous. Setting the craft down in what appeared to be fairly calm seas, a control cable snapped, leaving Mitscher and his five crewmen to sit atop the upper wings while they hoped and waited to be rescued. Of the three aircraft, only NC-4 successfully completed the crossing. For his part in the mission Mitscher received the Navy Cross, the citation reading:
"For distinguished service in the line of his profession as a member of the crew of the Seaplane NC-1, which made a long overseas flight from New Foundland to the vicinity of the Azores, in May 1919".
On October 14, 1919, Mitscher reported for duty aboard the Aroostook, a minelayer refitted as an "aircraft tender" that was used as a support ship for the "Nancys" transatlantic flight. He served under Captain Henry C. Mustin. Aroostook was assigned temporary duties as flagship for the Air Detachment, Pacific Fleet. He was promoted to commander on July 1, 1921. In May 1922, Mitscher was detached from Air Squadrons, Pacific Fleet (San Diego CA) to command Naval Air Station Anacostia, D.C. After his six months there he was assigned to a new department, the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics. It was here that he assisted Rear Admiral William Moffett in defending the Navy's interest in air assets. General Billy Mitchell was advancing the idea that the nation was best defended by an independent service which would control all military aircraft. Though Mitscher was not a vocal member of the Navy's representatives, his knowledge of aircraft capabilities and limitations was instrumental in the Navy being able to answer Mitchell and retain their own airgroups. The debate culminated in the hearings of the Morrow Board, convened to study the best means of applying aviation to national defense. Mitscher testified before the board on October 6, 1925. When Mitchell took his case to the press he was summoned for court-martial. Mitscher was one of the witnesses called by the prosecution. The end result was the Navy was left to develop its own, independent aviation branch. Over the next two decades Mitscher continued to work in naval aviation, serving on the aircraft carriers Langley and Saratoga, the seaplane tender Wright, and taking command of Patrol Wing 1, in addition to a number of assignments ashore. The Langley was the navy's first aircraft carrier. A converted collier, she could only make 14 knots, thus limiting her ability to generate lift for launching her aircraft. Nevertheless it was aboard Langley that Mitscher helped develop many of the methods by which aircraft were handled aboard US Navy aircraft carriers. Being assigned command of the air group for the newly launched Saratoga, he was the first to land an aircraft aboard her. In 1938, he was promoted to captain.
World War II
Between June 1939 and July 1941, he served as assistant chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics.
Mitscher's next assignment was as captain of the Yorktown class aircraft carrier USS Hornet, being fitted out in Newport News, Virginia. Upon her commissioning in October 1941 he assumed command, taking Hornet to the Naval Station Norfolk for her training out period. She was there in Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Newest of the Navy's fleet carriers, Mitscher worked hard to get ship and crew ready for combat. Following her shake down cruise in the caribbean, Mitscher was consulted on the possibility of launching long range bombers off the deck of a carrier. After affirming it could be done, the sixteen B-25 bombers of the Doolittle Raid were loaded on deck aboard Hornet for a transpacific voyage while Hornet's own flight group was stored below deck in her hangar. Hornet rendezvoused with the Enterprise and Task Force 16 in the mid-Pacific just north of Hawaii. The task force, under the command of Admiral Halsey, proceeded in radio silence to a launch point 650 miles from Japan. Enterprise provided the air cover for both aircraft carriers while the Hornet's flight deck was taken up ferrying the B-25s. The Hornet then was the real life "Shangri-la" that president Roosevelt alluded to in his announcement of the bombing.
Battle of Midway
During the Battle of Midway Hornet and Enterprise carried the air groups that made up the main strike force of Task Force 16, while Yorktown was the center piece of Task Force 17. Mitscher had command of the newest carrier in the battle and the least experienced air groups. As the battle unfolded the Japanese carrier force was sighted early on June 4 at 234 degrees and about 140 miles from Task Force 16, sailing on a northwest heading. In plotting their attack there was strong disagreement among the air group commanders aboard Hornet as to the best intercept course. Lieutenant Commander Stanhope C. Ring, in overall command of Hornets air groups, chose a course of 263 degrees, nearly true west, as the most likely solution to bring them to the Japanese carrier group. He had not anticipated the Japanese turning east into the wind while they recovered their aircraft. Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, in command of Torpedo Eight, strongly disagreed with Ring's flight plan. An aggressive aviator, he assured Mitscher he would get his group into combat and deliver their ordinance, no matter the cost. Thirty minutes after the Hornet airgroups set out, Waldron broke away from the higher flying fighters and divebombers, coming to a course of 240 degrees. This proved to be an excellent heading, as his Torpedo Eight squadron flew directly to the enemy carrier group's location "as though on a plumb line". They did so with no supporting fighter aircraft. On their way Waldron's Torpedo Eight happened to get picked up by Enterprise's VF-6 fighter squadron flying several thousand feet above them. This group had launched last off Enterprise and had not been able to catch up with or locate the Enterprise dive bombers, but when Waldron dropped his group down to the deck to prepare for their attack the Enterprise fighters lost sight of them. Torpedo Eight was on its own.
The first of the carrier squadrons to locate the Japanese carriers, Waldron bore down upon the enemy. He brought his group in low, slowing for their torpedo drops. With no fighter escort and no other attackers on hand to split the defenders, his group was decimated by defending Japanese Zeros flying combat air patrol. All fifteen TBD Devastators of VT-8 were shot down. Though not known at the time, the valiant efforts of Torpedo Eight failed to deliver a hit on the Japanese carriers. Of the Torpedo Eight aircrews, only Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. survived. About twenty minutes later Enterprise's Torpedo Six made their own attack, and was met with a similar hot reception. Again, no torpedo hits were made, but five of the aircraft managed to survive the engagement. Though failing to inflict any damage, the torpedo attacks did pull the Japanese CAP down and northeast of the carrier force, leaving the approach from other angles unhindered. SBD dive bombers from Enterprise arriving from the south flew over the Japanese carrier force to reach their tipping points almost unopposed. They delivered a devastating blow to Kaga and managed to put a bomb into Akagi as well, while SBDs coming from the east from Yorktown dove down upon the Soryu and shattered her flight deck. All three ships were set ablaze, knocked out of the battle to sink later that day. While all this raged Ring continued his search on a course of 260 degrees, flying to the north of the battle. Unable to find the enemy and running low on fuel, Hornet's strike groups eventually turned back, either toward Hornet or to Midway Island itself. All ten fighters in the formation ran out of fuel and had to ditch at sea. Several of her SDBs heading to Midway also ran out of fuel and had to ditch on their approach to the Midway base. Other SBDs attempting to return to the Hornet were unable to locate her, and disappeared into the vast Pacific. All these aircraft were lost, though a number of the pilots were later rescued. Of Hornet's air groups, only Torpedo Eight ended up making it to the enemy that morning. Hornet's air groups suffered a 50 percent loss rate without achieving any combat results.
The battle was a great victory and Mitscher congratulated his crew for their efforts, but the Hornet's performance had not lived up to his expectations and he felt he had failed to deliver. In addition, he had great regret for the loss of John Waldron and Torpedo Eight. For the next three years he would try to get the entire unit awarded the Medal of Honor, but without success. The pilots of Torpedo Eight were eventually awarded the Navy Cross. The loss of Torpedo Eight caused Mitscher great personal grief.
Commander Air Solomon Islands
Prior to the Midway operation Mitscher had been promoted to Admiral in preparation for his next assignment, the command of Patrol Wing TWO. Though Mitscher preferred to be at sea, he held this command until December when he was sent to the South Pacific as Commander Fleet Air, Nouméa. Halsey moved Mitscher up to Guadalcanal in April 1943, assigning him to the thick of the fight as Commander Air, Solomon Islands (COMAIRSOLS). Here Mitscher directed an assortment of Army, Navy, Marine and New Zealand aircraft in the air war over Guadalcanal and up the Solomon chain. Mitscher later said this assignment managing the constant air combat over Guadalcanal was his toughest duty of the war. Said Halsey: "I knew we'd probably catch hell from the Japs in the air. That's why I sent Pete Mitscher up there. Pete was a fighting fool and I knew it." Short on aircraft, fuel and ammunition, the atmosphere on Guadalcanal was one of dogged defense. Mitscher brought a fresh outlook, and instilled an offensive mindset to his assorted air commands.
Battles for the Central Pacific
Returning to the Central Pacific as Commander, Carrier Division 3, Mitscher soon was given operational control of the newly formed Fast Carrier Task Force, at that time operating as Task Force 58 as part of Admiral Raymond Spruance's Fifth Fleet. To that point in the conflict carriers had been able to bring enough airpower to bear to inflict significant damage on opposing naval forces, but they always acted as a raiding group. They would approach their objective, inflict damage and then escape away into the vast reaches of the Pacific. Even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, devastating though it was, was a carrier raid. Naval airpower was not thought to have the capacity to challenge land based airpower over any length of time. Mitscher was about to change that, leading US naval airpower into a new realm of operations.
The fleet had recently completed operations in the Gilbert Islands, taking Tarawa in a bloody and costly invasion in the process. This mission was done for the purpose of providing a land base for aircraft to support naval operations against the next objective, the Marshall Islands. The idea that land based air support was necessary to successfully conduct an amphibious operation was traditional doctrine. The Marshalls would be the first key step for the Navy's march across the Pacific to reach Japan. Mitscher's objective was to weaken Japanese air defenses in the Marshalls and limit their capability of flying in reinforcements, in preparation for a U.S. invasion of the Marshalls, code named Operation Flintlock. Intelligence estimates of the Japanese defenders of the Marshall islands believed they had approximately 150 aircraft at their disposal. Two days before the intended landings Mitscher's task force groups approached to within 150 miles of the Marshalls and launched their airstrike groups, fighters first to soften up the defenders, followed by bombers to destroy supplies and crater the defender's airfields. It was thought it would take two days to attain air superiority. Though the Japanese battled briskley, they had lost control of their skies by noon of the first day. What came next was an aerial bombardment of the Japanese defenses, followed by a naval bombardment from the big guns of Spruance's surface force. The two days of destruction saved a great many of the lives of the marines that were landed. The Japanese are estimated to have lost 155 aircraft. Mitscher's task force lost 57 aircraft, from which 31 pilots and 32 crewmen were lost. The manner in which the fast carrier task force operated established a pattern for future Pacific operations. In his summary report for the month of January, Admiral Nimitz commented it was "typical of what may be expected in the future."
Next Mitscher led Task Force 58 through a series of devastating attacks against Japanese air bases, first in the Mariana and Palau Islands, followed by a raid against Japanese bases in the Hollandia area.
Lastly came the raid against Truk, Satawan and Ponape (February 17–18). This was a big step up. The idea of purposely sailing into the range of a major Japanese naval and air base brought great unease to Mitscher's airmen. Said one: "They announced our destination over the loudspeaker once we were underway. It was Truk. I nearly jumped overboard." But Mitscher felt confident they could succeed. As tactical commander of the striking force, he developed techniques that would help give his airmen the edge of surprise. In Operation Hailstone, Mitscher's forces approached Truk from behind a weather front to launch a daybreak raid that caught many of the defenders off guard. The airmen brought devastation to the heavily defended base, destroying 72 aircraft on the ground and another 56 in the air, while a great number of auxiliary vessels and three warships were sunk in the lagoon. Chuckling over the pre-raid fears, Mitscher commented "All I knew about Truk was what I'd read in the National Geographic."
Through the spring of 1944 Task Force 58 conducted a series of devastating raids on Japanese air bases across the Western Pacific. These raids demonstrated that the air power of Task Force 58 was powerful enough to overwhelm the air defenses of not just a single island airbase, or several bases on an island, but the airbases of several island groups at one time. The long held naval rule that fleet operations could not be conducted in the face of land based air power was being re-written.
In the ensuing year Mitscher's aviators devastated Japanese carrier forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea—also known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot"—during June 1944. Notably, when a follow-up strike was forced to return to his carriers in darkness, Mitscher earned the gratitude of his pilots by turning on the flight decks' running lights, defying standard naval procedure and ensuring that most of them were recovered.
Facing the kamikaze threat
During the next year, his carriers spearheaded the thrust against the heart of the Japanese Empire, covering successively the invasion of the Palaus, the liberation of the Philippines, and the conquest of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. During the later operation there was a delay in the Army prepairng serviceable air bases to support their own operations, thus Mitscher was obliged to keep Task Force 58 sailing in a box on station some 60 miles off the coast of Okinawa for two months. During this time they were subject to attack around the clock, and the psychological pressures of warding off these attacks was enormous. There was rarely a night that would go by that the crews would not be called to quarters, and the days were worse. Bunker Hill was struck by kamikazes, knocking her out of the operation and causing much loss of life. Half of Mitscher's staff officers were killed or wounded, and Mitscher was forced to shift his command to the Enterprise. The Enterprise at that time was functioning as a "night carrier", launching and recovering her aircraft in the dark of night to protect the fleet against bomber and torpedo aircraft slipping in to attack the fleet in the relative safety of the night. When Enterprise was struck as well Mitscher had to transfer once more, this time to the USS Randolph, the Essex-class carrier that had been damaged at Ulithi. Throughout this period Mitscher repeatedly led the fast carriers northward to attack airbases on the Japanese home islands. Commenting on Admiral Mitscher upon his return from the Okinawa campaign, said Admiral Nimitz "He is the most experienced and most able officer in the handling of fast carrier task forces who has yet been developed. It is doubtful if any officer has made more important contributions than he toward extinction of the enemy fleet." 
At the conclusion of the war and in the face of markedly reduced military spending, a political battle ensued over the need for a military, with advocates from the Army Air Corps insisting that with the development of the atomic bomb the nation could be defended by the devastating power that strategic bombers could now deliver, doing away with the need for Army or Navy forces. In their view, air assets in the Navy should be brought under the control of the soon to be formed Air Force. In the face of such proposals Mitscher remained a staunch advocate for Naval aviation, and went so far as to release the following statement to the press:
Japan is beaten, and carrier supremacy defeated her. Carrier supremacy destroyed her army and navy air forces. Carrier supremacy destroyed her fleet. Carrier supremacy gave us bases adjacent to her home islands, and carrier supremacy finally left her exposed to the most devastating sky attack - the atomic fission bomb - that man has suffered.
When I say carrier supremacy defeated Japan, I do not mean air power in itself won the Battle of the Pacific. We exercised our carrier supremacy as part of a balanced, integrated air-surface-ground team, in which all hands may be proud of the roles assigned them and the way in which their duties were discharged. This could not have been done by a separate air force, exclusively based ashore, or by one not under Navy control.
By July 1946, when he returned to the United States to serve as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air), Mitscher received, among other awards, two Gold Stars in lieu of a second and third Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal with two Gold Stars.
The words of Admiral Arleigh Burke, his wartime chief-of-staff, provide the greatest tribute and recognition of his leadership:
- "He spoke in a low voice and used few words. Yet, so great was his concern for his people — for their training and welfare in peacetime and their rescue in combat — that he was able to obtain their final ounce of effort and loyalty, without which he could not have become the preeminent carrier force commander in the world. A bulldog of a fighter, a strategist blessed with an uncanny ability to foresee his enemy's next move, and a lifelong searcher after truth and trout streams, he was above all else — perhaps above all other — a Naval Aviator."
Two ships of the Navy have been named USS Mitscher in his honor: the post-World War II frigate, USS Mitscher, later re-designated as the guided-missile destroyer (DDG-35), and the currently serving Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Mitscher.
The airfield and a street at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (Naval Air Station Miramar) have also been named in his honor (Mitscher Field and Mitscher Way).
Mitscher Hall at the United States Naval Academy houses chaplain offices, meetings rooms, and an auditorium.
Awards and decorations
Here is admiral Marc Mitscher's ribbon bar:
|Naval Aviator Badge|
|1st Row||Navy Cross w/ two gold stars|
|2nd Row||Navy Distinguished Service Medal w/ two gold stars||Legion of Merit w/ "V" Device||Presidential Unit Citation w/ two stars|
|3nd Row||Mexican Campaign Medal||World War I Victory Medal w/ Escort Clasp||American Defense Service Medal w/ Atlantic Clasp|
|4th Row||American Campaign Medal||Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ one silver and three bronze service stars||World War II Victory Medal|
|4th Row||Philippine Liberation Medal w/ two stars||Companion of the Order of the Bath||Commander of the Order of the Tower and Sword|
- "Biographies in Naval History: Admiral Marc Andrew Mitscher, USNR". Naval History & Heritage Command.
- "Mitscher, Marc Andrew (1887-1947)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society.
- Taylor p. 21
- Taylor pp. 33-34
- Taylor p. 48
- The Navy Book of Distinguished Service: An Official Compendium of the Names and Citations of the Men of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Foreign Governments Who Were Decorated by the Navy Department for Extraordinary Gallantry and Conspicuous Service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty in the World War (editor: Harry R. Stringer, p 107, Fassett Publishing Company: Washington DC, 1921).
- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, volume IA, pp 400-402, Aroostook. Also, The Washington Post, Sunday edition, May 7, 1922, p 6, column 3. Also, Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, January 1, 1922, Washington Government Printing Office, 1922, p 36, no. in grade 458.
- Taylor p. 78
- Taylor p. 79
- Taylor p. 82
- Taylor p. 102
- Parshall and Tulley p. 174
- Taylor p. 131
- Gay p. 113
- Parshall and Tulley p. 207
- Parshall and Tulley p. 274
- Taylor p. 138
- Taylor p. 137
- Taylor p. 136
- Taylor p.332
- Taylor p. 145
- Taylor p.xxiv
- Taylor p.179
- Potter pp.122-127
- Potter pp. 129-132
- Willmott p.176
- Taylor p. 183
- Taylor p. 184
- Willmott p. 182
- Taylor p. 304
- Potter p. 266
- "Marc Andrew Mitscher". Arlington National Cemetery.
- Rodenburg, J. D. (2007). "Mitscher Hall". Wikimapia. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
- Mitscher is wearing an Army Air Force flight jacket. The photo was touched up to obscure the view of the jacket insignia of the air crews.
- Gay, George (1979). Sole Survivor. Naples, Florida: Midway Publishers. ISBN 0-938300-08-3.
- Parshall, Jonathan; Tully, Anthony (2005). Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books. ISBN 1-57488-923-0. Uses recently translated Japanese sources.
- Potter, E. B. (2005). Admiral Arliegh Burke. U.S. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-692-6.
- Taylor, Theodore. The Magnificent Mitscher. New York: Norton, 1954; reprinted Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991. ISBN 1-55750-800-3.
- Willmott, H.P. (1984) "June, 1944" Blandford Press ISBN 0-7137-1446-8
- Admiral Marc Mitscher, US Navy Biography
- U.S. Navy photos of Mitscher
- Official site of the destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG-57)—Includes biographical information on ADM Mitscher