william halsey

William Halsey, Jr.

Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey Jr., GBE, USN, (October 30, 1882August 16, 1959) (called "Bill Halsey" and sometimes known as "Bull" Halsey, but not to his face), was a U.S. Naval officer and the commander of the United States Third Fleet during part of the Pacific War against Japan. Earlier, he had commanded the South Pacific Theater during desperate times.

Early years

Halsey was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on October 30 1882, the son of Captain William F. Halsey, Sr. USN. After waiting two years for an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, young Halsey decided to study medicine at the University of Virginia and then to get into the Navy as a doctor. He chose that university because his best friend, Karl Osterhause, was there. Years later, Halsey admitted that he didn't learn much during his one and only year at UVA, but he had a wonderful time.

Halsey graduated in 1904 from the Naval Academy with several athletic honors, and he spent his early service years in battleships and torpedo boats. The United States Navy was expanding at that time, and the Navy was short on officers; Halsey was one of the few who were promoted directly from Ensign to full Lieutenant, skipping the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade). Torpedoes and torpedo boats became specialties of his, and he commanded the First Group of the Atlantic Fleet's Torpedo Flotilla in 1912 through 1913, and also several torpedo boats and destroyers during the 1910s and 1920s. Lieutenant Commander Halsey's World War I service, including command of USS Shaw in 1918, was sufficiently distinguished to earn a Navy Cross (which was not a medal for life & death valor, as it later became).

Inter-war years

From 1922 through 1925, Halsey served as Naval Attache in Berlin, Germany, and commanded USS Dale during a European cruise. During 1930–1932, Captain Halsey led two destroyer squadrons, then studied at the Naval War College in the mid-1930s. Prior to assuming command of an aircraft carrier, he undertook aviator instruction, as required by Federal law, but he took the more difficult Naval Aviator (pilot) course rather than merely the Aviation Observer program. He insisted on taking the full twelve week course, and he was the last one of his class to graduate with his wings as a pilot. He then commanded the large aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, and also the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida. Capt. Halsey was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1938, commanding Carrier Divisions for the next three years, and, as a Vice Admiral, also serving as the USN overall Commander of the Aircraft Battle Force.

World War II

Vice Admiral Halsey was at sea in his flagship, USS Enterprise, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon learning of the Japanese attack, he was overheard remarking, "Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will only be spoken in hell." Halsey's contempt for the Japanese was well-displayed throughout the war to the officers and sailors under his command in very successful campaigns to boost morale. One such example was a sign Halsey hung on the bulkhead of his flag quarters, "Kill Japs, Kill Japs, Kill More Japs!". During the first six months of the war, his carrier task force took part in raids on enemy-held islands and in the Doolittle Raid on Japan. By this time he had adopted the slogan, "Hit hard, hit fast, hit often."

Beached by a very severe attack of psoriasis just before the Battle of Midway, he lent his chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning, to his hand-picked successor, Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, who, under the overall command of Vice Admiral Fletcher, and despite difficulties from Browning, led the American carrier forces to a victory against the Japanese Combined Fleet.

Halsey took command in the South Pacific Area in mid-October 1942, at a critical stage of the Guadalcanal Campaign. After Guadalcanal was secured in February 1943, Admiral Halsey's forces spent the rest of the year battling up the Solomon Islands Chain to Bougainville, then isolated the Japanese fortress at Rabaul by capturing positions in the Bismarck Archipelago.

Admiral Halsey left the South Pacific in May 1944, as the war surged toward the Philippines and Japan. From September 1944 to January 1945, he led the U.S. Third Fleet during campaigns to take the Palaus, Leyte and Luzon, and on many raids on Japanese bases, including on the shores of Formosa, China, and Vietnam.

Leyte Gulf

In October 1944, amphibious forces of the U.S. Seventh Fleet carried out major landings on the island of Leyte in the Central Philippines. Halsey's Third Fleet was assigned to cover and support Seventh Fleet operations around Leyte. In response to the invasion, the Japanese launched a vast operation (known as 'Sho-Go') involving almost all their surviving fleet, and aimed at destroying the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf. A force built around a relatively weak group of Japanese aircraft carriers (Admiral Ozawa's 'Northern Force') was meant to lure the covering U.S. forces away from the Gulf while two other forces (the 'Southern' and 'Center' Forces) built around a total of 7 battleships and 16 cruisers broke through to the beachhead and attacked the invasion shipping. This operation was to bring about the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of the Second World War and, by some criteria, the largest naval battle in history.

The Center Force commanded by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita was located and attacked by American picket submarines on 23 October, and on 24 October, in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Third Fleet's aircraft attacked it, sinking the giant battleship Musashi and damaging other ships. Kurita turned westwards, towards his base, but later reversed course and headed again for San Bernardino Strait through which he intended to pass to reach Leyte Gulf. By this stage, the carriers of Ozawa's decoy Northern Force had been located by Halsey's aircraft. Halsey made the momentous decision to take all his available strength northwards on the night of 24–25 October to strike the Japanese carrier force on the following morning. He resolved to leave San Bernadino Strait entirely unguarded. As C. Vann Woodward wrote, "not so much as a picket destroyer was left."

Halsey had swallowed the bait. He also failed to advise Admiral Kinkaid and Seventh Fleet of his decision. However, the Seventh Fleet intercepted an organizational message from Halsey to his own task group commanders, which led Kinkaid and his staff to believe that Halsey was taking his three available carrier groups northwards, but would be leaving Task Force 34 — a powerful battleship & cruiser force — guarding San Bernardino Strait.

Despite ominous aerial reconnaissance reports on the night of 24–25 October, Halsey continued to assume that the approaching Japanese Center Force had been neutralized, and he continued to take his entire available strength northwards, away from San Bernadino Strait and Leyte Gulf.

As a result, when Kurita's powerful Center Force emerged from San Bernadino on the morning of the 25 October, they found not one Allied ship to oppose them. Advancing down the coast of the island of Samar towards their objective — the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf — they took Seventh Fleet's escort carriers and their screening ships entirely by surprise. In the desperate and unequal Battle off Samar which followed, Kurita's ships destroyed one of the small escort carriers and three ships of the carriers' screen, and damaged many USN ships, but the heroic resistance of the escort carrier groups took a heavy toll on Kurita's ships, and his nerves. He decided to withdraw towards San Bernadino Strait and the west without achieving anything further.

When the Seventh Fleet's escort carriers found themselves under attack from the Center Force, Halsey began to receive a succession of desperate calls from Kinkaid asking for immediate assistance off Samar. For over two hours Halsey turned a deaf ear to these calls. Eventually, at 10:00 hours, an anxious message was received — "Turkey trots to water. Where is repeat where is Task Force 34? The world wonders" — from Admiral Chester Nimitz, the CINCPAC, Halsey's immediate superior, referring to the battleship/cruiser force thought to have been covering San Bernadino Strait, and thus the Seventh Fleet's northern flank. This message helped finally to persuade Halsey to turn his battleships and their escorts southwards, which he did at 11:15, but he then delayed for a further two-and-a-half hours while refuelling the accompanying destroyers. By then, it was too late for Task Force 34 either to assist the Seventh Fleet's escort carrier groups or to prevent Kurita's force from making its escape.

This succession of actions on Halsey's part during 24 and 25 October was thought by some observers to have strongly damaged his reputation — both in the Third Fleet and throughout the U.S. Navy. They derisively call the operation "The Battle of Bull's Run".


After the Leyte Gulf engagement, Third Fleet was confronted with another powerful enemy in mid-December — Typhoon Cobra (also known as "Halsey's Typhoon"). While conducting operations off the Philippines, the force remained on station rather than avoiding a major storm, which sank three destroyers and inflicted damage on many other ships. Some 800 men were lost, in addition to 146 aircraft. The storm is the central scene in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny (and Halsey is an off-stage presence for much of the book). A Navy court of inquiry found that while Halsey had committed an error of judgement in sailing into the typhoon, it stopped short of unambiguously recommending sanction.

In January 1945, Halsey passed command of his fleet to Admiral Spruance (whereupon its designation changed to 'Fifth Fleet'). Halsey resumed command of Third Fleet in late-May 1945 and retained it until the end of the war. In early June 1945 Halsey again sailed the fleet into the path of a typhoon, and while ships sustained crippling damage, none were lost. Six lives were lost and 75 planes were lost or destroyed, with almost 70 badly damaged. Again a Navy court of inquiry was convened, and it suggested that Halsey be reassigned, but Admiral Nimitz recommended otherwise due to Halsey's prior service.

He was present when Japan formally surrendered on the deck of his flagship, USS Missouri, on September 2, 1945.


Halsey was promoted to Fleet Admiral in December 1945, and retired from active duty in March 1947. Halsey died on August 20, 1959 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Frances Grandy Halsey (1887-1968), is buried with him.

Dates of rank

Ensign Lieutenant, Junior Grade Lieutenant Lieutenant Commander Commander Captain
O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6
February 2, 1906 February 2, 1909 February 2, 1909 August 29, 1916 February 1, 1918 February 10, 1927
Rear Admiral (lower half) Rear Admiral (upper half) Vice Admiral Admiral Fleet Admiral
O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10 O-11
Never Held March 1, 1938 June 13, 1940 November 18, 1942 December 11, 1945

Halsey never held the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, as he was appointed a full Lieutenant after three years of service as an Ensign. For administrative reasons, Halsey's naval record states he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade) and Lieutenant on the same day.

At the time of Halsey's promotion to Rear Admiral, the United States Navy did not maintain a one-star (Commodore) rank. Halsey was therefore promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral of the line (lower half; one-star) from captain.

Awards and decorations

Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with three gold stars
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Presidential Unit Citation (US)
World War I Victory Medal with Destroyer Clasp
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Mexican Service Medal
Philippine Liberation Medal
Knight of the British Empire


In popular culture

See also




Further reading

External links


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